Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Busy October

            My apologies for not posting during these past couple of weeks, but allow me to update you on what I’ve been up to.  After my first trip up to Seoul, I returned the following weekend for another rugby tournament, and it was on the American Army base.  This time we had no trouble locating the field.  We won two games and then lost the last one.  It was nice being back in “America” with fast food places everywhere, hearing only English and there was even a prom going on for the high school kids.  However, as much as I appreciated being there I do prefer living in Gwangju and having a true Korean experience.
Richter getting in on the action.
Making a run down the wing.
Trey with the tackle.
In rugby a throw-in is where one, and sometimes two, players from each teach is lifted up and they try to grab the ball from each other.
The two Americans on the team, Trey and myself.
            I stayed the night up in Seoul and ended up having my wallet stolen, again only in Itaewon, so I dealt with that the next morning, cancelled all my cards and headed home.  TL, my boss and James really came through for me on a Sunday morning and I appreciated their help very much. 
            The following week was my vacation, so I had plans to go to Busan and the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ).  Because my Alien Registeration Card (ARC) was in my wallet I couldn’t go to the DMZ and I didn’t want to travel with only cash and my passport.  So I stayed in Gwangju, hiked up Mudeungsan Mountain, went to a KIA Tigers game and reapplied for my ARC.
This is the map I used to get up the mountain.  Actually it was a sign and did a decent job helping me get around.

A nice stream to start at.

Part of the town at the base of Mudeungsan Mt. which is only a 15 minute bus ride from my apartment.
Getting started but most of the climb was this steep.

I don't think these are burial mounds since I saw some Koreans having a picnic on them later. 

That's right we have don't feed the bears signs and they have don't feed the squirrels signs.

A soju and makgeolli (rice wine) pit stop provided by some Korean men I talked to.

Decided to climb up the hillside.

Finished the climb to Seoseokdae Column which is the largest rock column, inland, on the Korean Peninsula.

This is the view from my school of the mountain. The iTouch isn't the best with long distance but in the foreground on the far left is the Pagoda I climbed on my night hike back in April. In the background is Mudeungsan mountain and on the top right is Seoseokdae Column. You can't climb to the top left peak because there is an army base on the other side of the mountain.
Great seats thanks to Graham and his buddy on the KIA team!
Having some Korean barbacue after the game.
            The next weekend we had our home rugby tournament in Suncheon, which is about an hour from Gwangju and is one of the most scenic bus trips in Korea.  It’s like traveling through Western North Carolina but the mountains are more majestic and there are no West Virginia state flowers covering the hillsides.  We ended up winning the tournament, no one scored on us and after a slow start I held my own on the wing. 
Let's go.
            Afterwards we watched some Rugby World Cup games in Suncheon at San Antonio’s bar with all of the rugby players from each of the visiting teams.  It was a blast and definitely turned into a late night.  One of the things that I like about San Antonio’s is that the owner is from Mexico so I can practice my Spanish with him. 
             I've realized from living here in Korea that most other foreigners, especially the South Africans, can speak at least two and sometimes three other languages besides English.  It's really put in context for me how important it is to be able to communicate with your neighbors and I'm going to focus on improving my Spanish when I return home.

All the rugby teams hanging out.
            This past weekend was a lot of fun just staying in Gwangju, taking advantage of the beautiful fall weather and going to German Bar.  I love hanging out at that bar after working all week, and this past weekend it was slammed.  I’m guessing that all the new people who started their contracts in August are done traveling around Korea and are now hanging out in Gwangju. 
            On Sunday I watched the Rugby World Cup final between New Zealand and France at Speakeasy and it was a great game.  I was pulling for the All-Blacks since the tournament was in New Zealand and they hadn’t won since the first Rugby World Cup in 1987.  Also, the only team that has beaten them in the previous two RWC's is France creating an incredible atmosphere around the game.  New Zealand pulled out the victory 8-7, and it was great being able to appreciate the game after playing for the past couple of months.
            This week I'm getting my new ARC, preparing for Halloween, No-Shave November and in two weeks we have one last rugby weekend.  All in all, I’m pretty excited about what’s coming up and I’ll be sure to do a better job keeping you updated.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The Halfway Point

            Well it’s hard to believe but this past week was my sixth month here in Korea.  It’s certainly been an interesting time for me and I’ll go through some of the things that I’ve learned in my time here.

            Ne means yes and Anieyo means no. 
This sums up how different Korea is from Western languages.  It sounds backwards to our ears and is a good indication of how Korean culture is.  Now I can hear Korean and it makes sense to me but it took a while for my ear to start listening and understanding Korean and its unique rhythm.           
            Kimchi and rice is to the Korean diet as hamburgers and fries are to our own.
             Americans, specifically Southerners, have some of the largest personal-space bubbles in the World and those bubbles are going to get popped in Korea.
Get used to it y'all and get over it.
            Superficially Koreans dress like Westerners, are just as obsessed about current technology as we are, love their music and movie stars but culturally are still in the 1950’s. 
This took a while for me to get used to as they dress very preppy, they love their black-rimmed glasses, their smart phones are attached to their hands but the genders are very separated.  Think MadMen but without the beehive hairdo’s or slick hairstyles.
             Speaking of MadMen if you’re a Korean man you smoke, drink Soju, dress well and always, always act like you know what you’re doing.
             If you’re a Korean girl show your legs, wear your heels, have your compact mirror so can constantly check to see if you look cute while making sure you don't look too hot. 
You don’t want to show too much self-confidence or you will scare off  90% of Korean men.
             The public transportation here is incredible.
I love getting on the express buses, taking the subway or getting around town on a local bus. It’s so cheap, efficient, clean and safe to use any of the three, even in Seoul.  It’ll probably never be like that in the US because we’ve put much more emphasis on our independence via our cars.  Remember Korea is slightly larger than Kentucky so it makes more sense for it to push viable public transportation.
            Most of the foreigners here are not here to experience another culture but to continue to live like they’re in college.
Of course this isn’t true for a lot of people that I’ve met here and hang out with but for those on the periphery it certainly is.  It’s been pretty frustrating for me to sit and listen to people whine about their schools, living situations, their fellow teachers, other foreigners but it’s been a great learning experience for me.  In no way am I in-step with most of the foreigners here but have learned a tremendous amount about other Western countries, their grudges with one another, their different mindsets, what’s important to them and that they don’t give a damn about American football.  Personally I can’t wait to watch a rugby match in Australia, South Africa or New Zealand.  Furthermore, I do hope that I have represented my country and my area properly and that due to meeting me or talking with me they’ll have a positive image of  where I’m from.             
            What you love as a child is what you will enjoy doing as an adult.
Goes back to my belief that being happy is rooted in following your passions. 
            If you can’t explain it to a child then you don’t understand what you’re talking about.
This might seem like an oversimplification but give it a try, you’ll learn just as much as the child. 
            This has been the most difficult and most rewarding thing I’ve ever done. 
It’s given me an incredible perspective on what I’ve done, where I’ve been, where I’m from and what I want to continue to do in my life.  Lastly, I’m excited about the next six months here and what they will bring.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Seoul Part 2-Rugby Matches

            The next morning I woke up, roused up James and Jonathan and we were off to get some breakfast.  I had realized that I’d forgotten my mouthpiece so Jonathan and I walked around some department stores and after jumping some do not enter signs we finally found a store to buy one.  We rushed off to find the fields and slowly realized that we didn't know where the fields were because even though we were at the right park, we were on the wrong side of the park so we missed the first game.  This is Seoul and the park was at massive, at least 6 miles long. We finally made it to the fields, loosened up and played the next game.  I had some first game jitters but it was awesome playing out there. 
            Now before I describe how it felt playing throughout the day I’ll go ahead and explain the rules of rugby.  Watch this video for a great visual on the basic rules and how to score. 

            So now that you know how the game works when I played in the second game I did much better, read the game better, thus played faster and scored my first try (similar to a touchdown).  The third game was the best, even though we lost, because I was in the middle of it all.  Hitting guys, pushing them back, chasing down their fastest player to prevent a try, reading where the ball was going to go and being there to stop the giant of a man running full-speed at me.  We might have lost by one try but I learned so much in that game that I hadn’t from the other games when we had dominated.  Jonathan also played because of injuries to some of our regular players and I was pretty proud of him for getting in the middle of it too.
Ready to go.
            On the way home James and I had another fantastic conversation about life, liberty and your passions.  I feel that a person’s happiness comes from the pursuit of your passions. He agreed but pointed out that without controlling your passions then you'll miss out on the moments in life that remind you to enjoy life.  While we were talking we met a Korean girl who had just finished college in Texas.  It was pretty funny listening to her complain about how Koreans don’t apologize for bumping into you, that she didn’t like Kimchi and how much she missed Mexican food.  But when James and I asked her what type of job she wanted and why she couldn’t tell us.  We asked what she was passionate about and she couldn’t answer that either.  So we told her that when she could tell us those things we would take her to the one Mexican restaurant in Gwangju.  To date neither one of us has heard from her.
             How about you?  Can you answer those questions that we asked her and if not will you try to?

Monday, October 3, 2011

Seoul Part 1

            This past weekend I was finally able to get up to Seoul and visit one of the largest cities in the world.  I was going up to play in my first rugby tournament and was really excited to do both in the same weekend.
            I met up with Jonathan, James and Jonathan’s buddy Leroy, yes like the song, and we took the train.  Of course we were swapping stories but Leroy definitely topped us by describing what it was like being in Egypt as the revolution took place.  He talked about sitting at his hotel’s pool and looking up to see mortar fire and tracers flying overhead and across the city.
            The next morning he went to the airport to leave, was going through the screening process when the one of the guards said, “That’ll be 100 dollars.” Leroy didn’t know what he was talking about but quickly realized that if he didn’t pay he wasn’t going to be able to go into the airport.  I’ve looked up some stuff online and found many similar stories because the police were in the streets trying to quell the revolution. 
Getting on the train.
Beautiful country.
Would love to climb that.
Catching up on his missed Z's.
Seoul is the second largest metropolitan area in the world.
            Once we made it to Seoul Leroy split off to meet with his buddies and we went to Changdeokgung to visit the Changdeok Palace and Biwon Secret Garden.  We wandered around debating if we wanted to eat Korean or Indian when I saw a Subway.  I headed straight for it, walked in and relished in the familiar smells of roast beef, freshly baked bread and American cheese.  It was glorious eating a sandwich again that was toasted with Oregano, black olives, plenty of veggies and three kinds of beef.  Ah it was fantastic just fantastic.
            After fueling up we got our bearings and went to the palace.  It was definitely one of the coolest places I’ve visited here in Korea and had some beautiful places to walk around in or sit down at.  The Palace was built in 1405 was burned down in 1592, rebuilt in 1609 and was the official residence of Korean kings until 1926. 
Entrance to Changdeok Palace
Please excuse Jonathan's hat placement as he's from Miami.
Main gate that leads to the throne room that you can see in the distance.
Walking up.
At the throne room and the ceiling was easily 50ft high.
Biwon, the Secret Garden.
Really great pond with an island.
Another view.
Could definitely run those every morning to start my day.
This is an awesome water clock that has the zodiac, calendar, harvest times and daily time.
The ceiling of a Pagoda at the garden.
My favorite spot was Bandoji, or Peninsula Pond. It's shaped like the outline of the Korean Peninsula and I really enjoyed having my deep meta-thoughts there.
            Next, James and I went to Iteawon, Jonathan left to meet up with his girl, to watch the New Zealand and France rugby teams play in a big Rugby World Cup game.  Rugby isn’t that big in the States but to the rest of the English-speaking world it’s huge.  The passion and emotional investment by the fans is on par with fans of college football back home.
The bar we were at was packed.
           Check out this video of the All-Blacks pregame tribal war dance called the Haka:
            New Zealand won the game and we left to clean up and meet the rugby guys. Iteawon is the foreigner part of Seoul, has a red light district that started up when the Japanese occupied Korea and feels very much like you’re in a Western city.  It’s over commercialized; the Irish pubs are run by Koreans and the foreigners there are not my style.  However I had a great night going out with the rugby guys, Jonathan ended up meeting with us too, and was ready to play some rugby the next day. 
Finishing the night off with some great kebabs.
            I’ll tell you about playing in my first rugby game in my next post.