Well, the school year is starting to wind down and everyone here at my school is getting ready for some big changes. Only two of the Korean teachers are staying so offices have been pretty packed and some of us have a lot of teachers observing our classes. I was a little embarrassed on Tuesday when my drama classes were observed by four of the new Kindergarten teachers. These activity classes involve a lot of singing and dancing.

My vocal chords are not really serenade-esque (as anyone who has been to a Norebang with me can testify to…) and since the songs don’t come with associated dances. That means that I get to make up all of the dances in my class. Even though I was president of Thespian Society in high school I’m not really into choreography. I always did the dramas in the Fall and opted to play rugby instead of do the musicals in the Spring.

I was pretty surprised when one of the new teachers came up to me in the hall and asked me “Are you Nathan and friends with Mary and Jacob?” Turns out that she was one of their co-teachers at their hagwon that closed in November. For a city of almost 12 million it still feels like a small world.

I’m slammed at the moment with projects and paperwork. Currently trying to figure out if I can get my pension (roughly 10% of my paycheck) reimbursed since I’m going home for so long. An extra $1,300 would definitely help out in terms of leaving enough money to cover student loans and maybe pickup a laptop while I’m back home. Looks promising but keeping my fingers crossed. Fighting off a sinus infection at the moment which is probably why it’s so easy to get distracted by writing an overdue blog post.

Wish me luck tomorrow, have an appointment at the dentist and it’s been a few years since my last visit. Really hoping I don’t need too much time under the drill, if any.

Advertisements

Well things have been a bit hectic here the last couple weeks. Last Wednesday my manager pulled me into her office…and informed me that they were unable to book as many students for the kindergarten classes starting in March. The director was willing to be “generous” and offer a 3 month (unpaid) vacation back home starting in March until June and then come back as an afternoon teacher. “Isn’t that wonderful?” was the delivery. To say I was a little shocked would be an understatement. I just got back from one vacation, and my bank account reflected this. A 3 month limbo, even back home, is not really what I was looking for. If I had a lot of savings and didn’t mind burning it all a backpacking trip through Europe would be great but my current funds don’t really allow for such an expedition.

In many ways I have to reassure myself that coming over here and is not just taking a small detour in accomplishing the goals I have in life. I look forward to Masters school and starting my career back home and justify my time spent here as a great way to become a more well-rounded student and gain a larger perspective on the world. I do truly believe this. There is a small nagging voice in the back of my head that does sneak up from time to time and sel-criticisms of just procrastinating and enjoying the easy lifestyle that Korea offers ex-pat teachers is not the path right now. 3 months of coach surfing and spending all of my savings would be giving those self-doubts a little credence in my opinion.

Back in Bellingham I worked afternoon and evenings at UPS immediately after graduating. While having the day to myself was nice I remember that a lot of my time interacting with friends was later at night and most of the friends who socialize at these hours do so at bars over drinks. This is all fine when you are still riding that postgraduation high. I’m 26 now and trying to flex some of the maturity I will need to really accomplish the things I desire to do in my life and revisiting this lifestyle doesn’t have a huge appeal to me.

Plus, while many teachers I talk to don’t really like the kindergarten classes (especially other guys) these are the times when I get the most gratification from teaching. The physical energy you have to expend is quite a bit more with students at this age but the payoff is immense. The influence and admiration you gain with them and being able to see how rapidly you are affecting them in a positive manner is one of my favorite things about teaching.

I explained both these things to my bosses and a compromise was struck. I am going home early March and coming back near the end of April to start kindergarten classes in June. My director gave me a decent raise and is going to put me back on the payroll in May. I will be the most veteran foreign and morning teacher at this point and the second longest teacher at my school. I will also be the oldest one. Amazing how much can change in one year.

Enough about work, on to my impromptou trip back home. It took a little scrambling to figure out the logistics but I’m already anticipating my return home. Aroung March 9th I fly out from Incheon to Tucson, Arizona. My best friend is attending school there for his Masters and has Spring Break starting on the 10th. I have never really been to the Southwest and look forward to not only the adventures but the warm temperatures and cuisine of an Arizona Spring. After a week or two there I’m cruising over to LA to reconnect with some friends and family for about a week and then flying up to Seattle for the duration of April.

Sometimes you have to roll with the punches, such is life. I’ve got my gloves laced tight, a smile on my face and am ready for some epic adventure-filled rounds Stateside. Viva!

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!

Last Thursday was the field trip to the transportation safety education center (this is the term I’m using since my coworkers were confused about an adequate translation). This was actually the shortest and most uneventful field trip yet. The center is located in Omomkgyo which is only 20 minutes away.

I was thankful for this short duration as the continuous repetition of “Wheels on the Bus go ‘Round and ‘Round” was quickly draining my cognitive reserve as well as my consistently mellow temperament. Our driver was the same one that will give some of us a ride back to our apartments on Monday, Wednesday and Friday and I really enjoy his constant smile and cheerful attitude but his head-bobbing and waving of hands to the simple repeated children’s tune was slightly off-setting. Another 15 minutes more and I would have burnt out my typically gigantic well of patience and the fun factor would have taken a significant drop for all parties involved.

The field trip started with viewing a cheesy Korean anime about magic traffic light people who taught about how not to get hit by cars or other forms of transportation. It was all in Korean so I pretty much just dialed out for a bit, didn’t seem like I was missing much as even the kids quickly lost interest.

After the film we partook in some practice exercises and had numerous street-crossing demonstrations. I understand the necessity of instilling in these kids a healthy respect of the dangers of traffic here. This is a city of almost 12 million touting one of the highest population densities and where pedestrians don’t even have the right of way. Add on to this the ever-present scooters weaving between pedestrians on the sidewalk and red lights that seem more like a suggestion than a rigidly enforced rule sometime.

Couple this environment with a society that treasures their children and places a huge emphasis on their protection. I completely understand why so much extra education is geared towards being aware of the dangers presented by vehicles. Unfortunately this knowledge did nothing to alleviate my boredom. Common sense lessons in basic safety are devastatingly dull, especially in a foreign language.

Luckily enough the field trip concluded with a round of chaotic soccer and a trip to the large big-toy playground and the conclusion was quite entertaining. Huzzah!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

I’m sure most of you have heard of Rockabilly. Born in the early 1950s in rural America, specifically the Southern states. This blues and western swing influenced genre gains its name from the blending of Rock and Hillbilly and the term Rockabilly was originally an insulting term brandished against the early pioneers. Like many such slurs (think Yankee) it was embraced by the very people it was supposed to slight. I was a big fan of the Living End, Tiger Army and the Reverend Horton Heat back in my high school days but had thought those days of fandom were behind me. I was wrong.

This newfound appreciation was due to one epic catalyst known as the Rocktigers. This Korean outfit has even coined a new name for a subgenre within Rockabilly known as Kimchibilly. They play fast, vibrant tunes and the charisma blazing during their stand up bass solos, furious behind the head guitar riffs and wailing tunes of their lead singer truly gets you caught up in the moment. It doesn’t hurt that the charming frontwoman Velvet Geena is mischievously beautiful and quite willing to talk to any fan with a contagious enthusiasm.

I’ve been to two of their shows so far and always have a good time. Sometimes it takes putting a whole new spin on an old favorite to rekindle the love affair, but I’m glad to be a fan of Rockabilly once more. I just had to travel halfway across the globe to find some savage Asian musicians who were fed up with Kpop and ready to blaze a new trail by making inroads to a somewhat forgotten style of American Rock.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

This weekend was outstanding and one of my favorite so far in Seoul because it featured me partaking in two of my favorite pasttimes: hiking and shows. I’ll get to the show in my next post but I want to use this one just to detail the sheer epicness that is Bukhansan.

Standing over 200m above sea level at its highest peak and spanning a vast area of 78.45 sq km this is no measly park. With over 100 different routes going to a multitude of different peaks and connecting traverses, I can definitely see myself investing quite a bit of time here from now into the months leading up to Winter.

That morning I woke up and treated myself to a homemade breakfast of baked beans, eggs over easy, toast and caramelized garlic, onion, red peppers. As I finished this hearty meal I realized I was full but not really satisfied. Sometimes my hankering to do a certain activity sneaks up on me and it takes me a minute to recognize what it is I’m jonesing to do. As I washed the dishes it struck me, the weather was great outside, I had been here three months…and I had yet to do any hiking (trampoling is the term I learned in New Zealand and the most charming term for this activity in my opinion).

From my subway station in Youngdeungpo-gu the trip only had one transfer at Hapjeong and took  less than half an hour to arrive at my destination, Dokbawi station (line 6, stop #613). Just one of the wondrous things about this country is how you have this gigantic wilderness areas with hiking and camping just off the subway line. As I got closer and closer to my stop more and more people sporting North Face (or the local Red Face brand) backpacks and boots, Patagonia outdoor apparel and hiking poles file into the subway. I had forgotten my directions from the subway station to the trail-head but this did not present too much of a problem as I just followed the steady stream of hikers making their way towards the mountain.

I’m a fairly adept hiker but the first 45 minutes are always the hardest, unless you are doing a real grueling trek of like ten plus miles (adept for an amateur…). You seem to be sweating the hardest and finding your rhythm during this stage. I haven’t gone on a good hike for about 4 months and was definitely feeling rusty that first hour. Heart was beating, breath was a heavy pant and I definitely drew some amused chuckles from the ajumma and ajeossi (old women and men) sharing the trail with me.

I reached the summit (one of dozens of peaks within Bukhansan) within an hour of starting. The view justified the original hiccups finding my pace and then some. I chatted for a while with a 3M business men about good hikes, what brought me to Korea and the benefits of travel. So many people I encounter here seem to really enjoy a good conversation and are eager to utilize what English they know.

After bidding him goodbye I walked over to a different vantage within a cloud of dragonfly/butterfly swarms and took the occasion to sit down and hydrate. Within five minutes I noticed a late middle-aged Korean man walking around the summit picking up any bits of trash with a long pair of tongs. As he drew near me he inquired “You are a foreigner and hiking alone?”, I laughed and responded in the positive. He seem quite impressed when I informed him I had only been in the country for three months and this was my first hiking excursion. He then chided me “You should not hike by yourself! I hike by myself but live at the base of this mountain and hike it every weekend.” He sat down next to me and we sat in silence reflecting on the view for a solemn few minutes.

I broke the silence by offering some of the peanuts I had brought with me for a light lunch break. He thanked me and offered some tea. Asking him what type it was brought a perplexed countenance to his face but after a minute on his smartphone he proclaimed that it was Buckwheat jelly tea. With some trepidation I politely accepted and was pleasantly surprised. Green in color with a complex and hearty taste it was quite good. With this exchange of sustenance done he offered to show me around the nearby peaks and valleys.

Sung was self-taught in English via books and the local EBT (English Broadcast Channel) learning programs. He was in great shape and engaged in the perfect amount of conversation. I don’t consider myself anti-social but I love those reflective moments during a good hike when you are just focused on the movement of your limbs and savoring the scenery around you. During our 2-3 hours of hiking I watched as he picked up about 3 pounds in litter. He showed me some of the rock-climbing spots and a grand little creekside rest stop to soak our feet and splash some cool, fast-flowing alpine water on our faces and arms.

I was truly fortunate to have him as a guide and he is another great example of the hospitality and cheerful good-will I have experienced from complete strangers here in Korea. Our hike ended with showing me a small Buddhist temple at the end of the hike and escorting me to the subway stop with was no small act of kindness since I did not see a winding line of hikers going back to the subway at this point. All in all a most satisfying and productive day and the

The Pacific Northwest is known for its heavy rainfall or to be more precise the overall amount of days in any given year when rainfall is recorded. I love how green it is, the Ho rainforest on the peninsula is one of the few temperate forests of its kind and inspired Roosevelt to create the National Parks system. It may rain a lot back home but we don’t get many downpours.

Seoul has shown me exactly what a downpour is. You can be standing under an awning here with your umbrella over your head and still manage to get wet. The rain comes down in ferocious, unrelenting sheets during monsoon season. This last week has had some of the highest amounts of precipitation on record resulting in numerous flash floods and landslides. Current death toll is at 53 according to the Korean Herald. My condolences to the families of those lost.

In lighter news I went out to technomart in Sindorim and saw First Avenger (Captain America) last night. Purely epic, I’m not always a fan of comic book movies (absolutely abhorred Daredevil) but the Avengers movies (Ironman, Thor, Cap ‘Merica) have been great. Loved the pulpy, noir style of the film and the action. Didn’t hurt that it was in some crazy enhanced 3D at the theater.

The goggles they give you have some weird sensor in between the eyes and red flashing lights on the side when the movie begins or ends. Throw in cheap popcorn and beer and it really makes for a good time. I stuck with original flavored popcorn but they also had sweet, cheese and onion flavors as well. After the movie I headed back to the apartments and watched Pumping Iron with Dallas. Very sociologically fascinating, Arnold comes across as pretty despicable in my opinion. Felt for Lou Ferrigno at the end.