This month is off to a good start. We’ve had a few sporadic snow flurries (nothing sticks and it is minuscule amounts falling at best) but it has been very cold in the twenties at night and extremely dry. Hand and face lotion as well as chap stick are items I rarely use back home but over here it is a necessity. On the plus side these shorter days a lower temperatures are really making me look forward to my approaching vacation in Thailand. Nothing to increase the anticipation for the warm, sunny beaches of Koh Samoi like the onset of Seoul winter.

Anticipation rising!

The month started out a little somber as some of the friends I spent the most time with departed back home. My friends Jacob and Mary left for a week’s vacation before returning to Portland to reenter their lives there. I was acquaintances with Mary while attending Western and we both laughed as she left that it was our experiences in Korea that really solidified our friendship from being people you said hello to friends who knew the backgrounds and value of each other. Funny how being in an expat community can do that to you.

Ahhh, my futbol watching partners in crime, your presence will be missed over here.

Her boyfriend Jacob was probably my numero uno amigo over here. I will sincerely miss Yahtzee nights at the low-key Irish bar Madigans in Hwagok every Friday and talking smack while playing pool and darts with Ratatat playing in the background. He also had weekly appointments at an area just past my stop so we frequently got together in my hood every week on Tuesday or Thursday and would talk for hours at a local hof or outside the Cultwo Mart. We didn’t know each other in college but through our stories of our time there discovered a plethora of shared friends and adventures.

It’s a surreal feeling talking to a friend you’ve met in Seoul and piecing together that you were both at the same crazy, uber-granola house party in college. Unlike many friends I had to say my farewells to I look forward to future adventures in Portland and Seattle this upcoming Summer. So many of the people you meet here you know you will probably never see again outside of Seoul. It’s good to get the ones where you can already anticipate enjoying epic times in the near future back home.

A similar goodbye was my coworker Dallas. After 3 years at our Hagwon he was ready to try a different style of workplace. Though he will be back in January I do already miss our weeknights out. Not really being one to go huge on the Weekend nights outside of our neighborhood he was surprising keen on having good conversations/watching high-brow or less main stream movies and sharing a drink on the weeknight. An appreciation for these things is fairly lacking  in term of my other coworkers so the notable lack of entertainment on weeknights has been in strong contrast to last month.

Now that my friend base has significantly decreased I’m already hitting up quite a few more shows. Feel like I may have to go to some of those social mixer events to up the networking a little more. This weekend I attended a pretty good show at club spot with quite a few metalcore and some grind bands and then followed it up by attending the monthly spinning at Roots Time in Hongdae. Won a dollar (harhar) from my coworker because I encountered some “Fresh from Incheon” expats who just arrived last weekend at the Little Travelers’ show from the weekend before.

I had told them to check out Roots Time and my coworker had said there was no they’d cruise all the way back up from their base in Suwon to see somebody spinning vinyl at a hole in the wall. Turns out he underestimated the yearning for Reggae in a K-Pop fanatic culture, easy money…

The Little Travelers show featured 6 clubs and over 20 bands with all proceeds going to nonprofits for women with AIDS in South Africa. Nothing like rocking out to a good cause. While I was winning money and dipping my head to the tracks at Roots Time I also ran into my buddy from Finland who is a student at Yonsei University nearby. Libations were had into the wee hours and I gained a healthy respect for the Finnish ethanol tolerance.

Tuesday was also great as it was a good friend’s birthday. We had dinner at the Peruvian joint Cusco. The food was great. My Arroz con Pollo was excellent, I was tempted by the fusion chicken dish but Latin American curry seemed like it might be hit or miss so I went for the standard fare. One friend ordered the octopus ceviche and I must admit, for the first time eating raw tentacles it was really good. I even enjoyed the stringy seafood that adorned the dish along with the marinated red onions and hearty South American corn (bigger kernels and much starchier with a real chew factor). The birthday amigo and his girlfriend split a bottle of Chilean wine branded with El Diablo and spirits were high.

Arroz con Pollo Peruvian style was a great gastro start to the night.

We left there to get a nice cocktail at Lucky Strike up the block. My first month here we pulled this same itinerary and it was kind of surreal feeling my first case of Seoul nostalgia. After 7 months it still feels like I just showed up last week. I stuck with my classic Manhattan and felt like a Advertisement Exec baller as always. Lucky Strike is based on the cigarette which leaves for a lot of retro decor and a cool funky feel. It has a take out window on the side and interesting caricatures of alcohol etched into the windows. Rum is a guzzling pirate and Gin is a lidded, urban socialite. A swarthy Russian Vodka with the stereotypical Moscow tall hat and a bottle sticking out of his pocket while still ordering 1 more with a gloved had accompanied by a passed out Tequila with a droopy stache and a large sombrero complete the quartet.

Proof once more that nothing is trademarked in Korea.

Drinks are well made here and perfectly stiff. However the cost is a bit much (my Manhattan was 10,000 Won) and after already having splurge we went next door to Rock and Roll bar for one last drink before ending an earlyish night out. This was just one more example of how you can walk into a random divey looking basement bar here and be completely taken by surprised. The atmosphere was great, the drinks modest in cost, the help courteous and fluent in English and there was even a huge fluffy cat that walked like he owned the place. Excellent. I ended up having an extra drink of Red Rock (Korean made, fairly decent Amber Ale) on tap due to finding an unspoken gem like this. A brief spate of worry over the approaching midnight hour (average subway cut-off time) was solved by the ever helpful foreign helpline. Just dial 1330 and a friendly Seoulite who speaks English will help you with any inquires from “How late does the two-line run from Hapjeong to Daelim?” to “where can I find a pool with a diving in South East Seoul?”. Thank you Seoul, another successful night!

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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!

   Last weekend in town is going great so far. Got into town early and made a chili tofu scramble with little bro then met up with one of my best friends and the three of us saw Thor at Pacific Place in downtown Seattle’s Westlake Center. After the movie we shot a few games of pool. Nick had a date that night so said our farewells and traveled over to Toulouse Petit for dinner with my buddies girlfriend who had been unable to attend the going away party since she was feeling under the weather. Spirits were high and the food was spot on! I ordered the tagliatelle (may have spelled that wrong) pasta with a sage and pine nut cream sauce that was delicious.

   After hanging out for a while here we cruised up Queen Anne hill and met with some friends of amiga’s from Portland at Sully’s bar and restaurant. Turns out one of my friends teaching in Seoul is a mutual acquaintance so I have a letter to deliver upon arrival. Small world sometimes. Great times had by all!

   Sorry this is a quick one but I need to hop on the bus downtown to drop off the last of my library books, snag some postcards at the Pier, gifts for friends in Seoul at the Market and then…go to the Sounders game tonight. Yes! Good luck boys, give em hell on the pitch. After the game I’m hoofing it over to the KISW studios for one last metal shop broadcast with the dynamic radio duo. All in all perfect end to my last night in Seattle for 2011!

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That title is for you Arrested Development fans out there (picture Gob Bluth, haha). Since my flight leaves in one week my going away party was this past weekend as well as shows, welcome back parties and Mother’s day. It was packed to the brim and outstandingly epic!

   I cruised out to Seattle on Wednesday to have dinner with one of my oldest friend’s since high school Mountain. We caught a Sounders game at Kells Irish Pub at the Market and then went back out to West Seattle to make food at his place. I whipped up some quinoa with organic chili, onions, garlic, corn and plantain chips which was quite a hit. He’s a skilled brewer of wines and beer so the dinner was accompanied by a great homebrewed porter and some delicious honey stout.

   He works at 6am so I headed back into Seattle proper after that to meet with my friend who works at Kells and play some FIFA 2012 (one of the few video games I love). The downside of this night was that at some point in my sleep I managed to cut my eye. I’ve done this at least two other times so instantly knew what had happened. Luckily it was a very superficial injury so healed pretty quickly and I didn’t have to sport an eye patch or anything. Today was Cinco de Mayo but the last place I really wanted to be was at some bar with a ton of people trying to find an excuse to drink way too much tequila on a Thursday night. As I get older I kinda wave started appreciating celebrating holidays a little more authentically. St Patty’s was celebrated at a good friends family house were they had a band playing fiddle, flute and Irish bagpipes (just mentioning a few) with traditional songs, lots of great conversations and a real family and celebration of heritage feel to it. That’s the way to do it.

   I decided to go out to a friend’s show on Capitol Hill instead. You may not have heard of the Seattle band Smooth Sailing but they are really coming into their own and I highly recommend checking them out. Here’s a little sampler.

http://youtu.be/fx5Xni4Jl9I

The show was great got some props for my dancing, new amiga Sam stated “I didn’t know that it was possible to dance to metalcore like that!” haha. Great times.

The following day (Friday) was the actual day of my going away and it was pretty booked. Snagged some tacos with my buddy Kev and little bro from Rancho Bravo and then made my way to Key Arena. I was recruited by a good friend to be on his Street Team for the Street League Skateboarding competition this weekend in Seattle and orientation was today. Street League is a project of Rob Dyrdeck’s and is an attempt to legitimize skateboarding to form leagues and become seen as just as professional a sport as futbol or baseball. You might recognize Rob from his MTV shows “Rob and Big” or “Fantasy Factory” or DC skateboarding company. The competition happened all weekend and was a great time. In honor of my upcoming departure our entire street team was “Team Savage” which brought an uberwatt smile to my face.

   Once I got out of the orientation it was time to cruise back downtown and check into my hotel. My mom bought a hotel room for me as a going away party for this night. Since she is a GM (general manager) for this hotel chain she reserved a king-sized suite for a ridiculously good price. I checked into my room, dropped off my bag, changed into board shorts and threw on the bath robe before heading up to rooftop hot tub. The view was awesome and I could actually see parts of the Mariner’s game happening next door at Safeco field. The water was warm and the Spire Dark n Dry cider in my hand was crisp and delicious. Great way to start the evening.

   After an hour in the jacuzzi I ran back down to my room, took a shower and hopped on the hotel shuttle taking me to the market to meet everyone at Kells. My game plan was to have the night start at Kells, have some great conversations, a few stiff drinks and enjoy a little of the band from Ireland playing that night (figure that might be a rare commodity in Seoul). Ten to midnight would be spent at Kells and then go finish off the night at the dance party at the Alibi Room a few blocks down. It was amazing. Tons of friends from many different times of my life made it out and I felt truly blessed to have so many make it out. Thanks again to all who made it! We even ran into Phoenix Jones the “real-life” Seattle superhero and leader of the Raincity Superhero Movement. My little brother gave him some respect and then was interviewed by the Seattle Weekly about his thoughts. My two favorite quotes “I’ve gotta a lot of respect for the guy, I mean that’s so dumb it’s stupid-cool” and “Just a shame he’ll probably get shot in the face”. Hope I got those right little bro, feel free to correct any misprint. I hope Mr. Jones avoids said bullet for a very long time, he does have a bulletproof rubber suit and a giant cattle-prodesque taser. 

    More updates including more detail on Mother’s Day soon to come but I have one last Trivia Night at The Great Nabob’s to go win. Need to take a siesta so my thinking cap is in the full effect!