A Puzzling Problem – The Move Day 5

Even though one of the main reasons that we came back to the United States this time around is because we are homeless, and this is a great place to be while we wait to move into our new place. Though that may be one of the reasons that we are back, the real reason is to visit family and friends, and the summertime is the best time to do that. We had just landed in Denver, and were ready to spend time with my side of the family for a couple of weeks. The first stop here was at my sister’s place and she had invited my parents over for a bar-b-q and we sat in the back yard on a cold Colorado summer night to catch up. It was fun, but the night that really brought everybody together was when we walked by a recent puzzle that was laid out to be put together.

It started off simple with none of the pieces put together yet, but the edges had already been separated from the rest of the puzzle. I made a little joke that it wasn’t too difficult and I would be the first one to put two of the pieces together. I quickly found two of the obvious ones and connected them. Christine dismissed that as being too easy and that the real challenge was getting the pieces that looked similar together. Of course, I couldn’t let that challenge be dismissed without finding another piece to put in the puzzle, and quickly found another one. This is when my sister showed up to see what we were doing. It was only a matter of a short time before other members of the family came over. Like some modern version of a Norman Rockwell painting, we had all gathered around the table, and the puzzle started to pull itself together into the image that we saw on the box.

This simple pass time had this incredible power of bringing everybody together. Before I started to put together two pieces, family members were all over the place, inside and outside of the house. Some were watching videos on their tablets; others were looking at problems that were happening with this outdoor fire pit; while others were cleaning up the meal that we had just enjoyed. There was unity among the various pieces of the family, but the bigger picture wasn’t together yet. It wasn’t until two of the family members started to gather around the borders of the puzzle that others started to gather there as well. It was a slow process. Some connected with the building of the puzzle quickly while some of the others stood on the periphery, not willing to make the commitment yet. But as the puzzle drew one or more into putting it together, the final holdouts finally gave up denying the temptation and came into play with the rest of the family. Before I knew it, the picture was complete. Everybody had gathered around as one family unit.

As families grow older, the tendency to spread apart becomes more pronounced. Members find their own passions, and move to other corners of the globe. Even though they may not be present, they are a part of the bigger picture. It takes some kind of event to bring them back together in-between the borders of the family. Sometimes, it is something simple like a jigsaw puzzle on a cool summer evening. Other times, it is bigger events like holidays or celebrations. But when all of the pieces finally come together and the picture becomes some that everybody can recognize, family.

What I Will Miss from Korea – Norabong – The Move Day 4

As I ease my way into my new life, I look back at the last four years, and think about the fun that I was able to have in this country I have grown to love. There are many things that I enjoyed, but the one place that brought me the most memories would have to be the norabongs. There are other places like these in other countries, but there is something about the norabongs in Korea that are a lot of fun. They would be my one true guilty pleasure from this country.

What is a narobong, you ask?

Well, it is hard to describe without telling the stories that happen in them, but rule one if the norabongs is, what happens in the norabong, stays in the norabong. I know that I make it sound like some illegal and illicit goes on in these places, and they are not like that at all. It is just that people have a tendency to let go in norabongs, and they might not want other people talking about their performance the next day.

Yes, it is a performance based place. Basically, you get your own little room that you and your closest friends rent. In it, you are given a bunch on tambourines, and microphones. There is also a large book with an extensive list of pop songs that correspond to the karaoke machine that is hooked up to the large screen television. From there it is just the time to let loose, and this is the place where you can really let loose. The amounts of cheap beer and soju that you can order from the front counter really allow this to happen.

I know you are thinking this is nothing more than a glorified karaoke bar, and in a way you might be right. But there is a distinct difference between singing in front of a bunch of your closest friends when you don’t care what they think about you, and doing it in front of a bunch of strangers. When you are with the people you can trust, your inner rock star comes out, and you start acting the fool. It is this moment that you can really let go that makes these places the hidden gems of South Korea.

So when I think back on my time in Seoul, one of the places I am going to miss the most are the norabongs. I have had some great evening at these places, and I would always wake up the next morning being barely able to speak because of all of the songs I belted out in the norabong rooms. I don’t claim that I was good even though I would score 100s on the songs a lot of the times, but this was probably due to the fact that I had volume and rhythm, not any other musical talent. It was still worth the laryngitis because it was the one place that I could leave all pretensions at the door, and just enjoy the moment. It is a must do thing if you ever make it to South Korea, and it will always be one of the things I miss the most from my four years there.

Summer in Seattle – The Move Day 3

I need to officially make an apology. If you read my post yesterday I talked about waking up on the floor in Seattle. This is not the truth. I have been given a lovely, and very comfortable air mattress to sleep on, and without it I would not have ever gotten over jet lag so quickly.  I need to thank my sister-in-law for her hospitality.

The view from the oldest Starbuck’s looking at the farmer’s market at Pike Place Market.

And yesterday, I was able to enjoy her hospitality even more by heading to downtown Seattle to enjoy a beautiful summer day. Most people think of Seattle as a dreary and rainy place, and for most of the year, they are probably right. But if you are ever in Seattle during the summer months, the rain clouds get blown out of the way, the sun comes shining down, and it is the perfect time to go outside and enjoy the day. There are plenty of things to do when it is sunny outside too. Being right on Puget Sound, there are many things to do on the water. Go to the shore, and you can see people out there on boats, kayaks or paddled boards. And if you go to the right points during the right time of the year, you can see whales as they make their migration through the waters. There are also many great restaurants and night spots, and if the Mariners are in town, you could always go out and catch a baseball game.

The strange art that can be found at Pike Place Market

But Seattle’s biggest draw on the waterfront is the Pike Place Market. The daily catch of fish is brought here, and the farmers will also come in with their freshest produce. This is the place that offers Seattles most iconic picture of big salmon being tossed from one employee to another so they can sell it to the nearest customer. Despite the fresh food that can be bought here, it also has the oldest Starbuck’s, a few brew pubs, and a bunch of tiny shops that offer anything from souvenir t-shirts to little knick-knacks that are made by some local artist. Musicians will come down and perform for spare change, and there is one of the strangest collection of eclectic people that you will ever see. It is a great way to spend an afternoon, and I do not believe that it could ever get boring, no matter how many times you visit it.

The view from the top portion of Pike Place Market and the construction taking place right now

Unfortunately, right now, it is being renovated and expanded. The demand for new shops and new nooks and crannies has caused Seattle to tear down the eyesore that was the overpass that ran along the coast, and to build more to their biggest tourist destination. It makes it a little difficult to navigate at this time. If you want to get from the pier to the central market, you might have to go up certain elevators, find hidden staircases, and backtrack from time to time, but in the long run, it will make this part of Seattle even more exciting and fun to visit.

The sunset over Alki Beach

Even though Seattle has this image of always raining, there is a reason that so many people flock to this city to visit or live, summer. It makes me see why this place has grown over the years into one of America’s most iconic cities, and I am glad that I got to spend a little time out here while I am in the process of moving. I would also like to thank my sister-in-law again for the great space for me and all my stuff and your air mattress is a lot more comfortable than it would be sleeping on the hard floor.

Waking up on the Floor in Seattle – The Move Day 2

My happy morning face

The biggest question I have gotten from my friends over the last couple of weeks has been, “Has it hit you yet?”

It is a legitimate question, especially from teachers. They know the feeling when it finally does hit. It usually happens about a week or two into summer. They have been running at a break-neck pace throughout the school year to make sure that their students get the most out of every moment during the school day, and all of a sudden it is over. The pace slows down, but the mind still grips on to this reality that they have been forced to live for ten months. And then some time during that second week, every teacher will look over at whoever they are hanging out with, and ask, “What day of the week is it?” That is when it hits them. They are on summer break, and they can now relax a little bit before the insanity starts up again.

This feeling happens to everybody who goes through huge changes in their lives. They know that it is coming, and they try to handle it with grace while trying to juggle all their usual responsibilities. It makes life busier than what they are used to, and they do not really have the time to process the change that they are going through. It isn’t until they have started to live that new lifestyle that they can actually process the change that their life has undergone. That is when it has officially hit them.

When my friends asked me if it had hit me yet over the past couple of weeks, they were talking about the fact that I would be wrapping up my life in one country and moving out to another country; that the great students I got to work with in Korea would no longer be a part of my life, and that I would be working with a completely new set of students with their owns little quirks and ambitions; that the lifestyle that I had become accustomed to over the past four years would have to change and I would have to adjust a whole new culture and language. It would be a lot to process for anybody, and I was too busy closing out the school year, and packing to really think about it. When asked that question, I would always have to tell them, “No, it probably won’t hit me until I wake up on the floor in Seattle.”

A rare sunset from Alki Beach in West Seattle

Well, yesterday was that day. I had taken all of my worldly possessions, and put them on a plane to travel half way around the world to end up crashing on a floor at my sister-in-law’s place in Seattle. And yes, I did spend the day walking around like a person that only grabbed a couple of hours of sleep on a long plane ride finding themselves in a completely different time zone, but I was able to start to process that changes that my life was going through. And of course, it is a little scary because there is a little bit of the unknown that I am venturing out into. But at the same time, it is exciting because it means that I will get to enjoy a new adventure that allows me to see the world in a whole new way.

But at the same time, the answer is only partly true. The whole reality has not hit me yet. I can only process the fact that I am no longer a resident of South Korea. So I will have to adjust my answer for those who ask me if it has hit me yet. It won’t be able to process how much life has changed until I wake up in my new place in Bangkok. So until then I will continue to move my worldly possession from place to place and wake up in various other places in America in the meantime.

The Legacy – The Move Day 1

The last view I had of my classroom over the past four years.

“My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings,
Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!”
– “Ozymandias” by Percy Bysshe Shelley

One of my favorite poems to teach during my tenure at Korea International School was Percy Bysshe Shelley’s “Ozymandias” especially during the year where the ones in charge came up with the theme of “Leave a Legacy”. I have always thought this poem gave a truth about life and the legacies that we leave behind, and I have been thinking about these things a lot during my last couple of months as I wrapped up my time there. Is it possible to leave a legacy behind? How long will it be before my name is no longer mentioned in the hallways of the school that I had spent four years at? Should I feel offended that as soon as the last students I taught there, I will quickly be forgotten?

The last view of my apartment I had lived in for the last four years.

It made it even harder as I packed up all of my stuff and took all of artwork off of my bulletin boards that everything was returning back to the way it was when I first arrived in Korea, stark, undecorated, and sanitary. My last look at my classroom, and the last look of my apartment had the same feel, all traces of my impact had been washed away so the next person that came in to take my place could start to make their mark. As I prepared to get ready for my next adventure in Thailand, I couldn’t help but looking at my time here and wonder if it had been worth the time and effort that I had put into it.

Life in Dongcheon-dong continuing on.

As far as the greater impact my presence had to South Korea as whole, it was hard to make me believe that I had actually done something. The society still moves on like a well-oiled machine. People continue to work jobs to try to get a little ahead, and students still work themselves hard to try to become a part of this cycle. Words of a madman to the north passes the lips of the people from time to time as they wonder how their relationships with larger nations from the west affect what is going on. Poor air from the east mingles with the exhaust of the big city to make some days unsafe to venture outside, but on the days you can, it is a beautiful experience to watch the blooming of spring, the green of summer, or the melancholy of autumn. The year comes and the year goes, and we get mixed into the grind.

Knowing all of this, how can I look at the empty classroom and the empty apartment and believe that I had an impact?

The last moment before getting in the cab to depart South Korea forever.

It was while I was riding away in the taxi to the airport, spending those last moments in South Korea that the answer came to me. I could not worry about making a huge change in society. What I did would eventually be returned to a state as if I had never been there. My legacy should not come from the programs I made or the mark I left behind; it should come from the connections I made with the people I came across. This is what made my time in Korea worth every moment. I do believe that every student that went through my class now has a different perspective on the world, and will think about what they witness more instead of just accepting it as the truth, while challenging the truths that I always believed to be true. I do believe that the colleagues that I worked with in my four years grew because of my influence almost as much as I have grown as a teacher because of their influence. And more importantly, I do believe that the society has felt a minor shock wave because of the slightly punk rock hippie that invaded their world for four years, as I learned to look at my world with a more international perspective.

It wasn’t all about my legacy. It was about their legacy as well. I hope the people I came in contact with during these four amazing years have somehow been changed by presence, because I know I have been changed by their presence.

Thank you Korea for four amazing years full of happiness and heartache. Each moment has allowed me to grow as a person, and even though I may no longer be living and working out there anymore, your legacy lives on with me.

Like a Dog in Dirt on a Hot Day – The PreMove Day 4

For those of you following this blog the last few days, you know that I have not done a really good job of capturing the essence of my new home in Bangkok with the pictures I took. I had been busy meeting new people, arranging new accommodations, and learning a little bit about my new position. Because of this, I did not pull out my phone very often to take pictures. That is the real reason that you are not getting a good visual representation. This theme continued on my last day in town, and this is the only picture that I took of that day. Normally I would not have shared a picture like this with you, but it is all I had, so it is what I have to go with. I also have to explain something profound and deep by only using this picture that really describes the way I feel about taking on this new challenge in my life. So all I could come up with is that my move feels like a dog in dirt on a hot day.

I know that this might seem like a huge leap to make a connection with, but for those of you that have dogs and have been outside with them on a hot day, you will know what I am talking about. My dog, Bear, who I have talked about on this blog from time to time, would find dirt on a hot day, and dig himself a hole. It was under that initial layer of dirt where he would be able to find a nice cool patch that he would cozy up to in order to cool off. He would be able to sleep the afternoon away with a big old grin on his face, much like the dog was that I had come across when I took the picture.

Now what does this have to do with my move. Well, going out to Bangkok and meeting all of these new people while looking at the place where I was going to live was like finding a nice cool patch of dirt on a hot summer day. It was really great to get to know these people a little before making the move. I did not long lasting friendships in that short period, but it calm down my nerves a bit that the people I will be working with are dedicated educators who like to have fun at the same time. It also showed me about the new place I am going to live, a comfortable house that is not too large, and not too small and has enough character to make it unlike any of the other houses that other people might live in. It also showed me the neighborhood I am going to live in with all of amenities and escapes that I will enjoy over the next years. I was everybody to find a little bit of comfort in a stressful time, and it had helped to alleviate some of my concerns.

Moving to a new place can be very stressful, and moving to a new culture and country can add a lot to that stress. I had been feeling that pressure over the last couple of weeks as I tried to wrap up my time in Korea while getting ready for my next jump. It is the busy time of the school year as the things that brought comfort in my house slowly disappeared as I started to pack things up. Add on to all of this one big unknown, and I would toss and turn throughout the evening as I tried to make sense of something I would never be able to touch. That is why this trip was so important to me. I did not take a lot of pictures because I was too busy digging into the dirt of my new life until I could find that comfortable spot. I know it was just a premove to the bigger jump that will take place towards the middle of the summer, but it has given me the comfort that I was looking for. And just like that dog in the picture I have found joy. Of course, there are still some trials and tribulations coming up in the next few weeks, but for right now I am going to enjoy the cool and get the sleep I have been looking for. I will be just like a dog in dirt on a hot day.

Sammakorn – The PreMove Day 3

I started the day promising myself that I would take more pictures during the day.

I ended up taking one.

I would like to claim that this little place is available for rent on Air B n’ B for a very modest price, but I cannot in all honesty make that claim. At first, I was amazed at the sheer size of the place. There was no way that this place could be somebody’s house. It had to be a clubhouse for one of the neighborhoods in Bangkok, but after I talked to a couple of people in the area, that it was in fact somebody’s house. Apparently, there was a rich model that owned this place, and lived there with her family. It blew my mind that this kind of place could be situated so close to places like I had posted the day before. But that is what goes on in Bangkok and I am going to have to accept this reality to soon because in a couple of months, it will be a part of my reality.

Today was spent looking for a place to live in the neighborhood where this house sat, Sammakorn. This place is a twenty minute drive during good traffic from the school I will be working in, and even though the neighborhood around the school was very nice with a lot to offer, I felt like Sammakorn was more my speed. There were a lot of great restaurants in this neighborhood and a huge street market. The houses belonged more to a neighborhood with more Thai people living in it, so I would have to learn the language in order to get around more, and be forced to be a part of the culture more. This is the whole reason that I moved overseas in the first place. I don’t want to just live in a different country; I really want to get to know its culture and people. I felt like this was the place where I could do that.

It took all day of looking at many different places and talking to many different landlords, but we eventually was able to find a new place that I would call my home next year. I know you want me to supply you with pictures, but like I said earlier, I didn’t take any. I wasn’t thinking about it as I was looking at these places. I was more concerned with what the place looked like and if I could be comfortable there. The place we decided on is tucked away in a quiet neighborhood. It is a one floor house with a tiny yard, but it has a nice front patio protected from the shade of a mango tree. And yes, the mango tree produces fresh mangoes twice a year. We were told over a thousand every year. Now, I am sure that is an exaggeration, but twice a year, I will be enjoying fresh mango on a regular basis. It also has a brand new kitchen with a full sized fridge. I haven’t had a full sized fridge in so long that I forgot what it was like to open my fridge door without something falling out of it. It is also has three bedrooms and two full baths with one of other bathrooms having a great fresco of a jaguar painted into the tile. The whole house has made me really excited about the move, and has made the moving process even a little easier.

Overall, the day proved to be very productive, and justified the reason that we came out in the first place. Of course, I was also able to spend the day getting to know a few of my new colleagues and checking out the places in our new neighborhood, but it is the house that we found that makes me know that I have also found a home. It will be a couple of months before I get to see it again, but in the meantime, it has put my mind at ease. It is not as big as the mansion that I took a picture of, but I would never want something that big. I am glad that these small things are coming together, and making the move that will happen soon easier.