Wednesday, November 26, 2003

I’m sitting here listening to the Vancouver Canucks play the Montreal Canadiens as I write this update. It’s kind of strange to hear advertising from A&B Sound and traffic updates about the Lions Gate Bridge. It’s easy to forget I’m in Korea and when I step outside it sometimes still comes as a bit of a surprise that I’m actually here.

I guess technology can really break down distances, in a way that it never could before. We listen to Vancouver radio streams over the Internet, we download and watch the latest Hollywood movies and TV shows from Peer-2-Peer networks, we video conference with our friends and read the latest newspapers from home on the Web. It really is amazing when you think about it!

That being said, when you have most of the creature comforts of home at your disposal, occasionally there comes a curveball that pitches you back into the reality of where you live. We had one such curveball last weekend.

John, Will and I went down to Busan on Saturday morning to go camera shopping. We suffered through the jolts, jerks and sudden stops of the bus ride and arrived in downtown Busan at around noon. We hopped onto the subway and made our way down to Nampo-Dong, where the all the camera shops seem to congregate.

It’s a strange nuance of shopping in Korea that all the stores selling similar goods seem to cluster in one area. There will be a pet store street, a hardware store street, even a sock store street. I guess it makes it easy for the consumer to compare prices, but I’m not sure how they compete with each other, seeing as they all sell virtually the same goods at relatively the same price.

Anyway, Will bought himself a nice new SLR camera and once we were done we decided that it was beer time before we headed back to Ulsan. We found a decent ‘Hof’ and sat down for a couple of drinks to steel ourselves for the ride home.

At this point, in came an older man, who I can only describe as being a Korean Jim Carrey hopped up on a handful of amphetamines. Claiming to be a poet, he excitedly sat down with us and talking a mile a minute, began relating his life story to us. His story was punctuated outrageous hand gestures, exaggerated facial expressions and kung fu acrobatics in the middle of the restaurant. Needless to say, John, Will and I were nearly beside ourselves with laughter at this strange character.

At one point, he got up suddenly and told us we had to meet his ‘Master.’ He ran off down the street and for a moment we thought we had rid ourselves of this bizarre man. Not so lucky.

He came back shortly with another gentleman who looked like he stepped directly out of the 14th Century. He wore old, traditional robes and sandals; had a large Fu Manchu moustache and beard and his long hair wound up in a bun on his head.

Not quite sure what to expect, we were surprised then when he spoke in near perfect English. Not only that, but he swore like a sailor on shore leave. His mastery of English profanity was truly something to be admired.

So here’s the lowdown. He is a bit of a nomad, having wandered all over Europe for 11 years telling people he was a fortuneteller. He lived in Jirisan National Park on top of Mt. Jiri for three years with only himself and his one-eyed goat to keep him company. He was a temple artist, a writer, a musician and a laborer. He insisted, amidst the swear words, that he was ‘Nobody’ and we should just call him Jirisan.

We spent most of the rest of that night with Jirisan, who turned out to be a fascinating person. He had an amusing perspective on life and we had a great time hanging out with him. But, we sure got some strange looks from people on the street – us, three foreigners, and this crazy looking Korean dude!

On Sunday, we got together with all of our friends for American Thanksgiving. We’d arranged for a couple of turkeys and everyone lent a hand in bringing food or drinks. There ended up being nearly 40 people, which was a great turn out and a lot of fun to have everyone together. Using our best MacGuyver skills we even managed to deep-fry one of the turkeys, which was delicious – but not that healthy I suspect.

My sister Julianne has arrived in Ulsan, so it was nice to have her there for Thanksgiving as well. I think she’s settled in pretty nicely now and is slowly adjusting to life in Korea at her own pace.

Tuesday, November 11, 2003

As the red hued autumn has drawn to a close in Korea and with the bitter winter right around the corner, I spent some more time this week reflecting on the year that has passed. As we were driving down to Pusan last weekend, past the acres of barren rice fields, I realized that we have been here now long enough to witness the entire crop cycle.

I can still remember those early spring days and the brilliant green fields of fresh seedlings set into the flooded paddies. Then came summer and the billowing golden carpets of the maturing plants and finally, this past autumn, the browned stacked sheaves of harvested rice.

We’re into our second contract now and I go into it with a strange sense of deja view, like I’ve done this all before. But, I also know what to expect and it doesn’t feel as intimidating this time around. My grasp of the Korean language has gotten better over the year, and I’m close to mastering just about all the swear words and insults.

So with the arrival of the cold winds, it’s time to pack away the summer shorts and unpack the down jacket, toques and scarves. While I’m sad to say goodbye to summer, I am also looking forward to winter, especially to more snowboarding at the local resorts and the endless days of sunshine that is winter in Korea.

On that farewell note, we recently held ‘Goodbye to Summer’ Fall Ultimate Frisbee Invitational tournament in Ulsan. Hosted by the USLUTs (the Ulsan Saucer Launching Ultimate Team) we drew teams from Seoul and Pusan and we had a great day in the sun playing round robin games of ultimate.

Unfortunately, I was stuck on the sidelines as I had recently re-injured my knee. While recovering from blowing it out in a hapkido class, I got a little aggressive on one of my days off and decided to climb Mt. Gaji (1,240m) solo. I blew it out again near the peak and had to hobble down on it for nearly four hours to get back to my scooter. With only a few days rest, I had a hapkido belt test later that week and succeeded in blowing it for a third time during the test. Three times in a month was enough to persuade me to go easy on it for a while - which accounted for my being sidelined for the ultimate tourney.

Though, I’m happy to say that I passed my belt test and am now a brown belt – only two away from black, now the fun begins! Or, as soon as I can get back on my knee…

Anyway, the Ultimate tournament was a great success and we all convened later in the evening for a banquet, drinks and award ceremony at one of the local bars. We had scooped up some decent swag as prizes (courtesy of my friends at Hyundai Heavy Industries, the big shipyard here in town) and for those who had committed the worst blunders of the day there was bundaegi. Bundaegi is a Korean delicacy; boiled silkworm larvae that smell uncomfortably close to soiled diapers.

So aside from the changing weather and flying Frisbees, the only other news of note is my sister Julianne will be joining Amy and I in Ulsan at the end of this week. It will be nice to have her here and with Joanna’s imminent return next year to Seoul that will make 3 out of 4 Burslems in Korea. Soon, we’ll have to change our name to Kim or Park.