If the hotel we stayed at the first night seemed somewhat stark, dingy and antiquated we were in for quite the surprise upon arrival at our next lodgings. “The Guest House” (actual name of business) just opened up for business in the past two months and was fully furnished with a very modern (two separate computers for guest use) and trendy look to it. We slept 4 people to a room in separate bunk beds. The beds were comfortable and the layout of the room was quite convenient with individual lockers and a large closet for clothes and luggage. Not only was there on site laundry for your sandy, sea-smelling beach attire but they had a fully stocked kitchen and provided breakfast free of charge, though conversation for me was slightly limited.

Korean frosted flakes? Order Up!

Lively conversations around me are a reminder that I need to focus more on my Korean conversational skills.

I really enjoyed the charismatic and goofy owner/manager of the property. The first night there my coworkers decided to go to the bars immediately after the beach. I for one am more of a shower and change kinda guy, don’t really like sitting on a bar stool with the feeling of sand in my shoes and in my clothes. Due to this I hopped on the subway for a little evening transition time in between festivities. On a related quick tangent I feel like a true expat because I now have not one, but Two Korean subway cards! One Seoul Metro linked onto my bank account and one Busan Hannaro card.

Haha, back to the story… I arrived at the guesthouse after a quick stop by the store for some Mekju (beer), ramen, soft tofu and green onions. After a quick shower I fired up the elements and started crafting a little curry ramen stew. While talking to my new friend Peter who was a student/soldier (all Koreans over twenty must serve for a little under two years in the armed forces) I pulled out my trusty bag of culinary tricks and added a little complexity to my dish. Many of my friends will tell you that I can’t eat without my assortment of condiments and I packed accordingly for this vacation. My coworker from Philly likened me to a culinary Felix the Cat and his magical bag of tricks.

Peter saw the meal and the mekju I pulled out of the fridge and seemed to be a bit inspired as he produced a bag of rice balls stuffed with kimchi and boiled potatoes and ran down to the 7-11 to purchase some beer of his own. Around this time the owner came out of his room/office smelling the curry in the air and looking curiously at the dining table. Upon seeing my dish he let out the often hear “WOW!” and asked if I was a chef. I laughed and told him my Dad had spent some time in this occupation but that my brother was the cook in the family and I just learned some tricks and enjoyed the hobby.

We sat and chatted in simplified English for a bit and then Peter returned with some beer. Food was traded and beers were clanked together held by two hands and the utterance of “Gombey” which is the traditional Korean cheers. Do not accidentally say “Kampi” or you will look like a real ass…

The next morning the same WOW was uttered a few times by Peter and the manager when I made a little breakfast omelette. I felt a happy and somewhat proud sense of Deja Vu.

Sprucing up the finished product with a little Sriracha, garlic salt w/ parsley, basil and a drizzle of Chili oil.

Breakfast of Champions!

The manager was so impressed he asked me to give him an English name. First time I have given a grown man a namesake. Cheers to you Ethan of the guesthouse and all the gracious and fun-loving other Korean guests I met there!

And thus you were named!

Big Ups to my Guest House peeps!

Lunch was had across the street at the Shinsegae department store. The sushi was really good in the food court with a nice tuna roll wrapped in that crazy purple rice they have here in Korea. It was pretty similar to most of the department stores except for the fact that….IT’S THE BIGGEST ONE IN THE WORLD! Haha, yeah, movie theatre, spa, Romanesque fountains with alabaster sculptures, an ice rink and a giant Guiness seal of authenticity on the front it was a little overwhelming.

If you go to the website you might even get to see the testimony “webmercial” video testimony he filmed of my review to try and coax other waygookins into his 21st story guest house of wonders.

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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!

Went on a few pretty awesome adventures in the last couple days. My stomach is pleased and I’m feeling a little more on the ball as a result. This week has not been the most spectacular assortment of food offered by the cafeteria at school to put it lightly… Since I’m here for almost 10 hours a day (including breaks) and there are no real options nearby my hunger has been growing as each day passes. Add on to this that I’m still setting up the new apartment and don’t want to really create any dishes to clean and you start to see the epic proportions of my appetite at mid-week.

Based on this I convinced the Texan (coworker) to accompany me on a sushi mission and Hampton ended up cruising with us after we knocked on her door. Our first stop was at the sashimi place where a few of us had gotten the all you can eat tuna feast a month ago. Unfortunately they didn’t offer rolls just the all you can eat different cuts of tuna which wasn’t what I was jonesing for and more expensive than I wanted. We decided to venture on to Guro Digital Complex where Texas had seen a sushi place a while back.

The walk was fairly interesting because instead of taking the often traveled path towards Daelim station and then following the station we decided to trek through the heart of Chinatown. It felt like we had left Seoul. Samguypsol places were replaced by fried chicken and lamb joint and all the bright Hangul neon lights were replaced with Chinese characters displayed in a manner not necessitating electricity.

When we finally arrived I was pretty shocked. Guro is big and packed full of a plethora of restraunts, hawkers, bars and various other establishments. It felt like being near Sinchon or Konkuk University area. A lot of places to go and a fairly younger crowd. Not a lot of foreigners in this area either.

The first sushi joint we found looked great. Unfortunately it seemed loved by many as it was packed past capacity. There were tons of rolls and a beaming sushi chef pouring shot after shot of soju to boisterous patrons. Next time I’ll definitely check this spot again but it wasn’t meant to be tonight. Traveling further into the heart of Daelim took us past street vendors selling everything from ice cream out of smaller coolers and waffles to the ubiquitous dried squid and fish. We went by hilarious misnamed in Konglish spots such as “May B breakfast and brunch” that was open at 10pm to “Donkey Fried Chicken”. Hilarious.

Next to Donkey Fried Chicken was a small sushi spot we ended up spying from afar. Hangul looks quite different that Kanji so these spots stick out down the brightly glowing neon corridors of Guro Digital Complex. This small hole in the wall was quite the successful destination. Texas ordered a tempura shrimp roll and I asked for some a Unagi (Eel which tastes like BBQed chicken) roll. Both were quite umami (Japanese for delicious and the term for the fifth category of

Forgot my camera but this image is identical to what mine looked like.

taste buds) . Washed down with Miso soup and all for only 6 a piece and I was sated and feeling at ease with the culinary world.

High off of this sushi feast we decided to walk back to a foreign style bar that specialized in import beers. It had the common budweiser and Hoegarden on draft but also Heiniken. I had a bottle of Belgian Leffe Brown and a Becks Dark and Texas partook of some Pilsner Urquell. Quite enjoyable all in all.

Thursday night I met with a friend from Bellingham who is a paragon of generosity here in Seoul. I say this because she not only gave me an extra cell phone she and her boyfriend weren’t using but a toaster oven and two cans of black beans. This amiga knows exactly what gifts to give to have a kemosabi for life. Owe them both a ton and have been brainstorming on a truly epic way to pay them back. To celebrate these newly acquired goods we went and met up with some of her friends at Yaletown in Sinchon.

This spot had beer pong and the intriguing nail in a cross-cut log game. You take a nail for each person playing and drive them in an equal distance. Using the claw end you must be the first of the group to successfully drive the nail all the way down in the fewest hits. This game paired with inebriated college kids would never fly in the states. One thumb gets partially severed and ensuing lawsuits would spell extinction for bar and game. Good thing Korea has a system of law that has many differences…good and bad.

Liability issues aside my nachos with jalapeno, Tabasco onions and fresh guacamole hit the spot. Love me some jalapeno and the only spot I’ve found to procure them has been the Quiznos in Itaewon (which I systematically take 1-2 small to go condiment containers from). Giant pitchers weren’t too expensive and the troves of college kids kind of made me feel like I was back in Bellingham again.

First full paycheck is in the bank! Last week I received my ARC (Alien Registration Card) which is kind of like a green card in South Korea and was able to open up a bank account. Now I just need to register my cell phone and I’m back on the grid! Being without a cell phone, car, bank account or computer for a month and a half was a rather surreal time, haha.

This last weekend was uneventful for the most part but quite enjoyable. Friday night I stayed in Daelim with some of the coworkers. The guys all met up at the indoor screen golf establishment across the street from our apartment building. Screen golf is interesting, I mean it’s definitely not the real deal and the fake plants and piped in birdsongs add a certain faux chesseyness to it but all in all I was kind of impressed. I was allowed to bring in a cheese pizza from the local “Pizza School” (much more tolerable if you add fake bacon bits, oregano, hot sauce and garlic powder) and some Chongha (kind of like Soju but less alcoholic and not as harsh tasting). I didn’t play this eighteen but enjoyed the spectating and smack talking. A pyramid of empty Cass cans at the end of the night was our testament to not worrying about crashing the cart.

Using my paycheck I was able to pay for two epic upcoming events in the next month. The first of these is the Boryeong Mud Festival on the South East Coast here in Seoul. Featuring tons of mud-wrestling, jousting and the like it draws a rowdy crowd of foreigners and Korean for one outstanding weekend of debauchery. I’m going with my coworkers and we reserved a package with a group that is renting out a ton of buses with complimentary beers and has reserved three entire hotels just for people who are part of their group. $100 bucks seemed like a score for the accommodations and busing.

Fingers crossed for sunshine.

This was until my coworker totally outdid herself by making the travel and housing arrangements for Summer vacation. Four of us are traveling down to Busan mid-week of our on week vacation in August. For the total cost of $179 we are taking the KTX (traveling at over 300+ km per hour it is the second fastest train on the planet) and staying at a swanky hotel the first night (Tuesday). The next two nights we have a sweet guest house with full amenities and four bunk beds right near the beach for easy access. The ride back will be a little longer in the commuter train but I know I’ll be so tired it won’t even register past my earphone aided power/recovery nap on Friday back to Seoul.

Add onto all this that I moved apartments on Sunday from the lowly fourth four surrounded by Koreans to the 7th floor which is all SLP employees. I managed to luck out with this because the previous tenant left a ton of stuff which I will definitely utilize in my time here. Now I just need to get over to the lighting store and get some paper lanterns to add a little ambience to the place. Once I have it outfitted to my taste I’ll post some pictures. Until then enjoy this video courtesy of Gold Panda.

http://pitchfork.com/tv/#/music-videos/970-gold-panda/

The highpoint of this last weekend was definitely my trip out to Jamsil stadium to catch the LG Twins play the SK Wyverns. I was joined by two of the new teachers (there have been three new teachers after my arrival, all female), or as my veteran coworkers call us “Saved By the Bell, the new class”. All three have just graduated university and are from Midwest or East Coast, so as a male ’07 graduate from WA state who worked for 3 years after college I am somewhat of an anomaly so far in the group.

We met up with one of the veterans from Canada who is unique in that he plays on the best ball hockey team in Korea (they recently won the tournament in Hong Kong and were dubbed “Champions of Asia”). This always reminds me of the movie Clerks with Dante and the gang playing on the roof of the Quick-Stop. One of our Korean supervisors also came out which was awesome because she was able to translate a lot of the chants for me.

"I'm not even supposed to be here today..."

While I was raised as a Mariners fan all my life and have seen them play at Safeco Field and it’s predecessor the Kingdome it has never been my favorite spectator sport. The constant breaks and slow rate of play paired with stretches of action-less innings and inane focus upon stats has always created a certain aversion in me. The high ticket prices and exorbitant cost of food and drink didn’t help the matter later on in life. Korean baseball watched at the stadium is a whole different ballgame.

It was fairly necessary to have a Korean friend or speaker there to fully appreciate the game. Every player has their own individual chant and there are numerous situational songs throughout the game. It was great having one of our supervisors there to help point out the clutch ones. You could bring in any food and beverage you pleased and the tickets were only $9. Add on to this that the fans were far less stoic, more like an American football game vibe and it’s an entirely different spectating experience.

This was also the first time I’d set foot upon grounds that had once hosted the Olympics back in ’88. Not monumental moment but definitely a little warm and fuzzy feeling. Too bad I probably won’t be able to attend another game for a bit since the Monsoon season started this week. Typhoon is coming in on Sunday. We definitely don’t have those back on the West Coast so I’ll be exposed to some novel elemental fury. Kinda stoked.

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The title was said a few times while playing darts with my coworkers this weekend. Hope a few of you caught the NBA Jam reference. I like it for being appropriate on a couple of levels, both the climate and my outlook. The temperature is rapidly rising here in Seoul with Saturday being in the high 70s and Sunday feeling even warmer (I would guess low 80s). Since Washington had somewhat of a long, protracted winter (it had a random snow flurry out at my folks at the beginning of May and a chilly Monsoon the last weekend I was there) I’m having to rapidly develop a bit more of a warm temp tolerance. Pretty happy about buying a couple extra pairs of shorts before I left the States.

Skyscrapers all the way to the mountains.

Lucky for me that my coworkers have found a great way to beat the heat. We all just go up to the roof of our apartment building and bask out on blankets with a cd player providing some audio satisfaction. I had some frozen grapes and sunchips I contributed to the cause and was able to do my first loads of laundry since I arrived. Up on the 8th floor we get a pretty good breeze and there are already clotheslines and pins so most of my laundry dried within 4 hours of hanging it.

 

We also had a couple coworkers that had just came back from the DMZ (Demilitarized Zone) on the border with North Korea. They brought some North Korean beer and wine up to the roof. The beer wasn’t bad though hard to gauge when it’s warm and the wine was actually made with blueberries and tasted pretty decent. It’s interesting how little I think about the threat posed by North Korea considering how close they are in proximity. This morning while walking to class I was struck with this thought when I looked up into the sky and three Blackhawk Helicopters were flying North over the buildings in the direction of the most heavily fortified border in the world.

On a different note I’ll conclude this post with the second reason the title seems apt, my perspective. I really feel like I’m getting into my grove. Still no huge amount of culture shock, definitely some moments of social vertigo and at times feeling slightly frustrated when trying to navigate a city this large when you can’t read the majority of the signs but I kinda thought that would happen. All in all I’m feeling really happy already with Seoul and am pretty happy about making the decision to come over here. Time will tell and I shouldn’t be extremely confident because that could just set me up for a huge disappointment down the road but I could see myself making some great friends over here and gaining a more enriched perspective on life and the world.

Thanks for reading, Cheers!

NBA Jam just reminds me of great times as a chillun.