Introspective


Well things have been a bit hectic here the last couple weeks. Last Wednesday my manager pulled me into her office…and informed me that they were unable to book as many students for the kindergarten classes starting in March. The director was willing to be “generous” and offer a 3 month (unpaid) vacation back home starting in March until June and then come back as an afternoon teacher. “Isn’t that wonderful?” was the delivery. To say I was a little shocked would be an understatement. I just got back from one vacation, and my bank account reflected this. A 3 month limbo, even back home, is not really what I was looking for. If I had a lot of savings and didn’t mind burning it all a backpacking trip through Europe would be great but my current funds don’t really allow for such an expedition.

In many ways I have to reassure myself that coming over here and is not just taking a small detour in accomplishing the goals I have in life. I look forward to Masters school and starting my career back home and justify my time spent here as a great way to become a more well-rounded student and gain a larger perspective on the world. I do truly believe this. There is a small nagging voice in the back of my head that does sneak up from time to time and sel-criticisms of just procrastinating and enjoying the easy lifestyle that Korea offers ex-pat teachers is not the path right now. 3 months of coach surfing and spending all of my savings would be giving those self-doubts a little credence in my opinion.

Back in Bellingham I worked afternoon and evenings at UPS immediately after graduating. While having the day to myself was nice I remember that a lot of my time interacting with friends was later at night and most of the friends who socialize at these hours do so at bars over drinks. This is all fine when you are still riding that postgraduation high. I’m 26 now and trying to flex some of the maturity I will need to really accomplish the things I desire to do in my life and revisiting this lifestyle doesn’t have a huge appeal to me.

Plus, while many teachers I talk to don’t really like the kindergarten classes (especially other guys) these are the times when I get the most gratification from teaching. The physical energy you have to expend is quite a bit more with students at this age but the payoff is immense. The influence and admiration you gain with them and being able to see how rapidly you are affecting them in a positive manner is one of my favorite things about teaching.

I explained both these things to my bosses and a compromise was struck. I am going home early March and coming back near the end of April to start kindergarten classes in June. My director gave me a decent raise and is going to put me back on the payroll in May. I will be the most veteran foreign and morning teacher at this point and the second longest teacher at my school. I will also be the oldest one. Amazing how much can change in one year.

Enough about work, on to my impromptou trip back home. It took a little scrambling to figure out the logistics but I’m already anticipating my return home. Aroung March 9th I fly out from Incheon to Tucson, Arizona. My best friend is attending school there for his Masters and has Spring Break starting on the 10th. I have never really been to the Southwest and look forward to not only the adventures but the warm temperatures and cuisine of an Arizona Spring. After a week or two there I’m cruising over to LA to reconnect with some friends and family for about a week and then flying up to Seattle for the duration of April.

Sometimes you have to roll with the punches, such is life. I’ve got my gloves laced tight, a smile on my face and am ready for some epic adventure-filled rounds Stateside. Viva!

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I’ve decided to devote a little more of my time here to documenting what books I’m enjoying in. As a child I had an insatiable appetite for reading and though I don’t go through many a week like I used to I still love to sit in the park and read a book or hasten the perceived time of subway transit with an epic tome. One of the highlights of solo hiking this summer was trekking to a good vantage and taking a breather while reading a chapter or two. You’re never lonely when you can dive into a great story!

The last two novels I’ve read have been superb reads and definitely add some further variety to the already eclectic library in my apartment. One of the things I truly cherish about good literature is the ability of a talented author to transport you to distant lands/cultures. Stepping into a different perspective in an elsewhere setting can be a wonderful salve for the occasional culture burnout days.

The first of these books was Hitching Rides with Buddha (first released as Hokkaido Highway Blues in the States) by Canadian author Will Ferguson. The author spent 5 years in Japan as an English teacher. To conclude his time in there he embarks on an epic journey to follow the fall of the Sakura (cherry blossoms) across the length of Japan. The sheer scope of his proposed journey from the Southernmost point of Cape Sata to Sapporo in the far North is admirable in its ambition. Add to this his means of travel, sticking out his opposable and hitchhiking, and you have a travel book unique when compared to many others.

Ferguson has a cutting wit that has let him form a colorful perspective on Japan’s culture over during his time in the gateway to the East which is evidenced in vivid and often hilarious quips throughout his journey. This tempered with a somewhat profound sense of the symbolic and a dash of personal truth finding about what his time here has really meant created a book that I voraciously read in a handful of days.

I’ve read many a fellow expat’s blog since deciding to come over to the land of the morning clam but most of them have centered around my host country and not the bordering ones. It was very refreshing to read such a clever and candid account of a different culture. Noting similarities and differences was very engaging. There is also a stark contrast between even the best written blog with its brief and fractured installments compared to a well written novel with an overall story and interweaving themes.

Walking on a path of falling cherry blossoms.

Japan has always intrigued me with its odd tetter-totter between a pervasive and intricate, sense of tradition balanced against a ravenous appetite for modernity. Similarities between this juxtaposition of old-school social hierarchy and cutting edge technological lifestyles are echoed strongly here in Korea.

The two top references for my impressions of Japan are two distinctly different sources. My father has told me numerous stories about his time as a high school exchange student in Japan in the early 70s. He spent two years taking correspondence courses at the University of Washington learning Japanese and his anecdotes offered me a unique glimpse of a foreign land as even a young child. Asking him about the miniature Japanese instrument ornaments we hung on our Christmas tree is the furthest reaching memory I have.

The other source is the Japanese author Haruki Murakami. His vivid prose and sometimes baffling stories are rich in the folklore and nuances of Japanese society. My brother and I have both been known to invest much time in his books and are always on the lookout for the newest release. Though using vastly different methods of delivery both Murakami and my father are exceptional storytellers in their own trademark manner and have formed in me a very vivid sense of Japan with little to no actual personal exposure.

Kinda like if Chaim Potok and Stanley Kubrick got together to make an LA Confidential-esque story.

The second novel of note for me was a work of stark and prodigious imagination by Michael Chabon (the Pulitzer Prize winning author of “The adventures of Kavalier and Klay”). The plot and setting of his story revolves around an audacious alter-history in which the Jewish societies displaced by the atrocities of the Holocaust did not relocate in the arid, scorching area of the Middle East but rather the cold, barren stretch of Sitka, Southern Alaska.

Surprisingly there was a proposal put before congress by the Secretary of the Interior, Harold L. Ickes, back in the late 1930s that had tried to establish this very state. The residents of Alaska at the time weren’t terribly receptive and the bill never got very far.

I haven’t read literature so steeped in Jewish culture since I discovered Chaim Potok in Jr High. The differences between these two authors of the same cultural bent is as vast as eons heavy continental drift in opposite direction. Both feature a disgraced potential Tzadik but that is as far as the similarities extend.

Though I have never been a huge mystery genre fan, the gumshoe protagonist with a raw, rampantly cynical outlook on life while he rapidly plummets to a gritty rock-bottom pulls you in. The dark setting of Sitka on the brink of transformation due to US Reclamation is an apt one. You can feel the weary, jaded yet survivalistic perseverance of the characters in this book.

Reuben Sandwiches and Mighty Aphrodite

Living in the area where I grew up in rural/suburban Western Washington there were not a lot of opportunities to be exposed to the Jewish culture firsthand. My father realized that at one point and tried to counter with his own one of a kind enrichment lessons. I still remember the night he bought a bunch of Reuben sandwiches, rented “Mighty Aphrodite” by Woody Allen and explained Hanukkah to my brother and I in elementary school. He’s Irish Catholic but is cool like that.

As different as these two books are they had a common appeal for me. They both had cultures I am unfamiliar with yet fascinated by as foundations for the stories they told. Ferguson does not spend the majority of his time with other expats, he communes with the locals and he espouses a perspective on not just the national identity but a regional as well.

Chabon religious/social outlooks, mores, stereotypes, cuisine and even slang (some authentic and some created for the book) for his alternate universe. He strikes a perfect balance between imagination and reality. I highly recommend both these books. If you are in the mood for a lighter style read Ferguson’s travel accounts. Those hungering for a top-notch fiction with a heavy plot from one of modern America’s literary proteges should check out Chabon’s sleuth story.

Check back soon for the next status post concerning paper cuts and written adventures. I just finished “The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao” by Junot Diaz and “Fool” by Christopher Moore.

It’s been slow on the outgoing dispatches. School has been fairly busy so I haven’t had a whole excess of free time with the computers here. A lot of my writing has also gone into compiling a fleet of postcards going out to friends and family back home. Lastly, I’ve had one extremely negative experience in the last three weeks which I had to reconcile with my self in some ways internally before I wanted to put it down in writing publicly.

About four weeks ago both my wallet and my Iphone were stolen. That day I had been out to a baseball game with some coworkers, had an excellent burrito at Dos Tacos in Hongdae and even said hello to an old college friend. I then cruised over to Roots Time for their 3rd anniversary show. Spirits were high, the riddims were proper and smiles shone from all faces. I stepped outside for a break from dancing and to catch a bit of the breeze. A very energetic girl followed me out and engaged me in a zig-zagging conversation resembling a hectic pinball game. It probably didn’t help that I bought us both shots of Espresso from the coffee shop next door. I thanked her for the enthusiastic, albeit manic/sporadic, conversation and went back down to dance to Shinji (the owner’s) spinning.

About ten minutes later the same girl and her friend came over and asked if I wanted to come with them to spot called redemption bar. It had a real laidback vibe and kind of felt like the inside of a Super Mario game, giant red mushrooms and trippy colors galore. I chatted with one of the girls for awhile. Upon departing one of the girls all of the sudden pulled a bottle of Jagermeister out of her back pack and poured a quick shot into a paper cup. She offered it to me with a smile but surprisingly didn’t have any herself. I bid them adieu and decided to see how the Saturday morning was treating my Dad before I went out to snag a taxi back home. Conversation was good though Skype wasn’t cooperating very well and had to use the “call home cheap” service (I will write more about this is in a brief future post).

The talk was good and it was nice to catch up. I gave my Padre an adios and stood up to go catch a cab back to my apartment…

And then everything went black. Now on a few occasions throughout my life (read college) I’ve drunken a bit too much and been at a loss for an overall schema or memory of events for the night before. This was different. This was like a mellow buzz to a gaping void in my memory unoccupied by even the slightest sensory memory let alone coherent cognitive statement or observation. I came to a couple hours later a few blocks from the bar with drag marks leading me into someone’s single-car garage. My hat, sunglasses, Iphone and wallet all gone. To make matters worse I did not write down my Alien Card number so couldn’t report this to the bank and have my card cancelled. They ended up charging 192,000 Won (about $175) to my card at department stores before the bank opened the next Monday.

On the plus side of this semi-sordid tale I did have insurance on my phone and bank account. I will only have to pay around $350 for a new phone and get 70% of the stolen funds from my account back. Too bad I had used the ATM earlier that night and was confused by the non-English selection screen. Instead of withdrawing 30,000 won I withdrew 300,000 won. The equivalent of $250 that was in my wallet at the time I will not be getting back.

I would be lying if I said that wasn’t slightly bitter but in the end I still have only myself to blame. The glaring red-flags in hindsight are far too obvious as they tend to be. Important lesson learned, “Don’t take shots from pretty girls that seem really into you for no apparent reason and who aren’t joining you in a shot.” After 4 trips to different police stations, what seems like an hour of my coworker talking to the phone with insurance people and filling out umpteen different forms the storm has passed.

I will still firmly espouse the virtues of Seoul being an incredibly safe place, especially when compared to the States. Nonetheless any city of over 10 million is going to have its fair share of bad apples. Don’t let your guard down. I have much different interests and passions than the people I work with and the friends I have here so finding myself on solo adventures is inevitable. My spidey senses have been kicked into overdrive though and the cost of gaining them was pretty high. Expect more dispatches from me, I just had to get over the weird limbo that comes with having your life knocked a little akimbo. Adios for now amigos!

Finally got a moment of respite from the marathon teaching that was last week. This is shaping up to be a great work week as we had Monday off for Korean independence day, some of you may have taken note of this is you saw Google’s homepage giving props to the flag. Thursday and Friday all my afternoon classes have the singing contest so no real intensive classes then and on Friday all morning classes have the pajama party, my kindergarten coteacher and I are in charge of cooking classes so we’re teaching them all how to make  canapés for the entire session.

Enough about SLP though I still need to recap my Busan vacation at the beginning of this month. Our (I was accompanied by 4 of my coworkers) train going down to Busan actually left at 10:30 instead of 9:50 as we originally thought so we made it to the departing station in downtown central Seoul in no time. We were riding on the KTX and I had never ridden on a bullet train before so this was quite a novel experience.

To travel from Seoul which is near the Northwest corner of Korea all the way down to Busan on the opposite end of the country takes only about 3 hours including the numerous stops at stations to pick up more passengers along the way. You really don’t comprehend exactly how fast you are moving as you look out onto the landscape in the distance. Then you focus on the scenery passing by in a closer proximity to the train and suffer a wave of vertigo as everything just becomes a blur of movement.

Upon arrival we hailed a cab and cruised out to our hotel. This is peak vacation season and we had just managed to snag one of the last hotel rooms available. The price was really cheap but the hotel was located in an odd spot of town where very few foreigners visit. It did kind of feel like I was in an odd ’80s communist era hotel but the beds were comfortable and the AC was efficient so I can’t complain.

We spent a total of three nights in Busan. During the day we hit up many beaches including the most popular beach Haundae. This was by far the most crowded beach that I have ever been on in my life. A sea of parasols and beach mats covered most of the available square footage and the always present lifeguards on jet skis not letting swimmers past 6-7 feet deep roamed the waters like sharks waiting outside a reef. The sound of families, soju intoxicated college kids and fellow expats was a constant drone. While exciting and spring-breakesque this wasn’t really my idea of the perfect beach.

Vacation seaside frenzy.

In comparison to this the next day was quite a difference as we went out to Songjeong beach and had another day of soaking up some rays. This beach is far more family orientated and much less crowded. Had some decent nostalgia stirred up upon seeing all the kids making moat-encircled sand castles by the water line. I decided to invest in one of the intertube rentals for $5 and was rewarded with a nice cool vantage point mostly above water gently bobbing in the sea. Spectacular.

One other great thing to note about this beach is that it was the only one I saw with an area roped off for surfing and had quite a few amateur Korean surfers trying to catch the small breakers coming in. I flashed a “shaka” but think this hawaiian greeting was lost in translation. I was kinda tempted to go hit up the surf shack on the other side of the road to rent a board but it wasn’t destined to be as we didn’t discover this part of the beach until nearer to sunset.

Bobbing on the intertube with my shades on was vacay bliss.

The next day I was feeling like I had my fill of beaches and decided to enrich the cultural aspect of this trip by visiting one of the local Buddhist temples. Haedong Yonggungsa is a unique temple to Korea in that it is the only Buddhist temple in this country that is located right on the coast. I had originally planned on visiting Beomeosa which is one of the “5 great temples of Korea” but its isolated location up in the mountains in Northern Busan and associated 1.5-2 hour one-way transit time was kinda discouraging. I didn’t regret my decision to opt for Yonggungsa the moment I stood at this tranquil viewpoint with the ocean breeze caressing my face.

The only seaside temple in Korea.

This is the first large Buddhist temple I have ever visited and I was quite impressed. The only one I had seen before this was the very small and quaint temple located within Boramae park two stops away from my hood. This temple had numerous sentinel-like sculptures leading up to the entrance to the temple steps once you finally made it through the long alley of stalls selling everything from sweet red-bean pastries to Buddhist amulets & bracelets and even iced apricot tea (I was intrigued).

A long set of steps followed leading down past small alters with old wax encrusted pillars and stonework lanterns cut from a white rock. A few smaller outdoor side shrines branched off until you reached a vista point and all of the sudden you could all of the sudden perceive the main temple complex pictured above and the panoramic sea view pictured below.

The sun was strong but the setting so serene you didn't notice the sweat.

Finally doing some culturally enriching sightseeing instead of just beaches and bar debauchery!

While here I felt a strong sense of fulfillment and pride. My father raised me Roman Catholic (no longer practicing) but always strongly urged me to visit as many temples, synagogues, cathedrals and mosques to truly gain an appreciation for the cultures that created them. The stories concerning the origins of this place as well as the values reflected in the architecture, layout religious artwork truly seemed to impress upon you some empathy for the civilization that created it.

This was the main one out of many different buddha statues. Some were small stone ones with rub-worn stone bellies due to generations of hands searching for good luck. Others were giant ebony totems right by the breaking ocean waves.

The general mood of the people was a joy to behold. From the old, stoic grandmother making her practiced bows in the inner shrine, to the sightseeing tourists soaking up part of their own culture and snapping dozens of photos  every few minutes, to the small children running around smiling and laughing everyone seemed very at peace. No one was rude or pushy in the lines like at the subway stations. Everyone just seemed to appreciate where they were and the moment they were living in.

Dear blog,

Sorry I’ve been neglecting you so much. I know, I know, you are my Hermes carrying messages back home and promoting my exploits here in Korea. Yes, I know, in twenty years when I am much more tied down and think back to times of wanderlust you will be a testament of inspiration for adventures of yesteryear. It’s just that I lost that camera cord and really wanted to upload photos so that the text wouldn’t stand alone. This last week especially has been really hectic at school as we’ve had two new teachers show up and they’ve been observing me so I’ve had to really put my game face on. That paired with fact that it’s been the last week of the July session and I’ve had an increased classload has given me virtually no free time for blogging at school.

I’ll make it up to you by promising to put this and two other posts up this week. This first one will be the recap of mid-July and Marine Week in which our protagonist ventured out to the Aquarium at COEX with his awesome young linguists protegés the Cheetah class and battled the ocean/elements and made more expat friends from around the world at the Boryoeng Mud Festival.

First off, the aquarium was a complete blast! My kids were in high spirits and I had a delightful time watching them ohhh and ahhh at all the sharks, sea turtles, tropical fish, crocodiles and more. The AC was pumping out a cool flow and the humidity was low. Facilities were very modern and the fact that cost of entry is My aquatic buddies.usually $30 on the weekends made me thankful the school was picking up the bill on this one. Another one of my patented beaming smiles was let loose upon seeing the sea otter exhibit. I DIG SEA OTTERS in a big way. The way they sinuously move in the water makes me envious of a prowess at swimming I will never posses. Their features always seem to be mischievously smiling and mates hold paws when they sleep so that they don’t lose each other out on the open sea. There is no marine animal I would rather be than the carefree sea otter.

Cheetah class humming Under the Sea.

Boreyong was a blast. Our bus left Seoul at 7:30am and Noksapyeong is a good 45 minutes away via subway so we had to leave the apartments by 6:20 to play it safe. I pulled myself out of bed at 5:30 am to make a huge breakfast scramble consisting of 12 eggs, one zuchnni, two yellow onion, 4 Korean chili peppers, 1 orange bell pepper, 1 potato, basil, oregano and some Boulliard’s Louisiana hot sauce and Sriracha Thai chili sauce. A little power breakfast to help with the beginning of the forey. The bus ride was uneventful but I was filled with a lighthearted joy upon leaving Seoul for the first time since arriving.

I loved zoning out on road trips and just soaking up the passing scenery of Washington as a child. This trait is not lost to me as an adult and South Korea’s countryside had a lot to offer. From mist shrouded mountains clad in verdant tones of green fauna unfamiliar to me to terraced agricultural hills and small clusters of skyscrapers indicating small towns (everything is compact here, which I dig since I abhor suburban sprawl). After this panoramic ride of 2 1/2 hours we arrived at Boryeong at around 10:30.

We lucked out and our room was ready so our crew of 6 unloaded backpacks an threw on some trunks in the room. A mini-fridge, small stove, pile of bedding on hardwood floor and separate bathroom was definitely the smallest room I’ve shared with a group this size. After assessing the facilities we headed down to the beach. Our neglect to put any sunscreen on is shown in the peeling skin currently on my shoulders and the pink, new skin showing on my nose. The water was warm and the beach expansive with a chain of islands of varying sized reminding me of the San Juan back home. I dove in and made a cross-stroke beeline for the nearest buoy 50 yards out. At 30 yards I was jarred out of my rhythm by a Korean coast guard member on a jetski waving me back to shore. Guess they’re a little phobic of tourism fallout if some intoxicated waygook (foreigner) drowns during the festivities. Fair enough.

As for the actual mud festival section of the beach we didn’t spend a ton of time. $5 purchased entry to all the events like mud wrestling, mud slides and mud obstacle courses. Unfortunately this was the first day of festivities and the lines were lengthy so the only one we did was a slip and slide style race. I challenged my British buddy and had a glorious victory after a thirtyish foot long slide and scramble to the end. He claimed I had a false start, sore loser…haha. We painted ourselves with the provided cosmetic grade mud to help lessen the intensity of the sun but this proved to be in vain as Monsoon season rain reared it’s head and showered away our protective coating.

As the sun set we grabbed out bottles of cass, took a fortifying shot of Johnny Walker black label (they sell it in 7-11 here…) and changed out of our now filthy, smelling of the sea shorts to go grab some dinner. The bibimbap hit the spot and we meandered down to the beach to meet some Irish friends and their blokes. The opening night fireworks were phenomenal and I was very impressed with not only the size of the arsenal but the variety. Back home we don’t have shells that separate into a multitude of hearts or smiley faces on the horizon. Good times were had by all.

The next day we were tired of sand in our shorts and decided to go to the waterpark by the bus stop. My favorite ride was my first. However, I wasn’t used to the protocol and just thought it worked just like “Wild Waves” the Six Flags water/amusement park back home. I grabbed the bar and propelled myself down the tube. Bad move, here you are supposed to slowly lie down and let them push you to initiate the ride. I smacked my forehead on the top of the entry (good thing I’m thick-headed) but still managed to fly down the tube on the rushing water.

This tube did four consecutive circles (dizziness ensues not helped by blow to the noggin) and then spits you out into a large bowl. If you have ever seen the fundraising device where you put a coin in and the velocity makes it go around and round the bowl before dropping through the hole at the bottom you can picture this ride. I had more momentum than most due to my size and exuberant take off at the top so was spun about 4 times before falling through the hole into the pool at the bottom. Unbeknownst to me there was a life guard with a floatation device at the bottom who helps grab you and escort you to the exit. Makes sense considering the vertigo inducing dizziness of said ride. I however almost freaked out and started swinging when two hands grabbed me under the water, haha.

Mini panic attack and forced leave of the park was averted when I noticed the red lifeguard attire. Upon exiting two lifeguards were waiting questioning my state of health “Are you ok? Are you sure?”. Seems the lifeguard at the top had noticed me hit my head and had radioed her fellow employees bottom-side. I was laughing like a little kid and reassured them my condition was strong.

Many other slides and hijinks ensued and I also was pleasantly surprised to discover the sauna at the top which had around 70 separate water massage stations for your back, legs, shoulders and chest. Pretty savvy concept. The shoulder massage had a very strong flow and felt good to my muscles but extremely harsh on my sunburnt skin. We were all pretty burnt by the time we hopped on the bus back to Seoul. Koreans take extra precaution against sunburn and exposure to elements so the next day at class all my students were pointing and yelling “Red Teacher”!!!

Well blog, I hope this is a good start to making it up to you for not corresponding for some time. Tonight is another going away party in Itaewon for the last of the departing teachers finishing their contracts and leaving for home this Summer. A total of 7 teachers have concluded their time here and left for home since I’ve arrived. It’s been a little surreal just arriving and seeing so many people I’ve just met depart, also a little odd being considered the “veteran” amongst the new hires.

The going away party isn’t for another 7 hours so I think I’m finished with this post, ready to sign out of Facebook, watch one last video on Pitchfork TV and leave the “Interpark Soo” PC Bang (motto: The moment when after many years of hard work and a long voyage you stand in the centre of your room, house, half-acre, square mile, island, country, knowing at last how you got there, and say, I own this.) and go see some of Seoul. I think Boramae park or wandering around the grounds of a buddhist temple seems like the perfect idea right now. Cheers!

Well today marks the anniversary of my 26th year in action. At roughly 9am at Evergreen Hospital in Kirkland, WA after 26 hours of labor yours truly emerged screaming my first epic yodel out to the world. Wasn’t quite the looker, some of you might not have heard of this phenomenon but prolonged labor and the ongoing  pressure of  exiting the womb can have a funny effect on a baby’s soft skull. I definitely came out looking similar to Dan Akroyd in the SNL based film the cone heads. My great-grandfather made a statement to the effect of “Congratulations you two but that is one ugly looking little boy”. My father said it was fairly disconcerting watching the doctor mold my head into the proper shape and I still have some funky ridges and bumps that show up whenever I Bic it in the summertime (which doesn’t happen often here in Seoul for fear of being confused with one of the enlisted gents you see in Itaewon).

On Saturday I was hoping to go to the FC Seoul game at World Cup Stadium but the monsoon season rains kinda killed that idea the day of. Not to big of a loss though since I still connected with some friends and made it to Hongdae. My birthday present to myself was a stop by Roots Time and having one golden hour sans KPop and its redundant, trivial tendencies. To each their own but for some one whose favorite genres are Metal and Reggae just can’t seem to abide the stuff myself.

After Roots Time we all went to one of the clubs around here and much dancing and debauchery commenced. All in all I had a great time. The last time I was abroad for my birthday was my 14th or 15th in Puerto Villarta, Mexico with my family. They are not here in Seoul but I feel I made the most of it and am appreciative for the friends and coworker that made it out. Tonight I’m taking it much easier (still start at 9am tomorrow at my hagwon) but am going to playbar in the neighboring district of Guro to play some pool and darts. Glad I’m still excited to celebrate my birthdays, once I get past my mid-twenties I see them more as a source of apprehension then celebration, haha!

   Saturday I woke up early to make it out to Oryu-dong to volunteer with orphans at an orphanage in that neck of the woods. I’m  definitely trying to keep up my work with kids who have lost a parent or sibling and though I know that I won’t be working in the same capacity (I will be teaching English and playing, not facilitating groups or counseling) it still feels good to volunteer.

   The trip started out a little rough since I was fifteen minutes late due to getting a little lost on the subway and catching the wrong connector. Luckily enough as I went out the exit I saw a group of twelve people around my age that stood out as probably being the group I was meeting with. I found out about this opportunity through Bean Social Network’s Seoul chapter and their facebook page which I’m a member of. Bean is kind of like a Facebook but for people interested in non-profit and volunteering opportunities.

   After a few introductions we made our way to the orphanage and met with the kids. There were 13 of us total and probably about 30ish kids so it definitely wasn’t an overload. The children were divided into age groups and the divvied amongst the volunteers. We had coloring and crossword handouts and worked with the kids.

   The English level was very hard for me to gauge since many of the children were so shy but it was a lot of fun hanging out and seeing them slowly become more confident and go from single word responses to all of a sudden busting out a sentence or two. I definitely didn’t feel like I was getting as much quality teaching done as I do at my school but focused more on the fact that for kids who didn’t have a lot of opportunities any exposure to English was probably great.

Getting first sand in the shoe of the summer!

  After an hour of teaching we headed out to the yard and played with the children. I would play soccer with some of the older kids and simple games like paper, scissors, rock or spin the kid till they went airborne game. It was a great time and I felt awesome during and afterwards. It’s always great doing something like this and I am adamant that it is not a selfless act, you feel really positive and have a great natural high for some time after you have stopped.

   Great heart medicine. Also it’s an outstanding way to meet some like-minded individuals. We had a handful of  Koreans, both from within the country and American born, as well as foreigners from Texas, India and other spots. I was surprised to learn one of the volunteers was from Tacoma which is right next to my hometown South of Seattle (it’s a really big small-world sometimes…), and where I had done some of my initial volunteering back in high school.

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