Saturday, January 24, 2009

Closing Guantanamo

Well, we're into the first few weeks of Change We Can Believe in. On his second day in office Obama signed an executive order closing the infamous terrorist detention camp at Guantanamo Bay.

While I'm not completely happy with all the details, I think this is a sound move that will ensure confidence in the integrity and principals of the US, and that Obama will at least attempt to live up to the ideals and values espoused by the country he leads.

NYT Article here.

Bat Boy Kills Weekly World News!

Anonymous sources say the half-bat,half-boy found in a West Virginia cave is responsible for the death of Weekly World News! Well, I don't know about that, I suspect declining sales is the real reason.Since arriving, they've got me teaching these half day 'English Camp' for students who want to brush up on their English at both Annam and Daebang Middle School. One teacher had suggested I do a newspaper theme for a day, so I came up with a lesson where I would supply a list of headlines, and students would work in groups to write articles about them.The only catch was, I used crazy headlines from the notorious tabloid rag and all American original: Weekly World News. Most kids produced some very memorable articles. I'm kicking myself for not keeping them to reproduce here.But as I was planning and preparing the lesson, I learned some distressing news that brought sadness to my heart. Alas, Weekly World News is no more. Funny thing was, I didn't even notice its absence during my time in the States.

I fondly remember reading crazy headlines about Bat Boy, Sasquatch, Space Aliens and Elvis sightings as a kid. Only once can I ever recall actually purchasing the magazine in 8th grade or something.

Still, its a sad day. Millions of Americans will be a little bit gloomier in the supermarket checkout lane, having only the chance to peruse the latest celebrity gossip that they already get saturated with. For me, its also a sign that things are changing back home. When, or if I ever return to the USA permanently that country won't be the place I remember. Certainly not without the latest on Batboy and Space Aliens.

What I've Been Up To These Days

I did this crazy art activity with a group of kids the other day. I paired the students with partners and then showed a picture to one of the partners, who then described the picture to their friend in English. It was designed to get them to used descriptive words. I gave the artists a list of questions to prompt them. The results proved amusing to everyone. Then I switched partners and let the other student describe a new picture they saw while their partner drew and asked questions.

Above are the two pictures I showed them. The demotivator with the bird provoked the funniest results I think. I'm not sure how much they learned, but they sure had a good time. I only wish I'd brought more pictures so it could've lasted longer. Below are the pictures.

Walk Into the Past at YeongSang Theme Park

Hapcheon's YeongSang Theme Park, nestled in an obscure, remote valley in Southern Korea attracts older and middle aged people from all over. Around 5-6 years ago, nothing stood here at all. Korean film-makers came and built a whole town in a big empty field to film the hit Korean Television series: Yongsang.Set in Seoul in the 1970's, YeongSang was a celebrated TV drama series featuring a popular young cast of Korean A-list actors. To film Seoul in the 1970's though, they recreated a large period set for outdoor and street scenes. They reproduced Seoul during that time down to the last detail. So naturally, the buildings, streets, signs, architecture, homes, and vendor carts are all "old fashioned." One can see Japanese written everywhere: remnants of Korea's colonial past. At times I could see minor errors in the Japanese, although most of it was astonishingly accurate. A book store on the street was filled with books dating to that period while the imposing steel train bridge was inspired by photos of infrastructure long since replaced. The style of the larger office buildings was distinctly different, as were the antiquated electrical lines and traffic lights. Streets marked to depict actual street names in downtown Seoul lead to an ancient set of timber sided railcars standing at a far end of the lot.The sprawling set proved so large and so accurate in detail that it would have been a wasteful shame to disassemble it when the series ended. Film-makers returned to the location several times since, and eventually converted the place into a nostalgia theme park. Middle aged and older Koreans often stop by to remember things the way things were before their memories were paved over, replaced by the towering apartment blocks and contemporary steel and glass characteristic of Korea today.
The place had another level of meaning as well for my Korean colleagues, who have all seen the series on television for many years. But while I'm unfamiliar with the series and its apparently significant cultural impact, I still had a lot of fun running around and marveling at all the hard work and thoughtfulness that went into the detail of the scenes. Here's me with one of my English Teacher co-workers, who goes by the English name of Ivy.

Heinsa Temple

The teachers invited me on a trip with them to Heinsa Temple, arguably Korea's most celebrated Buddhist temple. I met the teachers at the school, where we all piled into two big charter buses for a long drive up the mountain. We arrived at our destination after almost 3 hours.

Nestled in a narrow valley high in the mountains of Southern Korea, Heinsa temple's thriving monastic community is tasked with studying, copying, and preserving over 80,000 wooden print blocks, a complete record of all Buddhist scriptures in Korea. Since 1398, monks at this location have preserved and copied texts here, many of which are now unique to this monastery and irreplaceable.

The temple and monastery buildings resemble many ancient Asian structures. Further inspection however, shows the distictively Korean ornate color and style.

The most interesting part of the temple that attracts visitors, is the Janggyeong Panjeon Complex, which has housed the 81,000 Buddhist Scriptures known as the Tripitaka Koreana. Ancient Korean monks originally used this set of wooden blocks for printing copies of the texts, which are over 700 years old. After moving the Scripts to Heinsa, it became the home of the oldest complete version of Buddhist canon in Chinese script.
You can look into the four repositories through ventilation windows and see the endless rows of shelves housing the uncanny ancient texts. Originally written in 1230-1250, 0ne can only imagine the painstakingly tedious work of monks and scholars that took place 700 years ago. Some estimate it took 30 years to complete the entire copy of the texts.

Ancient Korean Monks also developed several ingenious architectural features in the temple to assist in preserving the scripts. By facing Southwest, the buildings avoid wind and rain from the Southeast. Steep mountains to the North protect the temple from snow in the winter. The architects also used different sized windows in the North and South to ventilate the the repositories, perhaps one of the earliest use of the principles of hydrodynamics in architecture anywhere (don't quote me on this).
For reasons lost and forgotten to historians today, birds, insects and animals avoid the complex. Nobody is quite sure why. The government even created a different complex for an intended move in 1970, thinking modern storage techniques would preserve the blocks for future generations. Wooden blocks in a simulated test however, proved to develop mildew, and the move was cancelled. Even today the ancient buildings appear to be the best means for preserving these wood block texts.

Most of the text today though, is inaccessible to Koreans. The complete record of Chinese Buddhist canon is far to vast for ordinary Koreans. Only the most ambitious scholars of ancient Chinese or Korean Buddhism could even begin to unlock its secrets. The task of translating all 81,000 texts into modern Korean is still far from complete.

UNESCO declared Heinsa Temple a World Heritage Site for its cultural significance in Korea and China. The Korean Government also designated both the Temple and the Tripitaka Koreana as National Treasures.

Korean National Treasures Site

UNESCO World Heritage Site

Changwon's Wide Boulevard: The Road I Travel

My head banged the side of the bulkhead in the cramped bathroom of a Boeing 737-800 as I looked on into the mirror and struggled with the length of a necktie for the first time in six months. First impressions matter among the Koreans, or at least my reading on the matter suggested as much. In 15 or 20 minutes, the plane would touch down at Gimhae Airport and I would see my home for the first time in months. I methodically reviewed some greetings and key words in a Korean phrasebook despite knowing I'd forget them all the minute I walked through the airport peering around for signs leading me to the baggage claim.

But before I left the plane, I took a moment to ponder the course of my life. All the successes, highlights, failures, and lowpoints of my adult life flooded through my head. Faces of all the friends I'd made and the people I'd known and seen. I knew all the challenges in store for me. I would make some wonderful new friends, but I would be lonely and isolated for a time before this happened. I would have many wonderful new experiences and learn many fantastic new things. But I also knew there would be some unwelcome surprises as well. This would be the third time I'd step off a plane into an unfamiliar world and try to make it home. Once again I'd be a fish out of water in a new land. It wasn't until that moment that I knew for certain I'd made the right choice for myself in coming here.
As many of you know, I stepped off that plane over a month ago, and I'm now writing this from my new apartment. I now reside in a small city nestled among the rugged mountains in South Korea just West of Pusan's bustling port. I like the city. The jagged peaks shooting up all around look to have lots of potential once I find the trails that undoubtedly meander over and through them. The city is very new and clean. Stately rows of tall, white apartment buildings tower over wide boulevards lined with well manicured trees and shrubs. Wide bike paths and and attractive pedestrian walkways adjoin all the major roads through town. By any global standard, Changwon is a great place to go out for a stroll.

So far today, I've sampled 2 new restaurants. Both were good, but I have no idea what I ate, as I could only read the "Hite" on the side of my beverage. I took a run this afternoon through the cold dry air, turning down yet another undiscovered road, wondering what I might see or find along today's path. I spent the remainder of the afternoon shopping in some new department store, making flashcards and drilling myself with them to learn Korean. Tomorrow I'll plan a ski trip and search for a dry cleaners close to my apartment.

I can say confidently now that choosing this new life was the right thing for me. So I hope you enjoy reading Daily Belly Button Lint, now in Korea.

Las Vegas Airport: Among the Worst

While Las Vegas might be nice, anyone who's ever had the terrible misfortune of having to make a connecting flight through their airport can relate to my angst and frustration.

I actually had to leave the terminal and walk (run due to my delayed flight) along the road outside before finding my way to the terminal my flight departed from. Its a complete miracle that my bag ever made it to the place.

Korean Air flies directly from Las Vegas to Seoul. I'm guessing they chose it largely because there is a high volume of Korean tourists heading for the strip. Geographically its also a good place for a hub to connecting flights to Asia.

But the airport itself leaves a lot to be desired. This is surprising too, considering that Las Vegas is so dependent on tourist dollars. One would think their chamber of commerce would demand an efficient, top notch facility. Anyways, in the spirit of things, I'm listing the best and worst airports that I've ever been in. Because I wrote this list personally based on my own traveling experiences, it is of course completely objective and indisputably correct.


1. Malaysia, Kuala Lumpur International Airport: Sleek contemporary airport is super clean and super easy to find one's way about. Bonus points for being super quiet. More bonus points because Malaysia Airlines is the best I've ever flown on.

2. Hong Kong International: Imposing facility with a big "wow" factor in its architecture. Also nice and quiet. Not as easy to find one's way about though. But some bonus points for Cathay Pacific being a close second in the best airline I've ever flown on category.

3. Denver International Airport: Nice airport all around. One certainly has some elbow room here. Might be 1 higher except its a long drive to get there, but this should change when they put the new train in. Bonus points for stunning views of the Rocky Mountains. More bonus points for having Blue Moon and Fat Tire on tap.
4. Phoenix' Sky Harbor Intl. Airport: People always hate on this airport but I never know why. Granted it isn't as pretty or fancy as some, but it gets the job done efficiently. I've never been confused getting around there. I've picked people up, dropped people off, and been picked up and dropped off dozens of times and have almost never had a hitch. And I recently saw it on this list for lowest flight delays in the US.


1. Minneapolis St. Paul: This airport is alright I guess. Never had any issues here which is how it should be.

2. Detroit Wayne Metro Airport. This one made the cut because they've got a cool train that runs INSIDE the terminal!


1. Dallas/Ft. Worth Intl. Airport: A giant confusing series of expansions and add-ons. They tried to fix it all by putting a big train that runs around all the terminals in a big wide circle. This was marginally successfull at best.

2. Frankfurt Intl. Airport: Big ugly mess reminded me of Dallas's add ons and expansions. It wouldn't be so bad except that for people with long layovers, there is NOTHING to do.


1. McCarran International Airport Las Vegas: Definitely #1 on the worst. See rant above. This place was confusing and messed up to the hilt. Minus points for garish 1975 casino architecture.

2. Los Angeles' LAX: Minus points for standing in long lines the whole time. More minus points for being crowded and chaotic. Whether I was getting to a departing flight or trying to get on a super shuttle after arriving, I felt like I was trying to secure a seat on the last helicopter out of Saigon before it fell to the North.

3. Rome, Fumicino/Leonardo Da Vinci: Again, no fun, confusing, and generally an ugly mess. Leonardo would be rolling in his grave to have this forever linked to his namesake.

4. Ninoy Aquino, Manila: They have three separate international terminals here and you have to go to another terminal if you have a connecting domestic flight. There is a free shuttle bus that takes you there. The big problem though, is it only seems to come around ever 30 minutes, so you're better off walking, but just barely. Not much fun with the humidity.

Saturday, January 03, 2009

One Last Day of Skiing

Having bought a nice new winter jacket with my Aunt Dee's Christmas money, I decided it was probably best if I made use of the thing before I left the country. So I went up to Breckenridge for the Day to get in a day of Skiing. My mother decided to join me (although she hung out in town while I hit the slopes.

Turned out to be a great day for skiing, with the sun periodically penetrating the clouds and cool breeze coming off of the mountains. Definitely glad I have this new jacket on, as the more expert runs higher up turned out to be extremely cold and windy.

And after skiing in Japan for three years I'd forgotten how spoiled Colorado skiers really are. Even an average day early in the season proves better than the best elsewhere. I will say only one more thing: Vail Resorts sure knows how to gouge you.

Leaving on a Jet Plane

Stressing and fretting about my new job is over. Killing my time trying to think up ways to make it go faster and pumping iron at the gym are done. I can finally relax. About the only thing I haven't been doing to pass the time is writing in this blog! But, my passport with the new visa finally arrived in the mail this afternoon (December 17th, 18th) and I can safely book a flight to what will become my new home for a time. Its done! Little is left to do but pack my things.

My wanderlust not yet sated, I've made the decision to go abroad again, this time to the Republic of Korea. I'm going to a city near the very Southern end of the peninsula. Those unfamiliar with the geography of the region will be relieved to know the city lies just East of Busan, about one hour by car from the bustling port city.

My short lived return to the USA proved wonderful and fascinating in many ways, but I don't think I ever planned on staying for very long. My wanderlust proved too strong. There is still far too much I have yet to see, hear, taste, and touch. I also find myself drawn back to Asia and the fascinating and different cultures and languages that compose this half of the world.

But while I'm excited and exhilarated about something big for the first time since finishing the Colorado Trail, this time isn't without its sadness either. I'll be leaving and missing my parents, whom I've had the privilege of spending real time with for the first time since finishing college. I'll also be leaving Denver, a city I truly think is one of the greatest and most livable cities in the USA and perhaps most of the world. In some ways leaving will be easy, as I think subconsiously I kept my distance, never getting too close to people at church or in the community. Perhaps underneath everything I knew I'd be leaving again sometime soon.

Stressing the Small Stuff

As many of you know by now, I've applied for work at a school in Korea where I'm planning on teaching ESL again. The job and position look pretty good. So why am I stressing, you ask?
I've had no end of trouble getting all the little things together for my visa application. For whatever reason the whole process this time around seemed to take a whole lot longer and be infinitely more tedious and problematic than I recall, although I can't say why, as all the paperwork was much the same in many ways.

Either way, I've decided that one of my resolutions for 2009 should be to learn not to stress about things out of my control. Logically I know worrying about things out of your control doesn't do any good, yet I do it anyways. Anyone have suggestions (realistic, helpful ones anyways) on how to stop?