Americana in the Nighttime – Around the World Day 31

Last night I took a walk around the neighborhood I was staying at. It was something that I used to do in my younger days all of the time, but then life got busy and I no longer had the time for this. The walks allowed me to relax and reflect on the way things were going on in my life, and I always felt better afterwards, like I had stolen something back from the hectic world that I am forced to live in. It was the same feeling I got as I took my walk last night.

It also allowed me to get closer to the neighborhood. America is definitely a car culture, and we will hop in our vehicles anytime we need to get anywhere. Sometimes it is the only way we can get from one point to the next, but a lot of times, we can get to places just as easily by walking. During my time in Europe on this trip, I was forced to walk to places, and there were many people out using the same mode of transportation to get where they were going. The same thing happens with home in Seoul. But I do not see these same crowds when I walk in the United States.

There is something to be said about being out among those people though. Granted, I never talked to any of them, but I did get a greater sense of community because I was out among them. I wasn’t hiding behind the closed doors of a car, or staying huddled inside some building because I was swiftly swept from one location to another. I was forced to interact with the people on a certain level if I wished to get along. Even though I enjoyed the moment to myself last night as I took my walk, I wished there were more people out there taking a walk with me. It was the perfect night to do it too. The cool night was a great reprieve from the hot weather that Colorado has been experiencing this summer.

My favorite part of my walk was when I got to pass this old house that I have always admired. This house has sat on this huge plot of land as long as I could remember, and nobody ever seemed to live in it. It looked like an old farmhouse that was left over from a day when people worked the land out in this neighborhood. I always liked the place because I could watch it slowly deteriorate over the years, and I would think about buying the place and fixing it up someday. Because I moved away, I wasn’t able to see the house as much, and there would only be a couple days out of the year that I would get to pass it by as I sped down the road that it found itself on. But last night I was able to walk by it, and take a little more time to see it for what it was. While I moved away, somebody had bought the property and had spent the last couple of years of getting it back to its original glory. I don’t think I would have noticed this if I was in a car. It just showed me that sometimes it is important to slow down, so you can really appreciate what it is around you.

Even though cars are great inventions and allow us to get to places quicker, I like to step out of the car from time to time to take a walk. I’m glad I did it last night, and even though it was nothing special, it might have been one of my favorite moments on this trip around the world.

Donor Dash – Around the World Day 29

I have been spending a lot of my time on the trip around the world visiting amazing sites, eating great food, and catching up with family and friends. I have not always made the healthiest choices while on this tour, and I will admit that my exercise has been nothing more than hiking around the towns I have been in or the mountains I have found. It has been a lot of fun, and I have really enjoyed writing about it as I have gone along, but I felt that there should have been an opportunity to give back to the communities that I have been lucky enough to stay in. That is why when I found out about the Donor Dash taking place last Sunday, I decided to get out there and run it. I would be getting some of that much needed exercise, and helping to create awareness to a very important cause.

I do know that there are Donor Dashes in both Wyoming, and Denver, and while doing my research for this post, I discovered that there is another one in Philadelphia. I am sure that if you look hard enough, you will be able to find a Donor Dash near you. It does not cost a lot of money to participate in the event, and they will give you a really cool t-shirt with your entry fee. The Denver race attracted over 6,000 people who participated, and there were many others who were walking around the park at the time, and learning about the message that the promoters were trying to get across. The purpose of the event is to raise awareness about the importance of being an organ donor, and to try to get more people to become an organ donor when they renew their state IDs or driver’s licenses.

There are many myths about being an organ donor. The big one is that if you have the fact that you are donor indicated on any identification that EMTs and doctors will let you die so they can have your organs so they can let somebody else to live. The mere fallacy of the logic of that thought is so absurd that it does not make sense. Why would a doctor let one person die on the rare hope that they can help another person live?

The truth about being an organ donor is that you can save somebody’s life. During the event, many people stood up and told their stories of how their lives were saved because of the kindness of a stranger. My niece is one of these people. She received a kidney donation at a very early age in life and because of this, she has been granted many more years of her life, and a better quality of life during that time. I also met another young man who is only fourteen and getting ready to start high school, and he told me about the heart transplant that he received. An event like this really helped me to see how important that awareness grows, so more lives can be saved.

In the state of Colorado alone, there are more than 25,000 people on the waiting list to receive an organ donation that could save their lives. This is why an event like this is so important. But that does not mean that there are not other events that support others causes out there. In fact, I knew that when I was living in the state of Colorado, I was able to find a race every weekend if I felt like I wanted to compete in one. Most of them were designed to either raise money for a cause or at least awareness for that cause. It only took a simple search to find that event. If more people spent time to do this, I do believe that the causes would no longer be causes. The problems of our society would slowly solve themselves. This is the campaigns that actually change the world for the better, and I do think that the Donor Dash is one such cause. I am glad that this is the way that I got to spend my Sunday morning on this super expedition in my life.

Colorado’s Renaissance – Around the World Day 29

It has been around for 42 years, and there were many times that I have been to it when I was younger, but it had been awhile since I have been at the Colorado Renaissance Festival. It took me coming back to Colorado to get me to go back to this iconic location, and it had changed a lot since I last remembered it, or it may not have changed at all, and just my memory of it had adjusted to make the place seem more different than what I thought it was when I was younger. That is not to say that it was not still a fun place to visit, but I started to see through the glossy presentation that once made this a magical place to visit, and start to show me what type of place it actually was.

It really started before I even got to the place. There was a lady protesting the use of elephants for rides and from my earlier trip to Laos, I understood her frustration and anger, but I had no idea why she was so mad at something that was happening half way around the world that she would stand on the highway to this place to protest it. That was until I was inside the confines of its walls and saw that they had an elephant that they would walk around the grounds while people rode it. And even though I could see that he didn’t have scars on his head due to the mistreatment sue to its handler, I could see that they had cropped his tail and chopped off his tusks, making it impossible for him to live a normal elephant life. It made me wonder how well they were actually taking care of the beasts, and if they were just as bad as the other owners of elephants that the woman was protesting about earlier on the road.

But this was the only complaint that I would have about the place. Otherwise it was as much as I remembered it when I was growing up except the act had changed a little bit. One of the new ones that surprised me also made me wonder about the elephants I had seen walking about. This was a group that displayed great cats that operated in Oregon. It was very educational, explaining the threat that was going on with these beasts, and what we could do to make sure that they would no longer be endangered. It made me wonder why a company would bring in conservationists with great cats, and then go off and display elephants afterwards. Was it really about educating people about these animals, or just finding the quickest way that they could make some money.

The rest of the festival lend itself more to the later. Even though we had to spend a solid entry price to make it into the grounds, there were still many other features that required an extra entrance fee if we wished to see them. One was a torture museum that had some interesting things inside of it, but it only took ten minutes to stroll through and was clearly not worth the two dollar entrance fee. I went to a different torture museum in Rothenberg, Germany that was more informative, with better displays, and yet the same price.

There were also a couple of rides that required a couple of extras dollars if you wanted to ride them, and some of these actually took a little longer than two minutes to enjoy the rides. The prices were absurd, but it was interesting to see how they operated the rides. They were all moved by guys pushing the rides forward and by no electronic gears. This made it interesting to watch and made me realize what rides might have looked like back during the Elizabethan Era. It was interesting to see that these rides could still fly even though they were propelled by human effort.

Of course, the biggest money maker and my favorite spot on the whole grounds was the Tomato Toss. It was fun to sit there and watch for a long while because you knew it was spontaneous, and you didn’t know what was going to happen next. Basically, a guy stuck his head through a hole in a wall, and started to insult people who passed by. For five dollars, the passersby could get five tomatoes to throw at the guy to quit his insults. Sadly, only a couple of them were able to hit the guy, but there was a constant supply of people lining up to see if they could hit this guy. It was fun to see them get riled up from his insults, but it was more fun to hear his insults.

Overall, it was a fun place to visit, but I think I had my fill after the day. I would not need to go back to see it again for another ten years, but the memories I had created yesterday would help me hold off the urge until then.

 

 

The Boys of Summer – Around the World Day 28

The weather has been really hot this summer in Colorado. If you have friends from the area, I am sure you have seen the posts on Facebook about people melting in the street, and how on some days it has been hotter here than it has been in Las Vegas. Denver is turning into a dessert, and when things cool off a day, people look for something to do outside so they can enjoy the Colorado summer while it is available. The best way I have found to do this is to go to Coors Field and watch the boys of summer try to stay in the running for the playoffs in October.

Yesterday was a beautiful day in the low 80s with a lot of cloud cover that made for the perfect day to go and see the Rockies play. Coors Field is also a great ballpark. It has been a dream of mine to see a game in all of the ballparks in America, and this has now become really hard to do that I live in a different country, but that does not mean that I can’t enjoy the ballpark that was in my backyard for the last twenty years. When they designed the park, they wanted to give it that classic ballpark feel with a couple modern upgrades. It has a nice open air feel to it, and there is not a bad seat in the house. They do have ivy growing in the right field behind a series of fountains that they will turn on full blast anytime one of the Rockies hits a home run. It does have a bigger outfield than a lot of other parks but that is because balls have a tendency to fly longer in the thin air. And if you are looking for a good beer, there is a craft brewery in the building. A perfect addition for the people of Colorado who love their beers.

But they have since added some other features. There is a huge scoreboard in left field that highlights many part of the game on its high definition screen. There is a series of bars on the top level that are always full even if the Rockies are doing poorly because it is a great place to be seen on the Denver scene. Many people were angry at that addition when it first came out because it seemed like a waste of money for a team that could have used a better bullpen, but ever since it has shown up, the Rockies have been contenders more than they have been in the past. It does clear out the stands though because everybody wants to hang out there instead of in their seats.

No matter what you think about the addition, it is still a great place to see a game, and I was surprised at the crowd that had shown up in the middle of the day on a Thursday. The announcement that they make every game stated that there were 41,000 people in attendance, and this is pretty amazing considering that there are only 50,000 seats in the place. A lot could have contributed to this. The Rockies have won 12 out of their last 16 games, making them only three and a half games out of first. They were also playing the team that was in first so this would give them an opportunity to catch up a game. And it apparently was kid’s club day. There were groups of kids screaming in the upper level and they did not necessarily know what they were screaming at, but they were having a good time. They also had to leave early so they would be back at their kid’s club location so their parents could pick them up, but it all added to the atmosphere.

It was a great game. The Rockies came back in the sixth inning to win the game five to one and the bullpen did a great job not losing the game in the final inning. It was the perfect way to spend a warm Thursday afternoon, and it will keep me interested in what is happening with the Rockies as they make the push to the end of the season. I just wish that it did not take so long in-between times that I got to visit the place because it is easily one of my favorite ballparks in the nation.

On the Rocks – Around the World Day 24

I was very fortunate growing up. I live within driving distance to what I consider the greatest concert venue ever built, Red Rock Amphitheater. Every summer, I would pull out the concert schedule and pick one or two shows that I would go see in this iconic place. I have seen some of the greatest artists perform here, bands from Radiohead to the Grateful Dead, and artists from Ben Harper and Beck. If I consider all of the moments I have at this place, a few of my fondest come while I was here.

But I would not only come up here while there was a concert. I would come up during cross country practice in high school so we could run up the hill that is used as a load in station for bands, and though some of my students who run for me right now might disagree, it was the most difficult hill to run up. We snuck in a couple times on weekends during the fall to hang out with friends on the stage. I did a report on the place during my seventh grade, and I remember coming up during the winter months and watching the snow gently fall down on the empty seats and breathe in the silence. When I think of Denver, I instantly think of Red Rocks, and if I can share the same joy that bubbles up inside of me when I think of it, I want to do so.

If you have never been there, it is a natural amphitheater built during the 1930s as one of FDR’s ABC projects to get people back to work during the Great Depression. Two huge red rocks stand on either side of the seats creating perfect acoustics for the bands who play there. The venue cannot seat that many people as there are just under 10,000 seats, but even if you find yourself in the back of the theater, you still can enjoy the sound because there really is not a bad seat in the place. It is the Mecca for many bands, and if they get to play there that means that they have made it. During my disc jockey days, I actually got to perform a wedding in the restaurant that is situated in the back of the amphitheater, so when I talk to my musician friends about the fact that I had the chance to do this, they always get really jealous. To get there you need to drive through the quaint little town of Morrison that only get busy when an event is taking place at the venue, and when you are there you can look out over the plains as the light of Denver start to wake up for the evening. Many iconic bands have recorded live albums at the place including U2, O.A.R., Moody Blues, Mumford and Sons, and Dave Matthews Band (too separate concerts are available from him). And it has even hosted the likes of the Beatles and the Jimi Hendrix Experience. How can this not be the best venue in the world?

I still think about the place when I come home every summer. Around March I start to look at what bands have been scheduled to play there as I try to find one that I might enjoy, but all the good ones seem to be coming either before or after I am there, and if there is a band that I might be remotely interested in seeing, they are charging way too much to see their show that I wait until something better comes along. This is why Movies on the Rocks was a better option this time around.

Movies on the Rocks is a series of events that is put on by the local radio station, KBCO. They find six or seven cult favorite movies to show under the stars, but the party starts a little earlier than that. They also book two bands, and last night when I went to the event, they also brought out local favorite, and winner of the Last Comic Standing, Josh Blue. After all of this, they played one of my favorite Coen Brothers’ movies, The Big Lebowski. It might not have been one of the amazing concerts that I was able to catch in my past, but it was still a fun time. People came dressed up as some of the characters, and they served white Russians so people could feel like they were part of the story. It is a great way to get into the venue if you find yourself here for a short time, and there are not any bands that really appeals to you. It was one of my favorite nights so far on this trip because it was reminiscent of times that I used to have here. It will always be one of my favorite places.

 

 

Quandary Peak – Around the World Day 23

Though the world may not know much about it except for the place you go to for skiing, Colorado, does have a tourist season during the summer. The mountains are still a fun place to go to, and there are many things to do in the small towns there. One of the things that many people try to check off of their lists is to summit one of the 58 14ers that the state boasts about. A 14er, is a mountain peak that reaches over 14,000 feet above sea level. It is way above timberline, and the air gets pretty thin up there, so it is quite an accomplishment to make it up one of these mountains, and it is even a bigger challenge if you can do it when you come from sea level before you do it because there is always the danger of altitude sickness that can make the hike a challenge to get over. I wanted to add to the challenge so I decided to take on one of these peaks a day after I arrived from Europe, so I was living in a different time zone and my mind was trying to get over jet lag when I tried this.

It is important to take on one of these peaks early in the morning because Colorado has a tendency to afternoon thunderstorms, and you don’t want to be up on top of a peak without any cover where lightning has a shorter distance to strike the tallest object, you. It also gets pretty crowded on some of the peaks during the day because of the tourists try to tie this into their vacation. Quandary Peak, the mountain I took on, is one of the busier ones. It is only a few miles outside of the popular town of Breckenridge, and it is one of the easier mountains to summit, so this is the one that many people take on. I had gotten there at 5:45 in the morning and it was already packed with people. Even though some people might complain about these crowds, it didn’t bother me much because I had just experienced some of the crowds in Europe and they were nothing like the one I had on this day.

The cool thing about the hike is you can see the summit most of the way up. It is not like some of the other peaks where the top hides behind false summits, disappointing you sometimes when you thought you had made it to the top but in reality you still had a ways to go. It also has a pretty well maintained all the way up to the top as opposed to other mountains where the trail disappears to a field of rocks that can add to the challenge because they are not always secured and you might have to dodge a rock rolling down the hill from someone up above you from time to time.

It is also still had small snow fields near the top even though it was the middle of July. I have been told that these snow fields are small this year because it has been a dry year for Colorado, but it was fun to see snow during this time of the year. I have attempted this mountain at a different time of the year, May, and this spot was covered in snow, and I couldn’t summit because I got caught in the middle of a blizzard when I made it to this point in the hike. But this time, the weather was perfect, and I even wished I had worn shorts because I was getting a little hot when I made it to this point of the hike.

The best part of the hike was when I got to the top. I was able to stand on the edge of a precipice and look out over the Rocky Mountains and could even point out the two other 14ers that I had summited the summer before. I got to get to know my hiking partners a little better, had wonderful conversations with other hikers taking on the challenge from other parts of the world, and earned a sense of accomplishment on a day that I would usually have spent trying to figure out a way to get over jet lag.

It is a great way to spend a day in Colorado, and it is one of the things that made this part of my trip around the world great. It is funny that I had to move away before I attempted to reach the top of these mountains, but it is the way of the world. We don’t really appreciate the things we have in the places we live until we no longer have them at our disposal. That is one of the things that this trip is teaching me. Appreciate everything that I can while I am there to appreciate it.

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.

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