Friday, October 19, 2007

spaß

Lunacy is in the air, or maybe it's just me feeling the crunch of having an actual, instead of self-enforced, schedule. The previously separate sects of my life are about to converge, and I'd prefer if they all came out running parallel instead of becoming a maelstrom. Will my new day job play nice with the rest of my life?

. . . stay tuned.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch. We're six weeks into the waiting game for the results of Alex's exam with possibly another 4-6 weeks to go. No real change there, but his part-time job is certainly keeping his mind occupied. He doesn't mention the exam every half hour like he used to, "Only 7 weeks 3 days and 16.5 hours left". It's the small things that preserve my sanity. I guess, I'm trying to thank Starbucks here. Weird.

To completely crunch my time into small pieces, I've been teaching myself to knit and have joined an online design challenge. It's all in good fun, and who doesn't love a challenge. Grandma Rosie would appreciate the fashion challenge. I abused her sewing machine many moons ago, ripping clothing apart to make new items. She still loves the "1 dress becomes 3 shirts" night, and I love amusing her. I'll have to send her some pics of this one.

And speaking of good fun, Alex is taking me to see the 3-D "Nightmare Before Christmas" at noon. Nothing like Tim Burton in 3-D to jumpstart a weekend!

I have more to say, but it's better said HERE.

* * * * *

Saturday, August 11, 2007

this is the end

Just as our eight seasons in Korea has ended, so has this blog's title. This site will no longer be known as "eight seasons in the land of the morning calm". There'll be some experimentation with titles (your suggestions are welcome, of course), so I apologize for wreaking havoc on your links menu. We are back in the states - for now - and can be reached using the email links on the right.

If you're looking for a small a2 fix, check out Audrey's online store, world as one, at the artist collective Etsy.com.


Etsy
Buy Handmade
AMPere

Thursday, May 3, 2007

FINALLY . . . let the pictures begin

As most of you certainly know, we returned to America safe and sound after a long and sleepless flight over the Pacific. Neither of us did more than briefly nod off, so upon landing in Seattle we looked stunning. Justin quickly shuttle us to his apartment where I was viciously attacked my mother. She lunged from the darkness of the bathroom attempting to scare the crap out of me. It was really sweet. We hugged and cried, and i did that annoying screaming thing that girls often do that i usually make fun of. My only consolation is that I did it in the privacy of an apartment instead of out on a public walkway.

With all the excitement of having not just my mother surprise us but my dad and little bro also, we were no longer tired. We spent the next few days enjoying the company (including Andrea who also lives out that way), and ignoring our jet lag to the point of sheer exhaustion.

After Seattle, we hopped down to visit some of Alex's extended family. Alex's bro, Chris, picked us up at the airport. We made our way to Scottsdale where we stayed with Uncle Mike & Aunt Bernice. Bernice cooked an excellent meatball dinner the first night, and I was not too shy about eating, let me tell you. We were also able to see Uncle Tom and Aunt Janey (since they live upstairs), and just settled into the comfortable family atmosphere. After an all too short but very lively visit in AZ, we boarded the plane for Chicago.

And Chicago is where we've been for a week now. Settling in, meeting up with friends and family, and trying to figure out what exactly is next. In the meantime, for your enjoyment, feel free to peruse the following pictures . . .

Our last 10 days in Korea: Travels, haircuts, and lots of Buddha

Our first days in Vietnam: Hanoi & Ha Long Bay

You can also link directly to our photographs from here

Sunday, April 1, 2007

Quickie Update: Vietnam

The nice thing about traveling without concrete plans or a schedule is the freedom it has given us to improvise and choose our own adventure. It's that freedom that allowed to us extend our stay in Hue after some nasty food poisoning, and may have found us the greatest way to tour the Mekong Delta region. More on that another time.

We're currently in the small central highlands city of Dalat. It was founded by some French dude looking to beat the heat of the lowland summers. While it offers a respite from the already seething heat, there is little else to do in the town. It's nice for that reason, too. I've been a bit travel weary after a month of constantly moving, and just needed a day or two to recuperate. The chilly nights have been excellent for sleep, and probably the last we'll need a blanket for the remainder of our trip. In mid-March, while we were in the North, Saigon was already registering temps of 90+ degrees F.

Tomorrow we leave for a beach town south of Nha Trang for some time in the surf and sun, before heading into the Mekong Delta for 5 days. Our last stop is Ho Chi Minh City. I promise to start posting pictures as soon as we get to Seattle. Well, maybe after a day of dealing with jet lag - sleeping.

Favorites:

  • Going to see the well-preserved Ho Chi Minh (aka Uncle Ho).
  • Touring a portion of the central highlands on the back of a motorbike.
  • Having clothing tailor-made in Hoi An.


Not so good:
  • The devious soy milk that kept me in a hotel bathroom for 2-days.
  • The equally devious wine that kept Alex in a hotel bathroom.
  • The fruit & postcard hawkers on Hoi An's beach that felt Alex was made of money (I think I need to carry a paper with the latest exchange rate that highlights the Euro and GBP).

Thursday, March 8, 2007

so far so good

Well our adventures didn't start out as planned, but we've made the most of it. Missed our first bus to Gyeongju and ended up in Busan for two nights. But I enjoy Busan's flavor, so it wasn't that much of a setback. We wrapped up loose ends in Gwangju with a quickness on Monday, and the most difficult part was parting with Master Lee. I cried a bit, and I think he wanted to, too. He hugged me for quite some time. Beyond that, I'm Happy to report Alex's contract was upheld.

We're doing well and enjoying our travels around Korea right now. Finally made it to Gyeongju on Wednesday. There's so much to see that we decided to stay until Saturday morning. We were also fortunate enough to run into a man that runs a budget hotel, AND he speaks excellent english. He drew us a great map of must-see attractions. Gyeongju is a large historical area with massive burial mounds of past kings. Lots of Buddhist culture, too. We were on Mt. Nam all day today taking in the sights. We'll be on the east side of the mountain tomorrow.

The only downside to our trip is that the food doesn't come close the the deliciousness of Gwangju. We were truly spoiled. There's no kimchi like Jeolla kimchi.

Friday, March 2, 2007

Audrey's (brief) Retrospective

When asked about my experiences in Korea, I’ve discovered that words escape me. In the grand scheme of things, Alex and I have become so accustomed to the society and culture of Gwangju that we have a hard time remembering the specifics of our lives before coming here.

Korea is a country of nuances, which is why I find it so difficult to explain. I simply do, and of that I am the most proud. Living here has been challenging and far from easy, as you’ve no doubt read on this blog. At no other time in my life can I remember being so calm yet so awkward, or so self-conscious yet confident.

The cultural differences, even those that irk us, are just a normal part of everyday life, as is Kimchi. No longer does anyone warn us about spicy food or linger over us to make sure we know how to cook our Sam Gyup Sal. Most people, with the exception of children, barely seem to notice us as we wander our neighborhood. We are familiar and comfortable faces to shopkeepers and restaurant owners, who go out of their way to offer an “Annyong haseyo”. At night taxi drivers mistake me for a Korean, and the old women slap me on the back with wide smiles and nod approvingly at my grocery purchases. And though I will always stand out in a crowd, I move within them at ease.

Kumdo has truly been the greatest asset to our wellbeing. Our school is family, and a part of me feels empty leaving, just as I felt an emptiness leaving Master Cheon in Chicago. A great many memories of Korea will revolve around Kumdo; tournaments, demonstrations, & cabbage trucks, our 2nd & 3rd degree black belts, mornings in Damyang & lunches of Guksu, and the sadness in Master Lee’s eyes when we told him we were leaving.

As our time here comes to a close, I feel a tug on my heart that resembles an earlier homesickness for America and the familiar. It will overwhelm me when I walk the streets of Chicago. I’ll look to a horizon without mountains and fog and remember the chants of monks, the food stalls stuffed with uniformed teenagers, and strangers’ children climbing into my lap. I may even miss the kimbap deliverymen weaving their motorcycles between people on sidewalks, and the drunken businessmen trying to drag us into bars.

It has been a remarkable two years, and as we move on to our next adventure, Korea . . . Gwangju will always be a small piece of home for us in this wide world.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Alex's Year End Retrospective

Another year has passed and I guess I should write something about what I supposedly have learned over the last two years. Again I think it might be short, but I have learned some things. And even as I look forward to about two months of wandering, and no longer having to be responsible for other people’s children, I will miss much of Korea. But the one thing that I have learned that has the most lasting impact, the one that will stay with me long after the memories have become hazy, probably as it will be the cause of that haziness, is that I am becoming an old man, and faster than I would like. I can sense that you might now go look at our profile or mine at my defunct (due to my laziness) blog, and say to me that I am not yet thirty. Very true that is so I guess I should elaborate. These are the ten ways in which I am becoming an old man before my time:

  • Hair Lines – I am balding and quickly, and my body hair is increasing daily. I
    know that this is not something too special, which is why it is first.
  • Graying – Not only am I losing it, but it is also going white, mostly in the beard which can be a sexy thing so I do not mind too much.
  • Memory Loss – Now we are getting into weightier stuff. I even forget things mid-sentence. Very frustrating especially if you are trying to have a conversation with me.
  • Bunions – It is not just a woman’s issue. I started getting one late last year because Korean feet are so much smaller than my clompers.
  • Joint Pain – I have a bum knee that will need surgery, again, some time in the future and I cannot get out of bed in the morning for my back.
  • Noises – I found this year that I have started making many extraneous noises, most obviously while bending over to pick up stuff, even pencils.
  • Stiffness – You are only as old as your spine, and I really need to do more regular Yoga.
  • Sense of Humor – Perhaps it is not a sign of aging, but more a sign of being stuck in an older time. My sense of humor is painfully corny, or should I say buniony. Best shown through examples.
  • Hearing – I cannot hear anything in a crowded room, and sometimes I do not hear things people say when it is just Audrey and I. Couple this with the memory loss and conversations become nearly impossible.


And now for the kicker, perhaps the most bizarre, and at the same time the most telling of my destiny to become old quickly. . .
  • Medicine – I am not taking any daily medications, not even aspirin, and I do not use ointment or creams, though they might help my achy joints. Yet still in the morning I smell like medicine. Audrey first noted it and now I have become obsessed, as is my habit. There is no objective proof I can give you, but just talk to Audrey.


There we have it. The biggest thing I have learned all year.

I could end it there, but I suppose there are a few more things that need a little attention. I have found that bosses are bosses, and it is not so important to have a job you love as a boss who treats you as a member of a team and respects your input and the value that you bring to the company. I am still looking. Also in that vein, hoping for better prospects can lead me to ignoring my better judgment, and things that look too good to be true probably are. I also found that I would love to be an uncle. I do not dislike kids, I have a lot of fun talking to them, but I do not want to have the responsibility of dealing with them all the time. When the kids in class get annoying I can take comfort in the fact that they will soon be out of my hair. The last job related learning I have come across is that teaching English is something I never want to do again.

As to the rest it is not very enlightening or of much interest to anyone but me so I will keep this blog short. I am excited about getting back to the states for a while and I know we are not done with living overseas. I have no convenient or cohesive way to wrap up this blog so I will just stop writing. I cannot remember the rest anyways.


medicine

Saturday, February 3, 2007

Nervous Nurse's Needles & The 2-for-1

I really don't have an issue with needles. I don't mind getting my blood drawn, and don't get nauseated at the sight of a syringe. Most of that ease comes with the idea that the person wielding the needle is a trained professional. That being said . . .

Thursday morning I was scheduled for Hep A & Tetanus boosters. I think the nurses drew straws to see who would have to poke me as they huddled around the vials in a tight circle. The unlucky nurse, looking pale and nervous, brought in the two syringes. I did my best to alleviate her stress by pretending to be distracted by my cuticles or the chart of sport injuries on the wall. In other words, giving her room to do what she does without feeling the pressure of a foreigner's gaze.

I vaguely remember the last tetanus booster I received. It was after I had been attacked by the neighbor's German Shepherd. The sensation was that of being punched in the arm over and over and over and over and over . . . and then a constant ache that didn't subside for 24 hours. I was prepared for the discomfort figuring that memory usually exaggerates, so it’d be a minor annoyance this time around.

Well the “Hep A” booster hit my arm like a ton of bricks in slow motion. Nervous Nurse took a couple practice line-ups to my arm after wiping it with not one but three alcohol pads. I thought she must’ve been mistaken, that she was probably giving me the Tetanus shot first, because from the moment the shot began the discomfort slid down my arm and into my neck. It hurt much worse than my memories had suggested it would.

Audrey's arm (Feb. 3, 2007)As she prepped for the second shot, I used an alcohol pad to massage my arm. Damn that hurt, I thought. She hit me with the second shot, which managed to feel just as uncomfortable. At this point, I figured that in her nervous state she had perhaps hit a nerve since my elbow was tingling. Nothing can be done now, so just grin and bear it.

Friday was Alex’s turn, and when he returned from the doctor’s office he said, “I have some bad news”. There had been some confusion (shocking to me as this was) during my vaccinations the previous morning. They had accidentally given me Hep B instead of A, so I needed to go in Saturday morning for the intended shot (free of charge, of course). I was initially quite annoyed because my arm had a welt the size of a golf ball, was fiercely hot, and painful to the touch. However, Dr. Park is a very gentle man and it wasn’t as though they had intended to give me a freebie vaccination.

The moral of the story? Shit happens, but even shit can have a silver lining (please don’t paint a mental picture of that). Dr. Park gave me some free meds to deal with the swelling and was very apologetic. Though the Hep B was a pain in the ass, that shot completed my vaccination series . . . and completed it for free.

Thursday, February 1, 2007

more than green tea, though there was a lot of green tea.

Whirlwind is the only word that could possibly describe our weekend in Boseong. Maybe it’s the short winter days or our dwindling time in Korea that made it feel so brief, maybe it was the haste with which we moved through this tourist town’s off-season offerings that turned the quiet streets into a blur. Whatever the case, Boseong was certainly a good time.

Boseong is roughly 1.5 hours from Gwangju by bus, and after a restless night, I was certainly glad for the allotted snooze time. However, when we entered the mountains near Boseong, it was difficult to nap. Of course the scenery was gorgeous as is the case whenever you wander into the more rural areas of this country, but my sudden alertness had more to do with the winding mountain road and the bus seeming to hop its way around corners. Even a year after our bus accident, I still get jittery. Seung-gyun’s sister picked us up from the station, and whisked us off to their family’s restaurant where we were treated to a lunch of roast duck eaten bulgogi style (lettuce wrap). Then, thoroughly stuffed, we hopped into the car for an afternoon of sight seeing.

The beaches at Boseong are limited in size, but we were assured that they saw their fair share of action come summertime. Our personal guides, told us about the girls in bikinis and summer love from their teenage years. I wandered to take pictures and breathe in the salty air being careful not to stumble over the constant stretch of ropes across the sand. Fishing boats anchored to shore, nets carefully folded, patiently waiting for warmer days and better fishing. We continued on noting strange odds and ends like a burned VCR/Radio manual, a potato lazing along the waterline, tiny crab carcasses. The men skipped rocks. It sounds unhurried, but Alex and I both wished we could’ve lingered longer on the shore. It was time to continue on.

Climbing from the foot of the mountains to the very top, the green tea bushes ripple in perfect rows resembling the back of a squatting dragon or the ominous climb of a tidal wave. Despite the recent harvest and the winter weather, the tiered rows still hinted at green. Winding down at a much gentler slope, a path offers a nice stroll that come summertime is probably packed to overflowing. On this particularly brisk but mild day, it was ours. We took pictures quickly and moved on.

The second green tea field we visited was a full-fledged tourist operation used to shoot TV shows and commercials and is bordered by restaurants and gift shops. Once up on the trails, it feels more isolated. As we walked the winding paths amongst the carefully manicured shrubbery, we indulged in vanilla-green tea ice cream and green tea cookies. Snow flurries came and went as did the sun, and the ice cream was still delicious even though I could barely feel my face.

That night we stayed with Ki-hyeok’s family that, lucky for us, were preparing for a wedding. His mother put together a thanksgiving-worthy feast, while his father plied us with jujube liquor. Later we took the quiet walk into town to meet with another friend who owns a PC Bang (internet café). Happy to have company, he took us out for beer and cow heart before we wandered sleepily back to Ki-hyeok’s house and a night in the country.

Sunday we found ourselves back at Seung-gyun’s house for lunch before bussing home. The weekend was a flash, but from what we’ve seen, Boseong is the best of all worlds. It’s a city, it’s a beach town, and is gracefully bordered by mountains and breath-taking tea fields. If only there were more days in a weekend. If only.


you know the drill . . . click the picture for visual stimulation.

Friday, January 26, 2007

life n' shit

Friendship is a diverse endeavor; layer over layer of intensity, mercy, strength, and weakness. It has a rare quality in its fleeting or stamina. You will always remember. Years from now, when the name escapes your tongue, a sudden surge of nostalgia will reconstruct a memory, a glimmer of the eye, a subtle texture of differences, and regardless of the distance that’s grown between, you will always smile fondly.

Friendship is an education of the heart. It will teach you how far you will go, how willing you are to bend or break, and with what urgency you move through a particular time in life. I will have many moments in years to come that throw me back into the heart of my life in Korea. I owe the greatest debt of gratitude for rediscovering myself, and how much we all need each other, to my friend Ali.

Some of you have taken the time to read his website and comment on his ordeal. But there is more than what is posted on a page. Letter after letter, his face materializes in front of me.

He is young and full of hope, resilient even when his soul feels cold and his mind is numb. In his darkest hours he wonders if he’ll ever feel his mother’s arms around him, again. Yet even in that doubt, he will be the first to reassure his mother that he’s coming home. His thoughts bend painfully when he considers the life that has been stolen from him, but the future inspires him to continue with a smile. He pushes against the weight of his wrongful imprisonment with the strength of a thousand men, but does not push anyone to believe him unless their heart is in it. He assures me everyday when I look over his letters, his trial, and his story. He inspires me everyday; I do have a voice in this world that’s louder than the buildings crumbing under the weight of human indifference, war, and conceit.

Friendship . . . it binds us together to face the bitter elements of this world, so that even when we falter there will be a piece of our heart that keeps us on our feet.

I am willing to bend.
I am willing to break.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

back at it

I returned to martial arts this month, and lucky for me, my muscles have good memory. The first three weeks back have been relatively painless, and it's been nice to be back in the dojang working out with Alex. I look forward to having my butt kicked into trekking shape by the time March rolls around. Hopefully we'll make one last trip out to Damyang to hack away at some bamboo, too.

Friday, January 5, 2007

thank goodness for good friends

With the help of our two closest friends, we negotiated with the landlady today for an additional month (our lease ends on February 3rd). It was rough-going for awhile. She was insisting we sign for an additional 6 months, sublet & give up our deposit ($3,000- unlikely story, sister), then it was to pay double rent for the last month. At this point a mild panic began to overtake me as I thought of all the extra stress that would come from having to live with Alex's boss. Alex may have actually lost his mind in that case.

Lucky for us, Seung-gyun and Ki-hyeok are well-versed in the art of haggling. Game faces on, calm, questioning the landlord very subtly until she came around to what they deemed a fair price. We will pay an additional ₩150,000 ($150) for our last month, which is more that reasonable compared to the first options.

With that mess out of our way, we divert our attention to selling furniture and the miscellaneous odds and ends we've acquired over the past couple years. If all goes well, in two months we'll be leaving with only backpacks and some extra coin in pocket.