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!

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!

I got a little choked up in the PC Bang writing this to the kids I do grief camp with as a counselor for the last 3 Summers. I attended this camp as a child and it meant a ton to me. This is the first time I’ve felt somewhat homesick. I’m alright with that, lets me know I’m human.

Hello to my Seabeck family!
   I’m writing this to you guys at 5:00 on Sunday night from a PC Bang (that’s an internet cafe in South Korea) since I don’t have a computer yet. Really miss seeing you guys at Seabeck this year, I have my “Nathan Columbus” award taped up on the wall of my apartment and think about you all every time I see it. The kids at my school are really great, they pick up English quickly and have a bunch of nicknames for me like “Panther teacher” because of my hairy arms and “Magic teacher” from the science classes I teach. Today I went to a local orphanage and did free English lessons with the kids there and then played some Soccer with them out in the sandlot. My time here is really showing me that no matter how different cultures can be all over the world we all have some of the most important things in common. We all cherish our friends and family and the love we share. Even though these kids have lost both their parents and have no family to take them in there are dedicated people who are trying their hardest to ease their pain and give them the tools to make a life for themselves. Their lives have been really rough but they all laugh, play practical jokes and love to play. It’s really heartening to know that is a universal part of people worldwide. Hopefully after my time here I’ll learn more about people from all walks of life and how to help them deal with the death of a loved one even better. I know you have all had an awesome weekend and some great talks. Know that I am so proud of you all for the amazing strength and bravery you show on the journey of grief and am there with you in Spirit right now. Love you guys and look forward to hearing all about Seabeck this year and seeing you in the future. Erica and Nick can give you my email feel free to contact me at any time for any reason. Keep your hearts big and full of life.
 
Your friend always,
Nathan Hanson

Couldn’t be happier with the previous week. Definitely feeling like time left in the states is a valuable commodity and making the most of it. Thursday was a going away part for a good amiga who is going to be an ESL teacher in Columbia. It was great sharing that “looking at oncoming precipice I’m about to take the plunge off!” feeling with a friend and wishing her luck. Location was up on Capitol Hill and an outstanding dive bar known as the Quarter Lounge, definitely got my fill of pool and foosball for the week. Also was delighted at the unexpected appearance of my good friend Chad, an old college roommate who has been teaching and working in youth centered non-profits in India for past 3 years and is back in states to start grad school at UCLA (well-played amigo). He had some great advice about living abroad, trials and tribulations inherent, and some interesting new Grad School opportunities for someone in my background.

Turns out University of Texas is starting a child bereavement MA program that I’m going to have to look into. While discussing this with him our friend Jamie (an uber-sweet white South African from Zimbabwe) overheard what my hoped for program of study was and pulled me aside. I mentioned how I’ve been active in the grief support community as a group facilitator for kids for past ten years and how I hoped to have this be the focus of my future studies. Mentioned the fact that in high school I had kicked around the idea of making a Master’s thesis based on differing forms of culturally expressed grief by living in Asia to gain an appreciation for the effects of a collectivist society and then travel to Africa to work with kids who have are effected by the AIDS epidemic. As a child who lost their parent at an early age I knew firsthand how much of a loss it is to lose that sense of naivety and sense of security. I’ve always wondered how living in a society where death was so prevalent due to one singular ominous and prevalent form would affect a child’s view of the world and death in general. Add on to this the fact that in many of these areas it is such a fight to live that you have no time to stop to deal with loss or even your own tragically limited predicted lifespan and it has always been a hope of mine to live in Africa before finishing my academic career.

I could tell that Jamie was very intrigued and excited to give her input. She asked me how it was that this conversation topic and goal of mine had never came up and I laughed and proclaimed that we were usually at social events and I try not to bring up topic of grief/death due to its sometimes mood-killing effect. It turns out that her father in Zimbabwe has worked with children who have AIDS as a counselor and this is a passion of his. I think I may have made a connection for my next travel destination after Korea (who knows how long that will be, haha). All in all a great evening and very glad I decided to Trek into Seattle for the occasion. From friends returning, about to depart and sharing the resources of their distant homelands, I felt blessed to be connected to such a wonderful group of people.

The next day I visited my little brother to chat and catch up on things before departing for Vashon Island. This jewel of the Puget Sound is one of many islands that make up the San Juan Islands just off of the coast of North Western Washington but sheltered by the peninsula on the far West end. I hopped on the ferry (Washington State has one of the largest ferry systems in the Pacific Northwest) and met with my mother’s sister Mardi, who lives out on the island with her family and my grandmother, in the cabin. She had been the only aunt on that side of the family not in attendance at Easter so it was wonderful to see her before I depart. My uncle Nate picked me up and we cruised back to their house/mini-farm.

To grandmother's house we go!

After picking some asparagus out of the gardens, letting the sheep back into the pen and feeding the dogs my cousin Julie (named after my Mom) and the three of us loaded back into the car and departed back down to a separate dock. It turns out that my one of my uncle’s copilots (she also flies 747s and 777s internationally) is married to a ferry captain and they own and live on a BFB (Big Fucking Boat). It was previously a fishing vessel equipped for the Bering Sea in AK that had been renovated into a spacious and amazingly outfitted houseboat. The interior was beautiful and the functionality of the ship was quite amazing. 72′ long, 9,000 mile capability and they were waiting for the water maker to come in from New Zealand. King and Queen of the sea and sky, they were gracious and charismatic hosts!

After finishing dinner and getting dropped off at the dock via the small skiff (boat was too large to come into the marina) the four of us returned to the homestead. My aunt and I watched a movie (Shutter Island), uncle Nate had to fly to Japan (his primary run) the next day so he ended up dozing off after pouring me a couple shots of Patron. He is very insistent that I visit him in Tokyo on some of his layovers and said that he occasionally also flies to Incheon, bonus! After the movie my aunt and I stayed up for a bit and she shared some amazing stories about adventures with my mother when she was alive and the wonderful and mirth-filled times that had together way back when. I love hearing these stories as it makes me feel a connection to the woman who conceived me (she died at 30 when I was 2) and it was the perfect way to end an outstanding evening. Really can’t thank them enough for their hospitality and making me feel like an honored guest.

Captivating Read.

The next morning I woke up early and finished “Saturday” by Ian McEwan. This story is a modern rendition of “Mrs. Dalloway” by Virginia Woolf which was influenced by “Ulysses” by James Joyce. The theme of this book is consciousness and how our perspective of the world is based on so many things and is ever-changing even in the immediate moment. It takes place in the single day of the life of a prominent neurosurgeon in London who is consistently impressed at the enigma of self even though he has an in-depth knowledge of the function and structure of the human brain. Highly intriguing and a gloriously cerebral read!

I then loaded up the riding lawnmowers trailer and took a large load of fire wood over to my grandmother who lives next door on the property. It was great to spend some time with her and not only earn some brownie points with her for the firewood and helping to reinstall a cabinet on her wall but to exchange some stories, explain what drove me to go live on the other side of the world and her more stories. I even was gifted with some herbs and spices to take with me on the trip, thanks Grandma! After our time spent together my aunt kindly drove me back down to the ferry dock and I ventured back to the mainland feeling very grateful for the time spent with my extended family who show me so much warmth, I was really touched. Gotta say, can’t ask for a better weekend and am really going to miss these amazing friends and family I have here in Washington. Knowing they are all rooting for me is some strong Juju!

   It’s crazy to think that there are only two months left until I leave the ‘burbs of Washington and head out to Seoul, South Korea. I will be staying in the Yeungdongpo area of Seoul (I think it’s kind of like a borough) and working for the Sogang University Language Program (SLP). Working from 9am-6pm I start out my mornings working with kindergarten students and finish the day working with elementary students.

   With the time I have left it has been a real blessing to be living at my parents house. I originally moved in here to help save money but have found that quality time spent with them is a reason in and of itself for my current living situation. The feeling of helping with dinner and sometimes micromanagement of my little sisters (they can be a handful sometimes) is that much more gratifying when I think about the fact that I won’t be seeing them in person for at least one year. It completely balances out the fact that I’m sleeping on their couch and the limited bus routes around this area. I’m truly thankful for the lessons of my father in showing me the importance of family against the odds.

   My mother died from AML Leukemia when I was a young child and the bond between him, my little brother Nick and I has only strengthened through the years. Since remarrying (my stepmother Patti) and adopting three little girls (Shirley is the eldest followed by the twins Hannah and Sarah) he has shown me that no matter how non-traditional, love and perseverance through the obstacles of life are the defining aspects of a family. 

   This appreciation of the present moment has extended beyond my family. Time spent with some of my good friends has seemed that much more savored. Though I know I will be making numerous new friends, the ties of friendship nurtured throughout the years are strong with those I have cherished the last 7 years.

  Savoring each moment, whether it be watching a movie at the house. Catching lunch or drinks in Seattle, or even moments of reflection on the bus or train to or fro the city have been an unforseen gift of my decision to live abroad in Korea. Added to the fact that I am continuing the legacy of my father and both grandfathers in visiting Asia during the periods where they were coming into their own as young men only reinforces my feeling that I have made the right decision. It’s currently an odd tetter-totter inside of me between soaking up the present and wishing time would go a little slower, and great anticipation for the adventures and self-growth of the future creating a desire for it to already be May. Probably the best dissonance I’ve experienced in my adult life, haha.

   All in all I feel intensely pleased that already my perspective on the world and my life in general, both my goals and the values I hold to be a priority, are rapidly developing. This development is so enriching and thus begets more of the same establishment of perceived depth. Life is good and with my life I hope to share that sentiment.

The family at my cousin's wedding.