Wednesday, May 26, 2010

I'm Registered.

For those of you who are following the news. It seems like things have heated up on the Korean Peninsula. The history is long, and the details are hard to confirm but I think it's time to be prepared. Preparation in the sense of mindfulness, not an overnight bag. I don't write this to scare folks, but I think it's a great reminder.

You see, I feel safe in Korea. I walk around without even the slightest amount of concern and it's easy to go on with daily life thinking all is well. Though less safe than in Korea, I felt relatively safe in California too. Aside from running outside past 5pm, walking to my car in a parking lot, or journeying around in a city by myself, life is California is pretty safe. For most of us, we live a safe life.

But, what happens when the threat of war looms? In a country where you are a foreigner? You see, the embassy offers an official registry. As an American, in the case of an emergency, they will notify me and work to get me out of the country. Even then, in the midst of chaos, I am hopeful of an element of safety. But what about the folks who live here? What about the beautiful Koreans who live on this peninsula? Who call this place home and will stay? What hope do they have? Does Jesus even call me into safety? Is he calling me to something bigger than praying for no war?

I am sweetly reminded that life is short and that human endeavors fail. While I am surrounded by elements of safety, even living in a foreign country, I live in a world where evil is working. Yes, it it is beautiful, life is sweet, and God is good... but there is work to be done.

Folks, fear not, i am hesitant to even suggest that an actual war would break out. But, one would be naive to not consider the possibility. I don't want to be caught with my eyes closed leaning on the "promise" of safety!

Keep up for yourself...

Yahoo News
Korean Herald
LA Times

To Less Than Ideal

Saturday night 4 lovely ladies and I raised our glasses. Here’s to “less than ideal!” I sit here, Monday morning, reflecting on the weekend, thinking about when it all started, and I can’t help but chuckle. It all started when we arrived.

That’s never a good start.

Thanks to the birth of Buddha, Korea celebrates May 21st as a national holiday. Every calendar marks that day with a lovely shade of red. For teachers like me, it’s a hue of excitement. You see, though neither Korean nor Buddhist, I’ll be celebrating right alongside the best of them! A national holiday for the common “waygookin” means no work. No work on a friday means a nice long weekend. And a long weekend means time for adventure. Adventure is what we did.

Friday afternoon we caught a train south to the beautiful city of Gyeongju, capital of the ancient Silla kingdom. Many folks harold Gyeongju as a “museum with no walls”. Hard to argue with that. The timeworn treasures of ancient Korea find themselves kindly fused with the ways of a modern city. It’s rather impressive, subtly beautiful and well worth a visit.

We arrived with hopes of a relaxing vacation. A weekend out of Seoul. visiting the sights it’s so well known for, and of course, our full fixings of delicious Korean food. We also wanted beds. Yo, we’ll pass. We were determined! We rushed off the train, gathered a map, and decided to mosey our way to our hostel. The weather was beautiful, we were ambitious and curious, and the world, correction Gyeongju, was ours for the taking.

Ready to take on Gyeongju!

Well Gyeongju got the best of us. We’re going to blame it on the map. After walking well past our destination, possibly by a few miles, we wayfarers found a nice old man who could help. He kindly walked us all the way to our hostel, turned down a juicebox offering, and disappeared. He was awesome. Surprisingly, on our walk back to our hostel the following day, we walked past him working in a bakery. What he must have thought: “These girls! They have no bloody idea where they are!” Our adventure to the hostel, and really all street outings of the weekend were filled with the gawks of countless men, the bulging eyes of fear stricken children, and the horrendous sounds of Korean local elections. Campaigning tactics unfathomable: absurdly loud speaker systems, shoot-yourself-in-the-face children’s jingles with platform altered lyrics, and foam fingered, dancing ajimas aboard a open air truck making its sweet way through the city. They’re everywhere I tell you, unfortunately. But, i digress. We arrived at our hostel and were sadly greeted with horribly dampening words: “Why are there so many of you?”

Again, that’s never a good start.

We thought he was joking. Negative. He was serious. In kindness I’ll leave the name of our hostel unmentioned. I’d hate to ruin their reputation. But it rhymes with Ban Kim. First word: starts with a H. Last word: starts with a J. Famous for its “Martiol Arts Show”. No corrections needed. This unmentioned hostel gave our rooms away on the “busiest weekend” of the year. Oh, we know! Hence the reservation my friend!

Starving, sweaty, and pretty stranded, we settled for a “guest house” in “need of cleaning”, and headed to dinner to wait it out. No beds. No hot water. And a host of bugs. Awesome.

On the way to dinner we met a group of delightful Europeans looking for a place of their own to stay. Folks who quickly became friends, with whom we met up for a “laugh” later that night. And laugh we did.

All I can say about Saturday is that we woke up to rain, and it never really stopped. With a tasty breakfast and two shallow cups of coffee we were on our way. It was Buddha’s birthday, and we were determined to visit the famous Seokguram grotto to see him in massive golden proportions before the hordes made their way. When the the taxi meter on the way up turned over 30 bucks, we rounded ten too many outside turns up an unprotected mountain road, and halted in parked traffic four kilometers from our final destination, we realized we were behind the truly zealous. In sad surrender we decided flipping around and heading back down the mountain to the main temple was best.

Again, that’s never good. One beautiful, painfully expensive trip up... and back down the mountain. For Buddha’s sake!

Bulguksa is a beautiful temple, however the scene upon arrival was pure madness. Truthfully. Crowds in Korea are always close quarters and I’ve grown rather used to it, but add the surprise element of overzealous umbrella using, in the hands of folks who have yet to master the unwritten walking direction and photo op-ing laws and you’ve leveled up in ranks of madness. In a short time I was ready to leave.

Bulguksa Temple.

It's really beautiful!

Beautiful and sadly insane!

After another long, quite pricey taxi ride, we found ourselves outside headed to more outdoor adventures. And while it was still raining, we had escaped the damp mugginess that is a overstuffed taxi car of wet travelers. Thank heavens! We headed to the Gyeongju National Museum, and the mugginess followed. Except this time I had no window to roll down and the stagnate air of weariness, crowding, and indifference for the bronze pottery and noseless Buddha collection was a bit funky. In an increasingly short time, I was ready to leave.

Leave we did. Thankfully so.

It continued to rain, but we were outside and that’s all that mattered. No more taxis. No more crowds. No more mugginess. Some would prefer otherwise, but at this point in the trip I was ready to be out of confined quarters and ready to see something beautiful in the fresh air. That is just what we did. We stumbled upon Tumuli Park, home of royalty tombs that look more like buried giant size bowling balls, and the Cheomseongdae Observatory, the oldest standing astronomy tower in Asia. They were impressive. The rain coated the recent spring greenery to add a layer of vibrancy that was truly beautiful-- our walk was much needed.

Tumuli Park

Oldest Astronomical Observation Tower in Asia

We continued to walk. For a long time. Along the way we enjoyed a delicious, Gyeongju famous ssambap lunch, a hot cup of coffee in the quaint Coffee and Cookie shop, and many laughs. Though still raining rather hard, we continued to walk. Mostly in exploration of the city and all Gyeongju had to offer. We found and took a short browse through a local covered market and were met, again, with many a stare. Ajimas (old Korean women). Hung octopi. And ajusis (old Korean men). We met out match, however, in the face, the literal face, of a pig, a literal pig. Lined up on the floor with 5 of his friends, waiting, quietly, to be purchased. For what you ask? I haven’t the slightest idea. Shock factor possibly? I sure hope so.

“Anayaghasaeyo! Dwaejiui eolgul hanna jusayo!” (Hello there! One pig face please!)
“Jigeum god!” (Coming right up!)

Nothing good, or faintly delicious could ever come of that!

The look happy.

Yea, I’ll pass. And we kept walking. This time in route to our hostel, ultimately headed to a jimjilbang. With no hot water, or adequate showering accommodations at our hostel, we needed to take matters into our our hands. Grunginess, fatigue, and slap-happiness were climaxing, and all we needed was a shower. We needed to get “home”. Friends, all I can say about this is that we’re good at getting lost. Horribly lost.

Walking around, in the pouring rain was nice for a while. When you know where the hell you are! Being lost, however, unable to find your hostel while walking in the pouring rain is a different story. At this point we were in desperate need of a clean body, dry jeans and good nap. Praise God for Lotte Coffee. Not for their coffee, or really anything other than their signage. A source of hope, if you will. We were close. Our stay was short and we were off again.

We walked to a less than impressive bathing facility in a pretty shady hotel and again were met with stares. Longing, overdrawn, borderline inappropriate stares. This time not purely as foreigners, but as naked foreigners. I’ll withhold the details, but they got a free viewing and they milked it for all it was worth. After a little relaxation and a much needed shower, energies were filled and we were dinner and nightlife bound.

Hope deferred makes the newly clean and dry heart sick. A little rain had turned to downpour and we were blocks away. I, again, rolled up my recently hair-dyer dried jeans for another go around, stepped into my last fresh pair of shoes, be it regrettably flip flops, flung open my umbrella and made a go for it. I didn’t make it very far before I was once again drenched, cold, and borderline pissed. We trudged on.

By the time we made it to dinner, we were soaked--spirits dampened and starving. It would make sense they’d forget to put your order in. But, considering the weekends events, it was of the least.

Later that night we found ourselves sitting in the classy establishment that is WaBar. Spirits and toes warmed, memories and laughter flowing, and my friends, it was perfect. Drinks in hand, friends around, KPop ringing, we toasted to our weekend. To “less than ideal!” For a moment, it seemed like all of it was kind of worth it. Though chronically less than ideal in so many ways, it was a great weekend.

Thanks for the love Gyeongju!

Our delicious ssambap lunch!

We had a great time!

Dancing ajimas: a NEW powerful campaigning tactic.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Since When Does Sushi Sport Relish?

Sunday I traveled into Seoul with Amy and Kelly. Fancy that, right? We're always in Seoul.

We took a long subway trip up to the mysterious orange line and made our way to World Cup Stadium. For what you ask? A Cup Festival.
Just kidding. A soccer game, of course! A Korean National Soccer game against South American rival, Ecuador. Shield your eyes my friends, spoiler alert for those who care to watch the game: we won! 2-0 and it was awesome. The stadium was MASSIVE. A venue truly suited for the international weightiness of such an event. Soccer is big folks. So is the world cup-- i recently learned.

A few things perplexed me, however about the Korean soccer culture.
  • First, why do Koreans, not just soccer fans, like to take pictures with foreigners? Espcially with my friend Kelly? Two boys came up and asked her to take a picture. She agreed and grabbed for the camera. Au contraire. They wanted to take a picture with her. So interesting.
  • There are, like baseball games, cheerleaders. 4 of them. Still don't understand that. But hey. Korea likes good lookin' ladies. In intimate quantities?
  • The Korean team is the RED DEVILS. However, their mascot is a bear. A fluffy, couldn't intimidate the most angelic of creatures, more cute and cuddly than fire and brimstone kind of bear. A teddy bear if you will. Interesting.
  • Again, much like baseball, Korean's like their soccer. These fans don't mess around. However, unlike baseball games, folks are more intent on watching the game than they are beer consumption. Not without the awesome fan display!
  • In a valiant effort to find Amy a cheap Korean Devils shirt, we made our way around the various hustlers. Most perplexing: the ones selling shirts that had "Korea" spelled wrong. Never seen it with a "C" before. Somehow I think spelling your country's name wrong is pretty bad. Especially for the folks who bought in and rocked them proudly.

What got me most was the food situation at Soccer Games. Let's reflect back to the baseball game. I was prepared. Fried chicken and beer. And there was a fine share of both, with a nice variation for the free thinkers. Hamburgers. Snacky snacks. Drinks. You name it. There were many a well stocked snack bar. Like any real sporting event.

Not the same with soccer. Maybe their more serious about the game. We got worried when we saw the hordes of people huddled around a GS Mart, (a 7-Eleven equivalent) selling a box of chicken, a sandwich/sushi combo, a sad collection of chips and dried squid. That was about it. Add a few bev options and there you have it. This can't be good.

And it wasn't. Where's the pizza at yo?

I settled for a hardly vegetarian, or really anything, sandwich/sushi combo. Which was a tad strange of a combo, and a sad attempt at both. After the de-meating of the sandwich, left was the remnants of a tomato slice, a slightly warmed slice of fake cheese, some relish-esk sauce, cased in white bread triangles. The "sushi" was some crazy mixture of tuna and a taste of something, again, I likened to relish. Not exactly sushi. Not exactly sporting food, either. And what's with the relish?

It was a big game. I was super stoked to go! Next up for Korea- the World Cup. Big game against Greece June 12th and I shall be visiting Seoul for the final game July 11th. Which I hear is going to be massive.

The world loves soccer. With the exception of America that is. Which is also interesting.

Outside the stadium about an hour before the game.

The kickoff.

The lovely Kelly and Amy on a lovely bridge overlooking a lovely park.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Our feast was phenomenal. We had it all folks. Chips. Salsa. Guacamole. Fijitas. Black Beans. Cheese (the real stuff!).
Rachel and I even attempted Spanish rice. For those of you who know me well know that when it comes to rice, and i am anything but proficient. To be frank: i suck at making rice. But we were determined to do Cindo proud.
We got close to butchering it when i smelt smoke and realized the bottom was burning. However, quick hands quickly solved the problem. Remove pan from heat. Don't scrape too deep. I must say, it was quite delicious. And wasn't crunchy!

There you have it! Happy Cinco de Mayo! Also celebrated as Children's Day in Korea... i shall call it Happy Awesome Day. No work. Delicious Mexican Food. Great Friends.... awesome indeed!

Monday, May 3, 2010

Rock Climbing

Another Feature on Adventure Teaching!

I think I am going to stop looking at the weather forecast. It just makes me sad. For instance, this weekend was prime spring weather. Clear, warm, just lovely, right? This week, you ask? Rain. All week. Everyday. Rain. All I can say is all this shower better make for a lot of May flowers. Insert shake of fist here.

In spite of the weather reports and worsening weather woes, I was determined to get outside this past week. To do what, you ask? Rock Climb. I was going to go rock climbing, and no one, even you Mother Nature, could stop me. I had read about a free climbing clinic in Seoul through Sanirang Alpine Networks, successfully found them on Facebook, confirmed my attendance, and was stoked to get out and climb again. It had been a while and despite all the forecasted gloom, I was determined to make it into Seoul. And so I did.

The weather was a bit chilly, storm threats loomed, Sadang Station almost got the best of me, but I didn’t suffocate and the rain held off nicely; and thankfully so! I enjoyed a wonderful Wednesday morning in Seoul rock climbing and met some great folks in the process.

I met up with a team from Sanirang Alpine Networks for their Free Wednesday Climbing Clinic, and it was great. I must have been the only weather smiter this week. I had the whole clinic to myself. Which was great! The guys were really kick back and helpful. Because I had some previous climbing experience they didn’t spend a lot of time on the basics, and actually spent some significant time teaching more intermediate techniques, which was awesome. But fear not, the clinic is perfect for those who want to try something new with little or no climbing experience. They’ll teach you! And it’s free! What more could you ask for?

Free Wednesday Climbing Clinics are offered through the end of June, every Wednesday in Daechi-Dong (Line 2 at Samsung Station) at an artificial wall in a pretty cool park. For those of you who works nights, like me, the morning session conveniently runs from 9-12 am. Come and go as you like, or per the croak speed of your forearms. For those of you with more flexibility, there is also an afternoon session running from 3:30-6:30pm. Equipment is free. The wall is free. Folks and fun are on the house! Awesome, right?

For those of you interested in more advanced rock climbing adventures and schools, be sure to check out They offer many climbing schools and adventures, and the guys who run it are wonderful! There is also an online community of rock climbers called (KOTR), which offers Korea specific information on artificial walls and gyms, bouldering and climbing areas, climbing comrades, and upcoming climbing adventures.

There you have it. Outing o’ awesome: Sanirang Free Wednesday Climbing Clinic. Invite some friends. Set your alarm, don’t forget the coffee, and avoid Sadang Station at all costs. You’ll enjoy yourself, get a nice workout, learn something new, and be back in time to suit up and teach some English.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

When JM Greets You in the Park.

For those of you who know me, you will know that my heart is bent toward a boy named JM. He gets me every time! He's a good looking man. His voice. The hat. Straight to the heart, folks. Straight to the heart.

He's done it again, friends. Without even knowing it.

I was in Hongdae. An awesome city, which I believe is quickly becoming one of my favorite places in Seoul. Filled with life and music, good eats and art, and just a lively bunch of folks out to enjoy life. I'm a fan, which is why I've started to love this little place. Last night confirmed said feelings.

You see friends, I love live music. The beat. The crowd. The long instrumentals and freestyle jammin', if you will... I just LOVE it. Stage it somewhere outside, give me a warm night, some lovely friends. Mmm. Could it really get any better? I think about that one to confirm, but i think not.

Last night was just that. Live music in the park. A talented band bringing it hard in a low-key, kick-back, free flow performance. Beat boxing, eclectic covers, tap/break dancing, comedy which I could not understand but was undoubtedly funny. Friends. FRIENDS, it was good! Like so good. We probably stood there for close to two hours, oh and thankfully so.

At one point, following an awesome Glen Hasard "Falling Slowly" cover... i heard a sweet, sweet plucking that could never be mistaken for anything other than my boy Jason Mraz. Oh, and sweet it was! I'm Yours and Lucky sung by a nice lookin' man with an equally nice voice. Second to the man himself. I got really happy really fast! And I was already really happy! So that was happy to the max! Only to escape in what I know was a lively set of wide eyes, a glowing smile, and bobbin' bod. It was good... so very good!

It really is the small things.

Now. If I will ever suggest the characteristic of a man i'm really lookin' to bend my heart toward to, this is the time. So listen up. : )
A (tall) Jesus lovin', music makin', world travelin', joke crackin', JM listenin', fish taco eatin', simple livin' kinda man who likes the Packers, the Colts, and the Cowboys.
(no wonder this seems to be taking a while.) : )