Monthly Archives: October 2008

Blogger’s block?

When I started this venture into the blogosphere almost four months ago, I thought this attempt at diet literary journalism would only serve as a bridge to bigger projects. I imagined my graphic design skills would combine with my (supposed) writing prowess to form a super-sweet Web site litterred with fantastic pictures I had taken with my basic-but-improving photo skills. I planned on learning some Web coding and Dreamweaver along with the rest of the Creative Suite. This was supposed to be my portfolio while I was away.

Suffice to say, I haven’t gotten that far, yet. I’ve gotten the writing part down, but that’s about it. Web hosting, CSS, and Photoshop are still a bit out of my league (read: I’m basically illiterate in those areas). I would like to learn more about those things, but I always seem to have more pertinent things to do with my free time, such as go rock climbing, read books, learn Korean, and occasionally blog. There are simply not enough hours in the day.

The thing about this whole blogging phenomenon is the sense of community that it provides. The blogosphere (or the whole Internet, for that matter) is just another neighborhood where people drop in to see what’s going on and have conversations. I’m not such a great member of that community, though. I can write paragraphs upon paragraphs, but I’m not as good at reading others’ works. I have an RSS feeder, but in my ADD-esque reading style, I merely glance over the neverending list of articles. Consequently, I contribute to those conversations (i.e. the comments section) less often than I want/should.

I’m sure I’ve said this before, but overall, I’m not quite sure where this project is headed. I love the writing and the thought process that goes into it, but I want to be more than that. I have to figure out how to manage the reading and the writing aspects of the blogosphere. It can only help me as I observe how other writers approach and execute their projects.

How do you manage keeping up with your blogroll?

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Only if there weren’t so much smog

I might end up being in better shape than I could’ve imagined myself in an overcrowded, smog-ridden city. Seoul isn’t the most conducive environment for general health with its lack of running areas and abundance of street food. I started this trip — after a year working at a sedentary job and not playing much disc — in possibly the worst shape of my life, and I’m not the kind of person who can go the gym, pump some iron, jog on the treadmill, and call it good. My attention span isn’t long enough for that. If I’m exercising, I need some sort of mental stimulation. I’ve decided, however, to become fitter and hopefully in the process become straight up ripped.

I joined the Korea Ultimate fall league in an effort to motivate myself to play ultimate (i.e. to get out and exercise). Ultimate isn’t as thrilling for me as it used to be. I essentially lived for it while I was in college, but after I graduated, I enjoyed hanging out with people more than actually playing the game. I’m not sure if I’m jaded or if I need the routine of practices, the motivation of winning tournaments, and/or the camaraderie of a team, but I don’t get excited to play frisbee anymore. I think I simply enjoy competition, so once I get into the game, it’s a good time. While the ultimate here isn’t very competitive, the people are super cool, and every Sunday I manage to get on my feet and finally do some running.

I also joined a rock climbing gym, which has been quite the challenge. Before this month, I had climbed one rock wall in my life. The gym, however, focuses more on lateral bouldering — less forgiving to beginners lacking proper technique. Fortunately, the membership fee pays for training from the gym owner for the first month, which has been rather brutal. My hands are covered in blisters and calluses from the first couple weeks, which I continue to tell myself are badges of climbing honor.

Seoul is also surrounded by mountains, so hiking is a cheap and easy way to get some exercise. In my time in Seoul, I’ve been on two hikes. A group of us SMOE kids wandered up Yongmasan (fun fact: “san” means “mountain” in Korean) in northeast Seoul. Yongmasan is still within Seoul’s city limits, so the views were only decent, unless you’re into looking at gray, smog-covered cities.

Smog is so pretty.

Smog, as seen on the way up Bukhansan, is so pretty.

A couple weeks ago, a few friends and I hiked to one of the peaks of Bukhansan National Park, which lies on the northern edge of Seoul if not outside of it. Looking at Seoul from the mountain, my friend remarked that Seoul reminded him of Sim City. That’s not exactly glowing praise, but once we got to a peak, we looked the other direction, and the endless green mountaintops were beautiful. For those moments, I forgot I was in the congested mess that is Seoul.

This is what looking away from Seoul looks like. I also need a haircut.

This is what looking away from Seoul looks like. I also need a haircut.

I don’t see myself falling back into the lazy habits of yesteryear. I have two weeks of Fall League left, and I’m looking into going to Taipei for a men’s tournament in December. The rock climbing is still tough, but I plan on sticking to it — at least until my fingers fall off. Some friends and I are planning a trip to one of Korea’s most beautiful sights, Seoraksan National Park, in November, which should be interesting as the temperatures drop. In that same vein, I can only dream about the first snowfall — the unofficial opening of ski season. This gives a new meaning to “I’ve things to do and places to see.”

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Filed under Fun, travel

The Difference of a Year

I’ve been in Korea for a little more than two months now, and things are still chugging along quite nicely. Tomorrow I start another week of classes, and I’m still excited to do it. Even though each week’s routine is more or less the same, each day is different. That’s the great thing about working with other people, whether it’s my co-teachers or the students; they’ll always come up with something new.

Aside from geography, my life has changed drastically — internally and externally — from one year ago. I dreaded waking up in the mornings and driving to work day after day after day. I wrote this in a separate journal almost a year ago to the day:

In general, though, this past week or so has been completely “blah.” I feel like I’ve really been going through the motions. I know I’ve said it before, but I feel it more this week than I can really remember. Wake up. Change. Get coffee. Go.

Work has been pretty drab. I understand this is a great opportunity for someone who has no prior experience, but it’s nothing like anything I imagined myself doing. I’m having a bit of an identity crisis only 12 weeks (that long?) into this situation. I’m already worried about where I’m going next. I don’t know where or what that could be. So far (I know it’s still early) I haven’t done much that I have felt like is portfolio-worthy, something that shows off my strengths, something that’s more than replacing text and photos.

It only took three months into my first full-time job for me to become jaded and disenchanted, although I’m sure this feeling had manifested itself long before that. Some days, going to work felt more like punishment than privilege. If I felt tired at all, I just had to roll out of bed, inject myself with coffee, and hope a pencil didn’t somehow find its way into my temple.

Here in Korea, I still don’t have the best sleep habits, so there are definitely days I drag myself out of bed and onto the subway for the 45-minute commute, but the difference is that I don’t find myself asking, “Why?” My co-teachers motivate me and the students energize me. It’s a pretty good system we’ve got going here.

I don’t know where this teaching gig fits into the grand scheme of my life, and I definitely don’t see myself teaching in the long run. I might be concerned only with the here and now, but it’s not turning out too badly. After all, that’s what made me quit my job and gallivant to Korea in the first place.

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Filed under change, job

Am I Korean, yet?

A World Cup qualifier between Korea and UAE at Seoul's World Cup Stadium

A World Cup qualifier between Korea and UAE at World Cup Stadium.

Last night, I went to a World Cup qualifier between South Korea and UAE. I had only been to one other professional soccer game before this one, and it was nothing compared to this. The game was played at Seoul World Cup Stadium, which is simply an amazing venue. Opened in 2001, it hosted the opening match of the 2002 World Cup. The other soccer match I had seen was an MLS match at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas, which obviously pales in comparison.

Our seats were fantastic, especially for the 30,000-won price tag: We were about three rows up in the corner of the field. The most expensive tickets, which put you on the side of the field, were only 50,000 won. For any major sporting event in the States, a $30 ticket would probably leave you in the nosebleeds — if that gets you a ticket at all.

Korean national team captain Park Ji-Sung after scoring his teams second goal of the night.

Korean national team captain Park Ji-Sung after scoring his team's second goal of the night.

Once the game started, my fellow English teachers and I found ourselves genuinely cheering for Korea. We cheered on the goals and groaned on the misses. We even found ourselves rooting harder — along with the natives — for Korean superstar and team captain Park Ji-Sung, who plays his club ball with Manchester United. The “Taeguk Warriors” cruised to a 4-1 victory over UAE.

The gimbap snack at the game. Only 3,000 won!

The gimbap snack at the game. Only 3,000 won!

During the game, I also indulged in Korean concessions, which are a bit healthier (and cheaper) than the grease-covered, heart-attack-inducing snacks found in America. For 6,000 won, I got a 24-ish oz. beer and a box of gimbap, seaweed-wrapped rice rolls. To continue the “how American sporting events suck” comparisons, $6 will barely get you a beer. I think I might actually like the Korean array of snacks better which includes things such as dried cuttlefish.

Cheap tickets. Cheap food. Great soccer game. I’m loving the Korean life.

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The View From Afar

I’m spending my first election year abroad, and while I’m physically outside the United States, I can’t escape the political zeitgeist even in east Asia. Watching the economic and political situations unfold from across the Pacific isn’t as difficult as one would think — especially with the reach of the Internet. I still read the same news sources as I did while in the States, such as the (admittedly liberal) Huffington Post and BBC. I’m also following the debates by downloading them or watching them on YouTube.

The U.S. political and economic situation, despite my being 13 time zones away from home, is of great interest to me, mainly financially. The effect of the Wall Street crisis has been felt all over the world; the nation of Iceland is facing bankruptcy and, more importantly to me, the Korean economy, tied tightly to that of the U.S., is flailing as well. The current exchange rate is more than 1,400 KRW to the U.S. dollar; when I arrived in Korea, I could only get 1,040 KRW for my dollar. In that time, my paycheck has lost about 25% of its value, and there doesn’t seem to be any relief in sight.

Since I’m living in Korea, earning and paying won, I’ll have to make only a few lifestyle adjustments. I’m not, however, going to be able to save nearly as much money as I had hoped before I came here. I’m in a real quagmire: do I cut my losses and invest as many dollars as possible, or do I send home minimal amounts to pay bills and hope for a recovery?

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