Its the Little Things (II)

While my blogging tends to wane off, “Its the Little Things” has proven to be a manageable way to stay engaged with the site. If nothing else, it serves as a diary for me, chronically less than normal events. These events are so small that they rarely warrant a second thought, much less a blog post. I intend for this to be an ongoing project in which I update frequently (hopefully) with the little things that make life delightful and fresh.

8/5/16 – The opening ceremony of the 2016 Rio Summer Olympics. I actually missed it as I spent the morning on a ferry from  Yeosu, South Korea (my surrogate home)  to the infamous Jeju Island (also South Korea). I traveled with my family in-tow. As soon as we picked up our rental car, I set sites for Loveland (an erotic themed interactive sculpture park). It was awkward and great. No regrets. Dinner was tacos overlooking the beach. Once we finally made it to our Airbnb on the northeast coast, it was time to wind down with an international game of Catan. With a bit of beginners “luck” & some lost-in-translation, mum and I lost.

8/14/16 – The end to the two week family whirlwind tour across Korea.

8/19/16 – My first day back with students in the classroom. While I often hear that I am ‘handsome’ today may have been the first where I was called ‘fashionable’. I appreciate the au courant vocab.

8/25/16 – Unprompted, one of my Grade 1 middle school boys asked if I had lucid dreamed before. Given that most of the class didn’t know the name for ‘pumpkin pie’, its apparent that this fella is on a whole new level and going places.

8/26/16 – Gray skies have brought a favorable shift in the weather. Where we have been around 30C for the past few weeks we are finally down to a more manageable 24C. I might finally turn off the ‘aircon’ and open those windows tonight! I can smell autumn just around the corner…

8/26/16 (II) – My third Korean massage and more interestingly, my first facial!

8/29/16 –  With this morning being the first of the cool morning weather, I decided it prudent to break out a sports coat for the scooter commute to work. It turned out that the AM teachers meeting was fairly ceremonial, being the principles last before retiring at the end of the month. I was unwittingly dressed for the occasion as well as the all-school farewell-assembly that followed second period. Now off to a goodbye teachers dinner (that I didn’t know about till this morning) at the posh Matthieu… So thats what my signature was for on the roster that was passed around the teachers office on Friday?

8/30/16 – My unusual evening started with a 30 min early release from school. With urgency I scooted home. Before even shutting off the engine in the car park, I was affronted by a brave adolescent voice. A bit baffled, I peered around the pillar of the garage to see a stout and slightly pillowy young girl with pink crocs, grey leggings, a pink t-shirt and a close-cropped haircut. After making eye contact, she launched into a barrage of questions in Korean, revolving around my scooter and my origins (as best as I could gather). I tried retorting with some simple questions in English … to no avail. Once in my apartment, I went to open my windows in order to allow access to that balmy afternoon breeze. Not a moment after doing so, I heard the young greeter call after a woman walking down the street.

I waited until the young ladies’ grandmother had whisked her inside before heading back out to run some errands.  After getting air in my bike tires and a visit to my pharmacist friend (Tommy), I decided I’d treat myself to some fresh melon juice. As I biked through the adjoining crosswalk, an exotic Russian looking woman gave me a blatant wink in passing. Believe it or not this was a first.

From the juice, I went to grab some cream cheese kimbop (like a Korean sushi roll without the seafood) and a stop at Diaso (a Japanese ‘dollar store’). As soon as I rounded the corner to head up the small quiet street to my apartment, I found myself in the midst of young Korean soldiers all strolling off in the direction of my apartment. In two years I had never seen anything quite like it.

Once at my apartment, I quickly changed into suitable hiking clothes and headed off to the neighborhood mountain ~ Gorak-san. About a block from my apt, I ran into a man wandering around his parked car with a pair of divining rods (you know those two freely pivoting metal rods used for finding spirits). I stopped to watch for a bit but he paid no notice to me.  Once on the mountain, I only encountered one man on the hike up  and then another at the ancient fortress ruins on the summit, despite the 100% perfect hiking weather. I snapped a few photos of what remained of the sunset before exposure to the nipping winds drove me back down. Once home I threw back some water and then headed to the gym.

9/1/16 – A new month, a new principle at the boys middle school, and a shiny new empty handicap parking spot near the entrance (which I blame for bumping me out of my scooter parking under the stairs). A change in authority surely will mean more developments to come.

9/1/16 (II) – That time I drove my physiotherapist on the back of my scooter so that we could do dinner together. Dinner being the best buffet I have yet had in Yeosu. Afterwards, driving him home. Its these moments that I wish I were the president with my own photographic detail, all these offbeat instances captured on film.

9/2/16 – This morning I learned that in the mad rainy-morning commute, even firetrucks with their flashing lights get cut off. Its truly every man for himself out there…

9/3/16 – Some friends and I road-tripped up to the next city to the north – Suncheon. The aim was to attend a food & arts festival. Since I was driving, I saw this as a good opportunity to stop at a Japanese fortress that I had seen signs for in the past. Not far from our destination, we happened upon a small hilltop shrine. A sign informed us that the shrine had been built after the Japanese invasions in the late 1500’s to ward off spirits. Supposedly sacrificial offerings still occur annually at the site. Further down the road, we found ourselves to be the only ones at fortress. It consists of a partial moat and various stone walls all reconstructed. Well worth the stop although not terribly enthralling.

9/4/16 – After a late night of drinking in Suncheon, it was a lazy Sunday morning for me. I had agreed to travel with the same friends from the previous days adventures, in hunt of Korea’s most haunted location: Gonjiam Psychiatric Hospital. A bit of research yielded that the location was not in the city of Gwangju near us but rather another ‘Gwangju’ located southeast of Seoul (probably 4 hours away from here). It was while I was looking for alternative sites, that my German CouchSurfing guest – Kyra arrived. Scrapping plans for haunted exploration, we picked up my friend Cody and instead spent the day at the beach – kayaking, then hiking and lastly picnicking with a random group of generous Koreans.

9/8/16 – For the third consecutive week, I went in for my massage. Minutes into the back massage, and the lights were flipped on and I experienced a sharp piercing pain  followed by another further down my back. Post-lancing of my bacne, was a squeezing like I had never experience before. It was the greatest pain I had felt in recent memory and that is paired against laser mole removal, and a few new tattoos. It took all I had to fight back the tears and keep it together. Later, when it was time to turn over I glanced a pile of bloody gauze on the massage table. I was a oozy mess the remainder of the evening, and can hardly believe I didn’t pass out from anemia…

9/12/16 – I have a bit of a dilemma. This week is Chuseok (추석 – Korean Thanksgiving). The red holiday days are the 14th – 16th so my main school will still meet today (Mon.) and tomorrow. Tomorrow (Tues.)  is the day I go to my girls travel school but they do not meet for the entire week. Anticipating this, I booked a flight out to Japan for tomorrow afternoon although technically as its a working day, I should be here at my main school “desk warming”. We have a teachers dinner this evening welcoming the new principle. We will see how it feels from then…

9/12/16 (II) – Nothing was mentioned of tomorrows attendance during dinner. Feeling encouraged I packed my bag, and while doing so felt my first ever earthquake (7:45PM) which was quickly confirmed via social media. Apparently it was a magnitude of 5.4 with the epicenter being about 4 hours northeast of where I stay.

A friend recently moved to Busan, I had agreed to drive her things up to her since I was headed that way anyhow. So with a heavily packed car, I found myself at a red light not far from my apt. It was here in my parked car that I felt my second earthquake (8:30PM) ! A few hours later, apart from ending up at the wrong apartment cluster, I find myself in Busan without incident. It should be noted the Busan is probably the most complicated city I have ever driven in!!

9/13/16 – Feeling guilty, I text my co-teacher around 7:30AM saying that Jungang Girls Middle School was not meeting today but that I was feeling sick, and would it be okay for me to take a sick day? I fell back asleep but awoke to her calling 10 min later. She had not known that there was no class but would be happy to file a sick day. A small weight was lifted from my guilty shoulders… Being that I am in Busan and only one subway stop away from the infamous Gwangalli  beach with its sweeping view of the Gwangandaegyo (7.4km bridge) I decide to head there late in the morning. With my flight not until 2PM I was feeling confident with the time frame. When I arrived at the subway stop, I found an airport limousine pickup point nearby and took note. The Gwangalli station ended up being much further from the beach than I had realized. A 15min walk and I was awarded with the beautiful sprawling domestic seascape set against quintessential blue skies. I wandered around – taking a few photos but started to feel conscious of just how far away I was from Gimhae International Airport.

9/14/16 – First full day in Fukuoka, Japan. An overcast afternoon of raindrops in the dainty maples – temples, shrines and cafes. The evening found my host Eri and I downtown (in Tenjin) with dinner at a street cart (Yatai style). As we huddled around a large skillet, patrons come and went around us; a dressed up gal from Osaka, a middle aged man from Tokyo, a charismatic couple from London. The turnover of tasty Japanese dishes was as prolific as the guests  and as free flowing as the local soju (clear distilled liquor).

9/17/16 – The day started with a stroll through the local residential weekend market. The fare was what one may expect in Japan – an array of hacked up fish paired next to other seafood’s, fresh veggies and fruits, as well as cut flowers. Hiroki (a young man that walked 650km from Osaka to here), Eri(my host) and I stopped at a small corner market just across from a shinto shrine. The gaggle of little Japanese women chatted excitedly, asking Eri questions about her guests. After buying a set of handmade mochi, one of the women informed me that all the employees at the market were over the age of 80 and that she happened to be the youngest. In an immediate retort, the smallest of the ladies said that no, SHE was the youngest. As this went on, the instigator said that all items for sale were produced with love and imbued with power (rough translation) As Eri picked out some fruit, the gals shared some puffed veggie chips and tasty chicken bits. After a series of photos, it was time to part ways with Hiroki headed off to the bus station and Eri and I ultimately headed toward a famous onsen town to the north.

9/18/16 – That time I missed my return ferry from Japan to Korea. There is a typhoon looming off the coast and I have work in 21 hours. All budget flights are sold out for the day. Other prospective flights are terribly expensive; fly through China, and are between 6-18 hours (for whats a 55 min flight). Oh and did I mention that I was not even supposed to have left the country in this time period? There is a chance that I can grab a vacant spot on the last ship at 3pm. Stay tuned…

9/18/16 (II) – Eri drove me to the ferry terminal amidst a torrential downpour. No joke about the impending typhoon. We arrived to a fairly empty lobby around 1:40. Eri explained my plight to the lady behind the counter, who printed me a standby ticket (#3 with two others taking priority before me). She informed me that I would be summoned at 2:40 if there was any space for me on the vessel. Not long after, Korean’s began to emerge from the outside squall in droves. As groups checked in one after another, I became frantic. Eri and I took to our phones in hopes of finding a way, anyway possible, back to Korea. Things were not looking good. Trying to mask my hysteria, I headed back to the check-in counter to ask about my options, could I buy my way out of this? Could I just stand?? No dice. I was starting to come to terms with the fact that I may need to fess up to my ruse and contact my co-teacher informing her that I was stranded in Japan, when ‘CheapOair’  came through with a flight.

At $367.38 (a bit more than the whole round-trip transportation would have cost) and flying into Incheon (the opposite side of the country from where I live) it was not ideal, but appeared to be the only way for me to make it to work in 16 hours. I booked it then and there at around 2:30 – less than two hours from when the flight was slatted to depart (usually with international flights, its recommended you check in 2 hours prior to departure). Now with a feasible way out, I loitered around the ticket desk hoping for good news re: the ferry. No luck. Mad dash through the storm – destination: Fukuoka International Airport. We arrived around 3pm. Not wanting to squander my last transit option for the day, I gave Eri a hurried goodbye and dashed to the Korean Air check-in. With no line, it only took a second

9/19/16 – It feels surreal to be back to school after the chaos of the past week (particularly the past 24 hours). So far it has been positive though; the air was crisp on my scoot to work, with cloudy blue skies and a charming autumn breeze. After the 8:30am teachers meeting, my co-teacher informed me that I would not be teaching my first two classes. I am easing right into this work week just as I would prefer.

9/19/16 (II) – Feeling particularly international having just booked my sixth flight in the past week (although I wish it were only five flights…). I will conquer this world yet!!

9/20/16 – That feeling you get in the afternoon on Tuesday – post holiday.

9/21/16 – For over two years now, its been on my mind to either get a new passport or add pages to my existing one. That long indecision was made final last week when the Japanese immigration agent informed me that my book was full. In Japan, tourist visas  are stickers rather than the more obliging stamps that are the norm. This is unfortunate in that the day before, I had just booked a series of flights through Japan beginning in early Nov. Now the rush to get that new passport!

It is possible to go to the US Embassy in Seoul to apply for a new passport, but given the huge distance and unaccommodating working hours, I will need to use a courier service instead. Yesterday, I got some decent passport photos taken, now all that is left is to go to the bank to get an International Money Order as that is the only form of payment accepted.

During lunch, I scooted over to my bank. I asked the lady working the door if I could do an international money order, she nodded and motioned for me to take a seat and wait for a teller. The teller didn’t know what an international money order was. After a few calls and 25 minutes of my time it was established that money orders were possible but that they were out of the slips needed to do any at the moment. On to the next bank just to get a similar story and finally a third just to get told I should visit a post office.

9/21/16 (II) – A seemingly impromptu teachers dinner and my first with the staff at the girls middle school. The venue ended up being just at the end of my quiet little (mostly) residential street and a restaurant that I have passed nearly every day for the past 2 years. I initially took a seat with the other English teachers but was quickly summoned to the center of the long table to sit next to the principles and other male faculty. Dinner was samgypsal  (fat strips of pork) fried right there in the middle of the table along with a smorgasbord of fresh (very fresh) seafood – most still wiggling as it met the sizzling pan. All the tasty sea-life and pork was washed down with a never ending stream of soju (clear distilled rice liquor). This could have been a problem, but fortunately I lived just down the street so getting home was no issue.

9/24/16 – That time I stayed up too late binge watching documentaries on N. Korea Friday night, overslept on Saturday and nearly missed my 11AM bus to Busan. I was headed to the bustling beach city not for pleasure but rather to pickup my car that had been stranded since my fateful Japan trip earlier in the month. Before hopping onto the bus, I had to swing into 7/11 to grab a toothbrush (forgot to pack one). After taking my seat, I went through a mental checklist to see if I had forgotten anything else. Sure enough. No car keys. The entire point of the trip. That moment set the precedent for how the entire day would go. Although I was eventually able to break into my car without *much* collateral damage, my meeting with Leila (the supermodel-esq flight attendant I had met en-route to Bangkok early in the year) could not have gone much worse. Whats life without some regrets eh?

9/28/16 – Rainy day fire-drills at the girls middle school.A bit chaotic to say the least. I would not want to be anywhere during an actual fire of course but the girls middle school now ranks quite low. Apparently the drill was deemed a success though, as the fire chief addressed the teachers room with his speech ending in a round of applause and low bows.

9/29/16 – It turns out the only bank that can process my international money order, is in the next city to the north (Gwangyang). Fortunately I had a break in classes that pairs up against the lunch period. Road-trip!!! Its a rainy day but clear with contrasty clouds. The 45 min drive was idealistic and a tough reminder that soon Ill be moving on.

10/5/16 – Half day at the girls middle school due to a “Super” Typhoon Chaba. I’ll take it!

10/6/16 – With no upcoming weekends available for a hike prior to my departure, my band of adjossi friends decided to throw me a farewell bash. The night started with a feast of samgyeopsal (fat strips of pork) fried with various seafood and veggie items. Once I had my fill of food and alcohol, we carried on towards a ‘talking bar’ or ‘whisky bar’ where the young ladies who serve you, also sit and drink with you. Plenty more eating and drinking ensued. In the end, they strong armed one of our young servers into giving me her number before we moved on to yet another venue. The last joint was a hole-in-the-wall fish restaurant operated by a middle aged woman who was also the owner. After courses of sashimi, side dishes and many more rounds of drink, a bowl of bubbling fish-part-stew was served. Around this point a local lady of the night came in but was awkwardly sent off after just one beer. Sometime after midnight we said our final farewells and thus closed a small chapter of my time here in Korea.

10/7/16 – After a long day of classes, I caught a 5 hour evening bus ride up Seoul just to take a 40 min subway ride down to the satellite city of Yongin to eventually meet up with my buddy Dan (who used to be a bike buddy of mine here in Yeosu). It turned into a late night of eating and drinking – sleeping just 3 hours before needing to be up at the crack of dawn the following day to meet my friends Dan and Hujian for a day of sightseeing northwest of Seoul.

10/10/16 – Rabbies vaccination and paperwork updated. My Korean cat – ‘Hayangyi’ is one step closer to becoming an American immigrant.

10/11/16 – Before heading to school, I let me cat outside for a little walkabout. Come time to head to work she is nowhere to be found. During the day I saw that prices dropped on the cat-friendly Air Canada flight I had been watching so I tried to go ahead and book. Through a series of unfortunate events, that did not come to fruition. Rushing home after school, I expect to find my cat waiting in the hall as she tends to do. Not the case. Once on my own laptop, I am able to make the purchase. With that stress out of the way, I figure I should go out looking for my cat. I walk to all of her favorite places while calling her name. No luck. Returning back to my place I find her boyfriend (big grey cat) hanging around. Perplexed, I ask if he has seen Hayangyi. Thinking that I may need to cancel that expensive Air Canada flight, I go up to my apt. As I punch in my door code I hear a meow behind me, expecting big grey cat, I am pleasantly surprised to see Hayangyi back from the dead. Let the pet travel plans commence.

10/12/16 – Despite the crisp autumn morning air, my scooter commute was a bit euphoric with blue skies welcoming the day. A spotting of my favorite face covered hillside adjumma waving frantically as I sped up the hill only added to the mood. Also the fact I teach no classes due to mid-terms helped the cause.

10/14/16 – That time I found myself at a VIP craft beer after-party, picking the brains or Korea’s top brew-masters and entrepreneurs.

10/15/16 – That time I was onstage as the photographer for “Asia’s Top Female DJ” (Kiara Lee).

10/16/16 – That time I got on the wrong northbound train at Daejeon Station and just barely made my connecting southbound train (catching it a station sooner than I was supposed to). Being exhausted and a bit hungover didn’t help the confusion.

Today I also reconnected with the gal whom I initially got my cat (Hayangyi) from. She told/ reminded me that Hayangyi is originally from Shanghai, China. An interesting fact I seemed to have forgotten…

10/17/16 – Just two full weeks left as a middle school teacher in South Korea.

10/18/16 – That time  I got emotional watching a dated History Channel documentary on South Korea. Its getting real. The end is near.

10/20/16 – One of my many recent stresses has been a lack of passport (I had to send the old one in for a renewal). Today my shiny new 52 page passport was sitting on my desk when I got in. With it I was able to finish my Vietnam visa application and also was able to run over to the pension office. I will receive my 3 year Korean pension payout this time next month. Let the travels begin!!!

10/21/16 – A decisive second half win for the Packers. Due to sports day at the boys middle school, I had no classes today and was able to stream the game live. Life is good.

10/24/16 – Getting 30 middle school boys together for a group photo is akin to herding cats.

10/25/16 – My last scooter commute to school on the ol’ Daelim Delfino. It was a beautiful autumn morning with blue skies and reasonable traffic. Appropriately the skies changed to mirror the moods of my students after my first class. I had not been forthcoming in the fact that it was my last class with these girls at Jungang Middle School. After mentioning my imminent farewell, melancholy set in and so too the rains.

Following my after-school class, I hopped on my  scooter and headed north toward Gwangyang. By now the skies had cleared into an autumn evening of striking contrast. As I followed the coast up to the industrial port city, I found myself stopping time and time again to snap photos of the cloud-shroud mountains floating atop the sea. My drive took me past the 2012 EXPO, through Marae Tunnel (the only natural hand hewn rock tunnel in the country), past the rail bikes, past Manseongri Black Sand Beach, through the industrial complex (where I was temporarily lost), over Myodo Bridge, across Myo Island and finally over the Yi Sun Shin Bridge (the formerly fourth recently fifth longest suspension bridge in the world) and into Gwangyang.

10/26/16 – Last night I had stopped in to the local macaroon shop hoping to get some farewell treats only to find the place closed. Shimmering in the distance was the new Krispy Kreme store that I knew was going to open soon. The place was lively but I was told the grand opening was tomorrow and that I should return in the morning.

Rolling out of bed at 7:58 (my alarm goes off at 7:15) I took a quick shower and made for Krispy Kreme. Arriving around 8:25, I would like to think I was the first customer in the shiny yet empty store. The gals were helpful in helping me pick out two dozen fresh doughnuts. After the transaction was complete, we snapped a few selfies, they gave me a pair of commemorative mugs and it was off. My commute was a mad bicycle dash. I arrived to my last day at Jungang Girls Middle School sweaty and flustered. The doughnuts were a big surprise to the teachers as none (apart from my two co-teachers) knew that today was my last day. The remainder of the day followed with selfies, wedding proposals and reluctant goodbyes. I will miss this place.

10/26/16 (II) – Last session at the neighborhood community-center-gym. Also the first evening I worked up the nerve to talk to the cute gal with the bouncy ponytail and Nikes.

10/27/16 – L

10/30/16 – A perfect autumn morning with a home cooked American style breakfast and a live Badger football overtime win over the Huskers. The walk from our Airbnb to the subway station was idealistic, with crisp blue skies contrasting with the vibrant yellow gingkos lining the road trailing off to the eminent mountaintop icon of the city – Namsan Tower. Needing to be in Gangnam for a 12:20 appointment at the ‘Seoul Escape Room’, time was short so reveling in the tableau was laconic. I arrived at the escape room at 12:20 exactly. Dan, Huijian, Erin and I were given 60 minutes to free ourselves from the Louvre Museum. We were able to escape with 11 min. and 35 sec. to spare. The escape room was followed by a full North Korean style meal.

10/31/16 – A cold and overcast Halloween filled with many ‘lasts’. This morning I had my last commute into the boys middle school. My last Monday morning teachers’ meeting complete with a short farewell address (그동안 감사했습니다
Geu-dong-ahn Gam-sa-hat-seup-ni-da “thank you thus far”)- sweetened with 3 dozen Krispy Kreme doughnuts. I administered my last student speaking test assessments, all during a riveting Packers match-up in  Atlanta (later learned it was a disappointing loss). Third period I was called into the teachers room for a farewell party complete with gifts and a fancy Tiramisu cake from the swanky ‘MVL’ Hotel just down the road.

11/7/16 – A rainy day in Osaka, Japan. After finally leaving the house around 4:30, I made for the iconic Osaka Castle – just a short walk from my hosts house. Later in the night Nicholas and I had drinks with world news in the background. At one point I had the thought that I recognized a familiar scene. Sure enough, it was a shot of downtown Eau Claire, even focusing in on an obscure tattoo shop just across from where I used to take drum lessons. It was surreal to watch Donald Trump speak from the same stage at the Zorn Arena as I had walked across in my high school graduation. The moment was all the more hypnagogic being a world away.

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4 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Krista James on August 19, 2016 at 10:44 pm

    I love reading your blog posts- short and long. I love your adventurous spirit Mark!

    Reply

  2. You have a crazy, interesting life, Mark!

    Reply

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