Archive for the Outdoors Category

Year Three

Posted in Culture, Expat life, Korea, Outdoors, Personal, Travel, USA on March 12, 2010 by Elephant Talk

I watched an excellent TED lecture on experience and memory an hour or so ago. He said that a perceptible “moment” lasts about three seconds. We have around 600,000,000 of these in an average lifetime. These are the incidents in our lives when we are not in the past or in the future but rather experience the now of being alive. Then they’re gone. But as much as we might state otherwise, they are not what we treasure as human beings. What we treasure and preserve are the memories of those moments. We store them up in order to reflect on them later. We endeavor toward collecting interesting ones in the future so that we may later enjoy these reflections on the past. The point is not to experience, but to utilize experience toward memory. Because memory is the story of our lives.

The timing of this TED viewing is appropriate to me personally because of the date today. It’s March 12, my birthday. But more significant to this thought process, it marks the third anniversary of my move to Korea. This is my third year of writing about this date. I did it last year and the year before. I just finished reading those entries and I remember that person very clearly. I can recall the moments that led me to write what I did.

So what about Year 3? In one way, it’s an extension of the feelings and impressions of Year 2. The “reality bubble” is still a weird thing. But this year is different in that it seemed to go by in a flash, much faster than the previous two. Maybe it’s age or maybe it’s my changing perception of the (memory of) the experience. This year (March to March) I made a stronger effort toward improving my Korean language ability (still frustratingly inept at it), continued to take fantastic weekend trips to the Korean countryside, and continued to play music. I spent what seems like an enormous amount of time applying to graduate schools. I traveled to the States in the summer, Japan in the fall, and Thailand and Cambodia in the winter. I completed an academic paper that had been nagging at me for a while, and started another one.

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Naeyeonsan and Bogyeongsa

Posted in Culture, Expat life, Images, Korea, Outdoors, Personal, Travel on April 8, 2009 by Elephant Talk

dsc010071The cherry blossoms are in full bloom, and the unusually long winter has finally run its course. Time for a trip to the mountains to take in fresh air, green hills, a temple, and some village life. I know that when I leave Korea, these trips to the countryside with friends will be my best memories of life here. So I try to escape the concrete and crowds of humanity as much as possible.

This journey took us to Naeyeonsan mountain and Bogyeongsa temple. It’s an area about a half hour drive north of the east coast city of Pohang, itself about a half hour north of the popular tourist destination, Gyeongju. Seven of us left Friday evening around 8:30 and arrived in Pohang, where we meandered in search of a place to stay. We found a hotel and crashed out early.

It’s difficult to get seven people motivated in the morning, so we got a late start. It took a bus ride and a couple of ripoff taxi drivers, but we eventually arrived at the mountain village around noon. We quickly found what must be the coolest minbak in South Korea, with tons of character, huge open windows letting in light, a balcony overlooking the main drag, and a piano in one of the rooms. We unloaded our things and went downstairs to gorge on homemade kalguksu.

After lunch, we headed down the cherry-blossom-lined road and entered Bogyeongsa temple. It was a fairly humble complex, set in open land, with no real discernable identity to it. This was probably the shortest temple visit I’ve done. But the day was beginning to grow old and we had other, more important destinations in mind — namely, the series of waterfalls along the trail up Naeyeonsan.

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Posted in Culture, Expat life, Images, Korea, Music, Outdoors, Personal, Travel on February 27, 2009 by Elephant Talk

It’s always fun to imagine a place you’ve never been, and then go there and see how the two experiences mesh. You read, look at pictures, talk to people. But all of that it someone else’s mind, someone else’s experience.

My prior image of Singapore was that it’s structured, clean, orderly, paranoid, anal, diverse, expensive, and has a lot of great food. It was all of that but not in the way I imagined. And it was definitely not, as I’ve read on more than one occasion, boring. At least my experience wasn’t. But it probably had a lot to do with who I was with. Traveling’s different when you’ve got a native who meets you at your destination. We weren’t so much traveling through as we were being there, and being there in style.

Still, setting aside the knightly treatment, I loved the place. Maybe it’s that I’m older, or maybe it’s that Busan, aside from the well-known touristy areas, lacks a certain aesthetic sensibility. First of all, Singapore is an extremely “green” city. There are signs everywhere almost bragging about its environmental awareness. As busy as it is, the place has done an outstanding job preserving its natural base and making it work with the highly urban superstructure that keeps the whole thing clicking.

It’s a very multicultural place. Coming from Busan, it was wild to see so many sizes, shapes, colors, ethnicities, fashions, and attitudes walking around. The neighborhoods and nightlife are diverse and interesting. One day we did a forest walk along an elevated platform and wound up at a hawker stand, where people sold Indian, Malay, Chinese, Thai, and a bunch of other kinds of food. It was cheap and delicious. Little India was another great place with kickass food, and interesting shops. Then there was the riverside area, where you can walk along the river at night and go past bars and restaurants that open wide to the passing pedestrian traffic. Finally, there was the shopping. I generally hate shopping, especially in Busan where the fashions are either hipster youth or staid golf-playing father of two. But Singapore had so many different kinds of shops, the options were endless.

The best moments are always the unexpected ones, and for me and my troupe, the peak of our Singapore experience came on our final night. We were told of an open mic at the Blue Jazz club, so we made our way down in the hopes of playing. What we found was a tribute to a drummer in the scene who had died a year before on that date. The place was packed with musicians. We didn’t know what to expect, but wow, the calibur of talent was just phenomenal. Throughout the night the stage of this rather humble club cycled through exceptional musician after exceptional musician. I felt like I should have been paying $40 to watch and listen to talent like this. My head was swimming.

Now, I don’t know anything about the Singapore music scene. “Scenes” are kind of nebulous things anyway. Anyone who says the San Francisco scene is this and the Chicago scene is that is speaking from a highly subjective perspective. The value changes depending who’s talking. My scene now is the Busan music scene, which more specifically means the Busan foreigner music scene. At the risk of pissing off any of my friends, the quality of music (from my subjective perspective) is, to use a popular Korean phrase, “so-so.” It really doesn’t matter though, because no one (except one that I know) is trying to make a living out of it. The point is to drink a few beers, gather a crowd, and have a few hours of stupid fun. And in that regard it works. There’s no money involved so there’s no pressure to play particular songs or make the club happy. You can do whatever the fuck you want. I’ve managed to find people I enjoy playing with and play some pretty out-there tunes so I have a good time.

But when I experience something like I did that night at the Blue Jazz, it makes me wonder what it would be like to be a part of something like that. It wasn’t just that they were really, really good. It was that they were all so clearly, visibly enjoying themselves, and seemed to be completely respectful of one another. And there was real diversity: jazz, Brazilian, Afro-Cuban, singer-songwriter. I think the diversity of the city was coming through in its musicians. And this might be the other key point. These weren’t foreigners. These were Singaporeans. It felt like the music of a place that has multiculturalism built into its soul. Unlike Busan, there was no attitude, no competitiveness. There was no need. When you’re that good you’re not so sensitive to shit like that.

We did get the chance to play and did three songs. We were the odd set of the night. No one knew us, and we felt a bit like party crashers. But we were also humbled to be a part of it and tried as best we could to live up to the spirit of what was going on that night. After our set, people came up and introduced themselves. We met some of these outstanding players and singers and had a few nice conversations. We were the outsiders and people were being gracious to us, something that I haven’t experienced in quite a while. It was such a great feeling.

Driving back to the house that night, no one said much. But I think we all had the same thought: Yeah, I could live here.


Posted in Culture, Expat life, Outdoors, Personal, Travel, USA on February 1, 2009 by Elephant Talk

Food is emerging as the theme of the trip so far. The first meal I had in Hong Kong was a three-dollar bowl of wonton noodle soup that tasted like San Francisco. It was a fairly regular lunch when I lived there. The next day I had my first real pub-style burger in half a year. The next day was an elaborate beef tenderloin cooked to perfection.

Here in Singapore it’s not so much about eating out as eating in. Our hostess is cooking up a storm of comfort food for us – tuna casserole, mac & cheese, and breakfasts of eggs, sausage, real bacon, potatoes and rice.

Today we went on an urban hike along an elevated forest path that looked like something out of Myst. At the end of the trail was a hawker stand representing what seemed to be all of Asia, including its various religions, sitting together side-by-side in one place. I got an Indian curry with rice and mutton that was dee-lish, with a little pulled tea to top it off.

And just now, the three of us went on a $550-sing shopping spree at the local grocery store — our contribution and thankyou for the hospitality. Like everything in Singapore the place was sparkling clean, with perfectly presented produce, meats, and packaged foods. It was like one of those over-priced earthy-hippie stores you’ll find in the liberal enclaves around California. We marveled at all the things we’ve been missing – jars of artichoke hearts and sun-dried tomatoes, refried beans, cheeses, and beers of every kind. Strangely enough, a head of cabbage cost $6. In Korea, you’d probably pay a quarter.

It’s looking like we’re gonna hunker down here for about a week. Our Malaysian invasion will have to be delayed. We’re enjoying ourselves far too much to leave now.

Jirisan, and a new camera

Posted in Culture, Expat life, Images, Korea, Music, Outdoors, Personal, Sound, Technology, Travel on October 28, 2008 by Elephant Talk

What better place to test out a new camera than Jirisan in the fall.

Yep, I finally did it. I plunked down 1.5 million won and bought my first HD videocamera, a Sony SR11. For the first week or so I was afraid to take it out of the house. But I gave it its first full test this weekend in Jirisan, a beautiful expanse of temples, mountains, and village culture.

This wasn’t my first trip there. I went during Chuseok last year and visited Ssanggyesa temple. This time we went to Hwaeomsa, intending to take a nice hike. But as we entered the temple, I noticed a banner that read “Spiritual Music Ritual 2008.” The date was Oct. 25. Hey, that’s today, cool. We made our way into the temple and found people handing out programs and leading us into the concert area. The show was almost ready to begin.

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Andong visit

Posted in Culture, Expat life, Images, Korea, Outdoors, Travel on October 13, 2008 by Elephant Talk

I went with a couple of friends on a day trip to Andong on Friday. The area is famous for its masks and folk traditions, but it also has an interesting scholarly tradition.

We went to one of these traditional study academies first, called Byeongsan Seowon. It was a very peaceful setting along the Nakdong river. Almost no one was there except for a group of Buddhists off in the distance who set off some lanterns into the sky.

After a lunch of the local cuisine, Andong Jjimdak, we went to a traditional folk village. The village was surrounded by rice fields that, at this time of the year, are a deep yellow-green color. The nice thing about the village itself is that it’s still going. Unlike, say, the replica folk village in Seoul, this one still has inhabitants who mill about tending their gardens and doing whatever it is they do.

Here are a few pictures:


Posted in Culture, Expat life, Images, Korea, Outdoors, Personal, Travel on September 23, 2008 by Elephant Talk

The best way to spend a day in Korea is to go on a nice long hike in the mountains (maybe catch a temple along the way), stumble down into a tiny village, eat the local cuisine, have a few drinks, and sing or play a few songs.

I’ve done this many times and in many different ways. Sometimes its a long bus trip with an overnight (or two night) stay in a minbak, other times it’s a day trip. Sometimes it’s dong-dong-ju, other times soju. Sometimes it’s sunny, sometimes it rains. Sometimes we play guitars, other times we sing Judas Priest songs. But it’s always a good time.

This time out we went to Geumjeongsan for the day. It’s the most popular hiking destination around Busan. The highlight is a long fortress wall that traces much of the ridge-line. It had rained the night before so even though it was hot on the ascent up from Beomosa, there was a cool breeze coming off the hills. Rain clouds still hung in the air and it created a spooky mist that touched the higher peaks.

The village was Sanseongmaeul. The local cuisine was duck and black goat. The drink was dong-dong-ju. The entertainment was lots and lots of norae.

Click ahead for some pictures…

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