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!

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   Very productive day had so far! Not only did I get a ton of packing done (1 of two check in bags packed) but I bused into town to get price checks on IPod charger (I’ve been bumming off friends for last two months), international converter and purchased gifts for the director & supervisor at my new school. For the director I picked up 12 oz. of SBC’s (Seattle’s Best Coffee) medium roast (#3) and for my supervisor I dropped by Safeway and snagged some Boehms chocolates. My mother was a chocolatier about 26 years ago and I’ve known Bernard the Swiss owner since I was a baby so it felt like the perfect gift since on of my soon-to-be coworkers informed me that my supervisor enjoys chocolates.

   I said I would fill in a little more detail on mother’s day. My brother and I collaborated for making Mom dinner. I picked up some fresh spinach linguine noodles at Pasta Co. along with some produce (sugar snap peas were decadently fresh) and mozzarella balls. He dropped by Pike Place Market and snagged some scallops, sushi-grade Ahi tuna and Manilla clams. He made a scallop clam linguine with a vegetable reduction and I made a veggie lemon alfredo linguine with oregano and basil. We also whipped up a fresh romaine salad with the mozzarella balls, seared tuna encrusted with sesame seed, some crusty garlic baguette and last but not least a spicy ahi ceviche. All in all it was a hit and Mom was quite pleased with our culinary efforts to please. She also dug the bouquet of Sunflowers I snagged from Metropolitan Market.

   Heard from my recruiter, my director is going to pick me up at the airport next Tuesday and take me to see the school and then my new apartment. This is great because there was a possibility that I would be spending the first couple of weeks in a love motel while waiting for an apartment. All of the foreign teachers live in the same apartment building, I can’t wait to meet them, the rest of the staff and my future students. On the flip side of this I’m getting boggled at trying to decide how to spend my last days in the US of A. Tomorrow I’m meeting with my little bro and good friend and roommate from Bellingham post-college days to see Thor (stoked to rock my Icelandic heritage pride, VALHALLA!) and then have dinner with my friend and his girlfriend who has been a great amiga for many years. I cruise back out to the booneys to watch my little sisters while my parents meet up with the grandparents to offload garden supplies (they’ve bought quite a few racks of flowers in the last week) and celebrate my grandmother’s birthday with dinner. Saturday is the real tricky one, I’ve been invited to go see one last Sounder’s game (against our new rival the Portland Timbers), go to a birthday BBQ kegger at the high-school homies casa near my folks or make it to one last show (Ghostland Observatory who totally rocked it last time I saw them at Sasquatch Fest). So many great choices with so little time, but there are far worse dilemmas in life.

Oh yeah, my team totally dominated at Trivia Night this Monday winning with 34 points (2nd had 29) out of 7 teams. Sweet, sweet victory!

  So I have been woefully inept in the last two weeks at updating my blog. House-sitting, going to shows and first Spring BBQ’s have been great distraction! As is typical in this beautiful Ecotopia I live in (Pacific Northwest) the sun has fled and rain is falling.We natives learn not to complain though, we wouldn’t have all the trees and verdant hills without the precipitation. My amiga Marcela always says blogging is easier in the winter, even though it’s not snowflakes falling I can see some merit in her argument.

  This second half of Compact Prepack deals with a more data driven side of my preparations for getting the heck out of Dodge. I’ve been making lists of what music I need to load onto my Ipod and what shows I need to burn onto DVD (Arrested Development, Pete and Pete, Portlandia and Archer at top of list) to take with me. Figure these will be great time killers while waiting for first paycheck and also keep any potential homesickness at bay. Plus in tracking down which friends will have what genres I can swoop from I’m killing two birds with one stone.

    In order to get all my freshest of dancehall and reggae needs I get to go visit Chuck Blendah out in the San Juan Islands. For blues scholars and other Seattle hip-hop I need to trek up to Snohomish County to visit Maximus then go even further up to Bellingham (right next to Canadian border) to visit Kevmeister at the lake house and download his indie and electronica. My hardcore and metal needs will be the easiest to get to in Capitol Hill at the Metalshop amigos pad, but since they are the Kings of Metal on the Seattle airwaves their library will be the hardest musical labyrinth to navigate. Props Kevin and Ian, I look forward to being on the show at least one more Saturday night!

 I love being a representative of the many native eclectic and epic music scenes/bands and can’t wait to show others what our city has to offer besides the often associated grunge scene. On that note here is one of the paragons of Seattle singer/songwriter savagery, Mr. Rocky Votalato. I’ve been a huge fan of his old band Waxwing and his performance in the indie film Edge of Quarrel (Hardcore vs. Metal take on Romeo and Juliet set in my homecity) was definite highlight of cinema back in my High School days. He finished his tour here the other day and while this isn’t the vein of music I usually tap, his vocal chords take me back to golden days of entering the scene and escaping the suburbs for one night for a cultural breath of fresh air.

   Checked my FedEx tracking number and all the documents were received on Friday. Now it’s time to just wait for my notification for date to interview Korean Consulate and find out flight date. Pretty anxious to find out what airline I’m travelling on and what their bag check policy is, until then I can’t find out how much bulk goods (clothing, books, etc.) I can bring with me.

   Which is why my current brainstorm is orbiting the planet of Compact Prepack. If I can’t plan out the big stuff I can focus on the little, such as future weekend itineraries (Part I) and data driven hometown relics (Part II).                                                                                          

My thoughts revolve around what ideas to bring.

Oh the Places I'll go, Oh the Multimedia I'll bring!

   Planning out weekend escapades and sightseeing has a double-feature drive in style awesomeness. Not only does it let me discover more about and become further enamored with the potential of Korea but it also helps me pass the time and foster patience instead of constantly checking my gmail for word from my recruiter. Spring has sprung over here and I guess this has had an impact on my current adventure planning. I’ve been scouring blogs and travel books planning out hiking trips. This has always been a pursuit of mine and the beautiful area I grew up in has a lot to do with this.

   The trails behind my house growing up in the foothills of North Bend, WA on Rattlesnake Ridge are home to some of my cherished childhood recollections. Scrambling with my cousin Blake and brother Nichelas through backforest trails intersecting ancient elk runs down to the nearby Rattlesnake Lake to watch the Bald Eagles soaring on the thermals and roosting on large lakeside arbor sentinels is pleasantly branded into the retina of my memories. TV was a societal lure we were not ensnared by back then because our imaginations, giant trees to climb and forts to not only plan but make dominated our daylight pastimes. It was not uncommon for us to be perched at the crown of a 60+ foot evergreen (sometimes during windy days) and I can only imagine the amount of paper spent on designs of forts varying from simple lean-tos to the more extravagant underground tunnel systems with hidden trap door entrances and intricate connected tree forts in the fashion of Ewoks from Star Wars. 

Blanchard Mountain overview with college friends.

  This trend continued in college where Bellingham offered not only amazing alpine hikes up to mountainside glaciers such as the panoramic Skyline Divide but also an outstanding Interurban Trail. Starting within the municipality and following the coast on piers and madrona peppered forests up into the only highlands in Washington were the Cascade Mountain Range touched the beauteous Puget Sound at Blanchard Mountain aka the Oysterdome.

   Those not wishing to go up could stay lower in altitude as the winding road (Chuckanut Drive, one of my favorite vantage filled roadways in all the world) that hugged cliffs overlooking the Pacific Ocean offered numerous access points to the many parks with their sprawling rocky beaches below. Clayton and Larrabee Parks as well as the less known Teddy Bear Cove were host to numerous guests and offered attractions ranging from seafaring kayakers, people handcasting crab pots from the sandstone terra jutting out into the Sound and the hidden “hippie rock garden” featuring small flower gardens and whimsical rock art. Beware said secluded spot on a bright sunny day as its isolation brought forth many an unclad granola out basking (not criticizing, just the last scenery I myself was not trying to observe on a sunny day). Chuckanut Drive is featured in many a movie and its breath-taking view of the San Juan Islands and Olympic Peninsula is iconic of the Pacific Northwest.

   Looking through many of the images of the landscape of South Korea I feel a deep resonance. The craggy mountain hikes take me back to epic hikes around the Mt. Baker wilderness area and the terraced, shelf-like hillsides of the low-lying agricultural valley are very similar to the view from the Alger lookout that surveyed all the farmland of the Skagit valley. Jack Kerouac once described this valley as the most fertile place in the entire United States. Though I’m no Dharma Bum it’s good to know the freewheeling, live to burn brightly beat was a fan as well.

Can't wait to ascend this rocky path.

   Though I do not know of any similar Thoreaufare in Seoul like the Interurban Trail in Bellingham there will be many an oasis of wilderness for this county raised boy to seek sanctuary from the city bustle. Having been raised in a rural setting in early childhood, suburbs as an adolescent and teen and living in an uber-green college town as a young man I foresee at least a few times where the concrete jungles and bustle of packed in people will cause me a little claustrophobia. Haha, at least I’m prepared!

  The parks throughout Seoul seem indicative of the Korean people love and respect for nature and incorporating it into their cityscapes. Numerous spots such as Namsan Park offer an outlet for those wishing to escape the city in a small forest fortress of solitude. I look forward to visiting them and describing them in detail as well as the introspective reflections I’ll have in this blog in the near future.

   One of the other great opportunities I’ll have to pursue will be visiting the numerous Buddhist temples throughout the capital city I am to be a future resident of. Though I was raised Roman Catholic (my father was brought up in a large traditional Irish Catholic farm family in Eastern WA) I was taught by my Pops to always respect the teachings of other religions. He studied with the Jesuits for some time and always emphasized the strength he was given for not only his own but all religions. I’ve been strongly encouraged to observe the services held within mosques, Buddhist temples and synagogues while I am a young man. My father can truly be commended for nurturing my desire to be a world citizen by helping me to respect the numerous different cultures that I share this Earth with. 

Zen Autumn

*Part II soon to come!

Outstanding!

   Phew, after numerous time spent anxiously awaiting for documents to come back, umpteen runs to FedEx (like I would use UPS after 5 years working for Brown, two of which were a waste of life in hindsight…) I’ve finally finished all the bureacratic paperwork towards going to Korea. Tomorrow I’m sending all my documents to Seoul, one quick interview with the Seattle Korean consulate and then I receive my plane tickets from my Hagwon (private school). What started as an idea kicked around last fall has finally materialized from dream to soon to be reality. Now the next true battle begins…

What to Pack?

   I’ve spent numerous hours over the past two weeks scouring blogs and forums to ascertain what I really require, and what I can easily get upon my arrival. Or just live without until my first paycheck. I know that a pillow and cotton sheets are must have. Based on my stature probably want to bring most of my shoes. Early boredom making due with limited initial budget will necessitate bringing a plethora of different novels and magazines. That being said most of this has been covered from the get-go earlier this year. The real chin-stroking deep pondering has revolved around one crucial theme…Grub!

  I’m no uber-foodie but anybody who knows me well knows how much I love culinary pursuits. Numerous family feasts in college featuring cuisine based on Thai, Italian, Americana, Nuevo Irish and Indian food have only cultivated my skill in the kitchen. Pops worked as a cook in some of the schwankier restaurants up in Bellingham during his time at Western Washington University and this early upbringing only served to instill a real appreciation for decadent homecooked meals for me from an early age.

MMmmm, soy deliciousness!

   Add to this my specific diet (no red meat for last 11 years and no poultry for nigh on 10) and the real gratification I’ve gained from the endearing feeling of putting TLC into a meal for a significant other on a special occasion or the camaraderie formed by collaborating with other like-minded friends for an epic gastroheavy evening. I have to say I’m proud amateur cook (no pro in the making like my little bro who only gets more proficient in the restaurant industry with each passing day) who will pursue this hobby for the rest of my life. 

   Hence my trepidation concerning this with the departure date looming on the calendar horizon… As I said before I won’t have a real flexible budget when I first arrive. Did I mention Korean cuisine is filled with veggies but still really proud of it’s BBQ and meaty broths (think Kalbi ribs and “hangover soup”) and doesn’t even really consider poultry to be meat? Couple this with an inability to read the menu at numerous restaurants or even the products at the grocery store. Well, I love challenges and this is going to be one of the first ones I tackle head-on with the passion of an ex-rugby player turned cuisine fan. I’m seeing a lot of tofu dishes mixed with curry powder/taco seasonings. Really can’t wait to see what new yogurt smoothies I’m going to concoct with the multitude of different fruit options at the local markets and fruit trucks. On the flip side I do see many, many dishes of brown rice, kimchee and mung beans in the near future.

   I already kinda see why my school was a little disappointed that I won’t be experiencing the full Korean culture without succumbing to a meat-friendly diet. My old college flatmate Paul Suh (soon to be initial tour guide due to past friendship and his ability to speak fluent Korean) is ethnic Korean and has lived back in his mother country for the past three years. He has proudly declared on more than one occasion “I eat like a King over here man!” and asks me every other time we correspond whether I’m sure I don’t want to take a small hiatus for the duration of the trip from my mammal friendly diet. Haha, dig the love man, but not in my cards!

   I’ve dealt with overcoming obstacles to keep to the diet I want to obtain just hope I’m not overusing that Korean Costco card too much. Now back to the list. Hmmm, dill’s gotta be on there, hollandaise sauce and vegetarian gravy and baco bits. Some good cheese, say manchego and feta would go great with a small amount of imported olives. Oh jeez, wish I knew how many bags I can check in. That comes next week, not gonna delay the gastrobrainstorm session though….