Tuesday, April 20, 2010

C-Ya Korea

As I begin this entry it is 9 pm in Korea.  I am in the departure gate of Incheon International Airport waiting for my 8 am flight.  I could have slept at my apartment tonight and spent 100,000 Won on a taxi early tomorrow morning but I decided to catch the last shuttle out for 12,000 Won and stay awake until it is time to take to the skies.  I'm hoping that if I can stay awake until I get to Tokyo then I'll be able to sleep straight over the Pacific.  11 hours on a bench in an airport may sound tedious but I have an electric outlet, lightning fast wi-fi, Season 3 of Mad Men, and a bunch of writing/reading I want get out of the way.

For the past week I've been attempting to formulate a cohesive narrative for my deep, introspective, finale of a blog entry...but I'm getting nothing.  There is just too much to say and no obvious pattern to string it all together with, plus I really hesitate to needlessly inject a bunch of poetic sentiments to make this year seem like more than it really was.  That said, this was the fastest, most exciting year of my life.  I can remember arriving here a naive, greenhorn, waygookin like it was yesterday and I'm amazed at just how fast the time has slipped past me.  I'll definitely miss the people I've grown attached to here but I'm just as anxious to reconnect with those I left behind.  Signing on here for several years is certainly an attractive prospect and I can totally understand why many of my friends have chosen to do so, but I'm ready to move onto the next adventure in life.  I have some more profound thoughts that I  could add to this but I think I'll keep it simple for a change and let pictures from my last week do the talking.

One Last Hike On Chilbo San

"Eric teacher funny, so handsome"

Spring in the park


 Street Dancing

Suds with Buds

Solve: (3,750,000 Won severance - 3,000X Won = 0 ) where X = number of beers.

That's about it for Deadly Quests in Korea I suppose.  I plan to post one more time in about a week to address the issues of reverse culture shock and re-acclimation to Americana so please check back, but after that I'll probably retire from the blogosphere.  This was a really fun experiment for a year and I'm actually kind of proud of myself for seeing it all the way through but I'm ready to move onto new projects and embrace anonymity.  I'll definitely re-register the domain name every year for my ego if nothing else and perhaps I'll even throw in a sporadic update every few months if I end up doing something dangerous/stupid/quest-like.  To those of you who have read, left-feedback, or whom I have even become friends with through this humble publication...Thankyou.  It's been really fun.  May you make life altering decisions before first considering the outcomes, behave questionably, and always remember a camera.                                          

                                                                                 Yours in the collective experience,  
                                                                                       Eric Popielarski

Cool Thing About Korea #53:  Engrish FAIL!  (This one is from a recently remodeled class in my school) 

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

The Lists

     Decided to stop at E-Mart on the walk home yesterday. So instead of a two mile stretch down a busy road my path took me out through the tranquil rice patties and cow farms.  It's really gorgeous out there.  The humble wooden shacks, old tractors, churned up fields waiting for the irrigation sluice gates to drop so they can be flooded for the spring planting.  The view offered from those small country roads is about 4 miles flat out in every direction.  It can be really deceptive when trying to gauge distance but it's the perfect place for watching low flying military aircraft on approach to Osan Airforce Base.  I can't tell you how many times I've scolded myself for forgetting my camera when a C-130 or AH-10 buzzes the sky only meters overhead but yesterday I was especially unprepared.
     While messing with the controls on my MP3 player I noticed three jets off in the distance flying in a formation towards me.  At first I thought they were Vietnam-era Phantom II bombers because of the odd downward orientation of the horizontal stabilizers...but no, they were too small...and flying far too slow for the stall speed of an F-4.  As they came closer I saw the unmistakeable "half-moon" shaped jet intakes and realized that they were AV-8B Harrier II's.  For those of you who don't appreciate a cool airplane the way I do, the Harrier is a sub-sonic light attack aircraft that is capable of vertical take-offs and landings.  It was awesome to see them out over the fields yesterday because they are becoming rare. Production of the jump jet ceased in 2003 and they will eventually be replaced by the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.  I had no idea that any of the 99 left in United States service were stationed here in Korea.  To see how cool they are click here.
     As the squadron flew past me, only 100 meters or so out over my head, I reasoned that by their  incredibly slow airspeed the wings could hardly be creating lift and therefore the cold-port thrust nozzles must be vectored slightly downwards to compensate for stall speed.  A half mile past the point from where I was watching the planes made a graceful 180 degree bank to the right, tucked their vectoring nozzles up into the zero degree position, and with a roar of the powerful Rolls-Royce turbo fans came screaming back past me in fixed wing flight.  Its as if the Marines behind the sticks knew I was down there and were putting on a private air show for the one solitary American strolling through a barren Korean countryside.

     In other news, I somehow ended up doing stand-up comedy last Saturday night.  I'm at this club with a friend  watching some fairly amusing acts when the MC comes up and start heckling me.  I tell him that I can tell stupid jokes too so he hands me the mike and I repeat an old one that I usually throw out during lulls in conversation.  It gets a few good laughs so while the next act is on he asks me if I want to be the closing set at the end of the night.  I'd been hashing all day and I was into my second or third Long Island so naturally I'm feeling cocky and not about to pass up such a excellent opportunity to embarrass myself.  When my turn comes up I get onto the stage, tell my three or four best jokes, and savor the resounding applause.  Now my recollection of the evening is likely biased or downright cloudy and I'm certainly no comedian, but I'm pretty sure I was the funniest guy on stage that night.

So it is sad to say but seven days from now I will be on some airliner en route to the United States.  I'm not sure how I feel about that quite yet but I promise I'll offer some deeper, personal reflection in a future post when I have more time.   What I can say is that my perception of time over the past few weeks has never been more warped in all my life.  I can't tell if the days are filing slowly away in anticipation of home or fleeting away briskly with my apprehension to leave.  It seems that considering the things I'll miss about Korea in comparison to the things I long for in the States is a constant sub-routine amongst the directives of my conscious mind.  So here are the lists in no particular order:

Things I'll Miss About Korea
1. All the awesome friends from all around the world that I've made in the past 12 months.
2. Getting paid an exorbitant salary for what amounts to playing games and watching cartoons.
3. The kids that (for the most part) make my work rewarding.
4. The view and the hiking on Chilbo Mountain.
5. Pizza School
6. Cheap, efficient, and technologically advanced public transportation.
7. My apartment.
8. Watching the different stages of the rice harvest on my walk home from work.
9.  Blatant and culturally accepted copyright infringement.
10. Yongsan electronics market.
11. The Wolfhound Pub.
12. Itaewon nightlife in general.
13. Reserving specific seats at the CGV movie theater.
14. Taxi adventures.
15. The guy at my local GS25 that fills my T-Money every week.
16. Hang-Dae nightlife
17. Kimchi and rice (ahahaha not really)
18. A dirt cheap and effective medical system.
19. Osan Bulgogi Hash House Harriers
20. The Lion's Den
21. Soju Hotels
22. F-18's, A-10's, C-130's, Chinooks, Harriers and many other awesome military planes flying only a few hundred feet above my house on a regular basis.
23. Hanging out at the Family Mart.
24. Heejay's
25. Galbi-sal and Samgyup-sal
26. Making fun of male students for being boyfriends (they're always hugging, fighting, holding hands) "Oh no teacher!"
27. Relatively close proximity to other awesome Asian countries.
28. Norebang
29. Hookah Bars
30. Hwaesong Fortress
31. Shopping Cart Escalators
32. No Tipping
33. No sales tax.
34. No tax of any kind at all...ever.
35. 14,000 won electric bill
36. Paying bills at the ATM
37. That dude that gives me free fruit when he sees me running.
38. Being the biggest guy at the gym.
39. That chicken place around the corner.
40. Being told how handsome I am all the time.
41. Speaking my mind on crowded subways
42. Alcohol is encouraged in all facets of life-at work, in public, for breakfast
43. Cops who don't seem to care about anything you do no matter how outrageous.
44. You don't have to be a beggar to sleep on the sidewalk.
45.  Everyone knows Tae-Kwon-Do...in theory.
46. Hot Korean Chicks
47. Sending Koreans in a crowded subway scattering by screaming and stomping around like Godzilla.
48. An entire population that caters to my differences and goes out of their way to learn my language.  Far more hospitable than many closed-minded Americans, "OMG I have to Press 1 for English.  Boo Hoo."
49. theyeogiyo.com
50.  The best corn-dogs ever.
51. E-Mart

People/Things in the U.S. that I can't wait to see/do.
1. Family
2. Friends
3. My dogs and cat.
4. Drive my car with the top down and the music up.
5. Drink a full-bodied, draft poured American beer.
6. Turkey
7. American TV commercials.
8. Grass
9. Mowing the lawn
10. Move into a huge house with two of my best friends.
11. Being there for my friends Jay and Scott when they tie the knot (with their respective finances, not with each other).
12.  No work for months.
13.  Buy a motorcycle
14.  My sister's high school graduation.
15.  A week in the Outer Banks.
16.  A week at Virginia Beach
17.  Cars that are not only aesthetically pleasing but exciting to drive.
18.  Traffic laws and people obeying them.
19.  Road tripping to Matt's place in Ohio
20.  Road tripping to Mike's house in Canada.
21.  Tubing down the Brandywine.
22.  House parties in West Chester
23.  Fair Trade Mexican Organic Coffee from Fennario
24.  Not having to get onto a military base to buy deodorant.
25.  No more dumbing down my English eight hours a day.
26.  Firearms
27.  Cultural diversity
28.  Hiking in Pennsylvania
29.  Meeting my niece Avery Jane.
30.  Meeting Colton Harris.
31.  Queen Size Bed
32.  Sheets
33.  A dryer
34.  A dish washer
35.  An actual shower with glass doors and a skylight.
36.  Listening to all the music I've fell in love with over the past year on my meaty Boston Acoustic speakers (currently in storage) as opposed to the crappy computer speakers I've been making due with.
37.  Non-lethal electric fans.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Woof Woof

Well I went out to eat Gaegogi (dog soup) with Mr. Kim last night.  I've only had it twice before and I really wanted to give it another go before I left the country.  "Oh my God Eric that is disgusting!"  No it's not. It is delicious. In fact it is a delicacy.  It has simply been stigmatized because people associate that moist, dark, tangy flesh with the ball chasing quadruped smiling stupidly at them from the living room floor. "But Eric you have pet dogs. You're a hypocrite." I do in fact have pet dogs and I love them very much. I would never dream of eating them...unless for some reason I was starving...or just too lazy to order a pizza. But there are also people in this world who consider cows, pigs, goats, and chickens to be pets, yet these emotional attachments haven't spared their particular species from the dinner table.  I suppose it's all about being able to make distinctions.  Distinguishing between the dog on your plate and the dog at the foot of your bed is like distinguishing between that person whose calls you don't return and the one you can bring home to mom and dad.  
But enough justifying the more flavorful virtues of man's best friend.  I can assure you we had a splendid time.  Dinner was cooked to perfection and in accordance with the folklore surrounding this particular dish I left feeling vital and full of energy.  Also, Mr. Kim asked me to drive his car home.  I haven't driven a car since last November so racing his souped up Hyundai Avante down rustic farm roads was a blast.

Cool Thing About Korea #52: Chilbo Middle School.  Here's a little video of the place I've been working at for the past year and a behind the scenes look at one of my classes.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Ostriches of Korea

Colonic irrigation salesmen peddling wares on the subway , a llama, Heejay's, a suite at the Hamilton, Carlos Vargas, sausage gravy, Russian call girls, Texas Hold-em', Soju Titanic, gullible foreign chicks, hash browns.  All of theses things are reasons why my weekend exceeded yours in terms of awesomeness and the weird.  And yet, none of these things hold a candle to the pure joy of ostrich riding.  Is it their strong resemblance to dinosaurs?  Their foolish eccentricities and clownish gait?  The "woot woot woooooooot" mating call that begs to be a bar crawl catch phrase?  Perhaps all of these things.  What I can tell you is that they are as hilarious as they are intimidating.  I was probably more hesitant to approach a single ostrich than I was walking amongst 15 tigers.  I'm totally impressed with their strength and still have trouble believing that a bird could haul my 240 lb. frame around at a rapid trot...twice.  I have to say that I felt a little bad for the bird that had to give ten or fifteen rides to us giant waygookins, though it was funny to see her try and run from the handler about 3/4 of the way through.  Towards the end she tried giving up and like a bratty kid, sat down in defiance...to which the handler comically slapped her upside the head like a dad that doesn't take any crap.

Cool Thing About Korea #51:  Jeez...freakin ostriches man!  What do you think?

Friday, March 26, 2010

A Phone Call With Dave Mustaine

I was seriously impressed by a young girl in one of my classes today and its definitely worth mentioning.  We finished the lesson with five minutes left in class so I decided to teach the kids about palindromes (you know, words like "kayak" and "racecar" that can be spelled the same forwards and backwards).  I told the kids that if they could think of any other palindromes I'd give them a lollipop.  Well I heard a few lame ones like "mom" and "did" before this usually quiet girl who sits in the corner blew me away with "Was it a cat I saw?"  ARE YOU SERIOUS?!  One lollipop isn't enough for that gem, I gave her five.  Wish I could figure out where she learned that one and why she even remembered it.

Anyway, here's a little video I threw together at work a few weeks ago before I actually had classes to teach and was bored out of my mind.  If you're not a Megadeth fan or don't even know what a megadeath is than you probably won't find this funny and I apologize for being that much more awesome than you in advance.

Cool Thing About Korea #50:  Korean TV.  Whether you're on a bus, in a convenience store, a taxi cab, the subway, or climbing a mountain, you can bet there's a monitor in your field of vision that's flashing clips of cute animals to whiny, unbelieving narration.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Happy Saint Patricks Day!

Yeah it was last week, but most expats in Korea didn't really celebrate the holiday until yesterday.  Every year I attempt to surpass the events of SPD 2007.  It was a three day marathon of irresponsible, life threatening weirdness in the heart of Pittsburg with my brother Jon, a pretty tough record to beat.  Still, the Korean version of the Irish holiday easily qualifies as a candidate for second place.  We got to Seoul just in time to join the tail end of the parade.  The Facebook event stated that 18,000 people were expected to show up, and though that was a hugely exaggerated number, there did turn out to be an impressive crowd of green-attired party animals braving the cold, rainy weather for the sake of music and beer.  Late in the afternoon the sky turned a bizarre color of yellowish-brown unlike anything I've ever seen before.  It was pretty wild looking (see the picture with the horse drawn carriages).  A few of us fanatics half expected the hand of God to reach through the sickly firmament and rain His wrath down upon the vast metropolis.   After the sun went down we did it proper like at an Irish pub called Dublin's where I realized that, though I appreciate all things Irish, I can only stand their traditional music for about six solid hours.  There was a deal for all you can drink Guinness and in case you're wondering, I got my moneys worth.

In somewhat sadder news, the fried chicken place around the block from my apartment caught on fire.  Man, I really liked that place.  The lady and her husband who ran it were cool, the food was awesome, and there was just something about its simplicity that I found really appealing.  It wasn't pretty.  The walls were plastic sheets and the benches were made of old paint cans and 2X4s, but it was the humble details of private ownership that I was really nostalgic about.  Just two hard working people with a deep fryer, a great batter recipe, and a couple hundred dead chickens trying to make their way in the world.  I hope things work out for them and the place opens back up... or they get a lot of money from the insurance company and wind up on a beach somewhere.

Oh and if you like cool club music check out some shows by my DJ friend Mike here.  

Cool Thing About Korea #49: Satanic Elevators

Monday, March 8, 2010

Ankle Deep In Dead Dogs

     About five weeks left in Korea and it's going fast.  This is the second week that school is in session and I still don't have any classes scheduled.  The entire English staff is new here and only one of them can speak with any level of proficiency.  I think they are so confused with the new school, new government implemented teaching methods, and the construction that actually scheduling me to work is the least of they're worries.  There is a part of me that really wants to get back in the classroom and actually do some teaching but if I'm going to get paid to work on my writing projects, catch up on some novels, and drink coffee then I'm not going to complain.  Well, aside from the usual weekend distractions a few days ago I also managed to go on the longest and most interesting hash thus far.  Allow me to tell you about it with a drastic switch in tenses.  
     For the first twenty minutes the pack runs a confused circle through the dowdy neighborhood, an impoverished area hugging the back walls of the base, the last bit of settlement before the endless farm fields across the highway.  A "true trail" marker keeps bringing us back to the rear gate of the airfield from which we started.  Unlike the front gate a few miles away which is busily celebrated with traffic and bars and storefronts, this entrance is orderly, quiet, and resists attention.  Taking notice of our confusion, a camouflaged guard shouldering an M-16 informs us that he saw a hare leaving a marker close to the bus stop across the street.  Another hasher spots the checkpoint under a car and within an instantt the 40 strong pack is dashing through gardens and off into the moor like countryside.  
     We run through fields and rice patties, woods and shrub covered hills.  An abandoned rusty bulldozer sits on the abandoned scar of an incomplete road that leads to the abandoned construction of several half-finished and degrading houses.  We follow the chalk and toilet-paper markers over crumbling brick, broken glass, rusted siding, nail-strewn 2X4's, and finally past an active farm where a sizable pen of smelly cows scatter at our hollering advance.  As the miles disappear behind us the excitement of the finish line grows and we press harder and faster.  Eventually a turkey-eagle split cuts the pack in half.  Some walk across muddy flat lands, the rest sprint up through a dense forest rifled with prickers and vines.  The shape of a crumbling cement structure materializes through the foliage and upon approaching it we see the word BEER scrawled on a wall above several carefully deposited bottles.  I stop long enough for a few mouthfuls of water but leave the Cass untouched before taking off again across a barren highway.  
     In the adjacent orchard the trail leads down into a stream and we follow, halting when we reach a cement embankment twenty meters tall.  The creek trickles underground into a tunnel barely four feet high. Scrawled above the mouth of the opening are the taunting words ON-IN-YA.  I hesitate for a moment while looking into the dark.  I can see a pin-spot of light barely visible several hundred yards through the blackness.  Without  another second to reconsider I plunge myself into the hole and make my way rapidly down the corridor.  Moments later I am ankle deep in mud and sewage.  There is no avoiding it.  When we were kids my Dad used to yell at us for playing in corrugated run-off pipes and now, in the dark, his exaggerated warnings about flash floods casually come back to me.  I exit the other side safely and climb up onto the damp, grassy bank.  My feet are soaked through and  mud is splattered up to my knees.  There are only four of us who braved the pipe and we take off single file through another stretch of unplanted fields.  
   We are coming over a small rise when I notice something unusual about the ground.  Unlike the dark, fertile soil we've been trudging over for the past several miles, this terrain is soft, white, and comes up in clumps that sticks to our cross-trainers.  I look around and can see that this strange substance covers the ground for at least 20 yards in every direction.  I am wondering to myself why it took me so long to notice this very peculiar incongruity when we happen upon the first of the corpses.  Dogs.  At least twenty of them in a late stage of decay, deflated and blending into the ground.  It is a mass grave of canines.  Then it occurs to us that the white tuft stuck to our shoes and ankles is the rotting matter resulting from years of dead animals decomposing on this spot.  I am surprised that I am not overcome with horror.  Instead, my head calmly fills with questions.  Why so many?  Were they used for fighting?  Why weren't they eaten?  Why dumped so carelessly instead of buried?  We press on.
   Eventually the trail brings us to an abandoned playground.  Small fruit trees grow in and around old sliding boards and swings.  There is something sinister about this place, sitting deserted and alone under an overcast sky.  We continue through mud and low grasses until we reach a subway platform where, having neglected to bring my wallet, I guiltily hop the turnstile.
   Before long we're back at the Lion's Den, commemorating the past 8 miles with Red Rock and fraternity humor. Later in the night I'll make my way to Hang Dae, where my inclination towards awesomeness late in the evening will only be exceeded by my infallible tendency to make an ass of myself early in the morning.    
Cool Thing About Korea #48:  Jeong Ji-Hoon, better known as Rain, was the lead role in Ninja Assassin, which was probably one of the greatest cut-em-up action movies I've ever seen.