Pre-departure


Well, I’ve been packing all day and getting things in order around the apartment. I need to head over to the subway station no later than noon tomorrow to hop on the airport shuttle to take me to Incheon. The subway takes roughly the same amount of time (40 minutes to 1 hour) but considering I’ll have to luggage bags to check in I’d rather just pay the 9 dollars for the direct transportation and not have to worry about transfers or getting glared at for taking up too much space on a possibly crowded train car. Last minute errands such as grabbing a refill on my contacts and picking up a lot of crunky bars and other assorted candies have filled my day. I’ve loaded a ton of movies on my iPhone for the flight and researched what I can bring through customs to the states. This part was kind of undefined, vague to say the best.

My friend in Arizona has a foodie amigo who had requested I bring in some kimchi. I got the processed kind in the sealed bag so hopefully that’s fine. I also couldn’t figure out what the limits on Soju were, a friend said he brought 12 of the small bottles and a few bokbanjoo’s (Korean raspberry wine, whose spelling I’m probably butchering) and some Chongha (sweeter little sister to Soju usually favored by the ladies). I’m a little more cautious and am just bringing four of the plastic bottles and a single of bukbanjoo. I guess worst case scenario they take a couple of the two dollar bottles away. No big loss, I’m not a huge fan of the stuff but it’s nice to bring some form of local beverage for the friends back home to experience.

This last week has been a stutter between killing time at my apartment and rushing around town saying goodbye to friends. Friday was a real treat when my good Canadian friend from Ilsan and I went to the Jeju Rock and Resistance Show in Hongdae at Freebirds. Ten dollars got you entrance to see all ten bands. My buddy’s girlfriend was one of the volunteer coordinators for it, she usually does a lot of work promoting awareness of the Korean “comfort women” who were sex slaves used by the Japanese during World War 2. This makes particular event was to raise funds and awareness of the ongoing opposition to the proposed US Naval base being installed on Jeju Island. The area in question is the site of much natural beauty which has earned it a UNESCO placing and also Gangjeong Village. From what I heard there it is an amazing area and the people are strongly resisting displacement, many also said that it was not the US Navy who was pushing for this exact location but Samsung who is a partner in the site construction/development. For more information check out this link.

Powerful speakers and killer bands really delivered a strong message for this cause.

The bands were quite varied in both genre and skill but all in all I think most everyone was quite happy to have come out for the show. I was pleased to actually hear my first reggae band perform and, wonders never cease, one of the musicians played the rarely scene mellodica which is kind of like a small handheld keyboard you blow into while you play. Awesome! My favorite band of the night was an instrumental trio of two girls and one guy. The gent played a small traditional wooden flute, acoustic guitar and did some synthwork using a Macbook. The girls were both playing their hearts out on their respective traditional instruments I had never seen before. The first was a Haegeum and the other was a Geomungo. This was a mesmerizing performance and it was great to see these amazing ancient instruments creating such powerful and resonant music. I was also quite happy because it took me back to my childhood when I used to play with the miniature Japanese variants of these that hung from our Christmas tree. My father had acquired them during his stay in Japan as part of a high school exchange. Oh yeah, Seoul’s belly-dancing troupe did a performance. I was impressed at their grace and art. I was also cracking up at seeing many of the guys there getting elbowed in their ribs by their girlfriends when they outright gawked at the performance with open jaws. I always try to watch respectfully but was glad to be single at that particular instance, haha.

Saturday I showed the two new hires (a couple) to my school around Itaewon and Haebanchong foreign areas of Seoul. They have only been here a couple weeks and have taken a liking to Korean food but really appreciated breakfast at Wolfhounds and a trip to the High Street Market to see their selection of comfort foods from home. The same friend from Ilsan and my Korean buddy who I’ll call London because of his strong accent after studying their came out and we grabbed a bite to eat and some drinks at Phillies Pub which I highly recommend. One of the new hires was from Philadelphia so he got a kick out of the namesake. Ilsan and I went to a quick show while London showed the duo around Itaewon. It was one stop past Itaewon in the opposite direction of Noksapyeong in a small DIY concert space setup under a coffee house and adjacent to a small bar. It was titled an “Experimental” show and was definitely quite original. From discordant thrash like Christfuck, to the ever building/looping/cascading waves of sounds of the band Ten (recently back from Japan) to a unskilled drummer/kazooist who invokes a sense of Andy Kaufman style humor “I am sorry I not so good, the trumpet player Kenny G is in England tonight.” It was, well, an experience.

Not much happened after this except making new friends with a bunch of EPIK (public school) teachers just out of orientation, last call at Sam Ryans and an after hours party back at Phillies Pub some of the regulars invited me and Ilsan two. Amazing how many new friends you make right before you leave for a while. Irony!

Well, I need to get back to packing before heading out to one last samgyeopsal (BBQ pork) meal and Winter Hof night with the coworkers. The next post will be a photo blog about my trip yesterday to Insadong and Gyeongbok Palace but right now I don’t have time to upload all those photos. Until then, Syonara my friends!

Couldn’t be happier with the previous week. Definitely feeling like time left in the states is a valuable commodity and making the most of it. Thursday was a going away part for a good amiga who is going to be an ESL teacher in Columbia. It was great sharing that “looking at oncoming precipice I’m about to take the plunge off!” feeling with a friend and wishing her luck. Location was up on Capitol Hill and an outstanding dive bar known as the Quarter Lounge, definitely got my fill of pool and foosball for the week. Also was delighted at the unexpected appearance of my good friend Chad, an old college roommate who has been teaching and working in youth centered non-profits in India for past 3 years and is back in states to start grad school at UCLA (well-played amigo). He had some great advice about living abroad, trials and tribulations inherent, and some interesting new Grad School opportunities for someone in my background.

Turns out University of Texas is starting a child bereavement MA program that I’m going to have to look into. While discussing this with him our friend Jamie (an uber-sweet white South African from Zimbabwe) overheard what my hoped for program of study was and pulled me aside. I mentioned how I’ve been active in the grief support community as a group facilitator for kids for past ten years and how I hoped to have this be the focus of my future studies. Mentioned the fact that in high school I had kicked around the idea of making a Master’s thesis based on differing forms of culturally expressed grief by living in Asia to gain an appreciation for the effects of a collectivist society and then travel to Africa to work with kids who have are effected by the AIDS epidemic. As a child who lost their parent at an early age I knew firsthand how much of a loss it is to lose that sense of naivety and sense of security. I’ve always wondered how living in a society where death was so prevalent due to one singular ominous and prevalent form would affect a child’s view of the world and death in general. Add on to this the fact that in many of these areas it is such a fight to live that you have no time to stop to deal with loss or even your own tragically limited predicted lifespan and it has always been a hope of mine to live in Africa before finishing my academic career.

I could tell that Jamie was very intrigued and excited to give her input. She asked me how it was that this conversation topic and goal of mine had never came up and I laughed and proclaimed that we were usually at social events and I try not to bring up topic of grief/death due to its sometimes mood-killing effect. It turns out that her father in Zimbabwe has worked with children who have AIDS as a counselor and this is a passion of his. I think I may have made a connection for my next travel destination after Korea (who knows how long that will be, haha). All in all a great evening and very glad I decided to Trek into Seattle for the occasion. From friends returning, about to depart and sharing the resources of their distant homelands, I felt blessed to be connected to such a wonderful group of people.

The next day I visited my little brother to chat and catch up on things before departing for Vashon Island. This jewel of the Puget Sound is one of many islands that make up the San Juan Islands just off of the coast of North Western Washington but sheltered by the peninsula on the far West end. I hopped on the ferry (Washington State has one of the largest ferry systems in the Pacific Northwest) and met with my mother’s sister Mardi, who lives out on the island with her family and my grandmother, in the cabin. She had been the only aunt on that side of the family not in attendance at Easter so it was wonderful to see her before I depart. My uncle Nate picked me up and we cruised back to their house/mini-farm.

To grandmother's house we go!

After picking some asparagus out of the gardens, letting the sheep back into the pen and feeding the dogs my cousin Julie (named after my Mom) and the three of us loaded back into the car and departed back down to a separate dock. It turns out that my one of my uncle’s copilots (she also flies 747s and 777s internationally) is married to a ferry captain and they own and live on a BFB (Big Fucking Boat). It was previously a fishing vessel equipped for the Bering Sea in AK that had been renovated into a spacious and amazingly outfitted houseboat. The interior was beautiful and the functionality of the ship was quite amazing. 72′ long, 9,000 mile capability and they were waiting for the water maker to come in from New Zealand. King and Queen of the sea and sky, they were gracious and charismatic hosts!

After finishing dinner and getting dropped off at the dock via the small skiff (boat was too large to come into the marina) the four of us returned to the homestead. My aunt and I watched a movie (Shutter Island), uncle Nate had to fly to Japan (his primary run) the next day so he ended up dozing off after pouring me a couple shots of Patron. He is very insistent that I visit him in Tokyo on some of his layovers and said that he occasionally also flies to Incheon, bonus! After the movie my aunt and I stayed up for a bit and she shared some amazing stories about adventures with my mother when she was alive and the wonderful and mirth-filled times that had together way back when. I love hearing these stories as it makes me feel a connection to the woman who conceived me (she died at 30 when I was 2) and it was the perfect way to end an outstanding evening. Really can’t thank them enough for their hospitality and making me feel like an honored guest.

Captivating Read.

The next morning I woke up early and finished “Saturday” by Ian McEwan. This story is a modern rendition of “Mrs. Dalloway” by Virginia Woolf which was influenced by “Ulysses” by James Joyce. The theme of this book is consciousness and how our perspective of the world is based on so many things and is ever-changing even in the immediate moment. It takes place in the single day of the life of a prominent neurosurgeon in London who is consistently impressed at the enigma of self even though he has an in-depth knowledge of the function and structure of the human brain. Highly intriguing and a gloriously cerebral read!

I then loaded up the riding lawnmowers trailer and took a large load of fire wood over to my grandmother who lives next door on the property. It was great to spend some time with her and not only earn some brownie points with her for the firewood and helping to reinstall a cabinet on her wall but to exchange some stories, explain what drove me to go live on the other side of the world and her more stories. I even was gifted with some herbs and spices to take with me on the trip, thanks Grandma! After our time spent together my aunt kindly drove me back down to the ferry dock and I ventured back to the mainland feeling very grateful for the time spent with my extended family who show me so much warmth, I was really touched. Gotta say, can’t ask for a better weekend and am really going to miss these amazing friends and family I have here in Washington. Knowing they are all rooting for me is some strong Juju!

   Checked my FedEx tracking number and all the documents were received on Friday. Now it’s time to just wait for my notification for date to interview Korean Consulate and find out flight date. Pretty anxious to find out what airline I’m travelling on and what their bag check policy is, until then I can’t find out how much bulk goods (clothing, books, etc.) I can bring with me.

   Which is why my current brainstorm is orbiting the planet of Compact Prepack. If I can’t plan out the big stuff I can focus on the little, such as future weekend itineraries (Part I) and data driven hometown relics (Part II).                                                                                          

My thoughts revolve around what ideas to bring.

Oh the Places I'll go, Oh the Multimedia I'll bring!

   Planning out weekend escapades and sightseeing has a double-feature drive in style awesomeness. Not only does it let me discover more about and become further enamored with the potential of Korea but it also helps me pass the time and foster patience instead of constantly checking my gmail for word from my recruiter. Spring has sprung over here and I guess this has had an impact on my current adventure planning. I’ve been scouring blogs and travel books planning out hiking trips. This has always been a pursuit of mine and the beautiful area I grew up in has a lot to do with this.

   The trails behind my house growing up in the foothills of North Bend, WA on Rattlesnake Ridge are home to some of my cherished childhood recollections. Scrambling with my cousin Blake and brother Nichelas through backforest trails intersecting ancient elk runs down to the nearby Rattlesnake Lake to watch the Bald Eagles soaring on the thermals and roosting on large lakeside arbor sentinels is pleasantly branded into the retina of my memories. TV was a societal lure we were not ensnared by back then because our imaginations, giant trees to climb and forts to not only plan but make dominated our daylight pastimes. It was not uncommon for us to be perched at the crown of a 60+ foot evergreen (sometimes during windy days) and I can only imagine the amount of paper spent on designs of forts varying from simple lean-tos to the more extravagant underground tunnel systems with hidden trap door entrances and intricate connected tree forts in the fashion of Ewoks from Star Wars. 

Blanchard Mountain overview with college friends.

  This trend continued in college where Bellingham offered not only amazing alpine hikes up to mountainside glaciers such as the panoramic Skyline Divide but also an outstanding Interurban Trail. Starting within the municipality and following the coast on piers and madrona peppered forests up into the only highlands in Washington were the Cascade Mountain Range touched the beauteous Puget Sound at Blanchard Mountain aka the Oysterdome.

   Those not wishing to go up could stay lower in altitude as the winding road (Chuckanut Drive, one of my favorite vantage filled roadways in all the world) that hugged cliffs overlooking the Pacific Ocean offered numerous access points to the many parks with their sprawling rocky beaches below. Clayton and Larrabee Parks as well as the less known Teddy Bear Cove were host to numerous guests and offered attractions ranging from seafaring kayakers, people handcasting crab pots from the sandstone terra jutting out into the Sound and the hidden “hippie rock garden” featuring small flower gardens and whimsical rock art. Beware said secluded spot on a bright sunny day as its isolation brought forth many an unclad granola out basking (not criticizing, just the last scenery I myself was not trying to observe on a sunny day). Chuckanut Drive is featured in many a movie and its breath-taking view of the San Juan Islands and Olympic Peninsula is iconic of the Pacific Northwest.

   Looking through many of the images of the landscape of South Korea I feel a deep resonance. The craggy mountain hikes take me back to epic hikes around the Mt. Baker wilderness area and the terraced, shelf-like hillsides of the low-lying agricultural valley are very similar to the view from the Alger lookout that surveyed all the farmland of the Skagit valley. Jack Kerouac once described this valley as the most fertile place in the entire United States. Though I’m no Dharma Bum it’s good to know the freewheeling, live to burn brightly beat was a fan as well.

Can't wait to ascend this rocky path.

   Though I do not know of any similar Thoreaufare in Seoul like the Interurban Trail in Bellingham there will be many an oasis of wilderness for this county raised boy to seek sanctuary from the city bustle. Having been raised in a rural setting in early childhood, suburbs as an adolescent and teen and living in an uber-green college town as a young man I foresee at least a few times where the concrete jungles and bustle of packed in people will cause me a little claustrophobia. Haha, at least I’m prepared!

  The parks throughout Seoul seem indicative of the Korean people love and respect for nature and incorporating it into their cityscapes. Numerous spots such as Namsan Park offer an outlet for those wishing to escape the city in a small forest fortress of solitude. I look forward to visiting them and describing them in detail as well as the introspective reflections I’ll have in this blog in the near future.

   One of the other great opportunities I’ll have to pursue will be visiting the numerous Buddhist temples throughout the capital city I am to be a future resident of. Though I was raised Roman Catholic (my father was brought up in a large traditional Irish Catholic farm family in Eastern WA) I was taught by my Pops to always respect the teachings of other religions. He studied with the Jesuits for some time and always emphasized the strength he was given for not only his own but all religions. I’ve been strongly encouraged to observe the services held within mosques, Buddhist temples and synagogues while I am a young man. My father can truly be commended for nurturing my desire to be a world citizen by helping me to respect the numerous different cultures that I share this Earth with. 

Zen Autumn

*Part II soon to come!