Serving a purpose

Back in February 2008 I wrote about my friend and soulmate on the anniversary of her death in a post entitled “Remembering Linda Ketner”.  She was an amazing woman and I still miss her very much.

So it was a great surprise when I received this email:

Hi John.  I read your article about my grandmother today.  My wife had searched our last name and found it. I appreciate everything that you had to say.  I’m 25 now and it is getting hard for me to remember her.  Reading through your letter brought a little clarity as to who she was.  I hope to hear back from you.  

Linda and her grandson. Sorry the quality of the photo sucks.  It’s the only one I have.

There is really not a lot more I can say about Linda beyond what I wrote all those years ago.  I’m not a religious man and I have no belief in a Biblical afterlife.  But still, hearing from her grandson brought forth an avalanche of memories and emotions.  And I guess we all live on as long as there is someone on earth who remembers us.

I couldn’t help but wonder what Linda would have to say about my life today.  She was always my touchstone that got me back on track when when I was recklessly leading myself astray.  She always called me “John-boy” (I guess being a couple of years older gave her the right).  She was never judgmental, but was quick to point out the flaws in my logic, especially in matters of the heart.  I could use her wisdom now more than ever.

Dear Linda, it seems I’ve fucked up yet again.  I’m not sure where to go or what to do next.  Any ideas? John

Dear John-boy, give yourself a break.  Yes, things didn’t turn out the way you wanted, but there will be other things and new adventures.  Never give up and never stop believing in yourself.  Take comfort in acceptance and don’t worry so much about the things you cannot change.  And always remember that I love you. Linda

That last day we shared while she lay dying in the hospice, Linda squeezed my hand and said emphatically “this is not goodbye!”. I guess maybe she was right about that after all.

Thank you Linda, and thanks to your grandson for reminding me to remember all you tried to teach me.

 

Pay it forward

Some of you may remember the movie Pay it Forward.  I got to thinking about it the other day while walking.  The basic premise is that when someone does you a favor, rather than pay it back you pass it along by doing someone else a favor.  It’s actually a pretty sweet concept.

Well, I’m a notoriously selfish bastard (just ask my ex-wives).  But that doesn’t mean I’m incapable of performing a good deed now and again.  And sometimes through an otherwise selfish act you can end up unintentionally helping folks out.

For example, I’ve mentioned in passing the woman I’ve employed in the Philippines to be my personal assistant/caregiver once I retire there.  Obviously that has not happened yet, although Loraine does serve as my tour guide when I visit in the interim. While I’m not there I’ve been sending her to school to learn the skills (massage and caregiving) that will hopefully make my retired years more comfortable and lengthy.

Now, I didn’t have to employ someone months before I retire but Loraine seemed like a good fit for the job and she needed the income.  I guess you could characterize that as an act of generosity (charitably speaking), but also a clearly selfish motivation on my part (didn’t want someone else to hire her before I arrived).  And she’s doing good stuff for me, like keeping track of my blood pressure (I send her the readings each morning), scouring the internet for articles that pertain to whatever I may be complaining about at any given time, and being an understanding ear when I need one.  So far I’d say it’s a win-win.

Loraine is a smart gal who’s never really had the opportunity to pursue formal education.  She’s spent her adult life working in mostly menial jobs to support her family. These often required her to toil long hours in far away countries (Hong Kong, the Middle East, Vietnam).  I certainly respect that like so many Filipinos she sacrificed and did what was necessary to survive.  So it has been especially satisfying for me to see how dedicated she has been to taking full advantage of the opportunity to learn new skills. She has this thirst for knowledge that is quite impressive.  With my luck she will use her training to get a better job, but I’ll still be proud of her for making the effort.

But here is the point of this post (yes, there is one!).  As part of her caregiver on-the-job training she has been working long shifts at a school for special needs children.  Some have physical disabilities, others have emotional and learning disorders.  It’s been a real challenge for her in many ways, but she has risen to that challenge.  She’s been going above and beyond the program requirements, spending her own time and money to prepare visual and other learning aids for the kids.  She told me about one malnourished child who never has food at break time, so she shares hers.  Most of all she feels satisfaction with knowing she is making a difference for these kids by being there.  And she says that would not have been possible if I hadn’t put her in the program.

So, she is paying the opportunity forward.  And if in some small way my selfish act in hiring her has facilitated that, well hell yeah, I’ll share in the joy.  I’m already thinking that when I retire I may have her do volunteer work at a school or nursing home as part of her job.  Heh.  Hiring folks to do the charity work on my behalf seems to suit my nature, don’t you think?

At work…

Filling a void…

Making a difference

Keep up the good work!

 

Only the good die young

Heartbreaking news from South Carolina.  Christopher Werner II, aka “Fooey” and “Mini-me” passed away today.  He was in middle school, witty and sweet, and born with a bad heart.  I understand that during a routine check-up procedure he succumbed.

His mother Bridget loved him dearly and she died last year at age 49.  I wrote about her here.

I’m not religious but if there is a heaven it is comforting to think that they have now been reunited.

That’s Bridget and Fooey with us on the West sea circa 2012.

And that’s me and Christopher “dicking” around. The boy seemed to enjoy a similar sense of humor.

My heart goes out to his daddy Chris.  I cannot even begin to fathom what he is going through now.  I hope he finds the strength to persevere through such a devastating loss.

Rest in peace, Christopher.  You were an amazing young man and will not be forgotten.

Damn.

Welcome to the Philippines

Or in the vernacular of the locals, Mabuhay!

The news I alluded to yesterday was that my long lost daughter (lost in the sense that I’ve not seen her for years) Avery and her partner Annie popped into the PI for a rendezvous.

A chip off the ol’ block. I’m not Avery’s birth father, but she was just a baby when I married her mother (that wold be wife #2 for you all keeping score at home) so I’m the only father she has ever known. Somehow she managed to overcome that handicap and is living a happy life. There is no greater success than that!

Avery and Annie. Quite the adventurers as they are six months into a journey that has taken them to Hawaii, Australia, Thailand, Indonesia, and now the PI. Next up is Myanmar, and after that Korea is on the radar.

Annie has been blogging their exploits at Nomadic Vortex, go give it a read.

Well, we’ve seen and done the things that you can do in Baretto, and they seem to have enjoyed themselves.  They even had a blast in the go-go bars which touched my drunken heart.  They’ll be flying out to more adventure tomorrow on Palawan Island.and from there, who can say? The world is their oyster and they have youth on their side.

Jet ski fun day. It was a first for Loraine and she was crazy about it…

They are off!

They are back! Me? I stayed on the beach and drank some beers. I don’t do much, but what I do, I do well!

Yesterday was our banka boat adventure.

Annie felt like king of the world…

We stopped at a small island in the middle of the bay. I was channeling Magellan and claimed the land in the name of Spain. One of the locals said “I’m Lapu-Lapu” so I quickly retreated.

With the daughter and my bodyguard Loraine…

The lonely light house at the summit of our small isle.

I mentioned the outstanding food here at our resort, here’s a taste:

That’s not everything they serve here at Blue Rock, but you get the idea.

Yikes!  Gotta check out of here now and catch the bus to Angeles City.

More later…

Tears for Bridget Werner

I lost a close friend yesterday.  Bridget died during the night, apparently of a heart attack. I’m not sure of her exact age, but I’d reckon it was late 40s.  Far too young to leave us, that’s for sure.  Left behind are her husband Chris, two grown children, her middle school aged son Christopher (or Fooey as she affectionately referred to him) and a grandchild.  As well as many, many friends all over the world.

As a military veteran and a military spouse Bridget had lived and traveled pretty much everywhere.  And everywhere she went she made many friends.  Her last stop on Earth was Columbia, SC.  During my trip there last Thanksgiving we had the chance to get together, throw darts, tell jokes, and catch up  on new events and reminisce about some old ones.  This photo was taken on the last day we'd ever be together.

As a military veteran and a military spouse Bridget had lived and traveled pretty much everywhere. And everywhere she went she made many friends. Her last stop on Earth was Columbia, SC. During my trip there last Thanksgiving we had the chance to get together, throw darts, tell jokes, and catch up on new events and reminisce about some old ones. This photo was taken on the last day we’d ever be together.

I met Bridget and Chris here in Korea around 2008 or so.  Something just clicked for us I guess.  She was such a unique person with a wicked sense of humor.  Real, nothing fake about her.  She was kind and generous and also full of piss and vinegar.  Always fun to be around someone like that–you never knew what was coming next.  I don’t let many people get too close to me, and Bridget was one of them.  Which makes it especially hard to see her go.

She was big time into darts of course, which gave us plenty of opportunity to spend time together.  Hmm, that's the ill-fated Jeremy.  One dead, one in jail, and one wondering what the hell is going on

She was big time into darts of course, which gave us plenty of opportunity to spend time together. Hmm, that’s the ill-fated Jeremy. One dead, one in jail, and one wondering what the hell is going on.

Bridget’s favorite exclamation was “What the balls!” which she freely used in just about any and all situations.

Bridget captained our dart league team, and in her honor we named ourselves "What the Bulls?".  We won the league championship that season.

Bridget captained our dart league team, and in her honor we named ourselves “What the Bulls?”. We won the league championship that season.

And while we were all in Korea we did a bit of traveling.

Here we are at the West Sea.

Here we are at the West Sea.

I retired and moved to South Carolina.  Shortly thereafter, Chris was transferred to Savannah, Georgia which afforded us the opportunity for some weekend get togethers, here or there.  I came back to Korea, and the Werner’s eventually set down in Columbia.  I told her stalking doesn’t work if you wait until I’m gone.

Chris and Bridget.  She surely did love that man...

Chris and Bridget. She surely did love that man…

This joke fit Bridget to a T.  She laughed when I posted it on Facebook and tagged her...

This joke fit Bridget to a T. She laughed when I posted it on Facebook and tagged her…

Well, you had to know her I guess.  And you can be sorry you missed the opportunity.  I will never forget her, I know that much.

Here's hoping there's a well-lit board wherever you may be in infinity...

Here’s hoping there’s a well-lit board wherever you may be in infinity…

What the balls!

Pot roast

Another week is in the books.  Here are the highlights.

My sweet granddaughter Sydney turned 4. Definitely has here grandpa's good looks!

My sweet granddaughter Sydney turned 4. Definitely has her grandpa’s good looks!

Things are going reasonably well at work.  We’ve got some folks on their way out which will require some adjustments.  But meanwhile, my boss and I seem to be getting on well. We did another Friday lunch in Itaewon yesterday.  Our destination: Manimals Smoke House to get our barbecue on…

It's up the hill on the alley going to towards HBC (above and generally parallel to the main drag in Itaewon, walking towards Noksapyeong station...

It’s up the hill on the alley going to towards HBC (above and generally parallel to the main drag in Itaewon, walking towards Noksapyeong station…

As you may recall, a few weeks ago we ate at Linus’ BBQ.  Apparently there is a (friendly?) rivalry as to which serves the most authentic barbecue.  Our mission was to find out.

I thought the menu was somewhat limited and also pretty pricey. On the other hand, it's good to do a few things well rather than having an extensive selection of mediocre items...

I thought the menu was somewhat limited and also pretty pricey. On the other hand, it’s good to do a few things well rather than having an extensive selection of mediocre items…

The interior is rather smallish, although those window seats offer a nice view. They open at noon on weekends for lunch. We arrived 10 minutes early and although they let us sit down, they wouldn't serve us until 12. Not nearly as busy as Linus' had been, just us and one other group. Could have been the holiday I suppose.

The interior is rather smallish, although those window seats offer a nice view. They open at noon on weekends for lunch. We arrived 10 minutes early and although they let us sit down, they wouldn’t serve us until 12. Not nearly as busy as Linus’ had been, just us and one other group. Could have been the holiday I suppose.

We ordered us up some pulled pork and some chicken. I also bought a chunk of cornbread and some "cowboy" beans. It was all good. Although as with Linus' I was disappointed with the sauce selection. Might have to sneak in a bottle of Sweet Baby Ray's on my next visit.

We ordered us up some pulled pork and some chicken. I also bought a chunk of cornbread and some “cowboy” beans. It was all good. Although as with Linus’ I was disappointed with the sauce selection. Might have to sneak in a bottle of Sweet Baby Ray’s on my next visit.

I’m not sure if I can resolve the question of which is the best authentic BBQ, might need to visit both again.  It was nice to have some cornbread, which was surprisingly moist and tasty even without butter.

We got an early release from work (59 minutes) to get a jump on the Chuseok holiday weekend.  I spent part of my hour getting a haircut (I’d done a pedicure at lunch on Thursday) so I’m looking especially handsome for the weekend.

Then it was off to Shenanigan’s as it my Friday night custom.  Met up with my old friend Lonnie who will be departing Korea next week after 14 years to take up being an elementary school teacher in the Phoenix public schools.  He’ll be missed around these parts, especially by me as I’ve grown accustomed to swapping bullshit over beers with him.

The tradition of the dart league is to send a member off with a farewell tournament, so we headed over to Sin Bin Sports Pub for the dart action in Lonnie’s honor.

We had 18 throwers which is a pretty good showing considering most of the Koreans were tending to family holiday obligations. My partner and I finished second which is good and bad. We split W60,000 but didn't finish until 0130.

We had 18 throwers which is a pretty good showing considering most of the Koreans were tending to family holiday obligations. My partner and I finished second which is good and bad. We split W60,000 but didn’t finish until 0130.

We did take time out to give Lonnie a big thank you for his many years service to the dart league...

We did take time out to give Lonnie a big thank you for his many years service to the dart league…

So getting home meant dealing with my pet peeve–taxi drivers.

0130 trying to catch a taxi in Itaewon. Streets are packed with cars and people, but still plenty of empty cabs. This guy rolls down his window and says "where are you going?" I'm drunk enough to be pissed and say "you aren't allowed to ask me that, you just have to take me where I'm going". He drives off but gets stuck in traffic just a little bit down the road. Like a madman I chase him down, snap a photo of his license tag, and then I yell "I'm turning you in. BIG FINE for you! He says something I can't understand and I walk away. I had every intention of filing a complaint with Seoul city hall, but upon sober reflection I discovered that my drunken photography skills were somewhat lacking. Meaning, this was the only picture of the cab in my camera and it's not much help. Anyway, the next cab driver I encountered I just hopped in the back seat and said Gireum-dong. The cabbie said where? I repeat Gireum-dong. He looks at me with a blank expression. I try again slowly "Gir-eum sta-tion. He goes "oh, Girerum yak?" I'm all yep that's it and off we went. When we got close to my place I was actually able to direct him through a series of grunts and gestures to drop right at the gate to my building. A first for me! Fare was W10,000 and I gave him W20,000 and a hearty "Happy Chuseok!" He seemed pleased. It's now a little after 2:00 a.m. and Jee Yeun calls and asks "where are you?". I said "I'm home!" She goes 'no you're not, and I say apartment 1804, right? She says it's 1904 and I go "shit, then who's this woman laying next to me?" I'm funny when you're drunk!

0130 trying to catch a taxi in Itaewon. Streets are packed with cars and people, but still plenty of empty cabs. This guy rolls down his window and says “where are you going?” I’m drunk enough to be pissed and say “you aren’t allowed to ask me that, you just have to take me where I’m going”. He drives off but gets stuck in traffic just a little bit down the road. Like a madman I chase him down, snap a photo of his license tag, and then I yell “I’m turning you in. BIG FINE for you! He says something I can’t understand and I walk away.
I had every intention of filing a complaint with Seoul city hall, but upon sober reflection I discovered that my drunken photography skills were somewhat lacking. Meaning, this was the only picture of the cab in my camera and it’s not much help.
Anyway, the next cab driver I encountered I just hopped in the back seat and said Gireum-dong. The cabbie said where? I repeat Gireum-dong. He looks at me with a blank expression. I try again slowly “Gir-eum sta-tion. He goes “oh, Girerum yak?” I’m all yep that’s it and off we went. When we got close to my place I was actually able to direct him through a series of grunts and gestures to drop right at the gate to my building. A first for me! Fare was W10,000 and I gave him W20,000 and a hearty “Happy Chuseok!” He seemed pleased.
It’s now a little after 2:00 a.m. and Jee Yeun calls and asks “where are you?”. I said “I’m home!” She goes ‘no you’re not, and I say apartment 1804, right? She says it’s 1904 and I go “shit, then who’s this woman laying next to me?”
I’m funny when you’re drunk!

Woke up this morning a little hungover but I’m going to go have some hair of the dog that bit me later on which should get me back to feeling 100%.

Hangover notwithstanding I put myself to work in the kitchen this morning.

3 pounds of pot roast beef, carrots, celery and potatoes along with some seasoning. When I get back home tonight it will be reading and waiting!

3 pounds of pot roast beef, carrots, celery, onion and potatoes along with some seasoning. When I get back home tonight it will be reading and waiting!

Counting down to deliciousness....

Counting down to deliciousness….

Life is good.

 

 

 

Well, damn

James took home a first place trophy in the Singles League earlier this month.  He won't be back anytime soon.

James took home a first place trophy in the Singles League earlier this month. He won’t be back anytime soon.

Received the distressing news yesterday that one of my Filipino friends got picked up by immigration. James is one of my favorite people here in Korea.  Always smiling with a genuine happy-go-lucky attitude.  Hard working too, he was holding down three jobs to support his family back in the Philippines.  I also feel bad for his girlfriend of seventeen years (also here illegally) who is going to have to somehow find a way to get by without him.  I’ve known them both for most of the ten years I’ve been here.  I’m going to really miss having James around.

James is being held in detention until he comes up with the money for a one-way ticket back to the PI.  His friends will be donating money today to make that happen as soon as possible, and I hope we’ll also come up with enough to have his personal effects shipped home as well.

I’ve been experiencing a fair amount of cognitive dissonance regarding James’ deportation.  I firmly believe that a nation should enforce it’s immigration laws and I have really been frustrated by the USA’s failure refusal to do so.  But here’s the thing, James was not freeloading on the Korean taxpayer’s won.  He was making his own way doing menial labor without complaint.  Compare that to the folks invading the U.S. who fill the welfare rolls, engage in crime with apparent impunity, and add little to no value to the nation in which they aspire to live.  And yes, I know that not every illegal immigrant fits that description (I’m sure the majority do not), but the fact remains they violated the law and should not be rewarded with amnesty.  I fucking went through the time consuming and expensive process of making my wife a legal permanent resident and it frosts my balls when non-citizens are allowed to bypass the law.  End of rant.

Another friend I’ve known since I got here is leaving next week to become an elementary school teacher in Tucson, Arizona.  He ran the dart league for many years and his departure is going to leave a huge void.  As is our tradition when a darter leaves town, we’ll be doing a going away tournament in Lonnie’s honor this afternoon at Sin Bin.

Gonna miss you buddy!

Gonna miss you buddy!

The tourney will be dual purposed because one of the owner’s of Sin Bin suffered a massive heart attack while visiting family in Newfoundland last week.  He’s been in Korea so long he is no longer covered by the Canadian national health insurance plan.  So we’ll be engaging in some fund raising activities for him as well.  I’ve had my differences with this individual in the past, but those minor disputes mean nothing when someone is in need of help.  I’m donating a bottle of Fireball whiskey as one of the raffle prizes at today’s event.  Obviously, I’m hoping he has a full and quick recovery.  He’s actually a lucky bastard.  When he was found he was apparently clinically dead, but had the good fortune of being discovered by a physician who successfully resuscitated him.

I do find it disconcerting when friends and acquaintances who are much younger and in better shape than me are facing these types of issues.  Well, it’s better to be lucky than dead I suppose.  Here’s hoping my luck continues to hold out!

When life comes at me with with that final fuck you, I'm all ain't no way...

When life comes at me with with that final fuck you, I’m all ain’t no way…

 

Remembering James Stoy

James

Woke up this morning to the shocking news that another friend back home in Columbia has died.  Apparently he succumbed to a heart attack.

I met James shortly after I retired and moved back to South Carolina.  I was distressed about the lack of darting opportunities to be had and when I encountered James at a tournament I was happy to find a kindred spirit.  In the world of darts you have the vast majority of players who play as a pastime.  Then there are those of us for which darts is a passion.  If anything, James loved the game even more than I do.

After some weeks of mutual grousing about Columbia being a darting wasteland, we decided to set about doing something to change that.  Along with another friend named James we beat the bushes for players and bars with boards and before long we had us a sweet little pub league, a singles league, regular Friday night tournaments and a bonafide American Darts Organization membership as the Columbia Area Darts Association.  None of that would have happened without James’ energy and leadership.

Couldn't have done without you!

Couldn’t have done without you!

When I returned to Korea it was largely on James’ ample shoulders to keep everything going and growing and he did an admirable job of doing so.  Just last week he was posting about the upcoming singles league season and his passion and excitement were evident. It’s really hard to get my mind around the fact that he is gone.

Thanks for all you did and for being the man that you were James.  You will be missed by all the friends you’ve left behind.

Me and James chilling on the riverside between matches at a tourney in Augusta, GA.

Me and James chilling on the riverside between matches at a tourney in Augusta, GA.

.

Another one bites the dust

Yesterday I journeyed out to the countryside near Songtan.  It was a pain in the ass getting there, but my buddy James was doing the Korean wedding ceremony thing and it was my honor to attend.

That would be James...

That would be James…

The lovely Hyesun. I guess "better half" is pretty cliche, although in this case there can be no disputing who got the best end of this deal.

The lovely Hye Seon. I guess “better half” is pretty cliche, although in this case there can be no disputing who got the best end of this deal.

With the parents...

With the parents…

The waeguk table...

The waeguk table…

Hyesun shed some tears of joy...or relief that the ordeal was nearly over...

Hye Seon shed some tears of joy…or relief that the ordeal was nearly over…

Ain't they sweet?

Ain’t they sweet?

Our table put in a pretty good days work.  I'm quite certain no one came close to matching our consumption...

Our table put in a pretty good days work. I’m quite certain no one came close to matching our rate of consumption…

It turned out to be a fine day.

 

A league of distinguished gentlemen

Minus one.

Two of these guys have published books.  One is just proud to know them.

Two of these guys have published books. One is just proud to know them.

Yesterday I had the distinct honor of hanging out with Young Chun and Kevin Kim enjoying beverages, food and conversation.  As regular readers will recall, Young recently published the story of his time as an American conscript in the Korean army. (go buy it now on Kindle for $2.99!) After reading the Kindle version I wanted a hard copy for my library and I saw on Young’s blog that he hadn’t yet acquired any bound copies for himself.

I took advantage of my Amazon Prime membership and ordered up six copies with free shipping to my APO address.

I took advantage of my Amazon Prime membership and ordered up six copies with free shipping to my APO address.  I sold five of them to Young, which he said both increased his sales and reduced his profits.  Glad to be of service!

Now, I admit to having had a somewhat selfish motivation for this purchase and delivery–I wanted to get my copy signed!  Which of course Young graciously agreed to do.

Young had anticipated that my book would be the first copy he signed, but during the week a co-worker and a student honored him with purchases and a request for an autograph.  After what appeared to be some momentary writer's block, my book now includes some gracious words in the author's handwriting.  Nice!  (this photo was shamelessly lifted from Kevin's blog.  sue me!)

Young had anticipated that my book would be the first copy he signed, but during the week a co-worker and a student honored him with purchases and a request for an autograph. After what appeared to be some momentary writer’s block, my book now includes some gracious words in the author’s handwriting. Nice! (this photo was shamelessly lifted from Kevin’s blog. sue me!)

I had arrived to the meetup a few minutes late having made a poor decision in taking the 110A bus to Itaewon instead of the subway.  Lesson learned.  Young was already halfway through his first beer by then, but I played catch-up as best I could and thereafter matched him beer for beer.  Young professes to be an introvert but he got on well with the Saturday afternoon crowd at Shenanigans.  I introduced him to the bar owner and it turns out they have a mutual friend which was pretty cool.  Also in the category of “it’s a small world”, the waitress asked me “is that Young?”.  It turns out her brother and Young are colleagues. What are the odds?

We talked about the book and some of the stuff that wasn’t included in the book.  I engaged in some good-natured ball busting about Kevin’s cultural insensitivity (after he complimented me for not using the Korean-style two finger salute in our group photo above).   And then our thoughts turned to food.  We briefly discussed eating at Shenanigans, which had the virtue of being convenient.  But I still owed Kevin a dining experience at the Oasis Mexican/barbecue buffet at the Dragon Hill Lodge on base. Young recalled the last time he was on base was for his ill-fated attempt to join the U.S. Army in order to avoid serving in the Korean military. (Read the book!)  So we hoofed it over to Yongsan Garrison and unlike our last attempt, Oasis was indeed open for business.  So we gave them some.

Now, the thing about an all-you-can-eat buffet is that I feel the need to eat more than my money’s worth.  On our first run through Kevin and I came back with heaping plates. Young returned with tiny portions of everything that barely filled half a plate.  I feared he wasn’t clear on the concept.  I shouldn’t have worried.  His strategy was to taste a bit of everything to determine what he liked best.  He then made two more visits to the buffet (versus one more for me and Kevin) and I’d judge he did indeed deplete the profit margin for Oasis last night.  Young recounted how he used to blitzkrieg the Godfather’s pizza buffet.  Coincidentally or not, Godfather’s is now bankrupt.

My guests declared the food to be to their satisfaction and I was happy about that.  Kevin had briefly considered forgoing the pulled pork as he will be making a batch today in his new slow cooker.  I pointed out that he should have some for comparison purposes and he agreed there was no flaw in that logic.  He found the Oasis iteration outstanding, so I guess he’s set a high bar for his efforts today.  Here’s a hint: It’s all about the sauce!

After leaving the restaurant, we stopped at the Dragon Hill’s designated smoking area so Young and I could feed our nasty habit.  A young man there asked if we’d like to take some of his cigarettes off his hands.  A rather odd request, but Young was down for some free smokes.  The guy explained that he was waiting on some oil for his vapor machine (and it was quite a machine!) to be delivered from the USA and he didn’t want to be tempted to smoke a whole pack.  Young graciously poured the remaining oil from his vapor cigarette into the stranger’s, and both seemed happy with the exchange.

We were all heading in different directions, but each of those destinations began at Samgakji station.  So we signed off post and hoofed it over to the subway.  I made it about 3/4 of the way before my damn leg flared up (the first time it hurt all day) so I said my goodbye’s and set down to rest.  Two minutes later I was good to go.

And so ended a very pleasant evening with my learned compadres.

 

 

“You can possible to go at low cost”

Back home from a weekend deep in the heart of the south of South Korea.  Specifically Busan, Haeundae Beach, and Taejongdae.  Took the nephew along in order to celebrate his birthday and also to serve as a foil for my rapier-like wit.  I’ll let the pictures tell the story…

The picture is not blurry, that's how we look at 300 km/h.  Jee Yeun's daughter's boyfriend works for Korea Rail and scored us some discounted tickets which made an already sweet ride even sweeter.

The picture is not blurry, that’s how we look at 300 km/h. Jee Yeun’s daughter’s boyfriend works for Korea Rail and scored us some discounted tickets which made an already sweet ride even sweeter.

Less than 3 hours after boarding the train in Seoul we disembarked at Busan Station.  Then we hopped in a cab for the ride out to Haeundae beach.

Less than 3 hours after boarding the train in Seoul we disembarked at Busan Station. Then we hopped in a cab for the ride out to Haeundae beach.

Upon arrival the first order of business was securing lodging for the night.  I kinda liked the look, well name anyway, of this place.

Upon arrival the first order of business was securing lodging for the night. I kinda liked the look, well name anyway, of this place.

Jee Yeun wanted clean and comfortable and cheap, so this is where we stayed.  Obviously, the place didn't blow, even if it did *ahem* Blue.  Actually, it was fine and no complaints about the W35,000 rate.

Jee Yeun wanted clean and comfortable and cheap, so this is where we stayed. Obviously, the place didn’t blow, even if it did *ahem* Blue. Actually, it was fine and no complaints about the W35,000 rate.

With lodging secured, we hiked a couple of blocks to the waterfront.

With lodging secured, we hiked a couple of blocks to the waterfront.

The obligatory beachside photo...

The obligatory beachside photo…

And we enjoyed a nice sunset...

And we enjoyed a nice sunset…

And then it was time to eat.  Justin and Jee Yeun insisted on a meal featuring raw fish.  The only time I've ever gotten sick eating in Korea was on raw fish, coincidentally at Haeundae.  So, I wasn't very enthusiastic about their choice.  Still, there was denying the fish was fresh...

And then it was time to eat. Justin and Jee Yeun insisted on a meal featuring raw fish. The only time I’ve ever gotten sick eating in Korea was on raw fish, coincidentally at Haeundae. So, I wasn’t very enthusiastic about their choice. Still, there was denying the fish was fresh…

The restaurant we chose had a nice ocean view...

The restaurant we chose had a nice ocean view…

...and offered an impressive selection of side dishes...

…and offered an impressive selection of side dishes…

I had to admit the presentation of the uncooked fish was appealing.  In the foreground you can see my way of eating fish, which is just what I did.  They also brought me a nice fish stew, so I was satisfied.

I had to admit the presentation of the uncooked fish was appealing. In the foreground you can see my way of eating fish, which is just what I did. They also brought me a nice fish stew, so I was satisfied.

Our hunger satiated, we went for a little hike around the back side of the Westin Chosun.  That's the APEC conference center on the right, which was still under construction during my previous visit...

Our hunger satiated, we went for a little hike around the back side of the Westin Chosun. That’s the APEC conference center on the right, which was still under construction during my previous visit…

The are around Haeundae has really built up as well.  Justin and I debated just how tall these massive apartment complex's were.  Our guesstimates ranged from 50 to 80 stories...

The area around Haeundae has really built up as well. Justin and I debated just how tall these massive apartment complex’s were. Our guesstimates ranged from 50 to 80 stories…

Having walked a fair piece, I was getting thirsty.  For beer.  We came across a covey of pochangmacha's that filled that void nicely...

Having walked a fair piece, I was getting thirsty. For beer. We came across a covey of pochangmacha’s that filled that void nicely…

busan18

Justin and Jee Yeun had ddokgochi and I had a chicken-on-the-stick. Truth be told none of us enjoyed the food. But the beer was cold.

The beach at Haeundae is  undergoing a revitalization project.  I don't know why, but I found the construction work strangely pornographic...

The beach at Haeundae is undergoing a revitalization project. I don’t know why, but I found the construction work strangely pornographic…

Down on the boardwalk.  Well, it was technically concrete, but you get the meaning.  Saturday had been nice, but Sunday morning was overcast and chilly.  We had planned on taking the boat to Taejongdae, but alas, there no longer is such a boat from Haeundae.  So, we took a cab instead.

Down on the boardwalk. Well, it was technically concrete, but you get the meaning. Saturday had been nice, but Sunday morning was overcast and chilly. We had planned on taking the boat to Taejongdae, but alas, there no longer is such a boat from Haeundae. So, we took a cab instead.

Our cab ride took us over the old bridge...

Our cab ride took us over the old bridge…

...and the new bridge.  I've got to say, Busan cabbies seem much chattier than the ones in Seoul.  Our driver on this ride drove like a madman, and answered his kakao messages while driving.  Some crazy guy on a motorbike (excuse the redundancy) darted across an intersection against the light in front of us, how we missed him I'll never know.  The ride was a thrill a minute, that's for sure...

…and the new bridge. I’ve got to say, Busan cabbies seem much chattier than the ones in Seoul. Our driver on this ride drove like a madman, and answered his kakao messages while driving. Some crazy guy on a motorbike (excuse the redundancy) darted across an intersection against the light in front of us, how we missed him I’ll never know. The ride was a thrill a minute, that’s for sure…

Against all odds we arrived safely in the comparatively sleepy village of Taedongchae.

Against all odds we arrived safely in the comparatively sleepy village of Taejongdae.

Were we enjoyed us some lunch before heading up the mountain...

Were we enjoyed us some lunch before heading up the mountain…

I don't want to leave the impression that we actually walked to the top (which would be similar to climbing Namsam).  Instead we opted for this Disney-like tram ride.

I don’t want to leave the impression that we actually walked to the top (which would be similar to climbing Namsam). Instead we opted for this Disney-like tram ride.

Up top we saw buildings on rocks...

Up top we saw buildings on rocks…

...people on rocks...

…people on rocks…

...fresh fish on the rocks...

…fresh fish on the rocks…

and rocks on the water...

and rocks on the water…

Now, I heard the English speaking recording on the tram ride say this is the spot where the East Sea (aka Sea of Japan) meets the South sea.  Justin insisted it is where East meets West.  Hell if I know.

Now, I heard the English speaking recording on the tram ride say this is the spot where the East Sea (aka Sea of Japan) meets the South sea. Justin insisted it is where East meets West. Hell if I know.

We encountered this topless young lady, but frankly I thought there was something fishy about her...

We encountered this topless young lady, but frankly I thought there was something fishy about her…

The obligatory pose in front of the lighthouse.

The obligatory pose in front of the lighthouse.

The whole experience left me feeling rather contemplative.

The whole experience left me feeling rather contemplative.

Having seen the sights we headed back to Busan station.  With some time to kill before our train, we ventured out to "Chinatown".  All I can say is that the Russians have successfully invaded and conquered this part of China.  You might notice as I did that almost all the signage is in Cyrillic.

Having seen the sights we headed back to Busan station. With some time to kill before our train, we ventured out to “Chinatown”. All I can say is that the Russians have successfully invaded and conquered this part of China. You might notice as I did that almost all the signage is in Cyrillic.

Although this sign wasn't.

Although this sign wasn’t.

We decided to spend our final hour in Busan going full on Korea-style.  Which I define as sitting outside drinking and snacking and smoking.

We decided to spend our final hour in Busan going full on Korea-style. Which I define as sitting outside drinking and snacking and smoking.

And so ended our Valentine's day adventure.

And so ended our Valentine’s day adventure.

 

Gone but not forgotten

(In celebration of ten years of blogging here at LTG, each week for the next5251 50 49 48 47 46  45 weeks I will delve deep into the sewer archives of past posts to bring you a tidbit of blog history.  I had originally planned to call this series “The best of LTG”, but damn, there just wasn’t much “best” to be found.  And mediocre is too hard to spell.)

Best picture I have available at the moment.

Best picture I have available at the moment.

In 2008 I was Remembering Linda Ketner on the fourth anniversary of her passing. She was my best friend and soul mate.  I’m still missing her.  I wonder how she would react to the twists and turns my life has taken since she left this world.  Actually, I know.  She’d laugh at the silly boy who can never seem to get things quite right. Then she’d give me a hug and tell me that I’ll get there.  Eventually.

Thank you for that.

 

 

 

Bon Voyage

My good friend Dennis (who values his privacy, hence no last name here) is retiring tomorrow after some forty-odd years of government service.  We went out for drinks and dinner last night to say our goodbyes, but I also wanted to pay him tribute here on my humble blog.

Now, Dennis is one of those unique individuals some of us have the good fortune to encounter during this journey we call life.  I consider him something of a renaissance man with a passion for learning and adventure.  He’s an accomplished musician (guitar and mandolin), an avid bicyclist (he’s done the week-long Ride the Rockies tour several times), and an experienced world traveler.  He’s brilliant, but also one of the most unassuming, down to earth individuals you could hope to meet.  I can say without equivocation that he was the most hardworking, dedicated, and loyal employee I ever had the pleasure to employ.  And more importantly, he has been a steadfast friend for more than twenty years now.

Dennis began his service to our nation as a foot soldier on the front lines in Vietnam.  Like most combat veterans, he rarely spoke of his experiences there.  He did tell me once that the battle scenes in the movie Forrest Gump brought back memories that left him shaken for awhile.  He came back from the war, earned his degree as an English major, and briefly taught in the public schools.  Then he went to work as a clerk for the Postal Service in Minneapolis, later transferring to Asheville, NC and eventually joining the management ranks as a Labor Relations Specialist.

Our paths first crossed in 1993 at a meeting in Greensboro, NC.  I had taken a labor relations job with the newly created Mid-Atlantic Area office, although I was still domiciled in Columbia.  The purpose of the meeting was to establish how the Area office would manage working relationships with the field offices.  Prior to the start of the meeting (and introductions) I was sitting near Dennis and he was holding court about “the big shots coming down from the Area office to try and tell us how to do our jobs”.  Did I mention he could be a bit of a smart-ass?  Anyway, the look on his face when I introduced myself as one of the Area big shots was priceless.  Over the course of the meeting though Dennis impressed me with his candor and intelligence.  When I returned to Columbia I told the Human Resources Director that I had the perfect candidate for his vacant Manager, Labor Relations position.  Dennis got the job and our long professional relationship began, as did our friendship.

Several years later I was promoted and moved to Arlington, VA and I was looking for someone to fill my old job. Dennis applied, and prior to the start of his interview I made him stand, raise his right hand, and swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.  I could tell he was taken aback by this tactic, but of course he gave the oath. During the course of the interview I asked why he thought he was the best candidate for the job. He responded that his winning record as an arbitration advocate was second to none.  I then asked “are you saying your record is better than mine?  And remember, you are under oath”.  It should come as no surprise that I can be a bit of a dick myself.  Of course, I hired him and moved him up to Arlington to join me.

In those days, we traveled quite a bit and on occasion we’d be in the same city.  Now, what happens on the road, stays on the road so I can’t reveal how Dennis earned the nickname “Deacon” in Philadelphia.  Or the incident involving a bottle of champagne.  And of course, he could retaliate with stories about me (like the time I played the part of “asshole boss” and made him carry my bags in the Columbus airport).  Suffice to say, we worked hard and played hard and made us some nice memories.

Dennis eventually got promoted and became my peer at the Area office in Windsor, CT. And I had a nice time visiting him there.  Later on he moved to a position at Postal Service Headquarters and we got to hang out more frequently.   Then I left USPS for the Education Department and shortly thereafter Dennis signed on with the Department of Agriculture and moved to Fort Collins, CO.  Another great place to visit!

Dennis continued to establish his reputation throughout the government as the go to expert in labor and employee relations.  Which led him to be hired by the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) in DC, the folks in charge of the entire Federal workforce! Yep, my protege done good and I felt a sense of vicarious pride in his accomplishments.

Meanwhile, I had moved to Korea and when the time came to fill a labor relations vacancy on my staff, I immediately thought of Dennis.  The problem was Dennis was big time now and I couldn’t match his DC salary.  But I called him up anyway.  I said “Dennis, how would you like the adventure of living and working in Korea?”  He thought that sounded pretty exciting.  I said “would you be wiling to work here for less pay?”  That wasn’t as appealing to him.  Then I asked him how long his daily commute was and he told me at least an hour a day.  I asked what was he paying in rent and he responded over $2000. a month.  So I told him what if I were to say if you come to Korea I can give you back one hour of your life everyday and give you a nicer place to live for free?   And that’s how I scored the best labor relations guy in the USA to work for me in Seoul.  Oh yeah, I also told Dennis I’d give him 10,000 for coming.  True to my word, when I met him at the airport in Incheon I handed him a crisp W10,000 bank note.  Well, he professes that he is still glad he came.

I retired and Dennis stayed on.  I’m back and now he’s ready to move on to the next chapter of his life.  And what a chapter it’s going to be!  He closes out his career tomorrow and is on a plane bound for the Philippines Saturday morning.  He sold or gave away everything he owns except one suitcase of clothes and his guitar.  Dennis has chosen to spend his retirement years as a nomad.

After two weeks in the PI, he’ll fly to Cambodia, then Vietnam, then Thailand.  After that, it’s off to Australia, then a two week cruise to various ports-of-call in New Zealand.  That gets him through February.  “Where then?” I asked and he said wherever I feel like going.

Damn, I envy that.  Even though I know I wouldn’t have the balls to live that lifestyle. Dennis did promise to respond to my emails asking “where in the world are you?” and I promised to meet up with him for a few days now and again in whatever exotic location he finds himself.

Enjoy the rest of your life my friend.  You’ve earned it.

Between a ROK and a hard place

Imagine that you are an American sitting in a Seoul drinking establishment minding your own business.  Your Korean ex-girlfriend is there as well, but you are not there together.  You then observe a younger Korean man begin verbal harassing your ex.  And then he strikes her.  Acting on instinct you get up and tell the guy to back off and give him a shove.  The guy collapses and goes into cardiac arrest.  He is transported to the hospital and placed in ICU.  You are placed under arrest and transported to jail.

This just happened to a friend of mine.  I’m not sure what the outcome will be, but I don’t see any scenario where he isn’t screwed.  Any options he might have are going to require money that he does not have.  So, at my suggestion he’s set up a Go Fund Me account.  I hope things work out for him somehow, but I don’t have much faith in Korean “justice” under these circumstances.

 

Thirsty?

I’ll drink to that!

neil

Last night I had the pleasure of running into a long time LTG reader and old friend Neil Hirst (aka Thirsty) at Dolce Vita.  I’ve been knowing Thirsty since we met at a dart match in December 2006 when he impressed me by recounting his favorite posts from the blog, including the time I busted open my skull and witnessed what turned out to be a friend of Neil’s falling out of a cab. And over the years he’s continued to read the blog and occasionally even comment!  You can’t buy that kind of loyalty, but you can reward it with a beer.  So I did.

Neil left Korea a few years back for Jakarta but we stayed connected via LTG. He then spent some time in China where he acquired a beautiful Chinese wife who subsequently provided him with a handsome son.  Thirsty proudly reports the boy can cuss in three languages!  These days he calls Singapore home, but a recent promotion will afford him the opportunity to visit Korea several times a year.  So, I’ll be looking forward to our next chance encounter.

Speaking of which, there was a fair amount of kismet involved in my running into Thirsty last night.  I wasn’t even supposed to be at Dolce Vita as I have a standing Wednesday night dart date at Bull and Barrel with my Canadian friend Craig Cowper.  Craig had to cancel last night, so I made my way over to Shenanigans where I enjoyed some beer and conversation with a university professor who hails from Alabama.  He wanted me to stay and throw some darts with him, but alas, I had left my darts at Dolce Monday night.  So, I went to retrieve them and ran into a friend whose son was visiting from Russia and she asked if I’d give him a game or two.  Which I did.  He’s a fine lad and his game is improving, but let’s just say his missiles weren’t flying as accurately as Mr. Putin’s.

And then Thirsty appeared and we played us some darts, drank us some beers, and had us some fun.  Oh, and Neil’s also a big fan of the Big Hominid’s blog and he mentioned that he enjoyed reading about me and Kevin meeting up a couple of months ago.

So, that’s the story of how I quenched my thirst for a good night in Itaewon!