Posted by: bodking | December 22, 2010

Thailand – short and sweet

I had barely recovered from my half marathon when I got on a plane and flew southward to Thailand.  My trip was sometimes exciting and sometimes relaxing but the country was always fascinating and beautiful.
I won’t go too far in to details but a brief run-down of the highlights:
Day 1 – Bangkok, I met  up with my friend almost by chance on the street near my hotel.  We took a boat up the river and hit up the backpacker district of Khao San Road.  It’s packed with young foreigners and cheap places to drink and hang out.
Day 2 – Bangkok, sightseeing at the big temples; the reclining Buddha at Wat Pho and hitting up some of the different neighborhoods of Bangkok.  In the evening I head to the train station to catch my overnight train to Chumphorn.  The ride’s great.  There was a sign in the bar car claiming that it closes at 10pm.  Not even close.
Day 3 – Koh Tao, Wake up on the train at Chumphorn.   I take the ferry to Koh Tao.  More beautiful than can be believed.  Hang out at the beach and drunk buckets of rum and dance on the beach.
Day 4 – Koh Tao, Rock climbing.  Terrifying and satisfying.  Costing 3,000 baht ($99.32US, 115,500KRW), the full day course and trip up the mountain was by far my biggest single expense in Thailand.  It was well worth it.  In the evening I enjoyed the Geminid meteor shower.
Day 5 –  Koh Tao, Hiking  up the island’s beautiful peak and looking down on the Gulf of Siam.  I hang out the beach one last time.
Day 6 –  travel day/Hua Hin, My least successful day.  travelling was actually quite nice – because I had travelled in the night going to Chumphorn, I didnt get to see the countryside, which is beautiful.  Palm trees, mountains on the horizon and all the hustle of Thai life made great viewing.  My destination, Hua Hin was less than great.  Too many old, fat Europeans.  Until I found the night market, I was worried I’d have to pay 250 baht ($8.27US, 9,625KRW) for the same meal I would have paid 100 baht for on Koh Tao.  But luckily I found a noodle place and had a bowl of 35 baht fish soup and a 25 baht Thai pancake.
Day 7 – Bangkok, I woke up in Hua Hin hoping to hit up the beach one last time, but it was rainy and surprisingly cold.  So I got in a minivan and headed back to Bangkok.  Checked in to a nice hotel near Siam Square and hit up some museums,  great Thai market food and then a show at a g0-go bar.  I am dirtier for having been there.
Day 8 – Bangkok,  the weekend market in Bangkok is a labyrinth of stalls selling almost everything you can imagine.  It’s an experience just browsing.  After doing some shopping I head back downtown for a Thai massage and some decent Mexican food (I don’t get to eat it in Korea) before heading on the train to the airport.

I’d give this trip a 9.5/10 – it would have been a 10/10 if I hadn’t made that stop in Hua Hin – either gone straight to Bangkok or if I had stayed another day in Koh Tao.
The food is amazing.  There are beautiful women everywhere.  The Thais are really friendly.  There are so many cool travellers there.  And the country is fantastically beautiful.  I really didn’t want to leave, actually it felt very strange to be there in the airport checking in to go to Korea.

Posted by: bodking | December 6, 2010

Half-Marathon in Seoul

Before coming to Korea, the longest distance I’d run was maybe a little more than five kilometers.  But when I arrived I began running more and more.  In May, I ran my first 10km race at the seawall here in Gunsan.
In the summer I ran through the heat and decided that I needed to go up to the next level – half marathon- 21.1km or 13.1  through several times to light up some nice vmiles.

Like a lot of things in life maybe, training isn’t particularly hard (if it’s done right), you just have to go out and actually do it no matter what.  It’s more a test of will than a test of strength.  At least that’s how I feel – I would always think of all the elderly and disabled people who run full marathons, and think if they can do it…

Unlike my other race in Korea, the KM Marathon was rather quiet.  They tried to have that same carnival atmosphere and electricity but it was too cold, too gray and there weren’t enough runners.  Even though it was cold and gray, the weather was not terrible for December;  there was a nice hush over the Han River and the Sun broke through several times to light up nice views of the city on north bank of the river.
However easier running had become for me in these last few months, the last three kilometers of the race were pretty rough.  I had to force myself to go on despite a massive blister on my right foot and tense exhausted legs.  I dropped my pace, but I still managed to get across the finish line just three minutes past two hours.

I am taller than most Koreans.

At the finish line I was rewarded with some rice wine – konbay! – some tofu soup, and a banana.  It was delicious but nothing good really have satisfied my hunger at that point.  I ate a lot in the evening after the race.  And alcohol had increased potency.

On one hand I’m glad it’s over – training as it got increasingly cold became significantly less enjoyable, but on the other hand I’m going to miss having that goal to work towards and to give me discipline.  On to the next exciting thing!

Posted by: bodking | November 29, 2010

Welcome to Sekyeong Apatuh

This is my home in Korea.  Sekyeong is a complex of apartment buildings located in the south of Gunsan’s Naundong neighborhood.  It is located within walking distance of my school, the main drinking drag of Gunsan, two worthwhile parks and the local movie theater.  There are several bathhouses nearby, a kimbap restaurant, a supermarket right next door and a cobbler in the parking lot.

On my first night in Korea, my boss brought me here.  I was exhausted.  I was so anxious to see where I’d be living.  We get out of the car, I drag my bags through the doorway and we wait for the elevator.  As we’re waiting an old lady – the classic hunched-over Korean grandma – waddles in and let’s out a seismic fart.  And being new, I don’t know up from down.  I just stand there straight-faced like it’s something I’m perfectly used to.

Besides that intro, the time I’ve spent at Sekyeong has been pretty unremarkable.  No crazy parties in the building, nothing unusual going on in the corridors besides a couch in the stairwell between the 5th and 6th floor.  None of my neighbors seem to have noisy sex or loud fights.

My apartment is comfortable but not by any means really homey.  Or rather, it feels like home as much as it can but it has no where near the pull that other places I’ve lived have had.  Its spacious for one person but I’ve only had a total of eight guests – of those only two of them have made repeat visits.

Here’s a little video walk-through of my apartment…

Posted by: bodking | November 15, 2010

The Mysterious Advice of a Cab Driver

Saturday I was in a taxi.  The driver spoke good English and we chatted about the common things people chat about in cabs.

“Where are you from?”
“I am from New York, USA.”
“Very nice.  What do you do?”
“I am an English teacher.”
“A very good job.  Do you like Korea?”
“Yes, very much.”
“Are you married?”
“No, no. I am single. Solo.”
but then…
“You are not married?”
“No.”
pause… pause….
“I think life is so short.”
I think for a second and ask, “So, should I get married or stay single?”
pause… pause…
Nothing.  He just thought about what he said and I just wondered about it.

 

Posted by: bodking | October 31, 2010

THIS IS KOREA – blog name change

I’ve passed the seven month mark in Korea so I thought it was proper to change the name of my blog from “Whoa! I’m in Korea!” which reflected a certain excitement and novelty that one experiences in such new surroundings (and by the way, much of that novelty hasn’t worn off especially when I look at a map of the world and ponder my place in it).  The focus of the blog won’t change much but I hope to spend the next few months showing more what my daily life here is like.  What Gunsan looks like – what the streets look like, what my apartment looks like.  Who the people are that I see everyday are.  At least for a while this will be my mission.  I plan on making more videos and more photos.  And yes, I plan on keeping up my series of Korean War updates.   By the way – if this were 1950, the UN would be sitting pretty in Pyeongyang, North Korea right about now.
The name “This is Korea” is taken from Leonardo DiCaprio’s line in Blood Diamond “This is Africa, mate” to express his cynical view of how things work over there.  But after switching the name I’ve discovered This is Korea is also the name of a Navy propaganda film from 1951 directed by Hollywood legend John Ford.
The entire film is on Youtube and I’ve embedded it here.  It’s well filmed and is interesting mostly for its shots of how Korea looked in that time.  A more different country is difficult to imagine.  But the kids are still cute – especially the orphan that the GIs took in and rechristened ‘Babe Ruth DiMaggio’.

Another enemy position to take, and this is how we take it:
First the air burns in, in close support; scorching the place with napalm, while all the time the artillery softens up the survivors – if any.
And, whoever runs gets cut down with small arms fire.
Then, we move in on foot – and we go in; FOR THIS IS KOREA, CHUMS – THIS IS KOREA.

Posted by: bodking | October 28, 2010

Hacking and Conning

Every time there’s a test in my academy we hand out blank sheets of paper which the students use to cover their test papers so that their classmates can’t cheat.  It’s a simple thing.
When I hand them the sheets they say “Ah yes, teacher! No hacking” to which I always reply “Hacking? what’s hacking?” “OH! OH! Teacher! NO CONNING!” at which point I wonder in frustration how it seems like every word for dishonest activity has entered in to their vocabulary to mean cheating except for the correct one.   To one of my brighter classes, I even explained what hacking is, what conning is and what cheating is, but they still are determined to use the terms wrong.  They’re English words being spoken in English class but to them they’re Korean.
So instead of getting frustrated, I’ve decided to do what I can and remember that we’ve done the same thing to French. Language does whatever it feels like doing.
But, my duty as an English teacher compels me to act and to put up some sort of fight.  I plan on making a list of the greatest hits of Konglish.   Stay tuned.

In case you wanted to know the special effects magic that created one of the best ads ever.  Also, there’s more footage of that Korean girl who’s not hard on the eyes.

This video does not address the question that I raised in my original post regarding how many times they had to try throwing the popcorn before it was successful.  I still like to think the answer is once.

Posted by: bodking | October 23, 2010

Fall in Korea

Since I returned from China, I’ve been very active.  Every weekend I’ve journeyed outside of Gunsan to visit new places and to get in as much of Korea as possible before the weather turns sour.  In the past few weeks I’ve explored two relatively close cities that I hadn’t visited before, I made it to the highest peak on the Korean mainland and seen the beauty of the country side in the middle of harvest season.
The weather has been remarkably stable – Almost every single day has had a high of 70 degrees and a low of 50 with puffy clouds inching across the sky.  I don’t need a jacket.  I barely even need a hoodie.

I definitely felt a chill on my way up to Jirisan, the tallest mountain on the Korean mainland.   It’s not terribly high but it is steep.  The journey down was slow and painful.  I fell down a staircase and dislocated both my shoulders.  I had to sit and battle the nausea that rushed over me after the fall.  I popped my shoulders back in to their sockets and struggled to maintain my footing for the rest of the way.  It took so long to come down from the top that we had to do the last kilometer and a half in pitch darkness.  It was terrible.  My muscles ached so bad but I had to keep going.  My climbing buddies and I ended up on the wrong side of the mountain to get back to little Gunsan so we stayed at a minbak – a very basic korean inn – and waited for morning.   Even though I was in pain (or maybe because) I think I’ll look fondly back on that trip as one of the best weekends I’ve had here.

Now – as the end of October approaches, I have to prepare for my next two grand undertakings.  The first is a half marathon race in Seoul on December 4th.  I have had trouble getting in to shape with various hurdles – knee pain, the Jirisan soreness,  and the standard things that get in the way – but I’m on a roll now and hope to make the cut on race day.  The second thing is a trip to Thailand.  I’m going for a week right after the race.  Right now my plan is to make no plan till much closer to my departure but that hasn’t stopped me from looking at pictures online of all the beautiful islands that dot the Thai coastline.

Posted by: bodking | September 29, 2010

Shanghai

Before I left for my latest trip I tried immerse myself in as much of the history of China as I could without getting bored.  I learned a lot.  I watched this American propaganda film from World War Two called Battle For China by Frank Capra.  It explains why we’re fighting on China’s side and tries to explain some of the culture to your average American from 1942.
Basically Capra says to understand China, you have to understand three things…

  1. CHINA IS HISTORY
  2. CHINA IS LAND
  3. CHINA IS PEOPLE

You might be thinking that every country is history, land and people.  And you’re right.  But it was so clear from even my short trip that China has more history, more land and more people than any other country on Earth.

So much history.
So much land.
Oh so many people.

Because there’s so much of these three things, China is a REALLY hard place to really understand in a week long trip to one region.  It’s such a diverse place – so many different languages, cultural nuances, and historical rivalries – that it’s exciting and stimulating but also sort of a mystery.  Shanghai is probably the most cosmopolitan city in China and it is really a city of contrasts.  It is so old and and so new and fast and so slow and so Chinese and so foreign.  Skyscrapers so high and alleys so narrow.  So here’s  a quick recap…

First impression on getting off the subway:  Chinatown, NY smells like China.  I don’t know what that smell is, special Chinese cooking oil, some spices or what, but it sure smells like China.

Second impression on getting off the subway:  This ain’t bad.  Even though the streets are chaotic, the overall feeling of the city wasn’t insane.  There appears to be chaos to my northern European eye, but people seem to know what they’re doing and everyone knows the deal.  Even though people are going to wrong way on streets and blowing red lights, people aren’t getting run over constantly.  Shops are well-kept, the people look well fed, happy and prosperous and the streets themselves are clean.
At first I assumed that that was because Shanghai had spent billions getting ready for the Expo, but it was the same in Nanjing – a big city but by no means a huge international tourist destination.

Brief summary of events:
day 1:  Arrive from Seoul.  Wander around People’s Square, get hit on by lots of cute Chinese girls – realize it’s a scam and walk away.  Eat some delicious Chinese food.  Rendezvous with my father.  Eat some more food.

day 2: Go to the Old City to get fitted for dress shirts.  It rains.  We look for a site seeing ferry by the river but can’t find the ticket booth.  We nap.  French Concession for dinner.  Delicious noodles at a hip restaurant.  Beautiful women – foreign and Chinese abound.  We head to the top of the Shanghai World Financial Center and enjoy some cocktails in the highest bar in the world.  Rich people.  Everywhere.

day 3:  Go to a state owned restaurant for breakfast.  It is, of course, delicious.  We check out of our hotel and head to the train station.  High speed rail to Nanjing.  Get slightly lost in Nanjing but find our hotel eventually (despite being an international chain, its sign was only in mandarin).  We go to the mausoleum of Dr. Sun Yatsen, the founder of modern China, on top of a nearby mountain.  It is amazing.  We meet up with some Germans on the way down with whom we share a van.  Visit the Confucian temple in downtown Nanjing.  It is crowded.  KFC for dinner – it’s not bad.  At the hotel I swim some laps and hit the sauna and steam-room, followed by drinks with my dad in the hotel bar.

day4: Cross the Yangtze by ferry and back again.  The Yangtze is big, crowded and muddy – a lot like China itself.   Then we visit the Nanjing Massacre Memorial.  300,000 people were raped and murdered in Nanjing by the Japanese with hammers, nails, clubs, swords and bayonets and the memorial has the mutilated bodies to prove it.  We head back to Shanghai by train.  When I’m in the Nanjing Train Station, I’m greeted by such a huge chaotic crowd – thousands among thousands of people shouting and pushing – that you’d think the Japanese were coming again, but no – it’s just a Thursday afternoon in Nanjing.  That night, we head back to the French Concession and visit the site of the first meeting of the Chinese Communist Party.  The shrine to Communism is surrounded by expensive boutiques and restaurants serving 400rmb entrees (60$US) to mostly foreign tourists and business people.   We eat at a cheap Chinese place up the street.  I discover the joy of XO sauce.

day 5: Shanghai Expo 2010.  This deserves a pot in and of itself.  I’ll just say that it is amazing and I’m really happy I went.  I ate food from around the world, visited all of the Axis of Evil pavilions and saw some amazing architecture.  A whole day there is capped off by a cruise down the Huangpu River to the Bund and a visit to a brewery which serves decent American food.

day 6: Exhausted by this point.  It’s rainy. We have an amazing dim-sum breakfast. We pick up my shirts and buy some gifts for various people – burn down the remainder of our Chinese money.  The rain picks up.  We kill time at a coffee shop till we head to the airport.

If it had been sunny – maybe we would have mustered the energy for a last spurt of activity.  A shame, because there’s still so much more to see in Shanghai.   More thoughts to come.

Posted by: bodking | September 20, 2010

Six Months In

I will be on vacation when I hit the mark of my sixth month away from the USA.  It’s funny to think that I’ll celebrate my sixth month in Korea in China.
I leave for Shanghai on Tuesday the 21rst – the start of the Korean holiday Chuseok.   I’m excited for a lot of reasons – it’s fulfilling the promise of seeing the world that Korea seemed to promise, I’m going to see the Expo, Shanghai just seems endlessly amazing and enchanting, China is China and I’ll get to see my father.
In the three months since my last retrospective post, I have seen a pretty decent amount of Korea, I’ve tried a lot more new food, made some new friends, and generally been pretty active despite the heat and the humidity.   I’ve climbed some mountains, I went on a real drinking tear and then went off it again.  I maybe spent too much money but maybe not.  Teachings has gotten more enjoyable and easier.  I got a bunch of Korean girls’s phone numbers but never ever took off, I got my hair cut in a bath-house locker-room and I am still eating a lot of ramyeon – it hasn’t gotten old yet.
I’ve lost between 15 and 20 pounds since coming to Korea.  I don’t know where exactly it came off of, I don’t look that much different.  I’m going to be training for a half marathon, I’ve also started going to the gym to lift weights with my friend Eric.  I’m trying to make sure that the weight that I loose isn’t muscle.  I’m getting some results from my weeks at the gym (I can lift more and do more sit-ups) but I don’t think it’s changed how I look too much (at least not yet).   We’ll see, my goal for the gym is something resembling a flat belly – not a six pack, just not a gut.

Looking forward to the next six months, I hope to travel abroad more – I have a week vacation and another potential long national holiday in February.  So maybe two trips abroad.  I’m also thinking about getting Lasek, laser eye surgery(more on this later).  There’s a few more things on my list I want to do before it gets cold – climb more mountains and travel in Korea some more.  I’m going to run a half-marathon in early December, so that will consume a lot of my energy and free-time.   I’d like to save more, but we’ll see how that goes.

More on everything later!  Now to Shanghai!

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