Almost

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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?

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

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

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