Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The Workout on the Hill

Little neighborhood parks are remarkably ubiquitous here. It's been a while since I've lived so close to this variety though. A left handed stone's throw from my window is this outdoor weatherproof gym. My favorite is the third one down. You stand on the disk and just rotate your body back and forth. These spin things are prevalent, a must for Asian gyms.
On the weekday mornings, our little park is the kingdom of the retired. They'll be out there at 5 AM just spinning like mad. In the evenings, it plays stage to the teenage lovers with no money or place to go. Later at night, the naughty high schoolers come (still in uniform) to smoke. On the Weekends the Asian businessmen step out of their suits for a day to play Chokku (a cross between soccer and tennis) on the court in the background.
It doesn't matter what time of day I leave or return home, or how far I go. Stepping outside my door is still an adventure.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

The Toad Center

Everyone in my classes is saying that yes indeed, springtime brings the toads to Cheongju. I am told that you can even see them hopping on the sidewalk on occasion. I'm totally getting into this place. Join me now for an afternoon stroll through Toad Park Ecological Culture Center!

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Village of the Toads

The first things one will notice about my new neighborhood are the abundant statues of toads. The golden letters on the wall literally mean "Toad Ecosystem Village" and the fountain celebrates just that. Southwestern Cheongju was traditionally famous for its amphibians, though now, like most of Korea, the fame is more for billboards and road names than reality. We'll see if there really are any toads here when spring rolls around. Word on the street is they're a thing of the past. But in that superficial world we all love when spirits are high... the area abounds with Toad This, Toad That, for every restaurant, local product/service. Toads Toads Toads!
"Toad Ecological Culture Center"

"Toad Park"

Friday, October 7, 2011


Two automobile speeds: 1. Slam on the breaks to avoid lawsuit. 2. Pedal to the metal! I think I can shoot the gap!

I have a personal theory on how Koreans and Westerners regard strangers. First I group 'other people' into three categories.
First, true strangers who are the store clerks, the passersby, the unknown student body at a college etc. Second, acquaintances~friends of friends at a party which you may introduce yourself to comfortably there or conversely get away with not doing so. The same store clerk too if you learn his name and you would recognize each other at the laundromat. Students in your class.
Third, friends. The people you call when you're bored. The people you've worked with for years, gone to school with for years. The people IN your life.
Then I take a 28-years-in-the-making stack of anecdotal experience and say that Koreans treat their acquaintances so much better than Westerners that it's difficult to believe at times. They depend on and support their friends equally more so, but their strangers? Forget about it. Of the millions of people I have passed over the years on the busy streets of Korea, I can count on one hand the times an adult stranger has said hello. And the alarming look of confusion elicited by initiating a greeting of your own quickly lets you know that those other 5-6 foot tall primates roaming around you are background until an external force pushes you together. This is so from towns of 20 thousand amidst the waves and trees all the way up to mega metropolitan areas of 20 million in the urban jungle.
But if I felt a deep internal compulsion to show the incredible kindness and generosity that Koreans do for my friends and acquaintances, I'd be a lot more hesitant to let people in my circle too. The most warm, giving people in the world...if you survive the icy frost bridge (or crosswalk) that leads to their glowing hearts.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

My Korean Homes

At the end of this month, I'll be moving once again. Daejeon City was a beautiful home for me in my life but it's time to close that chapter and open another in Cheongju, the lovely capital of Chungcheong North Province. Once again it's time to pack up my maps and make myself a new nest.
Anyone close to me knows how much I love maps. This is one of my homemade favorites. Little memories are drawn all over it. I used to use this map to prepare my motorcycle journeys across the peninsula. But the larger scale map to the side will now be replaced. And as I bid farewell to Daejeon city, I would like to take a moment and tip my hat to my Korean Homes to date.
To the house in Dapdong, Incheon. It was there that I learned to take command of my home. I poured so many hours battling cockroaches and sealing every crack and hole with bottle after bottle of caulk. It was a battle that I won. I am told the house has since been demolished. I last saw it standing in 2007, when I found that my wooden cane was still just where I had left it.
To the cozy apartment in Mokdong, Seoul, where I learned my passion for mapmaking. It was there that I learned how limited my powers of spacial awareness are. It was a battle against the Ministry of Transportation. I color coded and mapped every bus route that so much as turned a corner over my home territory. My walls put any realtor's to shame and that too was a battle I won. I think fondly of the pink luminescent streets outside my window and that peddler of ChapSsalDdeok rice cakes who would cry out so for business each Monday Wednesday and Friday.
To Gimpo city where I learned that Korea was not fabricated by industrious Asian men but was created by a glorious God. It was while living in Gimpo that I discovered my spiritual home in Korea: The nearby Ganghwa Island, home to UNESCO dolmen, stamina boosting ginseng by the truckload, and Mani mountain, the home of Dangun, the Korean forefather. Many of the most majestic scenes in my memory come from the serene natural landscape of Gimpo city.
To Sokcho, and to the discovery of the bottomless kindness and generosity of Korean families.
To Pyeongchon, and a taste of the Korean design for a utopia in this reality.
To Daechi, to the pride and power at the heart of the South Korea's safe, advanced, magnificent capital city.
And to Daejeon, my home for two life changing years. Surrounded by mountains on all sides, drawing water from the clean and clear Daecheongho reservoir, cut through by the glimmering Gapcheon river. Where the roads are wide and lined by clean bicycle paths and trees. Where the citizens are kind and respectful. I have loved this city and will always look on it most fondly. Farewell Daejeon. 
What's this...the realtor in Cheongju liked me so much that when I commented on her orange couch, she told me she was soon getting a new one and gave this beauty to me. Good omens.
Stay tuned for more adventures in my newest home.^^
To Cheongju city!

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Burberry Man (바바리 맨)

Strange phenomenon. If I had continued my post graduate studies in Korean, perhaps I might have written a thesis on what exactly is the social motivation for Burberry Men...probably for the best that I did not. Burberry men appear on Korean movies and TV as a gag from time to time. 바바리 맨 pronounced ba ba ri maen is the Korean name for these streakers. A man (usually in his late thirties) approaches a public high school. He waits for the right moment and opens his Burberry Trenchcoat to show his naked body to the world!
This is not merely an urban myth or cliche film gimmick though. This actually happens. Ask a classroom full of girls if they have ever encountered one at their school and one will often admit to having witnessed them. Police arrest them when possible but these characters are still out there shouting their desperate shout for attention.
It's sad and indicative of a very real problem I know but...I'm sorry it's just funny~the idea of a man in this coat with his dark ray bans and beige fedora going on a mission all sober and straight faced. What peculiar creatures we humans are.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Bathroom Sanitation

The above sign is posted above a public urinal by the "Korea Toilet Association." It says:

Tears are not the only thing a man mustn't spill. 
Take one step closer. Even your mood will improve.

And to keep the sink clean, the soap is conveniently skewered on this hook. The result of the slogan is admittedly an attractive restroom.
However, toilet paper is not furnished and due to limited water carrying capacity, we are also admonished to throw used toilet paper which we may bring from home safely in the rubbish bin. It seems there are many ways to look at bathroom sanitation.