Sunday, February 27, 2011

101 Awesome Things About Seoul: Installment 2

It is common knowledge that Seoul is a neat place. To prove this to the few disbelievers who roam the hills and eat out of dumpsters, 101 pieces of evidence - completely subjective evidence, perhaps - have been compiled. The first twenty can be viewed here. The second twenty are recorded here.

(21) THE NUMBER OF PEOPLE WHO SPEAK ENGLISH

...is surprising! A while back there was a young man named Adam Cole who lived in Boryeong, South Korea, a town out in the boonies. He came to Seoul to visit; we were somewhere and needed to find the subway, so he asked some old lady, in Korean, where the nearest station was. She answered him in English. His observation: "I forget that everyone knows English here." It's true! To some degree! Age plays somewhat of a role, but key English words pervade almost every age group. There are the little kids, whose parents send them to hagwons to learn English. There are the innocent elementary school kids, who may venture the occasional "hello" to you as you stalk by. There are the high school students, who write dirty words in English in the snow on cars in the winter, college kids who attempt conversation, adults who run businesses and offer services that demands your money, and thus a verbal interaction with you, and old guys who have had too much to drink and want to try their hand at talking to a foreigner. One such man spoke with JJ and me one cold night; we told him JJ was a pro basketball player and I was his manager. All in all, this makes things accessible for the non-Korean in Seoul, as shown by this photo of Mr. Mark Nola talking to some beautiful Korean woman on the street.

(22) INCHEON INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT

According to Justin Son, this airport is ranked second overall in the world. What the criteria is, I am not sure, but I have had zero bad experiences at this hub. The list of cons is short: there aren't many ways to get here that take less than an hour. The list of pro's is long: there are many ways to get there (normal bus, airport bus, taxi, subway, various other trains, airplane). There are lots of check-in counters and also lots of self check-in portals, so checking in is done quickly and efficiently. The security check moves quickly and efficiently. The passport check moves quickly and efficiently. There are many places to eat. You can rent a phone there. You can rent a locker there. Lots of places to sit down are available. All locations are marked quite well; maps are all over the place. The directions to gates, including ones accessible only by shuttle, are insanely simple. Flights from here go all over. I have cut it close arriving in time for many trips but have never missed one. Lastly, the entire establishment is insanely clean. As we all know, traveling is stressful, but ICN has done everything possible to eliminate anxiety in its travelers.

(23) KIMCHI

Nothing in the wide array of figure skating glory, musical "talent," international military tension, or high population density says "Korea" like seasoned rotten cabbage: kimchi. It is served with every meal in every restaurant on every block; having a Korean meal without kimchi is like having a Green Bay Packers Super Bowl championship without Bret Farve. If one weren't to notice this simply by living and eating in Seoul, maybe one could realize it by visiting one of the most well-done museums ever created: the Kimchi Field Museum at the COEX Mall. The subject matter of the museum might not be enthralling, but the quality with which it is done is. It's very educational: the process for making this friendly banchan involves creating a spicy paste, dousing the vegetable in it, and burying it all so it can ferment and later be consumed. Historically the spiced veggies were buried in big pots to ferment. Nowadays some of my students and their families even partake in the creation of this fine product. Is it delicious? If you ask any Korean person, you will inevitably receive an adamantly affirmative answer. If you ask me, I will tell you that it is an acquired test, much like some would say about beer or Fran Drescher. I like kimchi, but I often find that I am insanely hungry whenever the time comes to eat, so I would devour anything that would be put in front of me. Including Fran Drescher.

(24) LESS-THAN-INTIMIDATING POLICE

I am not going to lie: in America, I feel nervous around the cops. Especially when driving; there are so many things I could do wrong. Like throw water balloons out of my car. Here, however, is a different story. The officers of the law are often a few years younger than I am. I believe that this is because every Korean male citizen is required to serve two years with either the military or the police department. So there they are. Whether because of age or just because Seoul is not a crime-riddled city, the police are not threatening in the least. I have never seen them pull anyone over. I have never seen them apprehend anyone. I have never seen them beat up a black dude simply for being black. Some would say that this could perpetuate crime, but that remains to become evident. I have still never felt scared in this fine metropolis. So keep doin' what you're doin', 경찰! And thanks for the photo of some officers of the law using their shields to scoop snow, Cass Money.

(25) 63 BUILDING

To be honest, when I researched this structure, I was not impressed. However, if one were to trek to the 63 Building on foot and behold it in all its glory, a silent golden sentinel on Yeouido Island on the Han River, all the numbers (built in 1985, 60 floors [63 if the basement levels count], 249 meters high, 177th-tallest building in the world) go flying out the sixtieth floor window and into the frigid, smoggy atmosphere. The lame things about this structure include the prevention of optimal city viewing by the pollution in Seoul, which is hardly the fault of any of the tower's architects, and the distance that it lies from the nearest subway stop, Yeoinaru Station on Line 5. However, these aspects of a trip to the 63 Building are outweighed by - never mind the detrimental hazy air - the beautiful view of the city, which many (me) consider to be better than what can be seen from the Seoul Tower. The Seoul Tower might give a more holistic view of this metropolis, but the 63 Building allows for detailed viewing and a closer view of how Seoul hugs the river. If you are not convinced, do your own comparison. If the sight from the top is not enough, check out the art gallery that is in the observation deck, or perhaps mosey through the aquarium or the wax museum that is also in the 63 Building.

(26) HIGH NUMBER OF CONVENIENCE STORES

Growing up in Rock Rapids, Iowa, a small town of 2,500ish people, I did not often have the need to "run to the store quick." Perhaps because my parents bought everything I needed. But upon arriving in Seoul and having the need to eat and be clean (sort of), all the GS25, 7-11, By the Way, Ministop, and Family Mart stores have been extremely, well, convenient to have around. They are everywhere. There are sometimes little counters where you can eat your noodles and what have you. The cashier is oh-so-nice. Occasionally at ATM can be found within. Everything is cheap. And if you feel awful about supporting chains that are everywhere and provide cheap monopolized products to passers-by, there are many, many little hole-in-the-wall shops that have many the same products that a 7-11 would have but are run by just one person or family. These places got watcha need.

(27) FREE HOUSING FOR MOST FOREIGNERS

Livin' ain't cheap. Especially if you've been to college. Some of us foreign folk are five or six digits in debt. We've got to save money. And Seoul wants us to. So we don't get charged rent. This is in exchange for the so-called risk/sacrifice that we have payed in order to come to Seoul to teach English or some other subject to the youth of Korea. It is in the standard package: flights to and from Korea, pension plan, severance pay, health insurance, and a housing allowance. It is part of the cycle of English teachers in Korea, perhaps; they are young and in debt and can make/save stacks of cash by not having to pay for such trite expenses as a securing a domicile, so they do. Is the housing nice? Sometimes. Is the maintenance done well? Occasionally. Do you run the risk of having random Korean dudes come in and out as they please? Ask Kara Minor. But you know what? It ain't on my dime, so I won't complain.

(28) NO TIM HORTON'S

Just as the Pilgrims left England for freedom from tyranny and abuse, grievances that they incurred for adhering to a certain belief system, so too have many North Americans fled the Americas to Seoul for independence, to be far, far away from the nearest Tim Horton's restaurant. And, in Seoul, they found many Koreans who were already happy not having to live on the same block as a Tim Horton's restaurant. So they stayed. There might be all manner of other western food places in Seoul - McDonald's, TGIFriday's, Bennigans, Burger King, Taco Bell, the list goes on - but, though it is trying (see Halloween picture), onto that list Tim Horton's has not yet encroached. And the day that it does is the day that I leave.

(29) BATTING CAGES

Every batting cage I saw in the Midwest was inaccessible and expensive. The cages near Namyeong Station are the opposite of that. There is no one supervising and it only costs 500W to have a go-round. You don't have to wear a helmet; you don't have to sign a waiver form. And this is but one of many hundreds of batting cages in the fair city of Seoul, Korea. The facilities may be sort of ghetto, but even after assuring myself three days of sore-back-havin', I felt rejuvenated, excited about life, ready to conquer the world! Just from taking a few swings at some pitching machine balls.

(30) PITA TIME

Pita Time is the least Korean item on this entire list. There is little that is Korean about it, save the staff and the menu offered in the aforementioned language. However, since it is located in Seoul and close enough to CCS to be ordered for lunch every Thursday, Pita Time is a must for inclusion. You know, gentle reader, what a pita is: bread filled with delicious innards, be that ham, turkey, chicken, hummus, and then a wide variety of condiments and dressings; now imagine making one like you'd do it at Subway or Chipotle. Now imagine going back for more and more of the healthy goodness, and getting a small sticker for your card, and now imagine getting enough stickers to receive: a free pita.

(31) CAT/DOG CAFES

There are people who, for some reason or another, develop semi-unhealthy obsessions with their pets. The most common victims here are dogs and cats, although you will see the occasional freak fall in love with a snake or something. However, not everyone is able to maintain a pet in these trying times, what with North Korea menacing and the pollution levels so high and what have you. Some genius must have realized this and started opening cafes that pandered to the needs of the aforementioned obsessors. In these cafes reside all manner of cats, or of dogs, depending on which you choose to visit. The animal-loving patron enters, washes his or hands, orders a drink, pays the cover, and goes to sit around with the cats or the dogs. Some may just watch, some may try to play with the animals, and all come with their best photography gear. Based on my own experience (in one cat cafe) these beasts are usually completely spoiled and very picky about whom they interact with. Or maybe that's just cats in general. Nonetheless, as long as one follows the rules of the establishment (no tail pulling, don't wake any animals up), an enjoyable time will be had by all involved. Sidenote: Tokyo puts Seoul to shame in this animal cafe department: there are allegedly thirty-nine cat cafes in that Japanese city.

(32) PROXIMITY AND ACCESSIBILITY OF MOUNTAINS

I come from the Midwest, from the Great Plains. The land is flat, broad, and uninteresting. Though I do not think that Seoul is immediately recognized for anything related to nature, the city is surrounded by mountains. Whether they are impressive to people who come from Switzerland or Tibet, I cannot say. The peaks are quite appreciated by me, however. And by almost every old person in the city: hiking is a grossly popular sport here. You may find yourself waiting in line while climbing if you go on a nice weekend day. However, since the mountains are not that far away at all, going during the week is not even out of the question. Two other teachers and I left school at 3 p.m. one Friday and were climbing by 4:15. Did we come down Suraksan in the dark? Maybe. I'd go again.

(33) CONSTANT WI-FI INTERNET ACCESS

I was home in Iowa last summer and immediately found myself frustrated with one and only one fact: I could not sit in my family's living room and watch the Twins game while working online on my laptop. Perhaps I had become a pretentious littler whiner, but I had gotten used to constantly being able to access the world wide web. Whether at a coffee shop or a school, a home or an airport terminal, the average computer owner - and now, of course, the average iPhone haver - is able to get onto the internet almost anywhere. Perhaps it makes everyone a little less present in what is going on around them, but it is ridiculously convenient in almost all circumstances. I have not paid for internet access at either of the apartment complexes in which I have lived in Korea. But I can almost always count on being able to be online. Please do not tell my neighbors.

(34) CHEERLEADERS AT BASEBALL GAMES

You may be at home reading this one and think, "Reub, you're just placing yourself in that category of stereotypical armchair quarterback males who like girls in short skirts along with their beer and their sports." Hear my story: basketball has cheerleaders. Football has cheerleaders. Why shouldn't baseball? I mean, I am not saying that having these floozies running around in next to nothing makes sense, but at least it should not make sense across the board, in all the sports. I think I like that Korean baseball teams have cheerleaders because the idea aligns itself with a lot of other elements of the Korean presentation. Throw a couple of cute girls up there to support the team. Sure. However, the female cheerleaders do not actually conduct the majority of the cheerleading, and this is where things break from the Western cheering concept. If you, the skeptic reader, will kindly observe the picture to the right here, you perhaps can see that there is a small man on top of the dugout near the field. If you can't see him, please realize that there is a man on top of the dugout. That man, my friends, is the true cheerleader, the leader of the cheers. The girls are - as in much of advertising and music and what not here - more for show, and this dude leads the crowd in all manner of organized chants and yells with his megaphone and his drummer friend. Each player has a song or mantra that can be belted out; this man leads that. The team has many encouraging clapping routines; this man leads those, too. The masses need direction; this man, this leader, he takes the crowd where it needs to go. The team is supported by the fans, they rally to victory, game over. Have you ever seen a Dallas Cowboys cheerleader single-handedly bring the crowd from its drunken mayhem to a single, unified incantation? No, because everyone is busy looking and not hearing. But this man, this dude, this cheerleader...he's got it down.

(35) THE SPEED, EFFICIENCY, AND COST OF MEDICAL ASSISTANCE

At some point over the summer of 2009, I contracted...something on my left foot. Something that made the skin dry and unsightly. It didn't itch or bother me; if I were blind, I'd still have it. Anyway, I got to Korea and decided enough was enough and that I'd visit the doctor. So one afternoon, upon the recommendation of my school's Bible teacher, I headed up to this international clinic above the convenience store by my house. I went in. They checked my alien registration card. Without having to wait, I was ushered into the doctor's office. He looked at my foot and told me to get new socks, the kind with individual sleeves for the toes, like gloves, and to go pick up some medication at the pharmacy across the street. I left, delaying my departure only by mentioning the Bible teacher. The doctor knew him. I paid the doctor's secretary 3,000KRW and went across the street and gave the pharmacist the prescription. I quickly received the pills and the cream and paid the 14,200KRW for it. Then I walked back to my apartment. Within a half-hour of deciding to get my foot checked out, I was applying the drugs to the infected area. Beat that. Other friends of mine have had warts removed and backs cracked, all with quick and cheap results. I didn't have to present any insurance. I didn't have to wait. It wasn't expensive. The doctor was nice. Boom. And if you were wondering - oh, you weren't? Yes, the medicine worked well and my feet are ready for a warm massage. Call me.

(36) LOTTE WORLD

Lotte World is a mongo amusement park in Jamsil of Seoul. It is expensive but it is worth it. There are a million rides there. One half of the park is indoors, like Camp Snoopy; the rides in there are creative and fun and a few include the ship that swings to and fro and puts you upside down; the themed Jeep ride, Indiana Jones-style, through the Arabian landscape and the Egyptian tomb; and a roller coaster of some sort that flies around the upper perimeter of the massive building, among others. The other half of the park is outside, like Valley Fair; the rides out there are also creative and fun and include a tower that shoots you hundreds of meters up into the air at breath-taking speeds; a tower that brings you to the ceiling of the world and then drops you in a free fall from hell; a ride called "Atlantis" that has an unimaginably long line, and a lame Halloween video, among others. There are also multitudes of restaurants and eateries available with all the unhealthy foods you'd expect at such a place. Additionally, a large skating rink lies in the center of the indoor park. Does it sound awesome? It is. This blog is limited to only addressing Lotte World and not its allegedly bigger rival, Everland, since this blog's author has only been to Lotte World. But there's a lot of life left to live.

(37) DALKGALBI

What we've got here is chicken that's been marinating in something delicious thrown into a hot platter with a slough of vegetables and rice cakes and some spicy chili pepper sauce for good measure and then set to cook. It gets mixed around and around and upon being cooked to perfection is arguably the most delicious dish in the entire land area of Asia. When it's all over and there's just burnt stuff and sauce residue left on the aforementioned hot plate, feel free to order some rice or noodles and mix that up in what's left, and the deliciousness continues. Cons: it's spicy. And like any meal cooked right in front of those whom will soon consume it, the food spits up a little grease now and then. Or something. But any restaurant worth its weight in dead bird flesh will give you a cute bib. If they're real good, the proprietors will provide you with a plastic bag for your coats, hats, pets, and the like. Then dine. Holy cow. 닭갈비. Get in my belly.

(38) FLOOR HEATING

Winter is here, its frosty bite transforming our once-lively cheek muscles into hunks of pink and keeping us in bed and out of harm's way until the last possible minute. However, one measure taken in Seoul, city-wide, nation-wide, probably, is this marvelous and practical idea: heat the floors. Yes. 온돌. And it's awesome. Your cold, shivering body comes into contact more with the floors than with any other part of your home. Why not make it hot? The heat radiates up and up, and soon your house is a balmy California heaven instead of an Ulan Bator ice cavern. This concept works especially well when coupled with the traditional Korean practice of sleeping on mats on the floor, which I don't think many people do but which probably increases in popularity (especially in my apartment) between December and February.

(39) DMZ

A mere 30 miles from Seoul (which places it well within striking distance of both North Korea and tourists from Seoul), the demilitarized zone is a sweet destination for any and everyone. I imagine that there are many tours offered, but I have only experienced the USO version. And I couldn't desire much more than is offered on that one. The USO tour covers one of the tunnels that the North Koreans began digging in order to invade Seoul; tour takers can walk the kilometer or so downhill (and also the kilometer or so uphill) to tramp through said tunnel. The tour goes to this viewing center, from which North Korea can be viewed as if on parade. The climax is entrance into the DMZ itself: an exploration of the Joint Security Area, which is this piece of land that is divided in half between North Korea and South Korea. Running through its center is the actual border, but along the border sit a handful of buildings in which meetings and gambling parties are conducted. The tour goes into one of them and tourists can step over into North Korea. There's guards everywhere. Many rules are in place. Tension is high. Communism meets democracy. And grins weirdly. The USO tour is insanely informative; it provides oodles of awesome statistics and many interesting anecdotes. It is also very organized; the tour guides from both the USO and the U.S. Army are quite well-informed and comfortable. Though some may consider the DMZ a negative aspect of Seoul, because it means war is close, I will argue otherwise.

(40) SSAMJANG

This delicious chili paste takes Korean barbecue to the next level. It puts standard condiments like relish to shame. Chuck a slab of this topping on the piece of meat you have just grilled, wrap it up in some lettuce, and jam the entire concoction unashamedly into your gullet. All your worries and cares will vanish as your mouth basks in ecstasy. Ssamjang flirts with being spicy but does not have the uncomfortable bite of, say, Tabasco sauce, and yet it is far less neutral than, say, ketchup. It's thick and borderline chunky, but not in the unpleasant way of Oprah Winfrey. All in all, no barbecue experience in Seoul is complete without a dabble of this heavenly condiment thrown in the mix.

To be continued...

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Surfin' USA, and Some Asian Countries

Last week a dude I didn't know came and stayed in my apartment for nine-ish days. I had not met him before I picked him up at Sookmyung Women's University Station, Exit 3, at 11:39 p.m. on February 8, but I gave him a spare key and went to work the next day hoping less that none of personal belongings would get stolen and more that the guy would find my usually-grimy apartment to his liking.

My housing of this wayfarer - Felix - completed the cycle of my participation in couch surfing. Previously I had taken advantage of this practice by using the abodes of various others for no money at all; now I was taken advantage of, as Felix slept in my bed, ate my food, and hijacked the same internet I hijacked. Now all is well with my soul and I can die a peaceful death knowing I owe the universe nothing. Farewell.

If you'd like a better explanation of couch surfing, perhaps check out the website at www.couchsurfing.org or investigate this recently-published article ("Couch Surfing: Social Network Opens Doors for Travelers") from the Time magazine website. Otherwise, my explanation is as follows:

You want to go to Ulan Bator (who doesn't?), but your budget is tight because you are a recent college graduate and you are nineteen figures in debt. You go onto the couch surfing website and see which registered website members live in Ulan Bator. Maybe you find ten or so who speak your language and advertise a couch as available. Then you check the references that have been left for each one. When you find a member to your liking, someone who looks trustworthy, you send the dude or chick a message: hey, I'm coming to Ulan Bator next week; can I sleep at your home? Can we grab a meal together? Can you show me around? Soon the dude or chick sends you message back: yeah, bro, come sleep, come eat, come be merry. Then you go to Ulan Bator, find the dude or chick, and sleep, eat, and be merry in whatever capacity they bless you.

It is fairly simple. My couch surfing experience is as follows:

1. Mark and I stayed with Judy for three nights in Beijing over Chuseok last September. We slept on her floor and bought her some meals; she showed us where to buy the meals and saved us every time we got lost. She set the bar high for future hosts of us.

2. The night before flying out of Incheon at 8 a.m., I stayed with a couple in that same city, a mere stone's throw from the airport. They had a guest bedroom. So good.

3. I stayed with another Judy in Taipei. One evening we went and owned a night market, and I slept on her floor two nights.

4. Also in Taipei lives a lady named Amanda. I stayed at her place one night also; she showed me a ton of places in that city that I wouldn't have seen. She also comissioned her niece to take me around the next day. Poor niece.

5. Some girl named Clare from China wanted to grab coffee one night here in Seoul, so we did. Our conversation mostly revolved around plastic surgery and shopping; frankly, I was impressed with how far I stretched my knowledge on those topics.

6. Felix, a German living in Beijing, stayed at my home for a week and a half. We shared many meals, many conversations, and many laughs, in addition to painting the town red, griping about women, and hitting waiters in the face with bottle caps. He also reformatted my computer and set the bar high for future guests of mine.

Ballin'. On paper, the idea behind couch surfing is simple, at least in my mind: the network provides a free place to sleep. However, as you can imagine, there eventually ends up being much more to it than that. There can be trust, terror, expectations, miscommunication, burdens, community, and God knows what in between. Let's take a moment to weigh the pro's and cons here.

Cons:

(1) Danger. Let's be honest: even though there is a reference system, you could go stay with another couch surfer and that person could hack you up into little pieces while you sleep and no one would ever know what the crap happened to you. You could get robbed. You could get sexually assualted. You could get left out to dry.

Pros:

(1) You have a free place to stay. In Taipei I spent like $70 over four days. Swing.

(2) You have a source for knowledge about wherever it is you are visiting. Not every couch surfer will be able to take you around like a free tour guide, but he or she can at least provide some insight about navigating the subway or finding your touristy destination. With that, you learn more about the place you're visiting, whether it be the native culture or what it is like living there as an ex-pat, depending on your host.

(3) You have a friend. You will probably some of your host's friends, too (unless you surf with Mark, who 친구 없어). The type of folks who'd open up their homes to complete strangers are usually pretty trusting and are probably interesting in getting to know you a little bit. Otherwise, you probably would have got denied when you requested their acquaintance. And, probably, if you are choosing to go stay with a stranger, you are willing to get out of your comfort zone and meet someone new as well. Two-way street.

Perhaps couch surfing is not for everyone. People with heart disease, people with high blood pressure, women who are pregnant, people suffer from elipespy, children under the age of 12, people who bite...couch surfing is probably not safe for you. If you want to meet some people instead of just wander around museums by yourself all day on your trips, though, check it out. Expand your horizons instead of being a sally. Get out of your comfort zone instead of remaining complacent. Or, in the words of the Christmas Banquet Committee, do it or chicken out.





Want more? Get more: here.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Like a G6

One of the most hard-working nations in the world found itself grinding to a halt earlier this month. The cause? Lunar New Year. 설날. The observation of the change of the lunar calendar. Welcome the year of the rabbit.

Last year's Lunar New Year was a noteworthy bust, as far as celebration went. There was one good night out on the town and then wheelbarrow loads of work and failed attempts at fun. A regular disappointment. Thus, the general consensus was that something wicked, something awesome, something jaw-dropping had to be done.

The plan was a ski trip. It was planned by Pete and Kelly. And it was planned well: three days of snowy mayhem at Phoenix Park, which is somewhere out in the northeastern quadrant of South Korea.


The cast included...

...Pete, the visionary of the crew, who'd gone to Phoenix Park the year prior and had known in an instant that that was not the last time he'd ski there.

...Kelly, the planner and organizer extraordinaire, whose suave charm knew no bounds as she went to and fro, leading the group from one location to the next.

...Kara, who didn't actually know that the word “fear” existed until a lesser member of the group mentioned it and she was forced to inquire as to its meaning.

...Joe, a.k.a. Coop, who starred in a movie called “Baseketball” in 1998, shredded every snowboarding run that presented itself, and showed us single men the proper way to stomp for chicks.

...Mark, armed with an MCAT study guide and a phone that could text as far as Egypt, and having the capability to overcome injuries that would make a normal person vomit in pain.

...Dawna, who performed multiple flips off multiple jumps blindfolded while she thought no one was looking.

...Me, Reuben, who hadn't been in a pair of skis since 4th grade in 1996 but who did sled down Bemis Hill in Warroad, Minnesota, in nothing but my boxers in 2006.



Wednesday, February 2, 2011
7:35 AM: I wake up, get dressed, and can't find my keys.
8:00 AM: Ben, who'd crashed at my place, wakes up.
8:01 AM: I tell Ben that I can't find my keys and that I suck.
8:02 AM: Ben says, “You don't suck” and rolls over for more sleep.
8:14 AM: I find my keys in the pocket of the sweatpants I was wearing.
8:16 AM: Dawna and Kara greet me with, “Ah, one minute late!” I respond with, “Shut up, shut up, shut up.”
8:30 AM: We meet Mark at Noksapyeong and head toward Sinchon.
9:00 AM: The four of us meet Kelly, Pete, and Joe Coop at McDonald's in Sinchon.
9:30 AM: I load up on Pringles because I couldn't eat an of the Egg 'n' Sausage McSomethings that they were having.
9:40 AM: We board the coach bus that will take us to Phoenix Park, where friendly green circles and leering black diamonds are calling our names.
10:30 AM: I spend my time on the bus worrying about my lack of skiing knowledge and wondering if I'll hold the group up with my underdeveloped techniques.
12:00 PM: The bus stops at a rest stop. Dawna, Kara, Pete, Kelly, Joe Coop, Mark, and I get off.
12:15 PM: Dawna, Kara, Pete, Kelly, Joe Coop, and I all get back on the bus.
12:20 PM: The bus starts to leave.
12:23 PM: The bus stops; Mark gets on.
1:20 PM: The bus arrives at ground zero: Phoenix Park. We get off and get picked up by some dude.
2:15 PM: Our swarthy crew ravages a local ski rental shop. We laugh a lot.
4:45 PM: We leave the ski rental place hundreds of pounds heavier and hundreds of won lighter but quite ready to ski/snowboard/urinate in our pants out of fear.
5:00 PM: The ski rental dudes deposit us at the skiing complex and wish us a happy time.
5:30 PM: We dine and laugh a lot and are rowdy and annoying to all those nearby.
7:00 PM: Our entire entourage launches a full frontal assault on Phoenix Park.
7:10 PM: My first fall occurs.
7:13 PM: My second fall occurs.
7:14 PM: I reach the bottom of the first run.
7:30 PM: “Sexy Back” graces the loudspeakers. We keep skiing but start dancing. And laughing.
9:00 PM: Pete owns a black diamond, the first of many.
9:45 PM: Pete convinces Kelly and I to try a blue square hill with him. We laugh a lot.
10:00 PM: I run into a fence near Pete. We laugh a lot.
11:00 PM: Dawna and Kara head back to our hostel room.
1:00 AM: Mark heads back to our hostel room.
1:15 AM: Pete, Kelly, Joe Coop, and I search high and low for a locker for our skis.
1:45 AM: We find a place to secure our belongings and go back to the room.
3:00 AM: Everyone in the room realizes that we have overcrowded and overheated the room. There is fancy little to be done about it. We laugh a lot.
3:45 AM: Someone on the other side of the room starts to snore. I don't laugh.


Thursday, February 3, 2011
8:45 AM: Someone hits me in the butt with the bathroom door.
9:00 AM: People in the room who shall remain nameless start getting up and talking and getting ready for the day.
10:00 AM: The seven of us begin the twenty-minute walk back to the ski complex to own the hills again.
11:00 AM: The second round of the assault begins.
11:45 AM: Kara smashes into some kid who walked right in front of her.
12:30 PM: I lose track of just about everyone and go off to ski by myself.
3:00 PM: I see Pete, who invites me to join him on a blue square run.
3:30 PM: I ski on my skis and slide on my back an equal distance down the blue square slope. Pete sees me fall, starts laughing, and also falls.
3:50 PM: We try the blue square again. Pete and Joe Coop make it; I fall again and decide to go somewhere else.
3:55 PM: I go somewhere else and ski by myself until 5.
5:00 PM: The slopes close. Our skiing time is over. We head back to the room. We laugh a lot.
5:45 PM: We relieve ourselves of our ski equipment.
6:00 PM: Certain members of the group shower.
7:00 PM: The crew strikes out to find food and soon finds a place to cook dead pig and dead cow and drink soda. We laugh a lot.
8:30 PM: A search for a noraebang begins on foot.
9:15 PM: A noraeband is located but deemed too busy to use. Baskin Robbins is ravaged instead.
10:00 PM: We re-enter our room and entertain ourselves with stories about running marathons and soiling ourselves. We laugh a lot.
11:45 PM: An oath is taken that anyone who speaks before noon on the morrow will be put to death, violently. No one laughs.
12:00 AM: People start going to bed. Pete and I start a game of Scrabble on Kara's iTouch.
12:30 AM: We give up.
12:40 AM: Mark starts snoring.
12:50 AM: Joe Coop answers Mark snoring with his own, like deadly mating calls.
1:00 AM: Feeling good that I didn't kill myself on the mountain, I fall into a deep, contented sleep.



Friday, February 4, 2011
10:00 AM: Everyone is up and talking and cleaning and comparing levels of soreness.
11:30 AM: Our mob leaves the room and heads to where the bus will meet us.
12:00 AM: We dine and talk about past times at Bethel and eat gross ice cream and laugh a lot.
2:55 PM: Someone locates our bus, which we board.
3:10 PM: The bus leaves and drives back to Sinchon.
6:45 PM: All of us get off the bus and go to our respective homes in Seoul, Ilsan, and Suwon.



I stole all these photos from Mark. A thousand thanks, dude.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

One Hundred Posts of Solitude


For those of you who have been diligently been keeping track at home (Mom, Dad, Simon), this particular post is the one hundredth post on the "Take No Prisoners" blog. In honor of this occasion, I would like us to take a moment and note what significant global events have taken place since this blog began:

1. Joe Mauer won the American League MVP Award.

2. No one I knew contracted swine flu.

3. My sister opened a zoo in her apartment.

4. My brother took the initial steps toward opening a morgue in his apartment.

5. I haven't paid any taxes to the United States government that I know of (and Dad, if I have, I don't want to know about it).

6. George Steinbrenner ceased to influence the New York Yankees baseball organization in any major way.

7. The number of games that the Minnesota Timberwolves have won each season has been in the double digits.

8. No females of any sort have had the extremely poor fortune of going on any dates with me.

9. The musical performing group Hanson released its eight studio album ("Shout It Out").

10. I have made more money than at any other point in my life.

11. Several job opportunities were e-mailed to me anonymously, each offering the chance to make $6,487 a month simply by working from home. I also received word that I could easily increase my potency and that I was to become the fortunate beneficiary of several hundred thousand more dollars if I would just e-mail back.

12. I wasted less time and water showering than in any other 572-day period of my life.

13. Our family got a new car after my brother destroyed our older, slower one by hitting a cow with it.

14. The Minnesota Twins abandoned their ratty, old Metrodome and moved into a shiny, new stadium, Target Field.

15. A new Paris Baguette shouldered out a local stationery store near my apartment that all we teachers frequently utilized.

16. I added a new dish to my already admirably-lengthy culinary repertoire (Kool-Aid, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, sloppy joes): scrambled eggs.

17. The good fortune to own and figure out the idiosyncrasies of five different cell phones was mine.

18. Antoine Dodson got in front of a news camera, finally.

19. I gained knowledge of more curse words in foreign tongues than I had in the previous twenty-three years combined.

20. There was a .000059 percent increase in the number of individual worldwide whose ears were blessed with the gospel of how awesome Iowa is.

I suppose it would be more "appropriate" and "fitting" to have one hundred spectacular things that have happened since December of 2008 on this one hundredth post, but, if I did that...[see the end of this post].

Anyway, as the reader can see, the world has clearly been a more blessed place since the birth of this blog. Think of what a dark and lonely planet we'd be inhabiting if some of the aforementioned events had failed to occur. Thus, in the same way that Hanson has kept producing quality music since 1992, before many of you were even born, this blog will slowly but surely continue to churn out posts.

If you have ever read this blog before, or if you just happened to now, accidentally, or if you are being forced at stiletto-point by Jeff Hunt to view it, I thank you. Honestly, it's encouraging to know that the eyes of at least a couple poor souls have glazed over these words and paragraphs, as awful as they usually are. I'm not going to advise you to continue reading or pledge any allegiance to "Take No Prisoners," of course, but, simply: thanks. And sorry if this post comes off as pompous, self-centered, and arrogant. I don't want it to be.

Let's take one last moment and get some reader feedback: