Archive for September, 2010

A Farewell to Cheese

Later today I will be heading west to go east, very far-east. There are few places in the world that are further away from the States. I am certainly going to miss everyone. I’ve never been separated from my family and friends for this long so we’ll see how I adapt. Skype, Facebook and NBA League Pass are sure to help with the transition process. Cliché as it sounds I’m not very good at saying goodbye. I prefer to just bounce and check in later. Forgive me if I did not offer you a proper adieu.

This morning I woke up very early…Dave Katz early. We went for a relaxing run with our dogs Scout and Wags. Unfortunately Harley was unable to go because he’s currently on the injured reserve list with a nasty, infected right paw, the result of making a mad dash for a deer in a wooded area (you have to respect the endeavor). He is out indefinitely from participating in runs, fetch, or tug of war. The early morning workout with the old man was just what I needed to relax me for the trip. I came home to a freshly brewed pot of coffee courtesy of Marilyn. She skillfully concealed her disappointment as the St. Louis Cardinals failed to make the playoffs and said a warm goodbye before heading to work.  

Daegu can also be spelled as Taegu.

I will be living in Daegu, South Korea. Once I arrive I will give a detailed description of what it is like there. By doing a good amount of research it sounds like an interesting place. In a nut shell, the city is the warmest region in South Korea and is known for its subtropical climate, beautiful women, fashion industry, apples, manufacturing industry (Samsung was founded there). Did I mention beautiful women? I’m excited to frequent Daegu Stadium, the second largest sports complex in South Korea. Daegu will be hosting the 2011 World Championships in Athletics. I plan on attending. I want to see first-hand if Usain Bolt is actually a human.  The country as whole is strongly influenced by Confucianism and especially this region. Not to self:  no wheelchair high-jacking involving seniors.

People have asked me if I’m nervous about the trip and I can honestly say that I have never been nervous in my entire life … except when I was a finalist in a spelling bee in Mrs. Clayton’s second grade class and I said “y” instead of “w” while trying to spell whimsical… okay the word was white. This bitter defeat remains entrenched deep inside me because I wanted to win the Garfield pencil very badly which was captured by Amanda Dubyna who I don’t even think liked Garfield.  I’m more excited than anything else. I think the biggest adjustment will be leading a life that does not involve very much cheese. Apparently, Korean dishes very seldom feature this amazing, delectable foodstuff… excuse me, I’m going to go gnaw on a block of Munster now.

Can I go an entire year without Utica Chicken Riggies?

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Ms. Kim gets Verbose

I woke up this morning to an unusually wordy email from Ms. Kim. To my delight, she gave me a detailed itinerary for my trip and instructions for when I arrive in Korea.

Here is a snapshot of my itinerary. It took me a while to figure out exactly how long my flight is because of the huge time difference between Eastern ST in the States and Korea (13 hours) and because I am numbers illiterate. Basically, Korea is more than a half day ahead of the US, which means once I’m there I will be able to predict the future for Americans.

Wednesday September 29

(1)    Depart Syracuse Hancock International Airport at 6:46 EST. Two hour flight and one hour difference means…

(2)    Arrive to Chicago O’Hare International Airport  at 7:52 CST (5 hr layover aka visit to the bar)

Thursday September 30

Depart at 1:00 am …In the air for 14 straight hours! I’m not ruling out getting blood clot. Add on 14 hour time difference between Chicago and Korea and I arrive in Seoul …

Friday October 1

(3)    Arrive at Seoul Incheon International Airport at 5:00 am

This is where it gets interesting …

Ms. Kim informed me, in short, minimalist prose, that I will be meeting Jared at the Incheon Airport. Jared will be teaching English at the same Avalon school in Daegu as me. We are arriving at the same time, but I don’t think we will be on the same flight (I don’t know where Jared is from). I suppose I will look for a young western looking guy who is as equally lost and wide-eyed as I will be.  

My new co-worker and I will meet Mr. Kang at 7:30 am on the first floor at Gate # 10. Apparently, Mr. Kang will call Ms. Kim when we all meet up. I was hurt to find out that Ms. Kim will talk on the phone with Mr. Kang rather than sending quick-fire-emails like she does with me, but it is what it is*. Mr. Kang will then assist us with checking into our domestic flights to Daegu. For some reason I am envisioning Mr. Kang  much like Mr. Han, the villain with a claw hand in Bruce Lee’s final film, Enter the Dragon. If he does happen to have a claw or paw or hook I am mentally prepared for it and I promised myself I will not stare.

Mr. Han doing what he does best.

J-Dog and I will be leaving Seoul at 8:30 to …

(4)    Arrive at Daegu Airport at 9:25 am (only a 55 minute flight? Yes, please).

From here, a teacher from Avalon school will be waiting to pick us up …

* I did score Ms. Kim’s number in case of a mix-up.

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The Mystery of Ms. Kim

I found out this morning (Monday) that I take off for South Korea on Wednesday, not Friday. My “Placement Consultant” Ms. Kim was nice enough to fill me in on this detail.

Ms. Kim came recommended by my friend Nicuation, who is now teaching English in Korea. I first contacted her in mid-August. In less than two weeks, she managed to get me a job offer in Daegu, the third largest city in South Korea. Ms. Kim has been impressively punctual in getting back to me, but she has provided me with as little detail as possible throughout each step of the process.  Interestingly, all of our communication has been strictly email based. Throughout our month and a half electronic- relationship she has answered my questions and instructed me on what I needed to do using one line sentences (she does use a pleasant Calibri style font with a welcoming blue color). Ms. Kim has done a laudable job of keeping me on edge about things like my address when I’ll be there, my itinerary for the trip, if I need any kind of immunization shots, etc.

 I have theorized that Ms. Kim

a)      is a woman of few words

b)      is very busy

c)       doesn’t like me

d)      is a spy from North Korea plotting to hold me hostage

I’m extremely excited for this year-long adventure across the globe. I have been reading several books about the history and culture of South Korea and I’m taking a crack at learning the language.  The Two Koreas by Don Oberdorfer explains the volatile relationship between the North and South and how this country was essentially arbitrarily split by two world super-powers (The Soviet Union and the United States) after World War II and how this has led to fantastically different values, systems of government and cultures. I prefer South Korea.

 Luckily, Ms. Kim put me into contact with a foreign teacher at the school where I will be working. Originally he signed a one year contract but has enjoyed himself so much that he is in his third year in South Korea.  For confidentiality purposes I will call him Where the Wild Birds Sing. Where the Wild Birds Sing recently got engaged to a Korean woman (that’s right, we’re Facebook friends).

Here are some of the things I have learned from Where the Wild Birds Sing (taken verbatim from email conversations):

“Another good thing, about Korea in general, is that it’s cheap and easy to travel to different cities.”

“Daegu women are hot, just like all the other Korean women! Often, when you tell a Korean you live in Daegu, they’ll say something about the women being beautiful.”

“Bear in mind that it’s difficult to get big size clothes or shoes here. A few of my friends, who aren’t fat just bigger than the average Korean, struggle to find clothes and shoes to fit.”

“Language is definitely the biggest challenge. We’ve ordered what we thought was steak and gotten chicken feet, but as far as I’m concerned it’s all part of the experience and just makes it more memorable.”

“Koreans are fanatical about studying. Often they approach you and ask you to do conversation classes with them. This basically means chatting to them for an hour. You can get $30-50/hour, but it’s illegal so be very careful about it.”

“Yeah things are going great at the moment. Not sure how I feel about getting married in Korea though. If you ever get the chance to go to a Korean wedding do it! It’s insane, and you’ll know when you do exactly why I feel the way I do lol”

I look forward to meeting Where the Wild Birds Sing, hopefully he will invite me to his wedding. I also hope to get the opportunity to meet Ms. Kim … I think.

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Mount Marcy

I spent the weekend in Lake Placid with my father, David III and brother, David IV. It was an amazing time in which we connected with each other and with nature. As I am leaving on October 1 to teach English in South Korea for a year it also served as a kind of “sendoff”, yet III and IV seemed more like they were celebrating my close departure date – both were in unusually high spirits.

ALL FALLS DOWN

Our weekend trip entailed fly fishing on the famed Ausable River, busting each other’s balls, dining out, climbing Mt. Marcy, and busting each other’s balls. There was a hard rainfall the night before we arrived so the water levels were high and were not ideal fishing conditions. I did not catch a single fish nor did I even get a hit, but I did manage to accomplish something: After being challenged by IV, I successfully swung myself up a tree that was halfway cracked about 8 ft from its base and shaped like and upside down L. I proudly sat atop of this 90 degree angle. Shortly thereafter IV decided to join me, completely cracking the tree and setting up a date between my ass and the ground. III caught two trout.

MT. MARCY

The trek up Mt. Marcy was the highpoint, in every sense. According to III, the summit of Mt. Marcy stands at about 5,300 ft. I believe him, especially after journeying up to the top and then, much to the chagrin of my feet, back down.

EDIFICATION

Heading into this expedition I was suffering from an extreme case of overconfidence. How hard could this climb be? III has a lot of experience hiking and climbing the Adirondack high peaks and he instructed me on what I should wear and bring for the trip. He stressed how chilly it would be at the summit and furthered his point but showing me what he was packing. I took his words seriously. I followed up the lecture by asking if the steward at the top of the mountain would be hot babe.

IV STEALS THE SHOW

From where we parked the car the trail to the top stretches about 7 miles. We began the hike at around 7:30 am. The first two miles were a cake walk. The trail was relatively clear of rocks and roots and did not have much uphill climbing. When we arrived at the Marcy Dam I thought that this might be even easier than I had originally anticipated. We rested at the Dam for about fifteen minutes so IV could eat breakfast. Now is a good time to mention that IV was wearing Vibram Five Fingers, a type of athletic shoe that has minimal cushioning that offers the “joy” of going barefoot. He got the idea from a book called Born To Run which tells the story of a hidden Indian tribe that credit their super athletic ability on running barefoot. The state and condition of his feet were a constant conversational piece and he garnered much attention from other hikers inquiring about his reptile looking footwear. My Puma cross trainers were deemed less interesting.

Marcy Dam. Notice IV's Vibrums.

THE STRING BEANS

It was at this time that we met a friendly couple in their 60’s who I will call Mr. and Mrs. String Bean. The String Bean’s were thin and fit, each with a head of white hair, glasses and smiles that featured the gums as much as the teeth. They were the kind of couple that looked more like brother and sister than intimate partners. Mrs. String Bean took our picture. The String Bean’s had questions about the trail that III gladly answered.  Before the String Bean’s resumed their hike I said we would see them at the summit.

RACE TO THE TOP

We bid our farewell to Marcy Dam and continued along the path. The next mile was similar to the first couple, but steeper and with more rocks. We marched past the String Beans in this time, which was a real ego boost. I equate climbing a mountain to driving on a highway. I don’t get into my car with the mindset that I want to race other vehicles, but others pass me on the highway I find it hard not to press on the accelerator. Well, climbing a mountain is no different. I don’t necessarily have a need to be the fastest guy up the peak, but I’ll be damned if I let you pass without subtly putting my walking stick in front of you.

III LEARNS THE HARD WAY

I will be first to admit that III is much more adept at maneuvering through streams, rivers and trails. He is probably also in superior aerobic shape than I am, but I am not as friendly, and either is IV, and this worked to our advantage. At about the 4 mile mark III took his first of spill. After his third fall I deduced that every time he went down it was when we were passing by other hikers on the trail. Mt. Marcy is challenging, but if you are in good enough shape you can do it. As a consequence of being the most storied peak in NY, on weekends in the early fall when the leaves are beginning to turn, there is a decent amount of foot traffic on the trail. I mentioned to III that he was falling when we were passing people coming the opposite way. As it turns out, III was so eager to say hello and make small talk with fellow hikers that he would take his eye off the uneven, rocky terrain and end up losing his balance. Sometimes it’s advantageous to pay other people no mind.

SNACK BREAK

The String Beans pass us.

15 MINUTES LATER

We pass the String Beans.

VIEW OF THE SUMMIT

As the trail twisted up the mountain it became more challenging. We came to a small patch of grass that has beautiful open view of the top of the mountain. At this vantage point, hikers very close to the top appeared as mere ants climbing an ant hill. We snapped some pictures and continued on. From this point we were 0.6 miles from the peak and from here on out is when it became especially arduous, requiring us to scale big rocks.

TRIUMPHANT

At the summit.

After nearly 4 hours we made it to the very top of the highest peak in NY. The view was spectacular.  The only disappointment was that the steward was a neo hippie dude instead of a hot chic. Because of the nice sweat I worked up I arrived to the peak with a cut off Under Armour shirt. The sky was clear and the sun was at full strength, but the temperature from the high altitude and the whipping wind sent a chill deep to my bones and I immediately reached for the extra clothes I brought in my backpack. Though I listened to III, apparently I did not heed his advice close enough. Despite all the layers of clothes I was under I still needed more to be comfortable in order to nap like I had planned. I was desperate. I had a baseball cap, but I needed something to warm my ears. I reached into my backpack to see what I could work with and the only thing left was  a spare pair of boxer briefs. It was a brilliant move of improvisation- I carefully placed them on my head like a skull-cap. Soon the chilliness left me (along with my dignity). This propelled III to endure a fit of laughter like I had never seen. I don’t know if it was the altitude or if I really looked that ridiculous but after a few minutes I became genuinely concerned-he clearly was not taking in enough oxygen. Eventually his case of the giggles subsided. Subsequently, I ate a turkey sandwich then fell into a peaceful nap next to IV.

We made it back to the sign-in post around 6 pm.

Much to my surprise, and disappointment, the String Beans were ahead of us signing out when we reached the post.

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