Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Haiku for you

There has been much downtime here lately after the trip to Vietnam where I’ve sadly watched my tan fade in the Seoul winter the last couple of weeks. Having had every intention of writing about the trip I haven’t been able to concentrate being so preoccupied with trying to find a job for March and the pub marathon that was the lunar new year last week. The job search is kicking into high gear now and it’s time for me to sit down and write something and… blank. Truth is, there wasn’t much or any real adventure in Vietnam although I will have to give the truly wonderful folks at Freedomland Phu Quoc their propers, which will happen in due time. In the meantime I did some soul-searching and reached deep down inside for inspiration and I saw a bright beacon in the form of haiku. Having never experimented with this art form I decided yesterday to write a series of ten poems that turned out to be so profound and inspirational that I felt I needed to share them with the world. I hope you will enjoy them and find them as poignant and life affirming as I did…

First haiku ever
Requires creativity
Too bad I have none

My second haiku
Doesn’t get any better
The third won’t either

Three poems later
Would you call these things poems?
I’d call them salad

Speaking of salad,
Tossed salad would be good now
Minus the celery.

Bloodies are tasty
They’re a good hangover cure
I don’t eat the stalk

It is good for soup
Still talking about celery
I am not sure why.

Maybe I’m just bored
Sitting in my underpants
Writing dumb haikus.

I don’t like my job
Unemployment is much worse
Than making cash though

Words are getting deep
The Japanese should be proud
Of my latest whim.

Time to put on pants
The world awaits my presence

Authors Note: Celery is pronounced here as sell-ree (two syallables).

Friday, December 17, 2010

Oh, Santa Fe.

Another Friday in the office. The semester is winding down and I’m facing two more weeks of classes and a long break. It’s snowing outside and looking like a bitter cold winter is not only forthcoming, but already here. The sad news is that the Outkasts season is over—no football until spring. The good news is that we won the league cup to go with the cup we won in Ulsan a few weeks back. It’s been an amazing turnaround for the Outkasts in the last year, going from perpetual cellar dwellers to double champions. Tomorrow is the big end of season banquet where we start with a Brazilian buffet (meat, meat, and more meat!) and continue on the town afterwards, trophies in hand. Having gotten used to looking forward to soccer or a soccer related activity every weekend I’m now at a loss as to how I’ll pass the coming months and what I have to look forward to next.

An island might just be the ticket. Having a break in January, I’ve booked a ticket to Vietnam. With ten days to spend one might try to see as much as they could, cultural, country, city, and so forth. However, on my last vacation I learned a lesson and will stick to that blueprint this time around. As we know, I was in the Philippines without a camera, burned out on Manila, and tired from constantly being in transit. When I got to Bantayan after a week traversing Luzon it took about two days for me to decide that I wasn’t leaving and didn’t need to go anywhere else.
Having lost yet another camera was disappointing and annoying yet it turned out to be a blessing in disguise. With no camera there was no ability to take any pictures and with no ability to take pictures there was no pressure to go anywhere. In the past the urge was always to explore every day and see as much as possible. However, my mindset changed this time to: I don’t have to do anything or go anywhere. This mentality led to the most relaxing ten days of my life in the little town of Santa Fe.

Spending all ten of these days at the family owned Onde Inn I sunk into a routine of getting up early and walking down the street to have breakfast. For the bulk of the time it was shark week on the Discovery Channel, which I would watch during breakfast. Not sure if it’s the best idea watching shark week before swimming in the ocean, but it was the perfect complement to breakfast and coffee. After eating I would walk back to the guest house and relax until high tide, which would come around 9:30. Then I would walk down the beach 1-2 kilometers to Youneek Resort, where the best place to swim was. After taking a long swim I’d then walk back down the beach to Onde where I would begin my daily reading on the front porch.

For the first several days I was completely engulfed in “Armageddon” by Leon Uris. One traveler I met asked me if that was the novelization of the awful Bruce Willis movie—it’s not. “Armageddon” is a historical fictional narrative set in post-war Berlin in 1945, when the city was under four-power control (Russia, USA, England, and France). At the onset of the cold war there was a power struggle and idealistic impasse between the United States and Russia over the governance, currency, and future of Berlin, as well as the challenge of de-nazification. This conflict resulted in a Russian blockade which cut off all avenues of transit to Western Berlin, which was occupied by the U.S., Britain, and France. This created the logistical nightmare of transporting food, medicine, and supplies to the devastated city right before what would be an extremely harsh winter. The solution was Operation Airlift, which is truly one of the greatest engineering achievements in human history, not to mention one of the greatest humanitarian efforts. This is a novel that, given my German heritage, hit very close to home and is one of the most rewarding and enriching reads of my lifetime. I would recommend that not only every German-American should read this book but would argue that every American should as well. I left this book on the island in hopes that some other traveler will pick it up and be able to appreciate it as much as I did.

After reading for an hour or two it would be time for a stroll down to the market to get lunch. Usually I would eat some chicken grilled on the corner by a nice lady and her daughters. At this point I should mention that Bantayan is the egg basket of the Philippines, producing two million eggs a day. Again I found myself surrounded by cocks. One day I was adventurous enough to try Tagoangkan, a local specialty which is basically a grilled sack of eggs, or chicken ovary. It tasted like boiled eggs wrapped in a crispy chicken skin… I didn’t get this again, but it wasn’t terrible. After lunch I’d stop by the same mart and get a big bottle of Red Horse, which is a powerful San Miguel. The rest of the afternoon I’d sit on my front porch reading while sipping a big beer. Once I was too buzzed to read anymore I’d take a nap in the hammock and then head back down the beach to Youneek.

The tide would come back late afternoon to early evening and travelers and expats would gather at the Youneek bar on the beach to drink really, really, really cold San Miguels and perhaps swim. I came to enjoy the company of the expats, who were all middle aged men who married Phillipinas and decided not to leave this island. Some might cynically call them dirty old men, but I would disagree. These guys seemed to have things pretty well figured out and they lead relaxed lives. Funny how these expats have their own little odd community there. All were from different places and all had interesting stories. I spent each evening hanging out this bungalow bar swapping stories with travelers and expats.

After sunset the group would go their separate ways for dinner and then regroup at The Hard Kock (no kidding) CafĂ© for a couple more San Miguels. The owner is an expat who freely exchanges books and dvd’s with travelers. It was this place where I left “Armageddon” and in exchange picked up a James Patterson novel, which didn’t quite have the same impact on me. This was the novel that I read in the airport before I left. My follow up to Leon Uris was Cormac McCarthy’s “No Country for Old Men”, which I very much enjoyed. Two out of three is not so bad I suppose.

For ten days I did this routine, and I stayed at Onde (garden area pictured) the entire time. The family treated me very well and I’ve since become chat buddies with Jolly, the nice lady who brought me coconut oil the evening I got stung by a jellyfish. I also should acknowledge that I borrowed some of her photos. The day before I left I did the same routine with a bit of sadness knowing I had to leave the next day. Who knows, if I wouldn’t have run out of money I probably would have never left. That evening I went to bed early after bidding farewell to my expat friends. However, I was awoken that night by very loud music.

The music started late around 1am and continued through the night. I could not sleep and finally, around 3:30 walked down the street to find the source. Who the hell was blasting this obnoxious music in the middle of the night and why? Following the music, I walked through a village through some woods and came across a basketball court where enormous speakers were blaring full tilt—with no person in sight. Finally I saw a local and I asked him what was going on, to which he replied: “Festival”.

Once a year they do this festival where they play music through the night and begin to prepare their feast at dawn. The ritual involved slaughtering a pig, which I was asked to do. We gathered near a fire next to the doomed pig and I thought of the task at hand: Was he really asking me to stab a pig in the throat? Could I really do this? My initial thought was: “Of course. When will I ever get the chance to do this again?” As daylight approached the other men and boys gathered and I nervously awaited the moment when we would seize the hog. Since I had not done this before it was decided that someone with experience in killing pigs should do the honors, seeing how I didn’t even know where the animal’s throat was. Whew. They did have me help hold the animal down while a man jabbed a knife into its throat over a bucket. Now is where I need to say very clearly that these animals know what’s coming and don’t go quietly. We grabbed the rather large hog from the pen and it let out a blood-curdling scream, which it would sustain until it’s death. I held Wilbur (I named him that before we killed him) down on the table with three other men while he kicked and screamed violently. After this was finished, we slaughtered a smaller pig, just for good measure, and the sun had fully come up. The family had invited me to spend the day with them celebrating the festival and eating fresh pig meat (come on, they cooked the things!). With great regret I told them that I had to leave and couldn’t stay. As fate would have it, the most interesting experience in ten days happened two hours before I was to leave the island.

I didn’t want to leave the island that day and considered going back this winter. However, there are other islands to explore and I’m greatly anticipating relaxation and unforeseen adventures when I get to Phu Quoc, Vietnam in January.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Slow Recovery from Near Braindeath

By now you must be thinking “Is this guy ever going to finish the Philippines blog? That was months ago, What the hell?”. To that I say: Fair enough. Perhaps it is a lack of pictures that has kept me from moving on. Perhaps it was our tough stretch of games where we won, drew, and lost and found ourselves in a tie for first place (We are currently back in sole possession with two games to go). The real factor, however, has been the fact that my brain has completely melted due to grading essays and teaching classes. Going through stacks of papers written by high school Korean students has ummmmm….. I’m draw blank.

Finally, I finished and my brain is slowly recovering. Now I am ensconced (Hey! It’s coming back!) in my office chair staring at a computer pretending to work. It’s Friday and the semester is winding down. Since I found out that I would not be coming back to this school next year (a contractual impasse) the motivation to give assignments and grade papers has dwindled to somewhere between none whatsoever and zero. Lame duck status is a total motivation sucker, yet there is a certain load off my shoulders. With only five weeks of classes left there is no way another pile of essays is going to make their way to my desk and I can now shift my focus on more important things, like my last vacation and the next one.

Oh yes, the next one. After the end of the semester we have a break (actually, I won’t have any classes until the end of my contract) and I was tempted to go back to Bantayan, which was pretty much the most chilled place I’ve ever been. However, I have a list of places that I’ve wanted to visit and can’t in good conscience re-visit countries I’ve been to until I’ve seen all of the places on said list. Whew, that was a mouthful… just imagine grading or editing a version of that sentence written by a 16 year old Korean and you could see why I’m struggling to put words together.

‘The Tell Tale heart’ shows us what’s the care hypersensitivity. That spreads out at the Bronze Age. At that time, class society was started at first. Peoples have felt stress by a king. At Middle Age, peoples felt stress in other way. From that time money had the position that is king of the world. Peoples want a lot of money and rich. In the way, peoples felt stress that was occurred for their fault. This phenomenon had been going on 1941.

Take that, add four or five other paragraphs like it, and multiply by 150. Personally, I’m pleased that I had the self-control to not write “WHAT THE F**K ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT?” in the margin. On a side note, this particular anonymous student used the term “hypersensitivity” 12 times in five paragraphs and never once explained what it means or how it pertains to the story. Okay, I’ve got that off my chest and can now clear my head and move on. But where to go from here?

Islands. I need to get off of this metaphoric island that is my job and onto a real tropical one. Truthfully, if I had money I never would have left the last island. In Santa Fe, Bantayan life slowed down to less than a crawl. My days consisted of walking on the beach, swimming, reading, reading, reading, drinking cold San Miguels, and hanging out with the locals and expats. As much as I want to go back to this place I realize I can walk on the beach, swim, read, and drink somewhere else. So now I am reading up on another quiet island called Phu Quoc which will allow me to cross the final “must visit” destination off my list: Vietnam.

I hope that none of this island talk has led anyone to believe I was going to actually wrap up the Philippines. It’s not happening this day because I want to do Santa Fe justice. I have to do the Onde Inn justice. I must do Leon Uris justice. And most importantly, I have to honor the memory of two hogs. I just can’t pay proper tribute until I’m fully recovered from the trauma of reading those essays, which might require a quiet evening and a bottle of wine. In fairness I should say that not all of them were that confusing… some of them actually made sense. A few of them were very interesting. However, the majority of them fried my head to an extent where I’m nearly forget English-ee. Now that I’m done with them forever I can finally get back to the island… just not today.

Friday, October 15, 2010

An Island and a Huge Spider.

Another Friday afternoon after another week flew by and I’m sitting in the office pretending to work while fantasizing about scoring four goals tomorrow in our showdown with INTS. Outkasts have won four straight games and are in sole possession of first place with the aforementioned INTS just behind us. We will take the same field tomorrow that we played on two weeks ago when we thrashed an overwhelmed and outmanned BUTA team 11-3. Somebody, whom I won’t mention, scored his first hat trick with the Outkasts in that game. Like I said, I am not mentioning names, but I’ll give a hint: He is writing this blog while fantasizing about scoring four goals tomorrow. Anyway, enough about soccer… Let’s get back to that vacation I took eight months ago in the Philippines.

Where am I now? Oh yeah, still in the first week, Wednesday. I was in the Philippines for 18 days and I’m just now getting to Wednesday. Still there has been no mention of the quiet little island town of Santa Fe where I left my heart, so today the topic will be the transition from cock jokes with a bunch of dicks (kidding, week one couldn’t have been spent in better company) to my time alone on the island. This particular Wednesday we left Sagada in route back to Manila to get Leo back to the airport on Thursday. We had all come to the Philippines during the raining season taking our chances that the weather would be nice the majority of the time, which it was. This day, however, was in the extreme minority. It absolutely poured rain all day as we drove through the mountains, which was frankly really scary. Thanks again to Joe for being a great driver and to the good people at Toyota for making the Camry.

After a long day on the road we crashed at The Robelle House again, who should pay me royalties for mentioning them. If you are ever in Manila, stay there. If you are ever in Baguio, go to the Red Lion. Ever in Sagada? Go to the Kimchi House. Ever on the island of Mindoro?? Stay with grandma. I got ahead of myself with the last one but I’m expecting checks from the first three. I will give all of my propers to the Onde Guesthouse when I get to Santa Fe as well. Anyway… what was I talking about? Oh yeah, we were back in Manila. Seeing how Zach had three more days in the country and how two of his days were essentially spent in transit we decided to shift gears and go somewhere tropical and island like. Therefore we decided on a tropical island, a logical choice, near Manila—an island by the name of Mindoro.

Before we left for Mindoro I had bought a round trip plane ticket to Cebu for that Sunday, when Zach and Joe would leave and I would be on my own. While it was fun having travelling partners I was also looking forward to fulfilling my own agenda but greatly enjoyed Mindoro for the time being. We stayed in a little resort town on the beach called Puerto Galera where we did tropical island stuff for 2 ½ days while I got zero photos. Since there are no photos, other than this one of the three of us standing in front of a giant painting of a tropical beach sunset, my words will have to suffice.

If you are still reading at this point then I just have say thank you and must wonder what you’re thinking. Now for a few comments on Mindoro, where there are no real stories other than getting massages on the beach, snorkeling, swimming, drinking San Miguels, swimming, fire dancers, mango smoothies, San Miguels, more swimming, tranny bars full of trannies (I still can’t figure out what the hell was up with that), sunshine, white sand, palm trees, annoying peddlers, grandma, and a spider the size of my fist in my room. There were also a few San Miguels in the mix. Most of these items speak for themselves but I feel I should explain grandma and the spider. I’ll let the tranny bar rest. The guest house where I stayed, the name of which escapes me, was run by a very nice lady I referred to as “grandma” who is a—get this—grandmother. She had been all over the world and we talked at length about Japan, seeing how we had both climbed Mt Fuji. The first evening I stayed there, when I walked into my room to change from my swimming gear into my evening gown there was a spider the size of a tarantula in the corner. I went immediately to grandma and told her there was an enormous spider and asked if she had a jar or glass. I think she had misunderstood my intention of catching this thing and sent her little girl with a broom to take care of it. I’m fairly certain they are still mocking me for being afraid of this thing… however, I just wanted to catch it to show Joe and Zach. Also, I didn’t like the idea of sleeping in a room with a gigantic spider that might crawl all over my face or into my mouth while I was asleep. Well, for all I know, it did. It was nowhere to be seen when the little girl with the broom came to the room to kill the spider I was presumably afraid of. Anyhoo, it wasn’t very easy sleeping in that room that night, but I did.

While I really enjoyed this island and its natural beauties I was ready to move on after a couple of days. It gets a little old having people wave things for you to buy in your face over and over. I probably said “No, thank you” four hundred times on this island. I wasn’t in the market for pearls (everybody was selling them), bracelets, necklaces, blowguns, or really any kind of souvenir. However, they never stopped trying. This is something that I’ve dealt with in varying degrees in Southeast Asia. As far as persistence and annoyance goes I would rate Mindoro better than Cambodia but worse than Indonesia and Thailand.I knew at this point that I wanted to go someplace where I could relax and not be hassled, and I can’t overstate just how massively I hit the motherload at my next destination in that department. We left Mindoro on Saturday and went to The Robelle House yet again. Not wanting to deal with the hassle of people in Manila trying to rob me, scam me, or sell me Viagra I didn’t leave the hotel that evening. Seeing how I had nearly two full weeks left, I didn’t feel any sense of urgency to do something. Zach and Joe would leave the next day and I would move on to stage two of my extended vacation.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Juveniles in Sagada

After starting the season off with a tough luck loss the OutKasts have started to find their groove after winning 3-0 Saturday in a game that was not nearly as close as the score line would indicate. In addition, fifteen of us would engage in a game of "pub golf" that evening where we went to nine different pubs and narrowly avoided being arrested and deported. This weekend's game is against the Kurkadurkastanis of KG Top, and we are looking for our third straight win. Enough about OutKasts though, it's time to magically transport back to the Philippines, where our heroes [sic] have just left Baguio en route to Sagada.

The drive to Sagada would take about six hours of winding up and down perilous mountain roads, some of which would seemed undrivable, if not for the skill and experience of Joe and the tenacity and durability of the Toyota Camry. Having spent so much time driving under similar conditions in Brazil Joe knew exactly how to attack these roads which would be challenging to an SUV, let alone a sedan. The car bottomed out too many times to count, each time inducing cringes from the passengers and a genuine fear (at least for me) that the car wouldn't make it. I had pictured a Blues Brothers scenario where we would arrive in Sagada and the car would completely fall apart as soon as we got out of it. Amazingly, it held together for the entire week.

What does a group of four guys do for six hours in a car? When we ran out of things to talk about after the first twenty minutes it turned into a series of twenty questions games. While that might seem to be enough to drive anyone insane, the incredibly scenery of mountains, jungle, waterfalls, and valleys made the trip not just bearable but quite enjoyable. We made a few stops along the way to different scenic spots, of which I got no pictures of course. Joe was kind enough to send me some, including this pic of Leo and I in a rice terrace. We look like a couple of guys that have been in a car for four hours playing twenty questions with a bunch of dudes. Seriously though, we were all getting along beautifully.

After taking a break at the rice terrace we continued forth toward Sagada and a little event took place that would set a theme for the next couple days. In the Philippines there are chickens all over the place, particularly in Sagada. The male chickens wander around the streets and are everywhere. As we were driving away from the rice terrace on a rocky and somewhat treacherous road we saw one of these chickens and one of us (gee, guess which one?) dryly commented: "Nice cock!", which drew the kind of laughter a fourteen year old watching Beavis and Butthead would appreciate. Heading to a small farming community where we would be surrounded by male chickens and would constantly hear them crowing... well, you can probably see where this is going.
We would arrive in Sagada just before dark and got cheap rooms at the Alfredo Inn, which was clean and charming despite the unsophisticated plumbing. The above picture was taken at night in the pitch dark with no flash necessary due to a certain someone's belly being whiter than snow and brighter than the sun. (Bottom to top: My white self, Joseph, Leo, Zach). Actually this was taken the next day but it's the only picture I have of the four of us. We had chosen Sagada because of it's ample hiking opportunities and its hanging coffins, caves, rivers, waterfalls, etc. Also the small community has a well-earned reputation for being laid back and low key with many coffee shops that make it comparable to say... Amsterdam (hint, hint, that's all I'll say). Our hangout of choice was the Kimchi Grill, which seemed the logical choice given the irony that Zach and I were trying to get away from Korea. The nice folks at the Kimchi arranged a guided hike for the four of us the following afternoon, which is when the picture was really taken.
The next morning we were up and out bright and early to check out the nearby cave and hanging coffins and begin the onslaught of entendres that inevitably happen when four fourteen year old male brains are "surrounded by cocks." I should say at this point that despite going during the raining season the weather couldn't have been more ideal for our hike.
After our morning hike we had lunch and then went to the Kimchi to meet our guide. The guide took us through the mountains to many scenic and awe-inspiring views that made my beat myself up for continually for having lost my camera. I appreciate that Joe was nice enough to send some of his pictures. Our very pleasant hike led us to this waterfall where we could climb to the top and jump into a deep and very cold pool, which felt amazing after the hike. This is the scene of the group picture and also of this action shot of me jumping off the top. After hanging out for a bit we headed back towards town as there were a slew of "big cock, white cock, fat cock, black cock, small cock, skinny cock, proud cock... any other variety you can imagine" observations about the ubiquitous chickens. It just never got old. The funny thing is that this is not lost at all on the locals. I actually heard them making the same kind of jokes as if they never get sick of it either. Juvenile, a little dirty, yet simple and very funny--we found this a constant source of amusement.

After our hike we had dinner and had planned to take an early evening hike, but the monsoon season showed it's true colors. That evening, through the pouring rain, we would hang out at the warm, dry, and cozy Kimchi House having San Miguels and the local coffee with our fine local friends. It was Tueday night and Leo had to leave on Thursday, so the next morning we would make the long drive back to Manila to get him to the airport and head to an island. Before we left I had wanted to get a picture of one of these fine local creatures but also knew that they belonged to people and it's always a good idea to ask people in foreign countries if you can take a picture of them or their possessions. For some reason the guy at the Inn declined when we politely asked: "Sir, may we take a picture of your cock?". Geez, that guy was pretty sensitive about his chicken!

Friday, September 17, 2010

Road Trip in Luzon

Friday night is here after a third consecutive week of the nose being planted firmly to the grindstone. Since returning from the island I’ve been fully entrenched in classes, preparation for classes, creating lesson plans, making quizzes, grading quizzes, and, oh yeah, soccer every weekend all weekend. OutKasts have begun their fall campaign and fell just short in their first match last weekend 2-1. The game took place in a muddy lake on a dirt pitch in the rain with our only healthy and in-country players totaling eleven—and fighting valiantly 90 minutes against a strong Moroccan side. Life in Seoul is good despite my workload getting much, much, much heavier. The days of blogging during office hours may be over; I must now do it in my—GASP—free time. Despite the constant barrage of rain (the monsoon season is working overtime this year), the huge increase in workload, and the games on Saturdays and Sundays (I joined a Sunday league team because I figured I should play as much as I can while I still can because that’s what I LOVE to do) I am fully relaxed, rejuvenated, and committed to sucking every bit of marrow out of my charmed life in Korea. Had it not been for my wonderful and relaxing 18 day stint in the Philippines, my attitude might be quite different.

There’s so much to cover and I’ve already divulged a teaser for the end of the trip in my last entry, so I presume the best place to begin is from the, ummmm, beginning. Friday, July 23rd I flew into Manila and got there late. Ugh, Manila. I think I made my point in my last entry so I will skip the city (and I didn’t do much there) but need to include a few details before I get to the meat of the first week. One, my camera was stolen. For those keeping count it was my third point and shoot that I’ve lost. I like to think it was a world class pickpocket for which Manila is renowned but it may have just have been your dumbf**k narrator foolishly losing yet another camera two days into an eighteen day trip. I would spend the first week beating myself up over this while my travel partners facetiously kept reminding me of it. Two, on my first night I spent time in a pub by the name of The Red Lion Inn and spoke at length with the owner, Lyle, an American expat who gave me many useful tips on traveling around the Philippines. Lyle owns two Red Lions, one in Manila and the other in Baguio. Third and last point on Manila: I saw the most AMAZING cover band! A five piece Filipino power ballad band started off with Air Supply and then continued with an array of Journey, Boston, 38 Special, REO Speedwagon, and every other cheesy eighties band you could name. They were so good at what they did that I honestly believe that if the actual Journey had performed “Don’t Stop Believing” that night they wouldn’t have sounded any better.

Having mentioned the “travel partners”, I went to the Robelle House (a decent hotel in Manila) to meet them Sunday morning. Digressing a bit, I have to explain my motivation for choosing the Philippines for my vacation over Vietnam or another destination. The timing had worked out where I had vacation at the same time as my long time friend and former long time neighbor Zach. Zach and I met in 2006 when he moved in next door to me and we were immediate friends and later (not much) discovered to be doppelgangers. Last year we were in Austin and went to South by Southwest together. The timing provided an occasion where we would hang out in our third country together. Twice in the last three years Zach has spent working holidays in Brazil with his best friend from Austin, Joseph Carter, who would be meeting him in the Philippines with his younger brother Leo. Joe is a documentary filmmaker who was born in Italy and later moved to an even better place: Austin. Joe speaks Portuguese, Italian, Spanish, and (of course) English and has been living in Brazil for the last four years or so. Leo, right after graduating from university, spent a year in China teaching and his older brother decided to meet him and Zach at the end of his contract for what would be his first trip to Asia. I tagged along and never lost sight of how interesting and fun my company was.

We rented a car and the plan was to get the hell out of Manila and drive north through Luzon (the name of the big island where Manila is located) to Sagada. After meeting at the Robelle around noon we began our drive to Sagada, which was a good 8 hours away with the ideal conditions. We were on the islands during the raining season, and at no other time was it more apparent than when we drove out of Manila. Manila—not the best laid out, structured, or efficiently planned of cities has NIGHTMARE traffic, and the heavy, heavy, beating rain only made getting out of the city that more tedious and difficult. “Yeah, road trip! Road trip! This is going to be a great week! Wow! Look at all the sights—we’re in a totally different country; can you believe this?... Wait a second, we’re totally stuck and not going anywhere.”

Eventually we did get out of Manila, and later in the afternoon the rain subsided. Of all the days I was in the country (comprised of many different islands) this was one of the three rainiest. Eventually we got on the highway (if that’s what you’d call it) and headed north. It was pushing three by the time we got out of Manila and it wasn’t looking like Sagada was happening that night, so we decided, upon the recommendation from Lyle, to make it as far as Baguio and stay at the Red Lion. Having taken the recommendation from Lyle I was amazed at how friendly and welcoming his co-owner Tony was. He had been told that I might stay there and to my surprise was expecting me and the boys. Being treated like royalty there we consumed many San Miguels at this fine establishment and chatted with Tony late into the night. The next morning we profusely thanked him for his hospitality and set out toward Sagada.

I have to say that it has been a couple of weeks since I wrote this and I have been waiting for pictures but have nothing to use on this particular entry. The next one will have some great pics sent to me from Joe and I will go into more detail on Sagada. Thankfully I have this entire upcoming week off where I can escape editing papers, speeches, letters, placards, and everything else that has been landing on my desk (There is now a shortage of red ink in Seoul.) and frying my brain and finally dig into my trip. Perhaps it’s ironic that I’m spending my week off blogging about my last vacation but I’m happy to get into it. On a final note until next week… It’s Friday night and OutKasts have a game tomorrow. Our last game, the follow up to Morocco, was an historic come from behind victory where we beat a very good Itaewon FC team when we scored twice in the last twenty minutes to win 2-1. It was proclaimed the greatest victory in the history of the OutKasts and there was much, much rejoicing. In my next opener, expect good news from the game tomorrow and look forward to a few pictures to accompany what should be an interesting story with some good old fashioned dirty jokes

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Deeper Shade of Seoul

After slaughtering a couple of pigs I went back to the guest house, took a long shower, and packed my few belongings. It was the day that I had been sweating for the last week—the day I had to leave the island of Bantayan. Over three weeks my pisos had dwindled down to just enough to cover travel expenses, airport terminal fees, and a meal. Just before 8am I took a tricycle (usually a motorcycle, in this case a bicycle, with a sidecar) to the ferry terminal. Then I took a two plus hour ferry ride to Hagnaya where I caught a 50 piso (about a dollar) bus back to Cebu City. Over four hours later and after reading the rest of No Country for Old Men I arrived in Cebu City and took a cab to the airport. On the way to the airport the taxi driver took me through a McDonald’s drive-thru, where I devoured a Quarter-pounder combo. Compared to what I’d been eating, this was one of the best meals I’d had in a week.

Not wanting to risk getting stuck in the country I went to the airport with 4 hours to kill. One of the expats on the island gave me a copy of James Patterson’s London Bridges and I burned through that while waiting to check in. At 9:30 I boarded to fly to Manila, where I would be flying out from the following morning at 6:20. The plane had a mechanical difficulty and was delayed nearly an hour and I arrived at Manila after midnight. I had landed at the domestic terminal and needed to get to the international and had to wait over an hour for the courtesy shuttle. It was past two when I arrived at the international terminal and was relieved when I checked in nearly two hours later. I had made it from the island and was cleared, through, and on my way back to Korea with ten pisos to spare! Flying the very comfortable and amenable Cathay Pacific, there was a stopover in Hong Kong, a quick plane switch and the home stretch back to Korea. When the plane landed I finally arrived at the round-about point of this post—I was SO happy to be back in Seoul!!

Thirty hours after leaving the island I got off the plane and was welcomed to one of the best international (maybe THE best) airports in the world—Seoul Incheon. It took less than half an hour to clear immigration, customs, and pick up my bag and I was back to civilization. I bought a bottle of water for 500 won—the same amount that I would pay in Suwon, at the subway station, at a baseball game, or anywhere. It wasn’t jacked up because it was sold in an airport. When I walked outside I didn’t have 50 people come up to me and say: “Sir, taxi?”, “Taxi, my friend?”, “Sir, Where are you going?” and what not. There were rows of air-conditioned buses that would take me anywhere in the city and I took one to my neighborhood. The bus was clean and comfortable, the driver friendly, and the roads were wide open, well-paved, and orderly. A little time in the crazy, chaotic and filthy city called Manila gave me a new found appreciation of just how together Seoul really is.

While I may get aggravated at the day to day annoyances of Korean society I can’t deny their work ethic and the amazing infrastructure they’ve built up in a short time. Seoul is a modern city, with a sophisticated and efficient mass transit that would rival any city. Its wide-spread system of buses, trains, and taxis is convenient (unlike most cities), safe (unlike many cities), and cheap (unlike Tokyo). Coming from Manila it is refreshing in that Korea has uniform standards for everything. Every taxi you take here is going to cost you the same and the drivers are not in the practice of trying to pull a fast one when someone new to the city gets in their cab. Food prices are pretty much the same everywhere and prices are clearly posted. I have never been ripped off in Korea (not by a stranger, at least) and have never at any point felt that someone was trying to take me for all they could because I’m a foreigner (cough, Manila). As far as security goes, Seoul is one of the safest, most convenient cities in the world. Coming from a place where I felt I had to constantly guard my wallet it was most refreshing coming back to a place where I could relax and let my guard down with absolutely no worries whatsoever of being robbed or scammed. Here I can walk down the street without a stranger pushing a box of Viagra in my face, asking me if I want to buy some (that happened in Manila in the middle of the day—no thanks, stranger… no Viagra for me today).

For nearly four years I’ve lived in Korea and there have been many different cities I’ve been to. Never, at any time day or night, in any place, in any city was there a time where I felt unsafe or hassled to buy something I didn’t want. Korea is barely on the radar as far as tourism goes, and the economy does not rely on it whatsoever. By contrast, the economies of Cambodia, Thailand, and Philippines are heavily reliant on tourism and it can be a hassle being in the touristy areas of these countries to varying degrees (Indonesia was no exception either). When I traveled to these countries I felt (in certain areas) that I was constantly a target. People assume that just because I’m white and American that I’m rich, which is far, far, far from the truth. Korea has an economic stability that is the envy of many or most southeast Asian countries and no one here seems too impressed with my financial status. I heard many times in Philippines how they wanted to go to Korea because that’s where the money is. I had heard that in other countries as well.

One thing that I think a person should accomplish on vacation is the ability to see their own position from a different perspective and either appreciate their situation or change it. Being so happy to get back to a civilized, safe, and lucrative country I certainly gained an appreciation for my situation and am happy to be back. The batteries are fully recharged and I’m excited to embrace my life in Seoul and a new semester teaching. In a closing remark, I don’t want to give the impression that the Philippines was a negative experience—far, far, far from it! Manila was, but that was a tiny part of an otherwise great trip which I will give details of in a short time. In the meantime, it’s great to be back!!

And don’t worry, I’ll explain the first sentence of this post in due time. Stay tuned.