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Archive for the ‘South Korea’ Category

Yongin, South Korea

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It looked manageable from the street as I was looking for a place to eat lunch. If I could only speak Korean, I am sure I would have heard them saying: “Hey girls, we got us some entertainment here”. When I sat down, they turned on big flame in the middle of the table and then filled a pot with water. I was then escorted to a buffet type line where I generally got the idea I was supposed to put some food (or something) on my plate and then go back and cook it myself. No problem, as I immediately recognized the Bok-choy and the mushrooms – I am wanting to move towards a vegetarian diet anyway. I went back to the table and was minding my own business when a women goes to the line and fills a plate with the things you see above and then promptly brings it to my table, points to the pot, points to the plate, and then points to me. Not to be outdone, another women comes over and sits down a dish of some type of sauce and says: “very good”. So, the white mass is a full squid; no problem. The shrimp looking things are some type of shrimp; no problem. The dark thing in the back is an octopus; not a big problem until I lifted it into the pot and noted it was 9 inches long; The brain or intestines pile: that looked like a problem, and the little brain things in the foreground; those looked problematic as well. Wanting to be a good sport, I simply said thank you and started to a cooking while trying to figure out what do you do with a 9 inch octopus when it is cooked; when is it cooked was another pressing question. After discretely and quickly surveying the other tables, I discovered what the scissors next to my chop sticks were for; you just cut it up and drop the pieces to your plate.

So the squid was fine, the shrimp was actually quite good in the “very good” sauce, the octopus was fine except when I cut the head off some, lets say interesting, green color stuff spewed forth. The brains or intestines were much much worse than they look and one gram in my mouth was enough to tell me: “Don’t go there”. Now the mini brains turned out to be really hard and when I finally bit through the outer layer it squirted water or something 5 tables away as I tried to figure out what I was supposed to do with the nasty thing next. About this time, a nice young women walked over, handed me a large bottle of water and in very good English said “you are welcome to try something more suitable to your taste” while her co-workers maintained that stoic smirk I am already beginning to recognize. When I got up to leave, I must have passed the “you’re a good sport test” because I got a lot of bows as I exited.

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Yongin- City, South Korea; Sara’s apartment

Fortunately I passed the “temperature” test as I departed one of the best flights I have ever been on (Singapore Airlines is GREAT), and thus I was not quarantined for H1N1. It is a bit unsettling when you depart a plane, don’t speak the language and a guy sticks a probe against your neck. I was actually a bit concerned because not 2 minutes prior I had sneezed and caught the attention of half the people in line as it flashed though my mind they were screaming….”it’s him its him”. I had visions of being immediately taken away to serve my two weeks in SKorea isolated from all humans, or doing hard labor in North Korea as a trade off for some political brokering.

Five minutes in the immigration line, two minutes in the customs line, 30 seconds waiting for my bag, zero wait as the bus pulled up when I stepped to the curb. Ah but this bus did not go all the way, but from what I understood it was close. Handed the driver a wad of Won and got something back. About an hour later I had made it to the last stop on the line. No problem, I figured. Find a connecting bus and keep rolling. Well big guy, English got left at the international terminal. So I am standing on a street corner in some city and I have no idea where I am or where I need to go. Strangers to the rescue. I inquired with a taxi driver who really tried to help but the language barrier was insurmountable. Fortunately, I found a young and sharped dressed man (I know stereotypes are dangerous, but it usually works when looking for English speakers) who was able to actually read the email I had from Sara. Then he translated, figured out my next bus, waited for it to arrive and gave the bus driver a note regarding where to ensure I get off. Lets just say at this point, there were no Americans with backpacks anywhere close to where I am now. It was pretty obvious I did not have a clue as the kind bus driver tried to show me how to pay my fare while I was trying to drag my gear on a local bus filled with Koreans who had a “what is that” look on there faces. At my final stop, which I had no idea if it was the right stop or even the right city, I stood on the corner thinking to myself: “Now what smart guy”. Then from the bustle of the city appeared my niece Sara. “how long you been waiting?”, “oh about 30 seconds”.
And the Second of September? Lost it completely as I crossed the international date line. Talk about time being precious.

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Old and wise enough

San Francisco International Airport

Well this trip started remarkably well. Dad and his dog (named shadow but I call her killer given she is so darn small and sweet) dropped me off at San Francisco International airport and within 10 minutes I was checked in with an apparent seat upgrade to the exit row/window on the forward bulkhead. I Was not sure about taking this seat as I thought I got a pretty good seat when I booked on-line, but the young and petite Asian women insisted that I was big and needed the extra room. Typically, I would have thought she meant I was tall but after tipping the scales at 219.50 lb yesterday, I think she was being polite and was actually thinking to herself – you are a fatty and are lucky we did not charge you for a second American super sized seat.

Next I went to the see the money changers. Yes, I know they charge a premium at the airport but I like showing up in foreign lands with some local currency. I asked for ~two hundred dollars US in the local currency of South Korean which is my first destination. Not sure but I think I got 311,000 Won. It is a big stack of bills with the lowest denomination being 1,000 Won and there is only one of those. When the women counted it back to me and asked for my concurrence I just shrugged my shoulders as I have no idea if it is correct – thus starts my journey into the unknown which will need to be based on the trust and kindness of others.

Somewhere over the Pacific Ocean

“Remarkably well” was an understatement and I am certain this is an omen of things to come. I am indeed on the bulkhead just beyond first class. I have about 5 feet of space in front of me, and if you can believe it- the middle seat next to me is open. So you think it could not get better than that on a flight that is schedule for about 12 hours? Wrong. The take-off and landing jump seat for the stewards is just in front of me and thus right before my eyes are the most beautiful women from Singapore. Forget about the U. S Airlines along with their frumpy old fashioned flight uniforms. On Singapore airlines they dress for success and the women of the crew wear the most gorgeous flowered blouses that look almost like a tapestry. These are accompanied by beyond ankle length, flowing, and simply stunning skirts. Hell their shows even have inlays of the same patterns and material. I have no idea what the men are wearing, sorry.

According to the flight monitor it looks like we are about a third of the way across the pond while traveling at altitudes somewhere above 30,000 feet. We are flying nearly directly west on a great circle course that will take me to Incheon South Korea and the beginning of my 2009 mini trip to Asia. I say mini as I only plan to touch a few countries in the coming days, weeks, and months. How long exactly? I honestly do not know. What I know is I resigned from my job as the Vice President of a California based environmental consulting firm. WHAT, didn’t you get the memo about a world wide recession where jobs, let alone really good ones, are hard to find? Yea, I heard about that but I also heard a few other things. Including my tramping buddy John from New Zealand who is now working in the United Arab Emirates, who said something like: “Hell, it beats a sports car, a blond bimbo who is 20 years your junior. ” I also heard my mom, who we lost almost a year ago now from cancer, who understood so perfectly her last year that every day is precious and thus you better not waste to0 many of them or defer your life. So because I have always dreamed of seeing the Himalayas, I figured that would be a good place to reassess my middle aged-post divorce life. Besides I can always work, but I am not certain I will always be able to go hiking in the land of the snow leopard.

The plan, and it is not much of a plan, goes something like this. See my niece Sara who is working in Skorea as an English teacher to kindergarten children, then head to Nepal and potentially Tibet and see those BIG damn mountains. Maybe go down to India for a bit of Yoga and curry, maybe over to the United Arab Eremites to see John and take a camel ride, and well who knows what else if anything. I honestly have made absolutely no plans less buying a round trip airline ticket (which is required before you will get a Visa to Tibet or India). I may stay a few weeks, or I may stay a few months….I bet it is more the latter and thus my return flight is booked for the maximum allowable stay under a single ticket (6 months); but for a hundred bucks it can be changed so we will see. Who knows, maybe I will be back at work in six weeks as some ar predicting. All I know right now is that I am on an airplane, and Sara told me what bus I need to take to get to the town she is teaching in; actually said take the purple one…… I think.

Over the months I have told a lot of people about my trip and the responses are as varied as they are interesting and potentially even insightful. My professional peer acquaintances say things like: “Aren’t you worried about your job, security, retirement? I put these comments in the misery loves company, fear based American marketing, damn I really wish I could just go do something like that, or I am flipping pissed you can category. Then there are my family and friends who often think I am nuts but love and support me regardless and sincerely hope I find what ever it is I am actually still looking for; who knows. Finally, there are the many members of Sun City Lincoln, an old folks retirement community as dad calls it, who I have talked to over the last 2 month while bumming a room off of pops in preparation for being homeless. Without exception, I mean not even one, every person be it man or women has said: good for you, you only live once, don’t look back, go now, go now, go now. I put this group in the old enough and wise enough to have it figured out. Fortunately they are sincere and kind enough to pass it on.

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