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.

A Hidden Gem – The Move Day 18

One of the things I have been doing a lot of while staying out in Colorado is taking walks with my dad. He had a hip replaced last December, and he is already recovered enough to be able to go on two or three miles hikes everyday. Usually we stick with the same roads that he knows in case there is a problem we can call somebody to come pick us up. But considering that I was with him, we started to get a little more adventurous by going down streets that he had never explored before and find new places in his neighborhood. On my last day, this sense of adventure took us down a dirt path that looked as if nobody ever went to down, and it was one of the nicer spots in his neighborhood.

The path took us to a hidden green space that bordered a protected body of water. The reservoir was probably used by the city of Denver for their drinking water, but considering that there was this huge body of water in the middle of suburb that nobody seemed to know about, it made it look even more pristine. The only other animal in the area were a couple of birds that enjoyed the quiet solitude by bobbing up and down on the middle of this lake.

Towards the end of this walk was a gazebo with a couple of benches that allowed for an even better view of this lake. It seemed untouched by anybody except for one empty bottle of Corona. So the theory goes that some people know about this place and come out there to view the sunset even though it would not dip below the horizon of the lake because if faced to the east. It would still be a nice place to enjoy the cooling of the evening and have a couple of beers. It would also have been one of my favorite places as a teenager because it would be out of the prying eyes of the police, and I could be a little loud with my friends without disturbing any of the neighbors.  So this might have been where the stray beer bottle came from as well. Either way, it looked like some other people had the same idea that we did about this place that it was the perfect hidden gem in this neighborhood that allowed for a small retreat from the pressures of suburban living.

I was thinking that the path would wind its way all around the lake, but about 100 meters in, it stopped at a fence with a No Trespassing sign on it. I guess the city of Denver didn’t want anybody to disturb the water, but by looking over the fence I was able to see another pond that was used more often by the neighborhood. This was the one that was connected to the neighborhood’s club house, and it offered such water sports as kayaking and paddle boarding. It is still a fun place to hang out on a hot summer day, but it still did not compare with the other little place that we found. I know that others know about its presence, but for that day, I like to think that this little gazebo out in the green space of the neighborhood was only known by my dad and me. It made the place seem a little more special as if we had discovered something that nobody else knew about.

It is these little things that are out there that make it worth the trip to veer off the normal path and explore what other little areas your neighborhood has to offer. I am glad that I got to go on this exploration with my dad on the last day that I was out in Colorado. It made the experience even more memorable.

Making Adjustments – The Move Day 16 – 17

I have moved many times in my life, but it was usually just from one apartment, or town home to a new apartment or house. The farthest I had to go was across town, and I did not really need to worry about making the change to a new culture or lifestyle. Even though it was a small move, it still held some sense of the unknown. Would I get along with my neighbors? Would I find nice restaurants and bars in my new corner of town? Would I be safe there? Would my commute to work be affected in any way? Was the place I bought or rented really up to the snuff that the people who sold it to me said it was at? How will I get my stuff from point A to point B?

These are all things that cause stress in somebody’s life as they make these life changing jumps, and this was only across town. Four years ago, I left Colorado for the first time in my life, making a huge change and a huge adjustment by moving to not only a new house, but to a new country, South Korea. The level of stress increased because I would not get to look at the place I was moving into before I got there. Moving stuff across town in a truck can cause stress, but loading all of your personal belongings onto a baggage scale at the airport to make sure that it falls within the weight limit causes even more stress. I not only had to worry about finding food that I would enjoy, but whether or not I would enjoy the cuisine in the first place. I would not only have to worry about getting along with my neighbors, but I also had to worry about getting along with everybody I came into contact with because we would have a hard time communicating if we could communicate at all. Being safe became an even bigger concern when I thought about the madman that lived just north of the city that I would be residing in. How would I not only get back and forth to work, but to any place that I wanted to go without a car, and would it be a good idea to get a car in the first place because I was sure that they drove a little differently out in Korea?

Having this many questions hanging before me would make me reconsider the decision I had made and go running for the hills of Colorado to hide away until the moment it was safe to come out again. But I am glad that I did not do this. It was a little bit of a challenge, but I do think that it was the best decision I had ever made in my life. It forced me to push against my nature, and learn from the process to become a stronger person. It made me look at the world differently and understand more about not only other cultures but the one that I came from as well. It made me grow in my profession, and I have emerged a better teacher than when I went in. All in all, it made me a better person, and why would anyone not want to experience that challenge if presented it? I am glad I went into the field of international teaching, and I do not think I will ever look back.

My experience in Seoul made this next move a lot easier to go through. I am still traveling into the unknown, and there will have to be some adjustments that are made when I arrive, but I have been to Bangkok, and know what life is like there. I also know what it means to be an international teacher, and I will be learning how to make the leap to an IB program, but this is not as big of a leap from going from an alternative program to an AP program. It is still a challenge to move all my important possessions from one part of the world to the next, and it does always cause stress when I have to figure out how to get nine bags on to a commercial flight and make sure that I get them all after making two layovers along the way. But that is just the pain of moving, and I will figure it out along the way.

It is all a part of the experience, and I am now getting to a place where I am comfortable about the move that I will be making. I am looking forward to exploring a new corner of the world, and even though I am still a couple of weeks away from making that final jump, I hope that you will continue to come along with me as I share with you all the new experiences out there on the opposite of this globe.

What I Will Miss about Korea – Harmony with Nature – The Move Day 16

This was probably the hardest adjustment I had to make when I first moved overseas. Coming from a place of great natural beauty, I never believed that man could come in to make adjustments to what nature had made and make improvements on it. It was best in its natural state. All we could do would be to try not to destroy what had already been created.

But then I moved to Korea where there is a different attitude toward nature. I could be wrong about this, but from what I observed, it was man’s duty to shape and mold nature to create a new beauty that could never be achieved on its own. This can be seen all over the place in the hills and rivers of Seoul. On the hikes through the green spaces of the gigantic city, you feel as if you have left the metropolis behind and are now out in the middle of the forest. The city is right around the corner as it weaves its way around these majestic mountains, and Korea did not believe that their living space should invade this natural beauty. Instead they decided to live in harmony with it.

Right when you forget that the city exists, you come to a crest and a clearing where somebody has built a platform and cleared away the trees so you can see a perfect view of the city down below. Nature could not have planned for this moment. It took man working in harmony with nature to make it happen.

When I first arrived to this country, I would take my runs along the river that ran by my house. Seoul is really good about supplying a foot path next to any river, and during the warmer months, it is always filled with people walking, running or biking and enjoying the river, and its surrounding landscapes. I could not enjoy it though because there was a huge crane parked in the middle of one of these waterways picking up rocks and moving them to strategic places. They were not letting the river push into the side of the banks and create the winding path that it wanted to make. I used to look at these moments as a huge mistake that this society was making.

After years of seeing what their meticulous planning and execution brought about and how they created a river that danced and sang while I ran by it, I realized that what they were doing was not such a bad thing. They weren’t trying to destroy nature, but enhance it to work together with it. It is this unique brand of beauty that I will miss. It does not mean that I think that the state of Colorado should do the same thing with the mountains that frame its capital. I’m just saying that it is a different take on something that I can still appreciate for its own style and execution.

I will love both of them for what they have to offer the world, and I thank Korea for showing me a new way to look at nature that I would never have thought of.

Massive Explosions – The Move Day 15

Well, it has come and gone, the day where Americans get together to blow things up.

Happy Independence Day, the 4th of July.

Many countries celebrate their own Independence Days, but only in America is there the noise and light show that comes along with it. And being a world traveler, being outside the United States on this date does not mean as much as it does to be here. It is that fireworks display that makes this holiday so much fun.

Growing up in Colorado, the fireworks display was never guaranteed. There were many years where it was just too dry and any fire might cause a disaster that would burn whole neighborhoods to the ground. So when the year was wet enough to allow for a fireworks, we had a tendency to go a little overboard with it, and this year was no exception. Colorado has experienced an exceptional amount of snow this winter which had rolled right into the summer as the rains continue to pound the Front Range. In fact, yesterday, there were many times that we had to run inside to avoid getting wet because there was a series of storms that continued to roll through. It made for some spectacular light displays from nature, but extended the time we were shooting off fireworks.

Fireworks have also gotten a little ruder. Before they had names like Lotus Flower, or Emerald Dragon, but this year we were able to experience the Big Balls, and the Pooping Puppy. The ones that we got to watch during the day were pretty explicit with the Pooping Puppy being my favorite. It basically combined the snake fireworks that quickly bored us as children with a quick spurt of flame that gave the explosive effects of dog wolfing down a spicy burrito the day before.

The Big Balls were also a big favorite, but were seriously dangerous. Basically after a short fuse, they would explode in a huge display of bright sparkles that covered the whole road. Anybody that found themselves in the explosion would have sustained some type of injury that would have required a quick emergency room visit. I tried to take a picture of the explosion, but it happened too quickly and looked nothing more than a bright sun when the exposure finally happened, so it was one of those fireworks that had to be written down in memory, and you would just have to wait until next year if you wanted to see the explosion again.

That is if they are legal next year. I could see a bunch of people coming into hospitals this year with lost hands and feet that may make lawmakers reconsider whether this is the type of firework that they want to keep around.

But that is part of the fun of fireworks. There is a little bit of risks that make them more exciting than just the explosion that comes at the end of the fuse. It creates excitement every year for when that sun goes down that everybody can go out a celebrate the day that we as American declared out independence. It is those explosions that make the holiday and memorable moment every year, and I am glad that the rain held off long enough this year so I could enjoy it in this own special way.