Sunday, July 18, 2010


The skies opened up on Friday and Saturday, giving us torrential Floridian downpours of Ithacan duration. By late morning Saturday, the Yangjae Cheon (stream) on whose path I do all of my running and most of my biking had wildly overflowed like a toilet into which a toddler had dropped a sumo wrestler. (Stick with me here, I'm the Wizard of Metaphors.) The cheon is usually ten feet wide; now it was fifty.

The torrential rain made it dicey for all of us from school to get to the Shinhan Bank Building near City Hall, which, you know, ordinarily wouldn't matter a whole lot because there's a Shinhan branch in the E-mart in our neighborhood, but Michelle (our wonderful school receptionist) wasn't getting married at E-Mart, was she? No, she wasn't; she was getting married at the wedding hall on the twentieth floor of the Shinhan Building.

As the school yacht was in for repairs, we all made our way there by taxi, and it was a lovely affair. (The wedding; the cab ride, not so much.)
Me and Michelle, la belle. Sadly, I left my tux at the Nobel ceremony.

A few hundred people, all Korean but for the school's contingent, attended the Western-style ceremony. What caught my eye were the differences between Korean and American weddings: Michelle's posing for endless pictures with individual guests before the ceremony, the table with framed pictures of the happy couple, the fact that only the groom got to say "I do", the omission of a kiss, the groom's touching his forehead, hands and knees to the floor as he bowed to his parents, the serenading by a bemiked lounge singer before the couple came back down the aisle, most of all the way a lot of people in the back of the room talked throughout the ceremony.

Afterward, the guests adjourned down the hall to the buffet; the nuptial couple never appeared there, at least not before many people, including me, had departed. The bride and groom were in a little room, having a private Korean wedding (or some family ceremony, I couldn't tell) with their parents. I looked in and saw them both in hanbok, the ancient ceremonial Korean clothing; Michelle was lovely in scarlet.

The happy couple is honeymooning in the Philippines; with luck, SPPA can survive a week without Michelle.

Finally, by dawn this (Sunday) morning the rain had stopped, and it was time for my 15-mile "run". I'm following Jeff Galloway-de Sade's marathon training plan, and that's what he had in store for today. Two weeks ago, when I ran 13 miles, I was really toopid: I didn't eat first, I didn't take my energy gels with me, I assumed I'd find water on the way, I ignored J G-deS's stricture to go much more slowly than my planned marathon pace. I made the 13 miles, but great googly-moogly, the last few miles weren't pleasant.

Today I actually played it smart. I had my Utility Belt(tm), loaded with two bottles of water (which I refilled at every opportunity, which I made sure I'd have by first going down the path four miles west to Gwacheon City before doubling back toward the Han River) and two energy gels, carried a bottle of Pocari Sweat (Japan's oh-so-attractively-named answer to Gatorade), and ran two minutes per mile slower.

The vegetation on both sides of the cheon had been smooshed by the current; I'd expected to slip-slide away on dead earthworms, but apparently they'd built rafts and escaped. There was a lot of mud and glop, however.

...and did the whole 15 miles in fine form, never hurting (other than a few creaks in my knees). (I should have called this blog post Dancing Creek to Creak.)

Oh, and the second toe on my left foot now has a grayish-purple nail, which may yet fall off.

Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln...

So that was my weekend. How was yours?

Yeah, I don't really have an ending for this. Let's go to commercial.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

A time to keel (over)

I've been out virtually every day running or biking. On the few days I don't do those, I go for a long walk. I'm not losing any weight but am otherwise in the best shape in decades.

A week ago, I decided to bike to Itaewon, the famous melting-pot area I've written about before. My GPS monitor, which I bought in California, said it's 5 1/2 miles from my apartment as the crow flies. (It's longer for a crow on a bicycle, even more so if he stops for a beer at a crowbar. I guess I probably traveled 20 miles in all.)

OMG, guys, to use a popular Korean expression. (No lie: "OMG" and "Oh my God", in English, are very popular expressions here.) Anyway, OMG, what an odyssey. I had a vague idea from Google Maps that Itaewon is north-northwest from me, and I knew that if I kept heading north I'd get to the Han River and be able to find a bridge. The GPS simply says how far away and in what direction the destination is; it doesn't show roads and such.

Well... I biked on sidewalks. I biked in the streets. I biked on the beaches. I biked in the fields. No, wait, that's Winston Churchill. I'll start again.

I biked on the sidewalks (mostly) and in the streets and over the bridges, walked the bike through crowded areas, carried it down through the subway stations and up a HUMENJOUS set of stairs (50-plus of them, each one half-again as tall as a normal stair). When finally I coasted down a steep hill into the heart of Itaewon, nearly two hours after I'd started, I realized I was coasting down the only street there I was really familiar with... I was on Hooker Hill!

I think Hooker Hill is named after Korea's hero, General Joseph Hooker of the Army of the Potomac... no? Okay...

Hooker Hill is what it sounds like, at least after dark. I've never been there after dark and, as far as I know, have never spotted a hooker there; it's also the home of the Foreign Food Market, where I buy curry and Bac-O's, and until that day was the home of What the Book. The reason I picked last Wednesday to do my trek was because WTB was just opening a newer, bigger store on Itaewon's main street.

As for the store itself, I should have waited; they weren't completely set up yet and had run out of pie (which they'd promised on Facebook that they'd have on opening day). The place had all the charm of an airport waiting room. But I did get a copy of the book that changed my life, John Robbins' Diet for a New America.

On the way home, I took a different route; I went south past the huge US Army base to the nearest bridge, figuring I'd cross the river and go down to the path that runs all along the Han until I got to the ballpark, where I'd take my beloved path home. Sadly, there was no way to get from the bridge down to the river, so I turned left along an overgrown sidewalk, hoping to find a crossing. I didn't, but the sidewalk did run out, leaving me to bike on one of Seoul's busiest expressways at rush hour.

I guess they call it rush hour because everyone has to move so slowly; I kept up with the flow of traffic; fortunately the right-hand lane was very wide. After ten minutes or so, I got off at the first exit, only to find myself going through Gangnam (our favorite nearby ritzy shopping area) at the heart of the rush. I walked the bike when I wasn't steering among the crush of pedestrians.

Eventually (after passing a bike shop on my right and realizing it was the same bike shop that had been on my left 15 minutes earlier) I made it home. It was a four-hour trip, including the ten minutes I spent at the bookstore. I'm glad I did it, for the experience, but I'll certainly never do it again.
When I'm not running or biking, I'm usually eating.

Most days, though, I'm running and only bike to and from work. I've never been one to accumulate gadgets; I was the last of all my friends to have a cell phone and still spend five bucks a month on mine, only have a Nano as my iPod, I've never had a Blu-Ray player or flatscreen tv. But somehow I've piled up quite an array of running doodads.

This is all for the marathon; I know I need all the help I can get. I have the GPS monitor to tell me exactly how far and how fast I've run, lots of shorts and tops and socks, compression shorts and tights and sweats and a mesh cap, all of which were prizes from races and none of which I've worn, three medals, two pairs of good running shoes, and, now a Utility Belt. Yeah, that's what I'm calling it...
( ... na na na na na na na na na na na na na na na na... CORNMAN!)

(Between the Utility Belt and the GPS, which is roughly the size of Dick Tracy's Wrist Radio...
...I'm the height of 1940s comic fashion.

Someone on the Seoul Flyers page on Facebook had kindly answered my query about running shops and directed me to Fleet Sports. On Saturday, I took the subway to Jamsil Station, found as I emerged that I was across the street from Lotte World, the world's biggest indoor amusement park, walked around a lovely artificial lake with hundreds of shade trees and a rubberized running surface, and found the store.

I bought some energy gels (holy Pheidippides, they're sweeter than a Hummel figurine of Shirley Temple riding piggyback on a Care Bear) and a water/gel belt. It's lightweight, has a pouch for gels, keys, money, and a cell phone, and two holsters, each one of which nestles a ten-ounce water bottle up against my kidneys. (How appropriate.) It may seem like an affectation, but like the bike helmet I bought (which cost as much as my used bike) I think I may need it to survive... that 13-mile run I did ten days ago nearly killed me and I don't want to complete the job on my 15-miler this weekend.

Like Pheidippides, I plan to keel over the moment I reach the finish line, and not one step sooner.

Sunday, July 11, 2010


...or California There I Went.

I've been putting off blogging about my vacation in California, and I don't know why. At first when I came back I was jetlagged, sleeping four hours in the day and four at night. That led to a general sense of ennui, and not for the first time. (Je suis Ennui VIII, je suis...) Then, I don't know, I couldn't figure out what was too personal to post here, I guess. But I'm finally sitting down to write about it, if only because it was important in understanding myself, my country, and my time in Korea.

I stayed with my stepson and his family in Ventura, an hour north of LA, and split time between Tim and April and Jake and Nate (the Grands) and Debby and Bodhi (the Ex and the Dog). The point of the trip wasn't sightseeing or even activities, so to save my pixels and your time I'll just list what I did here.

-Tim and April took me out to a bunch of nice dinners.
-We all went to Disney's California Adventure.
 Nate and me on the humongous vertiginous Ferris wheel.

-Jacob had his elementary school commencement.
-Debby took me on lots of walks with Bodhi, in the parks and on the beach.
So Korea's over there, Daddy?

-Debby took the boys and me to two amazing, peaceful places, Meditation Mount and the Ojai Foundation, in the mountains.

-I took Jake and Nate to a fun water park.

-Debby and I went to her amazing Center for Spiritual Living (Religious Science) church twice; it's in the only art deco, Aztec-inspired church building in the US and the speakers and musicians were terrific, as was the welcoming atmosphere.
Pretty cool, huh?

-I ran a bunch of times.
-I bought a lot of stuff (cheap ibuprofen, a GPS running watch, some clothes-- where has Old Navy been all my life?-- running shoes, energy gels).

That doesn't seem like all that much for twelve days, but as I said going places and doing stuff wasn't the point.

As with a bull, the point was twofold. First, and most importantly, I wanted to spend time with the family. (Miraculously, the boys and Bodhi remembered me and still love me... which made the trip worthwhile in itself.)
 Dog is love.

Secondly, I wanted to figure out some stuff about me and Korea and America.

And here's what I've come up with: I belong anywhere. It didn't feel strange to be there and it doesn't feel strange to be back. When I came to Korea, I thought it quite likely I'd teach here till I retire, and I still very well may. I should never have a problem keeping a steady job here, and with the job sitch in the States...

Anyway, I found I liked life just north of LA a lot; people are really friendly, the weather's good, it has Korea's mountains (good) and Florida's open skies (good) and people speak English! It's a big if, but if I could get a steady job there with decent pay... well, it's something to think about. And I will.

As far as my being fairly content wherever I live, I'm not at all sure whether that reflects a strength of my character (that is, a certain basic acceptance of the moment that I've been striving for) or a weakness (a disconnect between my self and my surroundings). Either way, I'm okay. I've come to hate the saying "It is what it is," but I yam what I yam. (And as a vegetarian, I never mind a good yam or two.)

I will say that you guys back in the States have sure let it go all to smash in the nearly two years I've been gone. Jersey Shore? Justin Bieber? The Tea Partiers? I can't leave you alone for a minute, can I?

But from all the way over here I see all the faults of my country and I love it anyway. I'll be back. Sooner or later.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

In the long run...

(I just noticed that this is post number 250 on my blog! No wonder I'm so rich.)

The Joongang Marathon sits glowering and licking its lips, just four calendar pages away, waiting for me to jump into its gaping maw. While I was in the States (blog post to come, I swear), I found Jeff Galloway's marathon guide at Barnes and Noble. Galloway is the runner who pioneered the run/walk method that, he says, allows you to run three times as far as your conditioning would otherwise allow. I used his method, more or less, in 2004, when I ran the Gate River Run 15K (9.4 mile) race in Jacksonville. It worked.

So I brought the book back over the Pacific with me, picked up his marathon schedule in Week 8 (as that would get me to the Joongang at the right place on the schedule), girded my loins, and ran. Actually, you know, girded loins are too dang hot in July, so I just wore the usual running shorts...

Sunday, the Glorious Fourth, was my big test: 13 miles, 50 percent farther than I'd ever run in my life. I have to say that I did everything about as stupidly as it's possible to do it, but apparently I survived. I say that only because someone seems to be typing this now.

What did I do wrong? Well, for starters, I did follow the plan (walk one minute of every five) but Galloway says to run the long run two minutes per mile slower than your marathon goal pace, plus 30 seconds per mile for every five degrees over 60... this would have had me doing 14-minute miles; I can walk a mile in 15! Also, I couldn't figure out how 13 14-minute miles would prepare me to do 26 10-minute miles... so I did the run at my usual 10-minute pace. Secondly, I didn't eat anything before running. I also figured there would be bathrooms and water fountains on the way; there were, in fact, bathrooms. Finally, I had brought back a couple of packets of energy gel (sugary salty vitamin goo that refills your tank) from California and forgot to take it along on the run.

Five miles and a little more found me emerging from the path along my stream to the banks of the Han River that divides Seoul, and in another mile-plus along the sunny, hot riverside I was turning around to head home. I'd seen some cool stuff along the way: an early morning taichi session for seniors under a big bridge, a guy soloing on his saxophone under another, a mama duck leading her half-grown 'lings across the trail. I was feeling good and strong and, well, like it was my Independence Day.

And of course on the way back I started getting aches and pains, but that was no surprise. It wasn't till I got two or three miles from home, shirt plastered to me as if it had been spray-painted on, that I began to get a little empty-stomached and empty-headed, wondering if I'd make it back at all, let alone running. I thought about taking off my shoes and soaking my feet in the stream and how I was sick of the incessant din from my iPod and about what I'd ingest first if I made it home. (Answer: a whole bottle of Gatorade, a banana, yogurt, and a bagel.)

I'd told my student Hanbyel, during her first and only 5K, "Sometimes you have to tell your body to shut up." So I did, and pushed and willed and forced my way somehow through the last few four-minute run segments and made it back in 2 hours, 17 minutes, 59 seconds (but who's counting?)

The result? Six pounds of self-criticism for my stupidity and seven pounds of pride. In two weeks, Sunday means a fifteen-mile run... with water and energy gels and maybe a cell phone... just in case.