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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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!

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!

I’ve easily been to over a hundred shows in my life. Though I won’t know when I hit the thousand mark I’m looking forward to it. That being said the three shows I went to on my week of vacation were unlike any I have been to back home. Not as much in terms of the type of music but more so because of the environment and my own vibe during the shows.

There is this interesting sensation of surrealism upon walking into a show here and being the only Caucasian in the club. I have never felt so distanced from the “scene” as I did at my first show at Sapiens 7 club in Hongdae, Seoul. Everyone is chatting casually in Korean. Then the music starts and it doesn’t matter what your native tongue is, just the appreciation for heavy music (thrash, hardcore, metal, etc.) and the vibrant bellows and shrieks of the lead singer backed by the righteous riffs, barrages of double pedals and savage, resonant bass lines of the instruments.

During the set breaks you are wrenched out of your comfort zone when the lead singer cracks jokes and tells stories in Korean. Other than his/her tone of voice, body language and the reactions of the crowd you have no idea what message is being broadcast. I caught the part where one lead singer thanked us for coming to this show instead of going to see Incubus that night at the Jisan valley Rock Festival but the rest was decidedly over my head.

Bands ranged from emo-influenced, melodic hardcore to Southern style Panteraesque metal, to a band in the vein of the Brazilian behemoths Sepultura. I befriended a German metalhead who was visiting a friend for a month and a Canadian fellow expat teacher who was the only waygook who played in any of the bands that night (bass in one of the opening acts) and accompanied them to the after party with a few of the bands at a Korean BBQ house. There is a service here where instead of taking a taxi home or drinking and driving you pay a driver to shuttle you back home in your car. I waved goodbye to a series of guttural, victorious shouts and “goodbye Nathan!”s as their van headed back to their rockin domiciles.

After this I snagged some tater tots with my new friend and fellow metalhead from Germany Ollie and his friend Karina. We had some libations and enjoyed deep-fried starchy goodness until about 4am when Ollie informed me his flight left at 9am that morning. I laughed and told him to go home and snagged a taxi back to my apartment on the other side of the behemoth waterway that is the Han river.

My next installment in this series will feature my new favorite Korean band The Rocktigers and their own unique genre of music kimchibilly. Stay tuned and as my 7 year olds say after a speech “thank you for listening!”.

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!

*This is an earlier post that has been sitting in my drafts. The tribulations of being a veggie in this country is an ongoing story so I’ve updated it with the most relevent previous experiences and posted it. Sorry if the chronology seems a little skewed…

Some of my fears about keeping with my veg diet have been significantly abated in the last week (week ending 6/4). I have actually felt fully sated and uber-full for the first time since my arrival in Seoul. Not only this but I had my first outing with the Seoul Veggie Club which I connected with via facebook.

Pineapple Fried Rice with Seitanesque Soy Steak.

The restaurant is called Everest and the dish is their Nepalese set. A set is synonymous with combo over here in Korea. If you wanted to get a burger with fries and a coke you would ask for a “Burger set”. This particular dish was all sorts of awesomeness. The riatta was smooth with just the right potency of yogurt culture to mellow the fiery spices of the other items. The green soupy concoction in the largest bowl/chalice had some dal and greens in it and it was paired with the spicy potato and chili dish in the middle and an amazing pea and paneer dish.

All of this cost $11 dollars and tasted phenomenal.

I am constantly amazed at how I always forget the delicious simplicity that is the taste of perfectly cooked basamati rice until we are reunited again. I took my time and had numerous breaks during this meal to page through The Story Of A Ship-Wrecked Sailor by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. If you’ve never read his world-famous epic One Thousand Years of Solitude I would strongly recommend you do so next time you are hankering for a complex yet whimsical tale of a people, a region and a family therein.

By the time I had finished the set I had a slight amount of sweat on my brow, fire on my tongue and gratifying weight in my center. I have not felt starving at any point in Seoul but rice and kimchi are not really the type of food that feels satisfying full in your belly. Perhaps this is why I was relishing the sensation so much I ordered two samosas with both red and green sauces and an order of channa masala to go. I was able to only finish one of the samosas and happily took it home.

Mmmmm...samosas for two bucks.

Since this feast I have dropped by Everest one more time on a personal solo mastication mission of epic flavor bud proportions (6/17). I had the Dal Makhani accompanied by a huge plane of Naan and a Cass 500cc draft. It was the perfect way to start a great night of dancing @ Mama Gorillas and GoGos, playing darts at 501 Darts in B2 of Hongdae (across from Zen Bar) and having some outstanding conversations with amigos old and new.

  

Oddly ornate Western architecture.

   There has been a ton of adventures and small stories to put down this last week. Rather than spend a ton of time documenting all of them I figured I’d put it down in a series of installments. Hence all of the post in a day or two since they’re covering a pretty packed 5 day period. Did my best to keep them somewhat in time-linear order though.

   So this weekend all of my coworkers were going out to stay at a pension (kind of like a house you can rent for the weekend) on the East coast. They had placed the reservation before I arrived and were apologizing profusely about not being able to invite me since it was already booked. This crew is way too nice, haha.

   Since they were all leaving early Saturday morning they were taking it pretty easy Friday night. I on the other hand kind of was wanting to go see some of the city. It was a 3 day weekend and for some reason or another was feeling the itch to go do some dancing and have a drink or two. Hung out with one coworker and watched a Werner Herzog documentary about the people who live and worked in Antarctica. Great flick. Headed out for the subway at about 11:30 to catch the last train into Hongdae.

   I knew that the subway stops running from midnight to about 5:30 so I was going out late on the off-chance I might stay out until the first run. Subways here cost no more than $1.40 at most whereas a cab back to my apartment would run me around $15 (which is still far less than the equivalent cab ride would be back in Seattle). I know some people back at home might be a little alarmed when they here I went out at midnight for a night on the town by myself (Dad, I know you are cringing as you read this) but this is a really safe part of town and my coworkers gave me a summary of how to make a night of it when going out solo.

   I also like the immersion aspect of going out with no one else. With other foreigners I can feel somewhat insulated by the numerous aspects of Seoul and Korean culture that seem so alien to me. By myself I was forced to observe more carefully and be a little more bold in talking to people whose grasp of my language was unknown to me. I could have gone to Itaewon and been surrounded by other foreigners but I kind of like the challenge of being forced to adapt and be on your toes socially.

   My first stop of the night was at “Roots Time” which is a small reggae bar. There were only two other girls in their at the time and by the time I left I would be the only patron. My coworker had warned me that it was either really packed (the max occupancy is probably only 20 people with no standing room) or pretty dead. Tonight was a dead night. I did enjoy listening to some good old school roots reggae, flipping through their vinyl collection and chatting with the Japanese bar tender who is an avid reggae fan. He was pretty stoked when he saw my Motorhead t-shirt but we shared a laugh about the fact that if heavy music and reggae are your favorite genres then epic shows in Seoul are going to be few and far between. Had one beer, chatted for a while and then left.

Big ups to this tiny bar.

   I had trouble finding the specific bar (Sk@ bar) I had been to and had a great time dancing and meeting Korean college kids at so ended up at Zen Bar where a lot of foreigners frequent. The fact that I just had gotten my haircut and don’t yet have an ARC made the bouncer pretty wary of me. I think he thought I was enlisted as he grudgingly let me in with a very firm, repeated warning of “No fighting.” Talked with a Korean tattoo artist for a bit but this stop was fairly uneventful.

   After hitting the streets I was still sober, being solo is nice in the fact that if you are somewhat intelligent you probably limit your intake of ethanol…and ready to find Sk@ bar. Asked an Irish chap on the street and got some great directions. Went there and danced pretty tough, met some Korean and Italian kids and had a great time. On the way back to my station I actually ended up sitting in between two Korean guys the same age as me, one of whom was born in the states and had just moved over and the other who had just got back from living in Texas for 4 years. Great coincidence, we shared some stories, laughed about cultural differences and the night ended on a good note as I waved goodbye upon disembarking at Daelim station.

   Oh, I also saw a painting of “The Little Prince” above a DVD store. My godfather Lugino bought me this book as a child and it was one of my favorites. Brought a smile to my face seeing a familiar literary reference. I guess there’s also a themed town based of the book and a semi-recent movie remake of it. Props to the Korean people for respecting Antoine de Saint-Exupéry so much.

The heart-warming story of life's circle via interstellar travel.