Tuesday, February 21, 2012


How I choose to feel is how I am
-Pearl Jam

I realize that my last post about my first six months in Korea was woefully inadequate. Here are some other top moments:

Music. Yes, Seoul is no Seattle, but it is proving an acceptable substitute for the year. In November, I went to see Two Gallants, a band from San Francisco. The show didn't start until 11, I was tired and cold, and I *almost* skipped it. I am so glad that I didn't. When the band started to play, I found my way to the front of the stage (on "Mike's side" of course!) and closed my eyes, smiled and enjoyed life. Nothing better.

In December, I went to see Deerhoof, a band that I knew literally nothing about. The name sounded vaguely familiar and I read that they were from San Francisco, so I decided to check them out. Once again, as I was walking to the show not only was I cold and tired, but I also could not seem to find the venue. I wandered around the confusing streets of Hongdae for about an hour, and just when I was about to give up, I looked down the street and there it was! Like fate. And like before, I am so happy that I went. The club where the show was held was very very small and unlike at the Two Gallants show, the crowd was mostly Korean. There were three opening bands, all Korean, and all really good. I especially liked the third band, who I *think* are called "Banseom Pirates" and played spacey instrumental music while a strange movie played in the background.

Deerhoof was also a really great band, and if I ever get another chance to see them, I definitely will. The drummer was amazing, so much fun to watch. The lead singer was a really cheerful Japanese (I think) girl who kept saying "Kamsam-ida!"

Of course, I can't forget the guitar-playing bartender that I wrote about before. Victoria and I have since gone back to his bar to listen to him play again. Whereas on Christmas Eve, he mostly stuck with songs by Damien Rice or the Beatles, this time he played mostly Korean songs. I wish I knew the name of his bar so that I could advertise it, because he has a wonderful voice and is obviously a great performer who shouldn't just be in a small bar playing only to one or two people at a time. And, adding to my guitar-playing bartender love: both times we saw him, "Once" was playing on a screen in the background. In fact, on Christmas Eve he asked, "Have you ever seen this movie? It's great."

Theater. I have seen four plays so far in Seoul, three Korean and one American. The first play I saw was Jump, an absolutely hilarious non-verbal play about a family that does martial arts. Highly recommended. The second play that I saw was called Cookin With Nanta, and I went to it on Christmas. Another very funny play, about four chefs who are preparing a wedding feast. Again, it is non-verbal, the story is told through dance and music. And it stars "A Sexy Guy" (that's really what the character is called in the script). A few weeks ago, Victoria and I saw The Ballerina Who Loved a B-Boy, about, as you can probably guess, a ballerina who falls in love with a break dancer. The dancing in the play was phenomenal - as was the fact that one of the actors had a shirt emblazoned with the F-word - and after the play we got to go on stage and take pictures with the dancers. The most recent play that I saw was Without You, a one-man show starring Anthony Rapp from the Original Broadway Cast of Rent. The play is based on his autobiography about the deaths of his mother and Jonathan Larson (the writer of Rent). I wanted to see the play because I LOVE Rent (have seen it five times, own the original Broadway recording, and have the entire play memorized), but I was kind of leery of the whole "one-man show" concept. But it was *so wonderful* He sang songs from Rent (including La Vie Boheme!) and is such a good actor that two hours went by in the blink of an eye.

Cafes. I have to add this one, because who knew that one of my favorite things about Korea would be the coffee shops? There are some great ones in Daejeon. My favorite is called Holy Cross. It is on the 6th floor of a tall building downtown, and is somewhat reminiscent of a New York City loft inside. I have been known to sit there for a few hours, drinking a latte and reading a book on my Kindle. And they have free wifi! And they know my name and order without me having to say anything. That's winning in my book.

Other random things: cute Korean guys, samgyetang (ginseng chicken soup), kimbap, udon, dweji galbi (bbq pork), walking along the Han River in Seoul, the KTX train, waffles for dessert, parks, not having to worry about driving a car (just having to worry that I won't get run over when I go outside, but I'm getting used to that), Sun Sing Dam bakery, getting off the subway at a random stop in Seoul and walking around, and most of all, not having to worry about money. That's a big one. Free housing + no car + low cost of living, relative to Seattle = much less stress in my life. I almost don't want to have to go back to Seattle and start the treadmill all over again. Almost.

Yup, there are lots of things I love about living here, and I will dwell on those, because as a wise man named Eddie Vedder sings, "how I choose to feel is how I am."

Monday, February 20, 2012

Pearl Jam 20 - It's OK

it's okay
we've all seen better days
it's okay
we love you anyway
it's okay
you don't have to run and hide away
it's okay
we love you anyway
this is my chance
this is my life
and my hope in an alley way
this is my voice, this is my choice
there may be no tomorrow
this is my plea, this is my need, this is my time for standing free


6 months..

Life is what you make it

I've had some really amazing experiences during the last six months in Korea, and despite the fact that not everything has worked out quite the way I hoped it would, I wouldn't go back and change anything I've done. I can look back and be happy with my decision to uproot what was basically a good life in Seattle to move across the world. No regrets. So here is a list of a few of the great experiences that come to mind:

Busan last weekend: hiking through the woods with various Koreans who laughed every time I said "kammsamida" (thank you.. maybe I really have been pronouncing it wrong for six months, who knows?) and finding Seokbulsa Temple, an amazing temple that is precariously built into the side of a mountain. Getting there involved lots of walking, riding a cable car, more walking, and lots of miming where I wanted to go to Koreans (if only I could put "miming" on my resume when I get home).

The next morning, I watched the sun rise over the ocean, and then went to Haeundae Beach.

Spending New Year's at the Homigot Sunrise Festival: One of the biggest lessons that I've learned about myself in the past six months is that I'm tougher than I give myself credit for (it only took me 31 and 1/2 years to figure that out...). I needed that tough-ness when I decided to go to this festival: getting there involved taking four buses, sleeping in a jimjilbang, and going so far from the beaten path that I didn't see any other westerners or hear any English spoken for almost 2 days (a bit of a rare experience in Korea). And really what can be better than watching the first sun rise of the new year over a giant statue of a hand in the ocean? Yes, nothing can be better.

Christmas in Seoul: For Christmas, my friend Victoria and I decided to go to Seoul. On Christmas Eve, we went out in Hongdae, the University area, and randomly found a bar advertising "live guitar." The live guitar player turned out to be the bartender, who played songs for us (including an amazing version of "The Blower's Daughter" by Damien Rice and, hilariously enough, "Puff the Magic Dragon"). At the end of the evening, we took a taxi back to our motel and as we were getting out of the taxi, two college-aged Koreans got in and said "Merry Christmas!" I looked at my watch and it was exactly midnight: Merry Christmas indeed. The next day, we went ice skating and then I went to see an awesome play called "Cooking with Nanta." We ended our Christmas day with dinner in Myeondong while watching an impromptu marching band play "YMCA" by The Village People. It was all so awesome I had no time to miss home! (Sorry, mom!)

Some other interesting things:

Festivals! The Jinju Lantern Festival, the Seoul Lantern Festival, the Busan Fireworks Festival and the Cheonan World Dance Festival.

Buddhist temples. There are so many amazing temples in Korea - from Jogyesa temple in Seoul to Donghwasa temple in Daegu. For me, part of the fun is not only seeing the temple itself, but also the journey in getting there. Most of the temples are located on mountains or in parks, relatively far from the cities. I always feel a sense of accomplishment when I'm able to find them.

Halloween in Seoul, and buying a drink in a bag from a wizard on a street in Hongdae.

The friends that I have made. Although I generally enjoy being and traveling alone, I have made some great friends here that I think I'll probably stay in touch with even after this adventure is over.

My vacation to Vietnam and Hong Kong. The pinnacle of the past six months. Not much more that I can say about it than that.

And what am I looking forward to in the next six months?
More traveling around Korea.
Hopeful short vacation to Japan?
Trip to Jeju Island when mom and dad come to visit.
Visits from friends? Beatrice, I'm looking at you!
Buddha's birthday in May. Given my love for temples, I am really looking forward to this.
Cherry blossoms in the Spring. A taste of Seattle.
Radiohead at the Jisan Valley Rock Festival in July.
Lady Gaga in April (Haha, surprisingly I am really looking forward to this!)
More trips to Busan and Seoul. I love those cities.
And the pièce de résistance: one or two months in the Fall spent traveling around Southeast Asia. Pages added to my passport, here I come...