11 December 2009

Oh, Blogger! Where art thou?

How did it come to this?
On my recent trip to the US many of my friends asked me why I haven't been writing. I have been writing, just not here so much. I have been doing some pieces for a travel website and I have also been working on a couple of independent projects which may or may not be ready for public viewing at some point. But the blog, I think, has fallen victim to a kind of feeling-at-home-sickness, a complete loss of the conviction that my experiences here are any longer remarkable, literally, either to myself or for others.
Looking back over some of the early entries, full of so much wonder and awe, I am aware of how truly sad this is and know deep down that this sense of leading a commonplace existence is probably very misguided regardless. Not because my life or any life lived outside of its familiar geography is special, but because I feel that all lives are uncommon unless extraordinary measures are taken to make them less so (an eventuality all too common in our cyber-driven world, cave-dwelling people living the better part of their lives inside a simulated universe although I have read and believe that it is possible, given complete enough submersion, to have an authentic emotional and psychological existence through an avatar of one sort or another, although this does not in any way make such an existence any less pathetic). Anyway, I guess I came to feel that these entries were a waste of time to produce let alone disseminate since I had recorded a goodly cross section of the amazing things one can experience as an expat living in Korea and what was left were the day to day matters of existence which I didn't particularly care to record and I felt nobody other than possibly my mother would care to read.
But there have been some remarkable activities of late on which I should, if only for sake of my own processing, make comment, one to which I have already alluded: that of my journey home for the Thanksgiving holiday. I think at one point I might have mentioned a section from the wonderful poem by T.S. Eliot entitled "Little Gidding" which goes "...And the end of all our travelling will be to return to the place we started and to know the place for the first time...", and so, with this adage in mind I ventured forth on my homeward trajectory with the highest of ideals and the loftiest of inward prose: not only would I witness the complete transformation of my home ground and all of its inhabitants, but wouldn’t they also necessarily and reciprocally witness an equally miraculous transformation in me? I must, after this much time away (an incredibly long 16 months), have become essentially a new person, barely recognizable.
And the things I discovered, about myself and others, were even more amazing than I had ever imagined and they will be the subject of my next post…in June. ;)

10 September 2009

Back to School Time

It's back to school time here in Korea and that means back to normalcy for teachers at private academies like mine. The summer break (mid-July to the end of August) is a time of chaos as the tight schedules the children keep become jumbled. Piano lessons, computer class, Math, Science, Art, Tae Kwon Do...most kids maintain a grueling pace during the school year. With the summer break, all the extra-curriculars become jumbled. At many small private academies it becomes impossible to maintain a schedule with leveled classes...you might have 5th year English students in the classroom with beginners. Thankfully, during this period I was given a lot of leeway in lesson planning. I was usually able to find material that was both interesting to the older students and accessible to the less experienced. However, I have nearly used up my giant bottle of Advil.

Thankfully, as I said, things are now returning to normal. As the new classes form I have been making careful notes in regard to individual assessment and class maturity levels so as to begin selection of teaching materials. Unlike at my previous school, where my opinion was not solicited, here I am consulted and expected to have an informed opinion about the students and their needs. That is incredibly refreshing. I recently took a trip to the teacher store with our head teacher and we looked over all of the possibilities and found some good stuff. I am looking forward to teaching with the new supplies.

In other news, my finger is still healing. I have lost a lot of mobility but I am surprised at how adaptable the hand is. Things that I thought I would basically have to completely relearn, like typing, have kind of adapted themselves on their own. And things that I worried would be affected by the loss of strength, like sailing, have come along as well: the other fingers seem to have picked up the slack when I pull a jib sheet or the like.

All in all, things are going well. I recently purchased another scooter (number 3!) and got a huge lock to put on it. I am being careful and hope that this one won't get stolen. It is sure fun riding around on that thing.

01 September 2009


I don't think I ever really discover anything new... I am only abruptly reminded of something which I had already learned the hard way.

When I got on the elevator last night at 1:30 AM (I don't usually come home that early but I had to work the next day) I was assaulted by a horrible smell. "My god..." I said, waving my hands around my face to swat away invisible swarms, the kind which in my experience always attend such a stench. When the elevator opened on my floor my knees buckled. Now I live on the eleventh floor of a twelve story apartment complex and if I could smell it on the first floor...

As I approached my apartment (retching-eyeswatering-gags) I began to suspect the worst: yep, it was coming FROM MY APARTMENT. At that point I seriously debated going back downstairs, taking a cab to the airport, and catching the first plane to Bangkok. The only thing that stopped me was the knowledge that the poor cat was stuck in there with that. If she was still alive.

I turned the key and opened the door. I am a farm boy. I have seen and smelled and done things that most people cannot imagine. But this was another level of stink. I quickly opened the windows turned on the fan and the oven vent and the bathroom ventilator and the air conditioner (it was quite hot in there) and tried to find the source of the stench. It didn't take long.

Here in Korea recycling is compulsory and all organic household waste is put back into the system as well, collected in tiny sealed buckets that you put by the curb with a quarter ticket stuck in the lid. I could never be troubled with that of course so I was in the habit of sticking everything in the bags you have to buy for your non-recycleable garbage (about $.25 a liter). The smell was coming from my garbage can.

I didn't take the time to do a complete autopsy but but when I pulled the bag I realized that something horrible had happened. In the bottom of the bag was another bag filled with the contents of my kitty's litter box. Around and in that was the contents of a bag of live clams that died in my refrigerator(dead clams and clam juice). In addition there was some rotten garlic and broccoli, cigarette butts, moldy yoghurt, and used toilet paper. (I had cleaned the refrigerator, bathroom, and litter box the previous night in a fit of domestic energy resulting from relationship issues).

When I got back from the dumpster and cleaned up the cat vomit I reflected on the lessons learned and fondly recalled the other times I forgot to take out the trash.

05 August 2009

"No Reservations" Hits Korea!

I am probably way too excited about this but for anyone who loves food porn as much as I do it is a dream come true for Anthony Bourdain to make a stop in Korea. I only have access through YouTube so I am posting the links to the five parts below. He, as usual, captures the essence of the culture with great cinematic flair. Enjoy!

Part 1: http://www.youtube.com/watch?gl=US&v=y-9SOq_QgsQ
Part 2: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NDrH6bBCbHA
Part 3: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gxXatYZXrfo&feature=related
Part 4: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TOs6Qf58OP4&feature=related
Part 5: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3lpoGAQpj3E&feature=related

26 July 2009


View Larger Map

New photoblog from a couple of weeks worth of frivolities, including a trip to Daegu, a day at the beach and a weekend on Yokji Island.

06 July 2009

"I got it! I got it! I got it!...."

Proximal interphalangeal joint fracture-dislocation of the right index finger. Occurred during attempted catch of foul ball at Lotte Giant's game Sunday, July 5th. Will likely require surgery.

Update: Orthopedist said that unless the bone fragments migrate into the joint surface as swelling goes down surgery is unnecessary. I go back Friday for x-rays and reevaluation. On antibiotics and pain meds. Exit wound closed without sutures.

05 July 2009

The Happy Trekker

We got up early this Saturday to meet some friends for a hike up and over Geumgang from Beomosa. Prior to this I had been going up the cable car and hiking from there so I was a little apprehensive but my condition throughout the day was good and my endurance was actually kind of surprising.

We had gone the night before and got 2 kilos of samgyopsal for a picnic. I was packing that and fruit and a cooker and fuel, plus water. I would estimate thatI was carrying about 10 kilos all together but my pack (Deuter Futura Pro 38) spreads it out and holds it high so I was able to climb cool and easy. I can't say enough about this bag. It is a joy to climb with.

After the usual launch troubles we got out to Namcheon and met Mr. Kim and Mr. Tak, who were to be our guides. In addition to Yujin and I our party included Rachelle (a Missoula bred mountain girl and hardcore climber from my former school), Mr Bak (Korean buddy from the bar), and Nuna (said bar's long-suffering proprietress). We went a strange way, up past the bus parking lot (where I was startled to find that we were not even taking the bus which takes you about a quarter of the way up to Beomeosa Temple) and in between a couple of buildings and immediately onto a dirt path through some hillside garden plots planted with corn and cabbage. The smell of the corn gave me a little bit of homesickness but I was soon busy climbing and got over it.

The lower slope was strewn with pieces of jagged granite ranging from baseball to suitcase size. The trail is hardpacked clay and with these pointy rocks sticking out everywhere. I am hiking in a pair of lowtop Keen walkers with leather uppers and although they are comfortable and offer quite a bit of protection to the top of my feet they are a little light in the sole to I was being careful where I stepped. Last week we came down in a steep wash that was almost all rock and my feet were beat up pretty bad when we finished.

The flora at that lowest level is tall pine trees that are without branches until about thirty feet up, where they form a thin but tight canopy. The ground cover is sparse and low: fern and bracken, some ivy and a few light grasses. Daisy fleabane and camellia grow pretty much everywhere but we were climbing to about 800 meters and I am surprised at the distinct ecosystems even within that short jump. It goes from pine forest to mountain meadow with ground cover changin almost constantly. In addition, the east and west side of the mountain seem to have different climates. The ridgeline runs roughly north and south and although both sides are surrounded by city, the western face fronts a huge river delta that gets significantly more rainfall. Where we crossed little brooks on the east side we were fording rushing streams on the west. The ground cover is much thicker on that side and there are deciduous trees much higher.

I was disoriented so I kept expecting to cross the temple road which makes a kind of one way loop up and back down the mountain. I could hear the temple, a monk singing prayers and a mallet on a wooden bell, and I kept hearing it as we went above and beyond it on the left. After a bit I deduced that we were not inside the loop at all. I had been counting on that as a way to mark our progress, but it was actually liberating to find that I was unable to see where I was at or how far I had to go. I could just concentrate on my feet and the beauty around me.

It had been hot when we set out, but we soon climbed into the sweet cool of the pine forest. We climbed over and along and sometimes in the little brooks that bubble down from the peaks. They each sing thier own tune. There were bird calls in the air but I didn't see many. Notable were cuckoos calling back and forth across the hillside. Near the top we can to a small ledge where there was a tiny house and garden and a little spring coming out of the hillside, channelled through a piece of bamboo and trinkling out into a giant bowl carved out of a single piece of stone. The water filled the bowl and trickled down over the edges. Tin dippers were hanging from nails in another piece of bamboo at the side. Weary travellers were stopped there, sitting in the shade, refilling water bottles and soaking down neckerchiefs. That water was sweet and cold.

Soon after that we left the trees and entered the alpine meadow that runs along the higher ridge line. We stopped there to take in the view, which was specatacular. To the right and the left huge split granite spires jutted up into the sky, looking for everything like a set of precariously stacked children's blocks the merest breeze might blow over. Somewhere below the city smouldered but we couldn't see it: the whole valley was shrouded in mist. Far off a few other mountains poked their heads up.

We crossed the wall of the Geumgang fortress and began almost immediately to descend. After crossing our first large waterway we came to a small group of buildings in a hollow on the other side. Wooden platforms were built right up to the edge of the rushing stream and people were sitting there eating the simple fare served by the women in the hut: fresh tofu (still warm!) with kimchi and ganjang sauce (soy sauce, sesame oil, sugar, red pepper powder, sesame seeds, and chopped green onion...I could drink it), fresh cabbage leaf salad in red pepper sauce and sesame oil, and, the ubiquitous mountain likker, makgeolli. After a year here I have finally acquired a taste for this tart rice-based concoction. If you like a nice toothy Belgian wheat beer you should try this stuff. It looks like drinking yoghurt and kicks like a mule.

This was to be our appetizer so we moved on and about ten minutes later found ourselves at a nice flat spot along a boulder strewn stream bed. You had to talk loud to hear eachother over the sound of the water finding its way around and under and over all the rocks. Unfortunately, we had no sooner gotten our stove out than it began to thunder and pour buckets of rain. We soldiered on, Yujin holding the lone umbrella over the griddle. Soon we were all soaked but we got it all packed up again and hightailed it down the mountian to the road that would take us down to the bus stop. Along that road we found a little tent restaurant where we stopped to check our cell phones and cameras (all fine...did I mention I love my bag?) and have a little snack: odeng (fish cake soup) and haemul pajeon (green onion pancakes with seafood...usually squid, shrimp, and clams but depends on season/locale. One of my favorites.).

On to the bus and down the winding hillside road to town for a taxi ride back to the bar where we could discuss our individual and collective heroics over half-liters of maekju, sitting barefoot on newspaper, our muddy clothes hanging in the bushes out front.

15 June 2009

Signs of Progress

This is a pretty crummy picture but what it represents is a bit of a milestone for me. Since I had the surgery my condition has improved dramatically and Yujin and I went on a long walk with mild exertion on Saturday and a long hike with serious exertion on Sunday (up the cable car and over and down the other side and back up to Seokbulsa, the temple carved in stone) and neither time did I suffer even mild symptoms. It wasn't very hot though, which is the true test. It was great to be able to get out and do some hiking.

I have completely lost the tourist attitude and I forget sometimes to even bring my camera along. I actually took pictures at the South Gate while I was out yesterday but I was so blown away by the temple I forgot to get it out. I sat for a long time in the temple. It was so quiet and peaceful. I would like to go to that place again.

We had left my scooter at the gate of the park where the cable car goes up but after we hiked all the way down the other side of the mountain and then half way back up in another place to go to that temple we only had three hours to get all the way back up to take the cable car down again to the scooter. I know there was probably a short cut to the top from the temple but as you know nothing is marked and I couldn't risk a descent in the dark if we missed the last cable car down at 7pm and Yujin was wearing Brikenstock's which she always does but the descent to the temple was basically "bouldering" and she wore out her little toes and although my balls were fine my knees were not and I was already into the Advil.

So we walked down further from the temple (still on the wrong side of the mountain) and came to a little noodle shack at the end of the paved road up from the other side. There was a taxi parked there with nobody in it and I asked a guy sitting there where was the driver and he said he didn't know (Yujin was in the bathroom) and I sat there and here comes this guy drunk off his ass and he goes over to the taxi and tries to get in and it is locked of course and he starts kicking the door and cussing. He then tried the doors of all the other cars. I am just sitting there watching all of this.

When Yujin came out of the bathroom the guy and his wife I had been talking to said they would give us a ride but it was a delicate situation given the belligerent nature of the drunk so we hiked down the road a way and when they finished their noodles they picked us up. They dropped us off very near the scooter and it was a minimum cab ride to the pick-up. We thanked them profusely and I gave them my two hiking apples. Home and then to the Bali Sauna and Jimjilbang for a scrubbing, steam bath, and massage chair. I slept soundly.

12 June 2009

Cheap Sunglasses

Why, in a country where an umbrella can be purchased for W5000 ($3.50), is it so hard to find a good pair of cheap sunglasses? I lose (or break) sunglasses at a rate which precludes purchasing an expensive pair. The ones I see at HomePlus and the like are cheap, but they are priced at W30,000 and up. Someone somewhere is getting rich off sunglasses. The same goes for watches. The plain analog Casio's I see everywhere being sold for W70,000 are in the dollar store at home. I am also frustrated by the price and selection of clothing my size (biggish). I am still wearing what is left of the wardrobe I brought with me a year ago. It is wearing thin. An uncapped pen and a rainy struggle over a taxi claimed two shirts. Most of my t-shirts have lost their former shape as a result of the humidity and the clothes line. The situation is becoming somewhat critical.

The price of some things seems almost punitive. Kitty litter is W12,000 for 10 kilos. Is it imported? If so, this makes sense. I didn't really think about it until I arrived here but this country is essentially an island. There is no land route. Everything that they don't have must be imported. I guess kitty litter is one of those things. And it is heavy. So is peanut butter. A rice cooker will set you back a pretty penny. So will a new laptop.

Food is the best value. It is so cheap to eat out here that it is actually less cost effective to eat at home if you factor in waste. Factory farms with products bio-engineered for shelf life have apparently not hit the market here. Tomatoes look like the ones we grow in the garden at home and taste like tomatoes, but they go bad overnight. I have taken to buying all my veggies from the bulk bin one or two onions at a time, other things as I need them.

I have formed an addiction to the fresh tuna shops. At W20,000 and up they aren't the cheapest place to eat, but how can you put a price on heaven? The price is graded according to the cuts you get, but I always get the cheapest for the same reasons I will never fly first class: a. I can't afford it and b. I don't know the difference and c. I don't want to know: it would make Coach unbearable. Sitting up at the bar you can watch as the sashimi chef carves off cool chucks of fresh raw tuna: the tartar-looking head meat, deep red cuts from the fillets, and, holy of holies, the fatty tuna belly. The leaner cuts get a dip in sesame oil infused with crushed garlic and sea salt. The fatty tuna belly only needs a touch of soy sauce and wasabi. I like to wrap them in the nori provided. And they keep giving the stuff to you until you say quit. Then they bring you some more stuff: a small baked daggerfish, tiny spicy-tuna rolls, huge crab and salmon hand rolls. Top that off with some delicious beverages and you can roll. Heavenly.

One thing that has changed since I moved is that I now have a TV. I told them to take it away at my first apartment. I have become a soccer junkie so this time I kept it and it is a blessing and a curse. It is nice to be able to watch FIFA matches without going out, but I am a chronic channel flipper. I have discovered, however, that although I will sit flipping through the channels for three hours, I will not walk across the room to turn the thing on. As a result of this I now keep the remote sitting on top.

Let's see... what else was I going to write about? I guess the biggest change lately has been the arrival of the scooter. It has made getting around almost too easy. I think that I am gaining weight. This might also have something to do with the elevator. But there is no denying that it is fun zooming around town. I bought a second helmet, a flat black unit in the style of a WWI German brainbucket. It offers mimimal impact protection but it is cool (temperature-wise).

We are getting ready to begin monsoon season here: hot and wet and hot. The mosquitos are out, carrying god-knows-what. I burn coils at night but that doesn't help my hack. My blood alchohol level usually makes me unappetizing anyway.

I finally got some credit into my Skype account so if anyone back home gets a phone call from a very strange number it might be me. Later.

21 May 2009

A Status Report

As you know I have tried in this blog to be upbeat and to accentuate the positive aspects of this experience. That may be why I haven't written in a while.

My tenure at KidsClub had been difficult from the beginning. There were many reasons for this, some of them my fault, some of them not. Long story short, I have moved on. After a bit of soul-searching I decided to try again in a better school and, putting to use the hard-won lessons I have learned, make a fresh start. After a few stressful weeks I found a new job with a new apartment, both of them much, much better than what I had before. One of my problems with the previous place was that they required so much administrative work that there was little time to do anything else. In my new job I go to work, teach, and go home. It is wonderful. I have signed on for another year and it is my intention to come home for a week around Thanksgiving.

I bought an ugly, second-hand scooter to get to work. I teach in two locations now so having my own transportation will make getting around much easier. I am wearing my helmet.

Spring has been something to witness here. The cherry blossoms exploded in early April and then the greenery. It is still cool but the hot, wet summer is just around the corner. From my apartment here on the eleventh floor I can see the mountains to the north and west. Through the rain they look like they are wearing an old, dusty green work-coat, dark green and darker yet in the creases. The rotary is lit up with neon advertising Thai massage and love-motels. I have made new friends in my new neighborhood and found new favorite haunts and eateries. This neighborhood never rests. I have engineered a combination of sleep sounds to drown everything out: crickets for the squeaking roof ventilators, ocean for the booming trucks, rain for the unmuffled delivery scooters, a creek for the rest. It works sometimes.

It is an overused truism that what does not kill you makes you stronger. Facing homelessness and unemployment a world away from home would cause a more stable person than I to have panic attacks, and I passed some uneasy nights in the last month. It was very gratifying, however, to be able to hold it together, take inventory of my assets, and find myself of value not only to others but to myself. That may seem like an overly dramatic recounting, but, believe me, there were moments when I had to reassure myself that I was not a complete failure and that I had something to offer. And I know it must have been this way because of how I feel now: nearly weightless. Where there had been a dread and hopelessness there is now anticipation and light. It takes a long, hard night to make one appreciate the warmth of a good sunrise.

29 April 2009

On Feeling at Home Away from Home

It has been 10 months now and the earth has gone far enough in its circuit around the sun that the city is starting to throw recollections at me, fleeting memories of my first days here. The slant of the sun, still up now at the end of the work day, the outdoor revelry on weekend nights, the smells erupting from the open-fronted grills, and even the feeling of warm sand under my feet, these things all recall to me in brief moments the initial thrill of being for the first time in a place, then to me, utterly foreign.

It is a bittersweet emotion I feel when a sight or smell reminds me of that first rush in the early days of this journey. In my blissful naivety I felt like an explorer. Every walk to the grocery was an adventure. Every meal was an unfolding mystery. Every weekend was epic in its delicious sense of possibility. Those days are gone now. The streets still glow, but it is no longer the same quality of light. It is as if someone snuck into the booth, focused the camera, turned on the surround sound, and then, adding insult to injury, switched on the subtitles. For because I can read hangul now the menus and bus routes are decipherable. I know my way around the subway and the railway. I can negotiate with shopkeepers and motel-keepers. I can find deodorant and chicken bullion and Land-of-Lakes butter and fresh baguettes and Monterrey Jack.

Yet all of this familiarity has come with a price. It's an odd feeling of being lost in the familiar. This is juxtaposed in my mind with those first magical days, especially now, when I am being bombarded with intimations of what it was like before, back when I knew too little to be unimpressed by the now common sights that were once a source of wonder. An old lady sitting cross legged on a piece of cardboard selling tiny bunches of what look like weeds in the subway. A shop where a man is making tea from wood chips and roots. The street markets teeming with a thousand varieties of commerce, where live fish stands abut purveyors of rainbow hued sandals on one side and handmade ceramics on the other. The stinking drunk laying in his own puke, pockets turned out, in an alley off the rotary. The million tiny dishes and smoking grates covered in meat, that make up the cornucopia that is Korean cuisine.

All of this is still wonder-full, and I have come to love this place more and more as I have become comfortable, but I still miss those golden afternoons when the air, the light, and the sounds of this city all seemed permeated by an unknowable otherness. That loss is the price you pay for making yourself at home.

27 April 2009

Plagiarized Thoughts on my Newfound Mortality


Middle age
refers more
to landscape than to time:
it's as if you'd reached

the top of a hill
and could see all the way
to the end of your life,

so you know without a doubt
that it has an end—
not that it will have,

but that it does have,
if only in outline—
so for the first time

you can see your life whole,
beginning and end not far
from where you stand,

the horizon in the distance—
the view makes you weep,
but it also has the beauty

of symmetry, like the earth
seen from space: you can't help
but admire it from afar,

especially now, while it's simple
to re-enter whenever you choose,
lying down in your life,

waking up to it
just as you always have—
except that the details resonate

by virtue of being contained,
as your own words
coming back to you

define the landscape,
remind you that it won't go on
like this forever.

"Foreseeing" by Sharon Bryan, from Flying Blind. © Sarabande Books, 1996. Reprinted with(out) permission. (buy now) Recycled from The Writer's Almanac.

26 April 2009

The Sad Saga of My Left Testicle

My love affair with the Korean medical system came to its full fruition this weekend as I had surgery to repair various vascular components of my left testicle. This medical episode has been ongoing throughout my first year here and has been described in various post that I haven't the energy right now to hyperlink. I spent the night before I got here in the emergency room with this problem and have been treated for it twice since and several times before. Basically, for those not already sick of hearing about it, the blood supply exiting the left testicle has to go through the kidney to get back into the stream and in something like 40% of all men this causes a problem, especially when the affected individual is physically exerting themselves. The problem is further aggravated when these activities occur during warm weather.

As I enjoy moderate physical exertion (climbing, biking, walking, quoits) whatever the weather, I have become rather frustrated with the situation. I have had swelling and pain pretty much all of the time for the last couple of years and five times it has become bad enough that I have sought medical assistance. This week I finally said enough is enough.

The surgery was technically described as the "excision of the varicele and hydrocele of the spermatic chord." The procedure itself was quick and painless. I passed out when they put in my IV beforehand, but the injection for the spinal block wasn't that bad and I was awake throughout the surgery and felt nothing but some pushing and pulling. I was in quite a bit of pain for the first few hours but then they gave me a shot in the ongdongi (butt) that put my whole pelvis to sleep.

I began to worry, however, because they had dropped about 2 liters of saline on me by that time and they kept asking me if I had peed yet. Between the lingering affects of the spinal block and the local I couldn't feel my pee mechanism and I knew that another wrong answer was probably going to result in the dreaded catheter so I did what anyone else smart enough to know the difference would do: I lied. I told them that I had pissed like a horse and felt great. The following morning, still having not peed in reality, I lied again and told them I didn't have any pain and refused the local butt shot. At this point I got feeling back and could consciously open my urethra.

Some interesting differences about the Korean hospital experience:

  1. "Do It Yourself." There is an amazing degree of self-help expected of patients at the Korean hospital. I was given silverware with my first meal and thereafter I was expected to clean it after each and keep it in a secure place for the next. If you want a bath: "There is the shower room! (Hope you brought a towel)." Thirsty? There is a water cooler in the patient's lounge down the hall. Need to use the internet: two coin operated terminals in said lounge (W100 [.07 USD] for 5 minutes). PJs come with the room but if you didn't bring slippers those will cost you W2000.
  2. "Help Yourself." If you press the "help" button every nurse on the floor sprints down the hall to your room figuring you must be dying. I only saw a light come on once in the 48 hours I was there. They never even told me where it was. There was an astounding amount of cooperation and assistance in our little room. Yujin and I helped the guy recovering from a major abdominal surgery and he reciprocated by letting me watch two innings of baseball (remote control control was apparently dictated by seniority).
  3. "If you can't 'Do It Yourself' bring your family." (Or your girlfriend) Every bed had a fold-out cot underneath and the majority of patients had at least one relative attending 24-hours a day. In some cases entire families were there. Yujin, godsbless'er, wanted to stay but I got her to go home on the pretense that the cat needed care. (Still, she once again saved the day with Snickers, snuggles, and smiles, even smuggling in a Big Mac when I had pegged out my kimchi-eat-ometer.) These family members did everything that in many cases would fall to CNAs in American hospitals and nursing homes. The nurses were there for medical assistance only.
  4. Needles. I would say that over 90% of the hospital patients were on IV drips. Into this went everything that wasn't intramuscular (that went in the bottom). I didn't get a pill to take, not one, until I was discharged. (I cheated and took three Advil I had in my hangover kit during "Operation Urethra.") The hospital I went to specializes in treating foreigners and the nurses were ready for my squeamishness. They told me that Koreans are used to shots and I believe them: when you go to a pharmacy for a prescription here they ask you if you want pills or an injection. They love the needle here.
  5. Speed. I walked in to the hospital and when they asked me what was wrong i pointed and was sitting in front of a urologist in three minutes (you take a number!) I entered the operating room at a trot and was there for thirty seconds when they maneuvered me into a fetal position and stuck a needle in my back. The last thing I felt down there was my pants being jerked down. I then heard an electric shaver and some sounds like someone sorting silverware. I asked a guy standing there (I think the anesthesiologist) when they were going to start the operation and he said they were finished.
  6. Money. I have remarked on this before but I am continually astounded by how much you get for your money here. It makes the American medical system seem like a huge hoax. Two days room and board, sonogram, x-rays (chest and ab), complete blood work, electrocardiogram, urologist, anesthesiologist, surgeon, operating room, and all meds: less than $500 USD. And I think my co-pay was over 50% because this was elective. In contrast, the one-hour visit to the ER the night before I left is over $2000 now and the bills are still coming in.
All in all it was a wonderful experience. I may go back soon and have them look at the other problem area(s). Stay tuned.

28 March 2009

Back in the Future (not)

As my first year in Korea will come to a close soon it has been of utmost importance to figger out what I am going to do next. I have had to face the grim reality that I am very, very happy here. Why this is I can't pinpoint exactly but there is little I can do now to fix it. I seem to be stuck with a beautiful Korean girlfriend who is nearly half my age and thinks I can walk on water. I have also nearly procured what appears to be, on paper at least, a deeply rewarding and highly lucrative new job. All my friends here, expat and Korean alike, seem to think I am funny and witty and at times tolerable. And Spring in Busan is just simply incredible.

The main source of angst now is the break. I have nearly two months with nothing to do. I am not sad about this. If you know me you will recall that leisure is my area of expertise. But with this amount of free time comes responsibility. Should I go home and see the people I miss who apparently miss me as well or should I go see something in Asia or should I get a temporary job and work like a good boy?

In what amounts to being as close as I ever come to a serious commitment about anything, I purchased the Loney Planet for Southeast Asia today. Aside from being a major financial investment (damned Korean bookstore), simply holding the thing in my hands makes my leg start twitching. It is huge (we are already calling it "The Bible") and chock full of travelley goodness. I remember the day I bought the Loney Planet for Korea. Even though it was still a tentative decision, when I opened that up it was over: I was already on the boat.

This is worse. From what I have been told and now read, we can go almost anywhere we want in Southeast Asia outside of Singapore and Hong Kong for $30 a day. That means that I could conceivable spend the whole two months walking about down there. I am also looking into the possibility of working for a little while here in Korea during that time or possible getting some temp work in Thailand. That would make me feel better about it.

I would like to hit Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, Malasia, Sumatra (Indonesia), and Bali as well but all of those places have had political/terrorist/Muslim issues lately. They just caned an Italian aid worker in Indonesia for having pre-Marital sex with his Muslim girlfriend, but usually (so the book says) the Islamic laws are only enforced on Muslims. And I am and have always been exceptional when it comes to the authorities (there is a standing bet among the wait staff at the Sangamo Club regarding the date/cause/number of lashes of my inevitable caning). Many of the areas I will be visiting were affected by the Boxing Day tsunami, which killed approximately 220,000 people. In many of those places the after-affects were positive. Northern Sumatra rebels negotiated a peaceful coexistence governance due to the necessary presence of foreign aid workers there. It is now safe to travel to some of the most pristine beaches in the world along the western coast.

Burma is still largely off limits and there are issues with Muslim separatists in Southern Thailand, but they aren't into killing tourists too much. I also have to figger out an immunization schedule, as it looks like I will need about 30 shots. This doesn't sound good, but then neither does Dengue Fever (they call it "break-bone fever because of the associated joint pain). Asia has budget airlines like Europe now and I can get flights around the region for next to nothing (Bangkok to Manila $60, to Singapore $30, to Hanoi $50 [in all cases cheaper than first-class bus or train]). It is my plan to find an island bungalow ($10) and chill for a week and then getting out a bit. The Loney Planet lists cooking classes at most of the larger Thai destinations and a three day course with lodging is well within the budget and I wouldn't mind adding Thai to my already impressive culinary qualifications (it's true, I'm sorry, but when you look like me you better have some skills or you are going to be L-O-N-E-Y).

So that is the deal. All of those people back home who feel like they can't wait another year to see me could maybe consider meeting me in Hawaii at Christmas time. Peace.

07 March 2009

Update. Won-Dollar Exchange Rate: From Bad to Worse.

Update: If you want the nuts and bolts of how this all works check out today's New York Times leader: "Rising Dollar Lifts the US but Leads to Crisis Abroad"

I wrote about this a while back (see "If") but the situation has become so much worse that I thought it would be beneficial to comment on it again. As of this writing the rate sits at 1/1555, which means that if you need to send home $500 a month it will cost you over W800,000 depending on how you do it. This is not good. I have friends who have to send a lot more than that home and things for them are getting desperate. The rate has now collapsed to the point where one wonders where it will bottom out, or if it will.

There is some indication that the rate change is beginning to affect recruitment and, as a result, salary levels here. Posted salaries were increased for the last EPIK hiring cycle but they are no where near replacing the lost income through exchange rate deflation. It will be interesting to see if the salary schedule for the current hiring cycle will reflect any acknowledgment of the current rate dive. I am not sure the Education Ministry understands the degree to which this could affect the willingness of new teachers to come to Korea. Of course, with the unemployment rate in the United States now topping 8% there will be more push from the backside but the debt load of the average college graduate ($19000 as reported by the SeattlePI or see a complete breakdown here at the AMSA site) may cause many of them to look elsewhere to teach abroad.

The problem is the uncertainty: Even if you look at the rate now and feel you can deal with it you still have to ask yourself: if the won/dollar trade has declined over 55% in one year where will it be a year from now? Most economists think that the economic downturn in the United States is going to get much worse before it improves.

There may be some hope. The good people at forcasts.org (who BTW predicted a much smaller downturn in this quarter) have the Won rebounding by September. Since they last updated in early February the rate has collapsed completely so it will be interesting to see how they adjust the comeback levels. I would be ecstatic if the rate got back into the 1/1250 range again. I hope they are right.

17 February 2009

FIN, or "My Butt's Asleep."

The French film festival at the Cinematheque Pusan concluded this weekend and Yujin and I made a marathon of it Sunday to catch the few that she had missed. We saw Stormy Waters (tr.), a movie made in 1940 that had some rather unsubtle symbolism regarding the international situation at the time (one ship, that cheated, was Russian, and the competitor of the French ship was called the Dutchman.) It was notable for some remarkable special effects. Although to our eyes it looked like a couple of model boats in a bathtub, I am sure that in 1940 it was possible to effectively suspend disbelief. The plot was thin but the lead actress and actor were superb. And any movie that closes with the words "Forward at 60 revs" is OK in my book. All of these movies had English subtitles and Korean subtitles were shot along side the film from a laptop with a LCD projector.

Ordinary Lovers (tr.) was about the Paris "Revolution" of 1968. I loved The Unbearable Lightness of Being (both the movie and the novel [Milan Kundera] ) and this movie covered the same time period but in Paris not Prague and with the communists on the opposite side. It had sex, drugs, more drugs, throwing cobblestones, more drugs, and a main character (a poet...wait for it...) who ends up killing himself (with drugs) when his girlfriend moves to New York with the painter for whom she has been modeling. If it sounds predictable it wasn't and mostly because the plot, what little there was of it, was lost in the brilliant photography (B+W in 2005) and the long uncut shots. I believe the director intended this and succeeded as I was good and fecking depressed when it was over (179 minutes).

We concluded the evening with a movie of conventional length and format. A young girl is tired of being a girlfriend and a mistress and decides she is going to get married. The subtle way in which she fails even though the object of her pursuit is genuinely attracted to her was intriguing. The language of the climactic scene, in which the inexplicable behavior of both parties was explained was transfixing in its psychological depth. Unfortunately, the film had dragged up to that point and then it was over. And it was shot in 1986. In France. You can imagine what the clothes and music looked and sounded like. Torture. I have fortunately forgotten what it was called.

While we were waiting for the second movie to start I saw an expat reading a book in the corner and I went over and asked him what he was reading. He showed me an old translation of Dostoyevsky's "The Idiot." Odd. I had a copy of a newer translation in my bag. I pulled it out and we had a laugh. This young man was tall and shy (think Luke Turasky) and I asked him where from, etc., etc. Turns out he was born in the US but moved to France when he was five and grew up there. He still visits frequently (parents live/work there) but try as he might he could not achieve citizenship, something for which he was still a bit miffed. We watched the last couple of films together and exchanged digits for more hang out.

Next week (February 26 to March 1), by the way, they are showing a series of Sergio Leoni films, including my favorite film of all time: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. If you have not seen a spaghetti western you should get out there next weekend for some of that. The casting, the photography, the music, the plotting... all of it is exceptional. If you want more info email me but the theatre is adjacent the yachting center in Haeundae. Take bus 1003 from Suyeong or get off line 2 at Dongbaek and walk back up the river to toward Centum. Call PIFF for schedule as the paper I have is in Korean and I can't figger it out damnit.

Afterwards we cabbed it to what has become my favorite restaurant. It is a dwedgi-guk-bab place near my school. Huge steaming cauldrons of pork soup bubble on the porch of these places and the soup comes with a whole bunch of stuff to throw in there, customizing it to your taste. There are tiny shrimp to throw in (makes it salty), the best kimchi I have ever had, big bowls of gakdugi (radishes in spicy red sauce), guksu (noodles), veggies, red bean sauce, and, of course, rice. It is filling and wholesome and when I finish eating there I feel good all over.

The weather has turned back to the cold side but winter is set to come to a close. I am really looking forward to springtime here. I have been told that people come from all over to see the cherry blossoms in the trees along the rivers. It is supposed to be quite a sight. I got into the ocean and it didn't seem too much colder than it was in the summer, when it was freezing. If I had some warm sand to dry off on I would probably take a dip now. It only hurts till you go numb.

The school year is about over as well. We will be having our graduation for the AM classes on February 25th. After that a new crop of kiddoes will join us from downstairs. All three of my morning classes are second year so I will have all new classes. Although saying goodbye to some of these kids is going to kill me I am looking forward to the new classes.

That about sums it up. In regards to the blog, I will be writing more in the near future as there are some travel plans in the works. Unfortunately, I have nearly reached the storage limit on my online photo journal. I am looking into other options but the simplest thing seems to maintain a hard copy and delete old albums as new ones are posted. So if you have a favorite picture or haven't looked at all of them and want to, you had better get on it. Their days are numbered.

"Forward at 60 revs."


04 February 2009

Talk About the Weather

As the Midwestern U.S. remains in deep freeze and London digs out of the biggest snow in memory I thought it would be timely to describe the winter weather here in Busan. One of the wiser things that I investigated prior to selecting my Korean destination was the climate and Busan was described as having "mild winters and hot, wet summers." This is an apt description. This winter has only had a few brief stretches of really cold weather and these were due primarily to wind chill. I have been told that it is rare for there to be prolonged stretches of sub-freezing weather because of the proximity of the ocean, but I am not sure of this. When the wind blows hard from the north, across frozen Russia and over the Gobi, I doubt the ocean has much to say about it. I did a little research and found an archive of last February's weather data.This reveals an average high of 47 and an average low of 32, with a high monthly temperature of 57 and a low of 21. These are significantly warmer conditions than I am used to at this time of year. Temperatures in my hometown can reach down into the negative numbers in February.

I took a walk today at lunch time and sat outside reading on a sunny park bench. I smell now the odors I associate with Spring: dead grass and decomposition, warm earth and pine needles. The bamboo grove that backs the bus stop is abuzz with a flock of chickadees. The days are growing noticeably longer now. I leave school at 6:30 and there is now still a little light. A small temple sits halfway up the mountain across the valley from the school and as I was walking down to the bus last week they were ringing the huge bell: long, deep tolls, the call for sunset prayers.

There is a series of French films with English subtitles at the art film theater in Busan for the next three weeks, so Yujin will be staying with me a lot more, which is nice. I will be attending them with her. I have been trying out some more public baths but I haven't found any that I like as much as the one near my house, which is clean, and nice, and large enough that you don't feel claustrophobic. There is a necessary attention to personal space in a place like that and when there is a crowd that becomes a bit of a problem. I made a new friend through my blog (Hi, Wendy!) and she and her friends are jimjilbang enthusiasts as well and told me of some I will definitely try soon. One has tubs of "doctor fish". I gather that the little fellers exfoliate your feet while they soak. Not exactly what I would call appetizing but it beats being a blue-fly in a hog shed I guess.

On Sunday it was a breezy 56 and we got up early and went to our favorite Sunday brunch spot, the G Terrace on Gwangan Beach. This cavernous place has outdoor seating and indoor balconies and on Sundays they put out a simple brunch with fruit and cereal and salad, make-it-yerself French bread pizza, scrambled and boiled eggs, toast and soup. (I like to use the pizza fixings to make an omelet). It is only W6000 for the lunch and it includes all the coffee and tea you want so it is a real bargain. For W4000 more you can get one of four entrees. We usually split one. Add in the front row view of the ocean and the bridge and it is hard to beat. The street side tables are very comfortable and the tables inside are fronted by couches with huge fluffy cushions. We like to take a book and hang out for a bit. The owner is nice to a fault, so if you go "take what you want and eat what you take."

Afterwords, we went for a walk on the beach and saw an amazing sight. A man was in the process of launching hundreds of kites on a single line. I have never seen anything like it. They stretched up into the sun. And he just kept pulling them out of the box. Long after we had stopped and gawked and went on I looked far back down the beach and he was still pulling them out. We stopped at a small amusement park and rode the "Viking (somethingorother)" which was far more terrifying that it looked. I screamed until the tears ran down my face and Yujin laughed so hard she begged me to stop it but I was only partly faking. She has come to the point where she will walk blocks out of her way to avoid passing a public bath with me because I want to try them all and this time she was trying to get me to look the other way but I smelled one (the steam rooms have huge bags of medicinal herbs in them and the ventilation has a rather distinctive odor). I really liked that bathhouse. It was packed but the co-ed nappy room (you sleep on heated stone floors with a block of cedar wood for a pillow and you would be surprised at how comfy it is) had a huge tub of hot clay balls about the size of marbles and we nestled down in there and stared out the huge windows at the sailboats on the ocean. Very nice.

19 January 2009

The Nude Beaches of South Korea

Boy, that is a good one. I have never come into a more modest group of people in my life. Last week, while doing a unit on travel with my older students (middle school), one of them asked me if it was true that there are places where people swim in the ocean naked. I said yes, I have heard of such places, but that I had never been to one. They screamed and reflexively covered their eyes at the thought. Most Koreans at the beach swim fully clothed.

There is public nudity in Korea, and lots of it. However, it is all gender-segregated and indoors. I am talking about public baths. Koreans love them, and Busan is apparently sitting on top of quite a bit of hot spring water. The baths here are quite famous and one, the Hurshimchung, claims to be the largest facility in all of Asia. It took me a while to muster the nerve, but I finally went to one and I am happy to report that it was awesome.

The place is near my house in the basement of a large hotel. When you arrive you pay at the desk (5000W) and are given a key. You take your key to the first locker room, the shoe lockers, and lock up your shoes there. Then you go into the other locker room and strip down. Now I am not squeamish about being naked. If someone yells "Skinny Dip!" I am usually the first one in the water. Now I am not what you would call model material: I run a little flat on the back and a little not flat on the front so if my exhibition was performance art it would definitely be categorized as comedy. But what made me uncomfortable, as I walked through the locker room in my birthday suit, was that I was apparently the object of a survey in demographic physiology. The Koreans, every one of them, would look at my eyes, look at my package, and then look at my eyes again. I could tell what they were thinking: "Yankee wankee itty bitty." Some of them were polite enough to attempt a look somewhere between pity and disbelief, but I also registered two smirks and one chuckle. Livid with self-loathing, I wanted to tell them that it was unfair to judge my entire race based on my physique and also that I was nervous and that additionally it was a tiny bit cool, but of course this was impossible.

I consoled myself with the thought that I was at the very least anonymous. I am in another country after all. It isn't like I was going to run into anyone I know in this place. Then,as I walked into the huge bath room proper, in which a couple hundred Koreans were washing, soaking, steaming and snoozing contentedly, I heard a small voice scream across the room: "Hello, Joe teacher!" And a couple hundred Koreans simultaneously turned, looked at my eyes, looked at my business, and looked back at my eyes.

After a very brief and uncomfortable conversation with one of my students I repaired to the showers. It is part of the social contract at the baths that you will not enter the pool until you have scrubbed at least one layer of skin off, and I did so with gusto. You are given a long washcloth that runs about 150 on the grit scale and you can get hold of the ends and scour away. It is quite nice on the back. The showers actually had a safety button on them so that you don't blister yourself accidentally. I bypassed this and set the shower to stun (those of you who have showered with me know that I like them hot). I took a nice long soapy shower and declared myself ready for the tubs.

There were five. The largest (30 foot square with a bench build in around the edge) registered about 42 degrees Celsius on the digital thermometer. The other three hot tubs increased in temperature at about 2 degree increments (the temperatures on the thermometers fluctuated at +/- .5 degrees, relative, I believe, to the number of bodies therein). The hottest two were deserted. There was also a steam room, a dry sauna, and a cool tub. There was also a hot floor with tiny hard square pillow. Naps were being taken there.

I graduated up to the second and then the third and then back down to the second hot pool (I tried them all and could stand even the hottest but it was uncomfortable in the sense that my heartbeat and breathing became labored. I lasted about one minute in the dry sauna, which thermometer read 65 Celsius) and gradually formed a rotation of hot tub, steam room, and cold tub. The water was mineral saturated and had a pretty good salinity. On TVs around the room a video loop showed the drilling that accessed the hot water vent below. Signs proudly stated that the mineral rich waters came from a depth of 864 meters, and I believe it.

I don't know if it was the minerals or the heat or the scrubbing or what, but when I left that place I felt like a new person. If one was feeling depressed or puny, I can think of no better way to do a little self-repair. There were other services (barber and masseuse) as well, but I was content with the basic package. It is nice to know that it is there at the very least. And I think that next time I will be less nervous and can do my lineage more justice.

08 January 2009

Don't Come to Busan

I was very happy to be back to Busan after my recent trip. I remember walking out of Busan station and stopping for a moment and looking out across the plaza to the neighborhood crawling up the mountainside across the way, all of it bathed in bright winter sunlight, and turning to my girlfriend and saying, smiling ear to ear, "Busan is best." "Yep," she said.

I meant it. I have seen mountains and rivers and islands and beaches and markets and entertainment and even a little culture in Korea, some of it better and some of it worse. But for sheer ambiance and variety, Busan has everyplace else I've seen here beat hands down. Now I haven't been everywhere. And some of this might be based on my personal tastes. For one thing, the thought of living in a huge metropolis with a pollution problem and chronic overcrowding is not my idea of quality of life. Sure there might be "more to do," but what good is more to do if the subway is a sardine can. And how much "to do" is enough? That depends on what you like. If you like to club, then maybe this isn't the best. Maybe it is. I don't have any idea. Clubbing has long ago dropped from my list of things to do. If you like sitting by the ocean eating cheap fresh seafood, then maybe you should check Busan. Or if you like your choice between four or five great beaches, Busan might be for you. Temples, we got 'em. Shopping, check. World class symphony orchestra and opera? Not. But you can't have everything. I would like an English language library with current fiction, nonfiction, and a cushy reading lounge, too. But that isn't likely to appear.

I llke going to a cafe in Gwangan and having some tea by the beach and reading in a sunny chair. I like going to Seomyeon and trying something I have never eaten before. I like going to Nampodong and walking around in the market and afterwards lunching at a window table in the fish market. I like sitting quietly in Beomeosa temple and letting 1500 years of the contemplative life soak into me. I like sitting in the bar across from my apartment having deep conversations with my bartender in hand signals drinking something that looks and tastes like a cross between tequila and yogurt. I like slowly cooking the garlic over a two-gallon charcoal grill made out of a tin bucket so that it is roasted to golden perfection just as the galbi is ready to wrap up in the sesame leaves. And then I like wrapping myself up in my blanket and sitting as close to the water as I can without getting wet and going to sleep. That's livin'.

03 January 2009

Tripping Down Memory Lane

Yujin and I took a little trip over the break. We entertained our several options and decided at last to go to Yeosu again and revisit some of the places we had seen there in the days after our first meeting. It was our hope to finally visit Geomundo Island, but we were again foiled by the elements.

We left early afternoon and before we ever walked out the door I was exhausted. I had spent the morning at the bank, paying my bills and sending some money back to the states. For some reason it was a big banking day. When I pulled my number I was 124 and they were serving 91. And there is only one lady who does the wire transfers and she was busy but I informed her that I was waiting and the nice lobby guy (who mopped up the dogshit I had tracked in last time) got a queue going at her desk and it appeared that I was second. I began to contemplate the possibility of auctioning off my now quite valuable #124 but the language barrier and an atypical consideration of self-preservation prevented this.

I was given a paper cup of strong green tea by the nice lobby guy, who, knowing I was there to donate an organ to the fickle whims of the monetary system, went back and put the won/dollar exchange ticker on the big screen and started giving me a blow-by-blow commentary, in Korean and across the width of the bank, to the delight of the hundred or so nationals present whose currency was safely esconsed in shitty Won. As we watched the rate rose and fell and rose and fell and I thought to myself, how are they going to know what rate to pick? I have to sign something and they have to wire something and take something out of my account and put it in the other one and meanwhile this thing is bouncing like Bozo's balls in the Grand Prize Game (yeah, I'll be forty next year). If I worked at the bank and someone was going to get screwed it would not be the bank. Of course, these questions, and many others I would like to ask now go unuttered and I have learned to sit quietly and let the wheels turn around me. It is quite liberating, really, to be helpless.

When my turn came I was delighted to find that the rate had bounced in my favor and I was able to send my penny home through the forfieture of far less Won than last month. When the currency lady was done having her way with my money the nice lobby guy took my fistful of utility bills and tore them into the appropriate shreds and inserted the shreds into the appropriate slot in the bill payer machine and took my bankbook and inserted it into it's special slot and something beeped and a piece of paper I couldn't read was spit out and I was right-o with the electric, internet, and cell phone company. I felt pretty damned responsible at that point, let me tell ya.

Home I went, drained physically and financially, and packed the trusty backpack. I took the camera, travel tripod, the spare batteries and charger, the MP3 and its USB charger, the phone, the extra phone battery and its charger, Volume II of the Complete Sherlock Holmes, Lonely Planet's Korea, my sketchbook, journal, pen, pencils and sharpener and eraser, mini-maglight, identification, reading and sun glasses, and basic toilet. Along with the clothes on my back I took an extra pair of underwear for the five day trip but it turned out I didn't need them. (I bought one pair of socks on the road.) There was plenty of room left for the outer water/wind layer of my Columbia two-piece.

We hit the road. Bus 87 to Yeonsandong Station, subway to Nampodong, express bus to Yeosu. We caught a local down to the Ferry Terminal, which was closed. We looked around and found moderately priced accomodation at the Midojang Yeogwan: quiet for a yeogwan and very clean, excepting the sheets. We then walked across the road to the shopping area and had the variety platter at the New York Hot Dog and Coffee. The hotdogs themselves were good all-beef weiners and the toppings were eclectic but tasty. There was a chili dog, a grilled onion dog, and a curry dog, but we liked the bulgogi dog the best. I wouldn't pass up a chance to eat at this place if you are a homesick hotdog fan.

We woke early the next morning to try to catch the 7:40 ferry out to the island but the nice desk lady told us that the seas were too rough and the ferry might not run for a few days. This got me to thinking: what if we finally get out there and then the ferry is cancelled for a week or two. That would be a lovely phone call: "Hello, KidsClub? Uh, listen. I'm, like, stuck on this island..."

We decided to go back to the place where it all began. This was, afterall, exactly like our first date, and on our first date we got up early at the hotel and went to the ferry terminal and were told "no, the seas are too rough", and we decided to go to the pretty little fishing town by the sea with the beautiful temple on a cliff high above. We got there and got the best room in my favorite hotel, the one with two huge windows overlooking the blue sea and a bathtub with powerful jet-like devices which stir up the water around you in the most pleasant and relaxing fashion. We were told that we were very fortunate to have come on the day we did, because the temple was hosting their annual New Year's Eve festival the following evening and the hotel room we were staying in would have cost three times as much if it were available, which it wasn't. At W50000 the place is an absolute steal anyway, but special event pricing would have placed it beyond our budget. If you want to know where this place is and the name of the hotel and the number of the best room, too bad.

We went down the hill to the little bar with a view and a fire crackling in the big cast iron stove and shucked oysters into our mouths and washed them down with some good cold Korean beer and then went to bed early so as to rise at 6am hike up the mountain to watch the sunrise at the temple. We got up at 6am and hiked up the mountain because the nice hotel guy told us that the sunrise was at 7am. Or that is what I thought he said. He actually said 7:20. And the sun really rose at 7:32 and cleared the haze on the horizon at 7:40, at which point I had been standing on a cliff in the wind over the ocean for 55 minutes, the last 15 of which I don't remember because that part of my brain froze. But I was taking time-delayed still images of the sunrise, one picture per minute, and I counted them afterwards and that is how it works out. We staggered, moaning, down the mountain and got into the hot tub and thawed out. Then we had a three-hour nap and took the bus back to town.

The rest of the trip basically sucked. Here is the condensed version: Bus to Mokpo. Heat on high and children screaming and me steaming in long underwear. Step off bus into driving wet snow. Walk to four bus stops before we find the one downtown to the Lonely Planet's almighty recommended mid-level hotel. Finally locate hotel. Hotel out-of-business. Find other less than optimal accomodations. Go to find food. Expensive dinner too horrible to describe. Make small scene at restaurant. Go back to Yeogwan. Alternately freeze without and burn with heating mattress. Get up. Go to museums. Lonely Planet's almighty recommended restaurant nearby out-of-business. Nice museum guy says walk that way ten minutes: many restaurants. Walk that way three minutes: one restaurant. Walk three minutes: restaurant out-of-business. Eat ramen in museum snack bar. See butterflies and poorly stuffed tiger. And funny shaped rocks. And more funny shaped rocks. And Korean art from five generations of one family (Ok, this part didn't suck). In museum bathroom have first signs of terrible illness. Go to next museum. See ships and boats and nets and etc. Start to feel rather poorly. Take taxi back to yeogwan and am violently ill for the next twenty-four hours. Yujin again saves my life with fluids and tender ministrations. Train home [took the KTX from Mokpo via Daejeon rather than the quicker bus (no bathroom) and the cheaper, direct, Mugunghwa train (but 9.5 hours. wha?)].

The train home was actually wonderful. I have written before about high speed rail. It is an incredible way to travel. It is an absolute travesty that the United States does not have it throughout. And when I finally got home I was able to eat for the first time since Wednesday and that felt good. I have some good pictures which I will post in the photo section. Thanks for reading and good night.