The Things I am Excited About – The Move Day 24

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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.

What I Will Miss from Korea – Convenience Stores – The Move Day 6

Ah, the good old GS25. From the parking lot of my apartment complex, there were two of these stores that would take less than a minute to get to. The closest one to me was right across the street from my front door and I could make it there and back home as if I had never left. The landscape of Seoul is dominated by these little stores, so if I ever feel in the need for a quick bite, a refreshing drink or a top up of my subway card, I can pop into a GS25, a CU, or a 7-11 and get what I need. It makes life very easy, and I was never at a loss for what I needed.

But this is not the reason that I will miss these stores with the one right across the street from my apartment being the one I will miss the most. It is the cultural experience that goes along with these stores that makes them different than any other convenience store I have seen anywhere else in the world. In most convenience stores, they expect you to pop in, get what you need and then leave. In Seoul, they have a bunch of tables and plastic chairs set up outside, inviting you to sit down and enjoy a little bit of time after you have made you purchase. It has all the charm of Paris cafe with all the class of a dirty Circle K. At first, I looked at it as something that I would never partake in, but eventually, I drank the Kool-Aid and took part of this cultural phenomenon.

Depending on the time of the day, different people can be seen sitting outside of these convenience stores, enjoying them in their own special way. After school, students on their way home will be eating quick ramen bowls while conversing with their friends. In the middle of the day, mothers with their strollers will converge here to enjoy a cold coffee. On the weekends during the summer, families will search through the cooler for individual ice cream cones that they can share quickly to get relief from the heat. And later at night, the older crowd gather to buy beer and soju and drink cheaply for a couple of hours. It makes these places look like they are always packed with people waiting to get in and enjoy the amenities there.

The GS25 outside of my apartment had a big patio and was a big draw for many people in the neighborhood, but mainly for the teachers that worked at my school. It became the center of the whole community without ever really trying to. I ran into many people at this place for a quick conversation, or to enjoy a moment to catch up out on the patio. There were many moments that I had a the GS25 and it was the start of many nights that led to other adventures and noraebang sessions. I was such a regular at my GS25 that the owner of the place would wave to me as I ran by on my runs. I am sure I will find other places in my future travels that will become important to me like this tiny convenience store became, but there will never be a place that will become a staple of my everyday existence.

In a time when convenience becomes a part of everybody’s lifestyle, Korea has found a way to make it a part of their culture, and a place to slow down from the busy lifestyle, if just for a moment, so they can come together as a community. It is because of this that I will miss the convenience stores of South Korea.

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

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

What is a narobong, you ask?

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

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

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

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