Twitter, Dreamboats, and the Sport I Used to Love

Oh, another yawn-inducing year-end reflective post from a self-righteous blogger foolishly believing that the internet world actually cares about their resolution to drink more water in 2013?

Not quite.

As everyone on WordPress, Blogger, and those poor souls still hanging on to their outdated Angelfire account review their year in writing (and due to their consistent scheduling of posts, can rightfully brag about their increase in readership), I regale my plateauing stats and shameful admittance that I could barely (just barely) conjure up a single post approximately every other month.

Relishing in the fact that my mother and perhaps even a second cousin or two still read this site, it becomes all too tempting to ruminate over the last 365 days. And as a matter of consequence, I then search through my catalogue of long-term memories and pinpoint exactly what I was doing for a good 315 of them.

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The answer to which I am certain, includes absolutely nothing about the sport of hockey.

Way back in September 2012, the National Hockey League declared its fourth lockout in 20 years. This was due to financial buzz-words like revenue, salary caps, and peculation. (Yes, I realize this is a generous oversimplification to a rather complex blur of sports and business. But I’m pretty sure both my mom and cousin aren’t much of hockey fans. And it’s all about keeping the audience engaged, right?)

Now even if you don’t really care about the likes of Gary Bettman and Bill Daly (and the reasons to which I believe they’re both selfish jerks), I’m still willing to waste the word count.

Why?

Well, through a stretching analogy which really just involved the discovery of hockey players’ Twitter accounts, the NHL lockout sort of paralleled my last year as an expat.

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Here are a few highlights from the 2012 season:

For starters, way back in the summer, hockey players sort of expected to play hockey. And I, through complete fault of my own, sort of expected to be productive. Writing for Vagabundo Magazine, contributing to a couple of Seoul publications, volunteering with an organization based on the human rights of North Korean defectors. One would assume my output efforts would soar into the realm of implausible.

Instead, a concrete wall inevitably constructed itself. A proverbial partition of repetitive lesson plans, similar bars, and the constant disappointment in myself for failing (yet again) to properly communicate “I don’t eat meat” in Korean. Sure, at times I was industrious (or maybe I mean industrial?), but it hardly felt prolific.

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Disjointedly, this leads into the next topic of management, and the difficulties both myself and the big guns within the NHL experience in this field. A gleaming example of both follows.

At the end of 2011, almost fearless did something pretty ridiculous and spoke nonsense about this site being one of the best new travel blogs on the web. (Reiterating the idea that undeserved recognition is awesome because it acknowledges something you didn’t even think existed in the first place.) The point is, on top of search terms like ‘decisions not to make while hungover’, that mention drove a lot of traffic to this site.

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I could have taken that increase in readership seriously and wrote the most obvious of points about say, that beach in El Nido, Philippines being an all-out stunner. Instead, I talked about what makes a shitty travel partner. (Evidently, I’m extremely qualified for this position.) I didn’t manage this opportunity properly. It became a toothbrush miss.

It’s not so lonely in this realm of mismanagement, though. Gary Bettman, the NHL commissioner, has all kinds of difficulties managing his own personal interests and that of the league, often believing that they are one in the same. His financial irrationality means a continuous stream of missed opportunities for both the league and the players.

When it comes to blunders over mismanagement, Bettman and I have a lot in common. The only difference being a faint Filipino flip-flop tan.

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As the lockout closed in on month three, players started to realize that what they expected to be doing this year, was in fact far different from their actual daily activities. So the boys left town. They went back to their roots in the juniors, declared semi-permanent residency in places like Russia and Switzerland, or participated in small-town charity matches (inert games basically comparable to that of a scrimmage with your Dad’s Sunday afternoon beer league).

Without declaring permanency anywhere, I too left Seoul when results were less than straightforward. I visited six countries in 2012; one of which was new to me. Although still in its newness, I now have a gut-wrenching crush on Burma. I’m only assuming Rick Nash can say the same about Switzerland.

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And just recently, future plans changed for both myself and the NHL. In less than a week, the hockey season will start. In less than two months, the Peace Boat will start.

The Peace Boat is exactly what it sounds like…but better. Travelling to over 20 countries, a massive boat full of participants, volunteers, interpreters, and English teachers (me!) will promote positive social and political change on a worldwide scale. (I’m not exaggerating with the worldwide scale thing. The route literally circles the Earth.)

From Japan to Venezuela, I’ll have the opportunity to learn, teach, change, develop, and take part in a boatload (ha!) of other positive verbs.

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As is often the case in hockey, the NHL could not have written a better story, even if they tried.

And I, could not have dreamed of a better opportunity for curious (and contributing) travel, even if I wrote on a more consistent bi-monthly schedule in 2012.

And the players, now returning to hockey rinks across North America within the limitations of 140 characters, could not have tweeted a better ending.

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The Non-Local’s Guide to Drinking Like a Local

(If you’re here after reading that interview with WordPress, then I apologize. You were mislead. Although being complimented for a witty writing style is  uh, a compliment, it’s also an absolute falsehood. If anything, I inconsistently post about camels, and brunches, and make references to bands I hope only a select few with understand. You’ve been warned.) 

It might be Monday. No wait, it’s definitely Thursday. There’s probably no sense in trying to remember. You’re drinking to forget it, anyways.

The area doesn’t matter. Downtown bars, an overworked financial district, that shady alleyway between your favourite barbeque place and your wife’s most recent hair dresser. You’re not going to a “bar district” or really, a place with any sort of atmosphere at all for that matter. You’re choosing a bar based on its proximity between work and home. Halfway is ideal but being particular is not of this time. By now, the only decision you’ll be making is choosing between the blue and red plastic picnic sets which can comfortably seat about four but will inevitably be crowded with the entire accounting department before the night’s end.

You loosen your tie. It has small rhinestones sewn into its diagonal pattern. It was a present from your wife’s mother. The baby pink is a little much but you wear it anyways. You still don’t know if it was a thoughtful gift from the in-laws or a malicious attempt to make you look more feminine in your buddies’ iPhone pictures. Soon, you’ll be too drunk to care.

Given it’s a weeknight/ weekend/ any day at all, drinking is not something that is eased into. But it’s not a race either. It’s a matter of fact activity. And it has to be done.

You’re comfortable with your position at the table. Not nearly the oldest but middle-rung enough that others still (falsely) believe you to have seniority. This works wonders in the office but becomes truly beneficial during these post-work gatherings. Strategically, you have placed yourself next to the company’s newest hire. You know for a fact you’re 5 years his senior. He is a recent microbiology engineering graduate. This is his first benefits included, I’m-already-regretting-this, full-time gig. What this basically means is he’s attentive, goal-driven, and eager to please. He’ll do anything to secure his spot among the thrones of the picnic table seat of state. He foolishly believes that he has a future in middle management. You don’t have to fill your glass once because of this.

Grilled pieces of meat are ordered and cooked. Garlic cloves, red pepper paste, a couple sides of kimchi. Wrapped together in sesame leaves, you pop golf ball-sized portions into your mouth two at a time. Hmm, golf. That doesn’t sound like such a bad idea. You present the option of a round of simulation golf once the meal is finished. With Korea having the largest population of indoor golf centers in the world, you know there has got to be a joint around here somewhere.

The idea quickly becomes fleeting as three green branded bottles are brought to the table. Soju. There’s no point in trying to describe this beverage as “something like vodka but worse.” It translates literally to burnt alcohol, and most who consume it drift into this delayed catatonic state of uselessness and incapability. It will take about 30 minutes for the effects to truly set in but until then, you feel content, rosy, and yearning for another.

There are a group of foreigners at the adjoining table. They’ve chosen this spot because the pretzels are the freshest in the neighbourhood. They haven’t eaten dinner and will probably just continue to snack on these salty twines because the waitress is so damn attentive and refuses to catch glimpse of the bottom of the bowl. The same goes with the pints.

Your English skills are still pretty admirable, considering you’re on your fourth pint. You ask where they’re from and then enthusiastically tell them all about your 2-day visit to Niagara Falls when they reply “Canada.” They nod in politeness. But suddenly they are speaking too fast. Like clockwork, the effects of soju have hit and your brain can no longer conjugate the verb “be.” Your fingers aren’t much help either as you attempt to translate simple conversational questions on your phone.

They become disinterested. You become insufferable.

Time passes and you’re stumbling into the bathroom with three of your buddies. Strength in numbers, right?

Someone has to catch the last subway home. The new hire is too heavily engaged in a fast-paced texting conversation which you believe, judging from the amount of heart emoticons being sent back-and-forth, to be his girlfriend. Your glass is empty.

You search for your own phone and fumble with the attached microchip. The occupation of key-cutter has long been phased out since the introduction of key codes and plastic chips. This serves as a key to your home and the ultimate access to your bed. It slips through your fingers once more. Why did they make these so ridiculously small? You open your Galaxy III or Universe I or whatever phone has now been marketed as the smartest. It does more than just tell the time, but that’s all you really need it for right now. 3:23 AM. Shit.

Your co-workers pile into cabs. Some pausing to release the contents of their stomachs before making the journey home. You dodge piles of red and pink as you cross the street and hail your own.

You lean your head back on the fancy pleather interior of the taxi. You mentally prepare yourself for tomorrow’s work day. You have already justified the purchase of one of those overpriced hangover-cure drinks that leave your teeth coated in sugar and your gut too rotted to remember the fact that you have just spent the last four hours filling it with burnt alcohol.

You crack your eyes open just in time to see your apartment building pass by. Shrieking loudly, the cab driver halts and demands the fare. You’re home.

How Gangnam Style Ruined My Summer

In the past, I have often tried to force a “summer song” upon myself. Be it a well-timed release date or a subliminal-yet-conscious (wait, what?) effort to listen to the same song on repeat while day-drinking in the sun, my summer song (or more generally speaking, my summer record) is of great importance.

Every time I hear Shake the Streets by Ted Leo & the Pharmacists, Cheap Girl’s Find Me a Drink Home, or even anything by The Descendents, I am immediately brought back to a certain summer, a certain somewhere. A time when I couldn’t stop listening to that song, that record, that band.

My calendar has recently reminded me that Autumnal Equinox (which may be the most ridiculously romantic sounding season of them all) begins in a few short days. But because Korea seems to lack any sort of relationship to climate changes, summer could very well go on strong into November. Regardless, my summer in Korea sucked.

And I blame it all on PSY.

Yeah, that guy.

When it came to choosing a summer song or record, it’s like I didn’t even have a fighting chance this time around.

I tried to play Help by Thee Oh Sees at every available gathering. I opted to spend bike rides listening solely to the Japandroids’ newest release. I even tried to get back into The Promise Ring (I know, I know).  But these failed attempts were only mocked further by a man, sporting sunglasses indoors, and transporting himself through the streets of Seoul by means of uh, galloping.

When I didn’t have white headphones plugged into my ears, this song was everywhere. In my newsfeed, in my bakery, even in my favourite kindergarten class.

I mean, come on. Do you know how hard it is to teach ESL kiddies about equal halves and symmetry when they are all repeating “Oppan Gangnam seutail” to themselves?

Well, do you?

What began as a joke in the lunchroom among fellow teachers has morphed into a total game changer for the last four months here in Korea.

As a song, “Gangnam Style” lacks direction.

Consequently, so does my summer.

There’s really no need to get into specifics. No one wants to read about my summer of close calls (and some even bigger falls). (This is a probably an absolute lie. I can think of, like three people, who would totally feel positively affirmed after reading about a struggling Sarah.) But even if I was honest about my aimless summer, you and I both would never be able to discern if I was speaking figuratively or in relatives.

Or maybe that’s a total cop-out. And instead, I just can’t seem to concentrate on completing sentences when a song about a guy taking his coffee in one shot is making it onto CNN.

“Gangnam Style” is an image-heavy, completely unchallenging, disconnected look into one of Seoul’s wealthier districts with the exact same descriptors.

I hate that people appreciate this song.

And I hate that it, by no choice of my own, became the song of this summer.

It’s an uninspiring song which leaves no motivation to trace the rings of condensation on sun-bleached picnic tables. It’s an intolerable tune which I can’t listen to as I ride passenger to the farthest camping spot, the nearest ice cream shop, or the somewhere in-between cottage owned by your friend’s significant other’s dad’s business partner.

Both “Gangnam Style,” and the fact that parodies continue to pop up under the Recommended Videos tab on YouTube, has ruined my summer.

But as I mentioned before, Fall Autumnal Equinox is coming up.

And every season has a record.

And, appropriately so, I’ve recently rediscovered Jay Reatard’s Watch Me Fall.

It’s good.

This is the Story of 195 Kilometers

It’s 9:30 AM on a Wednesday Morning.

I’m sweating and absolutely starving. And depending on my coworkers’ aptitude to “just have one more,” I’m probably a little hung over.

I’ve almost gotten hit by both a commuter bus and an angry cab driver. Both of whom possess little forethought to glance in the review mirror before carelessly changing lanes.

I arrive at some generic coffee shop which features an overpriced Iced Americano with an atrociously off ice:americano ratio.

This is the best part of my day.

It’s here where I meet her. A smaller than small woman with a rounder than round face. She doesn’t enjoy sports. She prefers Canadian boys to all other ethnicities. She hates the fact that coffee causes her to break out. She drinks it anyways. She hasn’t seen her parents or other family members for over five years. She speaks to them for less than 10 minutes only once a year or at least until “they cut the phone away.”

She is a North Korean defector living in Seoul, South Korea.

I volunteer with an organization called PSCORE. This is an NGO which strives for the successful reunification of North and South Korea.  In the process, PSCORE assists and supports North Koreans who have recently defected to Seoul and the surrounding area. They provide transitory support and things like 1:1 tutoring once they have “settled.” (A term which I’m using quite loosely because admittedly, I have no idea if this is possible.)

For the sake of confidentiality, and my own misunderstanding about the popularity of this blog, I’ll skip the identifying factors.

Regardless, twice a week I meet with her. I look forward to rearranging my sleeping patterns, skipping my morning yoga routine, and paying triple for an exceptionally shitty cup of coffee. It’s absolutely amazing.

Having defected well over five years ago, she’s no stranger to living in South Korea.

But attempting to learn a convoluted language based on countless exceptions and strange placements of the letter “h” when it is really not all that necessary?

Well, she’ll get there.

I’m “supposed to” be her English tutor. That’s technically my job. But technically, I’m not actually working or getting paid. So I’m taking the whole “supposed to” thing quite liberally. Besides, volunteers aren’t obligated to follow rules all of the time. It’s not in our contract. (Guys, that’s a total lie. But I really had you going for a second there…)

She brought a book of Tolstoy to our first English lesson. At the end of the session, its spine remained unopened.

Instead of talking about an anarcho-pacificist (which believe me, usually tops the list of things I like to discuss), we talked about ourselves. We talked about ourselves in that curious way you do when you assume that if you open up a little about yourself, then the other will too.

I complained that the antiperspirant in Korea needs to redefine their idea of “anti.” She complained that the humidity in Seoul makes her hair “sticky.” (Note: Add “frizzy” or better yet “an absolute rat’s nest” to the list of new vocabulary words to teach.)

She asked about my experiences dating in Korea. I asked her if she thinks she will ever get married.

Soon our sessions were more about her fights with her long-term boyfriend over a future with/ without children. Soon I started to rant about people always throwing their garbage in my bike basket.

We share an intense fascination with the other’s upbringing.

We translate funny things on her phone. Things like “athlete’s foot” and “precarious.”

Sometimes I see Tolstoy or another Let’s Learn English in the Most Impractical Way Possible textbook popping out of her oversized purse. But neither of us seems too worried about conjugating the word “go.”

Instead, it’s here where the distance of more than 190 kilometers, becomes the shortest route to friendship.

The Time with the Countdown, the Resolution, and Why Humans Love Both


Toothbrush Note: Initiating into the world of ESL teaching in South Korea, I believed it was standard practice to start an amateur blog.  This blog played host to riveting content like bragging about my chopstick skills, complaining about the unavailability of good cheese at grocery stores, and noting that middle school boys are internationally similar.

Perhaps it was an attempt to stay in contact with those at home. But to be honest, I probably just wanted a place to whine about the lack of gouda in my life.

Below is a post I wrote for this amateur blog. It was written while in Korea during the early hours of 2011. The tone is unforgiving (some may say “surly”) because I’m pretty sure all the pipes had frozen in my poor lil’ apartment. Beyond some actual editing and reformatting, everything remains unchanged.

I guess it’s kind of like when Michael Jordan donned the number 45 when he played for the White Soxs.

You know-numbers may change, but people don’t.

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The Time I Took One Big Breath….And Left with Only a Backpack

As I type this, I’m doing something all too familiar and packing up my stuff to leave. (In actuality, as I type this, I am CLEARLY procrastinating from packing up my stuff to leave. The bullshit is in the details, people!)

I’ve kind of perfected the whole packing-to-leave thing (and consequently, the procrastinating from packing-to-leave thing). I’ve got it down because it is something that has become all too common within the last year. 

Not just a place where you stay overnight, or even for a little while. But a place I refer to as “home.” (In the context of: Taxi man, I don’t think I have enough money to get home. Can you drive me there anyways?). A place where I tossed my dirty laundry on the floor and didn’t really feel bad about it. (In the context of: I don’t have to pretend around other people that I’m not a slob but in fact, a proper functioning human being). A place where I could spill oatmeal all over the floor and not feel bad about it taking me a week to clean it up because it was my home (In the context of: well nothing, really…other than the fact that I’m a self-admitted dirtball). A place where you could light stuff on fire and it would be totally cool. Because you know, it’s your home.

 

There you have it kids, the standard list of what I need for a place to be considered my “home.”

Saying good-bye to Vancouver was tough. The city held my heart hostage since the second I moved there and refused to give it up… even after I drove off on the Trans-Canada highway, watching as Grouse Mountain got tinier and tinier in my review window (this was only a short distance until my Dad harped on me to keep my eyes on the road. Talk about a mood killer!)

And then saying good-bye to Toronto was equally as hard. This was a city that placed so many of my roots firmly in the ground, then redeveloped new condos and parking lots over them, in a desperate attempt for me to stay put. This was a city that could steal my bike, make me wait in an exhausting line-up for brunch, over charge me for some mediocre draft beer, and I would still come back everyday….wanting more.

And saying good-bye to Geoje is well, none of the above. It’d be next to impossible to put any of this last year into accurate words (and I’d probably exceed this blog’s word count limit in an attempt to do so). I can’t say that this city has held my heart hostage (mainly because I do not think Koreans are an overly aggressive hostage-taking type of crowd) nor can I say that this city overcharges for mediocre beer (in fact, Korea’s quite upfront about their lackluster beer…and the price tag only proves this).

I can’t even say that I’ll miss  the island’s mascot. Two unidentifiable figures that look like tic tacs, fat people, or what some middle school students speculate to be pieces of bathroom waste.

Wait, I’ll obviously miss these overweight breath mint #2 look-a-likes.

Oh ya, and the people. Obvs.

And although I can admit that leaving Geoje will be easier than any moves prior (Yes, I’m practically running to Incheon airport right now…3 days before my flight leaves), I still feel some sort of something feeling that is making this slightly more difficult than I actually anticipated.

But that’s probably because my emotional hardware wasn’t designed for a level of intensity past the “catatonic” stage.

In the end, I am fully aware that this sprinting to the airport move is by far the easiest only because of what comes after. It’s like telling a little kid “First you clean your room, then you get the ice cream.” Instead, it’s something like “First you move away from Geoje, then you get to travel…and there will probably be moderately priced beer…and some mountains, too!”

So with that, I should probably get back to packing.

I just have to clean up that dirty oatmeal first….

Let’s start at the beginning, the beginnings of my toothbrush

“I find I keep collecting things for an apartment I don’t have, while my toothbrushes rest in bathroom cupboards on three different continents.” -Author Unknown

Although the photo may make you think otherwise, I just typed this up completely from memory.

But before we get into the who’s and what’s (and more importantly, the whereabouts) of my toothbrush, there’s a couple of things you ought to know.

The first time I read the above-mentioned quotation it was graffiti-ed across a stucko wall at some dive hostel in Beijing.

I was also half-drunk.  (This fact is only important because it makes my memorization skills that much more impressive.)

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