Searching for Snow

Growing up, one of the things I enjoyed the most about the holiday season was the blustery, wintery days of Colorado. When I moved to Korea, I was not able to enjoy this as much. Yes, for all of you worried about the Winter Olympics, it does snow in South Korea, but not nearly at the same level that it does in Colorado. I am lucky to see a snow that is over three inches in depth once a year, and it turns into an icy mess that slowly disappears over the next couple of days. I do live in Seoul which is close to the Yellow Sea, so it does not experience the same snowy weather that a landlocked location like Colorado does, but if you go further inland to the mountains of Korea, it gets the cold and snow necessary for a big event like the Winter Olympics.

When Winter Break came around in my school, I decided to do something a little different than I had during my other two years of living overseas. Instead of taking a long vacation to a country that was far away and I had never been to before, I decided to go back to the place where I grew up because I knew that I would be able to find snow there. There was an added bonus to this, I would be able to experience a Christmas like I had grown up with, cold chilly nights, presents under the tree, and family to share the experience with. That is not to say that the other countries I traveled to did not know what it is like to celebrate Christmas; it is just that the warmer climates I had been for the last couple of years gave me a different holiday experience than I am used to.

I know that I can’t expect the world to celebrate Christmas the same way that they do in Colorado, especially considering that they have their own cultures and their own climates, and because of that, they are going to view their world in their own special way. It is funny to see the banners with pictures of Santa or Frosty the Snowman on a sunny day in Australia. It is even weirder to hear Christmas carols in New Zealand that praise the hot weather. But I should expect those things when I fly to the other side of the world during their summer months. I can’t expect snow down there.

That’s why when I landed in Vancouver and started to get closer to my destination, I started to get excited about what I would find in Colorado. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy spending time in hot, sunny climates, but I appreciate them even more when I get to experience a serious snow event every once in a while. Vancouver is not one of the places in the world that can really boast about its annual snowfall because of its proximity to the coast, but I could feel the nip in the air as I wandered around the airport, and I knew that it was only a few more hours before I got to see that snowy climate.

When I finally did arrive in the land of my youth, a strange occurrence happened. The snow I was hoping to see was not there. In fact, it was nice and sunny outside. It wasn’t as warm as it was my two previous holiday breaks in Australia and New Zealand, but it was warm enough where I could walk around outside with nothing more heavy than a hoody on. I had apparently forgotten about one of the main factors of Colorado, it is not always cold and blustery there.

Many people, when they think of Colorado, think of it the way that I had thought about it during the last couple of months before I got to return to it, snowy and cold all of the time. But there is a secret about Colorado that many of its citizens do not like to let out into the public. Colorado has more sunny days a year than Los Angeles. I know most people would call me a liar when they hear this fact, but it is true. Colorado has weather where one day it is cold and blustery, and the next day it is sunny and warm. In fact, when I first arrived back in Colorado, I was experiencing temperatures in the mid 60s. People have asked me that if this was the case then why don’t more people move to Colorado, and even though there are a lot of people moving there right now, there is still a good reason why they do not come. Denver is a really ugly place to be at during the winter if there is no snow around.

Unlike places that have mild temperatures during the winter and do not get to as much sun, they do get a lot of rain during those times. The only moisture that Colorado gets during the winter months is from the snow, and this snow is completely different than the kind that is found on the coastal regions. It does not contain a lot of moisture in it, so it is light and fluffy creating that amazing skiing powder that Colorado is famous for. Because of this, the trees out in Denver do not get a lot of much needed moisture during the winter months, and so the grass grows brown in it dormancy, and the trees look like bare stick protruding out of the ground. It makes for a desolate scene that can only be saved by snowfall.

This is in stark contrast to the other place in America that I visited during my trip, the Pacific Northwest. This part of the country does get snowfall from time to time and I was told on our trip that last year Oregon experienced many days of snow around the holidays. It did not get that much snow this year though. What it did get was more typical of a Pacific Northwest winter, rain. Even though it is cold outside, it is still really beautiful because the trees are getting the moisture they need to remain green giving the landscape a beautiful covering that looks as if life stills breathes through it.

Even though it is really pretty, it still did not give me the Christmas feeling I was looking for. Where were the piles of snow that would indicate that the holiday was right around the corner? It made for some nice chilly walks, but I still wanted to huddle inside a home with a warm cup of coffee as I watched the sky dump white stuff everywhere. But I should have expected as much when I came to the Pacific Northwest. Snow is not that natural of an occurrence out there.

But it was while I was traveling through the cold paths of the Pacific Northwest, that I started to find something else that reminded me more of the holidays than the snow I longed for. It was a little subtle at first, but the more I moved around the area, the more I was able to discover it.

It was with me, even in the darker corners of the bars and restaurants I went to. It was a warmth that was created by the holiday season that the lack of snow could not contain.

It was really strange to find this thing in bars, because there is a weird vibe that can be found at these places during the holiday season. It can be a group of friends gathered together sharing a good time, but at the same time, it could be a group of individuals huddled around their separate drinks, drowning their pains and sorrows in the moment. If you are having a hard time deciding which type of bar it is as you stroll outside, just listen to the music playing inside. If it is 70s Christmas music, then the bar is filled with the lonely because there is nothing more depressing than hearing “Rockin’ around the Christmas Tree” in a bar.

Luckily, the bars I wandered into were of the second kind filled with good beer, and good friends. This was when I started to realize that what I should be looking for shouldn’t be snow, but reconnecting with a world of people I had left behind, and a culture I had not gotten to experience for a couple of years. I needed to soak in the absurdity that is Americana, and enjoy it for every moment I was there.

When I started to look at my trip through this lens, the world began to change drastically. I quit searching the ground for flakes that would never arrive, and instead started to see the changes that had taken place over the last couple of years. By the way, the free water you get from the tap is better.

I also started to see the ever-present trends presented in a new way but which I could still embrace because of its comfortable familiarity. I know that C3PO has become an international symbol, but I believe only America could find him as a lawn decoration in celebration of Christmas.

It showed me the other really cool things that Americans did. Walking through a neighborhood, I came across a couple of the give one, take one libraries that bring a neighborhood together. Even though this is something that happens year round in these places, it did show me the true meaning of the holiday spirit. It is about the bringing together people under a single idea instead of isolating them behind the warm doors of their homes, protecting them against the cold that was piling up outside, but excluding them from society.

I spent a lot of this trip looking for something I had missed when I moved abroad. I wandered down many paths and looked in many crooks and crannies to try and find it. The sad thing was that what I was looking for was not what I should have been looking for in the first place. There was something bigger that I was missing from being away from America and when I came across it, I found that this is what I should have been looking for all along.

I wasn’t going to find it in the desolate landscape of Colorado, or the piles of driftwood found on the beaches of West Seattle. I could only find it in the place where I already was, and it was the greatest thing I could have taken away from this trip.

The warmth I wanted huddled inside while watching the snow fall to the ground outside a frosty window was already there. That warmth comes from my loved ones, and being able to spend quality time with them. It is these moments that I took with me as I came back to Korea. Being able to enjoy the company of a dog again. Dinners with family.

The next generation of my family enjoy Christmas the way I used to as a kid. It didn’t matter to them that there wasn’t any snow on the ground; they were just happy to be with their other siblings and cousins in the celebration of the holidays. It wasn’t about what they got, but who they spent time with and how they could be goofy around them. It was the tiny moments like this that made the holidays worth the long voyage.

We need to keep this in mind, especially around the holidays. We usually get so wrapped up in the commercial aspect of what the holiday season brings that we forget about what makes this season so great, spending time with the ones that we love. Too often we become like the salmon swimming upstream always pushing for that final destination without bothering to look around at the people around us and seeing that this is what is really important in the first place. I came to realize that I shouldn’t expect the holiday season to be a certain way, but instead just enjoy it for the way it was handed to me.

When I did that, the snow I was hoping for finally came. It made for the perfect trip back home, and one that I will treasure for years to come.

This post brought to you by Tag: A Cautionary Tale, now for sale at

 

 

The Other Side of Korea

I have now spent over two years living in Korea, and during that time, I have spent most of it in Seoul. In fact, I have rarely voyaged out of the main city to see what other things that this country has to offer. I have often thought of Korea as just Seoul,  the capital city filled with intense people that push and shove their way through life to get everything they want. After living here for that long, I have gotten into the groove of this hustle and bustle. I even started to wonder if there were any people in this country that wanted to slow down to experience life at a different pace. That was until I made my way down to Busan.

First of all, let’s get the big question out of the way. Yes, that Busan, the one made famous by the zombie movie released a couple of years ago. And yes, I did take the train to get down there, but I did not witness any zombies during the long voyage, unless you count the people who could barely keep their eyes open as they were gently rocked to sleep in a train car that had the heat up way too high. But it was a great symbol of the change in attitude that happened as we traveled through the rocky landscape of South Korea. The intensity of Seoul start to shed away with each kilometer we ticked away on the tracks until we arrived in the more laid back atmosphere of Busan.

Busan did not feel the pain and destruction caused by the north during the 1950s war. Because of this, there is more of a sense of history about the place. It has been able to hold on to the Korean culture a little more, and is more willing to share it with the world. It might have just been the fact that we stuck to more of the touristy locations while we were down there, and I live more in the suburb of Seoul, but I felt like I saw a bigger blend of cultures in this town than what I experience in Seoul. I think because of this more tolerant climate it has created a community that does not care as much about their appearance and the pursuit of success. People tend to enjoy themselves more because of this. I found myself not stressing out about the worries I had in life and was able to partake in the culture there.

Some of this might have to do with the many expansive beaches hugging the edge of the city. We spent our first day strolling along these. I have been told that Korean people will not visit the beaches after a certain day in the summer, but I found this not to be the case. Even though, they were not overcrowded with people looking for a spot to sunbathe, there were still many people enjoying the views. They just were not getting in the water, but I couldn’t blame them because it was only in the 50s.

The beaches are not the only feature in Busan worth checking out. Many people flock to the outskirts to see the impressive Haedong Yonggungsa temple. This is one of the more ancient structures still standing in Korea. It was built in 1376 and still serves many Buddhists that live in the area. The temple sits on a cliff looking out to the sea. We needed to cross over a bridge to see the massive Buddha built in the trees just above the temple. If you do visit, you need to stop on the bridge and look down to see two stone bowls place in nice pools next to a couple of intricate statues. If you can toss a coin into one of the bowls, you will be granted good luck. Many people gather at the edge of the bridge to try to get that luck granted from this experience.

Even though the temple was a great experience, it was the Gancheon Cultural village I enjoyed the most. The village was originally built during the Korean War as a place where refugees from the north could find safety and get a respite from the troubles they were experiencing. When you wander through its steep steps and narrow alleys, you can see this. It remained an eyesore in the middle of town until 2009 when students decided to spruce it up with a paint job. In Korea, this usually means grey, white or black, but these art students took a different route by supplying it with bright pastel colors, and hiding little interesting pieces of artwork throughout its windy paths. It is a fun part of any trip to Busan, and one that I would highly recommend. We waited until late afternoon to go and visit, but I would recommend spending the better part of a day down here because it doesn’t matter where you go around the place, you’ll find something interesting to see.

I am glad that I finally made it out of the big city to go and see another of Korea’s big cities. Even though Busan still packs over 3 million people in its borders, it definitely has a smaller town feel to it, and I was able to find a heart to Korea that goes beyond the Kpop and fashion world of Seoul. It quickly became my favorite place in Korea, and if you make a voyage out to this part of the world, it is worth the stay.

 

Lessons from Angkor Wat

There are many reason people go on vacation. They want to experience a new culture and learn about a different part of the world. They want to try new foods from the places that invented them. They want to go on an adventure. They want to relax. Sometimes, they are trying to pack all of these things in together, and Siem Reap, Cambodia is the perfect place to do just that.

Cambodia has seen its fair share of problems over the last century. It has experienced war, dictators, genocide, and economic devastation. Through all of this, it has been able to keep itself together as it worked through all of these problems, and the people of this small country in Southeast Asia still have a sense of identity and where they come from. Most of this is due to the incredible temples that lie in its backyard, the biggest of them being Angkor Wat.

These temples are not small little structures either. They are the remnants of what used to be a thriving metropolis of over a million people. It can be found in a forested area outside of Siem Reap, covering over 1,000 square kilometers, and demonstrating the height of the Khmer empire. The most impressive of the temples is Angkor Wat itself which was built in the early 12th century by King Suryavaman II to demonstrate the world what he was capable of and show his appreciation of the Hindu god, Vishnu.  These massive marvels of architecture were built as the same time as some of the more impressive cathedrals in Europe, and those Catholic churches can not come close to the size and scope that these temples present.

It is not just the size of these great temples that draws millions of people to this corner of the world. It is also the intricate carvings and designs that can be found all over them. One of the more impressive temples, Bayon, has about 200 massive faces of Lokesvara looking down at the people wandering around the crumbling walls. Wherever you look, his smiling face smiles down upon you reminding you of the greatness of this once thriving society.

But the statues and carving don’t only come in sizes larger than man. They range from medium to even small. Whole walls have carvings of individual people depicting what life would have looked like during this age. It would have taken a group of workers a long time to create these images because no two of the people carved into the wall look alike, showing the productivity of this incredible society. You can’t help but be amazed as you walk around the grounds.

But there is another story one can’t help to wonder about while looking at the once majestic landscape. How did this place go from one of the greatest, and strongest societies in the world to this place trying to pull itself out of the abject poverty it is experiencing now? Where did it misstep? How can its story tell us about some of the other nations in the world? Should the United States take note on the fate of Angkor Wat?

There is one thing history tells us time and time again and that is its greatest societies eventually fall apart and crumble. And even though during the height of these empires they were able to create amazing things that the world would marvel at for centuries to come, it will only stand as  a tourist attraction and no longer the greatness that once was the civilization’s golden age. We are only left with the wonder of what life would have really been like to have lived in this period. The true greatness of the place eventually returns to the earth from which it originally came.

It makes you start to wonder what your place in history will be. Where will the great civilizations of today be when technology had improved so much to make what we have today obsolete? Does it lessen the pompous attitudes of so many of the world leaders who strut upon their stages thinking that they are mightier than time itself? Will their impact truly be lasting or will it be reserved for the curiosity of the historians in the future? What monuments will they leave behind and will we only marvel at them for the way they have been returned to the humility that they once belonged to and not the effort extended to make them what they were during the height of when they were built?

I look at Cambodia today and realize that they were once one of the major players in the world. They used to matter as a military, economic, and cultural powerhouse, but people today just regard the society as a place trying to crawl out of the poverty that now grips its citizens. The sad thing is they do not realize that this is the fate of all great cultures, and we should look upon its fate with humility because it is also our future. It might not happen in the recent future, but there will be a time when tourists will take trips out to the sites of the United States to marvel at what had once been and ponder why things could not have been different if the society had chosen to listen to the lessons of history instead of their pride.

But do not feel that there is no hope in Cambodia. Even though I thoroughly enjoyed the marvels of Angkor Wat, it was not the thing that most impressed me about the place. That would have to be the people. Here is a society that has seen pain, and destruction. Here is a group of people who sometimes wonder where their next meal is going to come from. Here is a land that suffered through years of drought only to be rewarded with flooding on an epic scale. Through all of this, the people still find a way to make the best of the situation. It is one of the world’s fastest growing economies, and the people of this country are not looking for a free handout or expecting to have jobs handed to them because they are Cambodian. They do it through programs that they know will help them grow as a country and a society mainly focusing on education. Granted, they still have a long way to go before they can grow back into the force they once were so many centuries ago, but looking at those towering monuments they left behind, it makes me realize that maybe some day they will once again be one of the more significant countries in the world. A lot of it has to do with their drive and the knowledge that they are doing it the right way by building up a lasting economy based on the strength and intelligence of its people. It shows me that the flux of power is a fickle thing, and those who have it should recognize that fact with humility instead of flaunting it.

This post is brought to you by Tag: A Cautionary Tale by John Collings, available at http://www.amazon.com/Tag-Cautionary-Tale-John-Collings/dp/1533623902

When Tommy knocks Franklin over and cries “You’s it!” he starts a game of Tag to end all games of Tag. Before long, boys gathering to play on Arabella Hill are consumed with the game, picking sides, forging allegiances and waging all-out war. In the process of the game, rules evolve, constitutions form, and lives are lost. From the mind of John Collings comes a satirical allegory about the clash of ideologies and what happens if this confrontation is never resolved. In the battle of the playground, there is only one question that matters–which team will emerge victorious?

Overcoming Adversity

Think back to that first moment when you first found out you could ride a bike. Your dad had let go of holding up the seat and you had balanced yourself enough so you could just let the wheels guide you to where you wanted to go. The wind whistled through your hair, and you grinned so big because you realized at that moment your whole life changed. You were no longer required to stay home. There was a whole neighborhood for you to explore, and all you had to do was hop on that bike so you could see every nook and cranny of it. For the first time in your life, you truly understood the meaning of the word, freedom.

But this sense of freedom did not come easily. A lot of heartbreak occurred along the way to you learning how to take that chance and become a proficient bike rider. You had to overcome the embarrassment of riding around the neighborhood with training wheels bolted on to your back tire, allowing your already bike-riding friends the opportunity to point and laugh at you. The arguments you had with your dad were equally frustrating as he would yell at you about the need to pedal and you would claim that you were pedaling, but deep down in your heart you knew you had too many other things on your mind to worry about his suggestion. The bruises and scrapes you collected during the process was a constant reminder of every time you failed. But the great thing was you never gave up. You persisted because you knew that the reward would be worth the struggle, and now you can no longer understand what it meant being unable to ride a bike. We forget about the process of what it took to get us where we are with our bike-riding ability today.

We eventually take for granted these important milestones in our life, and more importantly, as we get older, we rarely look for other opportunities that allow us to grow. We grow complacent in our daily routine, and sink into those comfortable moments. I find myself falling into this sinkhole from time to time, and it is when I start to see a danger of my life no longer being relevant. It is part of the reason that I love the fact that the school I work for, Korea International School, has a strong experiential education program.

I have been a big part of this program for the last three years as I have taken an active role in designing the trip that the sophomore class takes to Boramwon camp in the mountains a little southeast from Seoul. It has taken a couple of years to tweak the program to get it exactly where we want it, but it has now reached the level that the students will get a lot out of the experience. It centers around the hero’s journey, and just like that journey, the students are required to take their fears and worries on a series of trials and challenges that will allow them to overcome those things they struggle with. They have to take on low ropes, and high ropes challenges, biking, archery, rafting, hiking, and many other little adventures designed specifically to take them out of their comfort level.

It is a transformative experience. These kids come into the trip timid and shy, not knowing what to expect. But after each little challenge, they gain a little more confidence in themselves, and gain the willingness to try new, and scary things. In a world that is constantly changing, where we do not know what tomorrow will look like or what challenges will be presented to the human race, this kind of mentality is a really important to instill in students. Plus they have a great time in the process.

The challenge of experiential education is not only something for the students. Each trip challenges me as well. There is a certain amount of risk that is involved when you take inexperienced students out into the wilderness to test their wills and their athleticism. You can get the students lost on a mountain, or they may slip off of that bike and hurt themselves, but each of those setbacks are more important for the development of these kids than if they were able to breeze through each of the challenges. If they get lost on the mountain, they have to come together and think about the best course of action to get themselves safely down. As long as they keep their calm and think things through logically, they will be able to make it back to safety. When they come back to school and look at the next essay they have to write for their English classroom, it won’t look so daunting because they have already overcome something worse than that.

And if you think back to those days when you were first learning how to ride a bike, when you fell off, you quickly got back on. If you did not, then you would never have learned how to ride that bike, and enjoy the freedom that was gained from going through those troubled times learning how to ride. The reward was worth the pain that they suffered along the way.

When you learn how to ride that bike, or climb to the top of that mountain, you gain the greatest thing you can ever get in this lifetime, a story to tell, a memory to cherish, an accomplishment that no one can ever take away. These are the things that can never be learned in a classroom. They can only be obtained through the trial that was experienced. This is the importance of an experiential education program, and it is the reason that I can always be happy to be a part of this moment with my students, every year.

Seeing Home for the First Time

There is something strange that happens to the place you grew up in when you return to it after you have been away from it for awhile. You start to see it for the first time. You start to understand why the place you grew up in helped to define the person you have become today.

For example, I grew up with mountains always staring down on me from the west. They were such a part of who I was that I started to not notice them. Relatives of mine who grew up in the Midwest would come out to visit and would be amazed at their beauty and majesty. We would wind our way through the peaks, and they would stare out the windows with their mouths hanging open hoping to take it all in.

I would look up out of my window and say, “Yep, that’s a mountain.” They were something that was always there, and I did not need to think about it beyond that. Whenever I wanted to see them I would look west, and whenever I wanted to find west I would look for them. That was how I defined my life on the Front Range, and couldn’t understand why people would be so amazed by the thing that I took for granted.

It wasn’t until later in life when I voyaged to the ocean for the first time that I started to understand what people experienced when they visited the Rocky Mountains of Colorado. Here was the complete opposite of the landscape that I had grown up with. Here was this body of water that stretched out as far as the eye could see and was constantly undulating and changing. It wasn’t the steady rock that always hung to the west for me. Instead, it possessed a personality that could change from day to day. One day, it could offer a pleasant respite in the sun.

The next day, the clouds could come in and encase the coast with a dark blanket, giving rise to the waves crashing against the shore. People run to the safety of their warm homes and watch the weather from behind windows designed to frame the beach. The sense of solitude it offers is completely different than anything I felt while driving through the mountains, but I finally understood what others felt while they looked at those peaks jutting from the ground.

But then I moved out of the country for a couple of years, and I started to miss those things I had always taken for granted and those things that I never knew how much I loved. The mountains were the first things I longed for. I could no longer figure out which direction I was pointing, and because of that I always felt lost even though I knew where I was. But it felt as if a part of me was ripped away and I wished desperately to have them back.

When I got back to the states, the beauty and majesty of the peaks just stunned me as if it was the first time I ever saw them. I could start to appreciate them for the way they were meant to be enjoyed. I could feel that isolation that other felt as they were absorbed by the power of these giants. One of the days while I was out in Colorado, I got to enjoy the sunrise from above timberline as it inspired me and melted away the morning chill.

I was also able to complete a goal that I always wanted to achieve but never have been able to because of various reasons. In a span of one day, I summited not just one, but two of Colorado’s 14ers.

Thousands of people flock to these specific mountains every year as they visit the state. They have become one of Colorado’s biggest tourist attractions. Depending on who you talk to, there are 53 or 55 of these peaks that rise 14,000 feet over sea level. The distinction comes from how a person defines what constitutes a peak depending on how much of a rise in elevation occurs between one peak and the next.

Greys Peak and Torreys Peak are two of the more popular ones. There is a clear trail that runs up to the top of both of these mountains, and if you plan for a whole day of hiking you can make it to the summit of both mountains without much trouble because they are close enough to each other. The nice thing about them is there are couple more difficult routes that give the more experienced hikers a challenge if that is what they are looking for, and it is a long enough trail to give the less experienced hikers the challenge they are looking for.

My major concern with the mountains was the altitude. Even though I am a very active individual, I was coming from sea level and once you get above timberline, the altitude can become a serious problem. I remember starting the hike at 9,000 feet above sea level and thinking this would be easy as I talked to my companions on the hill. But my attitude suddenly changed as I was gasping for any air that I could stuff into my lungs and still not getting enough. I was worried that I would fail in my attempt of summiting another 14er.

Altitude sickness can be a very dangerous thing. Basically you are not getting enough oxygen for your body to function properly. First, you will start to feel a little dizzy. Then you will start to get a headache. The worst thing that could happen if you don’t treat your altitude sickness is that you could become so disoriented that you could get lost in the wilderness of Colorado. There is only one thing that you can do when you start to feel this way, head back down the hill, missing your chance of reaching the summit. Of course, you are still alive and well, so I guess that is worth the exchange of not achieving your goal. I was able to get my breathing under control so I could finally do this for the first time in my life.

Luckily, the feeling of dizziness never returned, but that did not mean that dangers disappeared. Many different things can go wrong on a mountain. It is part of the reason I have never been able to complete a 14er even though I grew up with them in my backyard. I have had to cut my expeditions short because of weather numerous times. When you get that high, storms can blow in quickly. If it is a blizzard you find yourself in, you lose visibility as biting snow blow into your face, making the path a slippery slide that could send you plummeting off the peak at any moment.  These storms don’t hold the same danger as a thunderstorm. When you get above timberline, there is no place for you to go find cover if lightning starts to strike, and you are the only thing it is most attracted to because you are the highest point around for miles. There have been many times I have made a fast scramble down a mountain as one of these storms started to blow in. Throw in scree fields with bowling ball sizes boulders willing to slip out for under your feet or come crashing down on you from above, and the random behavior of animals from mountain goats to the occasional bear, and you have the trappings for a spectacular adventure.

The mountains offered me many adventures during my voyage home. Even though the Greys and Torreys hike was the pinnacle of the hikes I took, there were various others I went on that were not as grueling, yet still fun. Growing up on the Front Range gave me thousands of opportunities to look down on the sprawling city. I never took advantage of it very often, and I regret that. But going back I was able to go on a few of these closer and shorter treks.

I had the pleasure of enjoying them with another aspect from home I missed a lot, a canine companion. I have written on a couple of occasions how my voyages overseas started with the passing of my dog, Bear, and even though I will never regret the experience I have had the last couple of years, the one thing I really miss is having that happy friend come to greet me every time I come walking through my front door. I miss the silly things a dog will do in order to get your attention. I miss that unconditional love that can only come from being a dog owner. While I was in the Denver metropolitan area, I had the pleasure of house sitting, and it came with the care of my brother’s malamute, Sakari.

Your perspective on life changes in the presence of a dog. All of a sudden there is another being that needs me in order to survive. And there is a companion there who gets really excited to even go on a simple walk around the neighborhood, getting even more excited when they know that they are going on a longer hike. It made being home that much more enjoyable knowing I was going to get to spend time with this happy individual.

Of course, it was a pleasure to spend time with my family as well. It is the main reason I go home every year. I enjoy watching how much my nieces and nephews have grown over the year. When I was living in the same town as them, I did not notice the change as much. It comes in subtle surges when I got to see them every other month. But when I do not get to hang out with them but once a year, they grow not only in height but in maturity as well. I can start have conversations with a couple of the older ones that are intelligent and go beyond them just agreeing with me. They formulate their own opinions, supporting them with things they have read or viewed on television. It is refreshing to see them grow into young adults.

Of course I get to reconnect with my parents and my siblings as well. It is always a pleasure to see them, but it is a greater experience to enjoy their company on a summer evening as the day cools down and the memories heat up. At this time in my life, these moments are not only about catching up with the experiences throughout the year, but also reminiscing about the moments we have shared in the past. I get to relive a whole lifetime whenever we gather together for an evening.

Of course, it is also about creating new memories as well. This is the best part of going back home. I went to many of the touristy places in Denver that I might make it to if I was living there, but since I was only in town for a short period of time, I made sure that I made it to some of my more favorite ones.

Coors Field in downtown Denver was definitely one of the places that I really wanted to go back to. I have attended a couple of baseball games in Korea and they are fun, but it is nothing like going to a MLB game. The level of play is crisper and more intense when I get to see one of these games. It was an added bonus to be able to see the game as well during one of the Rockies’ better runs for a pennant. The night I went, they had just come off of two games where they came back in the ninth inning from a Nolan Arenado hit late in the ninth inning. The Rockies had the best record in MLB. Expectations were very high that they would be able to continue on this streak. Of course, the night I went, they lost 16-7, and started a losing slide that had them go to the fifth place in the National League. I know there are going to be a lot of Rockies’ fans that will believe that it is my fault for the slide, but I was only there to enjoy time with my family and hopefully see a win. I didn’t get to see a win, but I did get to enjoy time with my family.

And the beer was pretty good too.

This is another thing that I really appreciate when I come back to the states. Certain types of food and beverages cannot be found in Korea. In fact, Seoul is just starting to experience their first ever craft beer revolution. Little pockets are springing up all over Seoul where you can find good beer, but it is nothing like Denver. There are craft beer locations all over the place and many of them make some excellent beers. It is getting to the point where they have to do crazy things in order to compete for the business of the average beer drinker.

One of these places is Dry Dock Brewery. They are a big hit in Colorado, and they have been expanding to other places in the country, so if you live in the U.S.A. and have not tried their beer yet, give it some time and you will soon be able to see it in your liquor stores. It started off as a homebrew kit place where they would experiment with their own beers. Their patrons enjoyed the beer so much that they expanded their operations and soon had a tasting room in Aurora that you could go and enjoy their beer. Recently, they expanded even more to include a place where they could mass produce their beer and can it to send it out to various places in the nation. The new place has a tasting room, but it also expanded beyond the borders of its building to include a nine hole Frisbee golf course behind its building. It is awesome. You grab a beer, play nine holes, and go back in for another beer. I enjoyed the course twice while I was out there.

The only problem with the course was the snakes that slithered around it. You had to be careful while you went out to hunt for your disc because you could have been bitten by one of them. While I was playing, we did come across a big bull snake, and we did the typical thing that all Coloradoans do when they come across a bull snake; we captured it.

And then we took it to scare other people who were playing the course. It was just a flavor of Colorado that I missed while I was living across the ocean, but was happy I got to enjoy it while I was back home.  It was fun to revisit old haunts like the Denver Zoo.

The difference this time around, I got to look at all of the sights through the eyes of a visitor and not as a resident.

It meant that every time I looked around I saw something that I usually would not see even though it was always there to begin with.

All of a sudden, the trees took on a new shape, and a new meaning.

The columbine flower was now worthy of my time to stop and enjoy. Colorado came to life for me in a way it had not for many years. It was as if I became like one of my relatives from the plain states of the U.S.A. driving through the mountains for the first time and being awestruck by its beauty.

But there was a time where I had to say goodbye to the Rocky Mountains and make my way further west. I still stopped at the ocean to stop and enjoy some time in the state of Oregon. When I eventually made it back to Korea and told my friends what I did over the summer, they all explained to me how jealous they were that everywhere I got to go was considered the more beautiful parts of the nation. I am lucky that I do get to spend a considerable amount of time in these parts of the world, and I have always been fascinated by Oregon and the Pacific Northwest in general.

The problem comes with the fact that I have been there so many times that the true beauty of the place starts to get hidden among all of the trees the state boasts of. And if you have never been to Oregon before, there are a lot of trees there.

But once you emerge from that forest, there is a lot to see. And it seems to get better every time I go. I have caught an Oregon sunset over the ocean a couple of times and it is a very rare event because the coast is usually covered in a thick haze from the clouds that roll in. To get a cloudless night is a rare treat, and you should take advantage of it if you are given the opportunity because the sunsets are spectacular.

I also got to spend more time on the beach then I normally would. We stayed two nights in the same location in a house right on the beach which added to the experience of going out there. Pretty much every other time I went out to enjoy the Oregon coast, I took a day’s drive from Portland and made it back before midnight on the same day. Because of this, I rushed through the time I had there hoping I could suck the most out of it. This time I was able to relax in the morning while enjoying the crashing waves, and go out in the afternoon to take part in many of the activities that the coast has to offer.

One day, my wife and I went down to Cannon Beach to take advantage of the breeze constantly blowing by buying a kite. There are many kite shops in town because this is something many people do while visiting this iconic spot. The water is not something people experience as much because it is colder than you would find in warmer climates. So people go down to the beach to enjoy the salt air and warm sand. The place where we bought our kite was on the edge of town run by a man who was clearly enjoying the new laws about marijuana. He had a Grateful Dead concert jamming in the background and was happy to show all of the kids that came into his shop how to assemble their kites and fly them. They usually bought the beginner kites, but my wife is an expert kite flyer and she went with the trick kite instead. It was the perfect purchase for the place because it allowed us to have many hours of enjoyment not only on Cannon Beach but also the beach that our house overlooked.

The next day, we went out to Manzanita, the next town further south from Cannon Beach. It is not as big of a tourist destination that the other place is, but some of the things that draw people to come down here are the salmon fishing and the kayaking on the Nehalem River. There are many places along the river where you can find a guide or rent a boat. If you time it perfectly, like we did, you can travel up the river during high tide and turn around when the tide switches so you can easily float on back down the river. It is also a great place to watch the wildlife. Many herons fly up and down the river in search of the salmon swimming upstream to their breeding ground, and we were followed by a bay seal that liked to pop its head out of the water far enough away where we could see him but not take a really good picture of him.

The beaches of Oregon offer many sights to see. When the tide goes out, you can observe tiny microcosms of sea life in the tide pools. I feel educated every time I stare at one of these natural aquariums from the ocean. I know the elementary schools of Portland bring their students to the beach at least once a year to give them this education, but considering I grew up in the shadow of the Rocky Mountains, it is a fascinating sight for me.

In fact, when I see sea life, I get really excited. Oregonians will look at a tub full of crab and think about how tasty they would be with a little bit of butter. I look at a tub full of crabs and wonder what it would be like to live that way. How did this creation ever evolve into the beings that they are now? Why do they need to walk sideways? But that is just because they are not something that I grew up with allowing me to take them for granted. I grew up seeing them in plastic containers after they had been processed and no longer looked like the creature they used to be.

It is this way for everything that exists in the town that you grew up in. You never really see it until you move away. But as soon as you come back from that long time away things start to emerge in a new light.

You can start to see the weirdness of the city because it is no longer the everyday you’ve become accustomed to.

It might be overwhelming at first, and the slightest changes might throw you off. It might disturb you that the band that was always promoted on your favorite music store is no longer painted on the wall. The company needed to make changes in order to keep up with the times, and you wish it was still the nineties. But change needs to happen, and the best way to embrace it is to enjoy it as if you are looking upon it for the first time.

And don’t worry because there are some things that never change. It is the combination of the old with the new that make the places you visit and the places you return to the great dynamic expression of humanity. Try to look on as if you have never seen it before, and the world will always remain magical.

This post brought to you by Tag: A Cautionary Tale, available at https://www.amazon.com/Tag-Cautionary-Tale-John-Collings/dp/1533623902/

Cabbie Logic

I must be growing up because I went on my first ever business trip. Through my years in education, I have been out many times with my students on Experiential Education trips, but I never really considered them business trips. Those kinds of trips require me to get all dressed up to meet colleagues so we discuss the matters important to our profession. I didn’t have to put on a tie and present myself in a professional manner on the EE trips, nor did I have to network with people and do the all important dinners afterwards. My most recent trip was my first time to have this kind of experience and I was lucky enough to have Singapore be my first stop in the land of adults.

I attended the reThinking Literacy conference held on the UCW Southeast Asia campus. It was a refreshing look at the way people view different forms of media and how it is being used to influence the masses. During this day and age, it was a particularly relevant topic especially when the keynote speakers discussed the ways producers of media have gotten selective with their audiences in order to deliver the messages they know their consumers want to hear. Of course, we have heard this message before and we believe that we are not a person that can be so easily influenced by this type of propaganda. We are more intelligent than that. And if that is true, then let me ask when the last time you spent some time watching or reading the media that you disagree with? If you can’t think of a time when you did, then the information you consume might be influencing your thinking and you might not even know that it is doing this.

Don’t worry you are not alone. I used to believe that I was above the influence of the news I watched and read. I believed that I could make up my own mind, and I was not being told what to think all the time. I believed that I could watch it with a critical eye. It was my choice to believe the same kind of things that they were telling me to believe. That was until I learned a little from the cabbies in Singapore.

Yes, there is a certain kind of wisdom that can be found from a conversation from the people that drive other people around town. They really know the place where they live better than anybody else. They are in touch with the pulse of what makes the place tick, and they are not afraid to tell you what they think. I got into a conversation about various world leaders with a cabbie on my third day in town. We started off by discussing one of the most recently elected to office presidents, Moon Jae-In, and how he impressed the cabbie by the way he was willing to come to the table to talk with Kim Jong-un.

The driver also told me about his opinion of other presidents, and prime ministers. This list of the ones he admired included Lee Hsien Loong and Donald Trump. This surprised me a little bit because I have not run into many people on my extensive travels through southeast Asia that admire the current president of the United States. In fact, most jokes I hear from people from various nations include the punch of Donald Trump. In the past, I would have made an instant judgment because this person did not agree with my way of looking at the world, but this time I held my tongue and listened to what he had to say.

I learned a lot by just listening.

The cabbie liked both of these men because of their abilities to grow the economy. They were also able to keep the people of their nations safe from the terrorists coming from the Muslim communities. It was really hard for me to not correct this individual that terrorism do not only come from Muslims, and not all Muslims are terrorists, but I was getting an education at this time, and it was important that I listened. The language barrier between us caused poor communication, and he was never going to listen to the opinion of a foreigner; whereas, by listening to his beliefs, I was able to see what issues were important to him.

I might not have agreed with his perspective and the handling of these issues has been done well by the current President of the United States, but I couldn’t deny that this was an issue that kept this cabbie up at night. Maybe if other politicians listened to this base instead of ignoring it, then maybe they could come up with a solution that would be something I would be more comfortable with and would avoid the racist, single-minded attitude spreading all over the world.

It was really interesting to hear that these same concerns were also taking place in this small city/state. It is one of the economic powerhouses in the world, and because of the British colonialism this community is a collection of a variety of people from all over the world. Where were these ideas coming from? It probably had something to do with the media being pushed out to the community, and if I spent some more time watching it I might have gained a new perspective on their thinking. But I only had cabbies to talk to instead.

The next cabbie took the crew I was with down to Arab Street. This is one of the bigger tourist spots in Singapore. It has a lot of great shops and a variety of restaurants that reminded me of a cleaner version of the Sojo district in Hong Kong. The journey to get there was just as eye opening as the one I had taken earlier in the evening. This time the revelation came from a conversation I was having that excluded the cabbie.

I was talking about past relationships with a colleague of mine, and he had mentioned something about his ex-husband. The cabbie had picked up on this. As I sat in the front seat, I had the prefect view to watch his eyes grow really big.

“Ex-Husband?” he questioned.

Once again this reaffirmation that Singapore was not the most progressive thinking country presented itself. The difference between this type of discrimination and the other was we couldn’t ignore it this time around. At first, my friend tried to correct himself by stating that he meant to say ex-wife, but this line correction was not really working. He finally just admitted who he was and answered any questions that the cabbie had about him and his life. On the other hand, we asked about the laws in Singapore and the attitude of people towards gay rights. It was an educational experience for all involved, and I do think that a new respect for both sides was reached during that cab ride, but the only way for that to happen was by first engaging in conversation.

I don’t know if it was the type of education that the reThinking Literacy conference was speaking about, but an important nugget was still there. My education on this trip was about digging through the onslaught of what we receive daily to digest and how we discover the truth of the matter through all of that noise. It really begs the question if we should be consuming all of that media in the first place. Instead, should we take the time every once and awhile to sit down with that stranger who sit across from us at the bar and have a conversation with them? What will we learn from those conversations? What will they learn? How will the world grow from having a healthy discussion? Is this what we are missing in our societies today?

Honestly, I don’t know.

Maybe, you could tell me.

This post brought to you by Tag: A Cautionary Tale by John Collings available at Amazon.com. Now on sale in the Kindle store for only $3.29.

The Real Bali

Why doesn’t anybody ever pick up an orange and bite into it right away? Because the skin is inedible. You must peel through that layer before getting to the juiciness underneath it. The same can be said about Bali, a small island near the equator in the southern hemisphere. When I first got there, I thought of it like any other country whose major economic power comes from tourism. The roads were crowded with shops selling various forms of artwork, saris, and trinkets to take home so you could remember your time on the island. Restaurants claimed to serve local cuisine as well as westernized food, so if you ever felt the need for a slice of home you could have it in the same place where the others would have the opportunity to experiment with the world flavors. On the surface, it looked like any other vacation destination that would have a couple of places that you needed to go to, but would allow enough relaxation so you could unwind from that long flight before getting back on another plane to go back home again. But I learned that I needed to peel back the layers.

That’s why I would recommend if you ever find yourself in Bali to veer off of the main drag to see what the place really has to offer. Most of the times if you are in a country who is not an economic powerhouse, I would not recommend doing this unless you knew where that would lead, but Bali has a different feel to it. You are not really experiencing the place if you stay where all of the tourists hang out. There is a lot of beauty to the country that you have to look for, and then you will really have an amazing experience.

Bali’s culture is seeped deeply in the Hindu religion. In fact, when the island was first growing, the Hindus brought their faith with them and created thousands of temples so they could celebrate it. Some of these temples are rather large; whereas, others are hidden behind secret doors down strange alleys. The one thing that is consistent with all of them is that the beautiful art work that gives you respect for the faith which inspired it. It is a place reminiscent of an Indiana Jones movie. The culture begged for me to learn more about it, and the further I delved into the corners of Bali, the more intricate the statues became. Some peeked out from the mountains, while others were covered with so much moss from the hills around the towns that it made me wonder how long they had been there and why had humanity forgotten about them.

It made me start to wonder which had come first, the works of masterpieces, or the nature that the gods created around those structures because this is the other side of Bali that is wonderful to discover the further you walk away from the beaten path. It is a tropical paradise. I was lucky enough to find myself there in May which would be a lot like November for those who live on the northern part of the world. Because it is so close to the equator, it never gets too cold, but it stays warm enough during this time of the year that you are never in need of pants. This is the perfect time to explore those expansive forests.

But when I did that I discovered something else about this amazing island. It was almost impossible to escape from some indication that man is lurking someplace around the corner. Most of the time this type of exposure would annoy. Hiking the hills of Colorado, I am always mad when I come across the signs that someone had been there before, but in Bali, this did not disturb me as much. The footprint left behind by man had a certain amount of respect with the place where it was left behind. There was a harmony that went along with the natural landscape, making me feel as if man had found a way to live in harmony with nature.

It could be seen in the way they grew their gardens. Rice fields were carved into the sides of cliffs, and laid far behind the facades of the towns, but these fields that supplied the people with their major source of food did not feel intrusive. Instead, it became just a natural part of the landscape much like the statues and temples that were hidden throughout the whole of the countryside. It just became a part of what Bali was all about.

The people of Bali were able to take this even further to make the landscape in their backyards into a great spectacle. They are able to shape it into something that is both relaxing and contemplative at the same time. This is where the real Bali lies. It was a place that allowed me to unwind, to take those principles of losing one’s self in nature and by doing so finding one’s true self to the extent I have always wanted to achieve. The place behind the façade of this country is the place where I was able to lose my façade for a while and connect with myself.

This is what Bali was for me. Most of my wanderings happened in the small mountain town of Ubud, and I would recommend that you take the time to find yourself there at least once in your lifetime, but do not just spend a quick time to do it. It takes some moments to shed the worries that come with your normal life. You need that time to forget about those worries, and Bali is great because you don’t collect more in the process. It was exactly what I needed during this stressful time of the school year, and I am glad that I got to enjoy it.

It allowed me to look at the horizon again with vigor and excitement. It allowed me to feel the tension that was wrapped up in my shoulders slowly relinquish its hold on me. It allowed me to feel at harmony with my own nature.

Thank you, Bali.

This post brought to you by Tag: A Cautionary Tale by John Collings. Now only $2.99 in the Amazon Kindle store.