Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Small victories

I've been deep in the doldrums for some time now. I don't know if I'm sick of Korea, sick of teaching, or just sick of myself (...after all, I'm with myself almost constantly), but it's been a while since I've gone anyplace without trudging.

But sometimes little wins come along.

Hashing, particularly my home pack, Yongsan Kimchi H3, has been my social life, my exercise, and my outlet; I've been to nearly 300 runs, 230-plus of them at YK, in under 4 1/2 years. Even that has lost some of its luster, as my best friends in the hash have departed, one by one, and I've gone on with newbies. I was recently selected as GM (Grand Master [leader]) of YK for the year, which is nice, but it's mostly meant responsibility more than prestige.

This past weekend, I hared a trail at Maebong, right by the school and not far from home. Choopa Cabroan, one of the nicest and most popular human beings ever at the hash, had on-outed a few months ago, but he was back from California for the week and it was great to see him. My trail, over Maebongsan (Hountain) and Yangjaesan (Hountain) and along the Yangjaecheon (Stream) kept the pack together...

 ...and elicited plenty of praise, which is rare. It was the first gorgeous day of spring and we had a great, happy turnout. It was a golden day.

This evening, three days later, I headed out for dinner, which is always a boring routine, sitting alone night after night and eating one of four or five things I can find in the neighborhood that isn't full of dead animal; even kimchi, which is ubiquitous, is preserved in clam or fish juice, and mool naengmyeon (ice noodles), which I used to enjoy in blissful ignorance, turns out to be in meat broth.

Tonight, I realized I needed to get some of Tug's specialty dry cat food, so I begrudgingly went eight blocks to the pet shop outside the huge Lotte department store. Afterward, I strayed down to the Lotte basement and found a Korean-style restaurant. I read hangeul, but I don't know all that many words; however, I found one I do know: dubu (tofu). I knew just enough Korean to ask the waitress, "Dubu isseoyo?" (It's tofu?) and "Gogi eopseoyo?" (No meat?) and say, "Eegeo juseyo" (Bring me this, please) and ended up with what I can only describe as tofu tempura in sweet-and-sour sauce:

It wasn't the best dish I've ever had, but it was tasty, and I was so happy to expand my dining options by 20 percent or so that I didn't even get offended that she'd brought me a fork when she trusted everyone else in the place with chopsticks.

Things aren't magically great now, but a win's a win, and I'll take every one I can get. And maybe the tide's turning.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

A poor idea, in the long run

I'm never doing that again.

Last spring, I found out that this year's Chuncheon Marathon would be on my birthday, Sunday, October 26, and decided on the spot that I had to run it. My first marathon, four years ago, was in Chuncheon, and another run there would nicely bookend the three Joongang Marathons (here in Seoul) I'd run since.

The Joongang course is very boring, but Chuncheon's is beautiful, albeit hilly. It winds around and across a lovely river shaped like a Rorshach blot, overlooked by lovely little mountains covered with fall foliage. I did my first marathon there in 2010, walking one of every four minutes, in five hours, 40 minutes. My three Joongangs, running the whole way of a flat course, were clustered right around five hours even, and I figured I could handle Chuncheon's hills in 5:15 or so.

The long runs in training went badly; the muscles above and below my left knee stiffened up after eight miles or so each time, and without my erstwhile training partners Lauren, Val, and Laura-Claire (who had all left the country), I didn't have the will to push through it for another six or eight or ten miles to complete the runs. I did, however, complete a test 20-miler three weeks before the marathon, so I talked myself into believing I'd be fine on the day. ("Take no prisoners!"- George Armstrong Custer)

I'd rejoined the Seoul Flyers running club mostly to be able to ride their bus out to Chuncheon, a couple of hours east of Seoul. My only worry was finding a cab at 4:30 a.m. to take me across the city to the bus, but one came along within a minute of my hitting the street. Riding 65 miles an hour on the darkened city streets was just about enough to wake me up.

When the Flyers set up camp at Chuncheon, the leader announced that everyone should be back on the bus at 3; if I finished in my self-predicted time, I'd make it by 2:40, despite starting the the last group, almost a half hour after the tiny, fast East Africans. (Seriously, guys, they have the size, build, and speed of whippets.)

It was a beautiful day for a run, and the first miles went off fine. But the hills got to me, the knee stiffened up right on schedule, and I had to walk most of the last half of the course. This caused a lot of anxiety, as I kept thinking "If I run the rest of the way, starting now, I'll be back before everyone is on the bus and wanting to get home" while just not having the energy. All the way, minute by minute, I saw fifty exhausted runners on the bus, wondering "Where the hell is that guy?"

It just went on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on (squared). I had planned to carry my cellphone so I could take photos, but it made my shorts sag (what with the iPod and half-dozen energy gels in my pockets), so I'd left it behind and missed the "Where are you?" and "Call me!" texts from the Flyers' president at the finish line.

As I finally, finally, got near the end, people by the side of the road were applauding, which only made me feel worse; I imagine they were rooting for the plucky old man running his first marathon, but it was my fifth, and it was slooooooow and pathetic.

Then I was finally done, in six hours and seven minutes (cue sad-sack trombone) and I limped as fast as I could to get my (completely undeserved) medal and pick up my bag o' crap, and then halfway through the damn town, burdened as I was, to the most humiliating moment of all, boarding the bus and being applauded--sincerely, I think, but it felt sarcastic--by the impatient busful of runners.

I did my best to ooze into my seat and disappear.

The Flyers' tradition is to take the bus over to a traditional Korean restaurant after the marathon; Chuncheon is famous for its dakgalbi--spicy chicken ribs. When we got there, I went in, but the difficulty of finding a seat, the sheer impossibility of my standing up again after a horrible marathon and a half hour sitting cross-legged on the floor, and the fact that I'm a vegetarian and chicken ribs are not technically a vegetable made me decide to wait alone in the bus instead.

At least the street was empty, so I could change out of my soggy running gear on the bus. This was the first birthday I've ever had where being naked, alone,  on a tour bus was the highlight of the day.

The trip to Chuncheon had taken two hours; the trip back took five, thanks largely to some bozo who delayed the bus until the traffic was utterly clogged. Add another two hours to hobble up the stairs to my second-floor apartment... it was a long day.

I am registering today for a 10K run in April, then I'll probably do a half-marathon, but a full marathon is much, much longer than twice a half-marathon. My ego is finally past needing to say "I'm a marathoner" or feeling old because I don't do the full course anymore. I could; I don't want to.

I promised myself in 1970 I'd do a marathon one day; I've done five. But...

I'm never doing that again.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Ends and odds

There are several tidbits of fascinating, if not essential, info that have slipped through the cracks as I haven't posted or self-edited to keep things relatively brief over the last many months.

Here are a few of them for your edification and amusement. (Mr. Caslick, my favorite junior high teacher, always started with "For your edification and amusement", and I, sadly, lack the style to follow suit in person.) So... here you go. Hope you will be edified and amused. If not, I will gladly refund the time you spent reading this stuff.
In my last post, I mentioned my mixed feelings over moving from a quiet, greenish neighborhood to an extremely urban one. I guess what decided me to move was the feeling that not doing so would be clinging to the past. Last year, we had a little Yangjae Gang of St. Paul teachers: Jie and Dave in one building, me next door, Alysia next to me, and Claudia and her husband Frank next to her. Frank and Claudia hosted movie night every week, with the snackiest snacks ever, sundry adult beverages, and their beautiful giant TV and professional sound system. I almost always got to ensconce myself in their beautiful pleather-covered recliner... good times. (It's my beautiful pleather-covered recliner now; guess it wouldn't fit in the overhead for their flight to Cairo.) I could also look forward to frequently meeting one or another of my freighbors on the street. Frequently we would go en masse to the noraebang (karaoke room) to demonstrate to the neighborhood what fine singing is. Since the great diaspora, the 'hood felt like a ghost town, and it just seemed like it was time to be somewhere else.
I am deeply, passionately in love with Korean fall. The weather we've had for the last week has been utterly perfect... 75 Fahrenheit with low humidity and piercing sunlight and infinite blue skies in the daytime, low mid-50s at night. One lunchtime I hiked up the hountain behind the school and found three bunny rabbits lazing about in the sun. The sun has been so bright that I've been reminded of the wisdom of living east of work (which I do). The sun's behind me when I go to work and behind me when I head home. Clear skies, no squint, can't lose.

Hey... how ya doin'? Relevance of photos to blog posts is overrated.
Jeez, I leave you guys alone in America for six measly years and you go and change stuff! It feels from here that the USA is so much better and so much worse than it was in 2008. We elect a minority president and edge closer to equal rights for gay Americans, and half the country goes nuts, saying they "want their country back". Obama has been a great disappointment to me, though I always knew he wasn't the bright-eyed crusading reformer some hoped for... but the vitriol directed at him has been shocking. He's just a little to the right of Richard Nixon, (Ol' Tricky created the EPA, froze wages and prices, and opened China to the West... Obama presides over a health-care system originally proposed by Republicans, he orders drone strikes that kill many, many innocent people, and--possibly due to his name and skin color?--he's the African, Commie, Islamist, Nazi, Socialist antichrist.

Come to think of it, what's so bad about socialism? People think it's Soviet-style Communism or Nazism, since both Lenin and Hitler threw the word "Socialist" in there to gain support, but you know who's truly socialist? Denmark, repeatedly named as the happiest and most peaceful country on earth, and the other Scandinavian countries, which are right after it on the happy/peaceful scales. Hey, public parks, paved roads, and fire departments are socialism. Even uber-capitalist South Korea has true public healthcare, and when I got a twelve-mile ambulance ride, an examination, a cleaning of my eyebrow gash, x-rays, and stitches for $35 out of pocket, I was glad of it.

You know, it's been 18 years since we had a president that half of the country didn't loathe. The level of vitriol in American politics is unsustainable, and the coasts and northern Midwest hardly seem like the same country as the middle and southern parts. The corporations and banks get stronger and stronger and the rest of us wither on the vine. What are you guys doing over there?
I love teaching frequently-banned books: Huck Finn, Of Mice and Men, Catcher in the Rye, Speak, Hunger Games, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian... I get no thrill from sharing ripe language or adult themes with young people, but so many of these books get challenged because they confront authority and ask kids to think for themselves. My parents never told me what I could and couldn't read, and I'm the better for it. Fortunately, the parents here are apparently either respectful of teachers or unaware of what the books mean, because I've had no trouble with my selections, and I think the kids appreciate the respect implied by my trusting them with the controversial stuff.

Right now, I'm teaching Fahrenheit 451, which was once burned by an irony-deficient school. As Bradbury quotes in 451's epigram, "If they give you lined paper, write the other way."
Eli Manning's lost it all faster than Oedipus did.
I miss having a dog so much it's almost painful. I've been in love with dogs my whole life, and I miss our Bodhi at least as much as I do any human, but I've had four dogs and 19 cats. But leaving a dog alone all day in an apartment, and ignoring it for paperwork when you're home, doesn't seem fair or humane. Cats are a lot more social than many people think, and I pay as much attention to Tug as I can, but it can't seem so lonely when you're asleep 70 percent of the time anyway. Cats are pretty cool, too, but they're not dogs.

"Cats are not dogs." With that pearl of deep wisdom, I shall head for bed. Another full day of corrupting the morals of Korean children awaits.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

The more things change...

,,,the more they, well, change.

After five years living in the same neighborhood and teaching at the same school, I'm now in a (radically) different neighborhood and a (mostly) different school.

The last school year was an utter nightmare. Through a combination of horrible business decisions and, somewhere along the line by somebody, malfeasance and probable embezzlement, the school was constantly in danger of closing mid-year, a bunch of teachers and a lot of students quit, and we the teachers got cheated out of our legally mandated pension money and other benefits and lost three months of pay. Overall, we were shorted somewhere near ten thousand bucks apiece. At times I dreamed about going into a less stressful business, such as bomb defusing.

The school staggered on, somehow, to the end of the spring semester and then quietly expired. (This is gonna get complicated, so take notes, kids: there will be a quiz.) The owners of two hagwons (evening academies), called Proud 7 and British Columbia Collegiate, formed a partnership and contacted Saint Paul's parent organization in (duh) Saint Paul, Minnesota. They bought the name and insignia and opened a new school, in a new neighborhood, with 30-some of our former students. This is where I, along with a few of last year's teachers, work now.

The old school started as Saint Paul Preparatory Academy and changed to Saint Paul Preparatory School when we got accredited in the US. (However, according to Korean law, we were still an academy--a hagwon--because our kids aren't foreign and haven't lived for years abroad. They didn't care that we had an American curriculum and credentialed teachers, were fully accredited in America and had kids admitted to Notre Dame, NYU, Boston College, and USC. The inflexibility of Korean bureaucracy is a nightmare.

A local TV station ran a sensationalistic, biased report on us... it was so slanted that it made Fox News look, well, fair and balanced. This certainly didn't help the cash-flow problem.) This was the same station that ran a "news" report saying that Americans' purpose in coming here is to despoil virgins and spread AIDS.

The new school is called Saint Paul Preparatory Seoul. My friend Bob Ellison, the math teacher, is the principal. It's a teeny-tiny place, more or less an elongated log cabin with six classrooms, most of them rather claustrophobic. We have just seven teachers, and of that only three (Bob, Billy Stewart, and I, the remnants of the old SPPS) are full-time.

This is not it.

After six whole days of classes, I can say I like the school. I like that every student in school is in one or another of my classes, and we have really good kids. It's a very homey, friendly atmosphere. The back wall of the school is all glass and we're at the base of a hountain, so I can always see trees and birds. Also mud, but what the hell, it's organic.

The glass-walled offices on the first floor are decorated with four-foot-high photos of Ivy League colleges. Also an NFL photo labeled "rugby"; go figure. Anyway, all the college photos are simple shots of boring old buildings, except Cornell's, which is this one:

It's really nice to walk past this every day and remember what a beautiful place I come from.

I guess it's not as unique being a Cornellian here as I thought; our college counselor at the old school was a Cornell alum, and so is our new math teacher, Min. She and I were practically classmates; only missed her by 30 years. (No, I'm not implying that she graduated in 1950.) And now I hear we've hired a part-time science teacher, who also has a Cornell degree. Apparently they're giving the damn things away in Cracker Jack boxes now.

As to my new digs, sometimes I feel I've made a terrible mistake. My apartment in Daegu was in a quiet, residential area, and for my five years in Seoul I lived in a very (literally) green neighborhood a few blocks south of the city. There was an institute across the street with a big empty soccer field, there were two big, beautiful parks with, no exaggeration, thousands of trees, and I was 200 yards from my beloved Yangjae Cheon, the landscaped stream that runs from Gwacheon City to the Han River in  the middle of Seoul: ten miles with no cars, lots of wildfowl and trees, and mostly soft, rubbery surface for running. I could see hountains from my windows.

My new apartment is bright, modern, and airy, but all I see around me is concrete and bricks. I'm a couple of blocks from one of Gangnam's busiest avenues, an eight-lane, traffic-choked street lined with hundreds of stores and businesses. Cars drive across, and sometimes down, the wide sidewalks to park in front of storefronts, and I might get clipped by a bike, because only idiots with death wishes would ride a bike in that street.

Straight down the end of the street, a couple of miles to the east, is the half-built Lotte World Tower, which will top out at one hundred twenty-three floors, a good deal taller than the Empire State. Right now, it's a mere stripling of 70-some stories.

Note the giant-gorilla-proof tip.

It's just like living in midtown Manhattan, which for a small-town boy like me is a shock; every time I've visited New York City, I've loved it for three days and then couldn't wait to escape back to Ithaca, where it's green and quiet and the buildings are on a human scale.

It's also eight-tenths of a mile of running on cement and brick, with heavy traffic, to reach the Cheon. My legs are taking much more of a pounding, my left knee stiffens up faster, and I may not make it to my marathon this fall.

On the other foot, sometimes it's good to walk out the door in the evening and find a myriad of restaurants, grocery stores, miscellaneous shops, and people, mostly teens, because there's a hagwon every few feet. Compared to my old digs, there's a lot less nature and a lot more life.

It may not help my marathon prep that there's a Baskin-Robbins, a Krispy Kreme, a churro stand, two Dunkin' Donuts outlets, and a soft ice cream shop within five minutes of my place. I wish I hadn't typed that; it's 10 p.m. and suddenly I feel an urge to take a little stroll...

It's also centrally isolated, farther away from everywhere I want to go than I'd thought when I was being driven around to scout apartments. It's right in the midst of Korea's ritziest area, but the subway stations and bus lines don't line up to go anywhere quickly. It's a 30-minute walk to school, barely closer than my old place would have been, or 20 minutes combining walking and the subway, which in itself is a treat during rush hour.

Great honk, I miss greenery.

But hey, Krispy Kreme...

Sunday, April 20, 2014

My late friend Steve

You think I'd learn, wouldn't you?

One of my longstanding bad habits (that is, mental malfunctions) is continually underestimating how long it takes me to get out of the house and go someplace. Today I paid for it, in frustration and embarrassment.

It's a gorgeous Easter Sunday, 70 degrees without a cloud in the sky (or, you know, anywhere else) although you wouldn't know it was Easter, aside from the church lady who handed me a packet of two hard-boiled eggs in the subway. (They weren't dyed, but there was a churchy message on the plastic.)

Anyway, today was the so-called Bundang Marathon, although there wasn't an actual marathon-length course. In the US South, every soft drink is called a Coke... here, every road race is a called a marathon, whatever its length, and today's "marathon" was a set of 5K, 10K, and half-marathon (21K) races.

I'd trained for a couple of months, with my friend Laura-Claire, to run the half. But as so often happens--and did I mention you'd think I'd learn?--I got there just minutes before the race and, after frantically stashing my bag with a Korean guy who looked trustworthy and dashing to the restroom (where I got precious little rest), I couldn't force my way through the thousands-strong mob of 5Kers and 10Kers to the half-marathoners up in front.

So, rather than slink home in self-imposed disgrace, I ran the 10K. The course started in the most beautiful park I know and mostly ran alongside the nearby stream. After 3K, I was pleased (and a little shocked) that I was running a six-minute-per-kilometer pace, about a minute per K faster than usual, and decided to try to beat an hour, which would be nearly ten minutes faster than my previous 10K, a few years ago.

And I woulda got away with it, too, if not for that meddling bathroom stop on the course. Still, 1:00:35 ain't bad for a broke-down, overweight sexagenarian. (Oh, calm down... the "sex" in that word just means 60.)

A bunch of my hashing friends also ran in the various races...
I guess I was late for the photo, too... shocker.

I couldn't find my bag, with my clothes and my wallet, after the run. I got busy panicking and walking around the big plaza without much hope that it was still around, but the man who'd said I could leave my bag corralled me at the other end of the plaza and handed it back; he'd been carrying it around with him for an hour.

Afterward, a bunch of us went to the start of the Southside hash, though I didn't do the trail because I was already limping. A couple of the guys and I had lunch at a Korean restaurant. I thought I'd communicated "no animals" to our waitress despite my minuscule Korean knowledge and her matching English skills, and I was having the most delicious noodle soup I've ever eaten, till I found a tentacle in it. Apparently I'd already eaten some chopped-up mussels, which I'd thought were mushrooms. It's that kind of day.

Still, I've been feeling leaden since the horrible ferry tragedy on Wednesday. Many public events have been canceled, and I'm grateful that the race wasn't, because an Easter morning with friends in the sun, in a gorgeous, sunny park and by a gorgeous, sunny stream, is exactly what I needed.

And I swear I'm not gonna run late for stuff anymore.

I mean it this time.

 No, really.

 See? Right on time for the photo after the race. Doing better already!

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Me and Yu and K forty-two

Last month I ran my fourth marathon, my third consecutive Joongang International Marathon, from the Olympic Stadium down to the outskirts of Bundang (that is, the suburbs of the suburbs) and back. I had thought that last year's would be my last, till the Boston Marathon bombings prodded me into an irrational but definite sense that I needed to do another as a statement to... someone... that we runners won't be intimidated, a day in memory of the victims.

Maybe that wasn't reason enough; I ran my first marathon to keep a promise I'd made myself in high school, my second to break five hours, my third to no-kidding break five hours (as I'd missed by less than a minute). All through the grinding miles this summer (about 360 of them, but maybe you find 575 kilometers more impressive), I pushed and sweated and resented myself for committing to this and wondered what the hell was wrong with me. (That, however, would take a bit more than 360 miles to figure out.) And on the really long runs, my left leg would stiffen so that I could hardly bend it... if that happened in the race, it would be the Bus of Shame for me.

Getting out of bed on the morning of the marathon is a grim affair. The predawn hour, dressing and fretting, feels like anticipating a root canal, and on the taxi ride to the stadium, every speed bump (and there are many) makes the stomach contract just a little bit more. I felt like a chihuahua getting fastened into a bungee harness and looking down in dismay and perplexity. I had no idea why I was doing this.

In the shivery November morning at the stadium, I kept busy finding a men's room that didn't have a 20-minute queue, stashing my stuff in a bag and storing it, and dodging among the masses of energetic Koreans doing their stretches in front of the girl group dancing and blasting K-pop from monstrous speakers. Then it was time to line up on the street.

I had been regretting not having a running partner (Val, from last year's marathon, or Laura-Claire, from my training this year), but I got very lucky. Within a few miles, a Korean man a few years older than I spoke to me and we began to run together. His English was pretty decent, certainly years ahead of my Korean. I told him my name was Steve and he gave his family name, Yu. (Maybe he thought his full name would be too much for a foreigner, and maybe he was right.) We ran the whole rest of the marathon together. That, right there, is a strong reason to not give up.

Within another mile or so we were joined by another guy of about 40, whose English was good enough for the circumstances. He never gave me his name, but he talked about loving his job as a city bus driver, so I'll call him Ralph (as in Kramden). He was especially proud that he can say "hello" in a dozen languages; he likes to make his foreign passengers feel welcome. He's a sweet guy.

So Yu and Ralph and I shared the next dozen miles together, and somehow the scenery and the time went by. They only knew to say "Good job" to encourage a foreign runner, so I taught them the finer points of "Go get 'em" and "You got this." I expounded on the superiority of the F-word in English to its Korean equivalent. ("Shibal" just doesn't have that same satisfying percussive effect.) They taught me some useful Korean phrases that I, being me, forgot by the end of the race.

We ran the whole way near the pacesetters carrying big blue "5 Hour" balloons. I began to long for the turnaround point out in the countryside and had just persuaded myself that we must be near it, and was abashed when the "3 Hour" balloons went by on their way back. The turnaround just would... not... come.

My leg had been aching under the knee since about Mile 5, but it never got any worse. However, after we finally turned around, with about ten miles to go, both calves got tighter than snare drums. Ralph's hip began to pain him about that same time and before long he fell ten feet behind us. I turned around and asked, "Gwenchanayo?" (Are you okay?) He said "Neh" (Yes), but the next time I looked back, he was nowhere to be found.

When running for five hours, without the option of quitting, there really is nothing in the world but putting one sore foot in front of the other, forever. It's purgatory.

Yu and me, among the select 20,000 who got their photos on the official website.

Yu was patient as I had to walk the uphills and stop occasionally to stretch my calves, yet as we approached the finish he said, "If you are not here, I am not here" several times. He's very gracious; I don't believe him, as he's a far better athlete than I--he'd run the Chuncheon Marathon the week before--but it did my heart good nonetheless.

Finally we were approaching the stadium after 42 kilometers, and I was lifted by seeing my friends Laura-Claire and Lesley there to root for me, as well as my colleague Claudia and her husband Frank inside the stadium. Yu and I struggled around the track until we got to the homestretch and I said, "Let's go" and we picked it up through the finish line.

Then L-C, Claudia, Frank, and I took a cab to Butterfinger Pancakes (or, as I call it, "Heaven's Denny's") for a huge brunch and a long convo mostly about how wonderful I am. Not a bad Sunday, all in all.

At the finish line, Yu had said "If you are not here, I am not here" once again, we shook hands, and he walked off. That was nice, but here's why I'm leaning toward not doing a full marathon again: in my previous three, I got a little choked up, in relief or triumph or fatigue, I don't know which: just a tiny bit teary-eyed, as far as my manly manliness allowed. This time, it was over and I didn't feel much of anything. Just another thing on my list, another thing to do on a Sunday.

 How to make a Budweiser taste good: run for five hours first.

I may yet do another; I know that the training gives me structure, something to think about, and the kick in the butt I need to get out the door. (Since this year's race, I come home from school intending to run, but it's cold and windy and gray and I'm tired and I don't wanna and you can't make me.) But maybe I can get the same benefits from a half marathon... I could do one with L-C or Les...

I've done a full one at age 60; a little voice inside says that cutting back now would be giving in to getting older... but what's to look forward to? Running one every year, just a little slower than the year before? (This year's time was a minute and 45 seconds slower than last year's.) Who am I running them for, anyway? It's nice to impress my friends, but I'm not impressing myself so much, and for really serious runners, it's "just" a marathon, not an ultra or a triathlon.

Well, I'll figure it out eventually. For now, I have nice memories of me and Yu and K forty-two.

If he is not there, I am not there.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Sixty is the new fifty-eight

Hwangap, the sixtieth birthday, is a big deal in Korea. Here, as in other East Asian countries, there's a tradition that a new life cycle starts every 60 years, so hwangap marks the start of one's second life, with the opportunity to start over and do better. (Also, it used to be quite an accomplishment to reach 60.)

My hwangap came on Saturday. If we count from Friday afternoon to Saturday afternoon, I had a great day. (Saturday evening involved sitting in front of my laptop, eating cheesesticks and drinking hard cider, alone. Don't you judge me.)

We had a day off from classes at school on Friday so the teachers could greet the parents and justify why their little angels weren't all getting straight A's. (The questions are always about the grades, never about the learning.) That wasn't so very much fun, but at the end, I got a "Happy Birthday" song, a delicious cake, a handmade card, and a pointy yellow hat. So that was way cool.

Friday evening, a bunch of us from work hit the noraebang, the private karaoke room. The two requirements for noraebang are to sing loudly and to smuggle in beer. We fulfilled both admirably. Noraebang is the most fun I can have with my clothes on, and I loved it, as always, especially seeing some of my work friends really cut loose. The highlight was my friend Dave and I singing the K-pop hit Ugly: "I think I'm ugly, and nobody wants to love me/Just like her, I wanna be pretty, I wanna be pretty..." It has a ring to it, especially in our deep, manly-man voices.

Saturday morning, my actual hwangap, brought my birthday hash. I'd been announcing it at the end of every hash for months, and I was happy to get a big turnout. (It was also the World Peace Through Beer Hash, which didn't hurt.) It was a beautiful, sunny fall morning, and a couple of guys and I laid a really interesting trail near home... (have you ever slid on your butt down a 30-foot slope covered in AstroTurf?) 

Afterward, there were many kind words and two red-velvet cakes; nobody brought candles, so I blew out the toothpicks. Three of my friends from work, all women, attended their first (and maybe last) hash; they all said they had a good time and it was nice to have them there. I handed out the patches my buddy Oranguspray executed from my design:

(You read the "Don't you judge me" up above, right?)

Then some of us went to the foreigner ghetto, Haebangchon, for pizza, beer, and merriment.

To top it off, I walked over to Itaewon and stopped in to see Minha, the woman who makes the patches for the hash. (Her mother, in between selling souvenirs such as kimonos and keychains, sews them onto our happi coats.) They told me they had a present for me and presented me with a gorgeous, and gorgeously tacky, baseball-style jacket:

It's very comfy, but I won't be wearing it in public; ornate as the design is, it looks like the kind of thing a 19-year-old GI would take home to his girlfriend. Next to the kimonos, it's probably the most expensive item Minha's mother has in her shop. Minha made sure that her mom brought out a midnight-blue jacket, knowing that it's my favorite color. I was very touched by their generosity; I'm just a customer, after all, and they weren't doing it to drum up business, just being extraordinarily nice; there's no place else I could go to get the patches made. I'll remember their kindness for a long time.

Then... home. Nap. Cheesesticks and cider.

So, anyway, guys, I've been thinking about this whole "aging" thing...

First, of course, 60 isn't what it used to be; people live so much longer, and I expect to be respiring for a long time yet. My family is long-lived, and I've never smoked, I don't eat meat, I drink just the right amount for longevity, and I run. 

Also, emotionally and mentally I've just turned 25 for the thirty-sixth time; it used to be that people got all proper and respectable when they became adults, but we Boomers--call it refusing to get old or failing to grow up--decided not to change; we still do all the things we loved when we were younger, just less often and more slowly. (I hope that my knee doesn't stiffen up halfway through my marathon this Sunday... yes, I'm a marvel of athleticism and courage. Sometimes I amaze myself. [/sarcasm] )

I really do feel 25, except for when I get out of bed in the morning. Maybe I should stop doing that...