Category Archives: Fun

Yes, I’m still alive

Ultimate has consumed my life for the past two months.

Ultimate has consumed my life for the past two months.

I come and I go. It’s an unfortunate cycle really. There are times when I’m everywhere, and there are times I completely disappear from the radar. The past 1.5 months (wow, it’s clearly been way too long) have been rather eventful, and I’ve been nowhere near updating about it.

I spent most of the weekends in January and February in a go out-sleep-play frisbee-go out cycle in preparation for Dream Cup in March. This tournament took me to Japan for a weekend, where I saw the bright lights of Tokyo, the pristine snowcap of Mt. Fuji and a handful of small-time Yakuza. Japan is ridiculously expensive. In a four-day weekend, I spent nearly $500 USD. I spent about that much in two weeks in Vietnam. That being said, however, I’ve added Tokyo to my short list of cities in which I can really see myself living. (Chicago rounds out that list.)

After Dream Cup, I spent many evenings — weeknights and weekends — catching up with friends in Seoul. This may or may not have led to multiple benders lasting three or more days. It probably wasn’t the most effective way to pass the time, but sometimes I can’t say “no” to an invitation for trouble. It’s especially hard when it involves warm weather and drinks on a patio.

Throughout this mayhem, I was also preparing for this past weekend’s party of a tournament on Jeju-Do, an island to the southwest of the Korean peninsula. We played our games on some of the practice fields for the 2002 World Cup in ideal 70-degree weather. Clearly I spent as much time as possible without a shirt. It was glorious.

The school life remains rather stable, but I can feel the stresses of Korea building once again. My co-teacher and I rarely see eye-to-eye on things, and unlike my previous co-teacher, she doesn’t seem to be on my side since she’s new to the job and working by the book. It’s nothing serious, but the many nuisances continue to add up. I’m still undecided whether I’m going to re-sign for another year, but we still have a little time to make that choice.

Unless an offer comes along that blows my mind, I can’t foresee myself moving out of Korea in the near future. Outside of school, I live a pretty stress-free life. All in all, with balmier weather and good friends all around, life is pretty good.

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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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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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