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It’s been a year today since I’ve been home. It feels like 10 years, but the good news is that I have a lot to be thankful for. I’ve learned a lot about the world from my experiences in Korea. Living in a city of ~25,000,000 people greatly contrasts with living in Thorold, a city of 18,000 people.

I’ve been thinking of doing a ‘best of’ post for a while, but I thought I’d leave it until I’ve been back in Canada for a while. After over 25,000 unique visitors, I’ve finally compiled what I feel to be my best posts. Sadly, this will be my last post to this blog. I have nothing more to add about Korea. I feel that this blog is complete just the way it is, and I am deeply appreciative of each and every visitor.

I am available by email at mikeinkorea@hotmail.com . Feel free to email me if you have any questions, or would like to hire me. :)

Without further adieu, here they are, in no particular order:

Namhansanseong – June 4, 2009

One of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been to in Korea. This place is an old fortress that was used to defend the country. Today it is an absolutely beautiful mountain/park area. The photos I took that day may be some of my best.

Family Mart Extravaganza, and the Wheels of Doom – August 7, 2008

I chose this post because it was written only a few days after I arrived. It was one of the first times that I actually gained the courage to venture outside of my apartment. I carefully traced my steps from my apartment, noting landmarks on my way down the bustling side street. There, I met a young couple, maybe 20 years old. The guy let me take his scooter for a ride, and in a gesture of mutual trust (or distrust), I let him hold onto my camera. In Seoul, it is common for motorbikes to drive on the sidewalk, and with the traffic in Seoul, I wasn’t about to venture out onto the street. I rode around for about 10 minutes, and returned to the front of the Family Mart where I had met my new friends.

A Once in a Lifetime Experience (2009 Asian solar eclipse) – July 22, 2009

Documents the solar eclipse that happened on July 22, 2009. It was a really special time for me, especially since I got to spend some time celebrating with my students. I miss them and think of them every single day.

Hiroshima: December – January 2009 – 2010

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New Year’s Eve post with photos and video

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I visited Hiroshima, Japan for a New Year’s trip. It was one of the most moving experiences I’ve ever experienced. To be in a place where nearly 150,000 people died was very humbling. I thought it would be fun, and it was, but while visiting the Children’s Peace Memorial, I broke down and cried.

Noryangjin Fish Market – September 6, 2008

My trip to the oldest and biggest fish market in Seoul. It was huge, and smelled like fish.

Dobongsan Defeated – November 2, 2008

My first mountainous triumph. This is when I fell in love with the mountains in Seoul. The feeling of being on top of that mountain was one of the most exhilarating feelings I’ve ever experienced, and the full-body fatigue I felt at the end of the trip was euphoric. I ended up finding a really nice temple where they gave out lunch for free, provided you wash your dishes. Fair. Nice photos are available at the bottom of the post.

Trippin’ Around Myeongdong – February 4, 2010

I decided to do a writeup on Myeongdong, one of Seoul’s most popular shopping districts.

Jongmyo & Cheonggyecheon – November 11, 2008

I visited a ~700 year old temple where kings of dynasties past were interred. I also walked along Cheonggycheon for the first time. It is a man-made river running through Seoul, and it was absolutely gorgeous that day, after the rain had stopped. Nice photos too.

One-Year Reflection – August 1, 2009

A post reflecting on my first complete year in Korea. Looking back, I am still grateful for the same things that I wrote about in this post: my family and friends, and the support they’ve provided me.

I Believe in Miracles – October 31, 2009

I had lost my iPhone in a taxicab in Seoul. There are literally hundreds (if not thousands) of taxis in Seoul. I thought my phone was long gone. Then, a few days later, I got a call from my good friend who was a student of mine while I was working with the English as a Second Language program at Brock University. She told me that she had to meet me, and that it was urgent. The taxi driver had found my phone, and called her, since she was listed in my iPhone’s contact list as her Korean name (우영하). She took a 5-hour bus ride from her city to Seoul, met the guy around 11:30am, and met me at a mall. I had no idea that she had my iPhone. As I was telling her about how I lost it, the pulls it out of her pocket. I have never, ever been more surprised in my life. That act of kindness from her was absolutely touching. Shortly after she gave it to me, she was back on a bus for the 5 hour trip back to her city.

A Traditional Korean Wedding – September 15, 2009

I had the privilege of attending a traditional Korean wedding. The bride was my coworker, who happens to be Chinese. The colours of that day were indescribable. It was a great day for my coworkers and I, and provided me with a lot of insight into traditional Korean culture.

Beautiful Geumho – February 22, 2009

I partnered up with an actor in Korea, Michael Arnold, and his friend Jennifer Yun. He is a big advocate of saving the old (and beautiful) buildings of Geumho-dong. The government is displacing the people of this area, tearing down their houses, and putting up skyscrapers. Anyway, I took some nice photos that day, and it gives a great view into traditional Korean buildings versus the mega-apartments of Seoul today.

Gwanaksan Defeated – April 12, 2009

I had found my favourite mountain in Seoul. Includes some nice photos and a video.

Beautiful Gwanghwamun and Cheonggyecheon – October 4, 2009

I went out to the heart of Seoul, and spent the day walking around, observing. As you can see from the photos, it was absolutely gorgeous.

Fukuoka – Ohori and Nishi Park – April 1, 2009

I was in Japan to renew my visa, and got to spend some time in a gorgeous city called Fukuoka. The park I visited there was so perfectly manicured; it looked like someone had gone through it with a pair of nail clippers. Absolutely gorgeous. See the video at the bottom of the post. Nice pictures also.

I’ve been dreading to write this post for months. I’m finally out of Korea. I can say that the hardest thing I had to do was to say goodbye. I’m not good with goodbyes, so I did my best to make the situation as ugly and angry as possible. I guess I still don’t know how to deal with emotions, and I regret the way I handled myself. I’m feeling pretty low right now.

I’m sitting in Dallas Fort Worth airport waiting for my cheeseburger, nearly in tears for the 20th time today. I feel a huge loss and emptiness in my heart. I’ve lived in Korea for nearly 2 years, and I did a lot of growing and changing there.

There was actually a point when I had a small panic attack on the flight from Japan, and I was ready to jump out the window and somehow parachute back to my home in Geumho-dong, Seongdong-gu.

I guess you really don’t know what you’ve got ’till it’s gone.

I have a funny feeling that I will return to Korea soon.

Seollal is the Korean Lunar New Year. It’s observed by Koreans around the world, and has its roots in Buddhism. It is the first day of the Korean lunar calendar. This year, it falls on Valentine’s Day, February 14th.

This is a huge celebration for Koreans, who get a day off work, and spend time with family. They play traditional games, including flying kites, kicking hackie sacks, and play on a seesaw.

Many Koreans travel during this time to be with family and friends, so buses and subways are absolutely packed with holiday travelers. Koreans will wear the hanbok, the traditional Korean dress for both men and women. You can see Koreans wearing their hanboks around town, on the subways and in the streets.

This is a very family and filial-piety-oriented holiday, where children wish their parents a happy new year by performing a traditional bow and say kind words. They say 새해 복 많이 받으세요, which translates to “Please receive many blessings in the new year.”

A burial mound at the base of Dobongsan (도봉산)

Koreans also visit the grave mounds of their deceased relatives and pay their respects. In North America, we bury our dead, deep underground, but in Korea, they place the body on the ground and pile dirt on top, creating a large burial mound. These mounds can very often be seen high up in mountains, as well as in many rural areas.

What did I do during my Seollal break you ask? Nothing.

Alright Mike. Keep it together. Stay focused. You’re the hard-edged artistic guy, the one with the constantly stagnant stare, the one people wonder about

The thing is, the thought of me leaving Korea has me in a huge mix of emotions.

This guy is pretty sad that I'm leaving...

I talked to my boss yesterday about my situation. He said he’d get my flight booked for the first week of March. That’s like 3 weeks away. The thought of leaving has me up all night. I was up at 5:30am this morning, no chance of going back to sleep. So right now I’m running on caffeine and adrenaline.

I’m just worried about what I’m coming home to. The job market isn’t exactly sparkling in Niagara. Honestly, I know how awesome and talented I am. I am good looking. I am young. Being good looking alone puts me ahead of the rest, as sad as it is. I have a lot going for me, but I need to find a place that will let me focus my talent and energy, and the only place I’ve found where I can do that is through writing and photography.

I can’t see myself living the way I want to while doing the starving artist thing. I am coming back for my brother’s wedding in July, and if I can’t secure a decent job by then, I’ll likely come back to Korea or maybe Japan next year. I’ve already registered my WordPress domain for my Japan adventure, should they happen.

One thing I know damn well, is I’m gonna get a huge prosciutto sammich from Big Red. It was an absolute staple during my college and university years.

The next few weeks, I’m going to try and do whatever the hell I want. Maybe head back to the mountains, weather permitting. That is one thing that I will really long for… there is nothing like the kiss of a mountain peak on a cool October day.

Myeongdong is a hugely popular shopping district in Seoul. It’s the 9th most expensive shopping area in the world, in terms of rent space in cost per square meter.

There are some pretty high-end stores there, like a Tommy Hilfiger outlet, Nike, Reebok, Adidas, Lacoste, etc. It would be heaven for someone with more money than sense.

Speaking of more money than sense…

Frisbee, an Apple reseller in Myeongdong

It was pretty chilly out there, so I decided to bask in Apple’s warm glowing warming glow. It’s a typical Apple reseller layout; minimalist with a focus on the products. I really want lot of things in that store, particularly a 2TB Time Capsule. I can’t wait for the iPad to show up there. I likely won’t be able to afford one of those for a while, but it will be cool to play with one once they end up on store shelves. This store is 3 floors of Apple goodness, including a seminar room loaded with iMacs. Heaven.

Of course I took the opportunity to show off my smashed iPhone. I get a kick out of their reactions.

After the Apple store, I went home. Not much to see in Myeongdong unless you’ve got some money to spend, but a cool place to look around if you’re bored one night.

I’ve been meaning to write about this guy for a while. This is Sejong the Great (세 종대왕), pronounced ‘say-jong dae-wong). He ruled Korea from September 18, 1418 to May 18, 1450. He is the creator of Hangul (한글). In my humble opinion, Hangul is the greatest written language ever. It works like this… every word is divided into syllables, so each character represents one syllable. Example: 마이클. That’s my name… Michael. But in Hangul, it’s divided into 3 syllables: ma – ee – kul. Each part of each character is like a letter in the Roman alphabet. Here’s the Korean alphabet:

Not my image.

It looks kind of intimidating at first glance, but once you know the basic alphabet, you can read pretty much any Korean. I can read Korean pretty fluently, but I have no idea what it means most of the time. It’s very useful for ordering food, getting directions, you know… the basic stuff. Having a Korean girlfriend has proven very useful for common phrases such as “I’m hungry” (배고바) and “I’m cold” (초어)

One thing us English speakers have trouble with is ‘rieul’, or ㄹ. It’s pronounced something like a cross between R and L. This explains why Koreans will often mispronounce words like ‘lonely’ as ‘ronery’.

Korean is much easier to learn in comparison to Chinese. I haven’t studied Chinese extensively, but I’ve had a Chinese girlfriend in the past who taught me a bit of it. The reason why Chinese is so difficult isn’t because of the complicated characters that (in my eyes) aren’t really intuitive, because you can’t really tell one ‘letter’ from another. It’s difficult because each word can possibly have 4 tones. Kind of like this: ー, /, \, and ^. The long dash represents saying a word steadily, with no intonation up or down. The second is the tone rising, as we English speakers do when asking a question. The third is the tone moving downwards, as we do at the end of sentences. The last one is going up and then down, all in the same character. This is why the Chinese language doesn’t use upward intonation to ask a question. Instead, they have a word they say at the end of the sentence to indicate that it’s a question. That character is ‘ma’, or 吗. The phrase 你好吗, literally translated, means “you good (question indicator)”.

Korean doesn’t have these tones, so we can use tone and inflection in our voice to convey emotion, whereas the Chinese rely on speaking their feelings. Pretty neat eh?

I’m not saying one is better than the other. I love the sound of Chinese speech. In this video you can clearly hear the up and down intonations of each word:

Before Sejong, Koreans used Chinese characters, called Hanja. Hanja doesn’t use the tones that Chinese does, but it’s still pretty difficult to read. Hanja is now antiquated, but is still used sometimes in advertising and such to promote a more ‘prestigious’ image.

So there you have it… a bit of history on Sejong and Hangul. It’s little things like this that we don’t appreciate until we research it for ourselves.

View facing East down the Han River from the 64 Building

I’ve been going through a really rough time the past couple of months. Long story, and none of your damn business anyway, so don’t ask.

Starting before all this ruckus though, I’ve always had an idea to do one good thing for another person each day. I don’t know about the karma of it, or if I believe in karma at all. I just do it because it feels good, and I hope that one day when I’m in need, someone will do something nice for me.

I’ll talk about 2 recent things I’ve done that have made me feel kinda fuzzy inside, and I hope they make you feel the same way. Yeah I know we’re supposed to go and do our good duties and not say a word, but I say scrap dat mess. If I keep it to myself, there’s absolutely zero chance that I will inspire someone else to do a nice deed. And that would mean that we have lost a good deed in the world because of this arcane idea of ‘doing nice and not telling anybody’. Not worth it.

This was a few weeks ago. I was at 왕십리 (Wangsimni) station. There was an old lady, must have been 75 or so, carrying 2 big bags. Now, ajummas generally have more strength in their fingernail than I do in my entire body. She was really struggling with her awkward bags though. Me, being the fit and able young bachelor I am, I decided to slowly… gently… making no sudden movements… reach for her bags to help her carry them up the stairs. I didn’t want her to think she was being mugged after all.

One she looked and realized what I was doing, her eyes lit up. The unpredictable nature of the ajumma made me almost jump back for fear of a wild, flying right hook. Not so. She gave a big, toothy (minus a few) grin and exclaimed what I could only make out as ‘what a nice foreigner boy!’

Whew.

So, I helped her carry her bags all the way up to the platform. I even took them up the stairs while she rode the elevator up. When I got them back to her at the platform, she shot me that toothy grin, and said to me (I’m sure I’m spelling this wrong) 금어워, which is, in the hierarchical language that is Korean, an informal way of saying ‘thank you’ to someone you’re friendly with. There are only 2 times I can remember hearing this said to me, and this is one of them. It filled my heard with warmth on that cold night to hear her say that to me, because that meant that she saw me as a friend.

We were awkwardly standing there, and she asked me where I was from. I replied 카나다 (Canada). Again her eyes lit up. I wasn’t an American! Even better! I told her I am from 나이아가라 폭포, Korean for Niagara Falls. She was thrilled. The subway came, but before we boarded and parted ways, she felt she had to offer me something. Here’s what she gave me:

yummy

This is extremely dry, cooked rice, with a few dried beans in it. I don’t know how they make it, but it seems like they just let the rice sit in a rice cooker for too long, and then scrape this stuff off the bottom. The result is an extremely crunchy, nearly tasteless melange of ricey goodness. I don’t take candy from strangers, so I haven’t touched it, and likely won’t. We boarded the subway and parted ways. Again she smiled her broken picket fence grin, mouthed the informal ‘thank you’, and I was off.

I hope I made her night more pleasant to know that in the craziness of such a huge city, there are still some people who aren’t all about themselves, and are willing to help others with no expectation for compensation.

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My second story

Yesterday I was at a subway station that isn’t too complex, but it’s a transfer station, meaning there are two levels. They can get confusing to people who haven’t used them before.

I was exiting the turnstile when I saw a young Japanese guy, about my age, asking people for help. The Koreans ignored him (and who could blame them, the guy was speaking in Japanese). I caught his eye, but he immediately dismissed me as being unhelpful, because I am not Korean, so how could I know the intricacies of the subway system? Ohh my little skinny Japanese friend, ye of little faith.

He was trying to purchase a single-ride ticket from the new automated machines. He showed me his Japanese/English map, and showed me where he wanted to go. The problem was that he was trying to purchase a ticket from the machine that only gives refunds. I had a pretty loose schedule, so I decided to help him out. The look on his face was similar to this:

驚きおよび満足!

I walked him over to the appropriate machine, set up his ticket, showed him which direction to take the subway. He was thrilled that I was willing to help him, in the sea of Koreans who weren’t willing to lift a finger. He reached into his pocket and pulled out two Japanese strawberry-flavoured candies, mustered his best ‘thank you’, and was off.

I do my best to go a good deed every day for someone, anyone. From holding doors, to carrying heavy stuff for old people, even walking old ladies across the street when it’s slippery with snow.

I hope that this has inspired others to extend their hand in kindness to someone else today. The smallest thing, even holding a door open for someone carrying a heavy load… the meaning stretches far beyond simply making sure the person gets through the door unharmed, but also signifies that we should all do our best to share each others’ burdens, and help out whenever possible.

I don’t really believe in organized religion, but I do believe in spirituality. And if there is some sort of way to elect yourself to be a better person, then I think that setting a rule of doing one good deed, every day, will definitely do some good things for you.

And even not, when you help someone else, you get a feeling of sweet selflessness, which I feel is severely lacking in ‘today’s society’. Listen to me ramble… I’m 25 and speaking as if I know anything about society.

Just some food for thought. Hold a door or two open, not just for pretty ladies, but for those in need of assistance. I think if everyone adopted this rule, the world would be a better place.

So I decided to get out to Cheonggyecheon (청계천) tonight to see the lights. It was pretty awesome. They had a bunch of laser light shows going on in the mist of the night. It made for a really nice atmosphere.

I can’t count how many times I’ve been to Cheonggyecheon. Tonight I got off at Gwanghwamun station (광화문 역), which is at the top of Cheonggyecheon, and walked about 4km. It was rainy and wet and cold, so I’m pretty happy to be at home now. I wish I had brought my video camera to take some short clips.

There was basically nobody there tonight because of the weather. This was a nice change from the usual crowded conditions there. Since it was raining, the snow had turned to ice, which made me do a pretty interesting dance a few times.

I was surprised to see ducks and even some kind of crane in the water while I was there. The crane was really skiddish and wouldn’t let me get close enough to get a good shot of it. As I quietly approached it, it took off in what appeared to be slow motion. At this point I could barely see it because of how dark it was. As I glanced over into my predicted flight path, I saw it soaring away into the cold, damp night.

HiSeoul is a festival that goes on all year round, with events for every season.

Right now they’ve got a cool winter festival going on, with lights all along Cheonggyecheon (청계천). I’m going to try to get there sometime this week to take some pictures and enjoy the mild temperatures we’ve had lately.

I went to the HiSeoul festival back in May when they had an international kind of thing going on, with booths from many countries from around the world. It was pretty awesome.

I’ll make this a short one because I haven’t actually been to the winter HiSeoul festival yet. Expect more soon, and check out my new blog for something a bit different.

Sorry it’s been so long, and that my posts lately haven’t been about Korea.

Christmas is over and now I’m on the 2-month stretch for home. I’ve decided that I will go back to Canada for spring and summer, and possibly come back to Korea for the fall. I’m also considering Japan, but something makes me a bit weary of that place. It’s like meeting a really pretty girl who’s self-sufficient, confident, and successful. What gives? There’s gotta be a catch. I’ll be doing some more research before I make my decision.

These days I have been pretty busy with schoolwork, as well as a new project that I’m working on, about design and typography. I’m basically trying to diversify my writing by forcing myself to write about something I know very little about.

I hope it takes off like this site has. I’m just about to hit 13,000 unique visitors.

We just did the grad photos of the kids here. It reminds me of last year at this time, and how sad I was to see the kids go. I get too emotional about stuff. I guess I get that from my mom. It’s just sad to know that they’re moving on, and 15 years from now likely won’t remember me at all. But I will remember each of them and their personalities that I’ve taken so long to try to understand. It’s not just babysitting here… it’s really like being a parent to these kids.

I will likely be leaving mid-March or early April, right when the new semester starts. I hope that I can be around to help out with the new classes before I take off.

I’m gonna go home and wait for my pizza. If you’re a foreigner in Korea and want some damn good pizza at a good price, check out Domino’s Korea. Good deals and they even have an English site. You have to pay with a credit card on the website, so I just use it to find a local store, and they speak pretty good English there.

Stay tuned.

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