Saturday, June 30, 2007

South of the Border and No Burritos

For completeness sake here is a little about my quick stopover in South Korea after the Philippines. I really wanted to visit the North Korean border but due to time constraints things didn't work out.

However a friend who lives in Seoul was able to take the afternoon off and show me around. The things I'll remember were the random people we saw and not so much the sites.

What was funny was I kept forgetting I wasn't in Japan - Korean signs and the people's attitudes were good reminders though. The Koreans were very helpful and friendly but they were also blunt and didn't try to save face like the Japanese. The people were intriguing. In the 24 hours I was there I watched as a lady on a busy sidewalk laid on her back with her hands and feet sticking straight in the air like an overturned turtle. Another lady sat next to us at the bar at a Burger King and yelled directly at the wall for about 10 minutes. She left and then came back in to finish the fight. The wall won and she again left frustrated. And finally I got to witness a full-on geriatric fight in the subway station. It resembled what you would see in junior high with bystanders circling around to watch. I wanted to try and stop it but what can a clueless white guy do or say. A few other Koreans tried to break it up but ended up with bloody noses. After rooting for the oldest guy for a while we were ready to move on, but the fight had moved in front of the ticket machine. I waited rather impatiently until the fight finally rolled on, bought my ticket and left. Good times.

Perhaps one day doesn't give an accurate perspective of a country but it did give me some good memories.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Filipino Filipino

With a couple of good Filipino friends' encouragement, the idea of traveling to the Philippines became an exciting option after finishing up in Japan. Finding I could cash in for free airline tickets using my SkyMiles with a stopover in South Korea made the Philippines trip a must. My ticket was even upgraded to Business class allowing me to finally see what actually happens behind that blue curtain. One piece of advice - if you ever choose to fly business or first class, you better be able to pay for the upgrade the rest of your life. Once you've experienced airline luxury, you can never go back.

My friend Bryant planned out a great trip while Megan and I arrived shamefully clueless.

Here's a few numbers from the trip:

2: Cameras I broke or lost (and fortunately found)

75: Percentage of the white people I saw that were male senior citizens being escorted by pretty young Filipino girls

3: Different islands (including Japan) we ran into one such retired man who'd previously hit on Megan on the plane ride over

2: Transvestites that hit on me

0: Number of balut (partially developed duck embryo eggs) I ate

50,000: Dollars I would eat balut for

5: New foods we did try: Chicken feet, ox tail, squid ink, pig ears and pig blood (tasted like pork and beans)

1,000,000: Dollars you can buy a private island for. Hmmm...anyone want to pitch in?

We started out in Manila and did very Filipino paintball

Maybe it's just me, but do you see anything wrong with this?

We met up with some of Bryant's friends and flew to the island of Bohol.
Bohol is home of the world's smallest monkey, the tarsier
Also home of the Chocolate Hills
This Boholian could tear open a coconut with his teeth

Grocery shopping
These kids were more than happy to pose
Snorkeling trip
...which turned into whale and dolphin watching. We almost snorkeled with the whale but it swam off.
Sunrise - Bryant's pic, there's no way I got up that early

The Philippines have some of the best scuba diving in the world. Our instructor said he sometimes goes treasure hunting in sunken ships. Apparently you have to watch out for pirates that wait while you and your findings resurface. He said he actually escaped the pirates once in his boat.

We took a ferry to Cebu from Bohol. We went to the Philippines during Holy Week. Since Filipinos are predominantly Catholic most businesses shut down allowing our friends to come along. On Bohol Island as well as a few other places on Good Friday there are some small groups of Catholic extremists that whip themselves, wear a crown of thorns and even nail themselves to a cross. We mistakenly thought it was done in Cebu and took the ferry the day before.

Preparing for the week
On Easter Sunday the people of Cebu had a huge parade carrying statues of Mary and a Spanish looking baby Jesus
They sold balloons of Jesus and Sponge Bob Square Pants

Magellan's Cross - the Philippines is where Ferdinand Magellan, the first man to circumnavigate the globe, was killed. Makes sense from the natives' side. Magellan and the Spanish sailors claimed the Philippines for Spain - even though there were plenty of natives who called it home, sound familiar America? They decided this wasn't cool so they killed him. Spain eventually did colonize the islands causing much Spanish influence in architecture and language.

That's enough pictures. Great memories. Thanks Bryant!

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Abby's Wedding

It's been quite a busy few weeks since returning home. The big event being my sister's wedding. In fact, on the drive home from the airport after the long overseas flight, our first stop wasn't Taco Bell (how I imagined it would be) or a nice warm bed (how I hoped it would be) but to the tuxedo shop to get fitted (how reality dictated it to be).

Abby's wedding turned out great and I heard a few people even say it was the nicest wedding they'd been to. My sister, mom and quite a few friends invested countless hours and it really came together perfectly. I conveniently showed up just two weeks before. (Maybe you're noticing but what I'm attempting to do is describe a wedding. That's not something I do well. When people ask me how did so-and-so's wedding go, my usual response is, "He said, 'I do.' She said, 'I do.' So they did." If you want details, color schemes and all that jazz your best bet is to ask my sister or a bridesmaid.) But I can say it was rather difficult to watch my sister get married off. Without breaking out the Swiss and getting too cheesy, we've always been extremely close. I mean, I even happily wore that tuxedo all day for her. I do wish we had a little more quality time together before it all but it's all good because she is marrying an awesome guy and she's happy. I am claiming at least partial credit for their hook up. I can't take credit for the pictures though.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Last Stop: Colorado

I'm home! After flying in yesterday, home has been absolutely nothing like I expected, this mainly due to its odd familiarity. Honestly I've been careful not to let myself get excited about coming back to America because I didn't want the expectations to exceed my return. I know things will be very different, but so far its been great to remember how good it is here.

My family is awesome - even after having spent so much time apart we are still able to laugh and connect like with few people I know.

I went for a run tonight and there is now a trail surrounding the lake near our house which conveniently replaces one of my favorite running spots in Mito, Lake Senba. Of the places I've been nothing really compares to the smell of the crisp Colorado evening air - and I consider myself a beach guy.

Now back with no expectations my first day has been great. Of course sleeping 15 straight hours did help - some serious jetlag and a really comfortable bed are to blame. I was a little exhausted after four days in four countries: Philippines, South Korea, Japan and now here. I'm definitely finished with those overly friendly customs line agents - at least for a little while. Can't get enough of their pearly white smiles. Hopefully the nomad days are not forever gone, but I have had complete peace with the move back and am looking forward to seeing some old familiar faces.

With that said there are plenty of stories from the move and my Philippines/South Korea trip I'll need to update you on in the future. But no more tonight - I'm not helping myself with this little Mountain Standard Time Zone issue.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Vote Sasuke

One reason why I love Japan: Randomness. For being one of the most formal countries in the world, Japan can also be the wackiest. The Great Sasuke has just opened up his bid for governor of Iwate prefecture. He is currently a legislator in the Iwate Prefectural Assembly.

Not so impressed? So what, America can claim Arnold Schwartzeneggar and Jesse 'The Body' Ventura as governors. Very true. But as governor do they wear masks every day to work? I just can't get over this. When I found out, I asked a teacher if he really wears the mask everyday. Very matter-of-factly she told me, "Well, he doesn't want to give away his secret identity."

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Unabridged Interpretation of My Japanese Haiku

It's been over two and a half years now since I moved to Japan. Moving back home, I am a little worried about habits I've picked up like bowing obsessively at the McDonald's drive-thru lady, driving on the left side of the road and my constant cravings for green tea and rice. Christmas in Hawaii was a nice pre-return trip - it gave me a little taste of America with quite a few Japanese tourists added for comfort. From previous trips abroad I've been prepped well with plenty of "re-entry culture shock" info. I'm extremely excited to catch up with my old friends and family. It's been so long. But I'm apprehensive at the same time. I know the people close in my life that I haven't seen in some time have been living their own separate lives. When I come back they'll be different. I'll be different. But we'll be expecting to see the same person from years ago. We won't have the common histories from the past few years to draw back on or laugh at. That will just take time to re-establish. I know all this...and knowing does make the transition easier, but not necessarily easy. Ok. Don't worry, I don't let myself get depressing on here.

I'm leaving a great situation in Japan. Good job. Great students. Awesome friends all in the same place in life. A great place to save money. A one-of-a-kind church with inspiring Christians. A God who's blessed every part of my experience. A great takeoff point for crazy travel destinations. A country rich in culture and history. Celebrity status. iTunes. The beach. Growth. Growth. Growth.

But it's time for a change. Honestly, I don't know if I could handle being the only native English-speaker at my school all day for another full year. It's been absolutely amazing but exhausting. Since the decision to head back, I've had complete peace and haven't questioned myself once. This seems funny because I have no long-term plans for the future. No idea. I know God's got something in store just like he had Japan in store when I was at this crossroads three years ago. If God is preparing anything like Japan it's gonna be an exciting ride!

So my current plans are as follows: Visit some friends in the Philippines once the school year is over at the end of this month. Stopover in South Korea for some kimchi. Run really really fast into North Korea and sprint back. Fly home to Colorado. Hang out with my sister before she gets hitched at the end of April. Tentatively plan to get a mindless outside summer job in Colorado. Travel around for weddings and triathlons/marathons(?). Then the job search begins in OKC or a beach town like Rio de Jinero.

"So what do you want to do with your life from here," you ask? Good question. Fireman? Buy, remodel and sell houses? Math Teacher/Coach? English teacher in Italy? Write travel books? Actually use my engineering degree? Disney on Ice? (Gotta first learn the triple lutz in a Dopey costume.) Buy a Harley and ride to Sturgis with Viper and the gang?

I'm gonna steal my friend Mark's idea. This blog is now open for suggestions from you for what I should do. Please, serious or outrageous...I'm all ears.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

A Japanese Haiku

Hey America
I'll see you April Fifteenth
Bye Bye Japan Sniff

where have you been?