Friday, October 12, 2012

Part Two: My Epic Road Trip So Far

Now 2,340 kilometres southeast of Vancouver, let me tell you about the second part of my road trip.  A lot has happened since my last post and the epicness has certainly accumulated in that time.  As I write this, I am sitting on the porch of an adobe house in Gallup, New Mexico.  The house belongs to my new friend Phil and it is where I’ve stayed for the week that I’ve spent here in Gallup.  Phil is the boyfriend of my friend Erin, who I knew when I lived here in Gallup, three years ago.  Phil moved here this summer and is a first year teacher here, just like I was.  We’ve had some good discussions about the troubles of being a first year teacher as well as other things and I’ve been blessed to get to know him.
It has been refreshing and relaxing to be back in Gallup.  I’ve fallen in love with the place all over again due to a hike with Erin and Phil in the red rocks, a bike ride with Eryn (with a ‘y’) on the High Desert Trail, attending church at the small but loving church Jolene and I used go to, two lunches at Jerry’s CafĂ© for stuffed sopapillas, falling asleep to the sounds of the trains, a visit to my old elementary school, and some good hanging out time with the great people here.  All of this has made Gallup another place that I want to move back to.  Add it to the list.
Let me explain all the adventures I’ve had on the way here.  On day 26, I left Vancouver and took a ferry to Nanaimo on Vancouver Island.  On the way, the ferry went through the many mountainous islands between Vancouver and the main island and it was glorious.  From Nanaimo, I drove west towards Tofino and stopped halfway at Sproat Lake Provincial Park.  In the morning, in the rain, I drove the rest of the way to Tofino.  And this drive will vie for the best dive of the trip.  While the drive through the Fraser River canyon on the way to Vancouver was super beautiful, this drive to Tofino was super fun.   It was all curves, cliffs, and trees; the ideal road to be driving a manual car.  While Tofino seems like a really cool place to be, I didn’t stay very long.  I did stay long enough to visit the Roy Henry Vickers art gallery, eat some good pizza, and see the true west coast for the first time.  Then I drove back down the awesome road, through Nanaimo, to Victoria.
Victoria is a beautiful city with all kinds of aboriginal art, water planes taking off and landing in the harbour, lovely government buildings, and the smell of marijuana never too far away.  But I had to cut my stay in Victoria short, unfortunately, because I discovered that the ferry from there to Washington State, my original plan, was all booked up.  Instead, I took a ferry back to Vancouver, crossed the border, and then drove south (Yay, not west anymore) to Seattle.  My next destination was Portland, Oregon to see my friend Roman, and I had planned to drive there straight from Victoria.  So a stop in Seattle was unexpected and I was glad for the chance to see a bit of another major city.  In the morning, on day 29, I visited The Space Needle and the Rock and Roll Museum, no doubt the craziest building I’ve ever seen, and then continued on to Portland to find Roman and his family.
Now Roman, my good friend from Pohang, has lived in Portland for some time, thinks highly of the city, and has shared his opinion on the city a number of times with me and our other Korea friends.  We used to tease him about taking every chance he got to talk up how great Portland was.  So I arrived in Portland with high expectations, curious if it was all Roman made it out to be.  Well, I was nearly convinced after the first day.  Roman lives up this big hill, in a great old house.  After meeting his dad and putting my stuff in the best guest room I’ve ever stayed in, Roman and I went for a walk with his dog Boswell.  Then we drove to Roman’s grad school and talked to some Education grad-school students about our time in Korea.  It was great to reminisce with Roman and share our thoughts with people who were interested in our experience.  Afterwards, I met Roman’s mom and we all went out for dinner.  Now, one of the things Roman had said was so great about Portland was its food.  This first evening we went to a restaurant that serves Paleo food – which I would later learn more about as being food that our Palaeolithic ancestors ate before farming – meaning no grains or dairy, but lots of fruits, vegetables, and meat.  I had a salad burger (a hamburger without the bun mixed into a salad) that was pretty good. 
The next day I learned about the great people of Portland.  Roman and I met his friend Renee, who’s an artist, and we went bouldering (rock climbing without ropes) at a place in town.  For dinner, we picked up Renee’s husband, Brian and went to another great restaurant where I had chicken and waffles… ya, that’s what it was – a really good waffle with really good chicken on top along with a super dipping sauce and maple syrup.  I think it’s a southern thing.  I liked it.  Brian and Renee were fun to get to know and seemed just as enthusiastic about Portland as Roman.  Later, Brian, an artist himself who designs prints for shirts, gave Roman and I some of the extra printed t-shirts that he had gotten for free.  Free t-shirts with cool designs – how sweet is that.
On day 31 Roman showed me what a beautiful place Portland is located in.  We went for a hike near the Columbia River.  What is so cool about the place we hiked in is it is full of waterfalls.  The creeks and streams heading into the river meet the gorge created by the river, becoming numerous, awesome waterfalls.  It was great.  If I hadn’t been convinced about the coolness of Portland by then, hiking in this gorge among these waterfalls surely did.   In the evening we went out for dinner again, this time with some of Roman’s past coworkers.  I forget what I ate but I remember how good the beer was.
Overall, my time with Roman in Portland easily met my expectations and I understand why Roman had so many good stories about it.  He has great parents and it was fun for me to stay in an actual home again.
In the morning of day 32 I headed to the ocean and drove down the Pacific coast, in and out of the fog, trying not to stop for every picturesque view, on Hwy 101.  For the night, I stopped at a campground among sand dunes just south of the town of Florence.  Continuing the next day, I stopped for a car wash put on by high school girls raising money for their volleyball team, bought sourdough bread to serve as breakfast and lunch, and drove into California for the first time.  Not long after crossing the border I was surrounded by the large and looming red woods of the California coast.  I stopped at a hotel in Garberville for the night where, for dinner, I ate the best lasagne I’ve ever had.
Day 34 was the day I drove into San Francisco – a highlight city for me when I was planning my road trip – and I learned two things about the city pretty quickly: 1) The Golden Gate Bridge is much oranger than I thought, and 2) people don’t exaggerate when they talk about San Francisco having steep roads.  In possibly the most embarrassing moments of my life, I stalled my car twice in quick concession driving up one of these steep roads as a guy laughed at me in the car behind.  Grumbling, I drove around looking for a coffee shop with Wi-Fi where I could find a hostel to stay in that night.  Eventually I did find a coffee shop, and I did find a hostel, and I think I was pretty lucky because I think most of the hostels are full most of the time in San Francisco.  As the sun went down I went walking from my hostel downtown to Fisherman’s Warf and then back to Union Square.  I saw a crowd of people on the corner of Powell and Geary and soon could hear that there was a street band playing there.  I joined the crowd and realized how good these guys were.  There was a bass guitarist, an electric guitarist, and a drummer and they were awesome.  I couldn’t stop watching the drummer because of how fast his hands moved.  I stayed for over an hour until they finished playing and the crowd dispersed.  It was an awesome introduction to San Francisco.
Having parked my car in a parking garage, I had until 1:00 to explore as much of the city as I could the next day.  I walked around downtown a little, then to Telegraph Hill and then along the Embarcadero, a historical road and waterfront with forty or more piers where big boats dock and embark from.  I had to boot it to pick up my car in time, but I made it and drove to the west side of the city to walk around Golden Gate Park quickly.  Since I couldn’t book the hostel for two nights, I then head out of San Francisco, drove south past Santa Cruz and Monterey and camped among big trees just outside of Big Sur.  Before I set up my tent, I hustled to the beach in time to catch the sunset.  It was the first one I had seen on the west coast and it was perfect.
By this time, my car was making some interesting sounds and the brakes were squeaking.  So I brought it to a mechanic in Monterey to have it looked at.  And, as mechanics do, he found quite a few things that needed fixing.  It’s true, I probably got hoodwinked a little, but in my defence this was the first time I had taken my car to a mechanic, so I didn’t know much about what needed working on and what didn’t.  Anyway, it took them a day and a half to finish everything and in the meantime I hung around Monterey, read on the beach, and visited the Monterey Aquarium (super awesome).  Feeling better about my car, I drove east, in the afternoon of day 37, toward Stockton, where my friend Jenny lives.  This was another memorable drive, up and over the coastal range and into the hot central valley.  I camped near the San Luis reservoir in an empty campground.  The stars were magnificent.
Jenny is another friend from Pohang who I was excited to hang out with and get to know more.  She lives in Stockton, which doesn’t have the reputation for being a tourist hotspot, but having Jenny show me around let me learn about the city from someone who grew up there.
Jenny and I had a blast.  The first day I was there, Jenny drove me around Stockton showing me her schools and the waterways that flow through the city which connect San Francisco bay with the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers.  Then, back home, we made a great dinner.  Jenny has been trying out this Paleo diet since she got back from Korea and has gotten really good at cooking with Paleo recipes.  She made a really good cauliflower fried rice which doesn’t actually have rice in it since Paleo is gluten free.  And in the evening we made pumpkin cookies.
The next day, after going for a swim at Jenny’s gym, we met up with two of her friends, Bobby and Brian, near Sacramento for lunch.  And guess what? We had Korean food.  It was the best Korean food I’ve had outside of Korea so far.  Then Bobby went to work and Brian, Jenny and I picked up a couple of stand up paddle boards (look it up) from REI (where Bobby and Brian work and Jenny used to work).  We headed to a nearby reservoir and spent the afternoon paddling along the surface of the water on these paddle boards.  Super cool.  That night Jenny and her mom made another delicious dinner and we went to bed worn out.
But the fun didn’t end there.  On day 40, Jenny and I drove back west to the Russian River near Santa Rosa.  We met some of Jenny’s friends at a winery and had lunch.  Then everyone took out their blow up water floats (floating chairs, mattresses, and inner tubes) and we hit the river.  The plan was to float from the winery down the river a couple of miles to where we dropped off a car.  And while it was a perfect day for a river float and we were having a great time, we noticed a problem… we weren’t moving very fast.  Turns out, the Russian River doesn’t move very fast, and in the end, were it not for a nice guy in a boat who picked us up at sunset, we might still be out there, cold and hungry.  Good thing we got picked up though.  We made it back alright.  Fun stuff.
It was good to spend time with Jenny and her family.  She has fascinating parents.  Her dad, a really good artist, claims that, since he had back problems when he was younger, he can feel in his back when there is an earthquake somewhere in the ring of fire.  He was having back pains when I was there and the next day he said he looked in the news and found that there was indeed an earthquake somewhere in East Asia.  Crazy eh?
Anyway, on day 41, when Jenny’s generous family had given me all the food and maps that I could stuff into my car, I headed east toward the Sierra Nevadas and… Yosemite.  The next three days would be a big highlight for me on this road trip; I loved Yosemite.  The first night I was there, I found and settled into my campground – Crane Flats.  I also learned that in order for someone to climb up Half Dome, a famous rock dome in Yosemite, they had to register (with a fee) for a lottery to get a permit two days before the planned climb and then they’d hear about if the next day if they were selected to get the permit.  I thought about if it was worth it to try for the permit and I thought, I may as well try, I might not have the chance again.  So the next morning I went early to a camp office and signed up for the lottery.  Then I headed into Yosemite for the first time.  Now Yosemite Valley is probably one of the most famous naturally beautiful places in the world, and, being there, I could totally understand why.  The cliffs of sheer granite rock are mesmerizing.   I hiked the Four Mile trail on the south side of the valley, up to Glacier Point that first day and by the end of the hike, I was in love with the place.  From Glacier Point you get a great view of Half Dome and the whole valley.  It was just gorgeous.  Now, for me going to Yosemite late in the season, as I did, meant that part of the beauty of the valley was missing – some of the creeks that fall off the great cliffs as majestic waterfalls were all dried up by this time of year.  But on the other hand, being in Yosemite at the time I went, also meant that the valley wasn’t as full of people as I could imagine it might be earlier in the summer.   I’m guessing that this also meant that less people signed up for the Half Dome permit lottery, giving me a better chance to get it.
That evening, I hadn’t heard yet if I would be allowed to climb Half Dome the next day or not, so I decided to hike up the other side of the valley, taking the Upper Yosemite Falls Trail, regardless.  As it turned out, before I started on this hike, I did hear from the Half Dome permit people and YES, I had gotten a permit.  Hurray!  Now, I knew that the Half Dome hike would be pretty gruelling and long, and I was feeling a little sore from the previous day’s four hour hike, but I had already set my mind on hiking both sides of the valley and I think I’ve always had a desire to push my body’s physical limits, so I decided to still hike the Upper Yosemite Falls Trail that day.  This hike, while really beautiful despite the dried up waterfall, turned out to be the toughest of all three hikes.  It was the steepest of the hikes and it had less shade, which meant the sun was beating down strong for a good chunk of the hike.  But I made it up and down, sore and worried that I would be pushing myself too far with the Half Dome hike, but determined to do three big hikes in three days.
So I got up with the sun the next day eager to hike Half Dome as quickly as I could so that I would have time to drive out of the park and find a campground in the evening.  The trail up to the dome of Half Dome certainly was long, but not as steep as the other two hikes.  And I met a cool guy named Joe on the way.  Joe lives in China and was just back in the States for vacation.  We had a good talk about living in Asia and careers in general.  But then, in the interest of time, I sped up and told him I’d see him at the top.  Then I got to the dome and I realized how much more of a mental challenge than a physical challenge this was going to be for me.  I’m somewhat afraid of heights and even the trail leading up do the dome had steep drop offs on either side.  But I took one step at a time and made it to the climax of the hike – climbing the dome.  To allow non-rock-climbing people to ascend the steep side of the dome, thick cables are bolted into the rock and then slabs of wood are laid across metal posts that hold the cables up to hand height.  A climber scrambles from one slab of wood to the next using mostly their arms to pull them up on the cables.  So, when I had decided that this was my best and maybe only chance to do this, and that I’d never forgive myself if I wimped out now, I joined the line and pulled myself up to the first slab… and then the next… and then next… and soon, if I didn’t look over the steep sides, and I didn’t let my imagination get the best of me, it became easier and easier, and in about a half an hour, I was at the top! The view alone made it totally worth it.   I tried to soak in the beauty while I was up there.  It felt great to be up there.  But then going down that cable ladder was almost scarier than going up it because, being turned around and going backwards, I had my butt hanging out and I wasn’t facing the way I was moving.   But I made it down the ladder and then marched down the mountain without stopping, making it back to the road with a total hike time of 8 ½ hours.  This gave me enough time to pick up some pizza in the valley (which might be the best pizza I’ve ever had, both because of how hungry I was, and also because it’s just really good pizza), and to drive out of Yosemite and find a campsite outside the park but still up in the mountains.  I didn’t realize it when I went to bed that night, but when I woke up freezing with a thick layer of frost all around, packed up as quickly as I could, and took off, I saw a sign that told me I was camping at 9000 feet that night!  So I had a very cold start to day 45.  But, as I drove south on hwy 395, I warmed up eventually and I was downright hot by the end of the day.  I was in the Mojave Desert.  It felt like I covered a lot of ground that day, making it to the town of Mojave by supper time, which is where I stayed the night.
On day 46 I drove to Bellflower, Los Angeles where my great uncle lives, the brother of my grandma, Uncle Clarence.  I don’t remember meeting Uncle Clarence before this but I had heard my grandparents talk about him sometimes.  I didn’t really know what to expect and, as I knocked on his door early in the afternoon, was a little worried that we wouldn’t have very much to talk about.  But I shouldn’t have worried.  I quickly learned that Uncle Clarence has a lot to talk about and conversation came quite easily between us.  I discovered that he certainly has a passion for learning.  He asked me a lot of questions about Korea and my life there, and it was clear that he has quite a bit of understanding about Asian counties and cultures already.  He goes to the library every day and, there, reads a couple of newspapers and sometimes researches topics in encyclopaedias.  In little notebooks, he writes down – I don’t really know what all –but probably the events of the day and the things that he learned.
It was interesting to get to experience how my Uncle Clarence lives.  I enjoyed my time with him for sure.  I found out that he’s somewhat cynical about many parts of society – food being a big one.  He’s a vegetarian and he eats only raw foods, so lots of fruit (everyday I was there, we’d each eat half of a honeydew for breakfast) and lots of bread – cinnamon raison bread to be specific.  I think he told me that he buys and eats something like two to three loves of cinnamon raison bread a week on his own!  But he is flexible because on the third day I was there, after I was all raison breaded out, I bought a veggie pizza and he had a couple slices of it.  So that’s good. 
I didn’t get to see too much of Los Angeles, not that I really had a desire to, but Uncle Clarence and I did drive to the beach on day 47.  He told me a story of how he once owned a sailboat and when sailing one day with a friend, it capsized and they had to be rescued.  I realized then how long he’s been in Los Angeles – over thirty years he told me.  It was good to get to know him; I’m glad I visited.
Then, on day 49, with honeydew in my belly and half a loaf of cinnamon raison bread on the passenger seat for lunch, I headed east for the first time and stopped in at Joshua Tree National Park.  I camped in the Jumbo Rocks campground because the rocks where, indeed, jumbo, and I wanted to climb around on them.  I did this, and soon found myself on top of a pretty big pile of jumbo rocks with no idea of how I would get back down.  I eventually did find a way to scramble down but not after a couple of frantic moments.  It was a beautiful park.
In the morning, I continued east, into Arizona, to the Grand Canyon.  Though I was within a day’s drive of it when I lived in Gallup, I never visited the Grand Canyon when I was here.  So I was glad to get the chance to see it and climb into it on this trip.  The first night I set up my tent and then walked to the rim to get my first glimpse of the canyon.  It sure is huge and no doubt grand.  But my mom, having been to the Grand Canyon before, told me that I couldn’t get a real feel for how big it is until I hiked into it.  So I was excited to do that the next day.  I woke up early eager to see how far I could get down into the canyon.  I took the Bright Angel trail because I could walk to it from my campsite, and was quickly descending into the canyon’s depths.  I wanted to get as far as I could but I also didn’t want to be stupid about it because I knew it would get quite hot and that, every year, many people do have to be rescued for misjudging the climb back up.  So I told myself I’d turn around at 10:15 to be on the safe side.  On my way, I was surprised by how green it is in the canyon.  There’s a whole forest down there that you don’t really notice from the top.  There were signs on the trail that told people not to try to hike all the way to the river and back in one day, but as 10:15 approached, I was down past all the greenery and it seemed like I was getting close to where the river would be.  But the trail was windy as it followed a stream through the rock cliffs, and I couldn’t really tell how far it would be to the river.  So I decided to stick to my time schedule and be happy with the progress I had made.  I turned around and headed back up.  Then at a rest stop where I ate lunch, another guy who had passed me earlier going down the trial now came back up the trail and sat next to me.  I asked him if he had made it to the river and he said that he had.  I told him about how far I had gotten and he told me that it probably would have only been about a ten minute walk from where I turned around to the river.   Aww shucks.  That made me feel kinda disappointed and I was kickin myself later when I made it back out of the canyon and it was only 2:30, which meant I probably could have made it to the river and back in plenty of time.  But oh well.  Next time, I’ll be sure to walk that extra ten minutes and then I’ll feel vindicated.  And anyway, as Robert M. Pirsig says in Zen and The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, it’s not the destination that counts, it’s the journey.  And the journey in and out of the Grand Canyon was pretty awesome.  So much rock.
Looking forward to getting to Gallup, I left the Grand Canyon earlier the next morning and drove through the beautiful Painted Desert of the Hopi Reservation and into familiarity and Gallup.
Thinking about the road trip so far, being relatively mid-way through it, I’m just really glad I decided to do it and happy that I’m still in the middle of it.  It’s been everything I could have hoped it’d be.  And I would have thought that I might be sick of the driving by now, but that hasn’t really happened yet.  Between my music and Zen and The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance on tape (12 of them in all), I’ve enjoyed the driving quite a bit.  And I’ve had plenty of time to think and pray about the next step in my life and anything else.  I’m grateful I had the chance to do this.  It’s been great and it’s far from being over.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Part One: My Epic Road Trip So Far

So far the road trip has been pretty epic – as eventful as I could have hoped.  Let me tell you about it.
I’m writing this from my hostel in Vancouver, which in itself is pretty epic – both the hostel and Vancouver.  When thinking about this road trip seeing the west coast, specifically Vancouver, was a major reason I decided to do it.  So finally making it here is pretty cool.  The hostel I’m in is right on the beach, Jericho beach to be specific, and I’ve already gotten some good sunset pictures. Yesterday I went for a long walk from my hostel in Jericho Beach to Stanley Park, then down through downtown, and back to the hostel.  By my calculations I walked over 30 kilometres in all!  Pretty good eh?  My feet hurt, but it was worth it.  Stanley Park is definitely the coolest city park I know of.  It’s just one big jungley forest with big awesome trees surrounded by a beautiful coastline.  And I can see why everyone talks so highly about Vancouver.  There are parks and beaches all over, it’s right on the ocean, and it’s surrounded by mountains.  If it’s a competition, I’d say Vancouver has Toronto beat pretty handily. One similarity between these two cities, though, is their multiculturalism.  I knew that there were a lot of Koreans, Asians in general, in Vancouver, and there are, I saw quite a few, but what surprised me was how much French I heard on my walk.  Almost every other person seemed to be speaking French.
One thing that stuck out to me about the people of Vancouver is that they are incredibly physically active.  All day long, it seems like half the city is outside either biking, running, or walking somewhere.  And this is another difference between Vancouver and Toronto: Vancouver is a much more bicycle friendly city.  There are bike lanes on a lot of the roads and beside every walking path here.
So, yup, I’m glad I made it out here to Vancouver.  It’s a cool place to be.
But let me go back to the beginning and tell you about how the trip has gone so far.  The first place I visited was a familiar one – Grand Rapids.  I stayed with Andrea and Ruth Ippel, an awesome and influential couple who I lived with my fifth year at Calvin.  It was great to catch up with them and reminisce about the good ol’ days.  The whole time I was in Grand Rapids memories of my time there constantly flooded back.  I walked around Calvin’s campus the second day and then drove just north of the city where I found a good campground to stay the night at.
On day three I drove north over the Mackinaw bridge, through the Upper Peninsula, through Sault St. Marie and partway around the north coast of Lake Superior to White Lake Provincial Park.  I’m pretty sure my family had driven this stretch of road earlier on our way to a family reunion in Manitoba, but I surely didn’t remember how beautiful this part of Ontario is.  In Sault St. Marie, I picked up a hitchhiker.  He was a younger guy with a dog and he was travelling from Montreal to where he lived in Saskatchewan.   He told me that typically he travels by climbing on cargo trains.  He said he had gone across Canada a couple of times that way and that’s how he had gotten to Sault St. Marie.  He was hitchhiking to the next train stop because the train he was going to get on had been rained out.  So that was pretty interesting.
The next day I continued along the beautiful Superior coast to my next big stop, Thunder Bay.  My good friend from Korea, Sarah King, grew up there and was home for just the right time before she headed off to teach in Kuwait.  I had a lot of fun visiting her and meeting her family.  We went to Old Fort William, a replica of a fort of the North West Trading Company that was once in that area.  I’ve always liked historical places like that.  Then some of Sarah’s family came to their house in the evening and her mom and dad made a massive feast for the event.
On day six I drove into the prairies to Winnipeg where I stayed in my first hostel.  The hostel was mostly full except for a really small room in the basement which I thought was pretty cozy.  I woke up early the next day eager to see as much of the city as I could.  I saw quite a bit of it in fact, walking the whole way.  I found out that Winnipeg has a French part of town called St. Boniface which has a real French Canadian feel to it.  I also enjoyed walking around The Forks – the area where the Assiniboin and Red rivers come together.  Historically, it was a meeting place for Native peoples before the western settlers arrived.  There’s a cool international market there where I had some good pizza for supper.  I really got a good feeling from Winnipeg.  It seems like a cool place to be – at least during the day time.  I went for a walk later in the evening and the mood seemed to have changed somewhat.  There were quite a few police around and most businesses had closed already.
On day eight I continued west on Highway 1 into Saskatchewan and stopped in Regina.  I didn’t stay for more than one night, but I had enough time to go into town, find a cool park along Wascana Lake, and watch the third Batman movie at an I-max theatre.  The movie was good and, like Winnipeg, I thought Regina felt like it would be a pretty cool place to live.
The next day was the longest drive of the trip so far, from Regina to Calgary.  It was only about an hour longer than some of the other drives but it felt longer probably because it was through the flat prairies.  I thought the prairies were cool to see and beautiful in their own way, but it’s true that they’re boring to drive through.
As I walked around Calgary on day ten, I noticed a difference between it and other Canadian cities I’d been to: it’s growing.  There were lots of construction projects around and apartments going up.  And though this would seem to be a good thing for the city, I didn’t get the welcoming vibe from Calgary as I did from Winnipeg and Regina.  It seems to be changing too much to be comfortable.
The planned next step of my trip was to go north to Edmonton and after that to visit the Rockies.  But then my Edmonton friends – Eugene, Dawn, and Manny Perry, friends from when we lived in Hagersville – told me that they were camping in near Lake Louise that weekend and had space on their campsite for me.  So I continued west and saw the mountains earlier than I had expected to – which I had no problem with.  Camping with the Perrys was super.  It was great to see them again, remember the good ol’ days, and renew our friendships.  We saw Lake Louise of course, drove to Radium and relaxed in the hot springs there, walked around Banff, and had some good evening campfire conversations.  As it was when I remember our family visits to Jasper when we were younger, being in the mountains is always a Godly experience.
On Monday, day 13, I drove to my aunt Geraldine and cousin Kimberson’s place near Edson, Alberta, between Jasper and Edmonton.  So I said goodbye to Manny who took his truck and their camper and drove the faster way to Edmonton, through Calgary.  And Eugene, Dawn and I took the slow way, going up the Icefield Parkway.  Along the way we stopped at Bow Lake, Peyto Lake, the Columbia Glacier, and the Athabaska Waterfall – all incredibly places.
So when I arrived at my Aunt Geraldine’s place I was planning to stay a couple days, visit with my uncle who lives in Edmonton and with my cousins, and then get going again.  But then Aunt Geraldine told me it wouldn’t work to see my uncle or cousin Carolina until the weekend, which was ok with them because they wanted me to stay as long as possible anyway.  And I thought, ok it’s worth it to me to stay longer so I can see my uncle and cousin, and I don’t really have a time schedule to stick to anyway.  So I stayed a whole week!  And I’m glad I did.  I really got to see how my aunt and cousin live.  They live out in the woods, grow a lot of their own vegetables, and raise chickens.  I wanted to help out with the work while I was there, but Aunt Geraldine wouldn’t let me do much.  She insisted that I shouldn’t be working or paying for anything while I was on vacation.  So I ended up playing a lot of video games with Kimberson, which he probably enjoyed a little more than me, but I had fun too.  We also played outside with his somewhat crazy neighbour, played card games, went on walks, and even did some work for a church friend of theirs for some pocket money.  I got to see my cousins Ben and Jason a couple times, we went to Edmonton to visit my uncle, and then Carolina and her husband visited us on Sunday.  It had been a really long time since I had seen all of them, so I’m really glad I got to on this trip.  It reminded me of how important your family is even if they live across the country and don’t see them very often.
Then on Tuesday, day 22, after a late start due to me needing to buy a new battery, I drove back through the mountains, into British Columbia, and arrived in Kamloops after dark.  I stayed for just one night and continued on my way to Vancouver the next morning.  I had been told earlier on that Kamloops and the area south of it was unique because of its desert-like landscape.  I didn’t see this driving in but in the morning I did. It was almost like driving though New Mexico – not many trees or grass but lots of dirt and low bushes.
From Kamloops I took Highway 1 west to Cache Creek, where it then goes south along the Thompson and Fraser Rivers.  And, let me tell you, this was the most beautiful road I’ve ever been on.  The road hangs on the steep cliffs of the canyon amidst big coniferous trees as it follows the rushing Fraser River down below.   I couldn’t help but stop and take pictures every few kilometres.  Then the road turned west into the plain and became more of a highway as it approached Vancouver.  And that’s where I am now, in Vancouver, on day 25.

Thanks for reading.  To see pictures of my trip, visit my facebook page.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Pohang is a Pretty Cool Place

Pohang is a pretty cool place. I'm going to miss it a ton.  The largest part of it's coolness comes from the people that live here.  Recently, I've gotten to know one of these cool people better.  He's a cool person organizing a cool thing in this cool city.
His name is Anthony and after teaching English for one year in Pohang he went home without a solid plan of what to do next.  Low and behold, a couple months later, he has now returned to Pohang.  He's a strong Christian and he told me he felt God leading to come back here.  I admire him for his faith and his ability to get people together and do cool things.
The cool thing that he is organizing is.... a flash mob.  What's a flash mob?  A flash mob is when a group of people assemble suddenly in a public place and do something that no one expects.  For us, this thing was a dance.  For a good number of weeks we got together late at night and practiced a dance than Anthony and other practiced dancers put together. Then a couple weeks ago, at the Busan Sand Festival, we finally showed it to the world.

It was a huge success. I didn't think it would go so well.  We actually did it three times and each of them were so fun, so electric.  Here's another video of our second performance:

Another cool thing happened in Pohang within the (quite long) time period since my last blog.  This event was also planned by a cool person: myself.  So about a month ago, my pastor, Richie, who is all about creating community among foreigners in Pohang, came up to me and told me that he had found a guy to sponsor a foreigner volleyball tournament on the beach.  The sponsor, Mr Kim of the Bukbu Beach Buisness Association would provide prizes, food, and anything else needed to get as many foreigners in one place at one time.  I volunteered to organize the volleyball tournament; it sounded like a great idea and I had already thought of doing something like it.  But in the end, it turned out to be quite a bit more than a volleyball tournament.
Richie and Mr. Kim jumped on this chance to, not only organize a single foreigners event, but to begin a whole movement to give foreigners more recognition in the city.  And this meant that we had to meet with the Mayor.
With a little persuasion from Mr. Kim my director allowed me an hour's leave from school so I, acting as a representative for the foreigner community, could attend the meeting with the Mayor.  The whole thing made me feel pretty important and did wonders for my ego, but I really didn't do much.  I smiled and nodded and tried to look enthusiastic as Richie and Mr. Kim told the Mayor about their plan - me oblivious to what was happening. And in the end it turned out really well.  Richie told me the Mayor was all for the plan to try to meet the needs of foreigners more.  They even decided to erect a monument at Bukbu beach recognizing foreigners in the city and the countries they come from.  This all sounded great to me, but I still had to worry about the volleyball tournament.
The goal was to get as many foreigners to come to the event as possible.  That would show the Mayor and the city counselors that we are a significant force in the city - one that they should support.  So I tried to recruit as many teams as I could.  And with one week to go, I had about 12.  I was pretty happy with this amount, it wasn't a lot, but it was a good size for the tournament.  But as I should have expected, in the last two days of registration, this number doubled.  In the end we had 22 teams!  We had teams of English teachers, teams from the army, the navy, from our church, and from Handong University.  It was great to have so many people from all the groups of foreigners but on the night before the tournament, I stayed up worrying about how we would fit all the games into one day.  I wanted to make it a double elimination tournament so that a team would at least get to play two games, but this meant there would be 42 games all together!  I was imagining the final games being played long after supper time, after most people had gone home  I was also worried that rain might dampen people's motivation to come out for the opening ceremony which the Mayor was expected to attend.
I shouldn't have worried.  God must have played a part in how well it went because it all seemed to work out tickity-boo.  There was no rain, a little wind to contend with but it wasn't rain.  And all the games fit into 7 hours just fine.  Another thing I was concerned with was how happily some foreigners would be about city hall getting involved in our activities.  I thought there might be some remorse about that.  But after it was all over, I got the feeling that the foreigners there felt welcomed by the Mayor and appreciated the recognition from the city.  Altogether, It turned out to be an awesome day.
And guess what?  We made the news!!!

My time here in Korea is all coming to an end quite quickly.  I have less than three weeks left and it has me feeling all sorts of ways.  On the one hand, I've felt more and more connected to this place - my friends, my church, and the city - in the recent weeks.  I've always been aware that I'm having the time of my life out here.  But on the other hand, I'm so ready to be finished at Poly school.  And I'm really excited to be with my family again and also to visit friends in North America.  So it's hard for me to organize my feelings into sentences, but life is full of change which always comes with it's goods and bands.

Thanks for reading,

Thursday, April 26, 2012

For me, The Age of the Scooter has ended, and The Age of the Motorcycle has begun.  A couple weekends ago I sold my well loved scooter to my friend Nathan and bought a sweet 125cc Daelim Roadwin motorcycle from my friend Pat.

Pretty sweet eh?
Why would I do such a drastic thing so close to the ending of my time here in Pohang?  I did it for a couple of reasons.  First of all, it makes me look much cooler than my scooter did - think Tom Cruise Mission Impossible cool - that's how cool I look.  Also, it has gears, which make it much funner to ride.  But the main reason that I bought this motorbike is because I plan on The Age of the Motorcycle lasting longer than my time in Korea.  My contract is finished here at the end of June, and many people would take this chance to travel around Asia a little more.  But I mostly just want to go home as soon as I can - I have a nephew to hang out with.  So that's what I'm going to do.  But that's not the only reason; this also helps me save money for my Mega Motorbike Mission.  Here's the plan: When I get home, I'm going to buy a super cool motorbike, maybe something like this:
A Honda Shadow - 750cc
Then, after our family camping trip in August, I'm going to head west.  I've never been past Manitoba, and I'd really like to see more of Canada.  After getting to Vancouver, I'm going to follow the coast south and visit friends along the way.  My goal is to make it all the way down to Gallup, New Mexico before heading back home.  That's the plan.  I'm pretty excited about it.

In other news, something else drastic has occurred over here - something I'm not so excited about.  Alisa's one year contract with Poly is finished and she's gone home!  She will be coming back to Pohang in a month to teach at another academy (one with much less hours), but having her not here has been somewhat traumatic for me.  I should have been prepared for the change, but I guess I wasn't.  I feel pretty lonely without her - school is much quieter and I've lost my hangout buddy.  Her not being here made me realize how much time we spent together - practically every day for the past year.  So that's got me feeling sad these days, but I guess change is a part of life.

Thanks for reading,

Friday, April 6, 2012

Before coming to Korea, when I had decided to teach abroad, I pursued the option of teaching in the United Arab Emirates.  I was even offered a job teaching in the emirate Abu Dhabi.  I would have made a lot more money if I had taken the job, but after researching it a little and thinking about it, I felt more comfortable choosing Korea over the UAE.  It didn't really register at the time, but looking back at this decision, I think the fact that Islam is the UAE's state religion was a factor in me feeling less comfortable choosing to live there.  Now, after almost two years in Korea, I almost want to re-apply for a position in Abu Dhabi because I think that I am much more prepared to handle the differences of living in the UAE.
But what I want to write about here is how, now that I'm here in Korea, I can't help compare my experience in Korea to what my experience could have been in Abu Dhabi had I taken the job there.
Well, one stark difference hit me when I was standing outside the bus terminal with my friends last weekend.  We were going to get on a bus heading toward GyeungJu where we were going to go on a hike.  But our trip was delayed due to some terminally tardy companions.  So we were waiting outside the bus terminal and were having the hardest time communicating with each other because kitty-corner to the bus terminal a new cell phone store was opening up and they were having some sort of grand opening, which are big here in Korea.  This grand opening included full time 'bowers'.  A group of five of them stood on the corner in their uniforms and bowed to the cars passing by.  This grand opening also included repetative dance music being played VERY LOUDLY!!!!!! (emphasis on loudly).  We were across the intersection and, as I said, I could hardly here the guy next to me talking.  I was baffled by how the bowers, who were standing next to the speakers, or anyone else in a 10 km radius could be ok with this ear-crushing music.
In contrast to this experience, I imagine if I was standing on a corner in a town in Abu Dhabi last weekend, instead one in Pohang, South Korea, it would not have been this terribly loud dance music proclaiming the call to the 'consumeristic religion' (that indeed is in full force here in Korea) that I would have been hearing, but instead perhaps I would have heard a much quieter call to daily prayers from the mosk accross the intersection.

So we headed to GyeungJu and hiked up a pretty steep hill which had a number of budhist carvings along the way.  It was so great to be out in the sun.  Spring is finally arriving slowly and surely.

A good one of Alisa and I on the way up.

The group of us on the top.
Thanks for reading,

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

After taking an unannounced two-week holiday from my blog, due to a wonderful visit from my parents and Poly School taking over my life, I'm back.  It's been a busy couple of weeks and I have lots to write about.

First of all, the DMZ.  Three weekends ago, me and a group of friends took a late night bus to Seoul and spent the waining hours of the night in a multi-plus room (a room with internet, gaming, karaoke and sleeping capabilities. What more could you want?).  In the morning we took the subway to the place where we would be boarding the DMZ tour bus.  The bus took us north of Seoul where the city fell away and the roads were lined with barbed wire fences instead of high rises.
The tour first took us to an underground tunnel, which, we were told, was built by the North Koreans at some point during or after the Korean War in an attempt to attack Seoul.  South Korea has discovered four of these tunnels and we visited the third tunnel to be discovered.  At this site, we were shown a video about the DMZ talking about its purpose and its attractions.  I found it interesting that it talked about the unification of North and South Korea as if it were an inevitable event.  Then we put on hard helmets and walked the long steep South-Korean-built entrance down to the actual tunnel.  It was cool to be able to go inside this tunnel and imagine what it was like for the North Koreans who blasted through the sheer rock mile after mile.  The tunnel was quite stifling to be inside.  It was low and not wide, with jagged sides.  There was just enough room for people to go by each other, and most of the time I had to duck my head.  Interesting fact: a few places in the tunnel are covered in black tar.  We were told that this was because as the North Koreans retreated through the tunnel, they put tar on the walls to make it look like it had been a coal mine.
After visiting this tunnel our bus took us up a hill  from where we could see into North Korea.  There were binoculars that you could look through and view a North Korean village and some farm land.  Mostly North Korea looked like South Korea - lots of mountains and some buildings.  But we didn't see very many people.  We were told that this is because no one lives in the village. The buildings are for show and don't have any floors in them.  Also, in the village, North Korea has built a massive flag pole.  It's 160 meters tall and the flag on top weighs some 600 pounds when it's dry!  But they built it only after the South built its own 98 meter flagpole.  After seeing what we could see from the lookout, Alisa made a pertinent point about how strange it is for people to pay money to come and look at a piece of land with buildings, looking for signs of life, as if they were viewing animals at a zoo.
Then we were on the bus again taking a short trip down the mountain to a train station.  It is an important place because it is the last train station in South Korea.  The track continues into the North through Pyongyang and up to Russia and trains used to travel from beginning to end, but the North ended its crossing in 2008.  It was a strange place to be because it was completely deserted except for the tourists.  At the station, we had a hearty lunch where were were able to buy some North Korean beer (it's actually good because some Germans were hired to come over to North Korea and teach them how to make good beer).
Then came the highlight of the trip: The Joint Security Area (JSA).  This is the only place in the DMZ where North and South Korean soldiers stand face to face and where tourists can see the actual border line and even cross it (sort of).  Interestingly, Korean citizens are not allowed to visit the JSA - we weren't told why.  When we got there, we were told that there was a possibility that we wouldn't be allowed into the JSA for reasons we weren't allowed to know about.  So we sat and waited, hoping we wouldn't be turned back and after a half-hour we were told that it was OK for us to go in - hurray!  Now, the JSA is a military base and this meant that we had to follow some rules.  At times, we were not allowed to take pictures inside the JSA.  Also, when we were standing near the border and facing North Korea, we weren't allowed to raise our arms to point at anything.  At the beginning of the tour, we were briefed on the history and significance of the JSA by a fast talking American soldier.  We were told about a time in the JSA when there wasn't a strict border dividing the two sides and both sides had buildings interspersed throughout the area.  But then, in an incident involving the South Koreans trimming a tree so that they could get a better view of one of their buildings, they were attacked by North Korean soldiers with axes.  A number of soldiers were killed, and since then the actual border line has been strictly guarded.   After the briefing, we got onto a military bus which took us to the actual border.  We were then led into one of three small blue buildings that straddles the border.  Inside this building, we were allowed to 'cross over the border' and walk into the North Korean side of the building.  It's kinda cool that I 'stood in North Korea', but I couldn't get past the fact that we were just walking from one side of a small building to another and crossing a man-made line in the process (true, this man-made line has a lot of significance).  After this we were allowed to ask some questions and then we were taken back to our original bus and we headed back to Seoul.

The blue buildings and the North Korean side of the border.
To be honest, the JSA was too militaristic, intimidating, and propaganda filled for me to feel really comfortable and enjoy it as much as others did.  DMZ tourists are presented a message of hope for unification, but the language that was used by the American soldiers in the JSA when they talked about North Korea very much distinguished the two countries as completely different groups of people, and, in my opinion, it upholds the currently tense relationship between the two sides.

So that was our trip to the DMZ.  North Korea certainly is a fascinating anomaly, and I'm glad I had the chance to learn more about it.  Interesting fact: that same weekend that we were at the DMZ - perhaps even the same day - perhaps even the same time that we were there - Kim Jong Un was also at the DMZ!  And I swear I saw a man who looked just like him peering at us through binoculars from the North Korean side.  Our half-hour wait before going into the JSA confirms it for me. Interesting fact #2: Barack Obama just visited the DMZ this past weekend.  He is in Korea for the nuclear summit in Seoul.

Then my parents came!  Though their visit was more significant than the DMZ trip, I won't be able to write about it in as much detail here.
It was really good to have them here - as good as the last time they came.  It was different from last year, though, because, with Alisa here, our group was four not three.  Also, since we moved across town, mom and dad had a different part of Pohang to explore while Alisa and I were at school.  Having them here was so good for a lot of reasons: mom's homemade lunches, dad's fixing of the computer, their ability to de-stress me so easily, talking with them about the future, having them meet a lot of our friends, bringing them to church on Sunday, going on walks through the city and the nearby hills, visiting the cool Buddhist temple, having them come to school and meet some of our wonderful kids, playing Settlers of Catan together, and much more.  For me, the highlight of their visit was when Alisa and I talked them into getting on the back of our scooters and going for a ride through the countryside to a nice lake near GyungJu.  It was fun to share the joy of scooting with them.

But now they're gone and this past week has been a hard one.  At school, we have been given a lot of extra jobs to do that suck up our break times.  I feel like I'm in need of my breaks more than ever right now because I'm having a tough time managing my kindergartners and one of my afternoon classes.  Also, our female director seems to be barking at our students a lot more lately, which takes a tole on everyone's moral.  So my days have consisted of 10 hours of stress and a couple of hours at night spent trying to regain sanity.  But I have good co-teachers and we'll get through it.  I'm hopeful that it'll get better.

Unfortunately the busier schedule means I have very little time to write my blog each week.  So I will have to deviate from my one blog a week schedule for a while.  I will still write them, but they won't be as frequent.

Thanks for reading,

Friday, March 2, 2012

Typhoon week

This was moving week and it's craziness resembled the craziness of the typhoid fever experience.  I now have a new neighbourhood, a new apartment, a new school building, a new co-teacher, a new kindergarten class, and a new manager.  It's been an overload of new information, but I'm happy with the changes.  My new apartment is nicer than my previous one.  It's not smaller, not bigger, but the orientation of the rooms is nicer.  I like our new school building also.  The classrooms are smaller, but it has a much friendlier atmosphere to it than the other one did.  I met my new class today and, while I can see that some of my kids will be a challenge, I'm pretty excited about them.
To add to the craziness, though, tonight a group of us are taking a overnight bus to Seoul.  We're leaving tonight because tomorrow morning we're taking part in a tour of the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ).  The DMZ is a strip of land that acts as a buffer zone between North and South Korea.  The two countries are still technically at war, and, contrary to the name, the DMZ is the most heavily militarized border in the world.  Other friends have gone on tours of it and have come back saying it was a memorable experience, so I'm curious how it will go.  But weekends to Seoul do tend to be somewhat typhoon crazy themselves, so I'll have no break from it.

This past Thursday was a national holiday - Korean Independence Movement Day.  This meant that we got a break from the craziness of moving, which was good, but we never get holidays here so that was a bit crazy in itself.  For this holiday, my co-teacher Roman had the great idea to get a group of friends together and do a scavenger hunt downtown.  So that's what we did, and it turned out to be great.  For the scavenger hunt we broke up into teams and then took pictures and videos of ourselves doing and finding random things amongst the holiday shoppers and shops (ex. holding someones baby and ballroom dancing in the street).  We all embarrassed ourselves and no doubt some Koreans have now realized that they have crazy way-gooks (foreigners) living in their city.  Here are some pictures:

That's it for this week.  I'm heading to dinner now.  Then to hockey.  Then to the bus station.
Thanks for reading,