Dangsang Church Camp

8-15-09

So I just got back from a pretty epic day. this morning we woke up at around 5:30am after sleeping at around 2:00am, and headed to the car to go hiking. We were given a free hiking stick (which I think I lost) which was pretty sweet. On the car ride there, it took about 2 hours and I slept intermittently on the way there. Anyways, we finally got there and after snapping a few photos and putting on sunscreen, we were on our way. I decided to bring my 5D and my 35mm, and attached it to my backpack using a carabineer. It worked pretty well for most of the trip, and it was nice to have it for easy-access to take a bunch of photos of the trip.

The weather in the morning was not particularly blistering hot, but it was enough to make me sweat pretty profusely. After a while hiking up, my entire shirt was wet from sweat, and after time my shorts even got pretty wet from my shorts. I enjoyed in nice conversation with all my hyungs and noonas on the way up, and it was great to have time to share time to get to know more people better.

We were given a goody-bag and a lunch for the way up, and we were told that after the first two stops, there would be no more spots for water. Therefore I filled up my kleen canteen to the brim, as well as bringing two other bottles, thinking it was enough (I soon went through it around ½ through our trek on the way down). In the goody bag it was pretty nice to have a mixture of chocolates, choco-pies, Korean sausages, and even hi-chews. I killed the entire bag before we went to the bottom of the hill.

For the most of the trip up, I refused to use the hiking stick because it seemed to get in my way when I tried to take photos. Going up seemed pretty tough, but in hindsight it was much easier than heading down.

Walking up the mountain was a great experience. It reminded me of Camp Exodus, in which everyone complained about the hike that everyone had to do, but it ended up bringing the group closer together. It was also great to breathe the fresh mountain air, and sweating felt strangely refreshing. It had been a while since I hiked, and I thought that it would be a great little date idea if Cindy and I could go hiking one time, and enjoy a little picnic together somewhere on the mountain. Then maybe spend the night camping.

But anyways, the view on the top was pretty amazing. I had a huge feeling of accomplishment getting to the top, and so did everyone else. Although the sun was quite bright, a bunch of cool breezes on top felt refreshing. The view was also beautiful. There were several layers in the mountains, which were topped with nice fluffy clouds.

After snapping a few group photos together, we started the trek down the mountain. The trip down the mountain seemed to take twice as long as the way up (although it was supposedly 4 hours up and 5 hours down the mountain). After a while, I remember my knees starting to hurt (although it didn’t hurt on the way up).

I forgot to mention, but during the beginning of camp, I was given a tiny red piece of paper with a name on it. Supposedly we were supposed to treat that person especially well, and I think the name on my paper was 마유리. Imma go check. Yeah it is. But anyways, I was looking for a chance to talk to her for a while but it seemed too awkward to start off a conversation out of the blue. Finally at a rest stop I saw her, and she first started talking with me asking if I was really from America. I found out she was a year younger than me (I think she is only one of the two people here who are younger than me) and that she was pretty fun to talk to. Her oversized glasses seemed extremely similar to mine, and she reminded me of a friend back from home. Soon we lagged behind everyone and we just talked the entire way down.

Also I forgot to mention all the people that I have been able to get close to during the trip. There is 희상형 who has one of the most approachable people that I felt naturally drawn to. On the way to the bus in the beginning of the trip, we both lugged a hite keg together. He seems to always be all smiles and makes me feel very comfortable. Another hyung is 도현형 who is the “badass” at church. He has a pretty cool style, with a black star stud and a tattoo in latin on his left arm. He looked pretty different from two years ago when I saw him, as he grew out his hair a little. He would always be kind to me, and treating me like a younger brother. Another person I met was 명기형 who is a huge guy (190cm) but is pretty timid. He seems very soft-spoken and doesn’t talk much, but he is probably the kindest guy here. I spent a lot of time with him on the bus, and also during our hike up. The last guy is 동진 who is trying to become a priest. I remember a while back he randomly gave me a t-shirt that didn’t fit me, which was grey and with a black image of an amazon warrior on it or something. But he is very outgoing and loves to socialize, and always shared in conversation with me. During the end of the hike, he ended up buying 번덕(a herb similar to ginseng)  막걸리 (a traditional Korean rice alcohol). I usually don’t like the taste of 막걸리, but this tasted strangely good. And also at the bottom of the mountain, I was pretty parched and it was extremely refreshing. I took two small cups of it which made me feel pretty good.

We started to head down the mountain some more, and 동진형 ended up buying cooked 번덕. We waited for a bit (명기형 and 희상형 waited with us) and it finally came out. It was pretty badass, it was sort of crunchy but it was cooked in spices and some 깻닙 which was a pretty awesome combination. We ate that all together while heading down the mountain to the car together.

Anyways, one thing I don’t want to forget. Probably 3/4ths of the way down the mountain, there was this little creek. I arrived there late with 유리 and at the sight of everyone dipping their feet in the water, I couldn’t help but flock to the area like a little kid. The refreshing feeling of the water was indescribable. It felt as crisp and refreshing like water from a glacier. After hanging out with my feet in the water, I saw another 형 chilling in the water, fully submerged. I then decided that it was  a great idea  to jump in. after doing that, I have no regrets. Damn it felt good.

Anyways, its time to go to mass. Supposedly we are going to have a talent show and probably drink some beer before we sleep. I look forward to having more fun with everyone here.

8-16-09

I just woke up and last night was pretty damn hilarious. Anyways, we ended up starting mass late last night (at around 9) and it was held outside. There were a bunch of flood lights illuminating the place, as well as a car with its engine and headlights on. I was assigned to group 5, and there I talked a bunch to 희랑누나 and 안나누나 (I forgot her Korean name). I still feel pretty bad, because I cant remember all these names in Korean, although they have no problem remembering mine.

But we ended up still having a good time. I was the second person to sing a song, and I sang “8:45” by Drunken Tiger. I think that the crowd had fun as I got them to pump their hands, but it seemed that they were pretty uninterested because it wasn’t a pop song. But regardless, I think I put on a pretty good performance and had a ton of fun myself singing on “stage”.

Soon they busted out the beer and the 안주, and that’s when the fun really started. I remember first coming to camp two years ago and being surprised when everyone started casually bringing out the alcohol. Alcohol at a church camp? It sounded kinda sacrilegious in a certain way. However during my time here, I realized that it wasn’t just for people to get messed up. Alcohol is very tied in with Korean culture, and Koreans almost always socialize with it (not to say that they’re dependent on it). However the beer and the soju really helped liven up the atmosphere and help people open up to one another. Sometime during the night I ended up at the front table and taking a bunch of shots with people at the table.

Towards the end of the night, I was feeling pretty tired, so I had some thoughts about heading back. Looking at the crowd, it seemed that a good amount of people dispersed. At that moment, 도현형 came stumbling to me and started talking to me drunken and whatnot. It was fun, but I decided that he may have had enough so I wrapped my arm around him and helped guide him back to the cabin. It truly felt like a “bromance” moment which made me feel a strong sense of friendship and care. Once back at the room, I felt strangely unfazed by the fact that he threw off his clothes in the middle of the room and stumbled around a bit before going into the shower. After taking a shower, he stumbled out again and changed into his shorts and without his shirt on, he left the room to go have more fun. I simply waved him to have fun, and after closing the window and turning on the air conditioning, I went to sleep.

8-17-09

Today was the last day of camp. I woke up in the morning feeling okay considering the drinking I did the night before, and rode one of the most epic things ever. At the camp site there was this huge water-slide that you could ride circular tubes down. There was a little hose on the top that constantly sprayed water down, and it was pretty awesome. When I rode my tube down, it was substantially fast and it was just a rush. It reminded me a ton of my childhood. It was all fun and everything until I ended up hitting a hyung on the way down, which made me tip over and scrape my shoulder and elbow on some dirt and sand which made me bleed enough to stop enough for the day.

After that, we had some lunch where I ate with a hyung named 민수. He told me about how he went backpacking in Europe as well, but he spent so little time in each city that he wasn’t really able to enjoy his experiences. However he told me about how awesome it was to shoot the 한강 river at night by 당산. I definitely have to shoot it once before I head back to the states.

Soon we had mass outside under some tents. It was nice to have mass outside and just being able to relax on the grass. While we were waiting for mass to begin, I pulled at the blades of grass just like I did in the second grade when I played soccer. Mass was very nice and it wasn’t particularly hot or anything which made it all the better. During peace, we had to confront the person we were especially supposed to look over, which was given to us by random on little red pieces of paper. Mine was 마유리 so I confronted her and she was pretty shocked that I got her name. I also hugged and greeted everyone else in the crowd before sitting down.

After mass, we boarded the bus and headed home. On the bus we wrote our names on autograph papers and passed them around. I wanted to write a bunch to everyone, but writing on the bus made me feel extremely car-sick so I decided to pass. Once we arrived at church everyone dispersed pretty quickly as everyone was pretty dead tired. I got my autograph sheet and was pleasantly surprised to see mine filled out so much. It touched me but made me also feel a bit guilty for not writing on others’ papers as well. But anyways, a group of some hyungs, noonas, and me went to go eat 감자탕 before leaving.

I really loved camp for not only the sightseeing and fun, but the more intimate connections I was able to make. Knowing that I have friends, family, and even a church in Korea brings much peace to my heart.

Advertisements

Trip to Pohang

We left Suji at 12pm. After work, I rushed back home and tossed all my stuff into my backpack and met my hyung (성태) at 낙생고등학교. I was pleasantly surprised that he had a 2-door SUV, which would be incredibly comfortable for the trip. It was just me and him, and we tossed all our stuff in the trunk and went on our epic trip to Pohang(포항). He had a GPS that was huge and had tv/mp3 and all the bells and whistles. It was instrumental in guiding us safely to our destination.

Anyways in the car ride, we talked about the most random stuff. It was also great stopping by these little pit stops in Korea to get stuff to eat and also getting coffees. Talking about politics, society, and philosophy were a few of our topics. During the ride we got pretty tired and I wanted to sleep really badly but forced myself up so I wouldn’t let my friend fall asleep at the wheel. He then started to sing all these random Korean songs… most of them traditional or old-school. I was amazed by his sonorous voice which seemed to permeate the entire car. It was deep, rich, and full of emotion. Finally at around 3am I couldn’t take it anymore and fell asleep for an hour or so.

When I awoke, we were extremely to one of our stops; Bulkuksa temple. It was around 4am and it was extremely foggy and there was this huge windy road leading to the top. I remember at the bottom of the hill we saw some elderly people trying to hike up the treacherous mountain, and commended them for their tenacity. On the ride up, my hyung turned on his foglights which illuminated the narrow and twisty road quite well, but I remember seeing him swerve into the left lane several times on our way up which made me extremely anxious. I remember looking at the extreme bends that I saw on his gps and thinking that it was just like a video game… Initial D to be exact… driving on the mountainous hills.

Anyways, we finally got to the top and I remember how extremely foggy it was but yet mysteriously romantic. It was around 5am now, and it was lightly sprinkling. It was also cold as hell… I remember shivering in my shorts (the only pants I brought) and regretted not bringing some jeans and a sweater. But anyways, we wandered around a bit, taking in the majesty of it all, with me snapping a ton of photos. We were both extremely tired (my hyung got no sleep while I only got an hour or so) but we headed toward the entrance. The man in the front told us that they were closed until 7am, so we headed back to the car and slept until it opened.

Now with us being recharged with about two hours or sleep, we went through the entrance of Bulkuksa and headed to the main temple. The morning air was incredibly crisp and fresh, with every breath in feeling like I was having pure oxygen. I cant quite describe the experience in detail, but it was probably one of the most beautiful mornings I have experienced in my life. It was also still sprinkling, and I remember patting myself on the back for bringing an umbrella “just in case.”

We finally got to the top and after getting a sip of water from a spring (which was damn refreshing), we headed up a flight of stairs to see the main temple. Inside the temple, encased in glass, was this amazing Buddha statue that stood up to be around 20 feet tall. There was a sign on the left saying “no photos”. I took a picture of the Buddha statue and the sign as well.

After basking in the beauty of the place, we both headed back to our car to go to go check out this padoga (like a tiny statue of a tower) that is on the 10 won Korean coin. The place was equally as refreshing in terms of nature, and it was great to see all the traditional Korean architecture around the place. My 35mm wasn’t cutting it anymore in terms of trying to get everything in, so I threw on my 24mm which gave me all the wide-angle goodness that I wanted. I remember just getting a few snapshots here and there…. Nothing too artsy or anything. I was trying to enjoy the experience more than trying to get tons of photos.

After checking out that place, we headed further inward toward Pohang and stopped by another place which was supposedly a pond created by some Korean king thousands of years ago. The man-made lake was quite beautiful, and littered with tiger lilys all around the middle. We took a stride around the perimeter of the lake, while taking our time and just enjoying the nature of the place. It was quite beautiful….although it felt a little played out after seeing all the other gorgeous places that day.

Somewhere along the way we had Ddak Jjim which was damn delicious (see the picture) and then we headed to Pohang. We drove for another 3 or 4 hours and we finally got near our destination.

Pohang was very cloudy and overcast, and was slightly sprinkling intermittently. However just driving around the place, I got a much different vibe than Seoul. Here was a tightly-knit community where it seemed that everyone knew each other and where people were generally much kinder to one another. There were a lot of authentic-looking Korean structures… which were made without a bunch of planning. Thus it caused the place to seem more genuine… rather than the planned structures that dominate Seoul.

Our first destination was to first get some bomb ass-food. Along the way my hyung kept on telling me about this famous dish in Pohang which is raw fish mixed with water and all these other stuff. It sounded pretty weird, but I was open to new experiences so I told my hyung that I was totally down.

Before we ate lunch, we checked out a traditional market in the middle of Pohang. I will try to describe the place as best as I can. Imagine a classic scene that you see from pictures in Asia; women sitting down trying to sell their food or goods to people walking by with the entire place overflowing with people. It is a very genuine experience, especially when it comes to Korean culture. It seems much more personal than the often impersonal shopping experiences that we have at supermarkets. Kinda like farmers markets back in the states, but on steroids.

But anyways, I tried to capture the mood and experience of the place as well as I could in my photos, but I don’t think that I was truly able to. Photography definitely has its limits. One photograph can only show you so much, and a series of photographs can help more but doesn’t really grasp the atmosphere of a place. The only way that you can really get the sense of the place is to be there in person. To smell all the exotic scents, to hear the clamoring of people in the streets, and to twist your head around in every single direction is the only way that you can get a true “feel” of the place. However as I know how the human imagination is aided by photographs, here are some.

Anyways while we were walking around, we soon entered the center of the market where they sell what Pohang is famous for; its fish and seafood. You could seriously find any crustacean, fish, or marine life if you were there. There were even some places that sold huge chunks of shark and whale. The smell of fish permeated the air, and it was pretty entertaining to see all the fish squirm around in tanks that kept them alive until they would be brutally chopped alive to pieces for human consumption. While walking around though, we got barraged constantly by people trying to convince us to eat at their restaurant. But these people seriously went the extra mile. They didn’t just call at us to go eat at their place from in front of their restaurants; rather, they followed us around for around 2 minutes trying to convince us why their restaurant was better than all the others.

We finally ended up settling at a place and ordered that fish in water-dish I was talking about. Before the food came out, they gave us a plethora of side-dishes that ranged from pupas (Korean people love them, but i cant stand their smell) to seafood. When the dish finally came out, it reminded me a lot of the Korean dish, Nengmyun. There was ice inside there and thinly sliced raw fish with radishes, spices, and seaweed. After pouring in water and mixing it all together, I dove in and damn was it delicious. It was quite possibly the freshest fish I had in my entire life that was refreshing and satisfied my taste buds to the max. They also made a spicy soup with the left-overs from the fish bones which was delicious as well.

Afterward, our next destination was the beach. Before we went to the beach, we found a motel nearby and checked in there to sleep in later. After unloading our things and marveling at how great the deal the motel was (only 25 bucks a night for a private room that has air conditioning, cable, etc) we headed to the beach. When we got there it was a little chilly but we decided to take off our shoes and check out the place regardless. There was a handful of people there that made the place seem more lively. It was also the perfect amount of human life; not too much people, but not too few people.

Anyways I kicked off my shoes and proceeded to walk down the beach with my hyung in my barefeet. Feeling the refreshing water flow in-between my toes was an experience that I haven’t felt in a while that made me really open my eyes to the small beauties of life. Something as simple as walking down the beach with a close friend with the sound of the water roaring in the background was more satisfying than all the riches in the world. I walked around with my stalker lens and snapped a few pictures of the beach, but tried hard not to be caught in the act. Fortunately all my training as a stealthy street photographer kept me largely unnoticed.

We were soon pooped and decided to head back to our motel. There were no stations to wash our sandy feet and we failed to bring a towel, so we decided to walk back in our bare feet. It was probably another of the most epic parts of the trip. In the beginning it was fine just walking in the streets on the asphalt. A few pebbles here and there, but nothing too serious. I saw a few shards of broken glass bottles, but some quick maneuvering kept me from any serious injury. I remember thinking to myself how strange it felt walking on the ground with my bare feet… a memory that I haven’t had since probably when I was a child. This further led me to realize how disconnected humans have become to our environment, and something as simple as walking around in one’s bare feet can really make us have a small epiphany about this fact.

Walking barefoot on the street was chumps change… nothing too difficult although it felt very strange and foreign. However, the worst was yet to come. Before we could get to the motel, we had to cross this huge parking lot which was littered with these tiny stones. And damn it was probably one of the most painful experiences of my life. My bare and naked feet that had been protected with shoes its entire life had no idea the hell it was about to endure from the relentless attack of random pebbles and stones on the ground. Every step was like a thousand little devils poking at me at the bottom of my feet with their tridents, cackling with laughter at my pain.

However this experience was very strange.. as painful and arduous as the experience was, it was incredibly liberating at the same time. To be faced with this pain, but at the same time knowing that it would come to an end once I passed this red-sea of rocks was something I quite looked forward to, and had my heart-set on accomplishing. So I bit my tongue and cursed along the way in a mixture of English and Korean, with my poor little feet begging me to stop. But I ignored the signals that my body were sending me, and let my mind take over. When I finally crossed over, a sense of euphoria overtook me and I gave myself a little pat on the back from enduring and succeeding in this small endeavor.

Finally at the motel, we both KO’d on the bed for about two hours, until we had to get up and meet a friend of the hyung that I came with. When my hyung was living in po-hang for around 6 months, he befriended a guy at the church they were both attending at the time. He told me all of these great stories that they had together, imitating his Korean accent (Gyung-sangdo Satoori… a pretty well known dialect in the south). We then headed toward his church and parked out car closeby, and waited at the beach until he came. Listening to the sound of the water crash on the beach, while holding up my umbrella to shield myself from the light rain seemed incredibly romantic for some reason.  I totally forgot about all of the worries and concerns in my life during those 30 or so minutes on the beach… just reflecting about life.

His friend finally came and we headed to church together. The church looked very homely and inviting from the outside, and during mass it was beautiful to see the small yet intimate community they had there. It seemed like everyone knew each other and what the church lacked in quantity in terms of membership, they made up in quality and from tightly-knit intrapersonal relationships. The church looked quite lovely inside as well, and it was not too big nor too small. It was just right. What I also found funny was that the priest also used the Satoori dialect that many of my family members in the countryside use. During his homily, he didn’t simply read from a paper; he started his sermon with some chit-chat about the weather and such and how things were going in his life. It really helped clear the air and made the environment seem much more friendly and personal, which helped open up the channels of communication between him and the audience.

After mass, I became more acquainted with the friend of my hyung. He looked quite young for his age (I suspect he was around 40 or so) and I could tell of his superior character when I first met him. He was extremely friendly and talked to me like we knew one another for a while, and he gave me a lot of respect in saying that I spoke Korean incredibly well considering I was born and grew up in the states. He gave me a little spiel about how too many Koreans from the states don’t care about their culture or language anymore, and that anybody who is ambitious enough to try to preserve it should be commended. I was starving at the point, and we decided to go eat some Korean Sashimi. Living in po-hang, the friend of my hyung knew all the bomb places to eat that had the freshest fish, while giving the best service.

We soon came to a place and got seated, and started to talk about random stuff regarding how my hyung and his friend knew another and met, and also stuff regarding politics in Korea. I had no idea, but it seems like a ton of people in Korea are really upset with the current president, Lee Myung-Bak and they say he is too conservative and isn’t implementing any of the changes that he promised during his presidential campaign. We shared all this pleasant conversation while having some ridiculously delicious food. There were like a million side-dishes and they gave an extrorbinant amount of sashimi as well. All of this was not complete without soju of course, so we shared a few shots of soju as well… which I am getting pretty accustomed to.

After saying our goodbyes we soon parted ways with my hyungs friend, and went back to our motel room. After showing we turned on the air conditioning and my hyung knocked out first on the far right side of the bed toward the wall. I stayed up a bit typing my note about the people that I met in Korea and also typing up this document as well. I also saw the men’s Korean national basketball team playing the Philippines and I think Korea ended up winning by like 10-20 points.

But I didn’t know the hell that I was going to experience that night. My hyung seriously snored worse than doh and brian combined. It was like being next to the belly of a beast. Every snore seemed to shake the room and make it vibrate like it was cowering to his powerful presence. At first I wanted to wake him up, but I knew that he needed some sleep driving back up to Seoul so I ended up not shaking him or anything of the sort.

However the snoring was pretty unbearable. I tried to ignore it at first, but his snoring shook my core and penetrated my eardrums. I cursed myself for forgetting my earplugs back at home (I have become pretty reliant on them) and remembered the mp3 player in my bag. I then put it on and tried to blast it loud enough to cancel out the sound of his snoring. In between beats I could still hear his snoring. However I tried to bear through it, and ended up falling asleep sometime later that night.

The way up seemed much quicker than the way down. We ended up chatting a bunch about politics, philosophy, and a ton about 이명박. Along the way we also made a few pit stops. One pit stop towards the end in 인천 was pretty memorable as there was a pretty talented musician there singing and playing the electric guitar, and buying “Co-Pop” from BBQ chicken which was a cup of coke with a little suspended container that had fried chicken.

Anyways, we finally ended up getting back to Seoul where we said our goodbyes and parted. 할머니 felt pretty 감동 from him helping me out, so she asked me for his phone number, in case she wanted to hook him up with somebody else (he is 35 and unmarried). Hopefully she can hook up my hyung soon.

Halmunee

If I could sum up my grandmother’s character in one phrase it would be: “It makes me happy when you eat a lot and depressed when you don’t”.

My grandmother has to probably be one of my favoritest people in the world (although this phrase is not grammatically correct, it perfectly conveys my feelings toward her). Aside from her feeding me until the point that my stomach is about to explode, bragging to her friends how smart and good looking I am, and exaggerating all of my accomplishments tenfold, it is her love and selflessness that touches me the most.

I would definitely have to say that my grandmother started to become extremely fond of me after an event that I remember vividly. When I was in the third grade and lived in New York, she visited my family for about a week during the summer. One random day I found out that it was her birthday from either my father or mother. Feeling embarrassed that I didn’t have anything prepared for her, I jumped on my bike and rode to the nearest florist where I bought her a bouquet of carnations. When I presented the flowers to her, her first initial reaction was that of shock. After the fact that her 12-year old grandson at such an early age had the audacity and the thoughtfulness of going out of his way to go out and buy her flowers subsided, she was felt so touched that it has stuck with her ever since. I haven’t shared a conversation with her and her friends without that story being brought up at least once.

Although I have always liked my grandmother from a young age, I don’t think it was until two years ago or this summer until I started to really love her. Being able to stay in Korea for a prolonged period of time and seeing her every weekend helped me connect to her on a deeper level, and find that her character was must more than a cute old grandma loving one of her grandchildren to death. She always puts me before herself; something that only my mother and her share. She really goes out of the way to help me when I am in need.

Even though she doesn’t have much money herself, she always strives to give me an allowance every time that I see her so I can go out and have some fun. Even though she doesn’t have the best fashion-sense, she always tries to buy me some clothes that she thinks that will look good on me. Even though she is old, she always pours out all her energy and love when I am around her.

Being with my grandmother has also made me realize how much of my character is from her. I have always thought that my outgoing personality was something innate and that I developed myself, but through spending time with my grandmother I have realized that I have to give her a huge deal of credit for her genes. Although she is 74 years old, she has this vigor and robustness that makes her seem at least 20 years younger. She is incredibly sociable and amicable to everyone around her, and she is the one who often hosts the Go-Stop card game parties at her place. She doesn’t talk in a meek and tired voice, but rather a powerful and sonorous voice that seems to fill a room. If she encounters a crowd of people, she doesn’t cower and wait for people to clear the way. Rather, she uses her arms like a plow and bulldozes people out of the way.

It would be a crime if I wrote about my grandmother and failed to dedicate a small section to her cooking. The only way I could probably describe it is the Korean phrase: “진수성찬”. Directly translated into English it means “banquet” or “feast” but in Korean it emphasizes the fact that there are so many side-dishes that it literally overfills the table. Not only do I want to emphasize the sheer volume of food that she lovingly tries to shove down my throat, but how delicious it is. I reckon the taste can be attributed to the fact that she puts in several cups of love into her cooking, which enriches the taste more than any spice or pepper in the world. All without artificial flavoring or MSG.

When she told me that she wanted me to take her photo that would be used at her funeral, a strange fusion of denial and flattery came upon me. I didn’t even want to fathom the fact that one day she wasn’t going to be around anymore, but at the same time how taking a photo of her could be one of the “final presents” that I could give to her. So after my month-long trip in Europe when I am back in Korea, I plan on taking that photo for her.

At 74, I have no idea how much longer she will be around. She claims that she is in great health (I think she is as well) but there is no way I can be 100% sure. I pray that she can still around when I get married and be beaming at me with delight while I walk down that aisle with my bride-to-be.

Anyways, I am heading to Europe tonight so things have been a little hectic doing my last-minute preparations. I still feel under-prepared, but my grandmother told me that she went to morning mass to specially pray for my Europe trip. On top of that, she even met me at the subway station after I ran some errands to bring me an umbrella (it poured like crazy today). After arriving we also had some bomb-ass firewood-roasted chicken at a restaurant next door. I wonder if I can eat as well in Europe.

Hosted by imgur.com

Traveling in Korea

Recently Cindy told me about her reflections when it came to traveling. For those of you who don’t know, Cindy has recently traveled to Vietnam and Malaysia and has had some pretty epic adventures. Through her travels she explained how she met some of the most incredible people from all over the world, and even with some people she felt that she was the least likely to connect with on a deeper level. I can’t quote what she said to me exactly, but it went along the lines of “I have become to define my travels through the people I meet, rather than the things that I see.”

When she told me that, I pondered about the statement for a second and then it suddenly struck a chord in my heart. In that moment of contemplation, I realized that the same applied to me through my travels as well in Korea. Although I have eaten some of the most delicious food, seen some of the trendiest places, and got the most outrageous deals on stuff I don’t think I can define my time in Korea through any of that. I have to definitely say that the only way that I can sum up my experiences in Korea is through the people that I have met.

I have met so many wonderful people in Korea who have truly touched my heart and that I now consider as family. The majority of the people I have befriended in Korea consist of the people in the youth group at the church that my grandmother attends. It all started two years ago when I was convinced by my grandmother to go to a summer camp for young adults at the church. At first I was very hesitant because of my sub-par Korean skills, but I figured that it might be a good experience so I took the plunge. Through the camp I clicked with a ton of people, and I was pretty popular during the camp from being from America and all. After the camp finished, I spent a lot of time with many of the people that I met and was able to grow with them on a more-personal level. It ended up being one of the best summers of my life.

Fast-forward another two years (this summer) and when I attended mass I was welcomed with open arms from everyone that I had met two years previous. It was a heart-warming feeling to have this family on the other side of the world that welcomed me with the most genuine gestures. Even though I am technically an outsider by coming from America, the people from my church took me unconditionally as one of their own.

Through these people, I have further learned how truly important friendships and inter-personal connections are in life. Although I have also earned a pretty penny in Korea through tutoring, I would say that I have grown much more wealthy from the accumulation of friends (and I now consider to be family) during my short time here. And with only one week left in Korea before I go to Europe, I wanted to write a momento to all the people I have connected with during my time here.

Sung Tae Hyung

I met you 3 years ago and ever since that moment, I have seen you as an older brother and a mentor when it comes to life. You have really put me under your wing and helped me so much when it came to adjusting to life in Korea. You left such a deep impression on me, especially through all the wise things that you have told me when I first met you, and I feel that I have built a stronger affinity to you this summer as well. Our trip to Pohang was simply amazing, and I loved sightseeing just as much as our little chats in the car together. You are someone that I know that I will know for a long time. If you visit the US anytime, you are more than welcome to visit me.

Photobucket

Ji-Sook Noona

Noona, it has been 2 years ever since we first got chosen as “Mr and Mrs Smith.” I really think it was God who ended up pairing us together. I remember being very intimidated about going to camp due to my weak Korean, but you made the bus ride there ever-so pleasant by listening to what I had to say and talking with me as well. You are probably one of the kindest and selfless people that I know in Korea and in the world, and I cannot put into words how grateful I am have to met you. Although our time together was very short, it was sweet as well. I really see you as my older sister and family, and I feel a strange sense of calm and belonging when I am with you. You have really helped shape my trips to Korea to some of the most pleasant times in my life ^^

Jiyoung Hyung

Hey Hyung, I know you have a Facebook (you early adopter) and that you will have the chance to actually read this. But when I first met you and found out that you were also into photography, I felt a strong connection towards you. You are incredibly friendly and open, and just very approachable. You sound like you are doing some pretty incredible work in school and what you are pursuing. I am glad that I met an artsy guy like you in Korea ^^

Photobucket

Not only did I have the opportunity to grow deeper with people who live in Korea, I have also grown closer to people that I know back from the states. It’s funny how we barely have time to meet up back home, but we can meet in another country.

Rosa- it was great hanging out and having fun in Gangnam and also meeting up with Scott at the hospital hahaha. You never failed to prove yourself in terms of your tolerance and thanks for the oil wipes! Hahaha. But being one of the first people I hung out with a lot during the beginning of my trip to Korea it was nice to know that I had you to kick it with and stuff. I hope to see you back in norcal soon!

Photobucket

Mark- although I have never had the opportunity to really have a conversation with you back at UCLA when I was a freshman, I’m glad that we were able to talk over stuff in Korea. I really think that you’re a spectacular guy. And I also forever apologize for that one time I called out you during the Kyrie circle for not looking straight at me hahahah. And omg, epic Noraebang haahaha.

Photobucket

Jason- hey Jason it was great to get to grow closer to you this summer. Ever since that epic night with that Tong-Dak at Yongdongpo (damn I was full until the next day at lunch after that meal) we just clicked pretty well. I always loved hearing your stories as well as just doing random epic stuff together (hahahah getting lost at that PC bang at Jamsil). You gotta teach me a thing about two about video once I get back home. But for some reason, I feel that I’m going to see you back in Korea sometime… really soon haha.

Photobucket
Photobucket

John- dawg ever since we met up 3 years in Korea (thanks to the help of Julie) we have been homies ever since. All those epic times we have had (Chinese girls, jjim jjil bang, hongdae, pc bang, many others…) But I really respect you for your dedication especially to your duties in life and it inspires me a ton. It was great meeting up, just chillen, having a few drinks and just talking about life and stuff. You are probably one of the realest guys I know out there, and I also look up to your rules of integrity as well. Just hang in there, you’re almost done.Photobucket

Michelle- one of my favorite dongsengs. Always so busy during the school year. Im so happy we were able to make a little bit of time for one another during our time in korea. I was so proud to hear that you were interning for KBS. You are really coming up! I will be seeing you anchoring in no time soon. You are one of the girls that I can be brutally honest to, and not worry about you judging me or anything. And we have too many damn good times and memories together, do I need to even say?
Photobucket

Charles- kraze burger is the most epic thing ever hahaha. No but frillz I will remember those fries and burgers for the rest of my life. It was great to go out with you and shoot and stuff. Youre one of the chilliest guys I know, and I am constantly inspired by your artwork (even though you let your blog die so many times… hahah). But you really have a great eye for art and you will probably surpass me in photography in no time. I am really glad that we had the opportunity to kick it in korea. We best kick it back in LA too sonnnn yeeeee.

Photobucket

Diana- noona! It was great getting to finally get to know you this summer. Ever since that delicious ass dinner in Apgujung, I have loved seeing your face and just listening what you had to say about traveling and stuff. And thanks a million for that epic things to do in korea list! I checked out so many places and they were so worth it! Although we weren’t able to hang out as much as we could have liked, im sure that I will be seeing you much more soon in Socal.. for however longer you are going to be there ^^

Photobucket

Rachel– Rachel, you are another name that I need to my list of gmail addicts hahaha. Ever since that random email its been nice just chatting with you and even meeting you up in person in korea. It seems like we both have a fancy towards art and fashion, and you always make great and pleasant conversation. I am also more than glad helping you out with photography and stuff like that. You really seem to have an eye for it… you always spot out all these things that I usually overlook. Just like that one picture of the power pole that I took.. it is actually one of my favorites. You and your roomies best cook me food back at LA! 😀

Photobucket

Sorry if I failed to mention anybody here. If your name isn’t included here, it was probably because we didn’t have a photo together. I still love you anyways!

1984

Big Brother Is Watching You.

Fortunately for us, this statement is utterly false. It is not the year 1984 and there is no man named Big Brother watching our every move. There is no “Thought Police” that can incriminate you for even having negative thoughts against the government. There is no language called “New Speak” which tries to eradicate human thought and emotion by dumbing down the English language. Children are not taught to spy on their parents at school, and there is no “Room 101” that holds our deepest and darkest secrets.

I recently listened to the audiobook of 1984 by George Orwell and was compelled to write about it. 1984 is one of the most chilling novels written in the 20th century; a novel that carries very strong 21st century relevance. Many famous movies have been based on the novel, such as “Minority Report” in which police officers travel back in time and arrest criminals before they actually commit crimes. 1984 is also referenced heavily when it comes to politics. The next time you read an article on the news about a law that will grant the government more power to watch over its citizens (think about the Patriot Act in which the US Government can spy on its citizens if they suspect you are a terrorist) hear carefully for the word: “Big Brother.”

The novel is cold and chilling, and dehumanizing to the human soul. Feelings such as love are crushed in the novel, and it ends very tragically as well. I feel that Orwell’s message of the book was twofold; to warn us of future totalitarian governments as well as encouraging us to value the freedom of our every-day lives and to truly live life (as the protagonist is not able to).

As much as people say that the US government mirrors something like that of Big Brother, they are totally mistaken. For the most part, we can spew our thoughts about anything our blogs or even speak up against the government without fear of execution (although we may be arrested). We therefore have a huge sense of freedom in our every-day lives. If we want to go out for a walk in the park, nobody is going to stop us. If we want to say “(Insert explicative word here) (enter name here)” we can say so without the police busting through our door and arresting us. If we want to kiss our loved ones, we can. The freedoms I listed may come off as silly and trivial, but they are some of the simple things in life that make us human.

The freedom of emotion is one of the most overlooked freedoms as well. Love is one of our strongest emotions and being able to actively express it in word or in action is one of the greatest human freedoms indeed. If you have something to say to a loved one, don’t hold it in. You have the freedom to say it. Likewise if you are angry, feel free to express it. Although we think of emotions as irrational at times, there is always a reason behind our emotions and how we feel.

So if you want to tell your mom you love her but always felt that it was awkward or something, just go and do it. The worst thing that can happen is that your mom will give you a weird look but the best thing that can happen is that she tells you that she loves you too. Are you a guy and ever wanted to tell a close friend that you were thankful to have him as a friend but felt that telling him that would make you sound “gay”? Toss away those thoughts as well and get on top of that bromance. Guys have feelings too. Ever want to tell your significant other that you would give your life for them and that they meant everything in the world to you? Well chop off an arm as proof and toss it to them as a token of your love.

But in all seriousness, there is no “Thought Police” constantly monitoring your thoughts and your actions. We are all blessed to have the freedom of emotion, as well as a countless amount of other freedoms. So don’t be shy or timid. Take control of your life and do not cower at your emotions. Rather empower yourself and others with it. After all,

Big brother isn’t watching you.

Beauty in the Subway

So today while I was riding the subway to meet my friend at Hongdae I experienced one of the most beautiful things in my life.

I was standing in the middle of the subway car, clutching the handrail when I saw a couple right in front of me. It looked like an ordinary scene when it comes to couples for the most part. There was a young woman sitting in the lap of a young man, with the young man clutching his arms around the supple waist of the young woman. But here’s the catch: The young-man was handicapped and confined to a wheelchair.

What struck me as peculiar and odd was not the fact that the young woman was sitting in the lap of a guy in a wheelchair, but rather the feeling of confidence the couple radiated. There were easily around 40 people in the subway car, but these two young lovers were in their own world. They were like encased in an impenetrable bubble, impervious to the curious stares of all the others around them. Nothing else in the world mattered but one another.

At that moment I felt a wave of love and compassion fill my heart. I had never felt anything quite like it before in my life, and I kept standing there trying to bask myself in the beauty of the situation. I remember thinking to myself, “This is what true love should be.” Typically handicapped people are looked down by “physically able” people in society and are seen as weak, helpless, and needing to be taken care of by others.

However the young man in the wheelchair showed an incredible amount of masculinity and confidence, as he grasped the young woman around her waist while gently leaning his chin on her shoulder. Although he may not have been able to pick her off her feet and hold him in his arms, he really made the best of his situation and gave his young girlfriend a rest off her tired feet by letting her sit in his lap. While other people in this young man’s situation may have groaned, groveled, and felt angst towards the world for being physically handicapped, this young man realized how although physically handicapped, he was not handicapped emotionally or in spirit.

Beauty is all around you. Not only until you start paying attention do you notice.

Beauty in the Subway