One Year and Counting

So, I figured I’d do a blog post, however brief, to update you and to belatedly mark my one year anniversary of living in Korea.

As many of you know, two years ago, this wasn’t in the cards. I was still working on getting moved out of Lawton and back to OKC, and struggling to find a future after many of my bigger plans for life had been almost irreparably damaged due to some unfortunate circumstances. However, when the opportunity in Korea came up, it opened up many doors that I had thought were closed to me. I am about to start my first semester of grad school at Nazarene Theological Seminary (online), and the only reason I’m able to afford it is due to my job here in Korea, which pays me a good monthly salary as well as provides for my medical insurance, rent, and utilities. I’ve been able to travel to Thailand (one item off of my bucket list) and in a situation where I will be able to travel to other countries in the region without incurring the otherwise massive expense that I would be facing if I were coming from the USA. I have a good possibility of landing a job as a professor at KNU at some point relatively soon (though I may have to finish my master’s degree first), and that would give me some job experience that is likely to help me land a job as a professor (my long-term goal for ideal employment/profession). I am making friends from all over the world and have been able to be part of a wonderful and loving community of friends while living in Korea (I also had this kind of community in OKC and while I miss that community terribly, I’m so glad to have become a part of this one). I’ve been hiking on some amazing trails, and I have even more to choose from whenever I want to go again. Compared to even a year ago, I’m more emotionally and relationally healthy than I was, and (as I have been stating) I am moving towards some of my long term life goals. It hasn’t come without cost and frustrations, but overall those have been or will be worth it in the long run. So, I’m happy to say that I’ve survived one year in Korea, I’ve renewed my contract for another year, and depending on how I’m doing with grad school, I may stick around for another 6 months after that. I’m currently in the middle of attempting to prioritize what my future is going to look like, and as to whether or not I should return to the USA for a few semesters of grad school where I get to attend in person, and how I should prioritize my desire for better and deeper relationships while spending this time learning. For those of you who are praying folk, I would appreciate your prayers as I seek wisdom and guidance on these matters. 

For those of you who have been following along in my Korean adventures, the only real updates I have for you since my last update is that I’ve now celebrated yet another birthday abroad! I was blessed to be able to get together with my friends and celebrate on not one, but two separate occasions, and it was wonderful. I also attended the Boryeong Mud Festival (which is why this blog post is a little later than the one year mark) at Daecheon Beach and got predictably muddy. There were obstacle courses, mud wrestling pits, and stations where you could just cover/paint yourself with mud, and it was wonderful. Unfortunately, I don’t have any pictures to mark these events, as I did not take my camera with me and at least one of those events (the mud festival) was not very gadget friendly. Should I find any pictures posted on social media, I’ll do my best to give y’all access to them.

Anyways, this is the update and the marker! Here’s to one more year!

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Busan and Sundry

So, I’ve finally gotten to officially break in my new hiking boots and go on a proper hike. As I mentioned in my previous post, I had a trip planned to go to Busan. I was able to follow through on the plan and get a lot of hiking and exploring done. Busan is definitely one of my favorite places to be in Korea. Cheonan is the closest I have ever lived to the ocean, and previously I have lived many hours away from any major bodies of water, so being able to regularly or even conveniently go to a beach is a new experience for me. Busan has some nice beaches (though, as with everything else in Korea, it can get crowded – that’s one thing I definitely won’t miss about Korea when I finally leave, the crowds everywhere I go) and lots of good hiking and restaurants. Busan isn’t terribly far away by train (about 4 to 4 1/2 hours by regular train, 2 hours by bullet train) and it has its own style compared to Seoul. It feels a lot more relaxed and easygoing and the weather generally seems to be better than up north. So yeah, I got to do a few of the many hiking trails in Busan both along the coast and in the Jangsan valley (there’s lots of mountain trails that I haven’t tried yet).

The first trail I traveled went along the coast and had some beautiful views of the ocean and forest. I took lots of really good pictures, and then got to go further up the hill (back into town) and see a few more of Busan’s many sights (including a Mystery Literature Library, though unfortunately most of the books seem to be in Korean, a sand art festival on Haeundae Beach, and an unfortunately overrated costal temple – too many people and bad transportation access).

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My second trail took me through the Jangsan valley, which provided me with some gorgeous views of a river and some waterfalls. I got to do lots of off trail trekking and a bit of minor climbing and you will see the fruits of those labors in the photo album and video that I’m going to link to in just a bit. I should also take the time to mention that I got to have breakfast at a favorite Irish pub of mine (yes, they have one of those in Busan, yet another plus) both mornings I was in Busan, with bangers and mash (of course) on the first day and shepherd’s pie on the second. Anyways, the sites were beautiful and I greatly enjoyed getting to go through the valley and see all that they had to offer. As it turns out, this hiking trip was much more of an exploratory venture than a final trek, as I failed to comprehend just how many hiking trails they have in those mountains. If you’d like to see more of my Busan adventures, you can go to the photos here and the video here.

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Now, for the final bit of my update: as far as pastoral-type ministry is concerned, I’ve taken a big step back towards the ministry. I’ve mentioned being a part of a small group in some of my previous posts and maybe even about how I’ve gotten to teach a few lessons, but a lot of that has been fairly light work and stuff that just needed to be done. However this last weekend I was in charge of the spiritual side of a retreat for my small group. For the past few weeks I had been working with a few friends of mine to help create and lead a retreat of rest, relaxation, and renewal for our small group; others were in charge of the logistics and organization, but I was in charge of the spiritual parts. For me, this was a huge deal, as I had to plan a prayer walk, a homily, and create an atmosphere and a tone that would impact how the weekend functioned for its participants spiritually. This level of responsibility and spiritual leadership is the closest I’ve gotten to anything “pastoral” in the last two years as far as what I do with my time and energy. Thankfully, the retreat seems to have been successful and for someone as rusty as I am, I didn’t seem to mess up anything too badly, so I’m extremely happy that I’ve been able to take these steps back towards the ministry. Given that two years ago I had a hard time even going to church I feel like I can be pretty happy with my progress on that front (being involved in a small group and church community, applied and accepted into Nazarene Theological Seminary, and taking responsibility for and being involved in the spiritual growth and mentorship of others). Anyways, that’s my update for now!

The March to May

Holy cow, it’s been a while since I’ve done a bit of the broader life update. To be fair, it’s been a bit crazy since I got back from vacation in Thailand, but I could also have sworn that I posted an update already, so here’s the deluge!

Military life has definitely helped prepare me for life in Korea in some unexpected ways. I knew I would be moving to a different culture with a different language and all that, but I failed to realize just how transitory this job is for some of the teachers here. Over the past few months, I’ve had to say goodbye to a number of friends who were going back to the States or on to other jobs in various countries. However, right on top of that we’ve had numerous new additions come to Cheonan and join our little community of foreigners. So, it feels a lot like PCS (Permanent Change of Station) season in Germany did. Sadness at people leaving, but joy for the new friends and faces that have arrived. So, it’s good that I’ve been used to this kind of thing, but at the same time, my network of people to keep track of just keeps getting bigger. I’ve got friends from all over the U.S. (even states I’ve never been to), Germany, Hungary, Slovakia, England, South Africa, Japan, Thailand, and South Korea… and I’m sure the list will only continue to grow. Ideally, there will eventually be few countries in the world where I could be truly friendless (and give me a few minutes and I’ll probably be able to remedy that problem :D).

So, along with adapting to some curriculum changes at work (the pronunciation curriculum I wrote and the writing curriculum my co-worker, Jordan, wrote have now become a permanent part of our middle school curriculum [now to adapt and improve my curriculum so that it works even better]) I’ve been busy traveling around Korea. Thailand only served to feed the travel bug and make it even more hungry than it was previously (Sorry USA! There’s so much more than you out here, though you’ve got sites I still want to see too!), so I’ve been taking lots of little trips just about every weekend I can manage.

The first weekend I got back I went to the St. Patrick’s Day festival in Seoul. There is a surprisingly large amount of foreigners who are interested in celebrating St. Paddy’s Day, but it was wonderful. I have lots of pictures and a video from the event that I will link to at the end of the paragraph. The festival offered some real Irish food and as a result, reignited my love affair with bangers and mash (sausages and mashed potatoes with gravy). Plus there was plenty of dancing, because what’s a festival without dancing? I enjoyed it a lot, and got to build up some friendships that I had been hoping to go deeper with. (Video is here and the photo album will be at the end of the Seoul-Busan paragraph)

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Then, a weekend or two later, I traveled south to the Jinhae Cherry Blossom Festival. Just like in Japan, trees bearing cherry blossoms are numerous and beautiful, and festivals celebrating them abound. The largest and the most popular is in the city of Jinhae, on the southern coast, about a hour west of Busan. It was definitely quite a site to behold, and the city was PACKED. Thankfully we were able to find some lodging in Busan, otherwise we might have been in a bit of trouble. The pictures will do more to describe what we saw than any words, so I’m going to have to point y’all once again to the photo album that will be posted (Not quite yet! One more paragraph to go!) and post some pictures and a video (here!) as well, just to keep you interested.

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Both at the St. Patrick’s Day festival and then this trip to the cherry blossom festival have given me opportunities to become more familiar with some of Korea’s two largest cities, Seoul and Busan. Seoul is a very large and well populated city, boasting a population of approximately 10,440,000 people. Most of my familiarity with Seoul had previously been with Itaewon and the bus station, but I’ve had several occasions to visit Seoul in the past few months and it has not disappointed. The northern area near City Hall, Hongik University, and Seoul Station has a lot of cool sites to see and restaurants to dine at. There’s lots of stuff to see in the city, and there’s so much more I haven’t seen. There’s definitely a lot of revisit value in Seoul. Then Busan is a city that I’m definitely learning to like. It’s a very long city, spread out along the coast, so getting from point A to point B can be a little tricky at times (especially after the metro rail shuts down for the night), but it has some really good hiking potential (I’m planning a trip that I’m very excited about) and some nice beaches and restaurants (the best Mexican food I’ve had since coming to Korea was in Busan), plus I have some friends who live down there, so it’s always good to see them. Now, for the much awaited photo album, and a video to accompany it! (Photo album is here, and here’s another video!)

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So, one of the unique things I got to see while exploring Hongdae (Hongik University area) was a sheep cafe. Due to size restrictions and numerous other things, dog cafes and cat cafes are fairly common in Korean cities. In those cafes you can interact with the dogs and cats and get your fluffy animal fix without having to own one. However, a sheep cafe is a little more rare and doesn’t have as much wandering room for the sheep (thankfully!). The sheep were in a pen, and you could reach over and pet them if you so desired. As you can guess, this may seem kind of weird, but in the overall scheme of Korean cafes, it’s actually not to surprising. Korea has numerous themed cafes to meet all kinds of interests and needs. You have the usual cafes with drinks and places to sit and hang out, and you also have internet cafes to meet the needs of the more technologically minded. However beyond that you have board game cafes (which are really neat, I went to one recently and you rent a table, buy a drink, and pick a board game or two to play, and they have quite the wide selection!), dog cafes, cat cafes, and numerous others and kinds (even some of ill-repute, because even though prostitution is illegal, it is so widespread that it’s far easier for the government to tolerate its existence and presence and just get a little money off the top). One of my personal favorites is a Batman themed cafe here in Cheonan called “The Dark Knight Cafe,” which is wonderful, because of course, Batman.

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Now, I may have mentioned this before, but several of my friends here have made a band and have traveled to perform in many different places in Korea. Recently I’ve been making more of an effort to go see their shows and to cheer them on and it’s been a lot of fun! The live music scene in Korea is fairly active and my friends do a really good job! They’ve been working very hard and have a lot of talent. So, I got to go to a music festival in Cheongju and watch them (and many others) perform. It was a lot of fun with instances of games where we tried to put as many stickers on other peoples’ backs without them noticing and all kinds of different musical and performance styles. There was even a couple that didn’t so much play music as perform to it with a juggling and acrobatic performance, and it was super cool to watch. The kind of coordination and trust required to pull it off was enormous, and I was so caught up in watching that I didn’t even think to take a video or pictures (sorry!). I also went to go see one of their live shows in Busan (and it happened that my friends in Busan were also performing at the same venue) and getting to spend time with them and others was great. If you’re interested in checking them out, here’s a link to their facebook page – their name is “Colin Phils.”

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Recently I had a long weekend and had the opportunity to go to Muuido, an island just west of the island of Incheon. The island was quite beautiful, but unfortunately illness cut my trip short and I returned home a day early. However, before I got sick I was able to stay a night in Hongdae and have my first opportunity to accidentally stay in a “Love Motel.” These motels are established primarily for the purposes of people having a convenient location to have sex, but they do also rent their rooms to any individual who is willing to pay. Unfortunately all of the other places to sleep in Hongdae were booked, so when I finally found a motel that had a room (after walking around for 2 hours) I didn’t ask too many questions. All in all, the accommodations weren’t bad and the bed was comfortable, but the lighting was hilarious. You had one regular light with a regular bulb, and every other light switch in the room controlled the “mood lighting.” Red lights in the bathroom (rather inconvenient, but well purposed with a clear glass door that was only glazed to sufficiently cover a person’s lower half) and over the bed. I’m half surprised that there wasn’t a button to get some Barry White or smooth saxophone music going, but I suppose that probably would have cost extra. I met up with my friends and went to Muuido the next day by subway, then bus, then taxi, then ferry, and then bus again to our campsite. The island was very pretty, ripe for the hiking, and I aim to return in better weather with better equipment  and food for hiking and camping.

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Finally for the closing bits. This past weekend I traveled to Seoul for a choral concert that a friend of mine was performing in. The title of the collection of works was African Sanctus. The composer had traveled from the Mediterranean down to the source of the Nile and across Sudan and Uganda and recorded the music and songs of various tribes, then merged them together and made them part of a piece to which many Latin vespers would be performed. I especially liked the “Kyrie” which was preluded by a recording of a Muezzin from Egypt (muezzins are the singers in the minarets of the mosques who call the faithful to prayer). It was excellent to hear. Later that week I was able to go visit some friends of mine from Germany, Kent and Linda Dickerson, and finally have some real American steak, complete with Texjoy seasoning and a baked potato covered in butter, cheese, and sour cream. I do miss the ready availability of some of the more American foods that I’m accustomed to, but there’s plenty of Korean food to enjoy, so I manage.

As for other bits and pieces of life news both big and small, I’ve been accepted into Nazarene Theological Seminary in order to pursue a graduate degree in Theological Studies, hopefully being admitted into the research track for Christian History and Thought as preparation for my intended career as a Theology professor (though I’ll also need to get a Doctorate and job experience as a professor to have any realistic security in that plan). I’ll begin by attending online, but will hopefully find a module or two back in the States that I’ll be able to attend over a holiday. I much prefer classroom experience, but I would not be able to finance a Master’s degree without my job here in Korea, so I’ll take what I can get. I’m currently in the midst of planning a spiritual retreat for my small group and am very much looking forward to that being brought to fruition. I don’t particularly have the opportunity to intern or volunteer at any local churches, so I’ve had to look for other avenues to remain in something resembling the pastoral practice. Anyways, here’s the long belated update, sorry that it took so long for me to send it out.

Connecting Passion with Reality

Today and yesterday, I got to have a lot of really good attempts at theological conversation with people. I’m happy for it, but I’ve also come to realize that there’s a problem that is no longer reasonable to ignore. I do a lot of talking past or above people when it comes to talking theology, and that’s definitely my fault.

Theology is something I’m deeply passionate about and something I believe that we as the Church don’t do enough for average people to talk about. However, given my personality, I’ve spent an awful lot of time delving into the spider web and enjoying its twists, turns, and intricacies while not necessarily realizing how confusing it all looks to other people. Personally, I am pretty good at connecting dots, building systems,  seeing how the ideas work with and influence each other, and where those ideas might create conflicts with each other without some extra effort towards compromise. However, I haven’t been working at simplifying the web so that it can be communicated to other people. I feel like I have been better at simplifying when I write more than when I speak, so I’m going to try to use that as a tool for helping myself simplify theological concepts. That way, when it comes time to speak about these issues, I can connect the passion I feel with the realities I’m attempting to present.

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In his lecture “Engaging the World,” Alister McGrath talks about how the shift from modernity to post-modernity has brought a shift in concern from whether or not the ideas presented are true to whether or not the ideas presented are real (practical). We can present lots of true ideas (for example, Queen Victoria died in 1901), but unless they are relevant and useful to the listener, it won’t be very practical for them to hear it (unless you’re taking a history quiz any time soon, that historical tidbit won’t be very useful to you). I need to improve my ability to make theology “real” to the people that I’m talking to, otherwise the people in my future classrooms will find it dry and uninteresting rather than a reinvigoration of the life and relationship they have with God.

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In his book Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis speaks of theology as a map compared to a person’s walk along the beach, and how it often feels like looking at that map, when compared to the beach, is “turning from something real to something less real,” moving from tangible experiences to “a bit of coloured paper.” However, he then says, “The map is admittedly only coloured paper, but there are two things you have to remember about it. In the first place, it is based on what hundreds and thousands of people have found out by sailing the real Atlantic. In that way it has behind it masses of experience just as real as the one you could have from the beach; only, while yours would be a single glimpse, the map fits all those different experiences together. In the second place, if you want to go anywhere, the map is absolutely necessary. As long as you are content with walks on the beach, your own glimpses are far more fun than looking at a map. But the map is going to be more use than walks on the beach if you want to get to America. Now, Theology is like the map.”

I agree with this assessment of theology. We need it in order to progress and go deeper and learn a bit more about what exactly we’re talking about when we say things like “God is in control.” The meaning of that statement can stretch anywhere from meaning that God is capable of redeeming the bad that happens in the world and making good things out of it, to God is a cosmic puppeteer, controlling every vibration of every atom and that the death of your child, the suffering of the poor and the powerless all across the world, and the brokenness and imperfection which is such a persistent part of the human condition is as much His handiwork as our becoming jaded and numb to the cries of the hurting is the result of His plan for us. (This isn’t even the whole scale, but it serves as a functioning example). When we say things like that, different people hear different meanings along that scale, and their relationship with God can be impacted accordingly. (Let’s be honest, if I saw God as someone who would genuinely be pulling the strings behind the whole of human brokenness, I would personally have a problem with describing Him as a God to be loved… feared maybe, but not loved, because that’s little better than a theological case of Stockholm Syndrome. We come to worship the divine boot that squishes us in the hope that it will squish us less painfully. This might be inaccurate, but I feel numerous people probably would react similarly in rejecting the love of a “god of the divine boot”). Of course, our theology also impacts how we view God and our purpose. Do we see our purpose as ambassadors of love or prophets proclaiming the coming judgment? [“Hail to the divine boot, for it comes with power and squishes with equity. Good and evil are crushed beneath its heel!”] (Fun question – does judgment solely imply condemnation or does it also allow for acquittal? To whom and why? Congratulations, you’re doing theology!) Knowing what map we’re reading (where we are, where we are going, and how we are going to get there) is super helpful, especially when we’re trying to lead other people to our destination (right relationship with God, others, ourselves, and the rest of creation… or heaven, depending on your map).

Theology is what allowed me to grow from an understanding of a God that hated me for being human to a God that loved me (and everyone else for that matter) because He created me, even if the original goal for me has been bent and dented, and who is going to restore us to Himself, because He loves us and sees us as valuable. I got to know a God worth knowing on account of theology, and I feel like it can help even those who already know a God worth knowing by bringing a little zest into the relationship. However, a warning: it is very easy to apply lots of adjectives to God in order to make a box, and then use that boxed God to justify our agendas. Adjectives and categories are useful, but they are not the end of it. We are attempting to speak about a dynamic and living entity rather than a concept, and we are trying to have a relationship not compile a databank. Therefore, we need to see our adjectives as qualities rather than checkboxes. God has a say in who He is and what He does; our learning doesn’t end once we fill in enough blanks with qualitative words.

So, I’m working towards a better practice and teaching of theology, because it’s important, and I want to help others understand why it’s important, and how each can learn it according to their ability (not everyone needs to become an expert). The ethos of theology that I was given when starting out is that theology is not a language game about power, but is instead about humility – using truth to build relationships rather than secrets to gain power. Truth, humility, and honesty are the keys of theology as a language. We use theology to help people, and we do not claim to know everything that is important for the sake of power or being “right.”

I don’t know everything, I never will know everything there is to know, and I will never know enough, but what we can learn is helpful, useful, and if it is used well, it can be beneficial to others. This is my passion, and I hope to make it real to other people… but until I improve, I might be about as coherent as Ron Burgundy tweaking out in a telephone both, so please bear with me.

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C.S. Lewis and Epistemic Humility

So, I’ve been doing some on-again off-again reading of C.S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity, which is one of those books that I had always meant to read, but never really got around to reading until recently. All in all there’s been some great thoughts in the book (though some bad ones too, and I’ll mention those in a bit) and I’ve enjoyed reading it. However, one of the most consistent things that I keep noticing, and this seems to be particularly emphasized in one of his chapters on faith (Book 3, Chapter 12), is his practice of epistemic humility. Throughout his writing he consistently makes mention of the fact that he is not as well-educated on some of these topics as he could be, there are others out there more educated on the topics than he is, and that sometimes he is making an assessment on something that is external to his experience. For example, in his introduction to that twelfth chapter he writes (in relation to the topic of deeper faith and the likelihood that some of his readers won’t be able to understand it and might just need to skip the chapter) “Of course, all this tells against me as much as anyone else. The thing I am going to try to explain in this chapter may be ahead of me. I may be thinking I have got there when I have not. I can only ask instructed Christians to watch very carefully, and tell me when I go wrong; and others to take what I say with a grain of salt – as something offered, because it may be a help, not because I am certain that I am right.” I’m very glad of this, because as much as I love a lot of what Lewis writes (he has certainly helped me to see some theological concepts with a new set of eyes) Mere Christianity also has some horrible ideas and theology within it, but those things are flexible. In particular Lewis’s writings on the subject of women are very representative of a man of his time and are terrible in their quality. His admission of the externals to his knowledge and experience help make those mistakes fixable. He is suggesting a set of ideas that can be corrected or amended. This is epistemic humility and it is a wonderful thing.

That humility of knowledge is very much reflective of the kind of attitude I saw in many of my university professors and is an attitude that I do my best to emulate, but it is one of the places where I most often fail. I feel like in my blogs I sometimes do a bad job of making this clear, but it is very much my intention to be clear that I don’t know enough, I don’t have a set-in-stone opinion, and that I’m still learning. To borrow from Lewis – take what I say with a grain of salt, as something offered, because it might be helpful, not because I think I am certainly right. Or to say it another way, I’ve found that a difference between me and a lot of people I know is that I like to discuss ideas and offer helpful suggestions where most people prefer to make statements of certainty. Making truth statements does fall within that practice of discussion and suggestion, but it’s usually not the goal of what I’m saying. So, I want to continue my practice as a student of theology, and part of that practice is being honest about what I do and do not know. In particular, I feel like theology is a hard subject to talk about authoritatively, as it seems to also require knowledge of sociology, psychology, history, political science, and a host of other disciplines, all in various amounts, in order to be maximally effective and applicable to the people needing to use it, but I only have very limited knowledge and experience within those fields.

Lewis ended his chapter with this idea, and I think I shall do the same with this post, “But this is near the stage where the road passes over the rim of our world. No one’s eyes can see very far beyond that: lots of people’s eyes can see further than mine.”

Thailand

So, here’s my blog telling y’all about my trip to Thailand.

I flew in from Incheon (the primary international airport in Seoul) to Hong Kong and from Hong Kong to Chiang Mai. The flights went by fairly quickly and the tickets were relatively cheap, though from what I saw of Hong Kong and the surrounding islands, that’s definitely a place I need to go back to. As far as places I absolutely want to go, Chiang Mai is now off the list. So my list, as it stands, is this:

  • Chiang Mai – Thailand
  • Japan (possibly this summer when my parents visit)
  • Okinawa (possibly during the holiday for Buddha’s Birthday) – Japan
  • Jeju (possibly during the holiday for Buddha’s Birthday) – Korea
  • Bangkok/Phuket – Thailand
  • Angkor Wat – Cambodia
  • Great Wall – China

Other travel possibilities include (some of these are long-shots due to expenses, but if I can afford it, I’d like to do it sooner rather than later):

  • Australia
  • New Zealand
  • Israel
  • Brazil
  • Philippines
  • Malaysia
  • Indonesia

Ok, now here’s a picture of the islands around Hong Kong:

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Once I arrived in Chiang Mai, I was picked up by Tim and Sondra Armstrong, old friends of mine from Germany who are now working with a Bible-translation organization in Thailand. I stayed at their house the entire time I was there, and it was very helpful as far as transportation, travel recommendations, eating, hotel costs, and laundry. You know your adventurous vacation might be a little too cushy when you come back with clean clothes, but it was nice to be able to take a break when I wanted to (I was getting a much belated vacation) and they made that a very possible thing to do. 

So, on my first day I wandered the city and took the opportunity to book some tours for the coming week. I saw all kinds of temples and other wonderful sites in the city including a remaining section of the wall that used to surround the downtown portions of the city (and a moat still surrounds that area). Then after lunch I went to a marketplace where many of the hill tribes would come to sell their wares and found all kinds of cool stuff (I now actually have an idea of how I could decorate my apartment and find it worthwhile, and I have the materials to do it). I now have a comfortable satchel bag that I can use when I don’t want to lug around a heavy backpack. This is a very good thing for me, as I have been wanting one of those for forever. Here’s one of the temples I saw on the first day:

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The second day I took a temple tour that took me to some of the major temples in the city of Chiang Mai, all of which I hadn’t gotten to the day before. The temples in this country are fantastic and I enjoyed taking pictures of them. My favorite was probably the one with the massive crumbled stone shrine. It was enormous compared to the other shrines in the city and was the largest temple compound that I saw inside the city. Then later in the day I wandered the city some more, found some more temples, and had a lot of good food to eat at the night market in front of the old eastern gate.

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The third day I went to Doi Inthanon, the highest mountain in Thailand, and got to see a hill tribe village, a few waterfalls, the summit, a hill tribe market (and their wine which looks rather much like soda by its packaging, but doesn’t taste like it, for obvious reasons), and a temple/shrine dedicated to the king the mountain is named for. That tour went well, but started a little oddly as I found that the agency had dropped me with a tour group from Israel and I was the odd man out for the trip. That being said, they were wonderful people and by the end of the trip they had made offers to help me come teach English in Israel should I ever have the desire to.ImageImageImage

Then on the fourth day we went on a hill-tribe tour close to the border of Burma and saw Chiang Dao cave, where the Sleeping Buddhas rest. On that trip I was with a British man and his new Argentinian wife. Apparently they had met back in 2010 in Brazil, her last day, his first day, they hit it off, kept in touch, eventually began visiting each other, and got married on the beach in Pukhet a week before my meeting them. One of these days I’m sure hollywood will get ahold of the story and make a movie of it. The hill tribes were interesting, and have made me aware just how very much tourism can encourage poverty for local populations (many cultural practices and locations are continued not for the preservation of their culture or because they have to live that way, but for the sake of tourism, for example the long-necks of the Long-neck Karin tribes). Chiang Dao cave and the surrounding temple compound were exquisitely beautiful. Thailand as a nation is very photogenic, and even so, their temples and shrines consistently stood out as places of beauty and wonder.

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Day 5 was adventure day. I was with a group of French families, 2 Germans, a Japanese guy, and a Finn. All we needed was a Russian and a Brit and we could have re-enacted WWII in miniature. This was the day I went elephant riding, hiking out to a waterfall in the jungle (and swimming at its base), white water rafting, and bamboo rafting. It was awesome. I spoke in German and broken Japanese, and used what little French I knew to eavesdrop on the French. So much about that trip was awesome, though I had the misfortune to go to one of the elephant camps where they mistreated the elephants. Riding elephants had been highly recommended to me by several friends who went before as well as my hosts; however, the handlers of the elephants acted like a bunch of eight-year olds with sticks. It was a bit frustrating to see the elephants being treated the way they were, especially while we were riding them. Of course, the rafting was great and the hike was beautiful. The waterfall felt great after the hike to get there, I just wish we’d had more time at the falls. 

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Day 6 was Saturday, so I spent the day with the Armstrong family climbing a waterfall at a national park near Chiang Mai and that was loads of fun. I mean, dude, I got to climb a waterfall!

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Day 8 (I took Day 7 to go to church with the Armstrongs and rest), I got to go ziplining. I met a Korean guy from Daegu (near Busan) and two Chinese college students who were there on vacation. The ziplining was a lot of fun and definitely worth the time and money (it actually wasn’t that expensive either, because Thailand is super-cheap).

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Day 9 was when I went to Doi Suthep and the Chiang Mai Zoo. Doi Suthep is the mountain immediately west of Chiang Mai and it has a temple at the top that offers some beautiful sites and templiness. The zoo actually wasn’t planned, but I saw it on the way to the temple and knew that I would have some time in the afternoon, so I decided to go to the zoo. 

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Day 10 was my final day to do stuff (I flew out on Day 11 and wanted to rest up), so I went to an illusion art museum and a cultural museum in the downtown area. The illusion museum was super cool. There was lots of good artwork and clever tricks of perception, so that was a time well spent. The culture museum was underwhelming, but there was some good anthropological history regarding the settling of the area, which was interesting to know. 

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Anyways, that was my trip to Thailand. The food was good, the cost of living is cheap, the sites wonderful, and overall an amazing trip. I realize that I only got the tourist’s glimpse of the city (though I did accidentally wander into a few back alleys and the red-light district, but let’s be honest, the red-light district was aimed at tourists – the sex-trade is unfortunately prosperous in Thailand, as is human-trafficking), but I wouldn’t mind living and teaching in Chiang Mai or a similar city. If y’all want to see the full photo album(s) (facebook can’t make an album with more than 1,000 pictures, and I took 1,160), here are the links:

https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10153918050475534.1073741840.668415533&type=1&l=4d4383829c

https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10153934869370534.1073741842.668415533&type=1&l=51043b5f1d

Powering Through the Cold

I realized it’s been a while since I’ve posted an update, so here it is!

January and February have definitely been the two hardest months for me here in Korea. I’ve never been a particular fan of the cold, but to top it off, I had my first major illness since coming to Korea – tonsillitis. It was bad enough that on the day I realized I was sick I began having fevered hallucinations in place of sleep. Needless to say a visit to the hospital was in order. Thankfully that week was a week when we didn’t have students, so I was able to spend that time recovering. I’m quite thankful for the cheap medical care here in Korea, as the illnesses and treatment (I had an IV and it cost me maybe $15 out of pocket) for it would have ruined me in the U.S.

That being said, I think I’ve been thoroughly broken of the honeymoon effect with Korea. I’ve begun to notice some more of the frustrating cultural differences and how they impact my life and do harm to other people here in Korea. East Asian cultures seem to have a bad habit of ignoring problems (I’ve discussed this with some friends of mine and it seems to be region wide) until they become too large to ignore. In September there was something of a minor energy crisis in Korea because 5 of the country’s nuclear power plants were found to have passed their maintenance inspections through bribery (corruption is a problem here), but is has long been known that corruption is a problem and nothing was done to address the impacts it might have on vital sectors of the national infrastructure (like energy). This is but one example of things that get ignored here, though others might be the inefficiencies of certain systems (including educational habits – schooling from dawn until dusk can do more harm than good) and the immense social pressure put on their students to succeed (and the corresponding suicide rate following the national exam time when high school students test for university admission).

Along with the tendency to ignore problems, Korea is rather xenophobic. For as many Koreans as I encounter that are friendly and welcoming, I encounter many that see me as a target that they can rip off or simply as someone who has no place existing in proximity to them. The looks I sometimes get make me feel as though the very space I occupy is being tainted by my existence. It’s been something of an eye-opening experience being in a place and culture where it is impossible for me to blend in with the local population. In Europe, if I altered the way I dressed and my body language, I could be “just another person” when walking along the street. However, here in Asia, it is impossible for me to blend in simply due to the color of my skin. I’m not saying that this is an exact parallel (I was not born in this country, I know I’m a foreigner here), but I have to wonder how much this happens to racial and ethnic groups back in the States. A lot of the reaction I get isn’t overt or explicit, it’s in the brief facial expressions that slip through the mask before being covered up. So many of the expressions say “You don’t belong here” and I think I’m getting an idea of how that must feel for people who get those same reactions from every 5th person they see in a country where they were born, grew up, and see as their own. It’s frustrating to feel like your existence is offensive to someone else, even if it isn’t every single person giving you that look. There’s just so many looks over the course of the day that by the end of the day you just start staring people down to remind them that you see these looks. Eventually you get used to it and learn to drown it out, but every now and again it’s just so obvious you can’t help but see it. So yeah, as wonderful as Korea is, it has its frustrations.

As for the other stuff I’ve been up to, teaching has been fairly usual, though I did get to write some new curricula for a special group of students that had attended our school just a month prior to coming again and that was quite fun. I don’t know what it is, but I find making a well-prepared curriculum for a group of students or series of lessons is very satisfying. I’ve also uncovered a British product that is made entirely of villainy and lies. Introducing caramelized biscuit spread, packaged in creamy and crunchy and made to look entirely like peanut butter:

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Lies… all of it, lies! They place it right next to the peanut butter in the foreign foods section of the grocery store and it has been quite vexing. 

We’ve also had a recent batch of new teachers arrive here in Korea, so it’s been wonderful getting to meet all of these new friends who have arrived from all over the U.S. There are lots of wonderful new people, and a few old ones who I knew from college who are now here teaching with us in Korea.

One of the first things we did with the new people was take them to Seoul and experience our first jimjilbang (bath house). For those of you who aren’t familiar with the jimjilbang, they’re a mix of hostel and bath house, and they are very popular in Korea. You can go just for the hot tubs (some of them have herbs and other stuff mixed in) and sauna, or you can go and stay for the night. You take off your clothes, put them in a locker (you’re given a uniform thing that you can wear around when you aren’t in the baths) and then you shower and hop into the hot tubs. The idea is that they are supposed to help you relax and are good for your muscles and skin and all that. Then you shower again and go upstairs to the sleeping rooms where you can spend the night for fairly cheap. The uncomfortable thing (for most americans) is that while you are in the baths (they are separated by gender) you are completely naked, so you will see lots of naked people. But such is life in Asia, it’s best to just roll with it. Here’s a picture of some of the other stuff we were up to in Seoul (if you want to see the rest of the pictures, go here)

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Finally, I’ve recently become part of a small group/house church started by my fellow English teachers. It has been wonderful, as good English-speaking churches in Cheonan are hard to come by, so finding a Christian-community has been a bit tricky. I’ve been very blessed by this group and am so glad to be a part of it. Of course, I just got back from Thailand, but that will be a blog post all on its own. As it stands now I’m still sorting through pictures and videos (I took over 1,000 pictures… wow…), but that should be coming soon.