Welcome

I guess you are here because you have discovered one of my books and enjoyed it enough to find out more about the author, me. Either that or you’re a potential employer who is investigating me to see if I would be a good fit for your organization. In which case, surprise, I write books as well as teach. Some might look at that as a bad thing, and if so, please explain to me how.

For whoever finds my site, I want to welcome you, and also allow you the opportunity to follow me on a regular basis. Anybody is welcome as long as you keep your posts appropriate, and respect the other followers to this site. As long as everybody follows those two simple rules, I won’t have to kick anybody off. Let the friendly banter begin.

I am hoping to create an interactive site that everybody can enjoy. Of course, I will keep you up to date on the latest writings coming out of my head, and I will also let you know when and where I will be in the world, so someday you might be able to meet me in person. Most people regret that decision, but who knows, maybe you’ll be in the minority.

I will also tell you about my world-wide travels as this is something I do on a regular basis. I’ll show you pictures from places I have been (this one is from Dubrovnik, better known to fans of The Song of Ice and Fire as King’s Landing), and tell you the exciting stories that happen to me along the way. You are also welcome to ask me any questions you may have about the place I have been, and I will try to answer them in a timely manner.

I know it all sounds amazing, and I can see you wondering why you haven’t been a part of this fantastic experience so far, but let me tell you about the most exciting part of following this site – the interactive part.  You were probably wondering when I would get to that part I had promised you earlier. Well, I plan to create a list every month, and I want you to participate in its formation. I do love countdowns, but I am always disappointed in them. So I have decided to take matters into my own hands. You will be able to post your top ten of each monthly list and at the end of each month, I will comprise the total list to give you the countdown for that subject. Look for each new subject on the first day of each month, and the final list of the previous month by the fifteenth.

Otherwise, it is very nice to have you a part of this experience, and I look forward to all of our future posts together.

What I Will Miss from America, the Beer – The Move Day 26

The new Jackass Hill Brewery in downtown Littleton, Colorado

One of the things I love about coming back to the States is the fact that every where I look there is another microbrewery, or place that serves craft beer. The selection is so great especially in states such as Colorado and Oregon where the craft beer revolution started, that sometimes I have a hard time deciding on which one I will pick to enjoy. Most of the time I just pick the most bitter IPA because that is usually my favorite, but lately I have enjoyed a few porters because I have had a hard time finding them lately, and every once in a while when a brewery get ambitious and make a triple, I jump on that opportunity. The craft beer revolution has sunk its claws into the fabric of the American culture and it will not be going away any time soon. The bigger domestic breweries are even feeling the sting of this shift in American tastes that they are not making the profits that they once did, and I am under the mindset that I would rather spend five dollars a beer on a couple of these craft beauties than spend it on three of the flavorless mass-produced lagers that give money to a large corporation that does not care about its craft.

This flavor explosion can also be found in many cities in Europe, especially further north, but the rest of the world has not yet caught up yet. Korea was getting better every year that I was out there to the point where I was able to find good beer even in the neighborhood that I lived, and the convenience store across the street even started to stock IPAs on the week that I left. They still had a way to go to reach the same level of even the states in America just starting to understand this revolution, but I could see that it was on its way. Japan had also had a few places that was making its own beer, and I have really enjoyed those small little brew-pubs that I have found out there, but I do not know if it has gotten to the point of have beer festivals, and having certain beers on tap no matter where you go. But they also have a couple of other drinks out there that compete with the typical beer, and it might make it a little harder for the craft beer revolution to make stronger in-roads there.

I am a little worried about Thailand though. The domestic beers are huge out there, and they are so cheap that people just consume them at a regular pace without ever worrying about finding something that might have a little more taste. I have been told that there are a couple of places that produce their own beer, but they are further downtown, and will require a bigger effort to make it there if I want a good beer. I have seen them for sale at the grocery store, but the selection is still relatively small. The revolution is still trying to find a foothold in this part of the world, but it is at the same place that Korea was at four years ago. I will just have to be patient, and eventually I will see more and more options made available, but it won’t be at the same level that I see in my home state or in Oregon where breweries are basically across the street from each other and trying to compete for your business.

It is the small adjustments that I will have to make as I make the move, but it is only a small concession. The bonuses will far outweigh this small disadvantage, and I am sure that I will still love all of the other things that I find out in Thailand.

The Death of the Record Store – The Move Day 25

Many people will look at this post and laugh as they download another song on their Apple Music or Spotify app. They either look back on the days of Tower Records and San Goody with either fond memories and just shrug it off as something from the past that they will no longer regret the passing of, or they are not even old enough to remember how these store dominated the landscape and the culture of every young person from the 90s. But it was also the height of what I would consider the best era for music ever that these stores slowly started to disappear. At first, it wasn’t something that discouraged me because if one went out of business, there was usually another one across the street that was better and probably not a part of some huge franchise that overcharged for the music they were selling.

The stores themselves were an explosion of expression. My favorite ones were the ones that would plaster posters of the bands that loved and who had a new album to sell over ones that had passed on to obscurity. The latest record that the employee behind the counter felt like playing that day would be blaring over the speakers, and sometimes it would become you favorite new album. Random strangers would talk to each other about the albums that they were looking over. It was a community, and there were many of these places where I felt at home. I never thought that they would eventually disappear.

But like Blockbuster, they slowly disappeared until only a few remained. For me it felt like the passing of something important with music and there would be a whole generation of people who did not understand the importance of these stores or why finding the deep tracks on an album showed a true love of the genre. Music, a thing that was always meant for disposable income, had become even more disposable because the music now came at you as something easily downloadable from some service you paid a monthly fee to online. No longer did somebody have to search long and hard to hold that album in their hand. No longer did they have to collect the music, and listen to it constantly as the jewel case cracked and the artwork faded to prove to those who saw it that this was that person’s favorite album. Music no longer became something to treasure. It was now just something to quickly consume and dismiss on the tablet as it shuffled off to other songs that you might appreciate.

Even though it looks like the cd will go the same way as the cassette tape, there is hope on the horizon. Steadily, over the years, vinyl has made a comeback in this arena. It is still not at the same level that it was at during the 1960s, but more and more of the younger generation is finding out about the joy of this medium. First of all, it sounds better than any other medium, giving the music a richer, warmer sound. But more importantly, it makes the playing an album an event again. People need to gather around a turn-table and listen as the needle pops into the groove if they want to listen to the album. It will give people the opportunity to once again share music instead of hiding away behind the earphones with it. And the surviving record stores recognize this.

There aren’t many left in America, but when I find one of them, there is a joy that runs through me because I know that I am going to get an experience from my youth that I thought had died. There is Ranch Records in Downtown Bend, Oregon, Rasputin’s in San Fransisco, and Boogie’s West in Castle Rock, Colorado. The owners have added space to sell records, and it is fun flipping through them to once again see the beautiful artwork, and hold in my hands that amazing moment that I know will happen when I open it up and listen to it. My two favorite record stores are something that I look forward to every time I am in those cities. The first is East Street Records in West Seattle who has some deal with Pearl Jam and they sell a bunch of their bootlegs there. They also have a breakfast place that is always packed and helps to supplement their true love, music. And the store that still has the crowds and the love that I remember from the 90s is in downtown Denver, Twist and Shout Records. At this store, people come in to dump their old record collections, not knowing what they have, and they resell them to the public in packs of ten where you don’t know what you are going to get. It is a lot of fun, and sometimes allows you to find something new.

So even though the record store is harder to find anymore, I do not think that the last ones left will go away. I am glad that they have survived, and I hope more and more people will realize that this is a better way to enjoy music, and continue to visit them when they come across them.

The Things I am Excited About – The Move Day 24

I have spent a lot of time this summer talking about the place where I came from, and mentioning the place where I am moving to, but I have not really talked about it, and why I am excited about moving there. So I thought I would give a little time to talk about the things that I am looking forward to about the relocation to Bangkok.

First of all, I am looking forward to the food. I know that Korean food is the trendy thing worldwide, but I have never been a fan of this kind of food. I like the spices and I do enjoy the community spirit that is created by going to a Korean bar-b-q, but it has nothing that I have ever craved. I do enjoy what they have done to fried chicken, and I do not think that any culture can compete with this improvement on an American staple, but I cannot eat that every night unless I want to end my life by exchanging cholesterol for the blood in my veins. Basically, for the last four years, I have struggled eating.

My wife and I would always talk about our favorite foods in the world, and if there was one type of food that we had to eat for the rest of lives what would it be. Of course Italian always comes up for me because it has always been my favorite style of food, and my wife always talks about Japanese food because of the variety and the unique flavors that they explore in that country. And even though we both agree with each others’ main choice, we both agree whole-heartedly with Thai food. On my recent trip out there to scout out places where we would end up living, I even experienced new flavors that I did not know existed with this cuisine and it turned into one of my favorite Thai dishes. This just means that I have not tried everything that Thai food has to offer. I am excited to explore these options even more.

Which brings me to the next thing I am excited about, the street markets. There is a big one right next to the place where I will be living. It is not as big as the Chatuchak Market in central Bangkok, but it will still be a nice addition to the neighborhood. Apparently, it is only open during the weekends, but it will be the perfect place to pick up fresh fruit and vegetables. And the amount of fresh fruit that will be out there excites me a lot. I was able to get fruit in Korea, but it was heavily dependent on the growing season. When I arrived in the summer was when I could get green apples, but they disappear soon after I got out there. Berries would not be available until late in spring, and yes, I could get a watermelon, but I would have to spend up to $30 for it.

The fruit should be more readily available in Thailand, and the variety should always be there available at the markets and delivered that morning from the groves. I look forward to going to the market and searching for the perfect fruit and vegetables of the day and creating a meal with them later in the evening. I will not always have to wait until the weekend to make this happen either. Where we are moving has a mango tree in the front yard, and twice a year I should have a supply of fresh mangoes in which to eat and cook with. I see myself perfecting the best mango salsa by the end of the first year.

A lot of this is due to the thing that I am having a love/hate feeling towards, and that is the weather. It is going to be hot and humid, and this will never change. My two favorite seasons in Korea were autumn and spring. If you are ever visiting Korea, this is when you want to go because the weather is perfect and the changing of the trees, whether it is the shedding of the leaves or the blooming of the cherry blossoms, is spectacular. I will really miss that about Korea.

What I will not miss about Korea is its bitter winter. I have seen my fair share of bitter cold winters, but I have never experienced anything like the ones in Korea. The temperature drops and stays there. I used to look at the outside, not wanting to venture out because I knew it meant bundling up so my skin would not be ripped away by the dry frigid wind. It wasn’t even pretty because it rarely snowed in the winter to hide the dead tree and lawns. It was just cold. I will not miss that.

But I am not also a fan of extreme heat. I am a runner, and trying to run while it is hot and humid is harder than when it is cold and bitter. It just saps all of the energy from me, and I feel like I am wading through the air rather than slicing through it. I know I will eventually acclimate to this because it is never going to change, but I will miss the colder times of the year. I know this even before I make it out to Thailand  because as I said earlier, the milder times of the year are my favorite. It is still not enough to dissuade my excitement for this move, and it is this weather that makes all of the other things I am excited about possible. It is just a minor thing, and I know that I will be able to make the adjustment.

So as the time pushes closer when I will finally get make that last leap, I am starting to get excited about what the changes will be for me, and I can’t wait to share them with the rest of you.

Another Word about Black Butte Ranch – The Move Day 23

Black Butte Ranch in Central Oregon is a strange blend of a lot of things that combined together make for an amazing vacation place. There are houses and cabins that are for rent, each one unique and comfortable in their own way. There are many things to do away from the commercialism that some vacation spots tend to throw in your face. And there is this harmony on the ranch with animals of all kinds. I believe that it is these animals that make the ranch a unique place to spend time at, no matter what season you decide to come here.

Underneath the shadow of the looming Black Butte in the middle of the ranch is a huge working field where workers move them around to make sure the fields are not destroyed by their grazing. There is a bike path that runs through the field that allows you to get closer to these animals and watch them as they go about their lazy day. The horses are also used to go on rides through the forests that surround the ranch, and during weddings, they will let them out in the fields giving photographers the perfect picture of the horses running free after the ceremony has taken place.

But the animals that inhabit this corner of the state are not always domesticated. There are a lot of wild animals that make their way through the grounds. Besides the squirrels, chipmunks, and various types of birds, I have heard coyotes howls in the middle of the nights, and have spotted so many deer that it become commonplace. Just yesterday, as I left the place I was staying, I saw a deer grazing on the wild grass in the front yard. It quickly bounded away when he saw that I was there, but they have also found shade underneath decks, and I came across this one off of the bike path near one of the gold courses, just enjoying an early afternoon munch.

But the animals are also brought in by the residents of the ranch. Early in the evening, you can always see people out walking their dogs and there are even more lounging on the decks that overlook the various bike trails. Some of them have even become staples of the people that come to visit on a regular basis. They are probably the most friendly of the residents of the ranch and are always willing to get to know a stranger a little better.

Overall, it is the animals of the ranch that transform the place from a mere vacation spot to a place of fun and surprises. It is one of the main reasons that I love this place so much.

Time to Take the Summer in – The Move Day 22

Mueller State Park in Colorado

I have really enjoyed the time that I have gotten to spend with family in friends over the last couple of weeks in both Colorado and Oregon. It is great to catch up and to go out and see a bunch of spots that I am familiar with as well as some new ones that have popped up since I have been away. Being back in the country that I grew up in brings back a comfortability that can’t be matched, but it has also worn me out.

It is probably one of the biggest complaints that I hear from people who decide to make a career out of international teaching, coming home can be exhausting. It is not a bad kind of exhausting. You get to see the people that you love and catch up, but the problem that comes is when you are being pulled in twelve different directions so you can make sure that you spend enough time with everybody you have come back home to see. By the time I get back to my job overseas, I am worn out and I need to get back to work so I can schedule some down time.

Glaze Meadow Pool at Black Butte Ranch

I know it sounds kind of bad that I am whining about going out to eat on a regular basis, hanging out with family and friends, and taking a break from the grind of being a teacher. Do not get me wrong. I love my summer vacation. I need it in order to recharge my batteries, so I can take on the pressures of the work that I do. I also love seeing all of these people and the fun stories that I get to create along the way. But I also need that time of mindless vacation where I have no concerns or worries, and I can take in the moment a little for myself.

Some of the trails at Black Butte Ranch

I am lucky in this aspect for there is a place where my path leads me every summer where I can do this exact thing, Black Butte Ranch. This little gem in the high desert of Central Oregon forces me to take time and just relax. It is a beautiful spot filled with lodgepole pine trees and clumps of aspens. It boasts of four pools where you can just kick up you feet and soak in the sun, and if you want to take a more active break, it has miles of bike paths that will get you lost for a time but also will take you back to a familiar spot eventually. There are also tennis courts and two amazing golf courses. You can go enjoy yourself at the parks or the little lake in the middle of the ranch that rents out paddles boards and kayaks or during the dusk hours attracts fishermen and bats looking for bugs that you can watch. There are three different restaurants and a couple of snack bars so you can grab a tasty bite to eat or a drink. All of this and more is at least a ten minute drive from any form of commercialized civilization that just pushes you into that stage of being completely disconnected from your problems and worries.

I am glad that I have been able to make it out here to really take in the summer months and relax for a bit. So for all of you that I have caught up with over the summer, it has been great seeing you and I miss you already, but I need a little John time and the best place in the world I have found where I can get this is Black Butte Ranch. So I am going to take this time to recharge the batteries and get ready for that next jump over the pond to my next adventure in international teaching in Thailand.

 

 

Air Quality in Seoul – The Move Day 20 – 21

Any day in Seoul when you can look up into the sky and see a color that might be called blue, it is a clear day, and a great one to go outside. The fact of the matter is there are not many days where you can see a clear blue sky, and even more that you can taste the grime that is clinging to the particles of air floating around. And in the four years that I lived in Seoul, it got worse to the point during my last school year there, we had to call a high pollution day because it was not safe for students to come to school. It makes living in Seoul hard, and it is the most difficult problem that South Koreans face to this day.

Even though this problem does exist in a nation that comes up with new technological advances, they look at this problem as not being of their design. On the other hand, it is trendy to blame somebody else. Many Koreans look to their neighbors to the west as the cause of all of their problems, China. The claim goes that the wind currents take the fine dust and the pollution from the country over the Yellow Sea and dump it strategically on the nation’s capital. Even though there is some truth to this, it is not the major cause for the pollution of Seoul. It is just a way for the citizens to find a scapegoat, so they do not need to do anything to solve the problem, and if they want to have clear skies that highlight the jewel of their nation, they need to quit making this claim, and start doing something themselves to create cleaner air.

The first thing that the nation could do is to make a bigger effort to push for renewable energy. This nation consumes a lot of energy, and according to Reuter’s 70 percent of it comes from coal and nuclear power plants. President Moon at least recognized this part of the problem during the last couple of springs, and when pollution was at its worst, he shut down some of the coal producing plants, and it was amazing to see how the air quality improved overnight. But it can’t be all about the shutting down of power plants if they want to keep up with the energy output that they have become accustomed to, and there is no way they will be able to do that during the bitter cold winter months as people try to warm their homes. The move towards renewable energy needs to happen if this country wishes to be competitive in the future.

There are other things that they can do as well. When I first moved to the country, I was amazed by the amount of recycling that went on because the amount of land in this small, overcrowded country cannot be used to store trash. But as I found out later a lot of the plastic was shipped to China for recycling. When China decided to no longer take this waste, South Korea, the world’s highest per capita consumption rate, needed to think of a way to get rid of this waste. Since its biggest landfill was 80 times over its capacity, they decided to burn the plastic, sending more toxins into the already polluted air. Instead of being a solution to the problem, it just made the problem worse. They need to think of ways of consuming less and recycling their own waste instead of relying on other countries to do so.

The city planning of Seoul has a lot to contribute to this problem as well. Granted, the public transportation system in this country is amazing, and if people would utilize more often, it would cut down on the pollution quite a bit, but like America, Korea has a love fascination with their cars. It has created a big traffic problem in the country’s capital that is part of the big debate going on with the current mayoral race. Part of the reason for this traffic is that traffic lights only let one way through at a time while three other directions sit there idling. They have also created road systems that force people to drive long distances to find a way from one road to another when they could get there in less than a kilometer if they took a more direct route. This would be a bigger problem to solve if they wanted to tackle it, and they would have to focus on one area at a time, but eventually they would find that if they started making these construction choices, the problems of traffic would eventually relieve itself.

Even though it sounds like I am criticizing Korea for this problem, and stating that they are the only one that has it, that is not the intent of this post. I do believe that the ingenuity and determination of these people will allow them to overcome this problem just as long as they first admit that they have a problem. I want to point out this problem to other places in the world, specifically the United States who is also burrowing their heads in the sand thinking that this problem does not apply to them. Granted, the United States has a lot more land, and there was not the pollution in the air during my visit to Colorado that I had become accustomed to in Korea, but the potential for it getting that way is becoming bigger each year. The United States needs to admit that they have a problem as well and take steps to solve it. You want clean air. It makes your standard of living that much better. You do not want to be stuck inside looking out the window hoping the pollution clears so you can see across the street. You want to be the shining example instead of the exception. So please look to the problems of Seoul as your own problem and start to do something to insure the beauty and majesty of this country so it does not look like a dirty ashtray that will become a bigger problem to clean up later.

Some Truth about South Korea – The Move Day 19

I was recently introduced to an individual in my parents’ neighborhood, and he was told that I was living in South Korea, but was making the move to Thailand. His first response was that at least I would be moving some place safer.

Over the four years that I have lived in South Korea, this notion has come up time and time again, that the people of this nation are always on edge because of their neighbor to the north. This couldn’t be further from the truth. The danger that is being discussed in the United States media makes the situation more desperate than it really is. In fact, Seoul is probably one of the safest places on the face of this planet. Yes, there is some discussion about Kim Jung-Eun and the threat that he poses, but it mainly centers around the idea of reunification of the two countries, and the big worry is about what that would do to the economy of South Korea. They are not worried about a nuclear threat, or an invading army coming from the north.

In fact, when I come back to the United States, I need to remind myself that I cannot be living the same life style that I do in Seoul. I need to lock my doors at night, or when I get out of my car. I need to be aware of my possessions when I am out in public so they do not suddenly disappear. I need to make sure that I do not say the wrong thing to the wrong person so they want to pull a gun out to prove that they are correct. These things do not happen in South Korea.

Now don’t get me wrong. There are still some risks involved with living there, but they mainly involve the air quality and the drivers on the road. But as far as somebody getting into a fight with you, it just does not happen. I think I only saw somebody lose their temper a couple of times while I was out there, and one of those times was while I was standing out in the cold at the ski jump during the Olympics, so he might not have even been Korean. But I think he was.

Things do not get stolen either. I have left my phone on the steps of a public building while I coached my cross country runners, and it was picked up and brought to me by some random stranger. My friend left his wallet on a public bus, and waited until the same bus came around again an hour, and it was right where he had left it. People do not steal things in this country unless it is the answers to an SAT test, but that is a subject for a different blog.

They actually did a study where they put random backpacks on the subways seeing if people would take them. At first, they were surprised because all of the trackers showed that somebody had picked up the backpack and were moving with them. But then they all started moving to the same location which happened to be the subway system’s lost and found. I have not found a more honest group of people than the South Koreans that I have come across.

So what I am trying to say is that you have to take the media you watch and be critical of the message that they are trying to present to you. They know that they will gain a greater viewership if they hype up the hysteria a little bit. You can get more accurate more information if you go to the source. Now I know that a lot of people do not know somebody living in South Korea or any of the other places that are under turmoil as presented by the nightly news, but look to what other reports are coming out of the same region. How could a place that promotes huge bands such as BTS and BlackPink be under attack all the time from another country? The pop culture that is coming out of the country might tell you the truth about what is going on there. And finally if you are really curious, see how easy it is to visit. By being there you will see the reality of the situation, and please stop telling me that South Korea is a dangerous place to live in. If you have ever been there you will realize how foolish that statement actually is.