12/22/08

Sannakchi

Having always wanted to try a whole live octopus (nakchi), when my students offered to take me out for live octopus as a Christmas present I jumped at the chance.

No sooner had we sat down did a bowl of four live octopus’s come out of the kitchen. My student Joy reached into the bowl and did this:
video

Now it was my turn… First I had to wrestle the octopus from the bowl. Then as it squirmed and attached its tentacles to my hand and arm, I had to force its head down into a chopstick; which does not kill the octopus. All seemed to be going well until I tried to wrap the octopus around the chopstick. No matter how hard I tried the octopus kept finding a way off of the chopstick; making it impossible to eat.

The situation soon deteriorated to the point where the octopus was no longer even on the chopstick. With no other choice and my students looking on, I began to bit into the flaying octopus, ripping off a tentacle here and a tentacle there.

About this time the chief came in and with a rather shocked and amused look on her face, took the octopus away from me. She then reached in the bowl, took out a fresh octopus, and wrapped it around the chopstick for me. With the live octopus ready she handed it to me and motioned for me to put the entire writhing mass in my mouth. (Never mind that the octopus with tentacles was nearly a foot long and I was not sure how I was

going to fit the entire thing in my mouth. Yet somehow I got the whole octopus into my mouth and off of the chopstick.

Now came the hard part. As the octopus tried desperately to escape my mouth via my lips and windpipe, I knew it was either he or I. With no other choice I savagely and viciously began to chew my squirming foe to pieces. After three minutes of chewing, my students told me the octopus was safe to swallow. So with one giant gulp I tried to swallow the octopus. Unfortunately the octopus was wrapped up in my teeth. Visions of a stupid, all be it amusing death, flashed before my eyes just before my gag reflex kicked in and brought the entire pulsating mass back into my mouth.
Never one to give up, I did not spit out the octopus. Rather I delicately untangled the remaining resistance from my teeth and then with one great gulp sent the entire squirming cephalopod to my gut bellow.

video

11/26/08

Kaesong City, North Korea

Any international trip that begins with you leaving your passport at home is bound to be an interesting one. Luckily, my friend and coworker Ricky was convinced to drive my passport two hours up to Seoul for $80’s just in the nick of time; making the following trip possible.

Boarding the bus in Seoul at 6am, my friend and I were far from awake. Fortunately the three-hour bus ride from Seoul to the North Korean border and gave us ample time to wake up.

After passing through South Korean customs, our bus convoy drove through the DMZ. At the North Korean border, three North Korean tour guides all wearing suits boarded the bus. Our convoy of six buses was then escorted into North Korea by several South Korean cars driven by North Korean soldiers.


After crossing the boarder and entering the North I as struck with how bleak the scenery seemed. It made no conceivable sense that a few miles could make such a different on the surroundings. Yet as I look closer at the mountains, I realized most of the trees had been chopped down, leaving only winter brown grass to cover the countryside.
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As the bus got closer to Kaesong City we began to pass small farming villages. The scene could best be described as something out of rural China. Villages were comprised of ten to twenty houses, which were surrounded by a wall about head high (This type of wall is normal in rural Asian villages). At first glance these villages could have been nearly anywhere in rural Asia. It was the military presence in each village that made you realize your were in North Korea.

Alongside the road anywhere there was a house, village, or building a North Korean solider(s) stood with a red flag. Their primary job was to keep the civilians from getting close enough to interact with us; their second objective was to watch for any of us taking pictures from the bus.

Taking pictures while inside the bus or of, North Koreans, farmhouses, and anything else aside from national monuments and natural wonders is strictly forbidden in North Korea. If a North Korean soldier spots or believes he has spotted someone taking a picture from the bus, he raises the flag and the convoy has to stop. The North Korean soldiers then boards the bus and typically confiscates the perpetrators camera and slaps them with a fine or possibly jail time.

As our bus passed through Kaesong City the muted color theme continued. Everything was drab. Nothing drew attention to itself, the people, the buildings, and the few cars all seemed to be trying to escape any unwanted attention.


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*In the video above, I had to hide the camera at one point in this video to keep from being caught by a policeman standing on the street. In hindsight it was rather a close call. .
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I was also struck by the construction of the buildings. It reminded me of pictures I’d seen of Eastern Europe in National Geographic. Delicately thin single pain windows hung from catawampus high-rise apartment buildings that had no lights on. The construction materials being used in half built buildings seemed to be an odd mix of precariously stacked concrete blocks, none of which were uniform. Most buildings under construction had the same black cranes sitting idly above them, giving entire portions of the city felt like a movie set. The streets however, were clean enough to eat off of.


After passing through Kaesong City we traveled down the Reunification Highway to our first stop, the Pakyon Waterfall. The waterfall was beautiful and as is typical with natural wonders in North Korea, poetry/ propaganda had been carved into the surrounding rocks. Most of it had done by the North Korean’s, but some of it predated North Korea, so if you looked around you could see where the “offensive” poetry had been chiseled out of the rocks.

From Pakyon Waterfall our convoy drove back down the Reunification Highway and into Kaesong City to have lunch. During the ride one of our North Korean guides decided to lighten the mood and sung us this song:


“Lets love our country
Compared to other countries North Korea is the best
North Korea is the greatest country
North Korea is the greatest country”

On the hour-long trip we only encountered a handful of cars. Most westerners make this out to be a bad thing. Personally I though it was great. There was no traffic what so ever and the air quality was great compared to Seoul. The North Koreans I saw walked or rode bicycles; if they had enough food nearly everyone in North Korea would be in exemplary shape.

For lunch we were given traditional Kaesong cuisine, which was served by North Korean women wearing traditional Korean Hanbok’s. The food was delicious and we were given so much that no one including myself was able to finish it.



Following lunch we were allowed to walk outside in a very limited, but interesting area. At the top of a hill, that we were not allowed to walk up was large statue of the Great Leader Kim Il Sung and at the bottom of the hill lay downtown Kaesong city. We were allowed to take pictures of nearly everything including North Korean citizens, because we were to far away to get a decent picture of them. Downtown Kaesong city had little to no traffic and for a city of 400,000 and very little foot traffic.
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Near the end of the day we were allow to stand on one side of the street and watch the North Korean’s “going about their everyday life” on the other side of the street. (Interestingly while we were on the sidewalk no North Korean ever walked on our side of the street.) The mood could best be described as a people zoo; though its debatable as to whom the wild animals were. As with the entire tour, the North Korean’s citizens were there, but just out of our reach. They paid little to no attention to us, though once in a great while a small child would acknowledge the waves from people on our tour.
The last stop on our trip was to a gift shop and temple. After buying a rather interesting anti- American stamp collection, (which I had to smuggle back into South Korea) I wandered around the temple. Upon returning to the parking lot, I walked as far away from the other tourists as possible and took a moment to take in the scenery.

Off in the distance a man on a hill carried a bale of straw that was bigger than him. Bellow him on the hill laid a half completed water-slide that looked as though it would never be finished. To my right was half built building with yet another black crane standing guard over it. Then some movement over on the hill caught my eye. It was two little boys. From behind some rocks they peered down at the parking lot taking in the foreigners milling about. Their curiosity made me smile and reminded me that even in North Korea kids are kids.

Going back over the boarder was a little stressful. I had brought two memory cards for my camera. On one memory card I had taken approved pictures. On the other I had the forbidden pictures and videos that ended up on this post. So with the "illegal" memory card stuffed in my underwear and thoughts of going to a North Korean prison running through my mind, I walked through the metal detector, which of course had to go off. Yet with a swoop of his hand held metal detector and an inspection of the approved pictures on my camera, the North Korean soldier waved me through customs. (One person on my tour was caught with several forbidden pictures. At one point four North Korean soldiers surrounded him and yelled at him in hushed tone. Only after our South Korean tour guide intervened was he able to make it through customs and onto the bus.)

Sitting in Seoul Station waiting for my train back to Cheonan, I though about the positive aspects of life in North Korea. The lack of materialism was great. There were no giant advertisements, fast-food chains, or big box stores. There were no televisions, blaring radios, or ringing mobile phones. The lack of cars, trucks, and buses left the city air fresh. The time capsule feeling of the country gave me an insight into the world that has all but disappeared.

Yet for better or for worse the world has changed and rather than fighting that fact, I settled into my seat on a 200mph bullet train, looked at my forbidden pictures, and smiled as I bit into my Big Mac.

*As of December 1, 2008 North Korea has closed its boarder with South Korea indefinitely. My tour was the last offered by Adventure Korea until the boarder reopens.
**This tour was the only way for Americans to visit North Korea aside from during the Mass Games, which are typically held once a year.
***All video was shot out of my tour buses window or while I was standing on the street. At one point I was shooting video with a North Korea solider standing next to me.

11/18/08

Diamond Head


This is near the summit of Diamond Head on a trail that goes around the rim of the volcano's cone.

Hawaii Harley


The weather on the back side of Oahu threatened to rain on me. In the end I escaped the rain, but not a dog bite to my shoe on dead end road.

10/20/08

Moving Up

video

Space permitting, this is the typical method of moving in and out of larger apartment buildings in Korea; sure beats taking the stairs.

A Fleeting Masterpiece

video

The mountains are my canvas, the motorcycle is my paintbrush.

10/15/08

Platform Prep

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A women preparing a Korean corndog at a stand on the train platform at Geumjeong station.

9/24/08

Foods and Animals

The assignment was simple. There was a picture containing different animals and types of food. The students merely had to separate the animals from the food and write down the names in two separate columns (Animals and Food). Below are Ed’s answers:

Food
Eggs ......................Meat
Fish ......................Pasta
Dog .................Shellfish
Vegetables ............Cook


Animals
Bird ....................Turtle
Dog ....................Lizard
Cat .........................Fish
Rabbit ...............Mouse
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If the publisher had known dogs are both a food and an animal in Korea, I wouldn’t have gotten to laugh so hard today.

9/15/08

Beach Ride

video

A great ride on Malipo Beach, which is located in Taean County, South Korea.

Chusok

video

This video contains part of the ancestor worhsip ceremony performed the morning of Chusok before the feast.

The ceremony is lead by father and eldest son. The bang heard at the beginning of the video is the father hitting a pair of metal chopsticks against the alter. This is meant to call the ancestors into the house. As the men of the family bow two times, you will be able to see an alter with a variety of fruit on it. This fruit is an offering to the families ancestors. The ritual seen here in the video is repeated as many times as their are sons in the family. (So if a family had two sons this ritual would be done twice.) Each time after the men bow twice the two wooden cups of sake on the alter are dumped into a silver bowl and then refilled.

9/9/08

Alarming Alice

video

This video, shot in Asan, is one that I have always wanted to shoot.

The look on Alice's face at the end is truely priceless.

8/27/08

Back Alley Bicycle Taxi

video

A ride through one of Beijing's disappearing hutong's.

My driver was a 63 year old man, who insisted on showing off his virility at a traffic light by hitting himself in the face several times. Since he did not speak any English he explained the sights of Beijing we rode past via an amusing set of sign language.

8/18/08

Crater Run

It had taken nearly three hours to reach to summit of Hallasan. Now that I had climbed the tallest mountain in South Korea, I had new goal in mind: make it down to crater lake at the volcanoes center.
Knowing that the crater lake was off limits and under the watch of Korean Park Services, I made my way to a seclude area on the summit and quickly began my decent into the crater.

As I neared the crater lake a Park Ranger caught sight of me and began running down the crater after me. Fortunately my head start left me with enough time to make it down to the lake. With the few stolen moments that I had, I sat on the banks of the lake and enjoyed its cool water in my hands. Above me the ring of the volcano stretched out into a cool blue sky.
It was time to go.

As I made my way out of the crater, the Park Ranger caught up with me and gave me a tongue-lashing and another get out jail free card.

Jeju Island, South Korea

8/10/08

Ridding in the Ocean

video

This road sits on a tidal mud plane and connects Jebudo island with mainland Korea. The road is only passable for about 18 hours a day, while the tide was out. During high tide the road is covered by the ocean.

Definitely one of the cooler roads I have ever rode on.

7/10/08

Pushing Back

It had been a relaxing seaside afternoon of sushi and soju. Not wanting to break the mood I opted to take a scenic ride back to Cheonan through the mountains. The gentle curves of the mountain road snaked James and I within twenty miles of Cheonan. With the sun low in the sky and an empty highway stretching before us, I pulled back hard to the throttle and shot off towards Cheonan.

Tucked down on my tank the road began to flash before me as the needle on the speedometer crossed into one hundred mile an hour territory. Then the bike began to hesitate. Assuming the engine was experiencing mild indigestion brought on by some bad gasoline, I played with the throttle and tried to ride through it. Then came the horrible sound of grinding metal from my engine. With no power, James shot past me, leaving me alone in the countryside.

Pulling in the clutch, I coasted over to the median and stopped. After trying to restart the bike to no avail, I began to look for a rope. Alongside of the road I found a lenght of rubber tube just about the time James called and asked me what had happened. I told him the bad news. He laughed and said he would come get me.

Doubting that the rubber tube could handle the weight of the motorcycle, I wandered over to a set of buildings that were under construction. Through a set of glass doors I could see a rope lying on the floor, so I began trying the doors to see if one was open. When last door finally opened, it set off the burglar alarm and not wanting to explain myself, I ran back over to my motorcycle and waited for James.

When James arrived, we looped the rubber tube through my front fork and tied it to the luggage rack on the back of James motorcycle. Now came the fun part. The rubber tube gave us about a foot and a half between the two motorcycles and Cheonan lay twenty miles away. To get there we would have first to ride on the highway and then negotiate our way through the evening traffic in the city.

James started out towing me at a slow pace and the rubber tube held as I was towed up the on ramp. Soon we were ridding down the highway and all seemed to be going well. Inspired by our good fortune James began to ride faster, which did not sit with me well. As a yelled a James to slow down, all I got in reply was the classic, "What? Huh, What? I cannot hear you?!" Knowing my concentration was required elsewhere, I decided to forget that we were going 65 mph and just concentrate on keep the bikes from crashing into one another.

The empty highway was soon behind us and the clogged city roads lay before us. Ridding on the shoulder, with little room to spare, side view mirrors and over sized trucks left me once again staring down at the rope. While we were making great time, I had no desire to know how close James was cutting it.

Finally we were almost home, the last mile lay beyond this final turn. As we entered into the corner, once again, I yelled at James to slow down and once again he did not hear me. As James turned the rubber tube began to sling shot me straight forward, rather than into the turn. As I tried to correct my front end by breaking and turning, it started pulling James' back end out from under him. Knowing if this continued much longer, it would end with both of our bikes on the ground in the middle of the intersection. So I dumped my bike and went for a roll.

Broken turn signal aside, the bike and I survived without a scratch and we soon found ourselves at home. That Monday the motorcycle was picked up and taken down to the shop. After opening the engine my mechanic found that I had shaken two cranks lose, cracked a piston, warped the cylinder wall, and broken the bearings in the camshaft.

Maybe its time to get a bigger motorcycle...

7/9/08

Motorcycle Firework Joust

A few notes:

1) “I” was not “involved” in this.
2) The scream heard mid-way through the video is the camera lady being hit by a rouge firework.

Cheonan, South Korea

City View

video

While I had higher aspirations for this video, it will give you an interesting glimpse into what a countryside city looks like in South Korea.

6/29/08

A Sunday Ride

video

Its always fun to operate a camera with one hand, while driving a motorcycle in traffic and through a curve with your other.

The other riders are my friends James and Wendy.

The beef over beef

video

Though things have now settled down, for the past month or so across South Korea there have been a number of candle light vigils protesting the South Korean governments plan to import US beef over 30 months old. After a number of rallies and protests similar to this one the South Korean government renegotiated the free trade agreement with the US to ensure that no beef over 30 months old would be imported.

6/15/08

North Korean Karaoke

video

Lyrics:

“La la they are calling me a good female worker!”

“They are calling me a good female worker!”

video

Lyrics:

“Oh friends lets sing together.”

“Why do you put the whole world in that belief?”

“True friends (comrades) that belief is my truth forever."

6/9/08

Octopus

Being awoken by a phone call at 6:00 AM is a nuisance. Being awoken by a video call at 6:00 AM from a waiter you met the night before is downright creepy.

The evening before as James and I dined on live octopus, the waiter had tried to make friends with me. Though I am not averse to making new friends, I only have one mouth that at the moment it was preoccupied with trying to tear, rip, and incapacitate a living animal that was hell bend on choking me. Hoping to regain an air of peace and safety, I gave the waiter my phone number and assumed he would never call me.

Needless to say I underestimated the waiters desire to continue our conversation. In spite of me ignoring his video calls, the waiter called me twice a day for five days straight. Luckily, on the sixth day a Korean friend of mine was around when the waiter called and with a few harsh words from this friend the calls finally ended.

6/8/08

Beating the Rain

video

This comes from a ride James and another Korean buddy of mine did Saturday afternoon.

4/23/08

Blah

Pictures would be best at describing my weekend motorcycle trips. From them you would see mountains blooming with spring flowers and farmers planting their rice fields. Other pictures with their the countless dilapidated traditional houses, hillside graves, and mountain temples would show you what are now common sights for me.

Of course a video might be better. For it would show you the cherry blossom petals falling from the trees and rushing around me like a winters snow. Or the small deer that raced alongside my motorcycle and then darted off into the safety forest.

Then again this oddly worded blog and your vivid imagination might be all that's needed to feel the damp mountain air, see the strange sights, and smell the farmers cow manure.

4/12/08

Fleeting Fame

I wonder if the man who wears the Mickey Mouse suit at Disney World feels the same sense of false celebrity I felt today.

One would assume that the streets of an English Village(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/English_village) would be teaming with foreigners hired create a " Western Atmosphere". Surprisingly, this assumption is wrong. Thus my white face and "handsome looks" drew scores of Korean children hell bend on using their English upon me like a hoard zombies to a live body. Most if not all of the children were polite and began with, "Excuse me." Then followed up with, whats your name, are you married, what do you like about Korea, and so on. Surprisingly others wanted autographs and pictures with me. All in all it was rather surreal and in the confines of that English village a handfull of other luck foreigners and I added a few more seconds to our fifteen minutes of fame.

4/6/08

She'll have the...

Finding my date was not easy last night. She had called at the last minute and given me directions in Korean to a part of the city I rarely visit. At first I debated whether or not to go. It was raining outside and I had absolutely no idea where I was going; then again the whole thing sounded like a fun scavenger hunt.

So after asking for directions from no less than ten people, being given three hand drawn maps, following someone in their car, and ridding around in the rain for thirty minutes I found the restaurant.

Since I was rather late, my date and the other couple had already begun eating a meal comprised of a soup made with kimchi, fish intestine, and fish eggs sacks and side dishes of silkworm and of course more kimchi. It was a strange reward for such a difficult and long scavanger hunt, but atleast the soju kept the silkworm down.

3/10/08

Visiting Hours

Having ridden my motorcycle through a rice field, a vegetable garden, and then a steep poorly maintained single lane "road" I finally arrived at the mountains peak. There to my surprise, I found a fortress. Its gate was shut, but with no other vehicles around, I assumed it was unoccupied.


After climbing out on a ledge and scaling a short wall, I breached the fortress. Once inside I noticed smoke rising from other side of the court yard and decided to investigate. Rounding a corner I noticed two security guards about the same time that they noticed me.


As usual there was yelling, me running, and for the first time also a dog chasing after me. Luckily I made it back over the wall and off of the ledge before the dog ever caught up with me.
Unfortunately I still had to drive off to make a clean get away. Since my motorcycle had a dead battery, resulting from an incident earlier that morning, I had to push start the motorcycle to get it started. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Push_start)

Next time, I'll observe visiting hours.

3/5/08

Sterile Wrapping

Culinary Adventures have always been a staple of my travels. Last night was no exception, as I wandered from oden cart (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oden) to oden cart tasting this and that.

At the final cart, I was greeted by an old women. I pointed at two pieces of oden and she wrapped them up for me. As I stood alongside her cart eating, some English text on the paper that the oden had been wrapped up in caught my eye.

The first word I could make out was sterile and the second was syringe. To clarify: Some how, some way, this women had gotten the sterile paper used to package a syringe and had decided it was well suited for wrapping up her patrions oden.

For the first time in my life, it was the packaging and not the food that made my stomach turn.

2/18/08

The Frosty Deal

Not owning a motorcycle for a year a half has taught me two things.
1. I prize owing one above most other possessions life:
2. They suck in the rain and bitter cold.

Number two was reinforced yet again as I rode over the Han River in 35 degree weather. Combined with a wind chill I did not care to calculate, most of the three hour ride was nothing but a necessary sacrifice to save $500 and make up for a week of convincing my boss that a motorcycle was not a surefire guarantee of personal injury.

The Comet as its called is a 250cc built by Hyosung (A Korean company that builds a number of scooters and motorcycles) and was being sold by a gentleman named Eric. He was leaving in a week and faced either taking what he could get for his motorcycle or walking away from it, more on that later.

More importantly, I had to convince my boss to let me buy this motorcycle. So at a party she hosted this past weekend, I waited till the end of the night when she had had a few glasses of "kool-aid". Then with the same smile I had worn the day I lied my way past the park ranger on Mt. Jade in Taiwan, I looked her right in the eye and pleeded my case one last time.

And that is how I found myself ridding over the Han River and getting a $2,000 motorcycle with a fill tank of gas for $1,400.

2/14/08

Hot Dogs and Porridge

As a child, my uncle had paid my sister, brother, and I a visit after lunch one sunny summer afternoon.

As was the custom, our uncle chased us and we ran away screaming. When he caught my brother he proceeded to mercilessly tickle him. My brother cried out for mercy, but my uncle continued his tickle assault. Within a matter of moments the hot dog my brother had eaten for lunch decorated the floor.

To this day I always keep in mind that exercising recently fed children can be messy. Thus today after a mild game of head, shoulders, knee's, and toes I was suprised to find one of my students wearing his breakfast of rice porridge on his pants, shirt, and face. So, I stopped class, took him to the bathroom, and was thankful he had not eaten a hot dog.

2/13/08

Find White

While substituting a kindergarten class, I had the children cover their eyes. Then I told them, "Find something blue." Cries of blue and pointing fingers flew around the room as the children found the color blue around the room.

Hoping to silence the screams of blue for a moment, I told the children,"Good job, cover your eyes. Now lets find white." Once again fingers flew about and the word white rang loudly from twenty little voices. Only, this time the children were not point at the walls and one another's clothing, most were pointing at me.

2/3/08

What do you like?

Of all the odd and inappropriate questions I have been asked while teaching English, "Do you like sex?" definitely takes the cake.

This question could almost be expected from an over enthusiastic middle or high school student who wanted to test out the wilder side of the English language. Yet this question did not come from one of my students, it came right out my bosses mouth.

We had barely known one another an hour before he worked this rather surprising question into the conversation. Not knowing what to say, I skirted around the question and left my boss to do what he liked with the skirt. Having this question directed back at him, my bosses felt obliged to answer the question he had asked.

So does my boss like sex? No he does not; a point which he repeated at least five times during a car ride from the airport that I will not soon forget.