One Month – Wait, what?

Happy Month-iversary, Korea. It has been a full month since departing from O’Hare. A full thirty one days of being solo. And boy, it’s been absolutely amazing. Buckle up, this is a longer one. Maybe go grab a coffee and come back, I’ll wait.

Ready? Leggo.

From the people I’ve met, even if for a single conversation, to the friends that I will continue this journey with, has it really been a month? Earlier today I thought about the haggard old Korean man who drove me to the Bus Express Station in Gangnam. Why? No idea, but he helped me – he was part of my journey. While I immediately want to think (as will you) “Damn, I haven’t seen my friends in a while, when do I get to see them?!” I have to steer myself away from that. It’ll be a long couple of years if that’s what I think every time a month passes. And to you, reader, I hope you are enjoying every second of your day because it’s important that you do.

One big lesson I’ve learned in a short amount of time is to be totally, wholly humble to what you have and work for. I was asked before I came here, “Nick, what if you just don’t like it? What if it’s nothing you imagined it to be?” To which my response was – I have an employment contract. I have an obligation to fulfill at the end of the day, that’s what it boils down to. But lucky for me, I could not be better off. I am so happy to be where I am and to have an idea of what I want to do for a couple years. My branch is amazing. My coworkers are so polite and helpful. I have a great job when I compare it to what some other teachers have. Get used to hearing how great this is, because….it is! And even if it wasn’t as great as it is, I’d suck it up and be a man. I’d get through it. But all the while, I would be respectful.

That’s one thing some foreigners seem to forget – respect. Koreans are one of the most hard working people on the planet and for great reason. Over the past week I’ve learned a lot about the history of Korea through some books, and more importantly several museums. I thought I knew some of the basics about the history of this land, but no…not in the slightest, and I still have so much to learn! My respect for Korea, as a whole, is greater than it was a mere 60 hours ago. Which I didn’t think was possible, haha. (3 minutes have passed as I sit here) I was trying to put into words the emotion I have regarding Korean history, but it’s just unattainable. I have a greater understanding of why some of my students take pleasure in certain assignments where they have freedom to talk about whatever they want. One boy in one of my classes, no more than 11 years old I believe, wrote a short essay on ‘people he wants to help’. He chose avenging Korean women regarding the terrible atrocities the Japanese committed against them. As I read it, my heart broke. I can’t imagine eleven or twelve year old me expressing something like that IN A SECOND LANGUAGE. It’s also disturbing when you consider that children all over the world may hold thoughts such as these towards past transgressors – including the U.S. because well, the U.S. is the good ol’ boy. Things to consider, people.

I am not a reader, at least not unless I was required to. Since I’ve been here all I want is to read and I find it SO STRANGE. Thank you, Geoff – I’m not done with the book because I’ve slow-rolled it so I don’t finish it, trying to make it last. I could have finished it on the plane, haha. I’m trying to start up a foreigner library/book exchange in Gimhae. There’s an existing one at the bar all the foreigners go to, but…it’s in a bar. Unacceptable. The problem is I can’t have a book sent to me because then I eventually have to bring it back. Same goes for purchasing books, to an extent. English books are hard to come by, but a place in Seoul called WhatTheBook delivers for free(I believe) all over the country.

Over this past week I was really tired. Every day felt so long and stressful in some manner. As I grow more comfortable with my kids, they are doing the same with me. How far can they push me seems to have been this weeks game. By Thursday, I was just giving X’s left and right. Three X’s equals front desk. Generally, their punishment is to stand facing the wall. Pending severity, they might get a cheek pull or hold their hands above their head (none of which I dole out, haha). It was a rough week overall. I’m looking to pick up strong this week. It’s frustrating when the troublemakers are getting the best grades. Or alternately, the one in lala land who lacks ability and needs to try, is lazy and non responsive. Outside of those two types, the others all participate and get so excited about it. It shall remain precious…for now.

My kids were saying my last name. They read it as “Pehpeh”. One little dude, Tom, shouts “PEPSHI” and I almost fall over. Back in the great dynasty of the Shi himself, it was written that a Cardinal Singer received a Shi name appropriate for his or herself – from Shi. The Shi name bestowed upon me was Papshi. I make a formal request to the Shi for a potential name change. How could we not have thought of Pepsi (or as they say it Pepshi). Granted I prefer Coca Cola over Pepsi…but that’s not important. This is apparently what they are going to call me, after ‘teacher’. There is no more Nick – only Pepshi. How comical.

October 3rd we have a holiday break and apparently my branch manager is taking us to Busan for a company overnight. This overnight will consist of a lot of alcohol. Sounds great to me!

My coworker John and I are planning a trip for our winter vacation. More details on that….in the far future. We don’t even know what dates our vacation will be.

And I guess the moment you’ve been waiting for. My first trip to Seoul! EPIC. It’s going to be hard to put it into words, but goodness, it was the perfect rejuvenation I needed.

Saturday I woke up around 6:40 to shower and get ready, after going to bed around 2… Grabbed some breakfast and competitive-walked to the bus station. Online it had said the bus left at 7:35/7:40, and I got there at 7:42. The next bus would have only been a half hour, so either way, it was fine. Turned out the next bus was at 7:50. Good start to the trip. I also received the last seat on the bus. So it’s roughly a 4 1/2 hour ride with a 15 minute rest stop break(not the one Cardinal has stopped at). As I mentioned I’m on the bus right now and it departed at 6:50, just finishing up the 15 minute break (9:10), should be home around 11:15 since there won’t be any traffic – knock on wood. So I try to sleep, but it just doesn’t work. I’M TOO EXCITED! So so so so excited. Finally, arrive at the station that I said goodbye to a mere three weeks back.

Jung Hyun appears and I can’t say I’ve been any happier in the past couple weeks. Sweet baby Jesus, it was someone I knew! How many times tears came to the back of my eyes yesterday and today I couldn’t tell you. We grab a bus towards her apartment and go have lunch. She’s doing great, by the way. Her choir is going well and if you didn’t know, will be coming to California in a couple weeks! After lunch, we grabbed an amazing dessert – it was snow in a bowl. Simply amazing. Said it before, will say it again – Koreans are too cool. We then went to her apartment. Her mom moved up to Seoul, so I got to see her! So sweet, so so sweet. We weren’t there for long, grabbed her cousin’s car and headed toward the War Museum. En route I got to see the U.S. Embassy, Seoul City Hall, the familiar Seoul Tower, and Chungbok Palace, along with some smaller monuments. (See Flickr) The parking lot was full for the museum, so we went to the Seoul History Museum. Basically the history of Seoul itself. There was a large Catholic exhibit which was pretty neat. I’ll probably say this incorrectly, but Korea is one of the first self propagating Catholic centers in that *insert name here* went to the Vatican to be ordained, and came back and baptized everyone himself. Something to that effect. Not to say there weren’t missionaries and all of that. Even if I’m off point, it was interesting. The Pope was here a few months ago, which is why the exhibit was up or so we thought. While he was here he made some 120 appointments of saints and an even higher number of martyrs. (Numbers may be off, don’t judge – I have so much information floating around my short term memory right now.)

After the museum we made our way to the concert hall. This is when it dawned on me that this was an actual gift. The ability to understand music and enjoy it on a different level. It was like I had reached choral enlightenment. My soul (Seoul?) was parched for some live music and while the FaceTime concert last weekend was great, it just wasn’t the same. What a phenomenal concert. I’m sorry for all the concerts I’ve ever gone to and just didn’t appreciate. I apologize to all. This was one of the first concerts I have genuinely been excited for that was not my own or one from a favorite local high school (or those phenomes known as Kamer, King’s Singers, or Chanticleer) When you’re not in a choir, and have an opportunity to hear not one, but two, top Korean ensembles, it’s inspiring.

The concert was split into three parts. The first two parts were split between the two choirs, The Pilgrim Mission Choir and Collegium Vocale Seoul Ensemble. Maestro Lee. What a guy, man. What a man, guy. What a friend, pal. What a pal, friend. I loved the repertoire so much. His choir was very impressive. A bit missing on the bottom, but the women….oh God. Korean Altos (for both choirs) were just goddesses last night. The CVSE group was very fun to watch. And equally so, was their repertoire. Their conductor is another Yonsei alumna. Hyun Jung looked like a boss. Figures. I was so thankful to attend!! The Rheinberger though….Oh, dear. As I listened to the rep Cardinal had done in the past I couldn’t help but wander back to our concerts and place myself in the audience to hear us sing. Does anyone have a recording of The Spheres? Hook me up, please.

Afterward, we waited in the lobby. I kept seeing faces that looked familiar and sure enough, they were. I never had the privilege of meeting Seung Yong, but finally did last night. I remember seeing him the past several trips to Korea, but never had the opportunity to meet him. The Maestro was in the lobby and across all the other people in the room made eye contact and pointed directly at me and smiled, in that gentle way (if you remotely know him or remember him, you know). I almost fell over. Easy for me to remember him, but for him to remember me? I was floored. After he talked with some people and took pictures, he came over to say hello. “You’re one of the Louisville Cardinal Singers, aren’t you?” Score. What a score. So I explained how I am living in Gimhae teaching English and he mentioned how close I am to where he lives. I miiiiight try and finagle my way into attending a rehearsal.

I think it was very comical for Jung Hyun and Hyun Jung that I was in Korea. One of Hyun Jung’s first questions was “Why would you want to move here?” to which I was kind of like, “Why not?” It also reminded me of how grateful I am to know the Koreans I do know and how influential their values and way of life have been on me. We went to grab some dinner and catch up on everything. Once I get paid I might consider making bimonthly trips to Seoul to rehearse with her choir! If anything, maybe a couple times. The whole car ride I was smiling. Riding around Seoul with two of the brightest, talented ladies I know. At several points, I thought of you and how jealous you would be of me – and proceeded to cheese even bigger.

So the night ended with AJ and I watching Hidden Singer. A show where a number of singers are behind a curtain and one of them is the actual singer of the music playing. All participants get to sing a phrase and then the audience votes on which one they think is not the real singer. Lucky for me, one of my favorite K-Pop beauties was on this episode, Tae-yeon. What a babe…. (Hint: Look her up) Funny turn of events in the show? The audience voted her off in the first round. It took me a while to understand how the show worked, but finally, something I can watch without needing English subtitles.

Woke up this morning to an amazing breakfast. Did I mention how grateful I was for being allowed to stay at their apartment? Because I couldn’t say more. AJ had to leave pretty early for church with her choir, so I figured before going back to Gimhae I’d learn some things. It was sad saying by to Jung Hyun, but the fact that I will see her again very soon made it so much better. What a much better goodbye than the one in December after graduation! T_T

Before leaving me, she got me to a museum. I went to the Korea National Museum. I spent three hours traveling through time. I worked my way through the various periods of reign. Upon reaching the Gaya period I recognized a name – King Suro and I realized something. In Louisville, we all know basic facts of our city history. Founded early to mid 1800s, port city, flood, UofL, Ali, etc. But, what about when your city has thousands of years of history… It’s not that I hadn’t ever considered it, because I have, but surrounded by Korean history I guess it hit me in a different way. King Suro’s tomb is a ten minute walk from my apartment, and I haven’t gone yet. His kingdom was in the southern region and was the proponent to rice cultivation and iron production. Yet another ‘something’ to consider in my day to day musings. I continued through time and learned quite a bit about the Joseon period which is when Hangul (the modern day Korean language) was developed. The Joseon period lasted from 1392-1897. It wasn’t THAT long ago.

There was a special exhibit on artwork and the concept of utopia. Somewhat hard to explain, but I’ll give it a go. Some artists would compose scenes of perfection. In a perfect world, there is the right amount of nature and work and play. When I was growing up and up until today, some of those Asian art works I had seen prompted the “I wonder where that is, I’d love to see that.” Turns out, a lot of it is more of a desire. There’s the story of the Peach Grove where a man travels down a stream following peach trees and upon reaching the grove spends ample time there. When he tries to return, he can’t find his way out of paradise. Royalty and high ranking citizens used the art as an escape to refocus themselves. Instead of placing themselves in actual nature, they could go ‘into’ the art to find meditation. It was a really eye-opening exhibit and changed my impression of Asian art entirely. Not to say every painting is a mystical utopian desire, but it’s another way to look at the Korean (or Asian)love of hiking and application in every day life. As western influence grew, paintings gained more dimension – while art in the west took steps away from it.

The first floor alone took me nearly two hours. I spent my last hour on the second and third floor. These areas were mostly donated artifacts, but I did see some neat Buddhist works. They also had other Asian artwork including some Indian. (See Flickr – things may not be labeled because I’d rather not label it incorrectly than label it at all.)

I then made my way to Itaewon. It’s so much different during the day, sober. It was crawling with foreigners. But, I sensed a difference of the Seoul foreigner to the Busan foreigner. In Seoul, it felt more touristy whereas Busan felt more along the lines of an actual foreigner population. Either way, these people all lived there. It was more tolerable in my opinion. (man, I’m a stuck up foreigner :P)

I met up with Yuri and Morgan, friends from training! They teach in Gangnam and figured I’d try and meet up before heading back to Gimhae. It worked! We grabbed lunch at an Indian buffet. Delicious. They made me pretty jealous of their setup with all the food options, cheap bars/clubs and everything else. I hope to one day move to Seoul, mostly to say I did.
It was great catching up with them. They also teach the same courses I do, so our stories were pretty similar. Especially ones revolving around particular lessons or creative projects. After lunch we grabbed some honeycomb ice cream. Pretty neat and very sweet. (Flickr)

I was planning on leaving after lunch….then decided to go to another museum with them. We grabbed the subway to the Korean War Museum – the same place AJ and I were going to go on Saturday evening. What a great decision. The museum covered general war history of the country, but most specifically the Korean War. How intense… I guess my history teachers never got to the conflicts after World War II, because I just don’t know as much as I do about other wars. Maybe kids today are learning more about that, one can only hope. If you ever get the opportunity, check the museum out. It was all around fantastic. Dioramas, moving floors, very interactive, and obviously educational. A few times throughout my walks through these museums facts just didn’t line up – or not the whole truth was shared. Which, I understand, and yet why not? I had no idea how the actual control of the Korean Peninsula shifted so much.

So here I am on the bus home, with another hour or so to go. I cannot express any further how amazing this country is. You’ve got to be a pretty damn resilient people to go to hell and back, go to hell again and back, and do it a few more times. But, that’s also why this is one of the fastest developing countries and it’s very cool to be here for this microscopic moment of history.

Side note: at time of posting I’ve been back since 11.

Weekly Recaps:
I haven’t watched the game, mostly because it was FIU (harharhar), but I figure if I miss a game that’s not an ACC game, then it’s mildly excusable. On the note of Louisville football, Halloween is forty some odd days away. We have a costume party at work. I shall be none other than Teddy Bridgewater. Or to my students, an American football player.

Fantasy Update: 1-1 and 0-2. Riddled with injury, my starting lineups are 40% questionable 10% of the time. Matt Stafford has been putting the team on his back and with an excellent opponent to play, the Packers, Joquie Bell looks to rack some points up at RB. Teddy’s keeping the bench warm, though. As Arian Foster goes inactive, we grabbed a free agent in Jeremy Hill… We’ll see how that goes. Also, running double TE’s for the music league this week. “Hennessy Badgers Don’t Give A ****”s look to make an early run for a division lead before the first bye week. Peyton Manning looks to make better numbers in Week 3, and lead the “Beatin Your Ass from Korea” frat league to its first victory of the season. The Rams defense hopes to capitalize upon their stout O line, but have been having severe issues up to this point.

I wanted to start some sort of interactive thing through my blog. While I’m not sure what I want to do yet, any ideas? I was thinking something like ask me questions by Tuesday night and I’ll elaborate on one every week. If I pick your question, you’d get some sort of prize…which monetarily probably won’t work. BUT, if people come and visit me like they say they want to I can give them the goodies to return home with and thus, cut out the middle man postal service. Because we all know that a personal mail carrier is $1500 cheaper than just sending it in the mail. Let me know what you think!



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