Friday, December 31, 2010

A running total

I made a point to run 33 minutes on the treadmill today, to round off my theoretical mileage for the year at a nice, even 900. This is based on the fiction that I run a mile in 10 minutes; the 33 brought my total for 2010 to precisely 9000 minutes, or 150 hours.

But this is a fiction, the type that should be shelved in the "fantasy" section. All of those long runs in training for the marathon were at 12- to 13-minute pace, and I can only guess what percentage of a hash run is actual running, though I try to not credit myself with the walking and standing-around time. For that matter, my regular running pace is 10:30 or so per.


I can say that this year I ran 150 hours, more or less, maybe 800 miles. I completed two 5K's, four 10K's, and one marathon (which, twenty years from now, may be my most prominent memory of the year). I mentored cross country and did ten hashes (all in the last eight weeks)...

and lost five pounds and then gained eight (for a net of plus three), to equal my highest weight ever. This seems impossible, but recently every fatty or sweet food has been as addictive to me as crack to a crackhead or cigarettes to a... um... butthead. I seem to have no control at all; I've never been simultaneously so proud and so ashamed as I am of my physical condition. I'm very healthy in a cardiovascular sense, better than some runners 25 years younger and 50 pounds lighter. But still.

Last week I carried a 30-pound jug of cat litter upstairs for Faina and it hit me that that is exactly the extra weight I carry every day. Maybe that has something to do with my knees' hurting.

But I won't run myself down, so to speak. I ran a flippin' marathon; have I mentioned that? I'm running every weekend with people half my age. And I'm proud of that.

And I'll curb my addiction and run farther in 2011. I'm looking at a half-marathon in the spring and a full one in the fall. But I'll conclude this now; I seem to be running on.


As so often happens, I thought of something apropos to say just a bit too late. My most recent post, about the physical exam and my lack of Korean-language skills was missing something, but I couldn't figure out what. Here it is:

My Korean ability (or lack thereof) leaves me at the level of a fairly intelligent dog. That is, I catch some words that people say-- I prick up my ears at i man Won and yeogi, ajeosshi the way an Aussie shepherd does to ball and walkies-- but I'm mostly dependent on tone and gestures and instinct. And I get by.

Speaking of dogs, Corndog Millionaire is heading out in a few minutes, through the ice and wind, to a bar in Itaewon, to spend New Year's Eve at a party with my hasher friends. I have no idea how I'm going to get home past midnight, but it's better to celebrate with the pack-- and that is what it's called-- than alone. We dogs are, after all, social animals.

Thursday, December 30, 2010


No, in YOU endo!

A couple of months ago, a bunch of us at SPPA got notices that we were required by law to have physical checkups by the end of the year. It came with a little chart: Lauren- general. Chris- general. Steve- general, stomach, large intestine. Apparently my age makes them want to shove a large tube into my innards and take a look.

I was relieved to find that an endoscope goes in the top endo, not the bottom endo. But still. I am not going to be ordered by some faceless bureaucrat to have an uncomfortable, invasive procedure to check out hypothetical diseases that, if I had them, would affect nobody but me. I have zero family history of cancer (we like to go in for strokes and Alzheimer's) and am not up for a procedure for which proper sedation would involve a handful of Valium, a fifth of Jack, and a large mallet.

So I went to Mr. Park, the boss, and he told me I didn't have to have the endoscope. I have no documentation for that, but I'm happy to take his word for it. I'm offended that the government believes it can demand such a procedure, especially from a waegook (foreigner). In a silent protest, I waited till the third-to-last day of the year to go in for the checkup. (Also, I am a champion procrastinator; none of that amateurcrastinating for me.)

The Pren Dawktaw (their phonetic attempt at "Friend Doctor") clinic is on the fifth floor of an office building by Yangjae Station. It's filled with dozens of patients, mostly in green jammies and all of them Korean, and a handful of staffers, none of whom speaks but a word or two of English. (The first form they gave me to fill out said "DENTAL HISTORY" at the top; I bared my choppers, pointed, and said "Dentaw meanf teef.")

It was stressful with all the waiting and misunderstanding and trying to call the school (nobody there) and my fellow teacher Billy, who speaks excellent Korean (no answer). I wanted somebody to insist to them that they weren't sticking anything in either endo and, after my blood pressure reading was 30 points higher than normal, to explain that it was the stress of the moment.

But, with long intervals between each pair of tests, I struggled through with the chest x-ray, height and weight, another hypertension check, and blood and urine tests, for which I'd been up cramming the night before. (Incidentally, I'd never had a urine test before that involved sticking a little paper stick into the cup and turning in the stick. The good news is that I'm not pregnant.)

Finally I got to talk for a moment with a doctor who had decent English. He told me I should take hypertension medication (I do) and that they'd call me in two weeks to let me know if I'm alive. The subject of the long nasty tube never arose.

The big take-away for me was the frustration of being unable to communicate. It surprised me that every technician and attendant was of an age to have taken several years of English in school but nobody could talk to me. (I don't want to be the ugly American here; I know it's their country and my job to learn their language.) It almost made me want to really study Korean. Almost.

The fact is, it's an enormous amount of work to learn a language so very, very foreign to ours, and it's seldom all that much of an inconvenience to only have a rudimentary knowledge. I can read the letters, I know possibly as many as two hundred words (if you count fust-baseuman, left-fielduh, and the like), ten or twenty phrases such as Gogi baegu (without meat) and Wajongshil audieh isseoyo? (Where's the toilet?) And you know what? That's chuweoyo (OK) with me.

Kamsahamnida. Annyeongikeseyo! (Thanks. Bye!)

Monday, December 27, 2010

Do I know it's Christmas?

or "Hashing through the snow".

A few years ago, if you'd suggested I'd be sitting in an unheated bus station (at 15 degrees Fahrenheit) in a city I'd never heard of before-- in Korea-- at 9 p.m. on Christmas night, I'd have thought you delusional. Nor did I, oddly enough, envision running across a horserace track-- in my boxers-- at an equivalent temperature the next day.

But, in fact, I did both.

Actually, I guess that would have been an odd opening paragraph if I hadn't.

Christmas is hard far from home, with just a cat-- who speaks only Korean-- as company. So I jumped at the chance to join the Yongsan Kimchi (my group) hashers down in the city of Songtan, 45 minutes south of Seoul, on Christmas. I took the bus down and shivered my way to the Osan Bulgogi hashers' home bar, just around the corner from the US's Osan Air Force base.

After a long time of milling and mingling and chilling and jingling, the hash started. It was soooo cold, but the hares laid a great trail, through the city and up and down a trail on the mountain as the lightest of flurries started, and we all got back safely and happily.
Not actually me, but close.

Then the festivities began, amid the twinkling lights and Christmas music. We had the usual postrun circle, though people tried to clean up their comments and song lyrics because one of the hashers had brought his son and daughter. And finally it was time for the pot  luck, with draft beer and turkey and ham (though not for me) and fresh fruit salad (I cut it myself!) and cookies and apple pie and pumpkin pie and pecan pie. It felt like being rushed by the august fraternities, Eata Bita Pi and Tappa Kegga Brew.


Apparently the festivities went on long into the night, starting with beer pong and ending with people sleeping on other people's floors, but at about 8:00 I made the cold walk back to the bus station and waited for the penultimate bus back to Seoul.

The next day was Boxing Day, so the Southside hashers sent directions to wear boxer shorts on their run. So we did, over our tights and sweatpants. We met at the deserted Seoul Racecourse Park, just a few miles from my apartment. The windchill, I think, must have been in the single digits. That's actually plenty warm enough when you're running, but the gathering time and the circle afterward, in the light flurries... well, we took turns sitting in somebody's heated car.

Southside has the reputation of being more hardcore than my home group, Yongsan. And this trail was laid by Mr. Blister and Soju Sonata, who are a) active-duty military and b) insane. Their trail led us through a lot of shiggy (hash talk for hills, brambles, thorns, fences, some with wire of the barbed variety) and across both sides of the actual racetrack, which I had never known consists of thick soft sand... I really would have hated to be arrested in my underwear, by the way.) Then it was up the mountain and over, sliding down parts of the slope on my boxer-clad butt on a carpet of dead leaves...

For the second half of the trail, I kept company, far behind the pack, with LesBalls (a female South African friend) and Cooper.
Cooper. Lab plus beagle equals... Leagle?

Finally we lost the trail... I blame Cooper. Fortunately, I'd learned to always wear my GPS watch to hashes and to mark our starting point, so we went to the road and ran the half-mile back to our compatriots, who were frozen in place like people who'd seen a basilisk.
It was the shortest on-after ever. I decided to take the subway to the COEX Mall and almost forgot that I was wearing my boxers on the outside. So, for the first time ever, I dropped my boxers in public and took off into the nice warm underground.

The thing about Christmas is that you don't want to be alone; a few days ago, the Huffington Post showed what the said was "the saddest Christmas card ever": "Merry Christmas to you and your cat." It was very good to be among friends, however loosely tethered to normality they may be, and to have something fun to do. I topped off Boxing Day by watching the Doctor Who Christmas episode, which was a treat.

And now to do useful stuff during my two-week break. Almost all of my school friends have flown out of here. But I've got places to go, classes to plan, an apartment to clean, and treadmill running to do (I need 13 miles in five days to reach 900 for the year.) And an intraKorean peace to keep.

Happy holidays, everybody.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Fahrenheit 4? 5? 1?

The sun is just now setting over the mountains on Christmas Eve. It's c-c-cold; at the moment, the wind chill is 3 above zero Fahrenheit. It was well below zero this morning.

On the brighter side, though, there's always the threat of war. It's nice to know that Wolf Blitzer, in North Korea this week, called the Koreas "the most dangerous place on earth". I don't understand why the South, which for the last seven years has refused permission for a local church to erect a giant Christmas tree right by the DMZ, let them put it up this year. Why intentionally provoke the crazy guy in the attic? South Korea is two-thirds the size of Florida; they probably could have found another spot for the tree.

It's strange to be here right now. It's Christmas; my friends are in Ithaca or St. Augustine, the family's in California, and almost all of my coworkers taking off for Thailand or Indonesia or home during our two-week break. Nicki and Dex Puckett and their amazing month-old son Loku have asked me over for dinner this evening, so that's really nice. And tomorrow I'm taking the bus down to the city of Songtan for a hash (20 Fahrenheit with 25-mph winds forecast) and a little Christmas cheer at the pot luck afterward. But it's not quite how it used to be at Christmas.

There's only one present I want this year...

Sunday, December 12, 2010

I got a name. And a medal.

Yesterday, Saturday, December 11, 2010, a date that will live in inf... ah, heck. I'll start again.

Yesterday, Saturday, December 11, 2010 was a long, full, good day. Cold, though.

On any normal hashing day, any normal hasher my age... if there are any normal hashers my age... if there are any normal hashers at all... would have stayed home. First, it was bright and clear but colder than Lindsay Lohan's career, with a wind chill in the teens. Secondly, it was advertised as a "Danger Hash"; that usually means climbing and jumping, two things I wasn't any good at 40 years ago and mysteriously haven't gotten any better at as I've gained weight and gotten creaky. But it was my naming day with the Yongsan Kimchi Hash House Harriers and I wasn't going to miss it.

About two dozen insane hashers took off eagerly to follow the hares, only to find, ten seconds later, an eight-foot iron gate we were supposed to go over. One guy, the infamous Mr. Blister, did; the rest of us found our way around. The rest of the course was up and down steep rocky stairs (with a magnificent view from on high of the sundrenched, windswept Han River and all of central Seoul), through prickers and weeds and up muddy slopes, in the first floor and out the fourth floor of buildings, over (and under!) fences, and around the backs of houses.
(The YKH3 on Red Dress Day earlier in the year. Something's Not. Quite. Right with them.)

Somehow I finally made it all the way back. (My fellow hashers' climbing-and-jumping help... um... helped.) I had had to carry a toilet plunger-- symbol of some trifling behavior from last week that the pack found humorously objectionable-- the whole way, too. As everyone had cookies and sandwiches and beer (no cooler necessary) and shifted their weight and jumped up and down to keep warm, our pack leader took turns interviewing two other sixth-timers and me. The questionnaire was all about the great moments and humiliating moments and... ahem... highly personal moments of our lives. Then we were sent around the corner to shiver while she gave the info to the pack and they called out prospective names and voted.

Finally, when we namees had almost run out of shivers, we got called back. The pack was huddled together like raisins and constantly shuffled to left and right to stay in the sun. I have to say that I'm delighted with my name; someone took my tv appearance with Regis and a certain story about a trip I took to Iowa and the name of a recent movie and came up with my now-and-forever hash name:


Oh, that is so clever! But the amazing thing is that nobody here knew that, ever since my stint playing fantasy baseball 20 years ago, Corn Dog has been my nickname. Let's just say that I feel at home with my new name, which will replace that boring old "Steve" at all hashes for however many decades I'm still capable of hashing. (It's ironic that a longtime veghead such as I will be using the name of a meat dish at an event named after a meat dish, but hey...)

I made it home to thaw for an hour or so before heading out again to our school's Performance Night. We had an evening of our students' singing, dancing, playing instruments (Western and Korean), and four minutes devoted to my class' Six-Word Memoir project. (If you haven't seen it, please go back to my previous post and watch it, would you? It's really good, I think. And free.)

When the performances were over, I headed out on the subway again; the Seoul Flyers were holding their annual banquet at a pub in Itaewon. It was just bad luck that the one night they do that was the same date as the school's biennial show. I made it to the Dickens Lounge long after dinner was over, just in time for the last award of the night. But I did get to talk to friends and finally pick up my medal for running the Chuncheon Marathon seven weeks ago. (I ran a marathon... did I happen to mention that on my blog at some point?) The medal bears the name of the guy whose entry I assumed and my gastropod-like finishing time, but I've hung the medal with that side facing the wall.

In my long and picaresque running career, Saturday's prizes are the two awards I'm most proud of. And in the Flyers and the Hashers I've gained two running families-- one sane, one in-. It's nice, so far from home, to belong.

Happy Holidays to all,
Corndog Millionaire

Thursday, December 9, 2010

The joy of six

It's late and I'm tired; I just got in from a night of four very nice things in Itaewon: veggie burgers, onion rings, carrot cake, and my friend Shawn. Wet snow is dropping determinedly down and I want to go to bed.

But I had to take a moment to post this: In a Six-Word Memoir, you have exactly that many words to sum up your life. (Please hook up your speakers or headphones and press "play"!)

This is the Six-Word Memoir project by my creative writing class. I just provided minor grammatical and typographical fixes. I'm very happy with it and proud of them.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

What a longish, strangish trip it's been

I've had a certain sense of unreality lately.

The most important factor, of course, has been the threat of war. (Unh! What is it good for?) The saber-rattling from both sides is enough to make even a cool character such as I (::koff::), in the words of Jeff Bridges as Starman, "little bit jumpy". If the US Embassy ever tells us to bug out, I'm going to pack up the still from the Swamp, velcro Tug to my coat and call him a fur collar, hop on the chopper, and look for "GOODBYE" spelled out on the ground with stones. But as I've said before, I really don't think there's much chance of a conflagration. Still...

The feeling of surreality deepened on Sunday: I'd been on three hash runs with the Yongsan Kimchi group; this time I went to a joint hash.
Huh huh huh... he said "joint" and "hash".

Anyway, the Southside Harriers were having their hash along with Yongsan, and I decided to join in, if only to decide which group I was more suited to.

Well, it was c-c-cold; the hashers run all year 'round. The run started inside the fish market, a warehouse a hundred yards long and twenty yards wide, filled with vendors selling every single thing on earth, as long as it a) came from the ocean and b) was dead. I saw (and smelled!) fish, squid, octopus, clams, crabs, and, I think, Aquaman.

After amusing the Koreans by running through the market, we ran and ran and ran with very few checkpoints where I might catch up with the pack. It was then that I realized that I didn't have my keys, wallet, transit card, or phone with me, so if I lost the trail I'd have to walk eight miles home in the frigid air and sit in my hallway because I couldn't get into my apartment.

...aaaand then we had to scale a six-foot fence by the river, which I can't. But did. ...aaaand then we had to climb the rusty iron rungs set into a frickin' frackin'forty-foot cement wall. I kept thinking, what happens if one of the people above me sneezes and lets go? And how very odd it would be if missiles started hitting as I was two-thirds of the way up. I may have muttered a rude word or two; I know that seems farfetched, but...

...aaaand then we had to climb another six-foot fence and run the bridge across the river. The trail led us, at one point, through a fringed cloth hanging and down Hooker Alley, which is lined with little glass rooms like display cases where, apparently, ladies of negoitable affection often sit and wait for nice young men to talk to. I half-expected little cards saying "4.49 per pound" in each area On this Sunday morning, one middle-aged lady of dubious charms was in one of the spots, but the rest were vacant. (Did I mention my sense of unreality lately?) I'm trying to be light and amusing here, but the whole thing made me feel very sad and a little dirty. (And me without my wallet...)

And the trail went on and on and on for miles, past the US Army base to the VFW. I didn't stay for the Thanksgiving buffet (I'd had a feast on Saturday with the Seoul Flyers). I did make up my mind that I'm going to run with the Yongsan hashers, not the Southsiders; Mr. Blister and UFO and Bootylicious and the Yongsan people are crazy, but they're not frickin' nuts.

(Two more runs and I get my hash name! I hope Kim Jong Il doesn't do anything till after that!)

To add to the oddity, winter has fallen like a lead Steinway and I rejoined the gym and went in to run today at 6:30 in the a. of m... meanwhile keeping one eye and one ear toward our Northern neighbors and waiting for my "normal" life to resume.