Medical tourist

Ventured out to Soonchunhwang Hospital and scheduled the full “well being” series of exams.  I did this a couple of years ago, and to the extent a medical process can be cool, this pretty much is.  It’s basically an assembly line of check-up stations (chest x-ray, hearing, vision, etc) and some more intensive, make that invasive, procedures like an endoscopy.

Jee Yeun is doing the full monty as well.  We like to go at this time of year to take advantage of “sale” offered by the hospital this time year.  My total cost will be around $900. provided they don’t find anything wrong with me.  The same tests and procedures in the USA would run several time mores, plus it would be a pain in the ass since I’d have to spend several days in several places to get everything done.

Anyway, that’s my big news.

In the Beer Box

Ventured out to Hongdae yesterday to play in a darts tournament.  First time in that famed bar district, although on a Sunday afternoon it was relatively quiet.

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Hongdae street scene.

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The Beer Box hosted the tourney.  Not a bad place to spend some time chucking the arrows.

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Getting warmed up for the main event.  Blind draw Doubles 501 was the format, double elimination.  There were a few of us miguks out from Itaewon, a large contingent of Filipinos, and of course some quality Korean players.

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Things started off on a winning note as me and partner Jeremy defeated a strong team of Korean HK and Pinoy Rey.  We weren’t able to maintain that level of play however and wound up meeting HK and Rey again in the losers bracket where they achieved revenge in a hard fought battle.

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My sweet dart widow Jee Yeun was there to cheer me on and she also pitched in by scoring a couple of matches.

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Jeremy and I didn’t make to the money round but we had a lot of fun and threw a lot of darts, so it was a good day.  I stuck around to play in a singles tourney.  For some reason I was put in the “A” division group.  I managed to win a couple of matches but quality prevailed in the end as I was dispatched by superior players.

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I didn’t play like Jindogae for the most part.  My game seems to be generally improving.  Let’s hope I can carry that forward in league play tonight.

Go tell it on the mountain

Bukhansan to be exact.

The girlfriend “suggested” in Korean fashion that we go to the mountainside for exercise.  Which is to say it wasn’t really a suggestion at all.  So, off we went.

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Waiting for the bus in front of our apartment building.  After a 20 minute ride or so we were deposited a short walk from the trail head.

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Let’s go!

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The weather was pleasant enough for a hike, but this stream bed was still firmly in the grip of old man winter.

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When we got thirsty, Jee Yeun filled our water bottle from one of the mountain spring outlets.

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It wasn’t a hard hike.  Unless you are fat and out of shape…

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Hey, it is steeper than it looks!  Jee patiently waited for me to catch my breath and catch up…

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I took this pic around the time I was convinced I was getting ready to have a heart attack.  You can kinda sorta see the city through the trees.  Not my best work.

So, as we steadily climbed up, up, and up, I couldn’t help but wonder what awaited us at the end of our trek.  Perhaps a garden of Eden-like park setting, with hammocks, swings and rocking chairs.  Or something restful and relaxing…

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Nope, what do Koreans do after a long exhausting mountain climb?  Why, they exercise of course!  They even had freakin’ volleyball courts.  No wonder most Koreans are so skinny…

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Me, I found sitting on the free weight bench watching Jee Yeun hula hoop to be all the exercise I needed…

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I made it down alive and that small victory seemed worthy enough of celebration…

Jee Yeun has “suggested” we go to the mountain henceforth on a weekly basis.  It looks like I picked a good time to quit smoking…

The mean streets of Itaewon

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Will be heading into the ‘twon tonight for dinner with my old friend Dennis McPeters.  Dennis and I worked together in various locations and agencies throughout most of our long federal careers, culminating in my bringing him to Korea a few years ago.  He’s still here, and I’m back.  Celebrate good times!

By the way, I took this picture on my first weekend in town back in January 2005.  Looks about the same I suppose, but really there has been an amazing transformation in Itaewon.  Gone are most of the sleazy bars, replaced with many upscale restaurants with a wide variety of international cuisines.  Still lots of good pubs (and darts!) of course.  But what you see in Itaewon now that you didn’t see much of back then is regular Korean folks out and about.

My suggested town motto:  Itaewon–it’s just not that scary anymore!

This and that

Good showing for the Ride it In dart team last night as we defeated Sin Bin Bar 15-10.  Yours truly opened the match with a 9-mark, which as they say is a pretty good start.  Or it’s all downhill from there.  5-4 for me on the night, but I was not unhappy with my performance.

In other news, today is the one week milestone in my quest to quit smoking (again).  Last week’s illness proved to be a good motivator seeing as how my throat and lungs were so raw that ingesting smoke just couldn’t be done.  Making it through darts last night without a fag was quite the accomplishment, if I do say so myself.  I was surrounded by smokers but kept my head about me anyway.  So we shall see how it goes.  When I get the urge at home, I just take a nap.

I’ve been sleeping (and dreaming) a lot these days…

Here’s the story

So, I am walking through a small Southern town on my way somewhere, in no particular hurry, but still moving along purposefully as people are wont to do if for no other reason than force of habit.  Now, in this town there had recently been completed a mural painting covering a small city block of buildings.  The art work depicted scenes of the town’s history, focusing on the contributions of the African-American community.  I gave it an admiring glance from a distance as I passed by, but didn’t really break my pace.

As I reached the end of the block I encountered a small old black man sitting on his porch step.  He was well dressed in a black suit and tie and was giving me a knowing smile as I approached.  “That’s really somethin’, ain’t it?” he asked, gesturing towards the mural.  Somewhat startled, I paused and glanced back across the street and replied “it certainly is”. He proceeded to share some of the details about how the mural came to be and I politely nodded as he spoke.  After a while, he paused while we both admired the painting.  And then I said “this sure is some fine weather we’re having, isn’t it?”

The old man laughed and said “that’s some attention span you got there son.  Before you lies the tale of how this town came to be, the drama and suffering, the joy and sorrow, and you stand there and want to talk about the weather?”  I half smiled in shame and said, “yeah, you’re right.  Sometimes we just don’t appreciate the past even when it’s staring right back at us.”  He grinned and said, “okay then, whaddaya say me and you go take a closer look?”  Really having nothing better to do and wanting to make some amends for my insensitivity on the subject I agreed to join him.

And you know what, close up it was all the more impressive.  I was astonished by the intricate details that are missed with a mere casual glance and was impressed by the artistic talent required to capture the human emotions from a long and tragic past.  I told the old man that I had viewed paintings by the Dutch Masters in Amsterdam, but I thought this paint on bricks was every bit as good.  He gave me a satisfied smile and then introduced me to several members of his family who were standing about.  One of them brought out a big pitcher of sweet iced tea and we all set curbside and I listened while they told stories about the triumphs and sorrows in the history of their extended family.

After awhile the old man said “son, why don’t you take a ride with me out to the old homestead for a look around.  It ain’t far and I think you’ll enjoy seeing what you never get the opportunity to see”.  Well, why not I decided and we were soon off in his big old 1970s vintage luxury vehicle from Detroit.

The old man was unusually quiet on the drive and I sensed in his demeanor that his mood had changed.  We were deep into unfamiliar countryside when he finally spoke to me in a low cold voice “I should just pull over and drop you off right here”.  I was startled by the stark hatred in his words but managed to ask him why he would want to do such a thing.  He responded “because that’s exactly the kind of thing that’s been happening to my people here for hundreds of years”.  I couldn’t believe how this friendly old man had so quickly become so very furious.  “But what has that got to do with me?” I asked plaintively.

“Everything” was all he said and he continued to drive deeper into the backwoods.  After what seemed like a long silence he said in a calm but menacing way “So, I don’t suppose you feel like you have any responsibility for the past?”.  I responded that I was sorry things happened the way they did, but it wasn’t my doing.  I told him I had always tried to live a life where I judged people on character, not color.  And I had never done anything to harm anyone.

“So, you don’t believe in reparations, huh?  Not surprised, none of you do.  It’s always someone else’s responsibility with you people.  Well, I don’t see it that way”.

He pulled the car off the road and parked behind an old abandoned homestead.  Before I could make a move for the door, he had a pistol pressed firmly against my belly.  I could feel the cold of the steel barrel through my shirt.  I screamed, “what the fuck!  Are you going to kill me?”

In an almost sad voice he said matter-of-factly “that’s exactly what I’m going to do”.

A million thoughts raced through my mind at that point, the primary one being that I didn’t want to die this way.  I wanted to beg, plead, and try to reason with the crazy old man, but words wouldn’t come.  The he took the barrel of the pistol and pointed it directly at my crotch.  I yelled “NOOOO!”

And then I woke up.

Pretty fuckin’ weird, huh?

Into the soup

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Or more correctly, the soup is into me.  Ordered this rice and vegetable concoction up from from the restaurant downstairs.  It really hit spot.  Maybe not the cure for what ails me, but I seem to be making progress.  I really want to make it out for darts tonight, so here’s hoping…

Sick and tired…

…of being sick and tired!

Some bug bit Jee Yeun Monday night and by yesterday it had me too.  Jee Yeun went to the “hospital” (except it wasn’t a hospital) and got an ass injection and some pills.  Me, I declined.  I think this is a virus that has to run its course and shots and pills aren’t going to matter much.

We both still feel like crap a day later so I’d say my reckoning has proven correct.  So far.

I just wish I could pack up all my aches and pains and send them off to the hinterlands on that old reliable Grey Lion bus…

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As the dart flies…

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One of my goals for this trip to Korea was to reinvigorate my dart game.  Playing only once a week in South Carolina and being too damn lazy to practice at home predictably resulted in a noticeable deterioration in the quality of my play.

So far I’ve managed to play in the Friday night tourney at Dolce Vita, a Saturday tournament at Phillies, an impromptu round robin singles match at Sin Bin, and finally my debut with Ride it In in league play last night.  Although my game is nowhere near what it was a couple of years ago, the recent repetition has helped work out some of the kinks in my release and I’m throwing with a little more confidence and consistency.

The match last night at Sam Ryan’s was classic battle against our worthy opponents from Dillinger’s Bar.  We were 6-6 after the singles round, and 12-12 after doubles.  So it all came down to the team game (one leg of 1001) for the tie breaking victory.   Which we managed to pull off.  HooAh!

My contribution was a 5-4 showing (2-1 singles, 3-3 doubles).  No great shakes, but I was pretty solid and woulda coulda shoulda taken a couple of more legs but for my inexplicable inability to hit the bulls eye with any semblance of consistency.

My Ride it In teammates are a good bunch and I think we’re going to have a lot of fun along the way this season.  I’m the old man on the team, but I guess at my age I’m going to have to get used to that.  I took a fair amount of ribbing at Sin Bin where I threw wearing my suspenders.  I guess I reminded people of their grandfather or some such shit, but seeing as how I am in fact somebody’s grandfather I reckon I can take whatever those young whippersnappers can dish out.

Can you tell I’m really enjoying being back in the game?

A trip to the grocery store Korean style

Carrying on with the theme of the same yet different, here’s a little photo essay of our visit to the neighborhood food market:

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The market is conveniently located across the highway from our apartment.  It’s an easy enough walk even on a cold day.  Like many large businesses in Korea, it’s on the basement level.  The ramp instead of stairs is a nice touch though.

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Not exactly your Publix or Kroger layout, but if you look around you can usually find most of what you need…

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…like the recently dead fresh fish on ice.  We didn’t buy any this week, but Jee Yeun will be frying some up one of these days soon I’m sure.

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To the left is your dairy and sort of deli, although nothing that you’d expect to find in a deli back home.  To the right is stuff like snacks and dry goods.  Dry goods including seaweed of course.

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The meat counter.  Beef is especially expensive in Korea and we rarely partake here.  Pork and chicken is how we swing.

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Pork or chicken goes down good with a refreshing Korean brew.  You don’t often see cases of beer or even six packs.  Quarts and individual cans are more in keeping with the Korean style of pouring and sharing…

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Semi-familiar breakfast cereals.  I’ve tried the Frosted Flakes and I think Tony is saying “they may not be Great but they’re still pretty darn good”.  Or something.

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Paying the piper.  Those groceries plus a 20kg bag of rice cost me about 120 bucks…

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The part I like best about Korean grocery shopping is the free delivery right to your doorstep!

And now you too have experienced grocery shopping in Korea…

Sweet my home

I think one of the things that keeps life interesting here is that nothing is exactly the same.  And those little quirks and differences never fail to amuse whenever they arise.  Which they do with enough frequency to remind me that I’m not in Kansas anymore.

The girlfriend’s new apartment has red cabinets which she despises.  So, she did the Korea-style remedy of applying decorative stickers to the cabinet faces.  And really it looks fine to me.  But this is what cracked me up:

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All I can say is it’s good to be home my sweet.  Be it ever so humble.

Back in Korea (redux)

The return trip is now complete and it really turned out to be a pain in the ass.  Literally.  I don’t know why but my tailbone was screaming all the way across the Pacific.  It made sitting painful and sleeping impossible.  I spent quite a bit of time standing in the back of the plane, but you can only do that so much.  Anyway, I survived it and it’s over until the next time in May.

The best thing about about modern air travel is the seat back entertainment systems featuring on demand video.  The screens on the Boeing 777 were as large as my laptop.  One of the available features are cameras with a forward view and a ground view.  It was pretty cool observing the takeoff and landing with a pilot’s eye viewpoint.

Watching several movies is also a good way to fill the 14+ hours of flight time (and taking your mind off the aforementioned ass pain a little bit).  I watched Moneyball which was actually surprisingly good.  I also watched an indie flick called Another Earth.  It’s a sci-fi story of a parallel Earth that suddenly appears in the night sky.  It was an interesting concept although I kept thinking of practical considerations like impacts on gravity and rotational effects and the like.  The story was more about looking inside ourselves and such.  Anway, it was entertaining.

I usually try and catch some Korean cinema when I fly KAL and this trip was no exception.  The two I viewed this time were Blind and Mama.  Both tended to veer into melodramatic territory a little too often, but then again these ARE Korean films after all.  Blind is centered on a police investigation into a hit and run/disappearance.  The key witness is a blind woman who had once been a student at the police academy. And how often do you get to see a movie featuring a Korean serial killer/sexual sadist?  Although hardly any of that is shown (at least on the airline version).  Mama is the story of three mothers and their children with a fair amount familial tension and tragedy mixed in.  I’m a sap for this kind of story and found the movie pretty emotionally satisfying.

After landing at Incheon I got to experience the new biometric identification immigration procedures.  Basically, a fingerprint scan (both index fingers) and a digital photograph.   I can’t really complain about this since the USA has been requiring similar intrusions on foreign visitors for quite some time.  It did make the line move much slower than usual however.  The immigration officer seemed surprised I was staying for 90 days but didn’t otherwise object to my entry into this fair land.  So enter I did.

The bus ride to Gireum station took almost two hours, which my still screaming ass didn’t appreciate.  But we eventually arrived and I lugged my two heavy bags (51 and 47 pounds at weigh in) up to Jee Yeun’s new apartment (same building, same apartment floor plan, different floor).

And that my friends is the story of my second return since my first departure from the Land of the Morning Calm.

Tonight I’ll enjoy darts at Dolce Vita.  Looking forward to seeing all the familiar faces and places.

Fly me away on the big blue bird

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This is the plane that carried me to Korea for the first time in January 2005.  Tomorrow morning I’ll be flying back on a KAL 777.  I’m looking forward to hanging out in all the old familiar haunts and spending time with the friends I made Korea.  But it is not without sadness that I bid farewell to my family here.  It’s no easy thing living life with one foot in one country and the other in another.  But really I wouldn’t want it any other way.  It’s good to change your point of view every now again.  And really, who wants to lead a boring life?

All the comforts of home

Well, almost.  Still, it requires a great deal of foresight when you are preparing for an extended visit overseas.  Especially when one no longer has commissary privileges.

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy Korean delicacies as much as the next guy.  And truth be told, you can find just about everything you need in the larger grocery stores or if push comes to shove, Costco.  They even have “black market” markets where you can purchase purloined duty free imports at exorbitant prices.  One example:  A box of Jiffy corn bread mix sells for about 50 cents on the military base and it’s 4 bucks in the foreign market.

Last trip I could find cereal, but not my favorite brands.  Candy and snacks are available too, but there are just not as pleasing to my palate as I’d like.

So, I’ve got a fifty pound limit on each of my bags.  I’ve not weighed my purchases, but I’d reckon I’m pushing around 20 lbs.  Heck, who needs clothes anyway?

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