Almost

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By , February 11, 2013 12:19 pm

Almost out if here.  Just one last weekend with the inlaws.  I won’t miss the physical part of this much.  This weekend, Lunar New Year, has been cold.  Although mother in law got a sofa two years ago, it’s on the veranda in the unheated part of the house.  It’s too cold to sit on so it’s been three days sitting cross-legged on the floor. 

Add to that her gas running out and no hot water and no fire for cooking makes it almost like camping.  I took a cold shower this morning.  This country has the greatest Internet and telecommunications infrastructure in the world but sometimes the basics of heating or a sit-down toilet are lacking.

It’s grin and bear it for now,  though.  In two more days I leave for the USA. 

The Last Week

By , February 5, 2013 10:36 am

It’s Tuesday and I’ve got one final week in Korea.  I’ve got just a few classes to finish up this week, hand off books to new teachers and turn in attendance reports. Later this week on Friday evening, I’ve got a going-away party.  Should be fun – just a night at one of my favorite foreigner bars here in town, but quite a few people should be there.  Following that, we’ll drive to Pohang on Saturday to stay with MyeongHee’s family for Lunar New Year.  Last time to spend the weekend on the floor, and I’m sure her family will give me a bit of the third degree about why/where/when/etc regarding going back to the USA.

Still waiting to hear about a job or two. I had five interviews with a company in San Franciso, CA and Austin, TX. I think they liked me but I don’t know how much competition I had.  I hadn’t heard from them since last week, but the recruiter said the hiring manager was out of town. I had another interview yesterday with an Austin,TX company but that was very preliminary.  I’d really love to have a job waiting when I come back to the US, but that’s looking slimmer and slimmer.

One last note, there’s a lot of things I’ll miss about Korea.  Here’s a good one: I went to a small clinic late last week. I thought I had a bladder infection. So the Dr. did his consultation, I gave them a urine sample and went on my way. They called back two days later and I went back in to discuss the results – all is fine, and probably just irritated things from riding the bike so much. No bladder infection, no STD and no prostate problems.  So, two visits, one lab test. Total out of pocket cost: $16.72.  That’s kind of where America needs to get to.  It shouldn’t cost an arm and a leg for basic care. I suspect that little trip would have cost a few hundred dollars, or more likely, cost me regularly a few hundred dollars in insurance had I gone to a clinic in the USA.

 

The New, Temporary Home

By , January 28, 2013 10:41 am

We moved this past weekend into another apartment across town.  This place is quite smaller than our previous apartment – only two bedrooms and only one bathroom. It’s not near as nice as our previous home, either. We had wood floors there and only cheap vinyl here, thin aluminum doors and windows and (feels like) zero insulation. We also have no parking here, which means we have to jostle with neighbors, most of whom are businesses, for a space. We’re on the 2nd floor of a two story building and there are many like it along the street. The first floor of all of them, however, is businesses – restaurants, hair shops, cram schools, and hof houses – the traditional Korean beer house. Our neighborhood is relatively filthy.  I forgot how nasty Koreans can be outside their homes as our last neighborhood was very clean and tidy. Here trash is strewn about the playground and cleaned up only once a week while piles of trash get heaped up in corners and the narrow spaces between buildings and is never cleaned up.  When we lived on the far west side of town the neighborhood was just as filthy, but two years in a decent area was enough to make me forget and this week I’m disgusted  all over again by Koreans’ lack of respect for their community and environment.

This is an older neighborhood. Some of the housing predates the use TV, and certainly all of it predates the use of internet. Cables: TV, internet and phone, are strung haphazardly everywhere and anywhere.  It’s a testament to the work ethic of “hurry get it done” that pervades the culture here. Koreans call it “bally bally” culture, bally being the Korean word for hurry. And while that’s a nice thing quite often, as they’ll apologize profusely if fixing you car takes longer than it should but when aesthetics is at stake it takes not just a back seat but rather walks behind the car and doesn’t even get to ride. God help the people who have a fire but can’t get out the windows and onto a fire department ladder because of the plethora of cables blocking them.

cables

the monstrosity of cables attached to a pole outside our building.

cables

Slung every which way, over, under and around – whatever it takes to bally bally get it done.

The little green car in the photo above is parked at a Chinese restaurant – the only one with any parking allocated out front. The rest of the street is store front like the van is parked at in the lower right. Rules forbid parking in front of store entrances while the shop is open, however, there are no rules forbidding parking in front of home entrances as I usually have to nearly climb over cars to get out to walk the dogs. Parking is ever a problem in this land as there are no requirements for a business to provide parking when they build. It’s not uncommon to see a large office building or even a factory that employs 1000s of workers have space for just the smallest fraction of their staff allocated for parking.  Even a public building such as a post office on a busy street will have no parking. Consequently, Koreans park whereever they can get away with it, regardless of what traffic they screw up.  Typically, the road we live on could accommodate parking on both sides with room for traffic to in the middle – except when assholes like this SUV  driver decide he’s going to park however he likes.

parking

No regard for traffic – just park it, Get it done. Bally bally.

One nice thing about the apartment is the roof. Living in the high rise the last two years, we couldn’t use a grill to cook with. With only a covered veranda, we had to have picnic lunches at the park to have a home cooked steak or burger . I won’t be here long enough to enjoy the roof grilling, but that doesn’t mean the dogs won’t have a place to play in nice weather.  In the picture below, they waited impatiently upstairs on the roof while furniture was moved in on moving day.

dogs

The dogs, Sparky (L) and SaTang, wonder why they are banished to the rooftop

 

I’ve got just over two weeks here in this place, and that’s just about all I can stand.  I was spoiled living in the high rise with plenty of parking and clean streets and sidewalks. Any longer here and I’ll probably get into some serious parking and/or trash arguments with the buttheads who live around here.

Anyway, It’s January 28 and in just over 2 weeks I’m headed home.  I’ve got  my high speed rail ticket to Seoul, my plane ticket to LAX, my rental car reservation to Phoenix, most of my stuff shipped home (some of which has already arrived), a big wad o’ cash transferred to my bank in Texas and my Korean pension money set to be transferred as well.  The only thing left to do is get a health certificate for SaTang who will accompany me home.  Sparky gets to (has to?) stay here with MyeongHee.  I’ve probably got one more box to ship home, but that’s just the things that won’t fit in the suitcase like extra shoes, bike helmet and accessories and things like that.  That will be shipped express and will get home just after I do.

I’ve got a big going-away party scheduled for February 8th, but am already booked several nights with dinners and drinks with my closest friends. The big party will be for the wide circle of friends I’ve met through business, work and running a popular website for the foreigners here.  I’ll miss the friends I’ve made here.

Nothing to do now but wait for the 13th.

 

 

3 Weeks Here, 2 weeks there.

By , December 31, 2012 11:22 am

Three more weeks in this apartment and then we move across town to  another apartment. We’re in a high-rise now, but will be moving to what Koreans call a “villa style” home.  Still haven’t seen it, but will only be there two weeks, so it’s fine.  But a villa style is any low 1,2 or 3 story building with outside stairs to the higher levels.

We spent yesterday cleaning and purging a lot of the junk of years together. With DongHyun in the Army, his room got cleaned out the most. He still had a lot of junk from high school and even middle school including trading cards, video games, and assorted junk. We all had lots of old cell phone crap, too – chargers, cables, etc – that seems to accumulate.  I think we’ve got it down to a manageable amount of stuff to move.  I might have one more box to ship, but will try and fit it all in luggage I travel with.

So far, the plan is that MyeongHee is not coming. Initially it was after 14 months when DongHyun finished his stint in the army they’d both come.  He wants to study in the but as an adult, he’ll need his own visa and his mother being married to me won’t matter.  But lately, she’s been talking about maybe 2 or 3 years later.  Then it became a vacation visit thing – she’ll visit the US one year, I’ll visit Korea the next.  Probably not going to work out, but she’s just not interested in leaving Korea.  Maybe things will change, but I’ve just resolved to let it go. I can’t push her to leave, nor can she push me to stay.  So, we’ll stay married and live a half a world away from each other. Fun times.

Almost Christmas

By , December 19, 2012 10:43 am

Our tree is up, but so far no presents beneath it. Nothing unusual for this house, or many others in Korea. Presents are just not a big deal. Still wrestling with whether to buy a gift for MyeongHee or not.  I bought both her and DongHyun a gift last year, but neither bought anything for me.  Not a big deal as I don’t need anything and, in fact, have been conducting The Great Purge and relieving the household of all things I won’t take with me or have shipped home.  No need to add another item to pack.  And she doesn’t need anything, either.  I might get all Christmassy yet – I have a week – so we’ll see.

Earlier this week, MyeongHee put a deposit down on another apartment. I haven’t seen it yet, but she tells me it’s ok. Not great, but ok.  I’ll only live there for 2 weeks or 3 weeks, so I’m not real concerned. If she’s happy, then it’s fine.  The latest news is that her mother will move in with her. She just turned 76 this week and while she’s relatively healthy, she’s lonely in her little house on the coast and MyeongHee says she would be lonely herself. So, for 90% of the time, they’ll live together and 10% she’ll be tending her small plot of crops in the country.  Seems like a good idea.

In other news, my writings have somehow started getting some attention.  I sold a few copies of Internal Strife this fall. I keep hoping the right reader will pick it up, generate enough buzz and interest in other folks and it will turn into a Hollywood blockbuster. And then I usually wake up and get a cup of coffee, the cost of which is  about the same as the profit I’ve made from the book’s sales – a whopping $5 per month this quarter.   It makes me want to go back and finish my second book but I’m having too much fun writing applications for smart phones, which ultimately will be far more profitable for me if I can get a full time job doing so when I return to the USA.

Last chance, by the way, for anyone interested in a personal tour guide of South Korea. I understand there’s a bit more interest in the place these days with “Gangnam Style” song and video making it into the top of the music charts in American and England and other places.  January will be cold, but I’ll have time to escort you to the more interesting places in the country – both of them. A couple of my part time jobs have completed with the end of the year this week and not sure I’ll replace them.  I may just coast into the trip home with a few hours of teaching per week.

 

 

A Major Hiccup

By , November 18, 2012 10:31 am

Damn. Just when it looked as if everything was settled and in place, a large hiccup in travel arrangements has reared its ugly face.

I bought my plane ticket off of Travelocity website back in September. Plenty of time to get ready, get cheap prices and a seat before they fill up. With airlines cutting back on flights due to poor economies, one must plan in advance. Good thing I still have time, as now I have make some changes.

The ticket I bought was for a flight from Seoul, South Korea to Los Angeles CA and a second leg to Pheonix, AZ. The first leg from Seoul looks fine. I checked the airline’s website, Asiana Airlines, for taking pets. Provided there is not crazy weather then, bringing SaTang won’t be a problem. However, the second leg from LAX is on US Airways. Just checking their regulations I find that they no longer accept pets in cargo and that pets in cabin must be under 4kg (8.5lbs). SaTang is close to 7kg. I’m waiting on a response back from their customer relations folks, but I hope to get some answer rather than simply “no.” Maybe a refund, or offer to change airlines to Phoenix…anything. I bought the entire ticket as a “US Airways” flight with a “partner” airlines being Asiana in fine print. I’m hoping that partner relationship that allows pets on the first leg will get them to change their mind about the second leg and figure out a way to get my dog home with me.

If they can’t get past some silly rules, I might have to change airlines at a large cost or worse, drive a rent car at large cost to Phoenix to meet Mark.

We’ll see how this turns out.

And now three

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By , November 12, 2012 11:06 am

Three months to go.

Can you tell I’m counting? I can’t wait to get back to the USA. Time seems to have slowed to a crawl. But it always seems to do that when anticipation is high.

I have three months to work and changes just keep happening. While I had a good job at S-Oil, it was short lived. It was teaching English executives and it started off at 9 hours per week in August and has since dropped to 5 hours and their busy schedules means I might get 3. I had hoped to finish out my time here with all adult classes, but I had to get more hours somewhere. So, I took a part time job at a private English academy. I only work 4 hours a day, twice a week, but that will amount to close to $1k a month. This school is ok. It’s very free-wheeling and I can do whatever I want – I’m typically the only teacher in the place so I’m left to my own devices. Certainly low stress, if not great money.
But, add in the other part time jobs and I am making decent money. My schedule is crazy, though. On Tuesdays and Thursdays I work from 7:30am to 9pm. Wednesday is only 2 hours in the afternoon and Monday and Friday are my two academy classes. Free lance teaching is great pay, but filling a schedule means accepting whatever times one can get. Finding places that want to teach during the holes in my schedule is the hard part.

I sold my scooter last weekend. I wanted to get that done while the weather was still nice. Another month or two and only hardcore riders would be out there on motorcycles. But my biggest challenge at this point is how to get all my things back home. I’m probably going to ship a lot of stuff this month. Send it slow-boat and pay as little as I can. If I send my summer clothes and some cool/cold clothes I should be able to pack the remainder in a suitcase come February. I came in 2007 with a large suitcase and a really large duffel bag. I hope to forgo the duffel as I’ll have my dog, SaTang with me.

It’s started to get cold here this week. The leaves are turning rapidly and the place is looking very much like fall is finally here. Wish we’d have gotten out and gotten pictures but when we had time to do that it wasn’t very colorful. My previous fall pictures will have to suffice.

Anyway, that’s all the news for now. Hope everyone is well.

Fall Colors

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By , October 19, 2012 8:46 pm

I hope to see some soon. It’s been a rather warm fall and just this week is started getting cool. Warm days and cold nights are the secret to beautiful fall colors. But I think it will be a little late this year. We hope to get out this Sunday and drive a bit to see what we can find.

Rock climbing has been great this fall. With the weight I’ve lost I feel stronger than I have in a long time. Wish there were more days available and more people to climb with. Having a great climbing spot mountain 40 minutes from home to cliff will be something I’ll miss greatly back in Texas.

Been hitting the job boards hard this past month. I’ve gotten several emails after posting my resume so I hope that translates into interviews later. Right now I’m hoping to hone my interview skills -if a good job comes along, I’ll take it. Otherwise I’ll wait until February when I fly into AZ. I had one interview on Thursday that didn’t go well at at. The interviewer asked me a few questions and didn’t like my answers. He reported to the recruiters he thought my Android (platform) knowledge and Java (programming language) skills were limited. If that were true, having five applications using both, already out an in use, would be a real feat. There’s lots of opportunities, just gotta find the right one. I keep telling myself that to keep from getting discouraged – that comes too easily.

Under the 4 month mark now. The countdown stands at 3 months and roughly 3 weeks until I go wheels up. I’m looking forward to seeing family. I hope everyone stays well.

Tata for now.

Thanksgiving 2012

By , October 3, 2012 12:16 am

Another weekend spent in Pohang at the mother-in-law’s house. Although it’s still uncomfortable, things have gotten better.  She did get a small sofa a while back so I can sit and read a book in comfort. Most of the family uses it as a coat hanger, so I have to unbury it before I can use it.  Still no beds and not real chairs so meals are short and sweet – hurry up, pound it down and get up off the floor.

However, the peacefulness of the place is a real draw. I’ve realized that the city, with all the noise, terrible drivers and crowds everywhere is one of the real drags on life here.  I can’t seem to ride a bike anywhere in the city without constant fear of either cars or pedestrians.  Fruit and vegetable trucks are always blaring loudspeakers, hawking their wares and there isn’t a store anywhere that isn’t crowded to the gills and has plentiful parking.

But at mother-in-law’s place, none of that exists. It’s just a quiet little fishing village on the coast. Maybe only 50 or 100 people when it’s not a holiday. No trucks with loudspeakers, no crowds, no parking problems. And riding a bike was completely stress free.

I brought my bike in the car for the holiday and I took a long ride on Sunday.  From mother-in-law’s place to the very tip of the Pohang peninsula is close to 70km.  Not sure because the battery in my phone went out on the way back. But for the entire way, I had sometimes ample shoulder sometimes none, but cars were cool and no one tried to kill me.  I came back relaxed and stressfree.

Beautiful ride, by the way, with the ocean on one side, the mountains on the other and lots of hills and peaceful villages along the way.

A few other pictures from this weekend, also.  Our neice, GaEun, is a little over 3 years old. These days, she’s very talkative. I teach her English when I can and she spits it right back out. She liked hanging with me and MyeongHee, who she calls “gomo” which is Korean for father’s sister. She sometimes calls me gomobu (husband of the father’s sister) or sometimes just Martin. The family knows I’m not into titles like they do and they’ve started using names for each other as well. Almost 7 years, but I’m actually learning names of these people.

 

Typhoon Season

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By , September 14, 2012 4:38 pm

Last month we had two typhoons blow through Korea.  Neither was terribly bad for us here in Ulsan as we got the far eastern edge of the storm. Even down on the coast where I teach a couple of classes at the refinery and shipyard things weren’t very exciting.

This month, things may be different. They’re calling it a “Super Typhoon” and is a category4/5 now and heading directly toward us.  Forecasters expect it to be cat 3 by then, but it should be a bit windier and rainier than we had in August.  A forecast from the weather underground has some detail.  We should be getting the leading edge of the storm hit by Sunday evening with Monday being the worst of it.

I was hoping to get out and do some rock climbing this weekend, but we’re getting rain blow in from China. 2nd weekend in a row to be rainy while weekdays are mostly clear.  Last fall, we had six in a row, so I’m hoping this isn’t a repeat.  Typically, Fall is the best weather in Korea and has clear sunny days and cool nights but it’s not all good is it only manifests itself like that during the week.

In Between Classes

One of my current teaching jobs is at S-Oil, a large refinery near the city. I conduct one-on-one classes with a few of the VP-level execs.   And executives are busy guys. Sometimes they need to move their schedule around. I do my best to accommodate them but sometimes that means some down time between classes.  This week I was out at the refinery and had finished one class and was waiting to start another. I decided to park the car near the sea and watch one of the big tankers come in.

Not sure if this one is filling up rather than dropping off as the paint scheme seems to put this water line pretty high on the side of this ship. Oil is lighter than water.  Who knows. S-Oil does about 60% of their business in exports of refined petrochemical products.

It was kind of fun to watch the ballet of the small tug catching the mooring lines from the ship, taking them over to the pier and watching them tie up. It took almost an hour to get the ship in place and tied up and then the tugs all moved off to another part of the port.  I usually bring my eBook reader for periods of downtime, but this was a nice change of scenery. This ship, the “Ocean Cosmos” is a medium size Singapore  tanker and is about 50k tons.  Based on the condition of the paint job, this ship has seen a few days in service.

I’ve Got a Date

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By , September 10, 2012 9:18 am

Yes, a date.  I’ve been saying I’m home to the USA next year and decided I’d just go ahead and buy a ticket. No turning back – unless I want to forfeit the cash on the non-refundable ticket.

I leave on Wednesday, February 13th.  I’m not flying to DFW, however.  I’m flying into Phoenix, AZ and I’ll spend a couple of days with my friend and former roommate Mark. He lives in Prescott and has offered to drive me to Dallas later. But first a little decompression and visiting and maybe some sightseeing. Prescott is not far from the Grand Canyon, so I hope we’ll get a chance to drive up and see that.

Expect me in Dallas sometime later that week, but no schedule has been determined beyond landing in Phoenix.

 

Basic is Done

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By , August 26, 2012 9:36 am

MyeongHee’s son DongHyun finished his basic training this week. The Army gave the boys an afternoon to spend with family and so MyeongHee, her mom and her brother went to see him. I couldn’t go as I have a relatively new job and couldn’t ask off.   But MyeongHee was happy to see her boy. Five weeks is a long time – he’s only been gone for a five days at university prior to this, so she was a little excited to see him – and see to have him go back in at the end of the afternoon.

Happy Mom with her slimmed down son

 

DongHyun with his Grandma and Uncle

I would have liked to have gone, and felt bad that I didn’t.  But not all the family was there – another Uncle, MyeongHee’s younger brother and his family didn’t go, neither did her older brother’s kids, although his wife (not pictured) came.   Had I been the only one not there I’d have felt worse.

So now that basic training is done, he’s back in training for driving school. He’ll become a driver of sorts for his tour of duty. Truck, tank, car – who knows.  They’ll tell him later.

As for me, I’m more than ready to get back to America. I’ve been looking at flights and dates to come home.  I was thinking I might find a job before I got there, but that’s proving to be just too much. I think companies want to interview in person, and no one is going to fly me over for that from this far away.  I’ve resigned to get a job after I get home but I’m still looking and applying now.  I guess it doesn’t do any harm to try. There are lots of jobs for folks who can develop mobile phone apps, and I think there are lots of people moving from job to job, making pickings easier than having to fly an interviewee from Korea over.

Flights back home are expensive, by the way. Not finding anything less that $1000 for a one-way trip unless I want to spend 60+ hours on multiple stops. Since I’ll be bringing my dog SaTang again, that’s just not going to happen.   When I came home last year, it was about $1600 round trip. Lots of tickets now are $1300 and up for just one way.

Weather wise, it’s been really hot and sticky for the past two weeks.  From mid weeek it’s been raining and on Monday or Tuesday we’re set for a typhoon coming our way. We haven’t had any this year and none last year, so I guess we’re due. Looks like a big one, although it’s clear skies today.  Batten down the hatches come early this week, though.

 

August Games

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By , August 13, 2012 2:23 pm

With the Olympics, MyeongHee and I were in front of the TV almost every night. Unlike America, the Korea TV channels are not limited by a singular contract and so we had a couple of of channels to choose from. Still, we were stuck watching the events Koreans enjoy (and are good at) such as badminton, ping pong, fencing and other things decent Americans don’t concern themselves with.

Naturally, in the absence of an American, I rooted for the Korean team. However, there were a few times when something would have both a Korean team and an American team and the living room got heated with us both cheering for our respective countries.  The Women’s Volleyball was rough, but after the Koreans got whipped, I cheered for them against the Japanese, who are the Koreans’ arch nemesis in both sports and global politics. Sure, the news is always about North and South Korea, but here it’s the Japanese they really love to hate.

My new jobs aren’t as cool as I was told they’d be. S-Oil was supposed to be 9 hours a week, but with executive schedules, I’m likely going to get 2/3 of that – and the pay along with it.  I no longer have scads of little kids to deal with, and that’s nice, but a little more job security would be good, too.  I just keep telling myself how much long I have to deal with this – 5.5months as of this writing – and then I’ll move back to the USA.    I hope there are jobs there when I get there.

Not much else going on here.  Hope all is well back home.

 

All’s Quiet on the Eastern Front

By , July 30, 2012 11:53 am

Very quiet here in the house with DongHyun.  He sends a letter home once in a while, so MyeongHee gets pretty excited when that happens.  With 98% of the male population required to go into the military, they’ve developed some web technology to help soldiers communicate with family. They took a picture of his unit and posted it on a military website and MH was thrilled to see him in uniform.

DongHyun’s basic training unit. He is 2nd row up, 4th from right

He seems to be doing well and doesn’t complain much about the heat, the hard work or the food, but that may just be the watchfulness of his superiors.  I guess we’ll get the real story when basic training is over and the family can visit, sometime near the end of August.

As for me, I’ve picked up another company job. I was teaching English to little ungrateful kids in both a private school and in an elementary, but no longer.  I signed on with S-Oil, one of Korea’s largest oil companies.  Their CEO is from Saudi Arabia (it’s a Saudi-owned company) and so there are several executives at the refinery operations that need to speak English to him. So, I got hired to teach English for about 6-9 hours per week, which is worth almost $2.7K per month.  My hours just got reduced, my pay went up significantly and no more classes of noisy kids. So I work about 15 hours per week but make the equivalent of about $48K in US dollars.  But even that’s not comparable, since I only pay 3% in Korean taxes and fall way under the US tax exemption threshold for paying US takes.  So that’s more like the equivalent of  $60k US and working less than half a regular week.  It’s a tough life, but someone’s gotta do it. The only downside is that since I work several part time jobs, I get no vacation or holiday pay. But since I don’t work that hard, I don’t mind.

I also just signed on to redesign another website. This is the third website I’ve contracted to redesign and add functionality to.  I’d like to do more smart phone programming for $, but hopefully that will come later when I’m back in the USA.   I can make a decent living here, but it sure would be better if family was a lot closer.

Summer is definitely here. We’ve been running our A/C for the past several days, which is rare. Last year we only had it on a single weekend.  This is a rare summer heat wave for this part of the country.  Highs in the 90s and lows in the mid 70s.  Nothing like Texas, but that’s a good thing.

Just for fun, here’s an article I wrote late last week on a cute little neighborhood near me.  I found it while out riding the bike and thought it was just adorable.  Most neighborhoods here are very dull and drab and have little or no character. This was a nice change and worth sharing.  MyeongHee and I went back there on Sunday to walk around and she loved it, too.

Quiet

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By , July 21, 2012 10:19 am

The house is quiet these days.  DongHyun left for the Army early on the 16th.  He’d been working nights and would come home around 1:00am and sleep most of the day. But now it’s just empty. The two dogs seem a little disconcerted, but they’ll bounce back.  MyeongHee has been a little sad, as most mothers would. She won’t be able to contact him for 5 weeks and then only briefly.

Summer has finally hit here in Korea. It has been fairly mild until late July. We had some torrential rains – no typhoons, but a good tropical storm – followed by very hot and humid weather.  We’ve got about 6 weeks or so of this and then the fabulous fall weather begins. I look forward to that time.

All the clothes that no longer fit me have been to bother me greatly. I called Jessica and set her off shopping for a couple pairs of pants. No sense shopping here – there just isn’t clothes in my size that can be easily obtained. Oh, sure, there are Korean men my size, and they wear pants. But shopping has never been a joy but it was at least interesting when I could walk into a shop and actually find something. Here it’s hit or miss if I can even find something in my size AND I like the style. Simply just easier to have Jessie ship something I know will work.

As the title suggest, it’s quiet here. Not much else going on, except work, websites and lots of bike riding.  More later as it happens.

 

This is Me

By , July 12, 2012 12:38 am

me

Yes, this is me.  52 years old. And in better shape than I’ve been in for probably 20 years.  I bought a few new pairs of pants when I was home in February because my old ones were all too big. They sagged on my butt.  Well, the new ones all sag now, too.  I have no idea how much I weigh – we don’t have a scale and I don’t go anywhere that does – but I’ve lost more weight and have even (almost) lost the “love handles” I’ve carried for  years.  Several people have commented recently on how slim, trim and fit I look.

I think I have as many grey hairs as I did in the late 90s when I worked in a stressful job selling software. Sure, I have stress now, but it’s more likely along the lines of “where will I buy some western food since tonight I’m tired of Korean food?” rather than “To whom and where will I sell enough software to make my quota and keep my high paying job?” And if that’s the kind of stress I have, then I guess I don’t have much to fret over.

I really do want to move back to the USA next year, but I’m going to miss the lifestyle I have here: I work far less than a 40 hour week, I make decent money, I have lots of time to exercise and work on things I like to, City Hall and the Police Agency know me professionally, I have a few hundred friends here and  run into many of them when I go to any of the couple dozen places that serve western food or drinks. There certainly is a list of things I could rattle off that I’m not thrilled with in Korea, but you’ve probably heard them all already.

So, I’ll just leave it at that.  I’m happy.  Happy birthday to me.

June 30. Half a year already?

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By , June 30, 2012 1:18 pm

With the inferno finished two weeks ago I thought I might get some more free time. Apparently that’s not in store. 
We started a new section of our website called “The Official Word” that is a band-aid for the lack of information available to non-Korean speaking residents.  The police dept contacted me to help disseminate official information on our site.  That’s quite a turn around from just two years ago when I met with them. Back then the official answer for questions on laws, rules and regulations was “you should tell your readers they need to learn Korean.”  Ulsan is still a long way from being truly multicultural but it is getting better. 

Also I’ve begun the process of training my replacement at ulsanonline.com.  While there is another editor and several other writers there is one and only one geek – me.  Our Site is far beyond a simple news or blog site and incorporates numerous scripts and applications such high as bus route searches,  mapping and movie listings.  Without a geek to maintain things there would be no one to insert ads in to pages or update bus information.  With a training program I’ll be teaching my way out of a job and back home without having to stay tethered to the Site and city.

Our lease runs out January 30 – a mere 7 months away.  Unless I land a tech job at home before I’ll be back in the USA sometime after January.  Myeonghee’s son Donghyun got his notice this week to show up at boot camp and leaves July 16. Big changes at our house.
The inferno was a big hit by the way.  Over 35 riders on bikes, scooters and motorcycles competed.  I planned the majority of the course and being both a bicyclist and scooter fan I wanted to give equal possibility to engines or pedals.  I built in points for inclines for bikes and was pleased that the top four teams were motorcycle, bikes, bikes and scooters respectively. After the ride we grilled burgers at a rooftop bar and partied into the wee hours.

Picnic

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By , June 14, 2012 12:39 pm

This past Sunday MyeongHee and I went out for a little picnic in the mountains.  I’d been scouting for places for the Inferno Ride coming up this Saturday and I’d found a nice little stream nestled in the mountains that was cute.  Of course, I did my scouting on a Saturday and the crowds were low. We went on the picnic on a Sunday and the places was crawling with people. One of the things about this place that is sometimes frustrating is the population density. With 66% of the land too steep to build on there’s just a glut of people, especially to nice, interesting places on the weekends.  We had trouble getting in and out and parking but otherwise it was fun.

The typical Korean picnic is to bring the entire kitchen along and cook lunch or dinner there. So, we brought strips of pork and grilled them followed by a bowl of noodles. Then we decided we’d better walk off all that fat. So we hiked up the mountain. Away from the stream, the crowds thinned out immediately and we were left with the sounds of nature. I’ve said it a million times, but this is really beautiful country once you’re out of the city.

MyeongHee poses with the dogs along the road up

I the dogs were more interested in all the bird noises up the road than posing for the camera. There was a pheasant making clucking noises off in the woods and they had a good time running around chasing after the noise.

Still late spring here, the flowers are still out in many places. This bush on the side of the road just begged to be sniffed.

MyeongHee looks way more natural sniffing than I do

Up at the top of the trail is a slightly famous temple. This is NaeWonAm, a temple for nuns. Nicely situated in the saddle of a couple of mountain peaks, it was extrordinarily beautiful.  MyeongHee took advantage and went in and prayed for a couple of minutes while I snapped a few more pictures.

MyeongHee bows in prayer. Each bow is a stand, knee and then nose to the floor gesture that is good exercise, too

Outside the temple is a tree that is 450-500 years old.  The trunk is really gnarly and rough and it the size of a small car at the base.

The big tree

difficult to see the girth of this tree from just a picture. It's huge.

 

After the hike we came back down the mountain – and eat some more pork and noodles. By then it was nearly 6pm and we decided to head for home. Not a terribly exciting weekend as weekends go, but it’s good to get out of the city and away from the crowds.

Also this week I decided to get my cracked tooth taken care of it. With the gum infection over, they were free to do some work. SO they put in a temporary porcelain crown and then wrapped a metal band around the tooth to hold the bond. I go back in next week for round two. A total of 4, maybe 5 visits and my cracked tooth will be properly repaired and covered and look natural.  Again, no insurance.   This week’s bill:  a whopping $53.  That’s it.  They said the whole thing will be perhaps $350 and that’s with no insurance company taking their piece of the pie.  Suck it, American medical and dental thieves.  That’s another thing I will surely miss about Korea when I leave: cheap but effective medical care.

 

 

June

By , June 7, 2012 11:12 am

Things are still really busy here working on two websites, one newspaper and a major annual event planning.  The newspaper articles are done and into the editor. My second website, a freelance design and programming gig is nearly launched and and our annual event, is 9 days away and very close to being ready to go.  I am amazed how much I can get done while working my teaching jobs as well. One day, someone or some company will benefit from all that insomnia and get a boat load of work out me. But in the meantime, I’m doing most of this for either small money or none at all.

I’m still applying for techno-jobs as they come up. Last week I applied for one in Las Vegas, NV that was a web design and programming job.  I got further than most of the applications I had sent and the recruiter and I talked  extensively on the phone and on email. She had me take a programming test that the company desired applicants take. It was much more difficult than I thought, but I completed it (in about 12 hours) and sent it back in only to get silence from the company once she submitted my resume to them.  No worries, as there is still plenty of time left on my lease here before moving back to the USA to find a job. I’ll find one once I’m there if not before. I suspect that a lot of companies will want to interview before hiring and so taking a chance on a high priced plane flight from South Korea to the USA for an interview might just be a budget buster and far easier once I’m in the states permanently.

Here’s one for all the “Obama Care” haters in the US.  I went to the dentist last week. I’d been having some tooth pain and thought I’d better check it out.  Every time I ate something hard it hurt like hell.  I picked a dentist from a crowd of several near our apartment and went in, knowing my Korean skills might make this tough. Anyway, the dentist and I muddled through the consultation well enough.  But the big news was that I had no insurance. Yes, I’m a gambler. I’m a healthy guy and don’t get sick much. It’s a gamble that I’ll less in health care than I would by paying for insurance. Also, by working a myriad of part time jobs I have no full time job that offers health insurance.  The dentist and the nurses all “tsk-tsked” me for not having insurance and I thought I was in for a big chunk of cash out of my wallet.  So, they went through their routine, took x-rays, cleaned my teeth and checked out a cracked tooth, part of the source of my pain. I also had developed a gum infection from the crack that added to some general pain in the jaw.  They didn’t fix the cracked tooth, as that’s a bigger deal. But I did get some meds, an injection and a serious cleaning. So, all told, anyone want to take a guess on how much uninsured dental maintenance costs? About $43.  That includes the x-ray, cleaning, meds and consultation on what to do about the crack.  You can barely walk in the door for that much in the USA.  How do they do it? Each time a patient visits a doctor, dentist or hospital the patient pays some and the government pays some.  If you have insurance, the bill is reduced as the insurance kicks in some, too.  How can they afford to pay for all that healthcare? They don’t spend more money on military and defense than the entire rest of the world combined, which is what the USA does.  So, here’s the editorial part?  Does the USA really need to spend so damn much money on the military?  Are we safer for having spent nearly a trillion $ in Iraq? Did going to Afgahnistan and spending another trillion $ make you sleep better at night? Is that country even close to being any better off than when we got there or when the Russians left? (or even when they came?).   Do we really have to have 50,000 tropps in Germany?  60 years after the war?  And another 75,000 troops in Japan and Korea?  Really? Shave a few percentage points off that enormous military budget and spend it on your own people.  Ok, editorial done.

Yesterday, June 6th, was a holiday in Korea. It was memorial day and commemorates the day North Korea stormed into South Korea in 1950 and kicked their butts nearly all the way down to Busan.   I was off work and several friends and I went rock climbing, still a favorite past time.   I thought I’d drop a few pictures here.

Me and my pups, Sparky and SaTang. Both got close shaves for summer. In the back, Nick prepares to go up

 

TaShane, a Canadian, always loves the dogs

Kelly, a South African, gives Sparky some lovin

From left: Matt, Joe (Americans) and TaShane, while EonYong, Joe's Korean gf comes down

Joe takes a hard route while his girlfriend EonYong, relaxes and watches

That’s about all the news from this end of the world.  Hope everyone is well back home.

 

May 2012

By , May 20, 2012 7:57 pm

I headed out around 8:30 one morning this week south of town for a nice bike ride. It had been raining almost every other day and I decided to take advantage of a little nice weather.  This beach is the same one I went to a couple weeks before on a Sunday, although that day I took the motorcycle. I’ve been down to this place maybe 5 times in the last month in preparation for the Ulsan Inferno – an annual motorcycle rally held in June. I’m helping to plan the route this year and won’t be competing.  Having taken 1st place in 2010 and 2nd place in 2011 I thought this year I’d rest and let others have some glory. It turns out that planning is quite a bit more difficult. The last two years, we allowed bicycles to compete and the point structure should have given them an equal shot at winning. It didn’t so I volunteered to help set the course and points.  That means riding a bike myself to test the route and degree of difficulty. Previous Inferno rallys only considered distance and this year I’m making elevation and altitude a factor that gives bikes more points for having to work harder.   So this bike ride I took was part for fun and part to test the route – I went about 53km (31miles) round trip – only took me about 3 hours to do it and we stopped at several places to see the sights.

The above shot is JinHa beach. It’s going to be our starting point in the rally – we’ll truck bicyles down to start and the real rally is on the way home. Our riders, therefore will do a little more than half what I did, so I felt pretty good about doing round trip in a lot less time than they’ll get to do one way plus some off-the-bike activities.   This beach is also one of the places where the world wind surfing association comes every year for their yearly competitions.  Two weeks ago we watch the pros out on the waves. This has always been something I’ve wanted to try but being a land-lubber from the prairie in the USA that just wasn’t possible.  A few shots here from the competition – I don’t don’t know these people are or where they’re from but watching pros do their sport – they always make it look so easy – made me want to try.  I might have to get back out here on a weekend when I’m not planning a rally and get some lessons.

It was really windy the day I took these pictures – the sand from the beach was blowing everywhere. But the surfers were screaming across the waves.  I simply have to try this.

Last week the in-laws were in town. I haven’t seen most of them for a while – seems like everytime MyeongHee wanted to go I was in the midst of planning something or working something else (still working on two websites, one newspaper, and one major annual event) so she’d go alone to her mother’s house.  This past weekend they all came to our house.  Not much news – whatever English any of them ever learned seemed to have dropped off. ( I practice Korean more than they have a chance to practice English but I still don’t have enough to carry a conversation.)   The youngest member of the clan, GaEun, is almost 3 years old and very cute.  She was the center of attention. The fun part of watching her grow is that her parents aren’t limiting her to traditional gender roles – which is strange given this very sexist society. Anyway, she likes cars and they indulge her. She’s not into dolls and they don’t force her. Some sociologist should have a field day documenting how this turns out.

GaEun and Grandma play with cars on the living room floor

 

playing with cars

And if it wasn’t cars it was smartphones.  Nearly everyone has a smartphone here (except grandma) and little GaEun knows there the games are on everyone’s phones. I keep a few kids games on my mine for the students I teach English to and she loved those. Here she is below playing on MyeongHee’s phone in her peejays.  She loved playing Triominoes, the game I developed earlier this spring.

Smartphones are everywhere in Korea and GaEun know how to find all the games

And of course I have to have dogs in the pictures. Not sure how we got away with not having Sparky in the shot – she gets jealous when anyone does something she does, but I got a picture of my sweet wife and my best dog.

MyeongHee and SaTang

New Gig

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By , May 9, 2012 10:46 am

I still have the old jobs but recently added a new one. I started a part time job at one of the ship building plants on the coast last week. Just another English teaching position, mostly conversation with a bit of grammar – EduTainment.  But the shipyard atmosphere makes it a little exciting.  Surrounded by huge chunks of hull that lay about the grounds, dozens of men welding on various pieces and hammers, jacks and noise of all sorts makes it a busy place. This isn’t one of the big shipyards that Hyundai owns but a smaller company on the south end of town.  I start work at 6:30pm, which seems to be shift change for several hundred workers. Getting in while so many are getting out is a challenge since traffic laws and lights are routinely ignored in most parts of Korea but at this time and place may as well not even exist.

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the view outside our classroom

Yes the air is that dirty. We have had a rash if dust from the Gobi desert in Mongolia blow in this week.

Fun in the City – Not

By , May 8, 2012 9:19 am

Have you heard this one?  A guy walks in to a bar and has a few beers. The bartender runs a tab and on the third beer the guy wants to pay – for one beer. The bartender argues the guy hasn’t paid for any beers and the guy argues he has.  The argument gets louder, curses fly and the bartender orders the guy out of the bar. The guy picks up a bar stool and begins to swing it at the bartender. Two others guys watching immediately jump up, force the guy to drop the bar stool and then unceremoniously hustle the guy out of the bar and down the stairs.

End of story, you think?  Not in Korea.

The guy was a Korean and he claimed that the the two foreigner guys who threw him out beat him up on the way down the stairs.  So he called the police.  Despite there being multiple witnesses who told the police the Korean guy was an ass and, no, no beat him up, the police continue to play out the story with  multiple visits to the police station for questioning.  Apparently the guy self-inflicted a few minor scratch wounds on himself and wants to press charges.

In any other land, they’d run the guy off telling him he should have paid his bill. End of story. Not here in Korea. With no self defense law, anyone hurt by another, even if he started the fight, has the right to sue.  So even though the Korean guy picked up a bar stool and was about to smash someone or something before being stopped, he can claim is owed damages because the guys who stopped him hurt him.  Essentially, it’s who ever is hurt worse gets paid. It’s no wonder Korean middle aged men, are such assholes.  Get in somebody face and start a fight only to lose and collect cash.

I was one of the two who threw the guy out of the bar. I’ve been to the police station once, and not sure if they want me to come back. The Korean guy has no witnesses that saw him get beat up, but he swears it’s true and the police listen. Meanwhile, I have witnesses that swear he didn’t get beat up but simply pushed out of the bar. We’ll see who wins.

Sunday drive

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By , April 24, 2012 4:29 pm

Just a few pictures I took while out scouting places for this years scooter inferno

Remnants of a Japanese fortress built in 1593 just on the south side of town.

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The fortress overlooks an inlet and a small beach town. But incoming ships can be seen for miles from the fortress which is about 400feet above the sea

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I meant to upload this one above rather that the duplicate below. The perils if updating web pages from a smartphone I suppose.

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Busy Busy

By , April 21, 2012 1:54 pm

And no time to update this blog, apparently.

At least I have some decent excuses.

I picked up a new website to develop back in March. Two teachers here in Ulsan want to start a ESL (English as second Language) website that provides resources for students who are learning, teachers who are teaching, schools who want to hire teachers, etc., etc.  There are already some pretty big players in that market, but these boys think they want to climb that hill anyway.  They had previously contracted with a company in the UK to construct their website, and they had done an admirable job piecing together some off-the-shelf web applications. They hadn’t, however, bothered to make the website look like a single, cohesive site rather than a bunch of disparate apps thrown together. Clicking from one function to another gave the user little to believe he was even on the same site.

Anyway, the two guys here knew I managed Ulsanonline.com and are frequent users of the site. They asked me if I could take over the work from the boys in the UK and I agreed — for a couple thousand bucks, sure.  So, beginning in April, I’ve been hard at work trying to make their site look like a single website with multiple functions.  Check it out and see what you think. Still not quite done and it’s not ready to launch (they’ll pay me more money to add functionality they has yet to be developed, such as online video classrooms) but at least it looks like a single website. The site is ESL Heaven.  I redesigned the front page and just put in some garbage text, but we’ll fix that…I think…these boys aren’t terribly web savvy and likely haven’t even read it.

I’ve also embarked on a “Best Of Ulsan” campaign for my own site, UlsanOnline.com.  I’ve modeled it after the “D Magazine” articles they did every year for best and worst of Dallas. I had to create a few forms for people to vote, a backend database to record all the votes and then tabulate them and then stay active online with trying to get the couple thousand or so foreigners here to fill it out.  Once voting is done, we’ll write multiple articles on which restaurant has the best x, which service provides the best y, etc.  But that’s just an add-on to the continual, on-going efforts of our very popular website and I write articles for it weekly.

June is our annual “Ulsan Inferno” event in which teams of motorcycles and scooters compete in a scavenger hunt/race/adventure challenge around the city and surrounding areas. I’m part of the planning committee on it this year, having won 1st and 2nd place in the event in 2010 and 2011, respectively. It’s a lot of fun and get’s people who sometimes don’t get out of the city much to see the smaller, lesser known points of interest in this beautiful country. We’re in the middle of planning for this event and that takes a few hours per week.

And if that weren’t enough, I’ve officially been inducted into City Hall’s newspaper efforts. They started last winter with a quarterly newspaper, printed both in Korean and in English. I had a loose arrangement where Ulsanline.com would supply a few articles for each issue but now I am on a team of eight in the paper’s planning committee and we’re setting out the strategy and content for each issue.

I think that’s all the work related things I have going on.  The rest of what keeps me busy is riding the bicycle and rock climbing.  With spring finally here, climbing is back on the agenda as is riding the bike. Gotta stay healthy.  And reading – I still love to read and since Jessie and Teri bought me a Kobo reader last year for my birthday I’ve consumed enormous amounts of text.  My physical bookshelf has been emptied and I gave all the paper books away to friends and some foreigner bars who stock books for lonely newcomers. But my virtual bookshelf of the books I’ve read continues to grow.

I’ll close with a few recent photos of me, just in case anyone forgets what I look like. The beard is gone.

 

Me and my dogs Sparky (r.) and SaTang on Munsu Mtn.

 

Sparky doesn't like to be too far away wherever we go. I'm belaying long-time climbing bud, Dee

 

The Three Amigos, From left Spark, Satang and litter-mate Corker

Industrial Ulsan

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By , April 5, 2012 11:52 am

Just this past week it feels like spring might be here. Might. Just maybe.  While the end of March was warm, the first week of April turned bitter cold and windy again.  It’s usually warmer than this in April. Anyway, I took advantage of a decent Saturday afternoon and rode the bicycle out to the coast.  This time, I took the industrial section and rode along side the Hyundai Motors automobile factory.  With a few other, smaller factories in the middle, it then runs along side Hyundai Heavy Industries, which is the massive shipyards.  It’s really tough to portray through pictures the awesome perspective of this place, where factories sprawl for miles on end.  But, being the geek that I am, I am inclined to try.  First, my route, as outlined by Endomono, the application I use on my phone to track my cycling workout. It uploads my path to the internet so I can see where I am, or like now, where I was.

my route, from home on the left. About 38km but with some serious hills on the southern end

I’ve marked on the map the four spots where I took photos.

A.

The first place I stopped has always fascinated me. This is the loading area for Hyundai Motors, where the 1000s of cars they churn out every week are loaded onto ships for destinations around the world.  These ugly-ass, boxy ships are floating parking garages.  They are strictly car carriers and move, depending on size, from 1,200 to 8,000 cars per trip.  Hyundai Motors is  #4  in car production behind Toyota, GM and Volkswagon.

A Eukor vessel being loaded at the factory's seaside gate

teams of men drive cars in an endless stream onto the ship

While this ship is being loaded, other ships await their turn. I travel past this point on my motorcycle regularly and every day a different ship or sets are in port getting loaded. The number of cars  loaded and shipped seems mathematically  astronomical.

Three more ships wait in line to load cars

 

Meanwhile, across the highway from the bike path, the Hyundai parking lot is jammed with 1000s more autos, each awaiting their turn to being carried off. Although there really are a disproportionate number of white cars, this photo only makes it appear they ALL are white. Protective covering is laid on to hoods and tops and even parts of the sides to keep the sea salt and industrial pollutants in the area from tarnishing the vehicles before they ever hit the showroom.

This is a panorama view, so run your mouse across the image to slide it left and right.

Since this was a Saturday, traffic was fairly light. So was the bike traffic on which I rode. On a week day morning or evening, the paths are filled with bicycle-riding factory workers.

B.

Just around the corner from the car factory, the shipyard sprawl begins.  Just beside the bike and walking path, enormous sections of hulls line the way.

A large hull section is waiting to be placed in a berth

The ships are assembled in chunks, with each chunk being built in smaller covered buildings and then carried by massive cranes to berths where they are welded, bolted, glued and otherwise attached to form a ship.

The berths, beyond this building, are where ships are laid out in chunks and assembled

C.

To get those hull sections into place takes some massive gear. Enormous cranes carry hull sections, equipment and workers    around these incredibly large structures. Even on a Saturday, this place was bustling with workers, small trucks, jeeps, forklifts and equipment cranes.

These smaller cranes service the ships that are in for repairs or modification

These cranes, however, are the largest in the world, carrying 1,600 tons each as they drop hull sections into place

 

 

D.

They didn’t really like me taking photos. In this panorama, the security guard tried to wave me off and tell me I wasn’t allowed to photograph. Being the butthead that I am, I merely told him I was on a public road. High walls surround other parts of the shipyard, but the truck traffic in and out at this gate is just too much to deal with to have large gates open and close constantly. I took a few shots and then rode on.

This still photo panorama was belies the amount of activity going on here. Trucks, scooters, forklifts and people swarm the area as raw materials are brought in, unloaded, stored and ships are built.

On the far southern tip, a huge sea wall encloses large parts of the shipyard. Partially for protection from the weather, partially to keep out prying eyes (like mine) and partially to just keep the sea out, the walls form a huge ring for miles. Just another public road at this point, as fishermen are plentiful on the seaward side, where large numbers of ships await business in port.

I rode a long way on this seawall. That's a lot of concrete.

Outside the seawall, Koreans fish while ships wait their turn in port.

Inside the seawall, more huge hull sections line the path as they await the cranes that will place them in a berth

I could have ridden for hours longer around this place, but I was 20km from home and the afternoon was getting cool. I took my photos and headed back around the peninsula, back adjacent to the car factory and across the river to home. A relatively short ride, but I hope to get some truly epic rides in this summer.

The Deal

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By , March 22, 2012 12:09 pm

Newly armed with a repertoire of Android smart phone apps and a popular website of semi-slick programming, I’ve been marketing myself as a software developer.  My resume says nothing about teaching. My latest job merely says Ulsanonline.com, and that’s no exaggeration as I routinely spend 10-15 hours per week working on it in some capacity, whether it’s programming, maintenance news gathering or marketing.  And since I posted my resume on the job boards, I’ve begun to get responses. I get about two emails a week from recruiters with potential jobs. Not all are good fits for my skills, but it’s only been a month.  One will turn up.

As I mentioned when I was home, the plan is to come home in 2013 and find a techno-job somewhere in the US.  Dallas would be nice, but anywhere in the continental US would be far closer in distance and timezone than I am now.   But coming back to America earlier is an option – under certain circumstances.  What circumstances?

Here’s the deal:  because I have an existing social infrastructure in Dallas, moving there would be far less costly than another city. I could find a place to live while staying with a friend or relative. I could possibly even find a roommate among my friends there. Moving to another city would be an immediate outlay in hotel costs with almost no possibility of finding a roommate (I don’t do random roommates well).  So, I either have to save enough cash to make the move to a new city, or move to Dallas and gradually build (figuratively, not literally) a home.  MyeongHee will still stay here in Korea another year, but if the right job comes along I’m outta here.

That certainly puts a little umph in my get-along.

A Video

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By , March 16, 2012 1:58 pm

We’ve had a couple of nice days of weather and I took advantage of them with a little hiking.  Just behind our apartment is a nice park surrounding a smallish mountain and a pond. On nice days I take the dogs out and let them run on the many trails.  One day I decided to take my video camera and show off the city.

My video camera couldn’t zoom in enough, but I caught MyeongHee while she was on the phone
to me on the mountain. Anyway, just a little live action from here on the peninsula.

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With the placement of the mountain I shot the video from and it’s position just south of the city, it blocks the majority of the petrochemical complex (Mordor!) from view. We still get a lot of its haze and funk, even if we can’t see the smokestacks because of the park in between.

A lot has changed since I first came to Ulsan, South Korea. That was eight years ago in April 2004.  None of the high rises were there. In fact, I still have a panorama photo I took of Ulsan in 2004. This photo is hazy, but that’s typical Ulsan air in the summer. It’s gotten quite a bit better since these hazy days, but this is the armpit and industrial hub of the nation and it is still funky and the brown streak is still visible in the video above.

Here’s a Job, there’s a job

By , March 3, 2012 3:17 pm

I lost my job last week.

I had been working at an “After School” in a regular school teaching English.  That’s a school run by a private company that holds classes in the school after the regular classes are finished. Koreans do that. They send their kids to school, and then they send their kids to another bunch of classes. Why they do that is a) either the regular   school sucks and kids need more learning or b) education is very competitive, even for 1st graders and parents aren’t satisfied being anything less than best in the class.  You decide.  I digress.

As I said, I’d been working in an After School program and I lost my job. The private company did a horrible job of managing their money. To fix that, they had to sell new books to the parents more often to make up the shortfall. Rather than wait until the students understood one book before moving to the next level, it was sell a new book and reap the profits. Nevermind that the kids didn’t understand the last book and the new book assumes they learned it already.  So, as you might imagine, when the contract was up for renewal, that company lost out and another “After School” company was brought it.   I wasn’t a big fan of that approach, but I made good money and only worked about 20 hours per week.  Call it the “Golden Handcuffs.”  I didn’t like the job, didn’t like that I could not get my students to utter more than a word or two, much less a full sentence and didn’t like that I felt personally ineffective at teaching. But I got paid well and had lots of time off.

Just before the contract winners were announced, several competitor companies contacted me to come work for them.  I waited, thinking the company I was already at would have schools to send me to.  They didn’t.  And when I went back to the competitors to see if they needed teachers still, I lost out. They’d already filled their needed slots. Oh no! No job! Whatever will I do.

That was on Thursday when the schools all signed new contracts. By Thursday evening, it was clear I had no job as my company lost more contracts than they had teachers for.

So, Friday morning I set out, determined to find a job.  I got a cup of coffee and sat down at my computer and opened up Facebook.  “Hey! That’s not looking for a job,” you say. “That’s loafing!”  Not here. There’s a rich environment of jobs available for native English speakers such as yours truly and the traffic on facebook is thick with them.  Just in Ulsan we have two facebook groups dedicated to jobs, whether it be part time, full time or just substitute.  A few emails and phone calls and I’m off and running.

By 9:30am I had an interview set up for the early afternoon.  By 11, I had another company job asking for a resume.  Both of those came to fruition and by mid afternoon I had two part-time gigs.  At 8:00pm another company called looking for a part time teacher. I took that one, too.  I went from 0 jobs to 3 in one day.  I’ll be working 16 hours a week (oh, poor me!  the hardship! the agony!) and making more than I was before at 20 hours a week.  It’s going to suck when I come back to America and have to work a full 40 hour week.

And that’s the way things go here. There are just too many jobs and not enough people to fill them. Not always, of course. This week is slightly different since school began yesterday. The Korean school calendar goes from March 2 until February with a summer and winter vacation thrown in.  This week all the schools are gearing up for the new year, so there are a lot of jobs on the table. Still, a fresh job is usually less than a week away in even the biggest of vacation periods.

Throughout the years, you may have read about my life in Korea as sometimes good, sometimes not so good. But this is one thing that makes it really good – I have never worried about finding a job here.  Given the global economy, that’s a rare thing to day.

 

Come and Play

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By , February 24, 2012 7:42 pm

It’s done.  My game, that is.  I published Triominoes to Google’s Android Market this week and made the game available to everyone with an Android Phone.  Of course, something like this is never “done” as there are future enhancements to work on, bugs to fix, etc.  But stage 1 – getting it out into people’s hands – is at least started. If  you’ve got an iPhone, don’t bother. But if you have the other smart phone, then please, download it, play it, comment on it, rate it – in short make my game look popular.  It’ll help me get a job if I can point to a semi-popular game I’ve programmed.  So even if you’ve got an iPhone or a stupid phone, help me out by telling your friends to download it.

By the way, this is the first game I’ve ever created. I’ve done a lot of programming over the years, but never a game. I’ve done smart missiles, office automation products, simulators, security applications, and dozens of web thingamabobs and whatnots.  But never a game.

OK. Back to American Idol. Or X Factor or whatever is popular these days.

Hello Blog. Nice to Meet you (again)

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By , February 21, 2012 2:14 pm

It’s been a while since I wrote here.  I used to write several times a week and then it got to be just once a week.  Seems like that even went south as I haven’t written since well before my trip to the USA.  Sorry. My Bad.

But it’s not like I have been using the computer this blog sits on.  I pay hostmonster.com  a few bucks a month for the privilege of having a computer always on the internet.  I figured I should use it for more than just blogging…..so I do. And I did.  Just before leaving for America I started a technical resume for myself.  Everyone has one. Artists and photographers have something else, though  – a portfolio.  I wanted one to show off my techno-work.  So I made one. I put in the bare bones but spent a lot of time getting the programming right since my portfolio is also one of the things I programmed.  Check it from my front page  you can click on the computer for my technical work.  Or go directly to the computer image and the portfolio and see what I’ve done.  That’s a short list, but now that I have it all I have to do is add in a description of each piece of work I’ve done. I’ve got a dozen or so more to add.

But wait, there’s more!  One more piece of work I have to complete but is nearly done – TriOminoes.  I bought a wooden set of TriOminoes while in Thailand and really liked the game.  Everyone I’ve played with liked it, too.  So I decided to make a TriOminoes game for smart phone. Each player has a board and pieces to play and this computer at hostmonster.com does the phone-to-phone data communication.  In other words, if you play the game, your phone talk to this computer. When I play, my phone reads what moves you made from this computer and then your phone reads what I played.  Sounds slick?  It was way more complicated than I thought, and I’m still working on a few nasty techno-issues, but I WILL prevail and TriOminoes will be out and available soon.

I started the just three weeks before my vacation and it’s been two weeks  since. That’s a total of five weeks but will be six when done. I had to design a lot of stuff from scratch, but my next game, because I’ve already got the basics done for this game, will go much faster. I just don’t know what game I’ll do.

Why all the games?  We’re back to that portfolio again.  I’ve been teaching English for a living and would like to get back into writing computer programs. The portfolio and the games and things for the ulsanonline website are all just resume builders.  Oh, and I like doing it, too.  It’s fun to program and make computers do my bidding. But there’s money to be made, too, and I intend to get back in that saddle and ride.

As for home, well, it’s was great. I really enjoyed seeing everyone. I wish I could have spent more time with people.  Wish I could have seen a few more friends but that’s fine. Plenty of time later.

That’s all for now!   TTYL!

p.s. for all you Android users….I hope to play TriOminoes with you soon!

Christmas

By , December 28, 2011 10:35 pm

Another Christmas in Korea – certainly not the worst Christmas I’ve ever had.  I really wanted to come home but a lack of vacation, high airline prices and it jsut wasn’t gonna happen.  I made the best of it and MyeongHee and I went to Dee’s house for a Christmas pot-luck feast.

I’ve probably babbled on in the past about some of the benefits of living overseas. Forgive me if you’ve heard this before, but one of the cool things about being here is all the other teacher’s I’ve met from other parts of the globe.  Native English speakers are in high demand in Korea and they come from the USA, Canada, England, Scotland, Ireland, Australia, South Africa, New Zealand and probably a few other places I can’t remember. Anyway, this Christmas since it was a pot-luck dinner I got some grub that is traditional Christmas fare in other lands.  Nick is from England and made yorkshire pudding. I’d heard the name before, and I would have thought of it as like any other pudding we eat in America. Not so. It’s really a biscuit – a light and fluffy biscuit – that is then ladled over with gravy until it’s “sogified.”  That was awesome.  Arielle, another Brit, made Christmas figgy pudding. No figs, but various dried fruit. It was almost like a fruit cake, but wetter, more alcoholic and way richer. Especially after it was drenched in brandy and lit on fire.  Kimberly brought Scottish stuffing. It was good, but I like Mom’s stuffing better.   Dee made lots of roast chicken, gravy and potatoes and I brought bbq sausage for a little Texas flare.  Everyone brought a bottle of wine and we spent the day eating (all day, literally) and drinking.

It wasn’t a fabulous Christmas being away from home, but it was made a whole lot better with the good friends I have here. Despite being 10,000 miles from our various homes, we  made a family holiday a lot of fun for us.

Once home, I tried to call everyone, but apparently so did everyone else. I use Skype, a computer based program that let’s you call for just pennies a minute over computer networks.  I tried several times Sunday night and early Monday (late Sunday morning back home) and I couldn’t get through. Luckily, Jessica figured things out and called me on her mom’s home phone (no calling card – must’ve been expensive) so I got to talk to my girls.

So now that the big holiday is passed, I learned that I do get some vacation after all. I’m taking vacation on January 20th, which is just before Lunar New Year, another big Korean holiday. I’ll add those holidays into my vacation and get a whopping two weeks to come home.  I’ll arrive home on Saturday the 21st of January and won’t have to go back until Sunday morning on the 5th.   Not as good as last year’s six weeks home, but two weeks paid is a good deal.  Flights are much cheaper then, too.

Not much else to report, so I’ll sign off.

See you in Dallas in January!

Late breaking news!

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By , December 23, 2011 7:56 pm

I just got approval to take a nice vacation around the time of Lunar New Year.  That’s a big holiday here in Korea. Normally it’s 3 days, but it falls on a Monday, so we’ll only get that Monday and Tuesday off. I got the OK to take the Friday before off, the remainder of the holiday week and the entire following week off. That from January 21st and returning to work on February 7th.  That’s a nice 17 days off from work.  That enough for a trip back home…

Now, to get a flight…details on that later.

 

In the meantime,  It’s Friday, December 23rd.  Almost Christmas.  Here’s to hoping everyone has a wonderful Christmas and a very special new year.

One of my students snapped this picture of me on Friday, the 23rd. Last day of classes before the big non-holiday. Since Christmas is on Sunday, there is no holiday. They’ll have classes again on Monday as well. We had parties in all my classes today. The kids all had snacks and drinks and made Christmas cards for their parents.  Hard to believe I got paid for coloring pictures writing a few sample greetings on the board – for a whopping four hours. Then I had to come home and take a nap. It’s a tough life.

Slow Times

By , December 12, 2011 10:56 am

Not much going on here….which is why I haven’t written lately.  It’s work-home-sleep-repeat for days on end.  These days, I’m not even working very much. I bring home a full salary – as much as any other teacher working full time, but I work only 19 hours a week.  Lots of time to read books, do some programming, write an article or two for my Ulsan website and generally slack off. I’d work more, but it’s difficult to find part time teaching gigs to fill the gaps in my existing schedule. Mostly, it’s 1pm-5pm with a couple of early morning business classes and a couple of evening private lessons.

We haven’t done much else as I’m trying to put back some money for my eventual return to the states. Previous years, we were able to save some decent coin. But this year has been harder. DongHyun started university in the spring and so we’re paying for that, while I’m still paying for Teri’s student loans and some back taxes I owed.  But we’re not making as much these days, either. MyeongHee’s hair shop hasn’t been near as busy – a new high rise apartment opened up next to her shop in 2009 and this year a new hair salon opened on the retail floor of the apartment building. She’s still making a profit, but we lived off her cash-only business and we socked my salary in to the back. I’m having to take my salary and pay a bit more for living and less in the bank these days.   She’d like to move her shop to a better location, but that takes both money and time. And with the plan to head back to the US in 2013 with her following in 2014 moving her shop just wouldn’t make sense. So, we live within our means and save what we can and plan for brighter days later.

In the meanwhile, I’ve lost a lot of weight. I’m close to 210lbs – down from nearly 240 earlier this year. The size 40 jeans I was wearing don’t fit and even the smallest size I own – size 36 – are a little big. Not sure why I’m losing weight as I haven’t been riding the bicycle since summer.   Still not a skinny boy, but I look a lot less fat than I did in the spring when I was in the U.S.

On Saturday, we had a total lunar eclipse here in Asia. In America it was not visible but we had clear skies and a great view as the Earth’s shadow passed over the moon and left it a very reddish tint.  It was directly overhead, so we had to watch from outside in the cold. We drank schnapps  and ate sweet potatoes  to keep us warm. I took a lot of pictures, but my camera just isn’t good enough to take really breathtaking shots. I did get this one that came out pretty decent, just towards the last 20-25% of the eclipse before it went all red. After that, my camera wouldn’t focus on the dim, red moon.

No plans for Christmas other than to stay warm. Both Christmas and New Years fall on a Sunday, which means that we won’t get any extra days off here.  But I hope everyone back home has a grand time over the holidays.

Happy Thanksgiving

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By , November 23, 2011 12:43 pm

I really wish I could be home this year for Thanksgiving. I haven’t had a decent turkey dinner with all the trimmings in years. Although that would just be the cherry on top, so to speak. I really miss my family and friends.  I’ll try to call sometime over the holidays, but it’s going to be tough to do it while everyone’s together – 15 hour time zone difference makes mid-afternoon America an early morning thing here.

I’ve decided that unless something spectacular happens between now and then I won’t be coming home for Christmas. Flights are just too expensive. I get 10 days vacation, but so does everyone else and the prices are jacked up from mid-December through mid-January. If I can swing it, I’ll defer my vacation until spring and get a cheaper flight. If that doesn’t work, I may just stay until early 2013 when the lease is up on our apartment and I’ll move back to America. Of course, that all depends on the economy in the US – and that’s anyone’s guess as to what that will be like.

This weekend is another kimchi weekend at the mother-in-law’s house. Cabbages are on sale all over the vegetable markets in town. It’s also MyeongHee’s mom’s birthday, so we’ll go up on Saturday evening, have a small party and then make kimchi.

This past weekend was a climbing fest in Munsu. The Korea on the Rock climbing group folks came into town and replaced a bunch of old rusted hardware on the mountain so that future climbing is safe. I personally took off a few terribly rusted anchors and replaced them with shiny new stainless steel chains. Then we climbed that route, which we hadn’t done in years because of the rotten condition of the anchor.  Here’s a link from the KOTR folks with more details and pictures.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The one the left is the old crusty one, and the new stuff on the right. The bolt on the left was a little rusty but still solid and another crew will come out in the next week or two to replace that. They were having trouble with the charge on the drill battery running out before it should have, so not enough bolts were drilled. Crappy anchors removed, the climb is tons safer than it was.
Again, any climbers wanting a tour of Korea would be well advised to plan a trip next year. After that, you’ll have to find your own way around as I hope to be back in America.

That goes for the rest of you, too: of all my family and friends back home, and all the years I’ve been here, only two friends have ever come to visit Korea, Mark in 2007 and Kim in 2005. We’ve got a spare bedroom so we could put you up and give you the $2 dollar tour. 2012 is likely the last chance to visit this place and get a guided tour.

A few pictures from this weekend:

 

The crew works diligently to remove old anchors on top of a 33 meter route

Late in the afternoon, the sunset turned things magically orange

My trusty climbing partners wait for me to finish replacing an anchor

Anywho, not much else going on here. My Thanksgiving celebration will likely be no more than drawing a picture of a roast turkey on the blackboard and explaining the holiday that is this week. Guaranteed to get a million questions about what turkey tastes like since they don’t eat much of it here. Few people have ovens at all since most Korean meals are either grilled or pan cooked. The few that do are not large enough to prepare a bird of that size. And besides, they like their meat with scads of red pepper, and I’m not sure that would even taste good.

The Streak has been Broken

By , November 14, 2011 7:59 pm

After four rainy weekends in row we finally had a nice weather weekend. I took advantage of the sunshine and went  up to Munsu for a couple of climbs. I wish I would have done more than the three short routes I did, but all that rain gave me a cold.

The dogs had a great time running around on the mountain, although it wasn’t as much fun or them as last time when we saw the goats up there. Lots of goat poop all around the trails, but we didn’t see the goats.  On the way back down the mountain I asked the old monk about the goats. He told me that they were neither his goats nor the farm down in the valley. They’re wild goats! They’re bugging him, leaving pellets all around his mini-temples and shrines. So he encouraged us to catch them and eat them.

SaTang relaxes between climbs

Both dogs are snack hounds, waiting for a handout

Hunting goat might be something fun to do next weekend. There is a large group of climbers from around Korea coming to our mountain for a route-repair weekend. Korea on the Rocks, and an initiative group that sprung from it have a yearly program to preplace old worn out climbing hardware on only a couple of mountains per year. Munsu got two of the four projects this year and the routes are looking spectacular – no more sketchy bolts or anchors. They have done a great job so far and next weekend there will be even more of our 70+ routes cleaned up. KOTR’s website is a great resource for climbers in Korea (284 separate climbing locations in this small country. And for my climbing readers back in Texas – it’s a must-read before hitting the walls out here in kimchi land – and this might be my last year to give you a tour of Korea and a sofa to sleep on.

Or maybe a full bed.  MyeongHee’s son, DongHyun went down to Busan today for his military medical fitness test. Not sure what what the outcome was, but I’m betting he’s fine.  He’s a healthy young man. They say once the physical is done, they’ll send a letter detailing when to show up for military service. We predict early next year. He’s already gone 5 of 7 days a week up in Daegu at the university. Once he goes in the Army, however, he’ll have just a few short trips home thoughout his 2 year stint.

Yesterday, we went to Ulsan Grand Park. It was a beautiful sunny day and there were lots of people in the park. I guess everybody else was enjoying the weather after the crap weekends we’ve had.

We found a nice maple tree in the park for a picture

or two or three. Hard to get the dogs in the shot

MyeongHee poses next to a large praying mantis

And now a 4th

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By , November 6, 2011 8:31 pm

Make that 4 rainy weekends in a row. This is getting a little ridiculous. For four weeks now it’s been sunny and brilliant blue skies all week and then its rained on the weekend.  Sad weather.

Fortunately, I have lots of movies to watch and books to read. Not much to do outside.

 

Three Weeks. Three dead Weekends

By , October 31, 2011 10:29 am

For three weeks in a row the weather has been gorgeous. Clear blue skies. Cool, crisp nights. Except for the weekends. Monday through (mostly) Friday, we’ve had awesome weather. Saturday and Sunday and sometimes even Friday, we’ve had gloom, rain and cold.

Consequently, we haven’t done much to write about.

Today is Halloween, and since it is on a Monday, it’s going to be a non event. Halloweens that fall on a weekend are generally observed, but those that fdall on weekdays get lost in the shuffle. Korean schools are loath to do much about the quasi-holiday anyway, but on a weekday, especially Monday, they will avoid it like the plague.  No parties tonight as there would be on a weekend, and wasn’t even aware of any this past weekend.  We stayed home and watched TV and read.  I did some work on Ulsanonline.com and added a new bus search program for the dorks that ride buses.  Big whoop.

These days, it’s work, home, eat, sleep, repeat.  Not that that’s bad, but it’s a little monotonous. Saving money by not doing things that cost money isn’t a bad option, either.

Hopefully, more news, and more fun news, later.

Fall Climbing

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By , October 17, 2011 11:36 am

Fortunately, the title is not in reverse. But Fall weather here being as fantastic as ever, has started a little late in the climbing seasons for us. Just been too busy with other projects but once out on the mountain it was something I knew I was missing. We hadn’t been up on the cliffs since May and I was a little worried about getting back into the sport. As usual, though, my fears were unfounded and I climbed like the old man that I am – well – for an old dude.

With fall brings a new crop of teachers to Korea for the teaching season and there are always some new climbers. This time a few who wanted to try so badly they’d been studying youtube videos and reading books on how to in order to start well. And well they did. Made me feel a little old not doing the hard routes the younger ones were attempting. Still, I know my limits and abilities and pride makes for a hard fall should I have attempted them.

Sore today, but it’s a good sore.

 

Climbing pals, from right, Dee, Kelly, Trent, Nick, Matt and Julia. My two dogs SaTang, Sparkey and Dee's dog Corker came, too but couldn't get them all in the shot

I’ve been climbing on this mountain so many times I that I usually don’t bring my camera any more. I thought today might be different. I brought it to the top of one route so I could take a panorama shot.

A panorama from Munsu. Best viewed clicking the photo to get the full size as it is 6418x2437 pixels. This view is looking straight eastward toward the ocean with downtown Ulsan on the left

Of course, once you’re climbing with a camera, the obligatory shoe shot must take place.

The Shoe Shot, from the top looking down on my belay partner, Trent, with Dee and Kelly watching

If climbing were the only adventure, that would be good enough. But there’s always something that is surprising here. Even after nearly six years in Korea I’m still surprised. Three hours in to climbing all three dogs began to bark wildly at something down the mountain. It’s not unusual for Koreans to forage in the mountains for nuts – chestnuts are plentiful. We all thought that’s what the ruckus was for as there was more noise in the bushes than a squirrel or even a deer would raise. Nope. All wrong. A trio of goats. Although they could be from the farm (far below in the panorama shot) that’s a long way for a set of goats to wander.  I took a few shots of them while they browsed for leaves and ignored the barking dogs.

Goats on the mountain below and around the climbing cliffs.

Once we spotted the goats and source of the ruckus, we noticed goat poo all over. I though we had been looking at raccoon poo or even deer poo, but this was too plentiful for those. On the back side away from the climbing there were plentiful piles, leading us to believe that perhaps our friend the monk has started raising them near his mini-temple.

Lanterns adornd the paths near the monk's mini-temple

After climbing, we all went back into town for a few cold beers. I took a few of the new climbers down in my car, but Dee was on her motorcycle. She packed Corker in a small bag and rode down with her sniffing the breeze. Corker, by the way, is litter-mate to my dog Sparky and offspring of SaTang.

Dee and Corker, ready to ride

Is it October Already?

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By , October 3, 2011 10:38 am

Hello! Hi there! Long time no see.

Sorry I haven’t written much on these pages. Sometimes there just isn’t anything fun or funny or interesting to write about. It’s been heads down work and not much else these days. And there’s not much of anything that’s fun or funny or interesting about that, either.

Beyond working on version of my smartphone app, Teacher’s Pet, I’ve also been working hard on redesigning my website, Ulsanonline.com. That site has been put together over a period of months and years and much of it clashes with itself – multiple fonts on the same page, boxes of content don’t align with each other, borders collide rather then mesh, constants aren’t, variables, won’t – the usually litany of technical drugdgery. I’ve even gone so far as to hire a graphics designer to help out with a new logo and artwork for the site.  I hope to have that work done in a week or two. As for Teacher’s Pet, we’ve sold still somewhat less than 50 copies, but as I’ve previously mentioned, the experience of programming will be, I hope, worth far more than the revenue stream it’s producing.

And my teaching jobs remain fluid. I’m currently working two jobs – a series of after school English classes at elementary schools and adult English classes at night. The after school job is far less about teaching than it is about making money for the program owner; books are read and new books sold to parents whether the kids can read or understand them or not.  All my jobs are part-time, and there are no lack of opportunities. If one doesn’t fit, I can move on to another. I’m about to change jobs again in a week or so – this one ought to be different. I’ll be teaching French kids to speak English. There are a lot of engineers and managers from around the world that come to Korea for the shipbuilding business. Apparently, one company has provided education for their employees’ children as part of the deal to bring them here. So, I’ll be teaching English to French kids in Korea. How’s that for a twist?  The hours are only 10 per week, but they’ll pay me as much as many teachers get for a full time job. I’ll probably still fill my week, however, as I also try to fill my bank account.

We do get out and have some fun sometimes. This past weekend we went for a drive in the mountains west of Ulsan. Fall is a fabulous season in Korea and although the leaves aren’t turning yet, the skies are blue, the air crisp and the countryside beautiful.

 

MyeongHee stands in front of the lake near Miryang.

Me too, but MyeongHee isn't tall enough to snap the picture over the railing and get the lake in view

This last picture I snapped while driving through the valley as we came out of the mountains. Miryang is famous for apples and the valley was carpeted with apple farms and apple trees. Koreans keep the trees fairly pruned for easier picking – none of the apples would require more than a large step-stool to reach – even over a grove of them it’s still easy to see the farmer beyond.  These trees, although difficult to see here, were heavily laden with fruit. And all around the villages farmers were selling boxes of apples they’d already picked. I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many apples in one place.

Apples, apples apples

Today, Monday, October 3rd, is a holiday here in Korea – Armed Forces Day. We had a three day holiday in September and now another single adjacent to a weekend. That doesn’t happen often – seems like the last year or two the holidays fell on the weekend and well, that’s your holiday.  I plan on spending my holiday relaxing and programming stuff.  And maybe taking my dogs for a walk in the warm afternoon sun.

Hope everyone is doing well.  Ta ta for now.

 

Thanksgiving

By , September 14, 2011 8:30 pm

This past weekend was Thanksgiving in Korea. Another weekend on the coast in Pohang with the in-laws. Things are somewhat better these days in the little fishing village, and in some ways, they’re not. MyeongHee’s younger brother brought an old sofa to the house so now there’s a place to sit that’s not on the floor. It’s a scruffy old thing and they’ve put it on the enclosed patio so it’s a little cool or hot there, depending on the weather. Still, it’s nice to have a cushioned placed to sit my butt. There’s also intermittent wi-fi in the village, which means I can get some decent traffic on either the handphone or laptop. It’s intermittent, but last year it was non-exististent, so it’s gotten better.   Just in case, I brought my laptop (the one I bought in America this spring) with me loaded with a couple of movies to watch. I also planned to do some web design work on it, but since all there was was a sofa, the ergonomics was just too rough and I gave up trying to do any work. Best to leave that stuff for a desk back home. The movies were fine, though, and it’s nice to watch something in my own language. Usually the TV is on anything but an English language show during the holidays.

This year  the neighbors were a little noisy. Apparently they have a problem with wild hogs coming into their crops and tearing things up. So they fired sound cannons every few minutes, night and day. Not as loud as a rifle shot but louder than a pistol shot. All day.  And all night.  It was tough sleeping through that.

Usually the family lays around watching TV, sleeping or maybe playing video games. MyeongHee’s brothers like to go fishing and they’re gone most afternoons. This time they decided they wanted to play “Chok Bal” which is a Korean game that’s a cross between volleyball and soccer. You have to handle the ball like soccer – feet, knees, chest or head – no hands but instead of goals you have to get it over a center net like volleyball. I’ve seen it played often enough but never played it before until this weekend. It was actually a lot of fun. I played with MH’s older brother while her son and nephew and her younger brother played opposite. I sucked, but not too bad for my first game. My foot techniques were rough but I have solid head-in skills.

This is me getting a point on head-in across the net on ChangHyun.
This is me totally flubbing a kick a losing a point

While us boys played manly sports, MyeongHee had fun with GaEun. She’s a little over two and talking constantly. She picks up whatever anyone says – whether it’s someone in the family speaking Korean or me speaking English. I had her saying quite a few things that they were amazed at – little ones just suck up the new words, so it’s not so magical.

GaEun gets girl lessons in applying a little gloss to MyeongHee
GaEun tries hard to get her fingers right. It’s an unwritten rule that all Koreans must give the peace sign when their picture is taken.

And of course it wouldn’t be a Korean thanksgiving without visiting the grave of MyeongHee’s father. Koreans, like most Asians, are big on ancestor worship and hold ceremonies on the anniversary of their death and on major holidays. We do one at the house and another at the grave about an hour away in the military cemetery.

The ceremony is as much about pleasing the spirits or ghosts of the deceased as it is about showing respect. MH’s older brother always lights a cigarette at the grave and let’s burn for the old man’s ghost. I have yet to see his take a drag on it.  They also lay out food on the grave and put a spoon and chopsticks in it so the spirit can take a few bites. Ain’t seen that happen either. But I play along because to do otherwise would offend them and its harmless. I do my bows, eat a bit of the food, and drink some of the rice wine but only because it makes them happy.

Older brother lights a smoke for the old man’s ghost
The oldest son is tasked with carrying on the traditions and running the ceremony. He lays a nice table.

Just before we left Ulsan to go to Pohang I ran into a little trouble with the security guard at the apartments. Everyday I take the two dogs out for a walk and let them pee or poo. I always carry baggies and always clean up after them, but two of the three guards never hesitate to bitch about the dog poop left on the ground. I have no idea which poop or where as I clean up, but that doesn’t stop them from bitching. On Saturday one dog was taking a crap and I had the bag in hand waiting while she finished.  One guard came up and started bitching about me cleaning up and I’d had enough. I snapped and yelled and told him to fuck off and shut the hell up (all in Korean, of course) and that I always clean up.  By then Sparky was finished and she went over near him to see what he was making so much noise about. Then he kicked her. That’s when I lost it and I kicked the shit out of him in the gut.

In Korea there’s no such thing as self defense. Nor is there just cause for smacking the crap out of someone. Whoever is hurt more goes to the hospital and the other party pays, regardless of why or who started it. Stupid ass way of doing things, but there are a lot of stupid ass things here. And some good, too. I wouldn’t stay if there weren’t.  So anyway, the guard starts making a bunch of shit up about how I punched him and blah blah. He called MyeongHee to bitch at her because he knows I’ll ignore him. He threatened to go to the hospital but I don’t think he did. I apologized but he wouldn’t accept it. SO far, it’s been 4 days and nothing, so I suppose he’s dropped it.

While in Pohang with the family,, they were all very supportive.  Both brothers said not to worry, which means should anything happen, they’d back me up – either physically or financially. That was reassuring and I felt better.   One of the things that really does bug me about this place is the older men. They have a hammer lock on society and are given respect by anyone younger whether they deserve it by western standards or not. Quite often they like to throw their weight around and bitch at people and most acquiesce and bow and move along. I don’t and it’s a continual pain in the ass with these idiots. And if its not the security guards, its the old man walking along the bike path in the park while the walking path is open. I’m in the wrong for riding where he is, despite the painted signs advising otherwise. And if it isn’t him, it’s the asshole in the big car who thinks he should have the right of way despite the lights or laws in the road. Most younger people and nearly all women are kind and pleasant. But the older men in this land give me a major case of the red ass.

 

In Case You Missed It…a Video

By , September 5, 2011 11:26 am

I posted a a small blurb earlier last week on facebook, but I know not everyone reads that junk. It’s getting less and less interesting and more full of crap than is sometimes worth it. But anyway, I digress. On to the reason for this posting.

I posted a video on my other website, Ulsanonline.com, that is a how-to video for driving in Korea. Having driven in this land for several years (wow, time flies – years, he says!) I’ve seen it all. I thought driving in Mexico was crazy, but the people in this land are certifiably insane when they get behind the wheel of a car.  Wearing body armor while on the motorcycle is not a terrible idea as it’s just plain dangerous.

I started the video with all the intentions of making it an “angry-man-blusters-at-the-Koreans” sort of theme. But half way through editing, I took another tack and decided that satire would be better. Since that website is very popular with the foreigners, I worked in the satire with the new comers in mind. Every summer and spring we get a new crop of teachers coming over for a year of teaching English and this year we seem to have a bumper crop. Some of my partners have been writing along the theme of “getting acquainted with Korea” and thought I’d structure my outrage in the same way.  However, my humor apparently works for newcomers and old-timers alike. It’s gotten quite a few plays and several people have commented on how much they laughed.

There are a half-dozen or so theories on why Koreans are such shitty drivers, and I could pontificate on a few on them. Probably not worth it, though, unless you’ve been bere, are here or are coming here. The Korean mindset is a curious thing that defies translation and sometimes description and must be experienced first hand to thoroughly enjoy – or despise – your choice, as foreigners tend to fall into either category.  Just check out the video and get a glimpse of the motoring madness that I deal with daily here.

More later. Hope everyone is well.

That’s Entertainment

By , August 29, 2011 11:59 am

Well, sort of. At least that’s what Koreans like. But coming from the land of a billion singing rooms where people go to sing and drink every night, this is no great surprise.

This is MyeongHee’s son, DongHyun, performing with a group from his health club in an “original indoor jacky spinning performance.”  That literally what it says in Korean behind the performers. I have no idea what jacky spinning is, but I’m guessing that loud music and exercise is part of it. It was so loud, in fact, that the audio simply crushed the microphone in my camera. Just about all you hear is the bass and I edited it heavily with my movie tools to make it a bit less like torture to listen to. To be fair, it sounded much better live than on camera. The performance, done in the middle of a large shopping plaza, drew quite a crowd. The people watching was almost as much fun as the performance.

Jacky Spinning!

DongHyun is the one with the ball cap and Angry Birds shirt

Dance, dance machine!

DongHyun has been home all summer and has been hitting the health club twice a day. Part of that was practicing for this performance and partly because next year he’ll do his two years in the military and needs to transform himself from stick boy to something a little more rugged.  He’s put on a little muscle in two months, although I have few pictures of the before era to prove it.

The entire performance was almost an hour of dance-cum-cycling. Interesting, danceable and even enjoyable. But nothing I’d go out of my way to see again. More likely, an extended advertisement for the health club. DongHyun had fun doing it and practicing with the other members, most of which were older women. After the performance, MyeongHee and I went to a birthday party with some friends while DongHyun went out to party with his dance troupe. I hope the older women jumped his bones.

Anyway, it’s almost September and now he’s off to university again. MyeongHee are once again empty-nesters for a while.

Hope everyone else is doing well.

Marty

Monday Afternoon Fun

By , August 17, 2011 10:59 am

Monday, August 15th was a holiday here in Korea celebrating independence day from the Japanese in 1945. I took to the roads with some good friends and we made a motorcycle trip around the area.

Usually, Korea is a sexually repressed society. You won’t see skimpily dressed women – even on the beach they wear a t-shirt over their bikinis (mostly). TV is tame and is either blurred out for the naughty bits or perhaps just some breasts shown on late nights.  But when they have a passion to display things of a sexual nature, they let it out with both barrels of the shotgun.

Two places we went to were sexual in nature. The first was the Penis Cafe, a coffee shop way out in the boondocks where they can’t be seen by the little ones.  I wrote an article for the UlsanOnline restaurant guide. Click on the link to read about this crazy place. I think the owner has an obsession with the penis, or maybe just sex in general.

After that, we drove up to GyeongJu, about 40km away and visited the Love Castle. This place was a real museum with artwork dating back thousands of years all the way up to contemporary art – all of a sexual nature.  I wrote another article for that website and put it in the travel section.  Fun times.

I like writing for that website and being the famous “ulsanonline guy.” when meeting new people in town. New teachers come every fall and spring and they’ve all read the site before they get here (do a search for Ulsan on google and the site comes up pretty high on the list) and I get my 15 minutes of fame.  I do have a number of other people that write on the site and I pay them for their efforts.  And sometimes, I like to leave things anonymous, although looking through it’s not hard to put two and two together and see who wrote it.

Friend Dee - on a cock swing

After those two places, we decided a little mountain serenity would be good. Cruising through Korea’s mountainous countryside is really a joy. Once outside the city it’s a beautiful place.  We visited an ancient temple with one of the best (they say) Buddhas in all of east Asia. No pictures allowed, so you’ll have to take my word for it. But the winding roads through the mountains is a real treat on a motorcycle.

Then we went down to the coast at caught the sunset at the twin pagodas.

Monstrous things, it’s hard to imagine how the Koreans put these together without cranes as they are over 1000 years old.

It’s days like that that I really wish some folks from back home would come visit so I could share this place other than through pictures. The daily grind in the city is ok, and fun just because it’s so very different in so many ways from home, but the countryside is truly magnificent.  You should save your bottle caps and make a trip out east to come visit before the days comes that I decide to come home and stay back in the US.  You’ve got a place to stay while you’re hear, so all you need concern yourself with is a plane ticket. Come on over! I’d love to show you more of the place than just a few pictures.

New Wheels

By , August 16, 2011 9:52 am

image

I got a new scooter this past weekend. Same size engine but much bigger body and way more confortable.

Nothing wrong with the old one other than the size…And its old. It has 20k km, which for a small 125cc engine is a lot. And I’ve been working long hours in July and August and decided to reward myself.

Here she is:

It Began as a Trickle

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By , August 8, 2011 4:45 pm

And while it’s not quite a torrent or a flood, it’s become a stream.

A small stream, but a stream nonetheless. Every day there are more and more.

What am I talking about?  My smart phone application, of course, and the revenue stream it is now producing. It’s only been one week, but we’ve already made several sales in several countries including the US, Australia and South Korea.  I added an upgrade late last week so the application can be run in English or in Korean, so teachers here, both English and Korean, might find the product useful.

The really cool thing about the internet is that there are no borders. And no brick-and-mortar stores to increase overhead. I can create in my living room and sell in any country (almost) in the world.  With my business partner moving to Egypt in a few short weeks, I’m hoping he can get things translated to Arabic and open a whole new market for us.  Find me a friend who can translate French, German or Spanish and there are millions more teachers available to purchase.

So, keep ’em coming folks. Keep buying that app!  Make Marty and Fin rich boys. Or least bring us enough money to buy a new suit. We’re not greedy. At a whopping $3.99US for the application, it’s pretty cheap. But throw enough teachers at it – say a million, worldwide – and we’re buying a yacht!

And if that doesn’t pan out, well, it was good experience to design and write the application. That should be worth something to a tech company back home when I decide to leave this place.

Ta ta for now.

Fun Times, Fun Boats

By , August 1, 2011 1:07 pm

I wrote the following for my other website, UlsanOnline.com this Monday. I haven’t had time to rewrite it to make it sound less like a city-wide article and more like a personal blog.  Sorry – you get newscaster/newsmaker Marty and not son,brother, friend or father Marty.

——

At this past weekend’s Shipbuilding Festival in Bangeojin it was land of the bizarre and strange. The highlight of the event was the boat building contest which was to make the best boat possible out of recycled materials.

Nearly two dozen teams competed in categories such as aesthetics, harmoniousness (whatever that is), strength, creativity, speed and amount of recycled materials. Some teams, whose members included professionals or students majoring in naval architecture, were quite skilled. Others, well, not so much.

UlsanOnline.com formed a team and our boat was made of empty makeoli bottles formed into pontoon covered with polystyrene foam. The Phillipino team created what looked to be a “Flintstone” mobile. A number of boats were plain failures and never made it beyond putting it in the water. Others failed under the pressure of weight, lack of structural soundness and hard racing. In all, though, it was a successful event that brought hundreds of people to Ilsan beach to play and watch.

Both the UlsanOnline team and the Phillipino teams won 500k won prizes. Although neither team built a spectacular boat, our prizes were more consolation and encouragement than because of our skills, most likely because we were the only foreigner teams at the festival. Our boat took water quickly as our makeoli bottle pontoons were far from waterproof. Our paddle quickly disintegrated under the fierce paddling Dave put forth. The Phillipino team only thought of motion after it was built, so although quite stylish was very sluggish in the water. Regardless, we had an excellent time hanging out with friends and building something out of nothing.

Throughout the festival the organizers were very helpful and kind and brought us water several times to stave off the heat and humidity on the beach. They also helped direct our chicken delivery man to our table when lunch time arrived. The other participants were great and had many colorful, fanciful ideas for their boats. I was surprised by the amount of English spoken, particular by the engineering student teams.

After the shipbuilding, we moved over to the “We are 1 in Ulsan” festival and listened to live music from the Phillipino band while we ate galbi and quaffed beer. It was a full day and we had a great time. I would encourage others to participate in next year’s Shipbuilding festival. Having built one (semi-failure) boat and watched several other failures, I believe next year we could manage a true prize winner.

Bonus : Lots of TV cameras were present and our team was interviewed by MBC. We made the 8:00pm news and there were action shots of Ryan, Scott and Dave with a 10-second interview with Dave aired on the local channel. There was also UBC that got in our faces for pictures, but I didn’t see any thing on their news.

A Software Developer Again

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By , July 29, 2011 2:11 pm

It’s been a while since I wrote any significant computer code but I finally have an application finished to show off. Long time friend and business partner Fin Madden talked me into developing an app for his new job in Egypt – he’ll be an athletic director for an international school in Cairo. He had been searching for an mobile technology application that would let him manage his students, classes and grades in his new job and was unable to find anything suitable.  Knowing all the programming I had done on UlsanOnline.com, he asked for my help.

Check our  UlsanOnline, where  I pimped it off to my fellow teachers in Ulsan. You can also go directly to the android site and see it. Buy it if you like – I’ll gladly take your money – but it’s a teacher specific tool.

At first I didn’t know diddly about about writing mobile phone apps. I could barely spell Android. But after a little research and some programming I’ve finished with it and placed it on Google’s Android Market for sale. Fin did all the artwork on the app and I did all the programming. He’s paid me a nice fee up front and then we’ll split the profits 60/40 of whatever we sell. At $3.99 per copy, we aren’t likely to get rich but we might make a little beer money and gain a little fortune for ourselves. We’re already famous in Ulsan for the website we do – it’s the most popular English site in the city – but now we hope to get a little more traction with the teaching community.

I”m kind of proud of what I’ve been able to accomplish in less than two months. It’s given me the incentive to try and get back into technology when I return home to the USA. In the meantime, I might develop another app or two. Our Ulsan website has a lot of reviews in English of restaurants that otyherwise would be hard to find for those who don’t speak Korean, so I might have a map-based too that shows nearby places to eat with links to the reviews we’ve done. We also have all the bus routes in English on the website and that might becaomse a mobile app as well.

Anyway, enough geekiness. Summer has finally arrived and it’s hot. Nothing like Texas, but hot is still hot.

This weekend I’m going to the Shipbuilding festival on the coast. A small group of friends and I have entered into a contest to build a boat out of recycled material. The prize is $5000 so we’re hoping we can take a little cash back. If not, we’re very likely to have fun trying.

Valley Picnic

By , July 24, 2011 9:53 pm

Summer is 2/3rds over and we haven’t been out much. Of course, it hasn’t been much of a summer so far. We’ve only had the air-conditioning on one weekend this summer. Today wasn’t much different. It was actually cloudy and overcast with occassional very light sprinkles. We decided we’d brace the weather and head out to our favorite river picnic area in the mountains.

This is near Seoknamsa, a temple for nuns way up in the mountains. We’ve had a decent amount of rain this summer so the river was still flowing well.

MyeongHee and I pose on a couple of rocks with ancient Hanja writing. She can read a bit but wasn’t sure what they said

Both the dogs followed me around the stream, mostly on the rocks. SaTang really doesn’t like water so she’d go way around to cross over a 2 foot jump. Sparky is a little more brave, and although she doesn’t like the water much either she was having fun jumping from rock to rock and didn’t care to go around.

The water was actually pretty cold. Not Rocky-mountain snow-melt cold, but cold enough that neither of us wanted to get more than our feet wet. Consequently, when the dogs did get wet, they shivered and shook and MyeongHee wanted to dry them off.

Sparky gets a toweling off while SaTang watches all the other people in the river

All three of my girls pose for a picture

 

While we were there, we spent some time wandering around the hills and letting the dogs run in the forest. With a little steam worked off, we sat down for a Korean picnic: grilled pork with garlic and red bean paste wrapped in lettuce leaves.  Yum.  Washed it down with a few beers and then settled back to relax against the rocks. MyeongHee had heard about “Angry Birds” a mobile phone game that has become very popular and she spent an hour or so wearing out the battery in my phone.

It was a pretty lazy day, actually, which is just what the Dr. ordered.  July has been really busy with 11 hour days for me. I just picked up another class for August, so that will be almost as busy – the first week is vacation at one of my three jobs, so I’ll only have a split day starting at 10 and finishing at 8:30pm with the entire afternoon off.

 

These days, there’s just no time

By , July 8, 2011 8:22 pm

I haven’t written much these days. Not because I haven’t much to say, but because I haven’t time to say it.  I started working 3 jobs this month: a short gig at the university for a couple of hours each day, I spend the afternoon at the any one of several elementary schools and then I spend 3 nights a week at adult conversation classes. Two nights a week I have private lessons.  And if that wasn’t enough, I’m learning Android and Java and writing a program for a smart phone or tablet.

The teaching jobs keep me pretty busy and I make pretty good money doing it. The programming, although won’t pay much (a friend has asked for a custom application for his new teaching position and he’ll pay me $500 for the software) I hope to parlay into experience that will enable me to get back into the software world when I decide to come home. I’ve struggled with what job I might do when I do eventually come back to the USA and I’ve made my mind up that I’ll get back into technology. I’ve been doing quite a bit of work on the website (and even making some decent money on that) that involves some programming and now with the smart phone, the Android app is taking quite a bit of knowledge and experience to make work. For those not technically savvy, Android is the “other” smart phone style and competes heavily with Apple’s iPhone and iPad line of products. The difference is that Android (a Google tool)  is open source, which means lots of phone and tablet manufacturers can use it and anyone can write applications for it.

Anyway, I’ve just been busy. Real busy. Working 10-11 hours a day and programming in between. Seems like a lot, but I haven’t been sleeping well anyway and so I spend lots of late night hours banging on the keyboard.  It’s actually a good thing, as being busy forces me to be efficient and use my time wisely. I had a little too much time before. The only thing I wish I had time for is riding the bike and for that I need daylight and sunshine, which has been in scarce supply anyway.

Hope everyone else is doing well.

Inferno

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By , June 24, 2011 5:59 pm

No, I’m not on fire. The inferno is the annual motorcycle photo scavenger hunt we do in June.  We had the Inferno last weekend and it was a gas!  Only 22 people this year, smaller than past years, but still just as fun. The idea is to go to as many predetermined points on the map as you can and take a picture of your team there before before time runs out. There are far too many to visit all of them, so planning, navigation and creative pictures count.

Last year, my team won First Place and got a second helmet. This year, I rode with rookies and we took 2nd place and got 75 bucks – way better prize!

Wish I had all the pictures, but the video will have to suffice. My good friend Dee was on the planning committee and she took everyone’s photos and video and turned it into a slick video. Check it out here.

I do have some photos to share. The first is the panorama shot taken at the starting point. Jason has a nice camera and does and automatic, motorized pan so a long line of us can all be in the same shot.

If you look closely, I’m in the photo on both ends. Jason started taking the photo on the left of the line (I’m wearing white shorts) and after he panned his camera past me I ran to the right side and got in for that part, too, on the far right. Who says you can’t be in two places at once? Click the photo to see the details.

This photo is my bike and Andy’s bike. Andy is my teammate and had never driven a car, bike, scooter or motorcycle anywhere in the world and decided to learn in Korea. Our scooters must’ve been separated at birth as the plates are one number transposed. What are the odds.  Ryan’s girlfriend, Rocy, shows a nice smile for the camera.

two bikes, almost one license

Anyway, it was a great day. Looking forward to more rides before the summer rainy season hits.

 

Love to all,

Marty

75mpg…10mpd

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By , June 15, 2011 9:17 pm

That’s what I get these days driving around town. And that’s good that I get such good mileage, because gas ain’t cheap here. I’m paying 1850won/liter, which works out to about $6.38 per gallon.  I’ve only got a 3-liter tank, so I have to fill up about every 100km (60miles) or so, and that costs me another 6 bucks, give or take. Of course, all that’s on my scooter, which means I have to deal with weather and crazy drivers. But that’s not so bad considering I’m paying very close to $1 per every 10 miles or 10mpd.

Just thought I’d do that math.

Have you figured what your MPD is? With gas prices in the US having risen dramatically this year I’m curious how much each mile is costing the average driver.

Let’s Go to the Beach

By , June 12, 2011 10:51 am

By bicycle.

Too hot for climbing and too nice to stay indoors, I decided to make a long ride on the bike out to the beach.

But first, I have to cross those bad boys in the distance

That’s Muryongsan in the distance with the radio tower on top. That’s a 400m (~1200ft) mountain – that doesn’t make it very big, but for a bike that’s no mole hill.

Up close, it doesn’t look so daunting, but then I’ve gained some altitude getting to this fork in the road. Cars and trucks go right, while bikes or sightseers go left. The old road is twisty and curvy and a relatively easy grade, although it goes higher than the road through the tunnel.

 

The new steep road goes straight up into the mountain and through a tunnel. I went left.

For most of the way up, I saw no other riders going my way, but many coming back down. At nearly the halfway point, I spotted a ride approaching from the rear and my competitive instincts kicked in. I had been riding rather leisurely and I stepped it up and left him in the dust. I saw him in my rearview mirror attached to my helmet trying to keep up. This old man was too fast for him.

Half way up there is a small spring where a guy can refill his water bottle.

And near the top of the pass is a stairway to Nowhere

The new road, goes through the tunnel which is on the far right of this picture. Although that road is not as high in altitude the grade is much steeper. There are remnants from the construction days still on the far left. Two sets of overgrown stairs go to what looks like nowhere.  Click on the picture for a full view of these Stairways to Nowhere, now covered in ghostly brush.

And just past this is the view to the far side of the tunnel and the mountains beyond.

At the top the altimeter on my smartphone says I was at 225m or about 700ft.

A swift ride down the east side of this ridge and I’m approaching the sea.

newly planted rice paddies fill the flat lands approaching the sea in the distance

The village at the edge of the sea

I made it!

On the east side of the mountain I was going too fast too look at much of the scenery. But on the way back up I was going much slower and had time to look around. This boat was perched on the side of the mountain on a set of logs.

Fish out of water

It advertises a bean curd restaurant just down the hill on a side path. There’s something about Koreans that have a propensity to place boats – even ships – on dry land.  This boat was half way up the east side of the mountain, at least 6km from any water. But if it were the only boat out of water it would simply be an oddity. Instead, it’s another of a virtual flotilla of boats in various places – except water – here in Ulsan. I did a pictorial for Ulsanonline last year on these fish out of water.

Overall, I rode close to 50km. Certainly no record or even personal best, but an interesting way to spend a Saturday afternoon. And it helps keep the fat off. All the pants I bought in America this spring are baggy on me now.

I run an application called “endomondo” on my phone. It tracks my path, times, speed, altitude, calories, blah, blah.  And then after I’m finished I get a nice chart of my ride including a graph of speeds and altitudes.

endomondo output

Over the Cliff

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By , June 8, 2011 7:44 pm

Yes, I went literally over the cliff.

Monday, June 6th was Memorial Day here in Korea. So I and a few friends went on a rock-scissors-paper motorcycle tour. Every so often, we would stop at an intersection and play rock-scissors-paper and the winning hand took the direction. It was a great way to see the countryside and we did indeed see some beautiful sights.

a badly stiched panorama of far northern Ulsan, Korea

We took turn after turn, sometimes ending up in small communities, sometimes farm roads and at least once, a gravel road up the side of a mountain. We emerged onto the mountain top overlooking a valley in far northern Ulsan. But before getting there, we hit that gravel road.

And that’s where I went over the cliff

I was going slow, but I hit a soft patch of gravel and my scooter spun to the right. The road was only a single lane and I still had too much momentum to stop before it went right off the edge of the road and down the mountain.

 

me, down the mountain about 5 meters, with my scooter

Luckily, the scooter caught on a stump or might have tumbled a long way down into the trees. Had that happened, I likely would have simply left the bike there to rot. But instead, the five of us scrambled down the very loose gravel and hefted the bike back on the road. Lots of sweat, dirt, gasoline and oil stains later and we’re back on the road where 100 meters later we found the panoramic view.  Should anyone be worried for my health, I was fine. Only a couple of minor scratches. Same for the bike.

 

Friends (from left) Rocy, Dee, Fin and Ryan

From there, we continued down the road to a historical marker of a long dead Korean hero. Been there, done that. But just up the road from that was a temple run by a German national. Most temples are all the same. But this one was so unique, and the monk and his wife so inviting we stayed and chatted for a long while. If you’re interested, I wrote a longish piece about the temple on my other site, Ulsanonline.com.

We ended up travelling on for another 150km (110miles) into the mountains, coastline, valleys and then back into the city to meet another friend who was buying his first motorcycle. We finally had lunch/dinner around 5pm on the coast followed by coffee on the beach.

Overall, the ride was totally pointless and without aim. But damn, it was fun.  Even the part about going over the cliff.

 

Fast Times

By , June 6, 2011 10:44 am

This weekend was both a holiday weekend and birthday weekend. Two friends, Andy and Ryan had birthdays on Saturday so a large group of us decided to take a short trip to GyeongJu and play in the go-karts.

GyeongJu is only about 40km north of here, but not everyone has personal transportation. We decided to take the train, which was outrageously cheap at only $2.50 per person. And being on the southern coast, when it’s time to go back home the roads are always clogged with traffic doing the same. The train was a nice change of pace.

Once in GyeongJu we started walking from the train station to the go-kart track. Bad advice, as it was several kilometers away. We walked maybe a mile or so without seeing any taxis or buses that could take us. Luckily two friends who decided to ride their motorcycles to GyeongJu met us along the way and ferried us, two-by-two, to the track.

Once at the track, I had to put the hard sell on MyeongHee to actually ride the karts. She was receptive when we talked at home, but at the track she wanted to just watch. No problem – I sold her on the idea and she rode.

As you’re reading you may be thinking that go-karts are fun, but come on – how passe’. How old fashioned. Even the times we’d gone to Malibu Grand Prix in Dallas to play they are fun, but pretty tame. I assure you, however, that this was not the case in Korea. These things were fast. Moreover, the track employees, used to dealing with the timid Koreans, were not sure how to handle us foreigners. That whole notion of not wanting someone to “lose face” played right into our hands, er steering wheels. Koreans don’t like to fuss at someone unless it’s a personal affront, so merely breaking rules it is a rarity to  have them call someone out and publicly embarrass them for blatant rule breaking. It was the Wild West, baby. Bumping, slamming, pushing were all, if not legal, tolerated. We had a blast!

I took several pictures of our friends – there were 15 of us total – but quite a few of my honey.  You can see the whole lot of them on my facebook photo album. My good friend Fin Madden took several more and are on his album. His photos show several mash-ups and crashes into the tire walls that MyeongHee didn’t capture.  Just a few of the shots are below. Click the pic for a closeup.

 

MyeongHee gets ready to race
Full-throttle, MyeongHee leans into the turns
My turn. One day, she will have to get serious about zooming the camera lense
On the way home, the countryside is filled with newly planted rice paddies that reflect the surrounding mountains. Well worth a click for a larger view.

 

Facebook scrunches pictures down too much and this one is a classic mashup. Click the pic for detailed view. I passed Dee Madden on a tight turn and she could not negotiate the turn in the space I left her. She slammed into the tire wall on the far left. I am on the far right speeding away and laughing

After we came back to Ulsan, we had dinner at a restaurant with a large open-air patio. The weather was perfect: warm but on the shady east side of the building with a slight breeze.  Sometimes I’m still amazed at how cheap things can be here: a full meal of grilled pork, soup, rice, numerous side dishes and several bottles of beer cost only about $11 per person. The equivalent meal in Dallas would be 3-4x that amount.

Sometimes frustrating, sometimes exciting, sometimes I’m homesick and sometimes I’m surrounded by good friends. But Korea is rarely dull.

 

Oh Summer! Where for art thou?

By , May 31, 2011 2:05 pm

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It’s 2pm May 31 and its barely 50F degrees outside. Normally (at least what has been normal for the five+ summers I’ve witnessed) it’s been warm this time of year.  We had a wickedly cold winter and spring has just not sprung so far. The weather boys here are claiming this summer will be extremely hot and humid. Although this year they have rarely been on the mark, a little heat (ok, even a lot) would be welcome.

Having said that, however, I suppose I should be careful what I wish for. 31 years of Texas style summers had worn me out and I got to the point of dreading each summer and the accompanying sweat and air conditioning bills.

It isn’t all bad here, though. Some days it gets up to the 70s and is pleasant if brief.

MyeongHee and I took a walk in the park on Sunday. We passed through a tunnel of roses that was pretty and then stopped at a small waterfall.

Missing everyone back home.
-Martin

Suam Sijang – The Suam Market

By , May 29, 2011 2:28 pm

One of the most interesting – and least like home – places around Korea is the local market. Immediately adjacent to our apartment complex is the Suam Market. The market near our former home on the west end of town was a temporary, every five days affair, with vendors beinging their own awnings and tents as their shops. The Suam Market, however, is every day and is a permanent fixture. Every day, vendors set up their goods for sale along a crossroads of narrow streets. Some of the vendors actually have brick-and-mortar stores and supplement their display areas by putting goods out on the street. Other vendors are simply squatters and lay their items on the street in buckets and boxes.

This is the traditional market for Korea. Although supermarkets are plentiful (in fact there is a very large retail department store one block away from us very much like a super Walmart of Target) the traditional markets don’t seem to lack for customers.

I have become a big fan of the market for several reasons. It’s very close – I can walk to the market and get just about any fresh fruit or vegetable without having to drive or – the worst part of driving – park.  I don’t feel the need to stock up on everything – just the things I need for the meal we’ll prepare – so our food is always fresh.  It’s mostly covered, so inclement weather is not problem. And as far as entertainment value, the people watching is always a pleasure.

 

Suam Market. A traditional Korean market for fruits, vegetables, meat and fish

Vendors line the streets with homegrown veggies and wholesale.
On the left are grains and various legumes that have been milled

A butcher carves pork from the carcass outside his shop.
No refrigeration. This is not your local Albertsons.

But then Albertsons or Kroger won't give your doggies snacks, either

Meat hangs outside another butcher shop, waiting for customers

Not only raw meats, but cooked foods are available. This woman is selling steamed pork knuckles

Another shop sells ready-to-eat foods. A man in a business suit and slippers enjoys a meal

A typical Korean meal consists of rice and numerous sidedishes. This shop has a plethora of sidedishes
for those who are too busy to prepare their own.
Red pepper figures prominently in most dishes.

Rice is a staple but can be prepared in many ways. This vendor sells puffed rice in various forms. These are usually consumed as snacks to be served while drinking beer or soju, the national rice wine drink. Most bags sell for about 1000 won, or 1 US dollar.

Many vendors are the old folks who supplement their meager incomes with whatever they have grown in their gardens. This woman is selling sangchu, or lettuce which will be used as wraps for bits of grilled meat common in Korean BBQ

The market rambles around many alley ways and streets and requires some exploring to see it all. This young boy was enchanted by my dogs

Another alley full of shops but devoid of people

Fish, whether it is fresh, still swimming, frozen or dried can be found at Suam Market

Even whale meat can be had, although fresh does not seem to be on the menu.. This shop will serve you a meal or sell you a chunk to take home

SSo far from home, both in location and style, the traditional Korean market provides lots of fresh foods but fun as well.

This is Me

By , May 12, 2011 11:58 am

 

After almost a month of working there I finally got my employee badge.

It’s a nice change of pace to be teaching primarily adults. And Hyundai Motors seems like a good place to work for the regular employees, too, for everyone I teach a) is a lifer and b) says they really like it there.

In fact, last week I tried to enter the enormous plant only to be blocked by a protest demonstration. No, they didn’t want more pay, better hours or any such thing. They wanted to work there. Permanently. They were all contractors wanting to be regular employees.

They are intensely proud of their company as well. When I tell them my father drives a Hyundai Azure and likes it they seem to fairly burst with pride. Fun times.

Today, Thursday, is my slow day. Only one class today from 6-7:30pm. Lots of time to read, write, exercise or just plain goof off. Now I’m off to ride the bike and work off some of those American hamburgers I still have draped around my waist.

Miyuk Season

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By , May 9, 2011 9:55 am

It’s Miyuk season in Korea. And Seafood to Koreans means more than just fish or shellfish. Anything that comes out of the ocean is seafood including Miyuk, a large aquatic plant.

On May 7th/8th we went to MyeongHee’s mother’s house for “Parent’s Day.” Usually, we just hang around the house, but since it was harvest time for miyuk, mother-in-law was busy for a good portion of the weekend.

Miyuk is a seaweed that figures very prominently in a typical Korean diets. Sometimes, it is merely a side dish that can be prepared in many ways with garlic, red pepper and fish sauce. The most famous, however, is Miyuk Guk – Seaweed Soup. This is a traditional dish for birthdays. Sure, everyone gets a cake on their birthday – but that’s a western tradition that was imported. Koreans also have seaweed soup for breakfast on their birthday. Post-partum women will also eat large quantities of the soup in the first few weeks after giving birth. In fact, after our dog SaTang had her pups she was given several helpings of MiyukGuk and rice to help her recover her strength. I’ve even become a fan of MiyukGuk.

Loaded with vitamins and minerals, seaweeds like Miyuk are very healhful. For those who don’t have relatives on the shore, it can be bought in most stores. About a half-pound will cost about $2.

These pictures below are at the fishing village where MyeongHee’s mom lives. Click on a picture for a larger view

The Brothers Kludge

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By , May 8, 2011 11:28 am

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At the mother-in-law’s house the Brothers Kludge were at it again. A pinhole sized leak on the fresh water supply to her front courtyard required attention. So the brothers dug down to the leak to the source of the problem. Having done numerous PVC repair jobs of my own I knew it was a small matter to cut the pipe slip on a collar and glue it all back together.

Not these two. Why do all that work when a toothpick wrapped in teflon stuffed into the pinhole will do the trick…for now.

Afterward they both congratulated themselves on their engineering genius.

Mugworts R Us

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By , May 1, 2011 2:55 pm

We went to the playground behind our apartment building to walk the dogs.l Little did I know MyeongHee had an ulterior motive for insisting she come with me.
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While I let the dogs run and chase a ball, I found her with a bag and a small knife picking little plants
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Mugworts. Or, as the Koreans call it, ssuk (쑥.) Lots of them. All over the playground. She was picking out the young shoots as some of the wild plants were nearly a foot tall and are, she tells me, too tough to eat. This batch she plans to give to one of her hairshop friends (one of the ladies that come nearly everyday to chat and only once in a while get their hair done) who will make Guk (국) or as we call it, soup.

Into the 21st Century

By , April 29, 2011 4:12 pm

I hope you have never seen one of these and never will see one

MyeongHee’s hairshop got updated this week to the 21st century. She rents a small building with an adjacent bathroom. Prior to this week, the bathroom was just a concrete shell over a ceramic-lined hole in the floor. They used to be fairly common when I first came to Korea but more and more the western toilets are the norm. I really abhor these, because they aren’t meant for toilet paper to be flushed down them. That means that if you wipe you booty with tissue, you’re supposed to leave the tissue in the bucket next to the “island.”  So even though they may wrap up some fouled tissue in a wad of clean tissue, there are still little piles of poop sitting in that bucket for days until someone cleans it out. Very clean and tidy. Smells lovely, too.

You have seen these before, I hope

One of MyeongHee’s friends came by the hairshop to chat and then used the bathroom.  For a man, these islands aren’t such a big deal just to do #1  – we can simply unzip and let loose. Women, however, particular if they wear pants, are not so fortunate and must squat with pants all jumbled up.  After doing her business and having had to work the pants issue, she spotted MyeongHee’s landlord and then bitched him out because of the ancient toilet he maintains. Two days later, apparently shamed into action, he remodelled the hairshop’s bathroom with a tile floor and real toilet.

Progress marches inexorably onward.

Now we can comfortably do our business and without the leftovers from the last person sitting in the bucket next to us.

And then it was back!

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By , April 28, 2011 11:47 am

Less than two days after the bike was stolen I got it back!  Woo hoo! I must be living right!

It turns out the thief sold it to a “friend” and the “friend” brought it to OMK Bicycle shop in Ulsan. OMK is one of several bike shops that know me, but these guys do all the mechanical work on my bike and are also my business partners on my other website, Ulsanonline.com.  They have been regular advertisers on the site and regular mechanics for me. It was no surprise they recognized the bike since a) I just had some work done on it last week and b) the seat was still raised high enough to accommodate a 6’1″ dude.  I’m betting the “friend” is the thief himself and unloaded it as quickly (and as far from my house – 5 miles) as he could. The bike shop owners convinced him the police would be looking for such a bike (they weren’t – I didn’t even call them since the thief had a mask and hat) and that it would be foolish to openly ride it around town.  They called me on Wednesday evening and I picked up the bike Thursday.

Honestly, I think it pays to be a white-face among a sea of Asian faces. Lots of Koreans know me because I look so different. But if I see them outside of the normal environment I have come to know them (i.e I see the butcher not at his store but at the park) I don’t always recognize them.  Back home in teh USA I’d be just another forgettable guy whose bike was ganked.

Anyway, as I expected, when I got the bike  the compact air pump was gone, as was the saddle bag with tools and spare tube. The thief also took the speedometer/odometer but he left the sensor on the front wheel so that’s useless.  All minor problems.  I immediately bought a hand-phone case from OMK BIkes (I love those guys) that will let me clip the phone to the handlebars and I can run Endomondo, a GPS-enabled application on the phone that will track my speed, miles, calories – an even better tool than a mere speedometer/odometer.  Now I just need another air pump and tool bag with tools and I’m set for the long rides into the mountains.

The only bad news from all of this is that my bike now lives in the apartment where we really don’t have room for it.  Even chained to the metal handrails on the stairwell outside the apartment offers no protection from a bolt cutter.

Thievery!

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By , April 27, 2011 10:56 am

My bicycle was my gym. I rode it, not to get around town, but to keep the fat off. It wasn’t a terribly expensive bike, but it was expensive enough to withstand the weight I put on it and have it carry me up the hills and mountains here and then stop me well enough on the way back down. And I had plenty of extras on it, including a compact air pump,  a speedometer/odometer and a saddle pouch filled with spare tubes and patches.

And now it’s gone.

We left the house on Monday morning about 10. It was raining and I had just taken the dogs outside and left my umbrella hanging on the bike’s handlebars while I went back inside to get MyeongHee and take her to work.  After driving her to the hairshop, I went downtown to meet another prospective employer and was there until 11:30 or so. When I came back at 11:45, I almost didn’t recognize my own apartment: the bike that is always present near the front door was gone. I had to double-check the door number to make sure I was at the right apartment.

I immediately ran down to the security office to have them check their CCTV videos. It didn’t take long to find out what happened.

 

Here is the guy going into the building. The bag he carries likely has a bolt-cutter

Just a few short minutes later, he carries out my bike

And then, once outside, he cuts the lock and rides off into the sunset

So, nothing to go on except a guy in a black and blue jacket. He wearing a mask, which doesn’t even rate mild surprise in Asia where masks are common given the level of pollution and, in spring, yellow dust from the Gobi desert. He’s got a cap, too, so almost nothing of his face can be seen. He must’ve known where he going and what he was getting as he spent just a short time going up the stairs and then back down. My friends say he probably saw me before, watched where I went and then staked out the place, waiting for us to leave. We were gone less than one hour when the CCTV snapped these pictures.

And it was about 90 minutes after that that I took these pictures of the video with my hand-phone and then walked the neighborhood looking for a short fucker in a black and blue jacket. No luck, obviously. Probably a good thing as I was angry enough to do some real damage had I found him.

Once before I had a few things stolen off the bike – I suspect by kids since they stole useless electronics like the former speedometer I had but left the sensor and wireless transmitter.  So now it’s twice I’ve lost things.  I just spent $110 on the bike late last week getting new gears, chain and sprocket.

And while I’m not broke and can buy another bicycle, that’s money I didn’t want to spend.

Sadly, posting my loss on facebook brought out a number of other friends’ stories of what they had stolen from them. Nice not to have been singled out, I supposed.  And this won’t be the last, either. I’ll just have to find a place inside the apartment to stash the next bike I buy.

Some family time

By , April 21, 2011 8:27 am

The vacation was great. Nearly six weeks of just hanging out with family and friends. That much time off makes it hard to go back to work, but I have.  Within just a day of beginning a job search I found a nice little gig. Princeton Review got a big contract to offer English courses at the enormous Hyundai Motors factory here in town.  There are numerous small classes with mid-level managers and executives either during lunch time or around dinner time. Since the factory operates 24 hours a day, some of the workers are 2nd shift. Anyway, I snagged a few courses and will make almost the same amount of money for about 1/3 the number of hours I worked as a full-time teacher at a private school.  I also picked up a couple of hours of teaching at another private school near home. So far, I’m scheduled for a whopping 13 hours a week.  Not all

Almost as good as Greek Theater Masks, one girl is happy, one is sad. Common occurence

contiguous, of course, but I can fill the time between courses easily enough.  Throw in a few hours each week of driving back and forth to all these classes and a boy could get really worn out doing 15 hours. 🙂

 

I’ve thrown a number of my vacation pictures up on facebook, but it’s always good to have some spread around. I thought I’d post a few here as well.

Spending a good portion of my time as Jessie’s so I could with the grand-babies was wonderful. Nothing like a little drama to liven things up. Ah, kids.

I took far too many pictures to include them all. So I’ve taken a few of the family shots and posted them below. Click on a photo to see the large size.

 

Thankfully, we did not have to endure another Sears Photo session and try and fit everyone in the entire extended family onto the canvas.

To see more pictures, check out the big-ass family photo album I posted on my facebook page. Gotta be a facebook user and gotta be a friend, though 🙂

 

New Phone Number

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By , April 18, 2011 7:45 am

Just for grins, I decided to get a USA phone number for my Korean mobile phone. Without going into too much detail, this is a Skype number, which is a internet-based phone system. It should work provided I have Skype enabled on my phone and I have wireless access at my current location. I can control the first, and Korea has plenty of the second.

Remember, I’m 14 hours ahead of US Central Standard Time, so be kind. If you call me at noon in the US, I’ll be likely sleeping since it’ll be 2am here. Generally, good hours in the USA to call me are 7pm to 9am CST – that’s 9am to 11pm  here in Korea.

Give it a try and call me.

Sharing Video

By , April 17, 2011 12:14 pm

The first video I want to share from my vacation in America. These are my granddaughters, Jillian and Jenna.

I was babysitting the two and gave them a snack. It was only a short while, but it didn’t take long for trouble to brew. I gave them “Goldfish” graham crackers in non-spill cups.  Then we turned on the DVR for a few minutes of their favorite TV show by far, The Wiggles. While I tried to get the girls to dance, Jillian eats a few of her goldfish and gives the majority to the dog.

Sure, that’s sharing. That’s nice. But when she runs out of goldfish and mean, old Papa Marty won’t give her any more – that’s the real sharing.

Home Again, Home Again, Jiggity Jig

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By , April 17, 2011 10:35 am

And so on and so forth…

Getting back to Korea from my long vacation in the USA was no big ordeal.

Getting from the airport to home was indeed an ordeal, however.  In an effort to make the flight/airport time (i.e. time in a kennel) easier for SaTang, I tried to get the most direct route home.  I usually fly out of Busan to Tokyo and then on to DFW. For whatever crazy reason, even though people were avoiding Japan due to the radiation potential, flights through Tokyo were double the cost of fares to other cities. Flying to Beijing and then on to Busan was cheaper by half but far longer in time to be cooped up in a kennel. Same with Hong Kong or Singapore.  I chose to fly direct to Seoul and then use the trains get to the opposite end of the peninsula.

We got into Incheon airport near Seoul after a mere 14 hours flying time. Happy to have come through security and animal customs cleanly and avoided the Japanese radiation, I took SaTang out of her kennel and we headed for the train from the airport to the main train station. Trust me when I tell you that process is far easier for those who travel light. I had a rolling bag and heavy backpack and a kennel to carry through the numerous escalators and elevators to get just to the train was  a trek.

Once on the train, we had about 40 minutes to ride to the central Seoul Station where I could hop the fast KTX train to Ulsan. We got to the station and had to navigate our way through several levels upward to the station itself from the tracks. Getting into or onto a combination of escalators and very slow elevators with all my gear and dog was extreme. I hope to never have to do that again.

At the train station, I showed the ticketmaster at the counter the email with the ticket number MyeongHee had already purchased for me. Although she bought it almost two weeks prior, it was standing room only.  I would have to stand the two hours on the train. Furious, I told her to cancel that and I’d get another train. No dice – everything on Friday night out of Seoul was standing room only. I could have taken a bus home but that would be five hours more and I wasn’t up for it. I repurchased a ticket and waited for my ride/stand home.

While I waited, I tried to take SaTang outside so she could pee or poop. She’d been in the kennel for a long while and hadn’t done either. Outside the train station in Seoul is a virtual circus of humanity. More than a few drunks and derelicts expressed love and affection for my cute doggie and had to be literally beaten off before she bit them. Like myself, she was a little peeved and irritable from a long flight. I smacked one drunk to the ground and bundled up our stuff to get away from them. We had to go down the ramp rather than the stairs because of all I carried and that’s where the drunks prefer to pee since the ramp had waist-high concrete walls to shield prying eyes. I threw rocks at one drunk in our path who was peeing and finally got him to make way. SaTang got the hint, however, and decided this was as good a place as any to pee and let it rip.  I decided it would be better to wait inside where the drunks and retards weren’t so populous. I bought us both a hamburger at McDonalds and gave her the meat. I had to fight off a few more drunks and homeless who wanted my hamburger, the dog’s hamburger, me to buy them one or me to just give them the money.

Perhaps its the vast difference in price between planes and trains and buses, but I find far less drunks and derelicts in the airports. What a place.

Already up for almost 24 hours by then, I was waiting to board the train when someone asked me if I shouldn’t be getting on. My watch said I had two hours to go but it was actually 14 hours behind – I forgot to change the time from Dallas, CST.  I had mere minutes to get on the train and I ran (or more like hobbled) with SaTang, my rolling bag, backpack and kennel to get through two more escalators to the tracks. I missed my train by seconds and was left pounding on the doors as it pulled away. Arrrgh!

I got on the next train a half hour later and was finally on my way home. It was only a two hour ride from Seoul and standing was only part way. Once some of the people got off and various cities along the way I could take a seat and relax. MyeongHee picked us up at the Ulsan station at 10:20pm and we were home by 11, a whopping 24 hours of non-stop travel.

Now that I’ve had a day to relax and adjust to the time zone, it’s time to get busy here in Korea. Lots to catch up on, including this blog, but some photos to post, videos to make and, not least, find a new job.

 

 

ICE

By , March 5, 2011 5:13 pm

ICE – In Case of Emergency

I’m usually pretty lax about this kind of stuff. Perhaps because I’ve led a charmed life and have had damn few real emergencies so far that I think I won’t ever need to have this. I don’t want to be morbid, but shit happens. I love my wife dearly and would hate to think she would be in limbo not knowing.

I’ll be America for several weeks and just in case something should happen, I’d like for someone to inform my wife back in Korea. Oh, sure I could have written emails, but this way all my bases are covered as so many people I know read this.

So, here’s the number.   ICE Call my wife at 82-010-2550-5941. The 82 is the country code. Calling overseas, depending on the network used, the area code – 010 – is either with or without the leading zero. If 010 doesn’t work, try 10.   When you reach MyeongHee, speak slowly and clearly. Leave off the euphemisms (i.e. he didn’t kick the bucket – he died. You get the idea.)   Korea is 15 hours ahead from American Central Standard Time, so be kind. If you call at noon in Dallas, it’s 3am in Korea. She’ll be a little fuzzy-headed. Wait until 6pm Dallas time and catch her at 9am and explaining things will be far easier.

And after several weeks of enjoying my family and friends, when I’m safely back in this land, when I again hold her in my arms, I’ll chuckle about it and erase this posting.

But just …ICE

Empty Nest

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By , March 2, 2011 11:46 pm

And just like that, we were childless. Up until Tuesday, DongHyun still wasn’t sure where he was going to go to college. I figured it was going to default to not going at all and he’d simply find an odd job here or there until he did his 2 year stint in the Army.  But on Tuesday he said he was accepted to MiRae university in Daegu. So today, we packed him off to the bus station and he’s now living in Daegu.   It’s only about 1.5 hours drive to Daegu, but for a boy with no car it’s too far to commute by bus so he’ll live in a boarding house. He has a roommate in a very small room and he’ll study Sociology.

And today, Wednesday, is the first night we’ll spend alone, just MyeongHee and I. She’s a little sad without her boy. And I can’t blame her.  Been there, done that. I think her sadness is compounded by the fact that I’ll be leaving shortly , too. On Sunday, I’ll take off to the USA for a month or so and she’ll be alone.

Anyway, I’m too excited to be sad. I’ll be home in less than four days and I simply can’t wait. Hurry Sunday!

The countdown remains

By , February 25, 2011 11:22 am

There is a countdown timer on the right side of this page. It shows when next I’ll come back to the USA.

I had left it up knowing I might have to alter the D~Day event significantly if I got the job at UNIST.  It would have been summer, a season I had come to abhor in Texas. But now it is as it always was. March 6th I will board a plane for an extended visit home.

I decided not to take the job they offered. The contract negotiation session yesterday was a sad affair in many ways. I was prepared for a low ball offer but not that low. Although after walking out on giving them my final offer they called back and upped their offer. It was still too low by a far cry, especially considering what they wanted : a technically oriented teacher who could teach writing. That was me and rhey even admitted there wasn’t another candidate with the skills they wanted.

They wanted steak on a hotdog budget and I told them those exact words. After having done an interview and returned to do a presentation and returned again to discuss money I just felt they were having me jump through a lot of flaming hoops for a salary I can get anywhere in this town. Moreover, I have talents other candidates do not have. (Modesty has no place in job negotiations, by the way.)

And if small money was not enough of a reason, the rest of the negotiation session revealed the real deal: split shifts in the summer, student counselling and what they considered the cherry on top – proofreading professors’ technical papers. Not even teaching.  Nothing about it made me excited about the job and I’m actually very happy to have turned them down. One should be excited and enthused about a new job and I was neither. It didn’t take me long to make my final decision. On retrospect, their campus revealed as much about their mindset as their offer: beautiful buildings and landscaping and an air of wanting to be a part of something special. But they do not appear to value their human assets near as much. No budget for salaries but an enormous budget for polished marble, etched stainless steel and even LCD displays on rooms announcing the schedules therein.

So my immediate future is set. I will finish my contract on March 4th and be on a plane on the 6th. When I come back at some, as yet, undetermined future I will be just a hired gun, teaching English where ever there is a need and a fistful on won.

Got English. Will travel.

Crunch Time

By , February 23, 2011 10:13 pm

I suppose it had to happen. The fact that I was feeling more than a little homesick and was ready to come back for a visit meant that something had to get in the way. Bittersweet, though it is, as that something is actually really good. I think. Maybe.

Today I was offered a job at UNIST – Ulsan National Science and Technology University – for a position as a technical writing instructor. All that work on novels, websites, and blogs has finally paid off and someone has recognised that I actually know what I’m talking (or writing) about and can most likely teach others to do the same.

It’s crunch time, however, because I haven’t accepted the position yet. All I know so far is that I’ve passed the interviews (strenuous and arduous) and I’ll go up on Thursday morning to try and negotiate a contract. Their website posting for the position advertises the pay as quite a bit less than what I currently make, but they say there’s room to manoeuvre for experience. Since during the interview process they let on they wanted someone with technical experience I know their pickings are slim. As far as I know, I am the only English teacher in this neck of the woods with any sort of technical background. So, I’ve set a number that I want to be paid and it’s higher than their advertised amount. They’ll either pay it or they won’t.

For me, it’s win-win either way.  I’ll either have a nice job in a prestigious up and coming university with 6 weeks of yearly vacation or I’ll be able to come home in less than 2 weeks for a very long, very overdue vacation. I’ll come back here after my vacation and make decent money doing corporate teaching with a varied schedule or part time teaching at two or more private schools. There’s no lack of English teaching positions here for someone with experience and brains.

We’ll see. I know more tomorrow after I meet with the university.

Dodging Bullets

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By , February 20, 2011 10:49 am

We pulled a Matrix stunt this weekend while on a bus trip to the resort. Bullets, in the form of bus wheels, flew off. Near misses. No bodily harm caused but lots of fear.

The weekend ski trip is a pretty cheap deal here in Korea. For less than $90 you get a 4 hour bus ride there and back, lift tickets and ski or board rentals. Our trip started at 4am and I rode my scooter at 3:45 am to join my friends. Once on the bus, we chatted briefly and then we all leaned back in our seats for a snooze while we drove to the ski mountain. I had a hard time sleeping as I was sitting near the rear of the bus and kept hearing a strange harmonic “whop whop whop” sound and a slight shimmy.  I’m not bus driver so I didn’t worry too much about it. I figured the bus driver knows his bus better than I.

Less than 2 hours into a 4 hour drive I heard a bump and the driver pulled off the highway. I though we were stopping at a rest stop but the driver got out and started talking rapidly on his cell phone. Not a good sign. I got out to see what the matter was.

Where is our second wheel

It was still before sunrise and a little hard to see. But clearly, we were missing something here. Our bus was listing hard to the left and the rear tire was dangerously compressed. It wasn’t immediately clear what really occurred. A quick look at the right side showed us what it ought to look like:

There should be two wheels on the rear of the bus. This is the right rear side and the wheels and tires extend to the edge of the bus body. Then looking again at the left side it was clear what the shimmy and whop-whop noise was: We had a flat and the driver ignored it. He ignored the noise and shimmy for so long, in fact, that we lost the entire wheel. It must have worked itself right off the studs.

We went back on the bus to wait for a repair job. Then we learned that it would be a two hour wait for a new bus to pick us up and continue the journey. A new bus? Why?

It was after dawn before we realized the truth of what really happened.   Once the sun had come up enough to give us some light, this is what we saw.

both wheels are off the studs with one wheel completely missing

We had nearly lost both wheels. We clearly dodged a bullet. I think the final bump we heard before pulling off the road was the remaining wheel slipping off the studs and resting on the hub.  Metal shavings littered the hub, wheel and ground and left a trail for many meters back along the highway. Nowhere behind us was our missing wheel, which means it must have fallen off quite a while back.  Our bus had come very close to pulling a Fred Flintstone and simply rolling over on it’s side. Had that happened at highway speeds of 100km/hour (70mph) things would have gone very badly. Instead, the driver pulled over just before things got really frisky and our biggest headache was a two hour wait for a replacement bus.

Once we were on our way, we got to the ski mountain late, but just in time for lunch and skiing. Our package was for 9am to 4pm but the tour group adjusted the lift times for us (quite complicated here in Korea compared to the simple full-day or half-day prices back in the USA) and we skied from 12:30 until 6pm. We arrived back in Ulsan around 11pm.

On the top, the obligatory photo

We went to “High One” a resort in GangwanDo province. Not a very big ski resort by most standards, but adequate. Only 18 runs are placed around a mountain, the top of which is only about 1200 meters. There are just a few beginner courses, completely overrun with people and more of a roller-derby game than skiing. An equal number of intermediate and advanced and a couple of professional runs and snowboard technical courses dot the higher slopes.

I spent the early afternoon getting my ski legs adjusted. It had been a year since I skied and didn’t want to go too far, too fast, too soon. I’m an old man, after all.  Once I felt comfortable skiing and had my carving skills honed by dodging the thousands of beginners on the easy green slopes I took to the blues and reds.

Experts Only. But I did several of these

No hill for a stepper like me. I plunged down the “expert only” red slopes (in Korea, red is what American’s would view as a blue or perhaps double blue diamond run) and found them to be only steep and fast with almost no moguls (bumps). Of course, I felt a little studly going down the expert runs, but no serious skier would consider these expert only. If you’ve ever been to Taos ski mountain, these would be a difficult blue there. But at least I had the runs mostly to myself and I could ski with abandon. The easier slopes were too crowded with people.

Mountainous Gangwan province, complete with brown haze

Since we arrived late and our lift times were adjusted onward to 6pm, the slopes started to clear off after 4:30. Quite a few other one-day bus trips left at that point and the only remaining skiers were those spending the night in pricey hotels or, like us, leaving later. The higher slopes were shut down, but the lower, green slopes, although easier, were cleared of most of the people. Overall, despite the bullet dodging, not a bad day.

The Pitch, The Catch

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By , February 11, 2011 10:17 am

I get to present on the 22th of February to UNIST.  Until then, I’ll know nothing about whether I come home in March or June.

I submitted my presentation yesterday. I decided to do it on proper emailing, a subject most Koreans truly suck at. I took a presentation I’d already done for a company I teach at and prettied it up for a the academic crowd.  Should be fun, as the ones who have emailed me already regarding the position are guilty of most of the egregious errors in spelling, grammar, cultural usage, etc.

Today at my regular school, the director is bringing in another foreigner for the day.  He says he’s not hiring anyone full time to replace me and wants to just have a native English speaker once or twice a week come in. I guess he wants to break them in right while I’m still there. He hasn’t said anything else about it, but I suspect I’ll have someone else shadowing my classes for the day.  I hope it’s someone I already know.

Pins and Needles

By , February 9, 2011 11:33 pm

I was hoping to have heard this week from UNIST, the national science and technology university about the writing instructor position. Well, I did indeed hear from them. I heard they want a 2nd presentation and interview. I am to prepare a 15 minute presentation (i.e. dog and pony show) on any subject relevant to university level writing  and then let them have at me for another 15 minute of Q and A.

They don’t know yet if the presentation will be on the 15th of February or the 22nd. The next semester starts in March 2, so that’s only 1, maybe two weeks from when I present. And I leave for Texas on March 6th if they don’t hire me.

So, here I sit, contemplating what I’ll present and how I’ll present it and whether I’ll come home in March or wait until June. I’m learning I don’t deal well with periods of uncertainty and I’ve considered even blowing them off just to have the certainty of knowing what will happen in March. Not the right thing to do, but it crossed my mind.

More news later as it happens.

The Switch

By , February 6, 2011 10:32 am

Yesterday we got into a car accident. Not a big one and no one was injured. It was startling, though, and we were all shaken.

We were travelling back to Ulsan from a trip to Costco in Busan. We had a load of groceries in the trunk and were just dealing with the massive amount of traffic on the roads. This week was Lunar New Years and being Saturday, the 4th of a five day weekend, many people were heading home and the roads were jammed. We were on the new interstate between Ulsan and Busan and we weren’t going very fast – maybe 40km/hr (about 25mph) and were in one of the many tunnels that burrow through the mountains between the two cities.  Dim, yellowish lighting in the tunnel makes it difficult to see so all of the lanes are marked off with a solid white line, which means no lane changing. This being Korea, however, rules are rarely followed.  One man decided my lane was better than his and he decided he wanted to be in my lane. Unfortunately, we were still in it. He side-swiped us while along the right from the front passenger door to the bumper. His van was scratched from end to end. Koreans generally don’t (nor are they taught to) look in their blind spot when changing lanes (I berated MyeongHee about this for weeks when she first got her license) and this guy was no exception. Had he look, he would have seen us: we were just to his left when he careened into us.

No worries, though, as it was just a flesh wound to the car and everything still functioned. It was only a matter of getting the official things done.  MyeongHee called the insurance company who came out to the scene within 15 minutes or so. He inspected the accident, took a few pictures and then asked us to drive out of the tunnel and out of traffic (I’m sure we caused an even great backup while we sat in the middle of the tunnel) so he could take better pictures in daylight. We spent another 10 minutes there while he took our stories of the accident. He figured ti would take 2 days or so to fix our car and asked if we needed a rental. Yes, we told him, we would. He then suggested we follow him to a repair shop where we could drop off the car  and pick up a rental. We still had a trunk full of groceries and I thought this would be a long, drawn out trip through busy Busan traffic followed by a stack of paperwork.  I couldn’t have been more wrong.

We drove maybe 10 minutes through heavy traffic to a repair shop, spent all of 2 minutes doing paperwork and then were on our way home again in a new rental, our groceries safely transferred to the new trunk. I thought that was pretty efficient, but that sometime this week we’d have to drive back down to Busan to pick our car from the repair shop. Wrong again. They deliver. MyeongHee gave them the address to her hair shop and they’ll drop it off when they’re finished and pick up the rental.  Although any accident is a hassle, this was absolutely almost zero hassle.

Say what you will about Korean drivers and their lack of blind spot checking, rule following or whatever. But the efficiency they have in getting things done, as experienced by this accident and by last week’s highly efficient apartment move, and we’re pretty happy campers.  By contrast, the last time I moved in America was from Plano to Farmer’s Branch and Circe hired a moving company to get it all. It took nearly all day and twice the price they quoted her (and 2X what we paid here.)  And the last car accident I had in America was an exercise in dealing with insurance company estimates, finding a garage, dealing with the rental agency and then returning said rental; a far from almost zero hassle experience.

One final bright spot was that this accident will also repair a nice long scratch on the car we got a month ago when we had our first snow storm and slid into  a parked truck. We were prepared to fix that on our nickel but this guy yesterday was nice enough to side-swipe us and have his insurance company fix it for us.

One month to go…maybe

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By , February 2, 2011 9:37 am

My contract is up next month at the private school I now work at and I’ve already got a ticket home. But it’s still a maybe in my mind. Although I had applied for a couple of university positions, nothing had come of my applications until mid January. That’s when friends of mine, who already worked at these colleges, submitted my application again with their personal recommendations. Of course, it’s always been that way – it’s better to network than simply throw resumes to the wind.

Anyway, two colleges here in town, one a nursing college and the other a national technical university, decided they’d better get busy and hire a native English speaker for their spring semester which starts in March. I interviewed at the nursing college last week and then at the teach uni this week. Both times I knew my competition – other friends here in town. That makes it nice because if I don’t get the job I’ll still have a friend there for next year when they need another teacher. The nursing college has already decided and they didn’t choose me. No worries, the winning applicant was Alan, a guy who used to live in Watertown, SD and partied at The Prop, the old watering hole by the lake near Lizzie’s former home.  I’m happy for him. On the plus side, he has a private school of his own he’ll have to hire a teacher for. Maybe I can be his boy there when I come back.

The tech university is a much bigger school and they’re hiring a couple of teachers. They wanted writing instructors, and with the novel I’ve written and continuing writing on my other website, Ulsanonline.com, I figured I’ve got a good chance. My competition is Dee, another good friend who has written for the same website and for the local newspaper we both wrote for a few years back. Dee is also a rock climbing partner and we’ve spent many a Saturday together clinging to rock faces. She’s got a leg up on me on this job as she’s midway through her Masters degree in journalism. She’s also younger and prettier, which is something the Koreans tend to value more in their native English speakers than they do quality or ability, of which she has plenty of also. Regardless, this would be a nice job if I get it, but I’m not holding my breath. If I get, I’ll stay through May and come home. If not, I’ll come home in March.  I hope to know definitively within the next week or two.  I have to admit, though, that even though I’d like the job, I’m more than ready for a break and am homesick. Part of me wants to be passed over  for the job so I can simply go home for a while. The other part of says that rejection still hurts and I want the job, more so than the nursing college job I was already rejected for.

This week, February 2nd through the 4th, is Lunar New Year. It’s one of the two biggest of Korean holidays and the country nearly shuts down while people travel in packs to their hometowns to celebrate. We’ll be going to Pohang and I’ll be sitting on the floor again for a couple of days.  Next week, beginning on the 7th, people will be back and work and thinking hard about who they’re going to hire. I should probably know something that week.

Until then, ta ta for now… and Happy New Year

Transformation

By , January 25, 2011 10:48 pm

We’ve Moved.

Not nearly as traumatic as moving day has been in the past. In fact, it was relatively easy. With a few exceptions, of course.

It started at 10:30, which was probably the biggest exception. The movers were supposed to arrive at 12:30, so we still had time to make some breakfast, drink coffee, lounge a bit and take showers and get dressed. We did almost none of that. I had time for only one cup of coffee and everyone was else was still in their pajamas. I had already gotten up and taken the dogs out to the park so I was at least dressed.  MyeongHee complained that they were too early, but they just barged in and went to work.

And work they did.

on the left, nephew ChangHyun, DongHyun and MyeongHee stand amid a sea of boxes and crates in our old home

Within one hour, this team of five or six people (they moved so fast I didn’t really count them) had everything packed. They marched in a boatload of reinforced boxes and proceeded to unfold them and load them up. One woman stayed in the kitchen and wrapped dishes in bubble wrap and filled boxes and then did the dry good and then worked over the refirgerator and freezer.  The mean worked on the living room and bedrooms and packed books, beds and clothes and armoires. They had their business down to a smart science.

MyeongHee tries to act happy even though she's had no shower or breakfast

It was really amazing how much stuff we had. Especially considering I moved to Korea with a suitcase and duffel bag of clothes and a few sundries. Of course acquiring a wife means also acquiring a lot of other things, such as all her pots, pans, dishes, refrigerator, and her clothes. Add in her teenage son and all his accoutrements and we had a 2-ton truck filled. And even that was amazing. No trudging up and down stairs for this moving team.

The ladder truck

Once everything was packed, the ladder truck arrived and they began moving things down into the truck.

The platform is moved into place on the front balcony

A test ride up on the platform

Boxes and crates moved with ease from the 4th floor to ground level in mere seconds

While the men on the 4th floor loaded the platform with boxes and crates, one man in the truck rearranged them into the truck for a tight fit. They would send down a new platform of boxes and he would quickly slide everything into the truck and send it up again for another load while he stacked them.

Just less than one later they had everything moved from our apartment to the truck and we’re pulling out. An amazing time of slightly less than 2 hours to pack and load and entire 3-person household. We packed only our wallets, money, important papers, sex toys (just kidding) and passports. They did everything.

And they were off. MyeongHee and the two boys (her nephew ChangHyun has been staying with us since Christmas) took off with the car while I stayed behind. I cleaned up some and then took off on my scooter to join them

preparing to load the new apartment

And then the process begins anew – only in reverse. Boxes are loaded on to the platform in the parking lot and shuttled up to the 3rd floor.

One man waits for the platform to bring more boxes

A new sea of boxes and crates is formed

This time, we got involved in the process. We knew where we wanted things and how we wanted them arranged. To let them do it all would have been possible, but we’d have probably redone a lot if they did. Our clothes was another small exception to the day – they unpacked them and didn’t seem to notice that my underwear, which are quite a bit bigger than MyeongHee’s, all went into the same section of the armoire.

At just after 2:30 pm the team left with their now empty truck. A total of 4 hours to pack, move and unpack and entire apartment of goods. That must be some kind of land-speed record. Nothing was scratched, nothing was missing and nothing was broken – not even the many eggs that were in the refrigerator. A testament to efficiency of the Korean moving team. I was very impressed. That cost us about US$900 which I thought was a good value.

Still, we spent the next several hours setting things up, hanging pictures, redoing the pond and waterfall. The final exception was the gas. We had none until the next morning so it was a bit chilly and we had to cook with just the microwave. Truly a small price to pay for a mostly effortless move.

The New Apartment, including Sparky the dog

I was going to take several pictures of the new place. This will have to suffice. If you really want to see it, you can come and visit us.

Here’s our new address:

Ulsan
Namgu,Yaumdong 701-1
Hanla Ace Apt. Bldg 101 No. 305

The phone, if you want to call is 82-052-266-5941

That’s all the new for now. Love to everyone.

On to the Hive

By , January 23, 2011 9:07 am

That’s what my friend Mark called them when he came to visit: hives. Vast tracts of apartment high rises. Well, they’re quite a bit more spacious than that, but the analogy still holds.

Today we’re moving from our villa-style apartment in the suburbs to an apartment in the city.  We went in last night to check out the place and see how clean the previous renters left it. It wasn’t too bad, but they left a dozen or so posters on the walls, windows and doors – mostly elementary-age posters with a mix of Korean and English language. We spent a good amount of time pulling them off and scraping the remains of the tape off. Otherwise, the place is in good shape.

I’ll shut off the internet here sometimes around noon and will be back online on Monday, although email via the smartphone is still possible.

But check this out…we’re getting a new internet provider, and new cable TV provider and a new land line phone provider – all three in one company. How much would you pay for that in America?  I think the phone alone would cost you $30. Plus another $30 or $40 for each of the other services.  Not here – we’re getting all three for the princely sum of $30 per month.  Korea is cheap. And I’ll bet my internet is 10x faster than yours, too.

Here’s where we are now. We’re far enough out of the city that Google maps uses a lower resolution on the west end of the area where we are. The higher resolution is for the city and our new place in down east.

And here’s a closeup of the area. Looking closely, you can see the shadows caused by the high rise apartments in the area. The big building on the right is ‘Home Plus’, one of the large department stores. It’s very much like a Target or WalMart with a grocery. It’ll be nice to have some decent shopping close by. It looks like a parking lot because they park on the roof. The lavender lines on the left belong to the local Korean market – a long line of stalls of just about anything to buy. More pictures of that fun place later.

Anywho, I hope to have some pictures of the move and the new digs this week.  Ta ta for now.

Blistering Cold

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By , January 20, 2011 9:50 am

OK, so maybe not blistering. But 30+ years in balmy Texas winters makes one’s blood thin. Here in Ulsan we’re experiencing the coldest winter in 44 years. Before this year, winter was more consistently colder than Texas winters, but rarely more than a few degrees under 32.  In fact, there was a saying among Koreans here that the typical winter pattern was 3 days warm, 4 days cold (warm being just mostly above freezing). Not this year. It’s been well under 32 and things are frozen.

How cold and frozen?

  • We had a good snow on January 3rd. There’s still snow and ice on the ground from that day, 2.5 weeks later.  It’s always been either a no-snow winter or if it did snow it was gone in a day or so. We haven’t had enough daylight above freezing in that time to melt it off.
  • The water pipes in MyeongHee’s hair shop are frozen and have been so for 3 days. She can do haircuts, but no perms or straightening that requires washing/rinsing. Not a big concern as business drops off for her anyway when its very cold. But still a pain in ass – she cooks her own lunch there, so no dishwashing, either.
  • Korea has begun energy consumption cutbacks because of the power surge in heating costs. Some of the subways in Seoul have been cut back on runs and they have mandated large buildings to be no more than 20 deg C. (68F)

I’m hoping this cold spell leaves soon, but usually February is the coldest month of the year. We’ll see what that has in store for us.

Moving Day

By , January 17, 2011 11:25 pm

It kind of snuck up on sooner than I thought. I was thinking we’d move around the end of the month, but we’re now set to move on the 22nd of January. One week of living here in the school building and then we get to move into town.We’ll move on a Sunday and have to do almost no work. The  moving company will come and box everything up, take it down to the truck, deliver it and unpack it all for us. We’ll just have to arrange it the way we want it. All that for only $900.

It’s costing a few bucks in other ways, though. We’ll need to buy a washing machine, a twin size bed, and an armoire (Koreans don’t do closets as far as I can discern) or two. We’ve already bought a new sofa.  Another $1000 or so.

We’re looking forward to it for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that my landlord is also my boss. One can imagine the potential for conflict – or more likely having to bury conflict to keep it from happening.  But also because people tend to tattle on anything I do (let my dogs leave poo in the park, for example) to the school director and in the new place that won’t be possible – they’ll have to deal with me as I am and not someone they can circumvent and go to my boss. Also, its just a bigger, nicer place: 3 bedrooms, 1.5 bath.  We’re in a 2:1 now, but we have a very large rooftop veranda we’ll lose.

We’re also looking forward to not driving so damn much. On Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays I take MyeongHee to work and then go to Samsung Chemical to teach. Then I go back to the school for the evening. Afterward, I drive back into town to pick her up and drive back to the school/house. The new apartment is close to her hairshop and a couple dollar taxi ride.

I’ve also started plans for a big-ass party here. My website, Ulsanonline.com, has been in business for just a little over two years. It’s all mine, now, by the way. My partner went back to Canada in June and, for a while, he thought he might come back to Korea. Now he says he will never come back (he broke up with his Korean girlfriend) and we’ve transferred all the ownership to me. So, it’s my very own website and business. A fairly decent one, too, as I have the most popular English language site in Ulsan. It’s getting 200 unique people a day hit it – not anything as large as Google, mind you, but decently big for an English language site in a Korean city.  So, on the 28th, I’m hosting a party at one of the foreigner bars here. Should be fun. I’m not a big party planner so I’ve got a few friends helping me out with logistics.The biggest headache was getting a large banner printed. I had to take my artwork to a sign maker and have them create a vinyl size I could hang in the bar. All accomplished in Korean (with some hand waving, of course.) The sign, a full 2m in length, cost only $20, which explains why there are hundreds of them around town hung on every lamp pole and guardrail. But that’s another story.

And still planning on coming home. I’ve paid for a flight on the 6th with my AA miles, but I also submitted an application to a university for a job. This one actually looks promising as I have a friends already there pushing for me. It will indeed delay my return, but certainly not cancel it.

Anywho, that’s all the news I have. Hope everyone is doing well.

Coming Home – A Tentative Schedule

By , January 10, 2011 9:29 am

I called up American Airlines this weekend in search of deals. I have about 30,000 frequent flier miles built up from previous years trips back home and thought I might be able to use them. I had been looking on the websites like Travelocity for a way to get home cheap and even the AA site to perhaps get an upgrade. No luck in either course so I had to go stone-age and use a telephone.

Anyway, for the miles I have, AA has decided they can get me home for a mere $76 – all in fees and taxes – and 25,000 of my miles.  That’s a one-way trip. I’ll have to buy my return trip later, which will likely run around $600-800. But that means my stay at home is for as long as I can stand being away from my lovely wife, or as long as my money holds out.

I haven’t made it official, but will this week – I’m waiting on a couple of universities to decide I’m a great guy and offer me a job for the semester starting in March. I’m only giving them four more days as I have only five for the reservation I made to expire if I don’t buy it/mile it.  For $76, I suppose I can always change it to June when summer vacation begins.

Anyway, mark your calendars. March 6th at 9:20am I’ll arrive at DFW airport.

And so far, a busy New Year

By , January 4, 2011 10:54 pm

Since just after Christmas we’ve had a house full of people. ChangHyun, MyeongHee’s nephew has been here since the 26th. He’s 11 or 12 and a pretty good kid. He doesn’t cause any trouble, just mostly watches TV and plays on the Wii or on one of the computers. Last year when he came we sent him to the English school for an hour a day. This year, however, I’m doing all the teaching here at home. So, I go teach at Samsung three mornings a week, teach at the school 5 days a week and now I teach him 7 days a week. I’m running out of days.

A few days after ChangHyun came, my mother-in-law came and she’s been here since. She’s no trouble, either. She spends her days cooking and cleaning our home, although not so much cleaning as she’s done in previous visits. Whether that’s because she’s getting old or she knows we’re moving soon and doesn’t want to spend time on someone else’s place I’m not sure.  This time I can actually put my coffee cup down for a few minutes without her picking it up and washing it. Last time I had to almost carry it around with me for fear she’d wash it before I was even done drinking.

This past weekend, we had both MyeongHee’s brothers here at the house. Her younger brother came Saturday with his wife and baby. Her older brother and his wife (ChangHyun’s parents) came on Sunday along with their daughter. Our place just isn’t that big, but Koreans don’t worry too much about not having beds – they’re used to sleeping on the floor. We just spread out the thick blankets and piled up people like cord wood.

We’re still planning on moving soon. Hopefully we’ll be out by the end of the month. We put our money down and now just waiting for the current occupants to move so we can clean and then move in.  I’m getting excited not to be on the edge of town and be more central. We’re far enough on the edge now that any open space (what little there is) is all farm land. Next door is a house sized open lot that the owner grows his veggies and even a chicken. Late in December the chicken got past the skimpy fence and walked into our school. I was out walking the dogs just before work and when they saw the chicken in the entrance that really raised a ruckus. The dogs got all worked up and chicken wasn’t taking any shit from anyone. Freaked a couple of the younger 1st grade students out. I ended up picking up the chicken and throwing it back  over the fence. I doubt I’ll have chickens to contend with in our new apartment.

A few pictures

This is GaEun, wearing her cousin DongHyun’s glasses (no prescription – he just likes the style) and playing with MyeongHee’s cell phone. She can figure out, even at the tender age of 18 month, how to make a video phone call, find the games and generally dork around with most any phone. I downloaded a finger painting application for my smartphone and let her play with that. She’s pretty cute and a lot of fun to watch. Her dad has got a routine where he tells her to stand at attention and then salute. I tried to catch that on video, but once the camera come out its all smiles and ‘cheese’ with no more salutes. Pretty dang cute.

She likes me. She’ll sit on my lap so she can play with my computer. I’m sporting my winter beard again, too. She’s not too fond of that.

Here’s a little medieval medicine I was having done. I pulled a muscle in my shoulder and I’ve found that the quickest way to get it fixed is to go to the acupuncturist in town. For a mere $5 I can get a whole workup of needles, electro-needles that make the muscles tense and relax, hot pad, water-jet massage table and this, the drawing of blood. The idea is to use a suction cup to suck out the bad blood (after having first pricked the skin) from around a painful area.  Not sure how much this contributes to the fix, but the rest of it I actually enjoy, especially the water-jet massage. 

A picture of my honey with the Santa hat on.

Anywho, hope everyone else is doing fine. I’m looking forward to coming  home this year for a bit. Still planning on March, but I’ve also applied for a couple of university jobs that might mean a short delay if I get lucky enough to land one.  12 hours per week of teaching plus 2 months vacation  vs the 35 hours a week and 10 days of vacation I get now would make a short delay in getting home worth it. We’ll see.

A Merry, if quiet, Christmas

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By , December 26, 2010 8:27 pm

Not a single gift was exchanged. And we were happy about it. We’re not poor or cheap, just didn’t feel the need to buy presents for ourselves this year. Instead, we’re saving our cash for the planned move and the things we’ll need there. As a foreign native-English teacher, I am afforded a furnished apartment. But as just a family, which we will be in the new place, it’s just an apartment. I’ll need a desk, a washing machine, and various other pieces of furniture that is part of the apartment we live in now.

It’s been cold this weekend over Christmas. The weather men predicted snow, but they are frequently- and were again – wrong. Just cold. We stayed inside and watched movies and read books.

This week, MyeongHee’s nephew is going to stay with us. He’s 11 and a good kid. I’ll taking him riding on bicycles this week and wear his little butt out. I’ll probably also tutor him in English. His family doesn’t send him to an English school these days so he’ll get the free version since I’m off work.  I’ll probably challenge him by telling him that his cousin, GaEun learns English quickly so he should too. So what that she’s in the language acquisition phase of babyhood – he’ll get his motivation somehow.

We’re Moving!

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By , December 20, 2010 1:36 pm

No, not back home as some of you would like, but to another place here in Ulsan.

My contract at Big Top International Language School (such a silly name, but “big” and “top” have good connotations here and they have no concept of the two terms together being a circus.)  is up in March and finding a place and having it ready to move in before then requires some prep time. We’re putting $ down on a place today and should move in around the first of February.

We’ve enjoyed the free rent that comes with most contracts for English teachers here. And we’ll be paying rent in our new place. If I take another school jobs I’ll get some housing allowance that should offet the cost so I’m not real worried.  But for an apartment big enough for MyeongHee and her son, DongHyun, and I we need to drop a sizable deposit. We’re putting down about $5000 today and another $45000 in February. That’s just the deposit, which we’ll get back when our lease expires.  Certainly puts some onus on the renter to not break a contract, though, doesn’t it?

More news as it comes.

Me and My Shadow

By , December 7, 2010 9:37 am

Me and My Shadow

Another weekend in PoHang with MyeongHee’s family. This time, instead of making Kimchi, we celebrated the mother-in-law’s birthday. the old girl is 73. She’s doing much better than she was about a year or so ago when she was diagnosed with TB. She’s old, but still hanging on and very active. I guess you have to be in the country side in Korea as there aren’t many conveniences and a majority of her food is grown or caught or fetched by her and her neighbors.

Most of the weekend, GaEun was my shadow. If I went outside, she wanted to go with me. If I stayed indoors and watched TV, she did, too, although she wandered back and forth from the room I was in to the other rooms. Most of them were amazed that in a short time with me she was speaking a few English words, but we all know babies on the cusp of language acquisition pick up new words very quickly. ‘Hi’ and ‘bye’ are almost automatic for her, but I also taught her ‘duck’ and ‘goose’ as one of the neighbors has a pen of both nearby and mother-in-law has a duck statue in the living room.

all bundled up against the cold

It was pretty cold early in the morning, but by 11am or so it had gotten quite warm. She’s still all bundled up in sweatpants and jacket and heavy sweater.  She loved following me around, sometimes playing in the dirt or sand.

While GaEun and I wandered the fishing village, the women-folk prepared for the birthday breakfast. MyeongHee bought a cake in town but everything else was home grown. Mother-in-law in dressed in traditional Korean old woman garb of garish patterns and colors called “azumma style.”  Nothing special about her dressing this way for her birthday as she always dresses this way. As do nearly all the other old women. I’ve often wondered at what point they go from young, modern and stylish like my lovely wife MyeongHee to short permed no-hassle hair and the crazy patterned clothes. Is there a switch that gets turned on at some point? Can it be turned off, or merely delayed?

birthday cake, seaweed soup and raw fish - breakfast of champions.

Koreans make little or no distinction between meals and may have the same thing for breakfast lunch and dinner. We had the birthday cake at breakfast, but we also had what most people would consider dinner and what some would not even consider food.

Clockwise from left: kimchi, bell flower root, mountain weeds, the  traditional birthday dish in Korea of seaweed soup, rice and raw fish covered in onions, hot peppers and garlic.   Mmm mmm good. That’ll get you started in the morning for sure! Oh, and cake.

Kimchi R Us

By , November 29, 2010 10:33 pm

Satang checks out the massive bucket of red pepper paste

This weekend we drove up to Pohang to the mother-in-law’s place. It’s kimchi season and she’s getting on a bit in years. She needed a little help in preparing this year’s batch of the ubiquitous Korean sidedish. I had heard many tales of other families preparing a hundred, even two hundred or three hundred heads of cabbage for the coming year so I was relieved that a mere 45 heads was sufficient for the family. That’s 45 heads for MyeongHee and her boy DongHyun, MH’s older brother, his wife and two kids and MH’s younger brother, his wife and their baby and for Mother-in-law. That will last them most of the year.

When we arrived, the big bin of red paste was already waiting, along with a smaller bin of green onions, red pepper and garlic and fish juices.  Yum. Satang and Sparky had to sniff and check things out.  Just in case you were wondering, the red paste is crushed red pepper, garlic, shrimp and some fish all mashed together.  As soon as we arrived, we ate lunch and then the women got to work.

Myeong, left, sister-in-law and mother-in-law

The rubber gloves keep their hands from getting a rash from the spicy pepper paste while they rub it on each leaf of the head of cabbage. The cabbage is drenched in salt water first to make it wilt and softer. Then the ladies rub paste over each head. Sister-in-law (I can’t remember her name. They never use names – only titles) waited until MyeongHee and her mother did the initial red paste and then she’d rub on the green onion and pepper paste and then wrap each head around itself and store it in a bucket or bin.

red pepper paste - gochu garu - is rubbed lovingly only each leaf

While the women rubbed red pepper paste to their heart’s content, I decided to explore the neighborhood some. Most everyone had some bean mash – or mehju – hanging on their front porch. The beans are worked into a mash and then dried strung up on the porch. Later, they’ll ferment the bean mash into daenjeon, a flavorful paste that makes a wonderful stew, typically served with grilled meat. The only picture of me in this article is in the reflection in the window, below.

Bean mash - mehju

I also checked out the fishing village around mother-in-law’s place. Although I’ve been there many times, I’m still amazed. It’s very un-modern and if you hide the occasional Evinrude outboard motor on some boats you might think you’d stepped into a 19th century village.

Old ramshackle buildings perch on a small cliff above the fishing boats

Some people call it resourceful. Others might call it jerry-rigged

A lack of zoning and building codes in Korea means that whatever makes something keep from falling down is ok. This shack has a series of rocks holding up one corner and logs holding up the other. While it’s not beautiful, it’s resourceful and certainly cheap. Always having to do things according to code can be expensive, but is probably far safer than this.

The women are stacking up the kimchi

After walking around for a bit, I came back to check on the ladies. They were making headway and had a few bins filled but quite a bit more remained yet to be pasted and wrapped.

MyeongHee shows off a head of cabbage - bechu - that she has transformed into kimchi

This was actually MyeongHee’s first time to make Kimchi. Although she’s seen it done numerous times, she’s never actually put on the gloves and smeared paste. She had fun. I was happy to watch and take pictures – there really wasn’t room after all, for a fourth body in that production line.

I played with the baby and we ate persimmons

MyeongHee’s brother was busy cleaning his fishing gear and his wife was busy making kimchi, so I busied myself with their baby, GaEun. She’s just 18 months old, walking and starting to talk. And very cute. She was my shadow. If I went out, she wanted to go, too. If I watched TV, she came and sat in my lap. Mother-in-law gave us a bowl of soft persimmons and I helped GaEun with some. There are two types of persimmons – a harder, apple consistency type and and a softer, gooey variety. Both taste about the same and are subtley sweet.

who could resist that face?

After a few bites, she was convinced they were yummy and decided she could do it herself.

So, after a few walks around the neighborhood, playing with the dogs, playing with the baby, I decided to check on the women-folk again and see how they were making out with the kimchi.

nearly done, buckets and bins are stuffed for a years worth of veggie

After about 3 hours of smearing and spreading and wrapping, the ladies were finished. With all the large bins full, they had veggies to last for quite a while. Although it seems like a throw-back to earlier times, this dish is still on every table at every meal. And while it’s not my favorite dish, I do like it – when it hasn’t yet gotten too fermented and sour. MyeongHee and her family likes it very sour and stinky. I prefer mine a little fresher. And it really is healthy for you. The red pepper and garlic bring out the vitamin C and other goodies. It also makes sense for getting one’s veggies throughout the winter when otherwise fresh would be hard to come by – in the old days of horse carts before trucks and global shipping was possible. Should the day come (and it will, sooner than many of you think) when oil is too expensive to ship veggies around the world, the Koreans are set and will not go veggie-less. Everything in these photos was grown locally.

Our take of the booty. A trunkful of kimchi

So now we have a boatload of pickled, peppered cabbage. The big blue bucket sits on our back patio. It’s consistently pretty cold here these days, so it should be just fine – just warm enough to make it sour and stinky the way they like it.

After everyone packed up and we were ready to drive home we said our goodbyes. GaEun was a little upset I was leaving and wouldn’t let me go. She wanted me to hold her and wouldn’t even go back to her mother. I was flattered. Most of the family and the neighbors watching were surprised – shocked even. Most babies GaEun’s age are afraid of foreigners like me. Of course, after spending an afternoon with “gomobu” (Korean for father’s sister’s husband) how could she not love me? I look forward to spending some time with my granddaughters and have them form the same opinion.

Culture Night

By , November 24, 2010 8:55 am

Sure, I could probably use some culture. Who couldn’t?

This year, some of my friends have begun having a “Wine Club” party. Not every month, but nearly so. Everyone brings a bottle of wine and pays a little cash and we eat some great food and get tanked. Sometimes there’s entertainment.

A strong quartet from the Ulsan Symphony Orchestra serenades us while we quaff wine

The Wine Club is always in a different venue, too. We have had it before in pubs, restaurants and even in a micro-brewery. This month, it was in a coffee shop. The owner, the president of an engineering company, likes classical music so he arranged to have a string quartet play for us. That was a welcome change from the usual which was either internet-streamed music from a computer or a lone guitar player. This was far better. The food wasn’t so good this time. I’m not sure Koreans have figured out the foreigner style of hors d’ oeuvres for an event like this. We were offered saltine crackers with single-slice wrapped American cheese, most of which had been sitting there long enough for the cheese to begin to curl up on the edge from dryness. Of course, if one didn’t like the dried curled cheese already on the cracker, one could select from a tray of cheese with each slice still wrapped in its hermetically sealed package.  Pretty cheesy.

A panorama shot, from a friend’s cool iPod touch that creates these quite easily:

The owner also had several guests come to the Wine Club, none of whom were real wine drinkers, but merely wanted to support the owner and his coffee shop and maybe meet a few foreigners. We don’t have a membership and everyone is welcome, so that’s all fine. But they didn’t bring their own bottles of wine and they drank all of ours. Not fine.

I met several of the owner’s friends. I was surprised at the number of people who had sent their children overseas to study. The owner’s two children, 11 and 17 years old, are both in Germany studying music. Another had his daughter, 13, in America studying. I’m not sure I could do that to a young child. Coming to another country as an adult is difficult sometimes, but I’m a big boy and can deal with things. But for a teenager or a pre-teen. That’s rough.

I suppose it’s my turn to host Wine Club next time. I’ve been to most of them and the other regulars have all taken their turn at hosting. We’ll see what I have the gumption for.

Anyway, just thought I’d share. Hope everyone has a safe and wonderful Thanksgiving.

The Simple Life

By , November 15, 2010 9:23 am

One often hears people lament the passing of the simple life, the time before mechanised everything took hold and giant corporations owned nearly everything. From this perspective, however, the simple life doesn’t seem quite so simple.

A woman sifts her crops in a small parcel of land in the the city

I took this picture with my smart phone, so the quality isn’t so great. But I think it shows a distinct part of Korean culture. Where ever there is any open space that is even slightly level, Koreans make a garden. They’ll grow peppers, onions, cabbage, sesame seeds, bell flower, beans – whatever. Rarely does one see grass unless is it part of a public park.  Often, whether to supplement their income or get rid of it before it goes bad, they’ll sit on a street corner and  sell their veggies.

The woman uses the wind to blow away dust and dirt as she throws the grains into the air

One might wonder why her head is all covered. One reason is the sun – Koreans are not fond of getting a tan and prefer whiter, paler skin. Darker skin is for those south Asian types or those that toil in the field. Even on sweltering hot days I’ve seen woemn covered from head to toe to avoid the effects of sun. Another reason, it was cold and windy that day

These people tend this garden 9 months of the year, from preparing it in the spring with tilling and planting to tending during the growing years and then harvesting as she is now. In terms of labor, its not cheap. But if one doesn’t have the cash to buy, its a great alternative.  It’s back breaking work, though. In fact, it’s not uncommon to see an old man or woman permanently bent over 90 degrees due to their labor in the fields. Nothing simple about it.

I see this as a dying element of the culture here. Rarely have I ever seen even a middle aged person farming. Its always old people. The couple that tends this plot next to my home couple is well into their sixties. I wonder who will do this when they’re gone.

Grilled Eel

By , November 11, 2010 10:21 am

Not your typical food, unless you’re accustomed to eating in a  Japanese sushi house. But here in Korea it’s a delicacy. MyeongHee and I went out last night with some friends to an eel restaurant. I love the sushi style of eel, and figured this would be good, too.  I wasn’t wrong. It was delicious.  A little different from sushi, however.  Here, it’s grilled at your table and wrapped in lettuce with fresh garlic, ginger, bean paste, seaweed and onions. Healthy stuff, but it doesn’t do great things for your breath.

Eel fillets grilled next to eel head - and yes, I ate the head

MyeongHee said the tail was especially healthful – something about the long round things that Koreans tend to find good for male power. She said I didn’t particularly need it, but its good anyway.

At first I was reluctant to eat the head. But after grilling, it looked just like any other piece of meat. I ate the skin, the brain, and the eyes – they were hard little marbles and I wasn’t fond of them. But since this type of restaurant doesn’t get many foreigners, there were a few checking out how the foreigner does and I wasn’t going to disappoint them.

Like many Korean restaurants, the side dishes are plentiful. Any they’re bottomless. Eat up all the salad, kimchi, steamed spinach or eggplant and they’ll bring you more. It’s always a colorful dinner with lots of various flavors here.

Ban Chan, or side dishes, abound in Korean restaurants

I got stuffed. I was driving so I didn’t get to drink any beer. But MyeongHee drank a few glasses. I like a girl who can swill beer. This was my first time in an Eel restaurant. After almost five years here, there are still surprises to be found.

There is a look that says I have had a beer or two

Fabulous Fall Weekend Weather

By , November 7, 2010 10:27 pm

This weekend the weather was outstanding. We took advantage and visited the arboretum, which prior to this weekend we didn’t even know existed. A friend of mine, Aaron, put together a small get-together at the place and we just followed the map. Turns out the Arboretum is a finely hidden gem tucked into the hills around just off the coast.  The people running it are very friendly and were quite happy to let people touch, pet and even hold the animals.

I turned into a snake handler

The Arboretum is more than just trees and plants, although those are there in abundance. The have a small zoo with a bird area you can walk through (and get pooped on) a reptile area and a small section of rodents such as hamsters, guinea pigs and mice which serve as lunch for the reptiles. In the above picture, I held a medium size Burmese Python.  I’m not a big snake fan, but this one was kind of pretty and the caretaker just handed him over to me.  MyeongHee wouldn’t have anything to do with the snakes – or with me once I’d handled it. She’s got a phobia of snakes. She ran around the corner and I had to get Aaron to takes pictures of me with my camera.

This snake was really calm

Aaron tries on the python while the much much bigger one still sits in the pen behind him. Although its hard to see in this picture, the one behind is as big around as my calf.

Myeonghee was happy with the bird they let her hold. But even that didn’t last long. She held this little thing for a minute and then passed it off to the kid just behind her.

We brought both dogs and initially put them on leashes. They don’t get out to much free and open space much – other than the park across the street – so they were pulling hard to explore. We let them off and let them run around and they loved it. They’re both crashed on the sofa now from so much running today.

Me and my pups. Satang is on the left and Sparky is on the right

MyeongHee held the dogs, too, but they would not hold still and all the pictures are of her not smiling but scowling at the dogs

I cannot resist a waterfall. The fish in this small pond were Jaws size koi.

MyeongHee is a sheep, according to the Asian zodiac. They had statues of all 12. I am a rat and can do without having my picture next to my rat. But the red maples make a nice background

Inside the greenhouse, the tropical plants formed a canopy over us

Aarons son Jamon had lots of fun holding Sparkys leash. Not sure who was leading who really

We only stayed at the arboretum for a couple of hours. Although it was really pretty, it was relatively small – perhaps a mere 10 acres. We left the group and took the dogs to Ulsan Grand Park and let them run a bit more. We had a ball in the car so we went into the overly crowded park. Satang chased the ball while Spark chased SaTang and both dogs drew a crowd of onlookers.  SaTang seems to sense the roar of the crowd and puts on a good show of running and jumping.

Only one of eight paws are on the ground in this high speed action and that one of Sparkys is just barely touching

We played at the park until sunset and then it got cool. We think there aren’t too many more weekends of this caliber before winter sets in here. It’s never terribly cold, but it is more consistently cold than Texas.  We enjoyed the day outdoors and we might have to look back on this one for a nice bit of weather until spring comes next year.

This week I start a new part time job. I scored a corporate gig at Samsung Fine Chemicals out near the petrochemical section of town. A group of 15-20 engineers  wants to improve their English as well as learn the western ways of rapport building since they do quite a bit of travel to other places.  It’s only one hour a day and only three times per week but its about $70 per hour. That should add a decent bit of beer money to my budget. I teach from 11:30am to 12:30pm, which gives me just enough time to scurry back to the west end of town, take the dogs out for a quick pee and poop and then off to school for another seven hours of teaching munchkins.

This weekend, by the way, marks four months from the end of my contract at the school. Unless I get a job at the university, which Aaron says he’ll try and help with, I’ll be back in Texas in four months. I need to get out my countdown script and polish it off and put it in the sidebar of this website.

Anyway, that’s all for now. Cheers and hope everyone is well.

The Crap Shoot

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By , November 5, 2010 10:23 am

Sending money home is nothing more than a crap shoot these days. The last several months the currency exchange rates have been up, down, left, right and anything but stable. The fluctuations can mean a loss or gain of quite a bit of cash depending on how much I send. I’ve been holding on to a wad of cash hoping the rate would drop to a decent level and sure enough, it did. It dropped yesterday to 1106 won to the dollar, the lowest it had been in months. I decided to move cash and went over to the bank and sent a few bucks home. If I had waited until today, I could have saved even more. It dropped another few won today. Although I didn’t get the best exchange rate, I’m happy and think I made a good bet. The South Korean government isn’t happy with the exchange rate and, according to CNBC, will likely do something about it. I suspect next week will prove that today’s low rate is likely the best it will be for another short while. That’s because as the won:dollar rate goes lower, selling cars and ships and TVs means less profit for the big exporting companies. Can’t have that. So, they’ll intervene somehow and prop the rate back up to 1150 or so.  That’s my prediction, anyway.  If I had big money to play in the for-ex markets I might be able to make a buck or two.

Non-Halloween

By , November 1, 2010 12:03 pm

Although I prepared a costume I never even wore it except to pose for this picture.

Another suicide bomber

MyeongHee and I had gone out with some friends on Friday night to celebrate a birthday. We ate, drank and danced until the wee hours. On Saturday, I went to another friend’s wedding the park while MyeongHee worked at the hairshop. By the time I picked her up at 8pm, she wasn’t feeling well and my plans for another night of eating, drinking and dancing throughout the many Halloween parties was put on ice. We ended up just going home and relaxing on the sofa watching a movie.

We’re old and boring. But we like it.

A Busy Two Weeks

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By , October 24, 2010 11:17 am

I’ve been remiss in writing here lately. Not because I don’t like or want to, but simply because I haven’t had time.

Two of Circe’s friends came to Korea to visit. Not me, specifically, but they made a side trip. Brandon and MJ, neither of whom I had met before, came to Korea to visit Brandon’s sister in Busan. Since that’s just down the coast from Ulsan they made a side trip up and spent the morning with me. I showed them my little Shangrai La and a little about the city. We ended up taking a short hike in the mountains for a quick visit at Paraiso Waterfalls, one of the 12 scenic areas of Ulsan.

Brandon and MJ at Paraiso Waterfall in the Yeongnam Alps near Ulsan

They were really nice people, which isn’t surprising being Circe’s friends. We had a nice time and they brought me some pinto beans and flavored creamer for my coffee – two things that just don’t exist here in Korea. I gave them a set of suction cups (medieval things, really, designed to suck the “bad blood” from a small area) to take back to Circe for her massage business.

Last week I was busy hosting a teaching course. Through my Ulsanonline.com business I advertised the course, registered attendees and secured a room. The course instructors merely had to show up and teach and I got about 10% of the fees.  That was a lot of leg work in running around getting things setup.

During that time, a pair of Italian journalists contacted me. They planned to come to Ulsan to do a story on shipbuilding and were looking for places to stay. Again, because of Ulsanonline, they contacted me and asked for help. There aren’t many English language websites (or anything else) in this city so a quick google for anything in Ulsan and chances are you’ll hit my site. Anyway, I pointed them in the direction of a hotel to stay in and helped them get access to Hyundai Shipyards. I didn’t know anyone at the shipyards, but I tried.

Things turned out pretty damn good, actually. I contacted YoungSook you was the director at my school. She has excellent English and I thought she could help translate Korean into English for them. She came out with MyeongHee and I when we met with teh jourmalists, Maria and Marco, and she called some of her friends to see if they knew anyone at the shipyards. After a few phone calls she a fairly high level manager – the husband of a friend of a friend – and he gave Maria and Marco an interview. That was interesting as YoungSook translated his Korean into English for Maria who translated English into Italian for Marco who then asked questions  back down the same chain.

Youngsook(l) translates English for Marco and Maria from the Korean of Mr Kim(r)

After an hour or so of sitting at a park near the shipyards and talking, we got a private tour of the shipyards from the manager. We were all blown away by the sheer size of the place. We were told no pictures, which really frustrated the journalists, but because this guy was not just some guy by apparently #3 or 4 in the place he allowed us a few shots.

The Guest House at the Shipyards

The guest house is where dignitaries stay when they visit the shipyards. They selling ships for a few hundred million dollars each and its not uncommon for some high level people to visit and see what they’re state funds are going for. Lesser accommodations for the ship crews who take possession of the ships are not quite so fancy. This nice house was right on the cliffs overlooking the ocean at the edge of the shipyard.

On the other side of teh guest house, looking back toward the shipyards, I was allowed to take a picture of the crane.

A massive crane that move sections of the ships are they are put together

These beasts hold up to 1,290 tons of ship as they move huge sections together for assembly. When they move, its not the monotonous beep-beep-beep of a tractor or backhoe, but the music of a carousel and they play a catchy melody as they slowly move on the rails over the assembly line.  They allowed Maria to take a couple of discreet pictures of the place for their book and magazine, but they were very cautious. Apparently, industrial espionage is rampant – they tell me that an engineering feat of shaving even a tiny fraction of 1% efficiency in a ship design can save millions of dollars in fuel cost.

Honestly, the sheer magnitude of the place was overwhelming. A place large enough to turn out about 70+ ships a year – that’s more than one ocean-going monster vessel per week. But each one must “dry” the paint, waterproofing, welding, etc for a period of two years before delivery.  We drove in the manager’s car around the area for nearly 40 minutes with our jaws dropped most of the time.

I stole a few pictures from their website just to give you a hint of the place’s enormity.

Aerial view of the Hyundai shipyards. The guest house is the brown hill in the center

So anyway, that was quite an adventure, made more exciting by the fact that I got to be in the middle of it someone else’s journaling. Maria and Marco spent another week or so here and YongSook helped again with translations. Since my role of putting them in touch with both a translator and shipyard contacts complete I didn’t get to go but apparently they got even better pictures in their 2nd and 3rd shipyard visit. Maria sent me a few links of their other work, most of which is about the shipping industry including an icebreaker trip and drilling platform. Their next journey is to Pakistan where they’ll document the ship graveyard – where ships are dismantled for scrap. Check out their work here:

http://www.letteraventidue.com/libri/016_grandeatl.html
http://periodici.repubblica.it/d/index.jsp?num=692&page=76
http://periodici.repubblica.it/d/index.jsp?num=632&page=46

Meanwhile, I’m back at home and making a pot of beans. Later, I’ll spice them up and ladle them over a plate of chips and grate some cheese over them for a bad-ass plate of nachos. Not getting this stuff very often makes it a special treat.

Lost in Translation

By , October 10, 2010 8:25 pm

Another wedding today. One of MyeongHee’s friends from her hair-shop – actually it’s the restaurant across the street – her daughter got married. We went to the stadium. No, not because she’s all that popular and they needed a big place. The Stadium is a big-ass wedding hall, too. Built in 2001 prior to the 2002 World Cup soccer hosted here, they played the games and then they had a big-ass empty stadium. Ergo, wedding hall. They run couples in and out of there just like trucks at the filling station. Factory style weddings.

This is I think the 6th wedding I’ve been to here. Stranger and stranger every time. Again, no one shuts up and they talk all through the ceremony. Again, they bring out the cake during the ceremony, cut it and then put it back, never to be seen again. I’ve never eaten cake at a Korean wedding, although there always is one and they always cut it – just a single cut, no pieces. It’s possible the bride and groom take it home after, but I’m betting it’s merely symbolic and entirely inedible. Who the hell knows.  Half the people left during the ceremony in order to get a good seat at a table for the buffet. Then they eat and run.  Very strange.  I got a little nostalgic for a good old American wedding with a band, dancing, toasting, eating of cake and all that goes with it.

And then I ate at the buffet and that cheered me up.

Korean buffets are nearly always the same. Sure, there’s a few dishes that stand out that the other guys don’t have, but not many. This one made me laugh. For one, it was the only dish in the entire buffet with a label – 40+ dishes – and only one labelled. And I was the only foreigner in the place.  Dozens of weddings, hundreds of Korean guests dining at the buffet and there’s a single English sign and it’s badly done. They obviously didn’t type out the English just for me. For who, then, since 99.99% of those attending can read Korean? Hell, even I can read the Korean label above the horrid English.  No one needed it, but someone, somewhere in the bowels of the stadium kitchen decided to butcher English while he was butchering the Chikin.

When I saw the sign, standing all on its own, with its spelling that reminded me of Arkansas i simply had to take a picture. So, sure it’s fuzzy and slightly out of focus.  I had a plate of grub in my other hand.

I sat down with MyeongHee and her friends and proceeded to eat while I mused about the backwoods speller they somehow employed here.  The “Chikin” spelling I can almost forgive. It is phonetically correct. But “lag” was just too Bubba for me. MyeongHee wondered what I was smiling about as I nibbled the beef ribs and shrimp stir fry that are buffet staples.  She’d been to Oklahoma and understood the hill-billy drawl I put on the label – we’d made fun of a few of the woodsey folks we saw at the Casino across the Red River in 2009. It wasn’t as funny to her as I thought it was so I dropped it. Then I ate the chikin.

I realized then that “lag” wasn’t simply a spelling error. The chikin was horribly tough and stringy. I think “lag” meant these were the slower, nearly dead birds they could catch. The ones that lagged behind the rest of the coup when Bubba was chasing down a quota to be slaughtered.

The Doggie Run

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By , October 2, 2010 8:59 pm

It’s been a while since I took SaTang out for a run. Summer is just too hot for her to run as far as I usually go. Now that fall is here and she won’t overheat, I decided to take her out with me on the bike. Sparky doesn”t go to the hairshop like she’d been going – I think MyeongHee has decided it’s too much trouble to keep a pup at her shop – so I took her with us. This was a first for her. The basket I bought to hold SaTang is only good for 10kg. We just barely made that limit but I wanted to make sure both dogs physically fit in the basket before we attach it to the bike.

Well, they both fit as evidenced by the above picture. Sparkey isn’t so sure what the hell we’re about to do, but being all puppy she’s ready for just about anything.

So, basket firmly attached, we’re ready to ride. SaTang isn’t so sure why she has to share the basket with Sparky. She’s usually pretty psyched about getting to go but she seems little put out – even peeved. Ears down is a sign of not entirely happy.

But, a little distraction with a ‘hey look at me’ shout from MyeongHee and the ears are up and ready.  We only ride a short way with the dogs in the basket. Just far enough to get out of the neighborhood and away from the cars. We rode around the corner and up the hill to the farms behind Cheonsang. The farmers have paved quite a few one-lane roads in and around their patches of rice, bell-flower, sesame, and squash. There’s a few ponds back there, too.  Once out of the way of cars, both dogs had great fun running around and smelling anything and everything. Lots of flowers, trees and hills and it’s beautiful farm land.

The next day, I took them to the playground across the street from our apartment. Normally we have this place to ourselves in the mornings since all the kids are in school. But we were attacked by a pre-school mob of kids who came to the playground .

SaTang is well used to the kiddos and is usually very calm, even tolerant of the little turds as they do some heavy petting. Sparky, though, hasn’t gotten the hang of the kid thing and hangs back, sometimes cowering under me.

Here’s she hiding behind SaTang (the playground fence is out of view on her right) and stays just far enough away to keep from getting petted.

Poor Sparky. That’s a classic ‘help me’ look as the kids encroach on her space.

Don’t tell anyone, but I ended up smacking one of these little shits. He thought it would be fun to jump on the dog with both knees. SaTang jumped with a little yelp and I reacted with a backhand across his temple. No way he’d understand my angry English anyway. The smack was probably the only thing that would have worked. And it did. He went off crying to the teacher who brought the kids to the park. I don’t blame him – I blame the parents.  Still lots of fear and ignorance regarding dogs. Just today we came out of our apartment and a teenage girl dropped her book bag with a screech and hopped into a nearby truck bed to escape from my marauding hounds from hell, both of whom were probably wondering what the fuss was all about.

Anyway, enough of the dogs.

Tonight being Saturday I’m off to the closing night of the last foreigner bar in this city. This bar, Benchwarmers, has been in business for 6 years and the owners are tired of fighting each other for who is going to work what night, split what cost, give discounts to whom – oh! The Drama!

When I first came to Korea, the Korean owned bars and nightclubs operated differently than they do now. It was nearly impossible to buy a drink by the glass – one had to have a table and a single tab, which was paid at the end of the evening. Moreover, whisky or vodka was purchased by the bottle – a prohibitive expense at $125 a bottle or more. That was no problem for a group of people who arrive and leave together as Koreans often do. Koreans rarely go dutch, by the way. It may be his turn at this place but your turn at that place. A single tab was no issue.

For the come-and-go pub crawl crowd of foreigners who want to check out a bar, buy a drink, see who’s there and then move on to another bar that model doesn’t work.   Splitting a tab at the end of a night would be a headache, if not impossible.  There were only a few foreigner owned or foreigner friendly bars in town. These days, many Koreans have gotten smart and figured that the rigidity they imposed is the “old way” and many Korean owned bars offer drinks by the glass. Consequently, the bars have become a better mix of Koreans and foreigners instead of the either/or bar.

So, the last bar in Ulsan owned by a foreigner is closing tonight.  Should be a good party and lots of people will be there to help celebrate and/or commiserate. It will feel like old home week.  There are lots of places where foreigners go now.  It’s  nice, by the way, to walk in to any of them and find someone I know – that almost never happened back in Texas – being part of a small minority makes it easy to meet people in the same situation.  Don’t wait for pictures of this event. I don’t do pictures in bars often.

Thanksgiving – Sort Of

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By , September 21, 2010 4:58 pm

This week is Chuseok in Korea. In other parts of Asia, its the mid-Autumn harvest festival. Either way, the story is the same: families leave their homes and head out, en masse, for family gatherings. Usually this takes places at the parents’ or grandparents’ home.  We’ll be doing that ourselves shortly, but MyeongHee is getting those last minte hair perms, cuts and styles done and making a few bucks in the process. We’ll hit the road this evening after the last customer goes home.

This past weekend, however, the city put on a “Hangawi”  (harvest moon) festival for the foreigners here in Ulsan. They set aside a part of Ulsan Grand Park and had demonstrations of pottery making, tea ceremonies, straw craft, and had traditional music and dancing.

For the Foreigners, but we were still the minority in attendance

This was on Sunday, a day I usually reserve to spend with my sweet wife, But since she was busy doing perms for pre-Chuseok customers I thought I’d come down to the park and see what the fuss was all about. I have to toot my own horn here a little: City Hall has taken notice of our website, UlsanOnline.com and have begun to regularly ask us to post news and information for them. Being the only English website in town that isn’t someone’s personal blog, we’ve become somewhat famous. I know most of the organizers at the festival and volunteer organizations.  I spent most of the afternoon shaking hands with those I knew, which was considerable.  Still, being a festival “for foreigners” I was surprised that the speakers spoke most everything in Korean.  Only Jazzie, the woman on the left of the stage spoke English but that was few and far between.

I love the short description of the tea and candy

Among the booths, I sampled the candy, the rice cakes and tea and watched the women make straw thingys (I really don’t know what they made).  Other demonstrations were the traditional games such as the see-saw. I watched my friend Bill (in the blue t-shirt) take a turn on the see-saw. It looked like more work than play, so I was content to watch and take pictures.

Bill, right, takes a turnon the see-saw

Where ever I went in the park, I was swarmed by children who wanted to pet my dog. I took only SaTang – MyeongHee had taken Sparky to the hairship – and she dutifully let teh kids pet her without licking them or jumping on them. Koreans in general seem to have gotten less freaked about dogs than they used to be. We used to have kids run away and shriek when we walked in the park but these days its more dog-friendly.

SaTang takes a few kids on

AnAjumma shows the kids how to make straw things

The following  are some of the better still shots I took of the various drummers and dancers.  At least one of the women is the samewomen I took photos of two years ago in a Gyeongju festival. I suppose she must be a pro in one of the local dance troupes. I’ll leave that as an exercise to the reader to find the photo and woman from 2008.  Click on the shots to get a full size view of these people in their brightly colored costumes.

And, since I didn’t carry my video camera and just my Olympus digital, I had to suffice any lice action with just the smart phone. Not a bad little phone, but no real features such as zooming.  Still, I hope it gives you a small impression of what the dances were like in person.

And with that, I’m off for the real Chuseok holiday at my mother mother-in-law’s house. Another fun-filled few days sitting, eating and sleeping on the floor. I can’t wait.

A Ride in the Country

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By , September 14, 2010 12:16 pm

MyeongHee and I have taken to short rides in the country on Sunday afternoons. We hop on the scooter and ride where ever things look interesting, which is just about anywhere outside the city. It’s mid September and the farmers are all expecting great harvests from the looks of things – lots of sun and rain this summer.

We stopped at two places this past Sunday that were worth a photo. The first was a historical marker of a nobleman who over 1000 years ago went on a quest to rescue the two sons of the King. One went to the far northern part of Korea, which some even claim is China, and the other was taken to Japan. This guy saved both sons but was tortured to death by the Japanese. The Koreans still revere this guy and have built a small museum around where his home was. All of these pictures link to a full size shot if you want to see more.

These two pictures are of the “living room”, which clearly has no front wall.

MyeongHee and I take turns posing at the front gate of the home.

Hard to see in just a few photos, but this time of years is awesome. Bright blue skies and warm days followed by cool nights. We made this trip just after 5pm and by the time we got up to this memorial the sun was casting long shadows and the air was growing quite cool.  Not cool enough to go home, however. We continued on up into the mountains to this very quaint Buddhist temple. Only an old nun, her head shorn as the women will do in the temples, was home. She was very kind however, and invited us back when the temple’s owner, a German, would return. Go figure. An English speaking Buddhist temple owning German in the mountains of Korea.

I have to remember to bring my real camera next time. My smartphone takes only middling grade pictures and this one of the brightly colored temple is a bit fuzzy

Everyone knows Marty likes garden ponds. This one was nice.

We especially liked the little baby Buddhas lined up like a small army below the Bodhisattva, most of them with yellow wool caps, but a few with bright red ones.

Next week is Chuseok – Korean Thanksgiving. We’ll see what treats that brings.

Losing Face

By , September 8, 2010 1:01 pm

What it means to be Asian is beyond the ken of many westerners. I admit I understand little of it. As an American, a culture known for it’s frankness and logic, Losing Face is, to me, nothing more than an opportunity for discussion, understanding and perhaps an apology, if warranted.

Allow me to describe a situation of Losing Face as it occurred in my school this week.  My school’s owner, Mr Gong, hired a new teacher last week. His sister, Young Sook,  the manager/director had me interview her for her English ability.  The interview was a rather public one and simply a discussion of where she’d gotten her degree, how long she’d been teaching, etc., but an interview at which she abjectly failed. Where questions were answered with when answers, or met with blank stares altogether. Neither Young-Sook nor I had much faith in her English ability, especially after she revealed it wasn’t her first choice for a foreign language – it was behind Japanese which was her degree.

This woman, who I’ll call A, was the friend of another teacher (I’ll call her G) who has been at our school since before I came back in early 2007.  G has been here four years and her recommendation of A mattered more to Mr Gong, then either his sister’s or my opinion of her worthiness as an English teacher.  No matter, he’s the owner and can do as he pleases.  G has brought A in and said she was a good teacher and could speak English well.  One out of two ain’t bad, so in she came and began teaching last week.

Three days of teaching and rearranging the existing teachers schedules to accommodate both the new teacher and the new students arriving with the fall term and a minor issue arises. A mother called to say her son was having trouble coping with English and how would we deal with it. Her son was in one of the classes shuffled around and G was no longer his teacher; A would be his teacher (I am, by the way, teacher to all students and spread my time among 21 different classes each week). So, during our lunch period, a mere 10 minutes in which all of us teachers usually discuss issues, students, etc,  Young-Sook asked A how she would handle this boy’s problem.  She asked the question in English – not merely for my benefit, for she’s always believed that lunch time discussions should include all teachers, but also that teachers should be able to have a conversation (i.e be fluent) in the language they teach.  A was unable to respond. She leaned over to G, asked (in Korean) her what was asked of her and the muttered, in English, “I don’t know.”

I felt badly for A as she clearly was not able to communicate in English. I looked at my shoes and my noodles while she struggled to discretely get guidance and Korean from G answer in English.

That evening, a typhoon blew through the peninsula and it rained quite a bit. The next day, it was very windy and when I went to the school I was alone. I thought perhaps that some trees might have been knocked down and getting to the school might have caused the other teachers to be late.  I began my classes and one hour later was met by Young-Sook who was very distressed.   G had not shown up. She hadn’t called. She merely sent a text message to Mr Gong’s wife, the school secretary that she could no longer work at the school.  Because of her recommendation of A and A’s very public failings she had lost face. She quit.

Having talked quite a bit to Young-sook, it was nothing that would have reflected on G’s teaching ability – she’s a great teacher and the kids love her. But the way she only sent a text message and didn’t call that was too much for her – G could never come back.  A classic lack of showing respect, another Asian tenet of behavior that must rigidly be followed.

So, now, we have no G and we have A, who is clearly not a G.

In my world, a phone call to G would have fixed everything. Her shame would not, in my view, have trumped her ability to teach. We would have worked it out. Here, that’s just not so. She can’t overcome her shame to face her employer and the employer can’t overcome the lack of protocol.

Only One Typhoon per Week, Please

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By , September 6, 2010 11:00 am

And so far, that’s holding true. We had one last week that skirted our city and mostly hit central Korea and Seoul. This week, we’ve got another one that looks like it might get the heaviest portion closer to us.  I like the check the progress on a weather web page.  This one shows it nearly upon us (we’re just north and east of Busan on this map) as I write. But if one clicks  on the “weather in motion” on the bottom of the map the future trend may be discerned. The winds blowing east off the Asian mainland typically roar across our peninsula, dragging any northward moving typhoon with it. Japan usually gets more of these than we do.  We’re still a few hours from the main porting making landfall, so we’re not sure if we’ll get it.  In the meanwhile, just light rain and lots of humidity.

Always looking for ways to make a buck, we’re taking our lead (maybe only) position as the best English website in Ulsan to new areas. We’re sponsoring/hosting a TESOL course next month. I used my contacts at the University of Ulsan (a former UNT grad is the English Dept. Chairman) to secure a nice room for a two-day course. For our efforts in advertising and hosting the class, we’ll make 10-15% of the proceeds.  That could be a few thousand bucks for a creating a few ad pages and links.  Since we have the eyeballs of nearly every English-speaking person in the city looking at our site, it’s not hard to get some interest in things we promote. I just created the ads on Wednesday last week and by Sunday already have 10 people signed up. At close to $700 for the class, that’s a pretty good start.  Four more weeks to advertise and we should have a full course.

Thinking of Home

By , August 30, 2010 10:01 pm

I had a nice talk with my school director today. I told him that at the end of my contract I would go back to America for a few months – longer than he’d be able to do without a native English speaker – so he’d have to find a new teacher come March 2011.  I’ve written in the recent past about my plans here on these, but that was news to him. Not devastating news, as he’s been thinking of downsizing his school anyway. I think if I were to stay, he’d keep his operation going. Without me, he’d downsize to just a “cram school” or Ip-shi hagwon as they are called here. It’s not that his school would fail without me – I’m not so full of myself to believe that malarkey – but there’s a certain amount of cost and red-tape associated with getting another foreigner to take my place and I think he’s ready for less hassle.

This next part isn’t public knowledge at the school yet, but this blog is not read by my Korean co-workers, so it’s probasbly safe to post here: his sister, Young Sook, who is currently the manager and runs all of the class schedules, etc., is ready to move on, too. So, with her potentially leaving and my leaving, its almost a sure thing the school will transform into something other than a full English academy. Hiring both a manager and foreign teacher would be daunting. Not impossible, just difficult.

So, having gotten that part of things squared away, I feel better about it, especially know Young Sook’s plans. If she were leaving before I left my remaining time on the contract would be difficult. She’s a great friend, but new managers always like to shake things up.

Meanwhile, in my own head, things have taken a turn for the surreal. But first, a little history here.

My lovely wife, Myeong Hee, is the daughter of a fisherman. A poor fisherman, but one who was able to put his two sons through college and his daughter through cosmetology school. They lived in a little fishing village on the outskirts of PoHang.  Myeong Hee has always proclaimed she’s a country girl. Having been to her family’s home, there was never any doubt. But when she declared that because she is a country girl and she likes American country music I was a little skeptical. Korean country music bears little resemblance to American country music but when I bought her an MP3 player two years ago I loaded it up with all the country music I have in my collection. That wasn’t much, as most anyone who knows me knows that there two forms of music I least enjoy: one is country and the other is western.  I downloaded a few more than I thought she might enjoy. Her list of favorites include Kenny Rogers, Brooks and Dunn, Roger Miller, Toby Keith, Tammy Wynnette, Alan Jackson and Willie Nelson.  Go figure. So, over the months, she  listened to country music on her way to and from her hair shop.

Sometimes, we’d listen to country late at night while laying in bed. We’d hold each other and she’d ask me what the songs meant. Her English has gotten much better, but discerning lyrics at two-step speed is asking a bit much. She would sometimes have an idea of what the song was about and sometimes she just liked the beat and  melody. Of her favorites she didn’t fully understand I would explain the concepts of cowboys, pick-up trucks, horses and Texas, among other things, while doing my best to translate who left whom, who was crying for whom, who left in their pick-up and who went boot-scootin’ and who came runnin’ back to whom.

And here’s where the surreal part comes in. I’ve already mentioned I’m coming home next year. By then it’ll be four straight years in Korea with only a few short trips to the land of apple pie and mom. I’ve been missing not just my family and friends, but America. But then to be engrossed in discussing what I’ve come to realize is a music genre that is uniquely American has caused me to turn a corner in my mind. I actually enjoy listening to country music.  I’m not about to start wearing a Stetson, boots and a dinner plate for belt buckle, but I like country.  But the surreal part is not the music so much as the lyrics.  There’s not another form of music that so succinctly describes for me America, American places, American activities  and American values. When I hear some of the songs she plays I can get pretty nostalgic about coming home. In particular, the ones that mention places like Chatahoochie, (no, I’ve never been there) or vague references to American history like Ruby, Don’t Take Your Love to Town, (never went to Vietnam) or even dancing like Boot Scootin’ Boogie (which I cannot do) I get the I-Wanna-Go’s and be a part of the country that raised me.

When it’s music I want, country still isn’t what I turn on. But it’s great for when I want to get all warm and fuzzy about America again.  It’s just fun to enjoy something with my wife, albeit we both enjoy it for sometimes different reasons.

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