Sunday, October 29, 2006

Todd Skinner - A tribute and reminder

A 47-year-old former rodeo cowboy and world-renowned rock climber, fell more than 500 feet to his death last Monday after the nylon loop used to attach the climbing rope to his harness broke. The accident has sent shock waves through the climbing community, where Skinner's outgoing nature was almost as legendary as his courage and skill on some of the world's most dangerous rock faces. He is credited with more than 300 first ascents in 26 countries.
Live and love life. Climb safe.

"The magic of climbing is to be at the edge of all you have ever known, at the failing point of strength, vision, and courage, and yet still be drawn another step toward the summit. A long stretch of granite on a nameless tower in a remote range might be the test that asks more of you than you thought you had to give - drawing you further from what you were and closer to what you can become. Each mountain makes us better climbers for the mountains in our future." -TS

Out and about in Nowon-gu

This is the lane-way outside of my apartment building. A nice reminder of green (soon to be stunning autumn reds) amidst the concrete jungle. Nowon-gu is the municipal district of Seoul to which my school and apartment belong.

Good people and Good times
Another Halloween for the books! By the time we had visited Anna's costume party in Itaewon, checked out a pub, nightclub, and finally Noraebang-Karaoke, it was 6am. Of course that includes the 45 minute cab ride I slept through completely. A packed full night involving a hung horse, a backwards cowgirl, bleeding pellet gun chest wounds, overly-anxious witches, Soju mixed with koolaid and a beautifully rendered piano man.

Mike and Kristina, both colleague teachers of mine at Poly, sporting Jolla-person (stickpeople) costumes. We estimate, based on the jealous stares we attracted on the subway, that every korean in Seoul will be wearing these outfits by Friday! Kris has recently acted in her first movie appearance, a documentary event similar to Fubar, sure to make waves at international film festivals once it's released. Watch for her at the Oscars!

A fairly accurate depiction of Anna's place, as I recall.

These drinks pack a punch, literally, as well as between the temples the morning after!

Eight dollar pizza the next day with Trevor and Rachel has never tasted so good! What is it about greasy food that eases the soul so nicely after a big night out?! These two have been wonderful, helpful guides to the culinary delights of Korea (far beyond pizza...honest), and Trevor is the best climbing partner one could ask for out here.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

School Staff field trip - Nami Island
After my first week of real work since... well I can't remember, its been quite a while - we took a drive out of the city to Nami Island, as the sign says a "gracefully leaf-shaped island floating in the middle of the Han River". It was about 5 times the size of Princes island park, with awful music blaring from speakers nailed to the trees for which this fallen leaf is known for. Its hard to appreciate the nature of this place when its planted in straight rows, surrounded by turbid waters (which will some day soon find its way downstream into Seoul's water system, something a few people I asked decided was just not possible) and crawling with couples with tripods and matching outfits. Nice to get out of the city though. People in Seoul seem to have the impression that if everyone's not doing it, it's probably not worth doing. Well at least I've got my next door mountain and climbing wall! The changing leaves on the row-planted trees did make for some interesting shots. Any experience can at very least be a valuable perspective-building occasion, and thats precisely what this field trip amounted to for me.

The Korean climbing scene

This morning I walked about 20 minutes to the climbing wall, part of an impressive outdoor sports center including raquetsports, basketball and kids stuff. Trevor and I have vowed to climb a few times a week to negate the effects of the incredible amounts of fried chicken we ingest around town. Today was the climbing "festival" the first competition I have witnessed. Its unfortunate this event coincided with the first rainy weather I've seen since coming into country. The best part of the event was this kid - no more than 7 years old - besting many of the adults straining under the mens route. Check this kiddo out!

Only with regret I can say that I was successful in declining the invitation of the organizers to partake in the comp. Tomorrow we'll check out the route on our own, and decide if it would have been too advanced for me, or see if I could have been the white climbing prodigy - the hottest thing to hit Seoul since live octopus. As it was I was the only spectator without black hair and taller than 5'9'', I decided that I was getting enough attention as it was without putting on some kind of climbing display.

Home for the next 50 weeks....and counting!

Alright-obviously I'm afflicted with bathroom fixation syndrome. A pretty straightforward western style washroom. The interesting thing is that Korean's don't seem to believe in shower curtains. Most of the room ends up sprayed after a shower, however it makes bathroom cleaning pretty quick. Just dump bleach all over the place and giv'er with the shower head - everything drains back towards the tub. Just dont forget to take the toilet paper out of the room before you go ape shit with the rinse.

So how else do you fit 13 million people in a single city without stacking them on top of eachother in cookie cutter apartment buildings? They cover the city and its not as difficult as you might think to forget which one is yours. My flat is on the 7th floor, and while it took quite a bit of floor scrubbing (Jason, the previous teacher-resident, seemed to have a penchant for nail polish and stiletto high heels - accounting for the puncture wounds in the linoleum. An extreme symptom of Korean culture shock?) I've gotten to the delightful point where things feel like home.


I think we all know how much Asians love their Karaoke, which to say is nearly as much as the ubiquitous sticky rice and kimchee served with every single meal. But here, they've got it all figured out. They've realized that only the most exceptionally talented but mentally delayed patrons (heres to you, Lisa and Julie) would be willing to get up in front of an audience of strangers and sing your heart out to Summer of 69. So here you stop at 7-11, buy as much 3 dollar beer as you can hide in your backpack, and get your friends and yourself into a private room complete with booth seating, microphones and most fittingly, tambourines for Karaoke back up. Another great Sunday night out in Itaewon, Seoul. One's a ranking officer in the American marines kicking curfew, the other - a lowly English teacher who'll be wishing not to have responsibilities the next morning. Who's who?!

The Namba Capsule Inn
The following shots I took on my 2nd and final night in Osaka. After walking all day around temples and castles I was eager for rest and to figure out how to stretch the last few 10 thousand yen in my pocket. (Which really doesnt count for much more than about 50 USD, pitifully little considering the cost of my second night's accomodation was not covered by the school I'm at, and given Japan is one of the most expensive countries on the planet) And so I arrived at the Namba Capsule hotel. Costing well within my budget, remarkably, as well as clean and friendly, this was amongst my greatest discoveries in Japan. The Japanese bathhouse on the 8th floor I could not photograph due to the rampant nudity, signage however made it clear that only men were allowed to enjoy the sit down showers, hot and cool tubs, and the sauna. Not for the timid North American traveller - I however am well accustomed to male nudity and managed to quite enjoy myself. The robe they supplied you with to strut around in may have been the best part.

Besides the (heat) lamp, radio and television set, the capsules remided my quite a bit of the refridgerator box forts of my childhood. Nothing kiddie about these suites, its all business here. You can even pay by the hour! For mid-day napping I assume. With a complementary egg and toast breakfast, the 8th floor baths, and a decent night's sleep, an excellent, excellent value. Just make sure to get into the top row of pillboxes, otherwise you'll be woken all night by drunk businessmen stepping over you.

After spending the first evening in Osaka wandering neon alleyways testing streetside noodle vendors, I decided for a more historically enriching experience on my second day. First I headed to Osaka castle, built as a fortress ringed by two moats in the center of the city. - Dio Buono, why is this fellow next to me in the PC cafe yelling so loudly at his computer game? So the hell what if his level 13 elf mage just got her magic sword stolen by a druid dwarf. - Sorry, anyways following is the view from the top of the castle tower, which inside was a museum mostly filled with screaming kindergarten Japanese students.

Shitenoji Temple, nice but I did not feel worthwhile to spend another 5 bucks to get any closer to.

After one week in Korea I flew to Osaka Japan where I was to acquire a working visa. This was the first of many, many very pleasant suprises I experienced during my 3 day visit. A rather philosophic camper had once asked me which was worse, a cold toilet seat or an especially warm one. I can now affirmatively answer - the latter. Yes, you can even adjust the temperature of the water jetting up your bottom.
Osaka was far more impressive than I could have imagined. Its people clean their city meticulously. And though it means being on top of your game to avoid all sorts of people speeding down sidewalks on their bikes, less air pollution means blue skies. Very nice! A far cry from Seoul where it is not uncommon to have to dodge the ball of phelgm on the side walk spat by the 64 year old woman walking directly infront of you. The masses of plegm could have something to do with the amount of cigarettes these people smoke. I really don't mean to dissuade anyone from spending time in Korea, or from thinking well of it. It has its particular charm which I'll mention sometime later.
A more typical Asian public toilet. Eat your heart out Mr. Baseball. Just dont face the wrong way, or get your pants dirty. Good luck! I liked my Hotel Riva toilet seat much better, but desperate times call(ed) for desperate measures.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

I arrived in Seoul, Republic of Korea on Friday evening, after a delightful flight via executive class Air Canada. Many, many thanks to anyone that was involved in the under-table dealings that made that possible. Airplane food never tasted so great.
I'm staying at another teacher's apartment, who happens to be in Canada visiting home for the next week. Shortly I'll be getting my own place once the teacher I'm filling in for moves out. Accomodations are fairly western, imagine eveything you'd find in a typical apartment, crammed into half the space. Although, I will have a larger bed here than I've ever had back home. I'm not complaining about much at this point.
I start at the school tomorrow, Monday morning. Its located about one block from where I live which is very convienient. Also convienient are the mountains about 2 blocks from where I live. I'll share pictures of my hiking trip as soon as I find a computer with English on it. Makes Nose Hill look pretty lame-o!

So I've still got to get used to the Korean script on the computer and I can't quite manage to get some of my own pictures posted for you to laugh at, so I thought maybe some of you would enjoy this one I found.