Well I can definitely say that I will never forget my 26th Thanksgiving. First time away from the fam and abroad and the options for Thanksgiving were kind of limited. I ended up hanging out with a couple coworkers at the local Makegoli house having some beverages and eating some BBQ’ed chicken. Oh yeah, don’t think I’ve mentioned that in the blog yet but for the first time in over 11 years I’m eating chicken again. I am now just one more statistic of a vegetarian who couldn’t stay strong in Korea. I’m taking it in stride though, usually not more than once a week and still steering clear of red meats.

Thanksgiving dinner is pictured below, aside from the chicken there were onion, cabbage, corn, shredded carrots, tangerine slices and quail eggs. Not nearly as delicious as the fare back home but a lot more exotic to be sure. I countered the homesickness by befriending some of the Korean guys there who were my age and students at a local university. Soju was had, charades were used to communicate and new KaKao talk (kind of like Korean Skype) friends were made. Felt good to make due and at least make for one heck of a memorable holiday abroad.

Last Thursday was the field trip to the transportation safety education center (this is the term I’m using since my coworkers were confused about an adequate translation). This was actually the shortest and most uneventful field trip yet. The center is located in Omomkgyo which is only 20 minutes away.

I was thankful for this short duration as the continuous repetition of “Wheels on the Bus go ‘Round and ‘Round” was quickly draining my cognitive reserve as well as my consistently mellow temperament. Our driver was the same one that will give some of us a ride back to our apartments on Monday, Wednesday and Friday and I really enjoy his constant smile and cheerful attitude but his head-bobbing and waving of hands to the simple repeated children’s tune was slightly off-setting. Another 15 minutes more and I would have burnt out my typically gigantic well of patience and the fun factor would have taken a significant drop for all parties involved.

The field trip started with viewing a cheesy Korean anime about magic traffic light people who taught about how not to get hit by cars or other forms of transportation. It was all in Korean so I pretty much just dialed out for a bit, didn’t seem like I was missing much as even the kids quickly lost interest.

After the film we partook in some practice exercises and had numerous street-crossing demonstrations. I understand the necessity of instilling in these kids a healthy respect of the dangers of traffic here. This is a city of almost 12 million touting one of the highest population densities and where pedestrians don’t even have the right of way. Add on to this the ever-present scooters weaving between pedestrians on the sidewalk and red lights that seem more like a suggestion than a rigidly enforced rule sometime.

Couple this environment with a society that treasures their children and places a huge emphasis on their protection. I completely understand why so much extra education is geared towards being aware of the dangers presented by vehicles. Unfortunately this knowledge did nothing to alleviate my boredom. Common sense lessons in basic safety are devastatingly dull, especially in a foreign language.

Luckily enough the field trip concluded with a round of chaotic soccer and a trip to the large big-toy playground and the conclusion was quite entertaining. Huzzah!

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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!

I’m sure most of you have heard of Rockabilly. Born in the early 1950s in rural America, specifically the Southern states. This blues and western swing influenced genre gains its name from the blending of Rock and Hillbilly and the term Rockabilly was originally an insulting term brandished against the early pioneers. Like many such slurs (think Yankee) it was embraced by the very people it was supposed to slight. I was a big fan of the Living End, Tiger Army and the Reverend Horton Heat back in my high school days but had thought those days of fandom were behind me. I was wrong.

This newfound appreciation was due to one epic catalyst known as the Rocktigers. This Korean outfit has even coined a new name for a subgenre within Rockabilly known as Kimchibilly. They play fast, vibrant tunes and the charisma blazing during their stand up bass solos, furious behind the head guitar riffs and wailing tunes of their lead singer truly gets you caught up in the moment. It doesn’t hurt that the charming frontwoman Velvet Geena is mischievously beautiful and quite willing to talk to any fan with a contagious enthusiasm.

I’ve been to two of their shows so far and always have a good time. Sometimes it takes putting a whole new spin on an old favorite to rekindle the love affair, but I’m glad to be a fan of Rockabilly once more. I just had to travel halfway across the globe to find some savage Asian musicians who were fed up with Kpop and ready to blaze a new trail by making inroads to a somewhat forgotten style of American Rock.

First off, a big apology to all of those that read that last blog entry. Apparently I did not properly log out of my blog correctly on Monday so some of my coworkers took the liberty to go in and make some minor changes to my Author and The Blog pages. Then they uploaded a new post. I was think about leaving it up to give you all a taste of their sense of humor but it was kind of annoying me each time I saw it and the graphic depiction of death and lack of remorse might shake the sensibilities of some of my family members who read this. Definitely got some concerned emails…

I would have taken it down but they also changed the email address and password thus effectively locking me out. Very effective on their part. Needless to say I was not as amused as they were, I’m more of a laugh with you or well-meaning shit-talking amongst friends king of guy. Not the real laughing as group at one member in particular variety. Enough about that though and back to the positive vibrations playing out here during the Chuseok holiday!

The main events were two shows and one epic hiking trip up in the mountains. The first show on Friday night was a fairly uneventful local show of a rock duo (guitar & drums) and a progressive jazz trio (bass, keyboard & drums). There were probably only 8 other people there and I was the only foreigner in attendance so was definitely an intimate showing. Saturday night Gold Panda put on an epic show in Seoul. First band from abroad I’ve seen in my time as a resident here and they definitely brought the epic tunes with them from NY. The show was at Rolling Hall which is definitely the most legitimate venue I have been to here. The occupancy seemed like anywhere from 3 to 4 hundred. Felt like every hipster in Seoul was in attendance. Lots of dancing and running into recently acquired fans made for a great evening!

Sunday was just some festivities around the foreign district with my coworker from DC and watching a little of the Ireland vs. US in the World Cup for rugby. Later that evening we attended a Chuseok party thrown at a small house overlooking the Itaewon are near Namsan tower. The Korean and German guys hosting the shindig were outstanding hosts and a bevy of food was offered, much cooked on the barbecue on the grill outside. A large hookah offered a various assortment of shisha to partake in.

Tuesday was the end of my 4 day workweek so I celebrated by hitting up the mountain (Bukhansan) with my friends who are a couple that attended the same university I did. The weather was great and even though there were trove of people trekking up the mountain the holiday enthusiasm made for beaming smiles and a jovial atmosphere on the peaks. This marks a full month of me hitting up the mountains for multiple kilometer hikes and I couldn’t be happier. My skin is the olive tone I appreciate, my energy level is higher and I feel great overall! Highly encourage anyone who has some high altitude topography nearby to get out there and enjoy it this fall. My condition is strong.

Standing tall on a mountain!

A common trend of mine seems to be blogging about events a week or two after they happen. I’d like to thing that is because I’m organizing in my head exactly what I want to impart. Letting the thoughts take shape and crystallize into the perfect coherent and eloquent form to express my life here in Seoul. Sadly, I fear this is more due to the fact that at heart I’m somewhat of a procrastinator and don’t get around to writing posts until I realize the memories are starting to fade from experiences and sensations/thoughts in the moment to mere cliff notes.

This entry is about my elementary kids and the awesome prowess they possess in serenading the judges (other teachers) into giving them pizza. The song contest took place two weeks ago and was a blast. Two of my classes came in first place and one in second. To be honest I was kind of rooting for the team that came in second the most. Their rendition of “Somewhere over the rainbow” covered by Israel Kamakawiwo’ole was pretty cute. Not precisely all-city choir quality but I was cracking up at seeing them sing, especially the initial “Oooooo  oooooo ooooooo” part which they had trouble delivering with any flexing of their range. Picture one long monotone Oooooooooo *pause* ooooooo….you get the picture. They really tried hard and put their all into it.

I was feeling so motivated for these guys to score well I dropped by the local craft store and made them streamer flags that they could wave. I bought five different colors of streamers and attached them to similarly colored hard-foam poles. As they swayed them back and forth it kinda looked like a rainbow on stage. Kinda. Regardless anyone who knows me well knows arts and crafts aren’t really my forte so I was feeling pretty proud of even this small props-crafting.

Luckily enough 2nd still gets a pizza party, just not the SLP dollars (used on market day) or badge/pins that some students proudly have adorning their backpacks. They were beat out by one of my other classes with their cover of “World’s Greatest by R Kelly. They chose the song in that class…Me being a huge R Kelly fan and all (read the sarcasm…) you can see why I was rooting for Somewhere over the rainbow.

Here’s a shot of one of my older classes who won with “Lean On Me” by Bill Withers. I tried to convince all of my classes to do some mild form of dancing (read pantomiming the lyrics) but they all balked. This class even refused to lean against each other during the chorus which urges this action.

Lean on Me takes the gold.

I was fairly vindicated by the surprised look on my coteacher’s face when they won. I choose the song and she had been fairly adamant about how it was too hard for them.

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This weekend was outstanding and one of my favorite so far in Seoul because it featured me partaking in two of my favorite pasttimes: hiking and shows. I’ll get to the show in my next post but I want to use this one just to detail the sheer epicness that is Bukhansan.

Standing over 200m above sea level at its highest peak and spanning a vast area of 78.45 sq km this is no measly park. With over 100 different routes going to a multitude of different peaks and connecting traverses, I can definitely see myself investing quite a bit of time here from now into the months leading up to Winter.

That morning I woke up and treated myself to a homemade breakfast of baked beans, eggs over easy, toast and caramelized garlic, onion, red peppers. As I finished this hearty meal I realized I was full but not really satisfied. Sometimes my hankering to do a certain activity sneaks up on me and it takes me a minute to recognize what it is I’m jonesing to do. As I washed the dishes it struck me, the weather was great outside, I had been here three months…and I had yet to do any hiking (trampoling is the term I learned in New Zealand and the most charming term for this activity in my opinion).

From my subway station in Youngdeungpo-gu the trip only had one transfer at Hapjeong and took  less than half an hour to arrive at my destination, Dokbawi station (line 6, stop #613). Just one of the wondrous things about this country is how you have this gigantic wilderness areas with hiking and camping just off the subway line. As I got closer and closer to my stop more and more people sporting North Face (or the local Red Face brand) backpacks and boots, Patagonia outdoor apparel and hiking poles file into the subway. I had forgotten my directions from the subway station to the trail-head but this did not present too much of a problem as I just followed the steady stream of hikers making their way towards the mountain.

I’m a fairly adept hiker but the first 45 minutes are always the hardest, unless you are doing a real grueling trek of like ten plus miles (adept for an amateur…). You seem to be sweating the hardest and finding your rhythm during this stage. I haven’t gone on a good hike for about 4 months and was definitely feeling rusty that first hour. Heart was beating, breath was a heavy pant and I definitely drew some amused chuckles from the ajumma and ajeossi (old women and men) sharing the trail with me.

I reached the summit (one of dozens of peaks within Bukhansan) within an hour of starting. The view justified the original hiccups finding my pace and then some. I chatted for a while with a 3M business men about good hikes, what brought me to Korea and the benefits of travel. So many people I encounter here seem to really enjoy a good conversation and are eager to utilize what English they know.

After bidding him goodbye I walked over to a different vantage within a cloud of dragonfly/butterfly swarms and took the occasion to sit down and hydrate. Within five minutes I noticed a late middle-aged Korean man walking around the summit picking up any bits of trash with a long pair of tongs. As he drew near me he inquired “You are a foreigner and hiking alone?”, I laughed and responded in the positive. He seem quite impressed when I informed him I had only been in the country for three months and this was my first hiking excursion. He then chided me “You should not hike by yourself! I hike by myself but live at the base of this mountain and hike it every weekend.” He sat down next to me and we sat in silence reflecting on the view for a solemn few minutes.

I broke the silence by offering some of the peanuts I had brought with me for a light lunch break. He thanked me and offered some tea. Asking him what type it was brought a perplexed countenance to his face but after a minute on his smartphone he proclaimed that it was Buckwheat jelly tea. With some trepidation I politely accepted and was pleasantly surprised. Green in color with a complex and hearty taste it was quite good. With this exchange of sustenance done he offered to show me around the nearby peaks and valleys.

Sung was self-taught in English via books and the local EBT (English Broadcast Channel) learning programs. He was in great shape and engaged in the perfect amount of conversation. I don’t consider myself anti-social but I love those reflective moments during a good hike when you are just focused on the movement of your limbs and savoring the scenery around you. During our 2-3 hours of hiking I watched as he picked up about 3 pounds in litter. He showed me some of the rock-climbing spots and a grand little creekside rest stop to soak our feet and splash some cool, fast-flowing alpine water on our faces and arms.

I was truly fortunate to have him as a guide and he is another great example of the hospitality and cheerful good-will I have experienced from complete strangers here in Korea. Our hike ended with showing me a small Buddhist temple at the end of the hike and escorting me to the subway stop with was no small act of kindness since I did not see a winding line of hikers going back to the subway at this point. All in all a most satisfying and productive day and the