Monday, December 11, 2006


I'm working on a series of posts about my upcoming travels, but wanted to throw in a few pictures for you to occupy youself for the time being. The first round of trip posts will be up tomorrow...

Life here is going well. I can't believe it's already December. I know it's close to Christmas, but the season hasn't really seaped into my thoughts. I've been occupying myself with other things. Last weekend was Dave's birthday. We had a lot of fun. Here are some pictures from my recent life...

Here are those crazy kids. They graduate in February and I'm sure going to miss them.

Kellie, Alice and I posing for you.

Dave had too much fun as you can see.

Here I am with my favorite bartender. She takes care of us...

There's some of the group. These people are great! I love them all...

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Getting close...

Time seems to be flying by these days. Christmas break is almost here and that means that Cambodia and Thailand are getting closer and closer. I'm way too excited to even think about it though. We've been planning this trip pretty much since I arrived and now it's so close. At home, I am always the one who plans each detail of every trip, but not here. While I might have been in on the idea of where to go, I owe it all to Aaron. This guy can plan a mean trip. He knows where to find the cheap tickets, best places to stay and even what to do while there. He has been to Cambodia before, but that did not stop him from going again. We've planned out the trip pretty well so far and I know I've mentioned it before, but I'm going to give you a detailed itinerary. I believe we leave Seoul around 2pm on Saturday, December 23. We fly to Hong Kong where we have a two hour lay-over.

We won't be able to go into the city, but I've heard it's great. This picture does not look too hot though.

We leave the airport en route to Bangkok around 9pm and arrive in Bangkok at 11:50pm. Since we have an early train to catch there, we will just rock out that night and maybe sleep on the streets if we feel so inclined. I know Dave will, but that will be from drinking too always. In fact, I'll tell you a great story later... We'll need to be at the Bangkok Hualamphong Train Station around 430am in order to catch the 500am train. The train costs 48 baht (around one dollar). That's right. Of course, it's all third class and the seats are wood, but that's all part of the experience. After a brief five hour ride through rural southeast Thailand we'll arrive at the border of Cambodia. The town is called Poipet.

Here's what wikitravel says about this rural Cambodian border town:

"Poipet is the gateway to Cambodia for many overland travellers coming from Thailand. It does not provide a very warm welcome. Gordon Sharpless notes that "Poipet more or less rhymes with toilet" and this caustic observation is, sadly, true. Poipet is a miserable huddle of touts, beggars, thieves and dodgy casinos for daytripping Thais, and spending any more time than absolutely necessary is not recommended. Other than gambling or whoring, there is no reason to stay in Poipet."

I thought this was classic...

Sounds fun, right? Well, I'm sure it will be an experience. After paying our 20 dollar visa fee we must split our group into two and get a cab driver to bring us down the dusty road to Siem Reap.

Aaron has informed that this is a very bumpy and rough road. Sleeping probably won't be an option. I know my eyes will be glued to the surrounding beauty.

The ride will take 3 and a half hours. It costs 45 dollars or so for the whole ride. That's not bad. Finally we'll be in Siem Reap. Here's a brief description of the city:

"Siem Reap, literally "Siam Defeated", commemorates a Khmer victory over the neighboring kingdom of Thailand. These days, however, the only rampaging hordes are the tourists heading to Angkor and this once quaint village has become the largest boomtown and construction site in Cambodia. It's quite laid-back and all in all a pleasant place to stay while touring the temples. It's a nice compromise between observing Cambodian life and enjoying the amenities of modern services and entertainment, thanks to the large expatriate community in Siem Reap. As business has increased, so have the numbers of people wanting your custom. Expect to receive almost constant offers for motodop and tuk-tuk rides, along with everything else which drivers may be able to offer to you. "

Once there we will go to our guesthouse and then start our trip out right...with a nice cold beer and a "happy" pizza. You can take a guess as to what a "happy pizza" might be. Here's a picture of it.

Then the next few days will be full of temples, jungles, elephant rides, floating villages, shady guides and plenty of beer and pizza. I don't want tot give the whole trip away before I even go, so I will not go into great detail.

The Tonlé Sap

The Tonlé Sap (meaning Large Fresh Water River but more commonly translated as Great Lake) is a combined lake and river system of huge importance to Cambodia. It is the largest freshwater lake in South East Asia and is an ecological hotspot that was designated as a UNESCO biosphere in 1997.

An old man rows a boat on the Tonle Sap Lake in Cambodia
For most of the year the lake is fairly small, around one meter deep and with an area of 2,700 square km. During the monsoon season, however, the Tonle Sap river which connects the lake with the Mekong river reverses its flow. Water is pushed up from the Mekong into the lake, increasing its area to 16,000 square km and its depth to up to nine meters, flooding nearby fields and forests. The floodplain provides a perfect breeding ground for fish.
The pulsing system with the large floodplain, rich biodiversity, and high annual sediment and nutrient fluxes from Mekong makes the Tonle Sap one of the most productive inland fisheries in the world, supporting over 3 million people and providing over 75% of Cambodia's annual inland fish catch and 60% of the Cambodians' protein intake. At the end of the rainy season, the flow reverses and the fish are carried downriver.
Among the national and local observers, and local people it is often stated that the Tonle Sap Lake is rapidly filling up with the sediment. However, recent long-term sedimentation studies show that net sedimentation within the Tonle Sap Lake proper has been in the range of 0.1-0.16 mm/year since ca. 5500 years before present (BP). Thus, there is no threat of the lake filling up with sediment. On the contrary, sediment is not a threat to the lake but an important part of its ecosystem, providing nutrients that drive the floodplain productivity.
The reversal of the Tonle Sap river's flow also acts as a safety valve to prevent flooding further downstream. During the dry season (December to April) the Tonle Sap Lake provides around 50% of the flow to the Mekong Delta in Vietnam.The lake occupies a depression created due to the geological stress induced by the collision of the Indian subcontinent with Asia.


The city lies on the right bank of the river Siem Reap, a tributary of Tonle Sap, about a quarter of a mile from the river. The south gate of Angkor Thom is 7.2 km north of Siem Reap, and 1.7 km north of the entrance to Angkor Wat. The walls, 8 m high and flanked by a moat, are each 3 km long, enclosing an area of 9 km². The walls are of laterite buttressed by earth, with a parapet on the top. There are gates at each of the cardinal points, from which roads lead to the Bayon at the centre of the city. As the Bayon itself has no wall or moat of its own, those of the city are interpreted by archaeologists as representing the mountains and oceans surrounding the Bayon's Mount Meru. (Glaize 81). Another gate — the Victory Gate — is 500 m north of the east gate; the Victory Way runs parallel to the east road to the Victory Square and the Royal Palace north of the Bayon.

A Gate leading to Angkor Thom
The faces on the 23 m towers at the city gates (which are later additions to the main structure) take after those of the Bayon, and pose the same problems of interpretation. They may represent the king himself, the bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara, guardians of the empire's cardinal points, or some combination of these. A causeway spans the moat in front of each tower: these have a row of devas on the left and asuras on the right, each row holding a naga in the attitude of a tug-of-war. This appears to be a reference to the myth, popular in Angkor, of the Churning of the Sea of Milk. The temple-mountain of the Bayon, or perhaps the gate itself, (Glaize 82) would then be the pivot around which the churning takes place. The nagas may also represent the transition from the world of men to the world of the gods (the Bayon), or be guardian figures. (Freeman and Jacques 76). The gateways themselves are 3.5 by 7 m, and would originally have been closed with wooden doors. (Glaize 82) The south gate is now by far the most often visited, as it is the main entrance to the city for tourists.
At each corner of the city is a Prasat Chrung — corner shrine — built of sandstone and dedicated to Avalokiteshvara. These are cruciform with a central tower, and orientated towards the east.
Within the city was a system of canals, through which water flowed from the northeast to the southwest. The bulk of the land enclosed by the walls would have been occupied by the secular buildings of the city, of which nothing remains. This area is now covered by forest.

Angkor Wat (or Angkor Vat) is a temple at Angkor, Cambodia, built for king Suryavarman II in the early 12th century as his state temple and capital city. The largest and best-preserved temple at the site, it is the only one to have remained a significant religious centre—first Hindu, then Buddhist—since its foundation. The temple is the epitome of the high classical style of Khmer architecture. It has become a symbol of Cambodia, appearing on its national flag, and it is the country's prime attraction for visitors. Angkor Wat combines two basic plans of Khmer temple architecture: the temple mountain and the later galleried temples. It is designed to represent Mount Meru, home of the gods in Hindu mythology: within a moat and an outer wall 3.6 km (2.2 miles) long are three rectangular galleries, each raised above the next. At the centre of the temple stands a quincunx of towers. Unlike most Angkorian temples, Angkor Wat is oriented to the west; scholars are divided as to the significance of this. As well as for the grandeur and harmony of the architecture, the temple is admired for its extensive bas-reliefs and for the numerous devatas adorning its walls.
The initial design and construction of the temple took place in the first half of the 12th century, during the reign of Suryavarman II (ruled 1113–c. 1150). Dedicated to Vishnu, it was built as the king's state temple and capital city. As neither the foundation stela nor any contemporary inscriptions referring to the temple have been found, its original name is unknown. It is located 5.5 km north of the modern town of Siem Reap, and a short distance south and slightly east of the previous capital, which was centred on the Baphuon. Work seems to have come to an end on the king's death, with some of the bas-reliefs unfinished. In 1177 Angkor was sacked by the Chams, the traditional enemies of the Khmer. Thereafter the empire was restored by a new king, Jayavarman VII, who established a new capital and state temple (Angkor Thom and the Bayon respectively) which lie a few kilometres to the north.

In the 14th or 15th century the temple was converted to Theravada Buddhist use, which continues to the present day. Angkor Wat is unusual among the Angkor temples in that although it was somewhat neglected after the 16th century it was never completely abandoned. Its moat also provided some protection from encroachment by the jungle.[2] Around this time the temple was known as Preah Pisnulok, after the posthumous title of Suryavarman. The modern name, in use by the 16th century, means "City Temple": Angkor is a vernacular form of the word nokor which comes from the Sanskrit word nagara (capital), while wat is the Khmer word for temple.
One of the first Western visitors to the temple was Antonio da Magdalena, a Portuguese monk who visited in 1586 and said that it "is of such extraordinary construction that it is not possible to describe it with a pen, particularly since it is like no other building in the world. It has towers and decoration and all the refinements which the human genius can conceive of".[4] However, the temple was popularised in the West only in the mid-19th century on the publication of Henri Mouhot's travel notes. The French explorer wrote of it:

"One of these temples—a rival to that of Solomon, and erected by some ancient Michelangelo—might take an honourable place beside our most beautiful buildings. It is grander than anything left to us by Greece or Rome, and presents a sad contrast to the state of barbarism in which the nation is now plunged."

The Cambodian flag includes a depiction of Angkor Wat.
Mouhot, like other early Western visitors, was unable to believe that the Khmers could have built the temple, and mistakenly dated it to around the same era as Rome. The true history of Angkor Wat was pieced together only from stylistic and epigraphic evidence accumulated during the subsequent clearing and restoration work carried out across the whole Angkor site.
Angkor Wat required considerable restoration in the 20th century, mainly the removal of accumulated earth and vegetation. Work was interrupted by the civil war and Khmer Rouge control of the country during the 1970s and 1980s, but relatively little damage was done during this period other than the theft and destruction of mostly post-Angkorian statues.The temple has become a symbol of Cambodia, and is a source of great pride for the country's people. A depiction of Angkor Wat has been a part of every Cambodian national flag since the introduction of the first version circa 1863—the only building to appear on any national flag.

We have five 4 camera's going one nice video camera. Assuming we don't get all of stuff stolen, I should be coming back with tones of great shots. I'm going for 500. That should be easy, especially since I can manage over 60 on a night-out here.

I'll continue the trip on the next post...

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Thanksgiving in Korea

The table is set, the candles are lit, the wine is poured and the turkey is cut. It's time for the feast of the year. It's time for everyone to take a break from work or school and travel to spend time with family and friends. I've done it for the last 23 years of my life, but not this year.

Of course, each year has been a little different. I've eaten with family at home and I've eaten with family at close friends houses. Sometimes we watched football and othertimes we'd argue over how boring the Macy's Day Parade is. I never win that one, but everyone knows it's boring. At this point, Mom and Kristin have had the Christmas music in full swing for about a month and most of the shopping has been done for several months. It's a great time. It's a great break where we all get to sit, relax and enjoy being a family.

This year is different. Kristin, Trey, Hattie and Sadie (intentional omission of Esther) are dealing with an ever-increasing fussy Hattie. I guess the apple doesn't fall too far from the tree. Poor Trey, but he knew what he signed up for when he married her. Mom and David are entertaining his kids which I know is hard for Mom. Not because of his kids, but because we're not there. I think this is the first for her. That leaves me, here, in Korea on Thanksgiving night all alone. I am not sad though. I am not homesick or looking for pity comments. I am thankful.

The meaning of this day has been lost on me for years. It was always a time to hang out and mooch of the parents for the week. However, today I am thankful. Why?

I'm thankful that I have an audience who reads this and cares about me. I'm thankful that I have family at home that can feel the emptiness at the table because I'm not there. I'm thankful for those who have helped me get to where I am today. I'm thankful that my parents are all still alive and healthy. I'm thankful that I am the Uncle of a niece who has two incredible people for parents. I'm thankful that Trey had a band called Ezra and that they were better than "Better Than Ezra". I'm thankful for Emmie, Prince, Sadie, Boston, Pepper, Snipes, Snoops, Snaps, Hayden Fox from Coach, Sierra, Dottie Hen, Hayden, Amos, Lakota, Abbie, Barley, Gideon, Snappy, Berrie, Squeeky, Pookie, Marmalade, the love birds, the fish, critter cages and even Esther. I'm thankful for my friends at home who I love dearly. I'm thankful that they can be with their families and friends tonight. I'm thankful for the memories I've created with the scores of people I've met in this wonderful world. I'm thankful for the people I'll meet in the future. I'm thankful for the musicians who have played the music that has been the soundtrack to my life. I'm thankful for American and Korean women. I have learned a lot from them all. I've learned the importance of loyalty and honesty. I'm thankful for that even if they came at a cost. Still, that's a cost I would pay again any day. I'm thankful for the two most important women in my life. Without them I would not be here and I would not be the person I am today. I'm thankful that I can sit here alone writing all of this and not feel sad. I am so thankful for what I hold dear to me that I could never be sad on earth. I'm sitting here writing with a smile on my face knowing all of you are together and hopefully reflecting on what is important to you.

I'm thankful for you all. All of you have been part of this experiment as I have yours.

Most of all, I'm thankful for life. Thanks for being part of it...

Monday, November 06, 2006

I'm nervous...

Let's make it happen!

Tomorrow is the day. The polls will open and the people will choose. I think we (the Dems) will take the House back and possibly the Senate (although I doubt it). If we take even a few Senate seats, I think that will be enough to make Bush a lame duck since so many right-wingers are straying from the awful man.

Why am I nervous then? I'm nervous because the last two elections have been shrouded in fraud. The Diebold voting machines are so undetectably vulnerable to tampering that I can not believe we use them. I'm nervous because international poll observers can't even watch our vote because there is no uniformity in our systems (as the law calls for). I'm nervous that the American people might still be as out of touch with the world as they have been since 1994. I'm nervous that the world might again see us as supporters of a President who thinks he is a king. I'm nervous that more people will have to die. I'm nervous that I will not have the stomach to return to the States until this party is out of office.

I need this change. We need this change. The world needs this change...

Also, I was very unhappy to see that Saddam got the death penalty. Aside from the convenient timing of the verdict, using murder to punish for murder makes no sense. He was a state head who murdered people, right? Murder is the worst thing someone can do, but who's killing him? The State is, so can we punish the judges now?

We live in a crazy world and I'm not saying that this election will change it, but one thing is for sure: continuously applying the same method and expecting different results each time is idiocy. Let's not perpetuate this failed strategy...for the sake of the world.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Way too long

I have no excuse for not writing for two weeks. I apologize for my apathy.

However, life here is going well. I've been here for over three months and still enjoy everyday. School is great and I'm really getting to know the kids and finally I am seeing some of my mannerisms in them. It's funny. I play music for them and they all get really excited and pull out their air guitars and rock it along side of me. Their English is getting pretty good too. All is well on that front.

We are all planning our Cambodian trip and everday it seems to get better. Here's the plan:

We fly to Hong Kong and catch a flight to Bangkok. We're there for six hours. I'm not sure if we'll rock out for those hours or get a room. We'll be there from 23:50 to 5:00, so it might be best if we sleep. At 5:00 we hop on a train. The train is classic. It's all third-class and costs a mere one dollar. The seats are wood and we'll be on there for 5 hours. I'm excited though. I'll get to gaze out of those windows and see rural Thailand. It's going to be amazing.

Then we hit the Cambodian border. I've heard that it's a real shady place. I'm sure it's safe though. From there we get a cab for a three hour ride to our destination: Siem Reap.

We'll rock it there from the 24th through the 29th. We'll see Ankor Wat and Ankor Thom and check out a few other temples. We're staying in a guesthouse that is part hotel and part Irish Pub. It's cheap and looks rather nice. While there I think we're going to visit some land mine fields, ride elephants and go to the Tonle Sap lake. The Tonle Sap flows into the Mekong River which is the river that flows into Vietnam. On the lake there are floating villages that we'll check out.

After Cambodia, we head to Bangkok for New Years. That should be wild.

More to come...

Next weekend we're going to the Sea of Japan for a little getaway. I'm excited about this as well. It will be cold though.

I know this post was all over the place, but it's something.

I'm trying to save money this month, so hopefully I'll be writing more and going out less...

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Election time....

I'll be posting several times about this, but I just wanted to throw out an image that surfaced after the 2004 devastation. I used this in a "Voting Rights" presentation I did in college. We got the highest grade in the class...

Monday, October 23, 2006

The Korean Drug Culture

Ha! I know they're not Korean, but I couldn't find an image of any Northern Asians getting high. Maybe that says something in itself.

I will go into depth on this later in the week, but for know I'll say this: Korea is a land with no drugs. They do not have it and they all seem to have bought into the fear of them. So, I am going to try and navigate my way in and around this non-culture and see if I can get to the root of it.

I'll talk about Korean use, punishment, trade and etiquette. And since we're talking about drug use in Korea, we'll have to talk about the foreign population. They are the big users anyways.

So, be patient. I'll have to do a little work on this one.

I'm losing my hair!!

No, I'm not. However, I want to talk about pollution in Seoul, as well as Asia...

There is a popular myth in Korea and especially in Seoul. It sounds just as silly as it is, but the real issue is its very exsistence. People are told this and they believe it and move on. They do not address the problem. The myth is that "Rain makes you lose your hair". They say it's because of acid rain. I wasn't sure whether to believe it or not, so I did some sleuthing.

Here's what I have figured out:

During the first two decades of Korea's economic boom, there was little atention paid to the damaging effects of rapid industrializtion on the environment. It was not until the 1980's that Korea began paying close attention to the environment, but the problems have arisen so quickly, that the Korean government has not been able to manage all of them. One of the arising problems in connection with rapid industrialization is acid rain. Factory smoke and automobile exhaust fumes contribute to most of it. Although China is the largest producer of sulfur dioxide emissions in Asia accounting for 60 million tons of SO2 emissions in 2004, South Korea is also a major producer of SO2.

The main issue concerning South Korea, and Japan also, is the environmental pollution caused by China's rapid economic growth crossing the boundaries into these two countries. The weather in China has an impact on Japan and South Korea. Yellow sand caused by industrial pollution in China is blown from China (and Mongolia) to Seoul causing hazardous air pollution. (Aaron said this happened in the late winter and early spring. I might have to buy a cool little mask.) Plants which grow only in heavily polluted areas have appeared in Seoul and nearby towns, indicating how serious environmental pollution is in Korea. Acid rain in the Pacific region is affecting cultural symbols, destroying vegetation, polluting oceans and affecting wildlife. Bilateral legislation between Korea and Japan, Japan and China, and Korea and China have been established. Agreements between these countries are in progress towards improving the environment of the Pacific Region. Environmental problems such as acid rain which extend beyond national boundaries are becoming an increasingly common phenomena. Acid raid reduces visibility, pollutes lakes and streams, destroying fish and other forms of life. Air pollution in rapidly industrializing China is believed to be responsible for acid rain in East Asia. In earlier years it was thought that acid rain only occurred in North America and Europe, however damage is spreading to such a degree that denial is no longer an option for the Asian region. (Trust me, they would still deny it if they could.)

Three of the world's five most polluted cities -- Beijing, Seoul and Shanghai --lie in the direction from which Japan's prevailing winds come from November through April. Japanese officials feel that China and Korea are developing at such high speeds that pollutants associated with acid rain are increasingly having some effect on Japan.

So, is the myth true? I couldn't find out. I don't feel great about living in such a polluted city, but let's see where I've lived so far.

Nashville didn't make the list of 50 most polluted cities in the US, but guess who did.

Knoxville, TN is the ninth most polluted in the country and then right after that is old Cincinnati. Cinci holds the title of number 10. Seoul is in the top 20. That's gross.

Last Friday, we were on a field trip to "Seoul Forest". Don't get excited or anything. It should have been called "Seoul Water Treatment Plant" because that dominated our sight. So, on the way to the park we were in the bus with the kids and I was looking at the Han river. A thick haze hung over it making it hard to see the bridges that span the wide river, let alone the other side of the water. I asked Dinah if this was normal and I got a typical response, "I don't know."

How could someone not care about something as sacred as the earth and the air we all breathe. The weather just changed last weekend. It was still grazing the eighties until Friday night when a storm came through. It cleared out the air. I was walking to school on Monday and was about the cross the road when I noticed the huge mountains surrounding Seoul. I knew they were there, but I couldn't ever see the detail like I could then. Today it was the same.

Maybe it'll clear out for a few weeks and I'll be able to enjoy the outside world and see beyond the drab city...

Monday, October 16, 2006

Uncle George Reflects

Family is so very important to every person on earth. It is the social unit that helps guide us through most of life's decisions. True, society and friends also play a role, but those things fade with time. Friends will come and go and social norms and mores are ever evolving, but family remains static. Of course, a family member can change. My family has seen all sorts of changes since it's conception. We've seen a little death and few changes of heart. We've seen lifestyles change and severe ideological differences, but we're a family and what doesn't change is love.

No matter where we are in life or how far removed we might seem, we always love, care and respect each other. It is this bond that transcends time. It this bond that is too strong to weather when it rains. As we all know, Kristin and Trey are about to give birth to their first child. Her name is still up for debate, but the two big ones are Libby (Elizabeth) and Hattie (Harriet).

I won't say which one I favor, but I will say that if she were to be named after my mother, Harriet, she would have some big shoes to fill. Mom has been an inspiration to me and everyone that has been fortunate to come into contact with her. She has raised two children that have unyielding commitments to human and animal life. She raised us to protect, respect and love the earth. She instilled a strong commitment to family. She showed me that we, as humans, can't dwell on pain. We must be resilient, we must be strong and we must not hold grudges. We all know that she lost her parents early and this was the hardest thing she endured in her life, but she made the best of it. I know a wealth of stories about her parents. She left their legacy with us. She left their memories and now Kristin and I will always have those. She knew in her early twenties that life is too precious and too short. All we know, at this point, is that we only get a few years together on this earth and that's it, so make the most of it. She understands that while our path might not be the one she would choose, it is still something to support and respect. I've gotten some wonderful advice from her through the years and I can't wait for the upcoming decades because she is only getting better and becoming a more beautiful human being than I could ever imagine. Mom, you're great...

While she has been the driving force at the forefront, I can't omit the influence I have gotten from my father. First of all, my two parents are polar opposites. It's funny to think about sometimes. Dad has a way of dropping the formalities of a father-son relationship and he brings it to this raw level that only the two us can understand. I really enjoy it. He cares a lot and has a more subtle, yet real way of showing it. His thing is that life is a personal journey full of decisions that must be made by the individual, independent of outside influence. This does not mean that I have not gotten some stellar advice from him because I have. He likes people to follow their dreams regardless of the possible outcome. This is how we truly know ourselves and how we can achieve true happiness. I respect the hell out of this guy. His intellect, his drive and his passions are quite inspiring. His musical tastes and his articulation of the modern world are refreshing. He has a lot to offer this world and I have a feeling he's just getting started. Good luck, pal...

Since this is titled "Uncle George", I need to address my Uncle. Respect and admiration are not strong enough, but it's a start. We have had an evolving relationship as the two of us have grown. He, of course, was there for the whole thing. He was in France actually when I was born, but hey, I'll be in Korea so maybe that's a sign. We were close in the sense that he was my Uncle and I was his nephew, but it wasn't until college that we earned a real human and mutual respect for each other. We both like to claim that we can solve the worlds problems through dialogue and a vote. We can, but that's not why we're close. I think he sees a little of himself in me and I see a little of what I want to be in him. His culture, his wit, his dedication to his morals and values are inspiring. He loves the world and has a great deal of respect for the wonderful place we all somehow ended up inhabiting. And although he likes to give Harriet a hard time now and then, he does it out of love. He does it because he, too, understands family. Uncle John, thanks...

I haven't mentioned one person. This person has always been my best friend from the time I was born. She carried me when I was a baby (and an adult ;)). She let me participate in her slumber parties and she has always been my biggest fan. Of course, I'm talking about my sister. This woman is a truly incredible person and I can't even explain my immense respect for her. Sure, we disagree on virtually every political issue and cause, but I think that that in itself is a testament for the strength the familial bond holds. We are so similar on some many levels that if we just look at each other, something clicks and laughter ensues. Kristin, please know that I am going to be involved with this child's life every step of the way. I am crushed that I can't be in the waiting room for you and her. I will be there in spirit and when I return next year, my beautiful niece is getting some serious Uncle time. I love her so much already and can't wait for the big day. Good luck and get ready for the PAIN! Only kidding, but seriously, it's going to hurt like hell...

So, I guess this post turned into a family appreciation thing, but I wanted to let you know that I love you all very much and can't wait to rock it next year. Dad and Uncle John, I'll bring the Soju...

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Pictures and Videos

I planned to write today, but I was lazy. Tomorrow, I'll write an update on the N. Korea thing, my feelings about being an Uncle and I'll explore some Korean mores as well. By the way, Kristin has a blog on here now. It is going to be about my niece and her adventures being a new mom. I'm excited about the whole thing.

I went to Seoul Tower yesterday and then to Carne Station last night. I'll post some pictures for you...

Dave and I at the bottom of the mountain. Behind us was a temple or something.

Here's a view from a hof on the mountain. This is only a neighborhood. I live across the river.

Here's another view.

Dave, Joel, me and Liam.

At Carne Station...

Seoul has got some great pollution.

It was a fun night to say the least. That beer and Soju was for nine of us...

I also have a few videos on YahooVideo. They are all short and us being silly, but you might want to take a look.

Here are the links:

I'll be putting up more videos this week, so keep an eye on that site. I'd bookmark it.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Don't drop a bomb on me, baby!

I've known for about four hours what all of you waking up are just finding out. North Korea did in fact test their bomb. This does not make me feel great. Kim would not bomb Seoul, but he would bomb the US or Japan. Even if he does not bomb anyone, he's just setting everyone up to attack him. Things might get a little crazy over here.

I remember in college, the day of 9/11, I attended an "End of the World" party. That was merely a catalyst, but now it looks like the champange is cooling and it's only a matter of time until that big speech. Honestly, I'm a bit excited to be here at this corner in time. I live 30km from the most heavily gaurded border in the world. I live next to an utterly nationalistic and belligerent leader who just set off the country's first nuclear bomb. It live here amongst the protestors. I live here amongst them and I too feel that this perhaps could be a struggle I'm involved in. I have registered with the US Embassy in case something crazy happened, but it probably won't. I will say that it is tense here. Roy has called an emergency security meeting. Abe is in Seoul now and he is not happy at all. He will be the one that erupts. He will be the one that drags the world into this. China, US and Russia will not be happy at all.

The bad news for me is that the Korean Market went way, way down. That effects the won. I send won home and was planning on doing that tomorrow. It looks like I'll wait and see if there is a recovery.

What a world my friends! What a time to be alive!

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Bush is a winner...

"Bush is a winner" was a deflection Joel coined and we used to exhaustion this past week. It sort of ended all possible conversation with him. This post is not about that though. This is a super short post about some Korean news I literally just watched.

Usually, they do not have English subtitles, so I can watch very little Korean news. However, this time they had the English subtitles above the Korean subtitles for some reason. They collected a compilation of Bush and Co. being rude and stumbling over simple questions asked by reporters (mostly the Press Corps). It was so funny. For every lie, they would show proof that indicated they were lying. They did that for every exaggeration as well. They also coupled each act of the administrations rudeness with Bush and Co. claiming that the media was "rude" or out of line. It was just classic.

I have not seen any real overt criticizing of Bush on the news until now and it was real funny. He's just like a village idiot here. They showed him saying "Iraq is making real progress" and then they interviewed a few Iraqis saying the opposite with the war torn images of Iraq in the background. I'm not saying they're right here or the Iraqis are right or anything like that. I'm saying that it appears to be a news pastime to rag on this guy. They would have people laughing after every lie and then they would play the lie or stumble over and over again while the laughing kept increasing with each play.

Maybe Uncle John will be the only one laughing at this point, but I know I sure am...

Chuseok on the Yellow Sea.

The vacation started with a few bottles of Soju and a long subway ride. We had all of our gear on our backs and enough food to last for the long weekend. It was going to be a good one and we couldn't wait to get it started.

The subway finally stopped and we were at our destination, Incheon, which happened to be the last stop on the subway line. Incheon pretty much borders Seoul's west-side. Incheon became important because its location on an estuary made it a good harbor; when the port was founded in 1883, the city, then called Chemulpo, had a population of only 4,700. Incheon is now home to almost 2.5 million people, but is sometimes regarded as a part of the greater Seoul metropolitan area due to its close proximity to the capital, and the fact that the Seoul Metropolitan Subway and the Incheon Subway systems are linked to one another. Incheon is, however, a major city in its own right and is a separate jurisdiction from Seoul.

On September 15, 1950, during the Korean War, Incheon was the site of the Battle of Incheon, when United States troops landed to relieve pressure on the Pusan Perimeter and to launch a United Nations offensive northward. The USS Incheon was named after the tide-turning battle that ensued. The Battle of Incheon (code name: Operation Chromite) was a decisive invasion and battle. The battle lasted only 15 days. During the amphibious operation, UN forces secured Incheon, and broke out of the Pusan (Busan) region through a series of landings in enemy territory. The vast majority of UN ground forces were composed of U.S. Marines, commanded by Gen. MacArthur. The Battle of Incheon ended a string of victories by the invading North Korean People's Army (NKPA) and began a counterattack by the UN forces that led to the recapture of Seoul. The advance north ended near the Yalu River, when China's People's Volunteer Army entered the conflict by deploying thousands of fresh Chinese troops in support of North Korea, overrunning UN forces along the Ch'ongch'on River and forcing a withdrawal after the Battle of Chosin Reservoir to South Korea.

In contrast to the quick victory at Incheon, the advance on Seoul was slow and bloody. The NKPA launched another attack, which was trapped and destroyed, and a bombing run in Incheon harbor, which did little damage. The NKPA attempted to stall the UN offensive to allow time to reinforce Seoul and withdraw troops from the south. Though warned that the process of taking Seoul would allow remaining NKPA forces in the south to escape, MacArthur felt that he was bound to honor promises given to the South Korean government to retake the capital as soon as possible. Before the battle, North Korea had just one understrength division in the city, with the majority of its forces south of the capital.

MacArthur personally oversaw the 1st Marine Regiment as it fought through North Korean positions on the road to Seoul. At this point, control of Operation Chromite was given to Major General Edward Almond. It was Almond's goal to take Seoul on September 25, exactly three months after the beginning of the war. On September 22, the Marines entered Seoul to find it heavily fortified. Casualties mounted as the forces engaged in desperate house-to-house fighting. Anxious to pronounce the conquest of Seoul, Almond declared the city liberated on September 25 despite the fact that Marines were still engaged in house-to-house combat (gunfire and artillery could still be heard in the northern suburbs).

There is a statue of Gen. MacArthur in Incheon and every once in awhile there are protests there, claiming ROK is "still occupied" by the US. These are the same people who complain that we're abandoning them when we say, "okay, we'll leave". There's a lot of double-talk in Korea. We did not go see it though. I thought you might be interested in a little history. (Most of that was provided by Wikipedia.) Here is a picture of the Battle of Inch 'on.

We arrived in the city around 10pm or so and decided we should get some food. The closest place we found was in Chinatown. We walked up the hill carrying all of our stuff and found a little restaurant. We ate there for a while and celebrated the clock turning midnight. It was my birthday! We had a couple cheers and then went to our hotel which we had yet to locate or reserve. Luckily we found one within a couple minutes and put our stuff down. Dave, who just returned from a month long tour of Italy, had picked up a huge bottle of Bacardi. We cracked it and had a couple drinks in the room and then went outside to get some fresh air. We walked out there with a couple of mixed drinks and sat in the streets and chatted about nothing. When we're with Joel it is very hard to talk because most of the time he has us all laughing. He's a funny guy. We decided to call it an early night and retired to the room.

That was one big bottle! The picture below is us hanging out on the street in Incheon.

Suzanna was up at 6:15 getting ready for a morning run. I heard her leave and was stirred enough that I got up and showered. The rest of the crew slowly did the same and after a couple cups of gross water and coffee, we left to catch the bus that would take us to the harbor. We went to the desk at the harbor and tried to get tickets for the 9:30am boat, but it was full. The lady said we could get the 12:30pm boat instead. We looked at the clock. It was only 8:35am. So we had four hours to kill until we could leave. We went and got some food and Rhett made the good decision to buy a mat for us all to sit on while we waited. He went to buy it, hoping he could find a nice solid colored one. He returned with a mat sporting giraffes and a family cookout. It was funny, especially when the five us all laid on it for three hours on the sidewalk. FINALLY, 12:00pm rolled around and went to line up.

We boarded the boat and found our seats. It was not a full boat, so we had a little more room than I thought we would have. Dave, Suzanna and I sat in a row while Rhett and Joel sat in front of us. Dave, like usual, fell asleep in minutes. We took some pictures of his face. It was quite funny. After a half-hour or so we went to buy a beer and get the vacation started. There were quite a few foreigners on the boat as well, all of them going to Duk Juk do. There was this one older flamboyant foreigner behind us who Suzanna named Peanut Butter Comic Book. The guy literally read a comic book for the whole ride while shoveling spoonfuls of peanut butter down his throat. After an hour, we arrived at the island or do (pronounced "doe"). From the port we hopped on another bus which finally took us to the specific beach we wanted. We got off and with much anticipation, made our way to the beautiful beach.

That's our sporty green and purple tent. We left it there...

It was a hot day and the sun was beaming down on our somewhat pale skin. (Dave was still tan from his Italy trip.) Mountains arose on all sides of the small cove, while pines lined the edge of the sand. There was a perfect mixture of grass and sand throughout the beach. The Yellow Sea stood in front of us. It was beautiful. The water was so calm and the waves gently came ashore and then, without any sound, retreated. There were other people out there, but nothing could hinder this islands beauty. We put our stuff down and sat there for a second. This place was like nothing I have ever seen before. Gazing far out into the water we could see small island rising out of the eerily calm sea. Some were big and others just a break in the flat water. The smell was of rich pines, mountain air and the faint odor of salt was the real vacation. It was a vacation for our senses. It was such an abnormal sight to see: pine and bamboo covered mountains, a serine blue-green sea and islands as far as the eyes could process. To top it all off, on a peak of a nearby mountain we spotted a temple. It was there that we truly saw the beauty of not only the Yellow Sea, but this world.

We set up our tent in the pale yellow sand and Rhett and Joel started preparing our dinner. It wasn't dinner time, but they were making a gumbo and it had to be started early. Their generosity allowed Dave, Suzanna and I to play. We threw the frisbee, socialized and listened to some great music. As the day progressed, more and more people stared arriving and the party was getting bigger and better by the second. While Rhett was at camp cooking and socializing, Dave, Suzanna, Joel and I decided to play the most dangerous game ever. First of all, we knew how silly it was to play this game, but we also knew when to stop. So before you write comments about this game, know that we were safe. The four of us started at the shore and threw a bottle that contained rum and some mixer. We then swam to that location and had to dive to the bottom and touch it while grabbing sand for proof. If any of you have been to the beach with me, you know that I do not go deeper than where I can stand, let alone touch the bottom. I'm usually scared of sharks, but there was something peaceful about this place. When you surface, you must show the sand and then take a swig. Now, the next person has to throw the bottle out into the sea and the game continues in that manner. Crazy right? Of course, but we were safe and even as a tribute to its stupidity we called it "Death by Drowning". Who wants to play?

There was also another game that I'm going to bring home with me. It's called "Cups". There are two teams with two people per team. One team stands on one side while the other team stands on the opposite side. In front of each team, there are two tent poles sticking about five feet out of the ground and standing about 14 inches apart (like miniature field goals without the crossbar). On top of each pole is one cup. One person from Team A would throw the frisbee and to either knock the cup off the pole (1 point) or send the frisbee through the center of the poles without touching them (2 points). If Team A knocked the cup off, but Team B caught it before it hit the sand, then Team B would get that point and Team A would get nothing. It was great game and Dave and I were actually quite good at it. We played this a lot.

Finally the gumbo was ready and by that point our fire had attracted most of the cool people. There were other fires, but again, we were the coolest. So we gave all of our new friends gumbo and rum and the night was just great. I've met a lot of people on the past two trips and I plan to continue meeting more people, but I really enjoyed the people we met this time. Of course, they're not as great as most of the people I work with and it's impossible to compare them with friends at home, but they were good people. Dave pulled his trademark and "fell" out of the chair and into the sand for a little pass out time. He was close to the fire and we couldn't move him, so we covered him in sand. He's lucky the marker didn't come out...

You can kind of see the islands, but again, I just couldn't capture them. The tide was crazy there as well. Imagine Hunting Island and now add about 4oo yards to that and then you'll understand low tide on the Yellow Sea.

There were some beautiful sunsets.

He literally fell out of his chair, crushed that bottle and remained here for hours. He was okay.

The morning came too fast, but in a place like this I was happy to see the warm morning sun. We ate and Dave, Suzanna and I headed for that temple we saw on the mountains. We walked to the trail head and I finally felt like I was in Asia. We passed farmers in their cool wide brimmed hats. We passed bamboo fields and people with things that just looked "Asian" to me. They were real farmers and not this city folk that I see everyday. It was great.

We found the trail head and ascended through a lush bamboo forest. It was amazing. It was so thick and the trail just weaved in and out of it. Trying to peer inside the forest was impossible. You can't see a thing in thick bamboo. We reached an elevation where the bamboo gave way to the pines and some other tree that I have yet to identify. We started getting little glimpses of the view we were about to be given. After a few water and picture stops, we neared the summit and got a taste of the beauty of Duk Juk Do. The water was amazing from there and we sat on some rocks that were perilously close to the edge. We were safe and that cool mountain breeze was too enticing to let fear get in the way. From there we could see the temple peeking through the pines. It was resting all alone on the rocky bluffs, looking after the island. We made our way up there and were stunned at the site. It was a 360 degree view of Duk Juk and all the surrounding islands. There were so many that I couldn't even count them. I took some pictures, but my photographic abilities coupled with my digital camera just didn't do any justice to this place. I'm not a religious man, but it was heavenly. We took some videos and cruised on down to the beach almost breathless.

Here's the first part of the trail. It was too dark and shadowy to take the bamboo forest pictures, but this one came out alright.

The view...

It was just amazing up there.

This is Duk Juk...

There is the temple and Dave walking to it.

Here we are at the temple. It was great up there.

We returned and played around on the beach. Frisbee, cups, laughing, talking, drinking, making fun of Dave and much more. We brought our Han river boats, so we cruised around out in the water for a while. While we were out there we saw a family running towards the water. Upon looking a little closer, we noticed the females were topless. Wouldn't you know they were French. We heard their snooty accents when we got to the shore and had a good laugh. The sun was getting low and we decided to eat some dinner. Again, Rhett was the good guy and cooked us some burritos. They were great. He won't admit it, but he's a great cook. Night came and the party started. There was a Cups tournament, but Dave and I opted to play horse shoes with some new friends.

There was this awfully unattractive girl there who did everything she could to show her big ass. She was like a drunk 16 year old. We called her Skeletor and really that was a compliment.

I thought a close-up might be nice for some of you, aka Mom. The black thing is a little dog we met who hung out with us for a while. We named him Soju...Surprised?

The next day we packed up, made it to the bus, then to the boat and said screw the subway and took a cab home.

I came here to teach and I really love teaching, but it's these excursions that make me love this place. The people we meet, the sights we see, the stories we hear and the memories we all create together is the real reason why Korea is a great place. Memories have always been very important to me. I think it is so crucial that we all take time and make sure we cherish these things. Take pictures, make movies, write a journal or just reminisce with loved ones. The future is very important, but it is the past where we derive wisdom. It is the past where we find our happiness and it is the past that shows us what we want for the future...

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Birthday Time!

I turn 24 on Thursday. In fact, I will be at an island and away from any means of communication. If family wants to call do it tonight or tomorrow morning, otherwise I'll be out.

Dave, Joel and I are cruising out there early to check out the area, so I'll leave tomorrow at 6:30pm. I'm very excited to get out of the city and I love beach camping, especially on an island in the Yellow Sea!!

I'll be writing about it when I return on Saturday...


At school, the administration tries very hard to harmoniously meld the English language with Korean culture. The kids are not allowed to speak Korean during class and if they do we've been instructed to discipline them. I thought this was a bit odd when I first arrived, but it can be really disruptive. These kids are in an immersion program essentially and it just works better to keep their thoughts on and in English while they're at school.

A few times a month we'll have these special days where we all participate in these traditional Korean activities. Sometimes it will be games, other times they will dress up in the traditional clothing. So this past month we had a couple of these days. The first one was all morning and it consisted of several Korean games. Each foreign teacher was assigned to a post while the Korean teachers stayed with the class and herded them from activity to activity. We had heard that we were doing this ahead of time and some of the teachers were concerned that they would have to proctor one of the awful activities. I don't know the Korean names for the games, so I'll just tell you want they consisted of. There was wrestling, a stick throwing game, hacky-sack, this weird rock balancing thing and a tug of war. I couldn't get photo's of all of the activities, but I got a couple. Honestly, some of them weren't even worthy of explanation.

The list was posted and I had been designated to proctor wrestling. I was happy with that obviously. Last year I tried to get the kids to wrestle, but the administration never looked on that too fondly. I was really breaking barriers! Can you imagine...Children wrestling! Oh no! So, I was happy to let these kids go at it. Kids love wrestling. It's fun, it's competitive and at their level and ability, it's harmless. Korean wrestling is a lot different though. Luckily I had watched it on television here. I never watch television though. I think I've turned it on four times in the last month and two of those times were only to watch a special on Ankor Wat (my Christmas destination).

What they do is a lot different. First, they wear spandex exercise shorts and have a piece of cloth tied around their waist. Next, they both get on the sand ground and sit on their knees. On the refs command they grab each others cloth tie and slowly stand up. Then the ref says "go" and they wrestle. However, they can only hold their opponents waist tie and to win, just like in Sumo wrestling, you have to either push the guy out of the ring or bring him to his back. Most fights last less then 10 seconds. Of course the kids last much longer, especially the girls. The kids came in the room and lined up against the wall. I got them all pumped up and then chose the fighters. I'd try to pair evenly sized kids to go at it, but to be cruel I sometimes put the little guy with the big guy. The little guys would usually win because of their agility. Here are some pictures.

You can kind of see the idea behind it. I didn't know what was going on either, but they're kids so it's not like anyone knew anyways.

The girls were funny to watch. They never really tried to win or hurt their opponent. Instead, they would just spin around in circles until one of them got bored and conceded by falling.

The tug...

It was a fun day. The kids and teachers like the break.

***At my mothers request, I am going to write more about the kids and teaching. Don't worry, the wild nights and weekends will still be posted. I am here to teach, but I'm also here to live...