Taking Back Black Friday

image

Let’s face it, life is busy.

Sometimes it gets so busy that you do not have any time to breathe, but you still plug along through the grind hoping to find a moment that you can just enjoy. It gets even more difficult when you find yourself in a large city. You become just another face in the crowd. It almost feels as if society packs you into places like sardines so it can just shuffle you off to the next destination your busy schedule deems you need to be at.

It gets even crazier as the year approaches its end. Not only are you responsible for the usual things on your list, but now you have to squeeze in holiday parties, family moments, and shopping for all the loved ones. And just when you think you have everything accomplished there is that random person who buys you a gift obligating for you to return the favor. It is this never ending cycle of insanity, and you never think you will ever be able to get ahead of it.

The one day out of the year that pushes the stress levels to the highest and brings out the worst of humanity happens to be the day after Thanksgiving, Black Friday. We are told as a society that on this day, you need to go out and buy those Christmas gifts. You need to compete with your neighbor to get the best possible present and it has even gotten to the point that the corporations expect you to shake off the tryptophan daze inducing your good night’s sleep, get up a couple of hours before the break of dawn and stand out in the cold just so you can participate with your fellow shoppers in competing for those amazing deals.

It has even gotten worse over the last few years. Companies have started to promote the shopping frenzy on Thanksgiving Day. I know not everybody would agree with me, but I believe that this holiday should be considered sacred. It is the perfect time for the family to get together and share a moment at the dinner table. We should not ask to take people away from those moments just so people can go out and buy a bunch of stuff just so they can check off all of the people on their holiday lists. It is almost as if the big corporations are taking this holiday away from us so they can make more money. It offends me, and what I propose to do would make the corporations realize they do not control our lives. I want to show my loved ones that I love them not by making sure they have another present under the tree they may not need, but instead creating a memory that will last a life time. My hope is that people refuse to let the corporations dictate this insanity by taking back the day that was meant for them, Black Friday.

image

The way to do this is to first refuse to go shopping on Black Friday. I know this might be hard. It is so tempting to go out there and snatch up all of those amazing specials, but they are really not important. Ignore that big huge sale signs with Santa showing you how you can save money. Instead, go out there and find those rare moments that will allow you to experience life with friends and family.

For a second year in a row on Black Friday, I voyaged to a new place and experienced something new. Last year, I spent my Thanksgiving weekend making connections with my extended overseas family as they got together for a Korean camping trip. This year, I downplayed it a bit by hopping a plane over the Sea of Japan to spend the holiday in Tokyo. Of course, with my current position in Korea, I am not given the holiday of Thanksgiving Day off. I can’t really complain though because it is an American holiday and I am living overseas. They are still kind enough to give us the next day off, so I spent the afternoon of Thanksgiving Day flying to my destination, and the next day celebrating my favorite holiday on the next day. I did spend it at one of the greatest commercial centers in the world, so when I saw thousands of people rushing around to attend to their holiday shopping, I sat back and enjoyed the day. This is when the thought of what this day could mean started to formulate. Why did I need to be one of those crazy masses trying to find a great deal when I already had one next to me, the friends I chose to spend the day with?

image

I spent the day, instead, enjoying the cultural opportunities Tokyo had to offer. I strolled through the park that was the entrance to Meiji Temple, a Shinto shrine that promotes peace in the world. It was easy to see how it was trying to make this promotion because I felt the same experience as I enjoyed the serene atmosphere from the natural setting. It also reminded me of the other joys this country had to offer. Sake producers would bring large containers of their drink to the grounds to let it ferment while getting the blessings of the spirits of the king and queen who founded the shrine back in the 1920s. These weren’t the only ones that brought their drink to this site. Stacks of barrels of wine were delivered all the way from France looking for the same kind of blessing.

Many other people came to this same location to find the same kind of serenity. When we had finally made it to the temple, we saw many families with their young children hoping to get another blessing. It was also a place where a man and a woman could join their lives together in a traditional Japanese wedding. We were lucky enough to witness one of these ceremonies while we were there.

If serenity was not what you looking for, there are other experiences out in Tokyo that can send your heart racing. There is, of course, Godzilla Road in Shinjuku that shows the beast’s head poking out of the top of one of the various skyscrapers. There is the Tokyo Tower which is nothing more than a replication of the Eiffel Tower. It sit prominently on one of the bigger hills in the middle of the city offering amazing views if you take the trip up the elevator. I would recommend doing it at night. It makes you feel small by standing up there and looking at the glittering lights of Tokyo because all of a sudden you realize that you are just one of over 13 million people now inhabiting this small dot on the spacious world map. You start to wonder how anybody can stand out in crowd that size.

If the reminder of your place in the universe is not your thing but you still want to have the cultural experience, there is the Samurai Museum. It costs a little bit of money but the historic armor on display and the stories about the history of Japan is worth it. They will even allow you to touch one of the samurai swords and try on one of the helmets. These gems make the visit here worth your time.

But the real experience of Japan, the one that everybody needs to enjoy, and the one that showed my ability to take back Black Friday was to eat the various kinds of food offered in the country.

image

Japan is one of the greatest places in the world if you are a foodie. There are so many different styles of food from different regions of the country that you can travel for over a year and still find a new kind of food you have never experienced before. Of course, the best place to find all of these regional delights is to wind your way through the streets of Tokyo. They bring the best of the best together in one location to fill up that hungry stomach. I have eaten food in Japan before but I do believe that this trip here the best for this experience I have ever had.

I was able to enjoy okonomiyaki which is considered the Japanese equivalent to pizza. It is basically a mixture of veggies, meats and cabbage thrown on a grill for you to cook. You wait until it is golden brown on either side and then you top it off with mayonnaise and enjoy.

There are also izakaya bars. These places are Japan’s answer to Spain’s tapas. These places offer many small dishes you can share with the rest of your table. Many of the dishes were wonderful at the one we went to, but we were given a dish that we did not ask for by mistake. I wish I knew what it was called because it would be something I would avoid in the future even though it was very popular with many of the other guests. It was some kind of root vegetable steamed then topped with a kind of shaved horseradish. It did please my palate as did other guests but that might have been just me. You should try new things, and I did, but that does not mean that everything I am going to try is going to be something I enjoy.

The other foods I ate on my day long feast were ones I had tried before and still enjoyed. Of course, the sushi and ramen I enjoyed were better than I would have found in the United States or South Korea, but then I am in the country of its origin so I would hope that it would be at the peak of its perfection.

We did enjoy an hour at a tempura restaurant as well. Even though I enjoyed it, it was a little overpriced. I understand it was a small location in the heart of Shinjuku which meant the location was in a prime spot. It made sense I should have to pay a little more than I would have if it was from the smaller town of Castle Rock, Colorado, but when I am paying almost three dollars per piece of tempura-fried vegetable then I do believe I am paying a little too much. But once again, live and learn.

Even though there were a couple of times that the trip did not live up to my expectations, it was so minor that I couldn’t let it bring down the better moments. It also made me proud that I did not fall into the temptation of the holiday season by driving myself crazy fighting the shopping crowd Black Friday loves to attract. Instead, I enjoyed the day the way it and every day is meant to be enjoyed, spending that time with friends and family. I challenge you to spend the next Black Friday the same way. Ignore the temptation of the big corporations and take back the holiday season from the stress it imposes upon you. Spend the day relaxing with loved ones.

 

Camping Korean Style

20151128_121850

Dictionary.com defines Taoism as “the philosophical system evolved by Lao-tzu and Chang-Tzu, advocating a life of complete simplicity and naturalness and of noninterference with the course of natural events, in order to attain a happy existence in harmony with the Tao.” (Taoism) Basically Tao literally translates into English as the way or the path.

Being a professed Transcendentalist, this idea appealed to me as I made my move to Korea. It conjured up images of a society that blended together with nature to create a new harmony between these two opposing forces. I was told of hiking trails in the hills surrounding the city of Seoul that within seconds would make you feel like you were out of the city. Tales of a community that enjoyed the outdoors was regaled to me on numerous occasion before I took the flight over. I was going to a country that loved skiing, hiking, and camping. How could I not look forward to this. Even in one of the largest cities in the world, I would be able to find nirvana just by walking out my front door and finding peace among the trees that surrounded me. Even though there is some truth what was explained to me, what I built up in my minds rarely lives up to that expectation.

Over the recent Thanksgiving holiday, I had the chance to go on a “camping” trip with people I work with at my school. It was suppose to be an opportunity for us to gather together in a remote part of South Korea, and celebrate the holiday with the people who have become our family out here. The head of the experiential education program set up a place for us for this adventure. It wasn’t necessarily camping because she had rented out a whole pension for those who had signed up. It was located in a beautiful part of the country called Peyongchang. The pension itself is a series of cabin like rooms that overlooks an amazing river and is close to a cave that you can explore next to some wonderful hiking trails. It wasn’t exactly my idea of camping but then again it was cold outside so there would haven’t been as many people willing to come if they had to spend the night in tents. The first snowfall of the season confirmed their beliefs that this was the way to go.

The pension rooms definitely lived up to the concept of Taoism. There was not a lot added to the room and we were given the bear minimum in order to make ourselves comfortable. There was a thin pad you unrolled on the hard floor to sleep on. They also provided you with a pillow and a comforter to keep you warm. The small kitchen had one electric burner, and one gas one. They did supply us with a canister of propane, even though we never used it. They did give us enough plates, chopsticks and spoons for four people. Luckily, we had five people sharing the room, but we made it work. The whole layout required us to get very comfortable with each other and there is some to say about that.

It still wasn’t roughing it. Some of the others who came along might have thought that it was truly out in the wilderness because there was no Wi-Fi connection which for a younger generation would be like going back to the dark ages, but once again this was something that I really appreciated. It forced all of us to take those extra steps to talk with each other instead of hiding within our electronic devices.

It still wasn’t this connection with nature that I was hoping for or used to. I wanted the feeling that I had gotten away from signs of humanity and could enjoy the natural way of things. How was I able to be in harmony with Tao if wherever I looked there was some sign of human interaction? Even on hikes up in the hills behind the pension, it was hard to escape from these signs.

20151127_101914

Now I have been on many hikes during my lifetime in the mountains of Colorado, and I have run into cairns many times on these hikes. They were small stacks of stones to help guide you on your hike so you wouldn’t get lost. I know that they would be considered signs of human interaction, but they are easy to ignore as soon as you find them because they will blend back into the environment.

The cairns I ran into on the hillsides of Korea were a little different. They weren’t stacks of five or six rocks to help guide your way, but instead a large stack of stones that obviously took more than five minutes to put together. In fact this labor of love looked more like an archway welcoming you to the rest of the trail rather than a few guiding markers. It was impressive to look at, but it instantly reminded me of the fact that I was now in one of the most heavily populated areas of the world. As I have mentioned before, it might be because I have been spoiled by growing up in Colorado and have been able to experience those moments of extreme solitude that when I see a sight like this I automatically think of those moments and wonder why the rest of the world can’t preserve the nature that is around them instead of trying to enhance it.

20151127_103335

Does it make me antisocial to want to have these moments where I enjoy the world for myself? Would you claim that I am being selfish for not wanting to share it with anybody else? Do I expect to find comfort in only what nature has to offer me instead of what mankind can prove it can do? I think back to Taoism and revel in the fact that the way cannot be perceived the same for everyone. There should be no guidance along the path because only I can find the revelation for myself. The paths that I found in the hills of Korea contradicted this idea in my mind’s eye.

I voyaged back down to the pension and this idea that Korea had about camping disappointed me a little bit. I know that not every culture tries to experience things in the same way and they have their own take on things, but still I couldn’t help to think that maybe, somehow, Korea had gotten it wrong in this case. The connection with and the struggle against nature is what camping should be about and not this moment where you go out there to relax in it and enhance it. I didn’t spend too much time worrying about it though because I only had a short break off from work and one of my favorite holiday traditions was asking for my attention.

That night the folks from my school gathered together in a large hall in the pension and everybody brought a couple of dishes to share. We gathered around the table, stuffing our faces with the traditional fare as well as some new items that were brought from people from other cultures. We shared stories, we laughed, and eventually somebody brought out a guitar and we sang together. It wasn’t a new experience for me, but I felt at that moment a joy I hadn’t felt in many years. It was the same joy I used to feel on Thanksgiving Day when I gathered with my extensive family, a feeling of love and kindness. Glasses were raised and for the first time out here in Korea, I felt like I belonged to something greater. It was euphoric. It was a collection of individuals brought together to create something special that would endure forever. It was in harmony with everything around me, and yet I could feel that it was always there to begin with. Maybe it was the Tao that I was searching for in the first place.

I came to a realization that day that when looking for what is important in life, I shouldn’t look for what I expect to find because what that is never truly existed. Instead I should take in what is given to me and enjoy it for what it is worth. That is the place where I will find something special, and I need quit searching for it. Maybe that is what is meant by finding the way. So even though camping in Korea is nothing like what I am used to, I am still able to find a new truth through the experience that I wasn’t able to find before. Maybe instead of looking for the power of nature, I should start to look for a way that I can live in harmony with it. Even though nature’s beauty has a lot to offer, like a thousand rocks brought together, and fifty strangers gathered, there can be an enhancement to that beauty that makes it a greater marvel than what it started out being.

“Taoism.” Dictionary.com. 2005. Houghton Mifflin Company. 5 December 2015 http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/taoism