Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Si No Quisieras Festejarte, Deberías Irte A Casa

On the morning of June 14, 2010, at 8:00 a.m., I recklessly abandoned my apartment to the dingos for the next two months. My immediate target location was Spain; my final destination was Minneapolis, Minnesota, on June 28 of the same year.

I started the operation by getting as sweaty as humanly possible, which I accomplished by hauling large pieces of baggage from my home to Incheon International Airport. I deposited my laptop and enormous luggage in a locker (sorry, Joonam) there and brought only the faithful, converted Twins bag, full of enough clean clothes for five or six days, with me to Munich and then to Madrid, where I spent a day and a half at the lush and tastefully-furnished apartment of a one Miss Emily Dunham and another one Miss Lauren Borst. And their roommate from Peru.

My arrival at said apartment was at a late hour. The next day Emily took me on a walking tour of the area of Madrid near her home. Plaza Mayor! Parque del Retiro! Fountains! Foliage! Flowers! Very nice looking city. I approached a kid who had a YouthWorks! shirt on; he reacted quite uncomfortably despite what I considered to be my most pleasant disposition. Stupid foreigners.

After lunch I flew to Ibiza, Spain. This island paradise would not be on my radar were it not for the illegal residency of a one Nasty Nate. However, since he is there, I constantly and annoyingly have information about it clogging up and slowing down my synapses:

Ibiza is the third-largest island in the chain of the Balearic Islands, which are all located some 50 miles off the eastern coast of Spain in the ol' Mediterranean Sea. The island is about 200 square miles. The other chunks of land big enough to mention are Mallorca, Minorca, and Formentera. The capital of this quaint island is a town of the same name. There are few other noteworthy towns. San Antonio and Santa Eulalia, maybe. A synthesis of the numbers that Google gave me puts the island's total population at around 115,000, probably not counting tourists such as myself. The main two tourist draws are the beaches and the nightlife. The biggest nightclub in the world, Privilege, is located there. Count it.

The days between June 16 and June 25 are a blur. Not the drunken, semiconscious blur that the typical Ibizan vacationer experiences, but the blur that comes from having an awful memory and from not touching a pen for nine days. While many events occurred, their chronological occurrence is, at best, unimportant. So, I will expound alphabetically. During the stay in Ibiza, I...

...applauded during soccer games of the World Cup variety. We watched three. The first was the U.S.-Slovenia 2-2 draw on June 18; we accidentally stumbled upon it while gallivanting through the shopping district in the city of Ibiza. The only complete game I got to view was Spain's 2-1 mutilation of Honduras; this one we saw at some chill restaurant that has a neat foosball table. Hours, nay, minutes before I was supposed to flee the island, we saw the last of Spain's group stage games, this one against Chile. For reasons to be stated in the future, I didn't know how this particular game turned out until quite a bit later. I also happened to see Spain lose to Switzerland on the 16th while in the airport in Madrid, Germany demolishing England on the 27th in the airport in Frankfurt, and Argentina dismantling Mexico on the same day at Incheon Int'l. And I saw...oh. You've quit reading. Never mind.

...became sunburned. Not as bad as during other times in my life, though. Try harder, Mediterranean sun, you sally.

...constructed a list of all different kinds of meat.

...drove around on Nate’s moto with him.

...eased through Dalt Vila. This is some sort of fortress up on a hill in the middle of Ibiza Town that kept ancient inhabitants safe via wall and cannon.

...found a vast various of beaches. The quality of increased as the week progressed; good planning, Nasty. Everyone else on the island, having very little to do between sleeping and partying harder than the Minnesota Vikings on Lake Minnetonka, also showed up at the beaches most afternoons as well.

...greeted Nasty’s special lady friend Leila. Finally. She is cool and laughs a lot and, frankly, a lot more hospitable to and patient with us visitors than I would have been had a band of Rock Rapids residents invaded my Spanish home.

...had a li’l ride on a magic party boat. We were minding our own business on one of the beaches, and some floozy came up and gave us a pitch for this journey into the blue waters of the sea...on a magic boat. For a hefty price, the trip to Formentera (isn't it great that you already know where that is?!) included: a delicious meal, motos for everyone once on Formentera, jet ski rides (though the details on this were fuzzy), open bar (probably why the details were fuzzy, and remained so), circus animals, and young, attractive people of both genders. We went. There were no animals or moto rides; we didn't even land on the destination island. The jet ski rides were limited. The open bar was not. Food was fine. Company was questionable. While I enjoyed myself, because I enjoy boat rides on the high seas, I thought the trip epitomized what the island was about, and it wasn't that pretty. A lot of people did just hang out, but there was constantly hard techno blaring out and some sort of pathetic attempts at getting a dance party going. It seemed to me like the attractively-disguised emptiness that the pleasures of the world offer. While we sat by and watched, amused. Anyway. I will not lie: these are pictures from Tyler's camera. One is obviously some of us calmly enjoying the magic boat party. The other is obviously some of us wildly enjoying the magic boat party.

...inspected many free, online episodes of “The Office.”

...journeyed out to the lighthouse that guards the city of Ibiza. We sat ‘round and watched the waves crash. Try convincing me that there is something else more relaxing out there and I will call you a fool. A fool in love.

...kicked it with natives of San Juan, a small town in the northern quadrant of Ibiza, at its town celebration. The actual title of the celebration escapes me, or we were never informed of it, but there was a certain pervasive hippie theme going on throughout the festival. Some of the festivities included fire-leaping, a DJ playing oldies hits from the 60's and 70's, a street disco (read: wild rave), and fire swingers. All very interesting.

...longed to remember the Spanish I’d learned in my four years of it in high school. I didn’t actually have to use it that much, but I felt dumber than I do in Korea for not understanding the amiable natives.

...met up with the Tuenges. For you ignorant cretins out there, the word “Tuenge” means “wise and generous hunter-gatherers” in Burmese. It is also the surname of not only Nasty but also his mother, father, and brother. His sister Amy had a good run with the name but ultimately found it less than satisfying. Nate's parents Ron and Darsha were in Ibiza for the first couple days I was. Always good to see them and get a more seasoned perspective on life. Nate’s brother Tyler was also present for the duration of my own time in I-Town; we had many a laugh, kept our ears open for spoken English, captured jellyfish, and laid plans to lay Pizza Ranch to complete and utter waste when we were both back in Rock Rapids. Obviously it was a complete joy getting to see Nasty Nate himself, as we had not spoken face-to-face in over a calendar year. We spoke of times past, times present, times to come, and Major League Baseball. Hopefully we meet again in shorter time.

...noticed quite a sunset on the horizon in San Antonio. We had to come through quite a crowd to get to the spot, but it was sweet and peaceful.

...zoomed out to a hippie market. Okay, actually, we didn't zoom; we took our sweet time. Never hurry, never worry. The market sold all you’d imagine a hippie market to sell: souvenirs, marijuana paraphernalia, tattoos, stylish clothing, tie-dye t-shirts, visually-enticing but practically-useless items, key chains, gods of wood and stone, and paper weights. The only items I showed any interest in were some books; the proprietor told me that though her friends spoke quite highly of “The Lost Symbol,” she didn’t like it that much. Word.

Alas. All good things must come to an end. On Friday, June 25th, in the middle of the previously-mentioned Spain-Chile game, I was graciously transported to Ibiza's airport for my 11:00 p.m. flight back to Madrid. When I got there, problems arose. First, as I checked in, I was informed that my flight would be taking off one hour and forty-five minutes later than it was scheduled to. Second, there was an alarming lack of televisions within the airport terminal, possibly as a terrorist prevention measure, possibly because all the island's finances had already been spent on smutty advertising for its plethora of clubs, possibly because soccer, and current events in general, are not a priority there. Third, my flight did not take off an hour and forty-five minutes late; it took off three hours late, which, for those of you who passed second grade arithmetic, was at 2 AM. Madrid's subway stops running at 1:30 a.m., which is fairly generous, in my opinion, so after we landed, I hunkered down and slept on a bench in Madrid-Barajas Airport until 7 a.m.

At which point my second round in Madrid began. Accompanied by Miss Dunham, I got to see still more of what appears to be a relatively cool city. We went to get groceries, perused through a park, saw a couple walking a pig, hit up a comtemporary art museum, ate lunch, observed the tradition of the siesta, watched the U.S. soccer team choke against Ghana's, grabbed dinner, and called it good. Solid day!

The next morning I got up and flew back to Minneapolis, Minnesota, where my parents and Sunshine picked me up and took me home. More on that trip later, because, believe it or not, it was not as simple as it sounds.

Despite the emergence of several sweet extra opportunities (hangin' with other Bethel livers-abroad, seeing some of Madrid, flying over almost all of the 4,000+ miles of Russia), the focal point of this expedition to Spain was to see Nasty Nate in Ibiza. In thinking about the whole trip, there were a horde of factors influencing my experience there. The main one, obviously, was seeing Nasty, my highly-toted "best friend from high school in Iowa." Then there were the elements of meeting Leila and also seeing the Tuenges. Obviously there was the observation of and brief immersion of the general European lifestyle, the Spanish culture, the Ibizan customs, and, most specifically, the way Ibiza is during the summer, at the peak of the tourist season on which the economy there relies so much. It could have ended there, but two other elements weighed on me, though they combined to make a strange juxtaposition: the fact that days before leaving I'd completed, at least for a while, the most demanding job I'd ever held and the fact that the next step was to get on home to Rock Rapids and the Midwest, where I would be reunited with my family, within distance of my friends, close enough to Minneapolis to watch Twins games, and completely on my own time in my own environment. The former made me want to do a whole lot of nothin' and the latter made me want to take action and see everyone and do things.

There is a lot to consider. I don't have a concrete concluding statement about it in its entirity except that it was a mix of things and that that made it a little weird. At least there was plenty of time to experience and consider most of what was going on, because we were not that busy. Most days began between 10 and 12 in the morning, but we rarely went anywhere before 2 or 3, after lunch. And even when we went places, we mostly just hung out; not too stressful. Which was good, in a way, but at times left me, an achiever/producer type, a bit adrift.

Which, as far as I could see and judging by what Nate had to say about Ibiza, is probably how I would feel if I lived there. Cool enough place; there is a sizable night life and plenty to do in regards to that, and lots of beaches and spots in which to enjoy the natural world. But the job Nate had for a long time never let him work more than sixteen hours a week; I believe that the average work week only encompasses twenty-five hours each semana. Which sounds cool, but also seems like after a while occupants who were used to doing more would want more. It is all a matter of cultural relativity, I suppose. If one were raised someplace where a twenty-five hour work week was normal, then Ibiza would be sweet. If one were used to primarily working eight-hour days all week, one might be unsure what to do with all of one's time.

All in all, though, the time was well-spent. There was excitement and adventure, and there was peace and calm. A good mix.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Bag 'Em and Tag 'Em, Pt. 5

The following account details experiences that, though due in no part at all to my own efforts, I believe to be possible only in the city I am currently in.

(1) Ferry and Cave Extravaganza

As many of you out there may be vaguely aware, Seoul is a monstrous metropolis that is full of large buildings and thick human traffic. However, what some of you out there might be even less aware of is the fact that there are parts of Korea that have not been overrun by concrete and mortar and the powder of the human bones that were used in building the foundations of the former two. Nearly a month ago, Peter made a malicious squad composed of his wife Kelly, his friend Erik, his two homies Kaley and Holly, and his dangerous rival me accompany him on an excursion to Chungju, where there is a cave. A large cave. A beautiful cave. A cave worth writing about.

We struck out at the butt crack of dawn from Hongdae Station at 7 a.m. and took an Adventure Korea-sanctioned bus to Chungju, where we were unceremoniously dumped off near a large ferry. We boarded said ferry, scored some seats on the upper deck, and chilled out, in various ways, while watching the various views and sights that the architecture of rural Korea provided us for a few hours as our ferry craftily maneuvered its way through some winding river that connected our drop-off point with our destination: Danyang (literally translated: "where the cave is, fool").

We left our faithful vessel and recuperated for a few minutes. Then our Adventure Korea group moved in a deadly pack toward the cave. We then did the unthinkable: every last one of us entered the underworld and calmly walked through the depths, the mazes, and the abysses that compose this particular cavern.

The only lame part was the old couple that was stomping on our heels the entire time in an effort to speed us up. What is the point of coming to an awesome cave if you are just going to rush through? Perhaps it was a date gone sour.

After exiting the cave, we took the bus to some other spot on the river and putzed around for a spell. To be honest, the spot didn't compare to the cave. It was like watching Slayer follow up The Lonely Island.

Then our bus took us to Gangbyeon Station in Seoul and left us there to rot. We grabbed a meal of meat and went to our respective homes.

Actually, to be honest, Mark and I tried to find a giant DJ festival when I got back, but we got lost (my fault) and then we went home, vowing to locate it with more accuracy in 2011.

(2) Seodaemun Prison

Northwest of where I live is a prison in which the Japanese used to keep Koreans who fought against their rule during the Japanese occupation in the earlier half of the twentieth century. This prison has been turned into a museum; not one that is fun and delightful, but one that is somber and informative. Cassandra, Dawna, and I ventured there one sunny Saturday a few weeks ago, just when it started to get nice out.

The only thing I knew about this place going in was the life-sized depictions of the torture that was done in said prison. Megan "No, He Can't Read My Poker Face" Schwartz reported that those were pretty intense; they did not sugarcoat what happened. And that indeed is the first thing I think of when looking back on visiting the prison: the models who were getting whipped and bleeding all over and beat with clubs and dunked in water and all other sorts of sadistic acts. It was pretty horrifying, but that is exactly why it was there. I took two pictures, both of tamer elements of this display. Something felt wrong about photographing the more explicit ones.

Additionally! There were holding cells in which to keep prisoners:

There were also smaller holding cells, ones that were much more awful and more reminiscent of coffins. They had these three little lockers; one was built for a 6'5" guy, maybe, and then one was built for the 6'0" guy, maybe, and then there was one that I got into and could not stand up in. It was insanely uncomfortable, even for fifteen seconds. I can't imagine being kept in there for days and days, as was done to many prisoners.

This would be a perfect opportunity to write about the history of the prison, but for the sake of brevity, I will refrain from doing so and redirect curious historians to this web page, which does a much better job of informing than I could ever do, and has fewer obscene phrases and uncouth references than I would include. Overall, I didn't laugh a lot during this excursion, but it was interesting, informative, and relevant, somehow.

On our way out we swung past the Dongnimmun Gate, which I'd seen a few times while going past on a bus and, for whatever reason, really wanted to see up close. Check that off the list.

And then this happened. I have no explanation for it.

(3) Korea vs. Ecuador

On May 16 of this fine year, the Korean soccer team battled the Ecuadorean soccer team in a brutal match to the death. Korea won 2-0. The game was held at World Cup Stadium in Seoul. Though quite a few fans showed up, it didn't sell out.

But Philip Kim did everything he could to make it sold out. By inviting fellow CCS students, dangerous teachers, and friendly parents, this football aficionado scored sick seats in the first, second, and third rows on the sideline of the field to this last home game for the Reds before the World Cup begins in a mere three days in South Africa (to inform those of you who have been living underground in Saskatchewan for the last month).

A mighty thanks is undoubtedly owed to this fine senior, as well as a congratulations to him and his classmates as they will graduate in a mere two days in Seoul (to inform those of you who have been living underground in Saskatchewan for the last month). A loud "대한민국!" is also owed to the Korean team, who ghetto stomped the poor crew from Ecuador.

There is really not that much else to tell. Many fans wanted to take pictures with us because we were white (J.J., Cassandra, Judith, Jason, etc.). After the game the players threw stuff (soccer balls, water bottles, etc.) into the crowd. We scored several different pieces of paraphernalia from the game (masks, large red slabs of poster board, etc.). It was sweet. Watch out, Greece. You don't know what time it is.

It's also safe to say that 75% of these football photos are hijacked. Owners, if you want credit or compensation for them, holler.

(4) Kimchi Museum

The night before I left for Seoul in December of 2008, my notorious Uncle Fred called to say good-bye. I am sure he offered quite a bit of applicable advice, but the only piece of it that I remember now is, "Make sure to try kimchi when you are livin' your life over there, boy."

Wise words. Kimchi, as I see it, is spicy, fermented cabbage, although after touring the Kimchi Museum, I know now that cabbage is not always the key vegetable ingredient; the spices and fermentation are what define this delicacy.

Kimchi is such an important dish to Korea's identity that someone at some point decided to construct a museum for it. I imagine that there is a bacon double cheeseburger museum or a brat museum or a Belgian waffle museum out there somewhere, and I'd love to make visiting culinary expositions a recurring thing. Maybe once every six months, hit up a food museum. Anyway, the museum dedicated to kimchi is in the COEX Mall in Seoul. This mall is huge, but the museum is not. We absorbed all that information that it had to offer in about half an hour, "we" being Jordan, Ashley, Dawna, and I.

Jordan futilely tries to violently ward off a thief who tried to take kimchi that was rightfully Jordan's.

Me successfully taking what is rightfully Jordan's.

There were these small clay depictions of the process of making kimchi.

Close up.

If you squint, it looks like she's tossing human heads or brains around.


This is a taste test.

Take the leap of faith and get in, you sally.

Nutritional facts.

The main things I remember that were not based on the pictures I took:
-first the spicy paste is made
-then the paste is slathered all over whatever main vegetable is to compose the kimchi in question
-finally it is all put in a big pot and buried in the ground
-sometimes a small hut is built over the buried food
-a quote from an American solider taken during the Korean War told us that kimchi and the process used to make it was disgusting
-kimchi prevents cancer
-kimchi has a lot of vitamin C in it, which I already knew
-there are six main types of this food
-the translations were very good

Conclusion: the Kimchi Museum was quite well done, but it was the least interesting of the four events described above.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

We Like Erik and We Don't Care Who Knows

There is a vicious cycle among the foreign population in Seoul. Many folks sign one-year contracts with the schools, academies, or institutions at which they work. Once the year is up, or the going gets too tough, those employees leave Korea and are only heard from through rumors on Facebook. It is a depressing reality, but it is something that I think people come to accept after being in Korea for a little while.

Today, this cycle in Seoul claimed another soul. A one Erik Johnson departed at 10 a.m. or so, Korea local time, bound for Tennessee. In one flight, a man who'd been so many things to this city left. Erik was a baller. Erik was a dancer. Erik was a worship leader. Erik was a comedian. Erik was a rapper. Erik was a Starcraft guru. Erik was so many things. But now, in the present tense, Erik is, sadly, gone. And it sucks.

I met E-Money on the subway one Sunday last September on the way to church in Dong An with Mr. Luke Elie. I knew immediately that that he was a cool cat because I'd never felt so initially comfortable around a person upon meeting him or her. In the ensuing months, we destroyed various basketball courts and noraebang establishments together. After the worship in Dong An disintegrated and we started attending KMI at my school, I somehow got the opportunity to play the drums in the praise team there. Erik led the squad. Boom.

As the last four months progressed, we soon discovered many other mutual interests. In addition to massacring opponents on the basketball court from Chungmu Art Hall to Yonsei University and dropping it like it's hot in singing rooms from Gangnam to Hae Bang Chon, Erik and I also bonded over various sorts of literature (one Sunday, in order to look like better Christians, we grabbed "Moby Dick" and pretended it was a Bible, since we'd both forgotten ours), griped over the malignity of the 02 bus (Erik was instrumental in the post "The 02 Bus"), met in the mid-afternoon at Pizza School (during a month during which he worked twelve-hour days, every day), danced until we sweat blood (blood!), sat through awkward dinners at Bennigan's (I told him nudity stories from my cross country days to pass the time), sleeping through half of the high school boys' basketball championship at GSIS (oops), shooting photos for his blog and mine (and often feeling like tools doing so), having sick dunk contests in his apartment (and taking inordinate amounts of pictures all the while), smashing pitching machine balls from here to kingdom come at the batting cages in Namyeong (we've been offered contracts), even attending professional Korean baseball games (we've not been offered contracts here), climbing through caves (which we reached by ferry), and riding on ferries (to go to a cave). And we laughed a lot. Which is important.

The most cherished memory I will have with Easy E, however, is Slayer. At some point, Erik was to sing a song during the offering at KMI, and he roped me into singing back-up vocals. The next Sunday we sang something else, and when the pastor asked us what we were called, Erik looked over at me and I whispered, "Slayer." So he told the fifteen people there, "Um...Slayer?" And then during the course of the last two months, we played various tunes and melodies during church, ranging from "For the Moments I Feel Faint" and "In the Light" to "We Like Church" and "I'm on a Bus." Last night, Saturday, June 5, we played the last song that we will sang together, at least for a while. It seems that Slayer has been slain.

Such is life. People come. People go. We all go in different directions and create different memories and relationships and experiences and the like. But, we do not have to forget. And I will not be forgetting Mr. Erik Johnson. I will miss him dearly, but, as some movie character who is wiser than I once said: "It's not 'good-bye''s 'see ya later.'"

Sidenote: over half of the photographs hereabouts are stolen from either Erik or Peter Freaking Freeburg. I'll make it up to you guys, I swear. Swear!