Friday, March 25, 2011

"Thank you, fermented cabbage!"

...or, as the famous Korean pop singer Gogi Loaf sang, "I out of sam ain't bad."

We're just now halfway through our two-week spring break. (Actually, if you count the weekends, we'll be precisely halfway through at midnight tomorrow-- Saturday-- night. But I don't know if you count the weekends.)
Yeah, I'm as surprised as you are; I've never been a fifteenth-century king before.

I came into break determined to go places and do things. On Monday, Vanessa, our Chinese teacher from China, and I went to see The King's Speech, which is as good as they say. Then we went to Dos Tacos for dinner and Oktoberfest for beer. (A couple of years ago, if you'd told me I'd be in Korea, going to a British movie, a Mexican restaurant, and a German beer hall with a Chinese woman, I'd'a told you that you should book the padded room next to Glen Beck's.) The Korean waitresses in their Bavarian dirndls were very cute, by the way, and the beer-- brewed on the premises-- was wunderbar.

Vanessa and I had barely talked in the year and a half we've been colleagues; she's shy around people she doesn't know well, and I am too, so of course we hadn't gotten to know each other. But on Monday we never ran out of things to talk and laugh about and had a wonderful time. It's nice to have a new friend.

Other than that, though, until today I hadn't done a dang thing but run, do schoolwork and housework, read, and nap. Untanned, rested, and ready, that's me. Until I ran into Chris and Vanessa this evening in Faina's apartment, where we'd all stopped in to tend her cat, I hadn't spoken to anyone in four days.

I've been reading a book called Predictably Irrational, about the ways in which we all defeat our own best interests by our illogical behavior. (Stick with me; this is relevant.) This morning I reached the chapter about how we get frozen by having too many choices. I realized that is exactly what happened to me this week; each day I couldn't decide whether to go to a movie or a bookstore or a palace or on a hike and ended up talking myself out of all of them.

"Aha!" says I. "Today, by Jove, I shan't be deterred by such irresolution!"

So I set off with three goals in mind: to relax at the jjimjilbang (whirlpool/sauna complex) at the Central City mall; investigate getting a smartphone at the Seoul Global Center office near City Hall; check into free Korean classes at the Korean Foundation Cultural Center, also near City Hall. (My nifty new Seoul guidebook told me about options one and three.)

Central City, like the COEX Mall, seems to have been laid out by moles with architectural degrees. It just winds all over the place, with no maps, no information booths, and inadequate signage. I never did find the jjimjilbang.

But I hit the jackpot at the City Hall stop. I really hadn't expected to sign up for a smartphone; I've been doing okay with my five-buck-a-month prepay on my old phone. But a brand-new Android phone came free and it only costs 30 bucks a month for more talk, texts, and 'net than I can possibly use. I wish I had it to play with tonight, but I'll have to wait till Tuesday. At the end of the signup, I meant to tell the sales rep, "Kamsahamnida, Kim ssi!" ("Thank you, Miss Kim!") Sadly, what I actually said was, "Kamsahamnida, Kim chi!" ("Thank you, fermented cabbage!")

Now about those Korean lessons...

(An aside: the chaebol-- family-run corporations-- here are into everything. LG, for example, has spun off electronics, telecom, chemical, toiletries, and fashion divisions. My new contract is with LG Telecom, but the phone is made by Samsung-- quite an ad for LG phones, I guess.)

It's been a windy and chilly, but sunny, day; spirits high, I set off toward the statues of the great national heroes Admiral Yi, who repelled the Japanese invaders with his turtle boats...
and King Sejong, who ordered the creation of hangeul, the brilliantly designed Korean alphabet...
...and  was delighted to find a booth that was, for free, lending out King Sejong robes for photo ops. So cool!

I was in a wonderful mood and wandered about taking more photos. Oh, here's one now...
...and another...
 
...and used the last of the gift card I got from the PTA on Lunar New Year on a delicious beuloobaeri mawpin and keopi (blueberry muffin and coffee) at the first Starbucks with three floors and an elevator I'd ever been in, and browsed and browsed at the huge Kyobo Bookstore. I would have gone to the Yousuf Karsh photo portrait exhibit...
 (He took some purty good pitchers.)

...at the Sejong Museum, but it opens tomorrow. Ah, well, I'll go back.

Then I took the ten-minute walk to the Cultural Center, which has an art museum and performance space as well as free Korean classes. I'd long ago decided it wasn't all that vital for me to know Korean beyond the alphabet and a few stock phrases, but in the spirit of "what the heck, it's free" I registered for 12 weeks of classes. Heck, if I don't get anything out of it, what the heck, it's free. Did I mention that?

I was feeling good, part of the huge city with its deluxe hotels and giant tv screens around the square, and for a split-second, as I headed west to the Cultural Center, I honestly thought that if I just kept walking I'd reach the Hudson River piers. It was the strangest sensation... maybe it's because of the Chevrolet billboards that have been popping up since GM Daewoo decided that all their Daewoos are now Chevys.

So, one week down. Tomorrow will  bring my friend Katy's birthday hash. (If you haven't been paying attention for the last four months, that's running and drinking, not a replacement for birthday cake. We're all running in pearls.) Toward the end of next week, my friend and colleague Bob and I are headed for the DMZ. If we wander over the line, I suppose Bill Clinton won't come to get us; we're are not young, pretty, or female. I'm holding out hope for Scarlett Johansson.
Meanwhile, it's been a big day. As a wise expat said long ago, i out of sam ain't bad.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Be it ever so (grumble)

video 
My balcony view. The park's noisy in the video because there's a kindergarten class over there; 13 seconds in, you can just make out the Pac-Man Music From Hell. At the end you can see the new apartment buildings. (The music's a lot louder and the buildings a lot more obtrusive in person.)

This little apartment has been my home for a year and a half. I got placed here totally at random; the school assigned apartments to the new teachers, and for whatever reason, this is the one they gave me. I have ten other faculty members (out of fifteen or so colleagues in total) literally within a one-minute walk of me, but no colleagues in my building.

I've been over and over the pros and cons of my apartment, since the day I moved in. It's too small, but I have an alcove for the washer and catbox, and a little balcony. The rooms are tiny, but most of my friends have just one bigger room. Kids play basketball late at night, but it's nice to not feel separated from the community. In nice weather, if I keep my window open everyone in the park can see me clear as day, but Tug has something to look at besides the wall and the inside of his eyelids.

Last summer, I had dibs on the apartment vacated by my colleague Zach, who was moving back to the States. That apartment is easily five times the size of mine and has access to a rooftop terrace; it's also 100 feet from the school. But Nikki, our art teacher, was pregnant and she and Dex and the baby clearly needed the space a lot more than I did, and I wasn't sure I wanted to move anyway.

All through the nice weather, I'm assaulted, hour after hour, by the same four lines of inane Pac-Man music (sometimes at 3 a.m.)  from the park's stationary bikes. Also, I've accumulated just enough stuff that I don't really have space for silly, extraneous belongings such as a broom or a fan.

One thing I've always loved about this apartment is that I'm the only teacher who has a view out of the city and to the mountains to the north and west. I face toward Gwacheon City, four miles to the west along the Yangjae Cheon, and I've taken a lot of comfort from gazing out my window from the seat I'm sitting in right now at the peaceful mountains. I like to watch the sun go down and see the planes moving in their stately way toward Incheon International. It's been wonderful to be in the city but feel almost pastoral.

But before long my mountain view (the only view I have, from the only seat in the apartment) will be completely gone; they're erecting countless high-rise apartments on the other side of the stream. The buildings in progress sit there like the gray stumps of teeth, and the fence they've put up between the building site and the cheon goes on for a solid mile, meaning that there will be dozens of these buildings before they're through, housing thousands of families. Even my long runs to Gwacheon, which I love for the stream and the herons and ducks, will be in the shade of the buildings.

I hate moving, really hate it, and, assuming I keep teaching at Saint Paul, Mr. Park (our boss) only has a finite number of apartments available; all of them have drawbacks of their own. This still feels like home, mostly.

I don't know what I want to do.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Solitude and solace

So, here I am, at the cusp of a two-week vacation, and nearly everyone from school is off somewhere exotic doing something exciting... Lauren to Denmark (where she will be moving in three months), Nick and Susan to Taiwan, Faina to India, Chris back home, Bob (for this week) traveling in Korea.

Sometimes I think of my very favorite obscure Simon and Garfunkel song: 

I get the news I need on the weather report.
I can gather all the news I need on the weather report.
Hey, I've got nothing to do today but smile...
Do't'n-doe-do't'n-doe-do't'n-doe-doe-doe-doe and
Here I am... the only living boy in New York.

So I'm planning on seeing some new things and spending time with people I haven't before. I'm just getting to know Vanessa, our Chinese Chinese teacher, and we'll be going out to dinner soon. I found a wonderful Seoul guidebook on Saturday and I bookmarked a web page with five good day-trips out of Seoul. And Bob and I are tentatively planning a trip to the DMZ next week. And I'll be hashing more, what with the free time and all.

Meanwhile, there's always the matter of my being alone in general. I've pretty well proven that I'm not the best person to live with, but more than anything else I wish I had someone special in my life. I miss an affectionate touch. I miss having someone to wake up to-- Tug doesn't count-- and eat with and talk to.

I've read dozens of detective novels by Robert B. Parker, all of whose protagonists-- Spenser, Jesse Stone, Sunny Randall-- have someone they don't feel they can live without but can't live with fulltime. Parker himself had a two-story house; he lived on one floor and his wife on another for decades. That's what I need: one person with whom I can be together when we want to be and apart when we need to be. I need space and I need company. Now I'm reminded of my favorite obscure song by Pink:

Go away, come back, go away, come back,
Why can't I just have it both ways?
...Leave me alone, I'm lonely.

Don't get me wrong-- oops! That's a Pretenders song-- I have a pretty good life here. I think I'm wiser and more content than I used to be. But I miss having somebody. And Pepperidge Farm Geneva cookies.

I can't believe it's not Buddha

At lunchtime on Friday, I made the five-minute walk from our school to the AT Center, which is an eight-story building that hosts exhibitions (such as the funky art show I posted about a couple of weeks ago). The occasion this time was the clearance sale they hold there a few times a year, with a gigantic room chock-full of vendors of every kind of clothing and sports gear.

When I got there, the huge exhibition space was hosting a "Buddhist Festival", not the clearance sale. I was terribly confused; I don't understand Korean, but the posters around the neighborhood had said "AT Center" and "3/18" and had pictures of parkas and shoes and such, and I was pretty sure I understood that.

It turns out that the clearance was in an equally huge space on the second floor-- I spent a half-hour there and bought some gloves(!)-- but meanwhile, I had to see what the Buddhist Festival was.

Turns out, my friends, that our enlightened Eastern brethren (and sistern) can search for a buck just as tackily as we can in the endarkened West. There were some lovely items, such as simple, elegant clothing, crystal lotus flowers, and stylish candles; there were also plastic Buddha key chains and letter openers...
,,,and a big ol' baby-Buddha-riding-an-elephant... uh... thing...

...and a blaring teenaged rock band that I suppose was singing about Nirvana but sounded more like Kurt Cobain with his toe caught in a blender.

It was kinda disillusioning. Next thing you know, somebody will tell me that some televangelists are in it for the money.

Serendipity and solitude

Our school just started its two-week spring break, and the challenge for me will be to find things to do to fill the time. I mean besides grading, planning, writing, cleaning, and other such exciting gerunds.

I usually only hash one day a week, Saturday mornings with my home kennel, Yongsan Kimchi. But with no appointments for the next 17 days, on Friday night I ventured up to Itaewon for the once-monthly Full Moon Hash. This was my sixth separate hashing group: Yongsan Kimchi, Southside, Osan Bulgogi (down in the city of Songtan, next to the US Air Force base), PMS (on their semiannual coed hash), 38th Parallel, and Full Moon.

Frankly, I should have stayed home, for a couple of reasons. The actual hash was fun, running around the hills and back streets of Itaewon in the dark with a flashlight. Afterward, though, there was no traditional hashing circle-- ceremonies and jokes and risque songs-- just a small number of hashers taking up one corner of a noisy, smoky bar. I left early. And by Sunday, the running on Friday and Saturday would... well, you'll see.

The thing that will amaze those of you who know me too well is that I (wait for it-- you may want to sit down-- ah, you're probably already doing that; you may want to hold on to something) I declined to buy a commemorative t-shirt. Yeah, I said it. I love love love t-shirts and I love, especially after being in Korea for 2 1/2 years without really belonging to anything much, belonging to something. (I also am avid to collect hash patches-- sort of like demerit badges-- for my happi coat.) So of course I had to buy the Full Moon Hash shirt, with its terrific graphic of a rabbit howling at the moon.

...except that the O's in the "Full Moon" lettering were actually a stylized butt (full moon, get it?) and the rest of the lettering was in that faux-Chinese style, which I find vaguely offensive, you see on cheap "Chinee Takee-Outee" restaurant menus. (If it had been faux-Korean I might have reconsidered, but, really, where could I feel comfortable wearing the shirt?) But I moped a little because I missed out on a hash shirt because it didn't suit me to a t.

The next morning, I loaded up the goodies I'd bought from Costco and E-Mart, in my new capacity as "hash chef", and headed via bus and subway and subway to the Noksapyeong area. (It's a little slower going when you're toting bagels, cream cheese, peanut butter, jelly, pretzels, tortilla chips, and cookies.)

This Yongsan Kimchi run was a celebration of both St. Pat's Day  and DODIC'S 55th birthday. DODIC is a military guy who's been a hardcore hasher for 30 years, by my estimation between 1500 and 2000 times. He and two other hares led us up and over Namsan Mountain (where, sliding down a long flat rock covered with pebbles, I earned my Red Badge of Carelessness by cutting my thumb, just enough to bleed a bit.) We ended up across the street from Gyeongbokgung, Korea's grandest palace, for an epic circle.
TKO (I don't think I should say what those letters stand for) and GI Ho, a Real American Zero.

...where I got my reward for my fiscal and sartorial restraint of the night before: three patches: 20th Run (all with Yongsan Kimchi, all within 19 weeks; St. Patrick's Day Hash; and the coveted Blood on Trail. Aaaaand a t-shirt: on the front, a SPEED LIMIT 55 sign, with bullet holes in it, altered to read "NO SPEED LIMIT 55 (AND STILL ALIVE)"; on the back, the logos of all of Korea's hashing groups.
The defining quality of Seoul, to me, is its mix of ancient and very modern.

On my way to the subway station and Insadong, Seoul's artsy pedestrian mall, I came upon a little Buddhist gift shop and wandered in. In my first serendipitous event of the weekend, I found a rack of wooden-bead prayer bracelets identical to mine. Last week, I was talking to our new hasher Sin after the run and she greatly admired my bracelet and said she'd love to have one if she could get one etched with her Chinese sign, the Rat. (We disagreed on which of us had us worse in the Zodiacal field, her as a Crab in the Western system and a Rat, or me as a Snake and a Scorpion.)

The ladies in the shop spoke no English and I certainly didn't know the Korean for "Rat", so I was about to give up when it occurred to me to employ my mad Pictionary/Eat Poop You Cat skillz and draw this magnificent picture in my notebook:

...and thus got Sin her bracelet. I also found an English bookstore next door and bought a wonderful guidebook to Seoul's attractions, which I'm going to employ on this vacation.

Insadong had a great number of people, both Korean and waegookin, wearing green in honor of St. Patrick.
 Ah... not so much green in this picture. Faith and begorrah. The banner is for St. Pat, at least.

I bumped into GI Ho, Kiwi Weewee, Willing to Pay, and Bootylicious from the hash, and then came my second serendipity: I was wearing my "Ithaca is Gorges" hoodie and a young woman stopped, asked "Are you from Ithaca?" and exclaimed, "I'm from Rochester!" Small world-- Rochester is 90 miles from Ithaca-- but it would get smaller and more serendipitous the next day.

On Sunday afternoon, I went for my "long" training run, supposedly for 90 minutes; my half-marathon is just three weeks away. But I did fine for a measly 20 minutes, down the Yangjae Cheon toward Gwacheon City, and just... ran... out... of... oomph. I told you that hashing on Friday night (leading into hashing on Saturday) was a mistake! I just didn't have anything left on Sunday. I'm worried about the half coming up.

Anyway, I turned around and walked oomphlessly back home along the stream. As I got to the ramp to my street, a Korean guy was walking down it and smiling in a quizzical way at me. I knew I must know him from someplace... a waiter at the Vietnamese cafe? The guy from the sandwich shop?... so I smiled back and said hello.

The guy said, "You are Stephen?" I had to admit that I was, and flailed about mentally to figure out who he was. It was Pil-kon (English name, Ara), a very genial guy who always came to our Daegu Writers' Group meetings! I hadn't seen him in nearly two years, and that in a city nearly at the other end of Korea. It turns out that he was visiting his sister, who lives in my neighborhood, for the week.

Now... what are the odds that in a metropolitan area of 23 million people, Ara-- my only Korean acquaintance from Daegu with whom I didn't work-- would be coming down the ramp at the same moment I reached it? And at that, I was only there then because my run had failed so spectacularly. I wonder how many times we miss by this much running into somebody from our past... or our future.
---
I'd meant for this post to include my thoughts about our spring break and about being alone, but it's gone on for so long even I don't want to read any more. So I'll leave the heading, because I like it, but split the "solitude" part off to stand... um... alone.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

I don't know why you say goodbye

...I say hello.

I wish.

I write about it every so often: one of the worst things about being a teacher in Korea is all the goodbyes. I've hated goodbyes-- the "I don't know if I'll ever see you again" goodbyes-- my whole life. Even though our school faculty is pretty stable... actually, they're not stable at all, but I mean the individuals don't turn over much from year to year... it's part of the deal. And my outside-school friends, hashers and veggie group people, go far too often; it seems like goodbye forever to someone every couple of months. It's only a few months, for example, till a hasher I took to immediately, Katy (see photo on my previous entry), leaves us for good. (That's an odd phrase; there's nothing good about it.)

And now Lauren, probably my best teaching friend, is by her own admission beginning to detach emotionally as she prepares to move to Denmark in three months. I simply won't know what to do with my Sunday mornings anymore and I miss her already.

A goodbye of this sort feels almost like a little death; the person seems to shrink from a living, breathing, literally life-size friend to a collection of pixels. Even if someone is just leaving Korea to go home or to travel, I think of the family members and pets I've lost-- we've all lost-- and feel just a tiny hint of the same sadness. I suppose it's a foreshadowing of when each of us will have to say goodbye to everything we know.

The other half of this equation, which I think I always write about in the same post as the "I hate goodbyes" stuff, is that Buddhist philosophy has really helped me. I find a lot of Buddhist thought to be so valuable because it doesn't try to deny the nature of life; I mean it doesn't say that death isn't real or that we can avoid suffering, but just tells us how to look at it in a way that minimizes suffering and increases compassion.

I've found the art, the music, the ritual, and the dogma to be very off-putting. But after the hash yesterday I walked to Itaewon and enjoyed a feast of book-buying (that's my retail therapy) and among the books I got was one called Buddhism Without Beliefs that crystallizes the philosophy, shorn of its otherworldly trappings, in plain English.

I feel a little wiser when I detach and achieve a quiet mind. But I still wish people didn't have to leave.

As Holden Caulfield said, "Don't tell anybody anything. If you do, you start missing everybody."

Little darling...

...it's been a long, cold, lonely winter. In fact, it feels like years since it's been clear.

I know spring's not really here, but we've had a gorgeous weekend, sunny and warm. It got up to the mid-60s Fahrenheit today. (And I say it's all right.)

Had a ball at the hash yesterday, though it was a tough one, winding up Namsan, the main mountain within Seoul, where Seoul Tower is. Then coming down we had to scramble down a cement drainage culvert, with three-to-four-foot drops every fifty feet or so. I was lucky to be near the back of the pack with a first timer, a brand-new friend from South Africa named Sin Gwamanda. She's very nice and very cute... clearly whoever coined the phrase "ugly as Sin" never met her.
On the left, Sin; on the right, our vivacious leader, Katy.

Meeting her led me to reflect that one of the best things about hashing is meeting people from all over the world; our hash has members from the US, Canada, Scotland, Ireland, South Africa, Uganda, Australia, New Zealand, Jamaica, and-- oh, yes-- a Korean or two. All that's needed is an extremely relaxed attitude toward propriety, a thirst for beer, and running shoes.

Today was even more gorgeous, and a good day all the way around. I had coffee with Lauren in the morning, a very satisfying nap, an eight-mile run down the Yangjae Cheon (stream) to Gwacheon City and back-- incidentally, believe it or not, if you go to Google Images and search for "Yangjae Cheon", the very first picture (and thus the world's most prominent photo of the Yangjae Cheon) was taken by... me!
 
 This is it. Ansel Adams, eat your heart out.

--and then it was coffee and gossip with Faina and Vanessa, our Chinese Chinese teacher, in the evening. I've known Vanessa for a year and a half and just now feel as if I'm getting to know her a little bit. She's really nice; I wish I'd known her better sooner. Oh, and we found that Michelle, our school's wonderful receptionist, had her baby today. (Yay!)

According to the forecast, we have more cold gray yuck coming our way starting tomorrow, but it really was wonderful to have a "here comes the sun" weekend. And, if you were worried... we didn't get a hint of the awful devastation that hit Japan; we're a thousand miles away from the site and Japan itself shielded us from the waves. Korea is, thank goodness, not in the Ring of Fire.

However minuscule this wish is compared to the horrible toll in Japan, I wish it were spring for keeps. I want spring more than I want pizza.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

The greatest thing since pancakes

...is my new used bike (which cost $40).
Nice, huh? But wait! It does this...
...which makes it take up roughly as much apartment space as Tug.

It's the greatest thing since blueberry pancakes.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Chin up, nose to the grindstone, head in the clouds

In the West, we all think that Asian students work immeasurably harder than our kids do. After two and a half years in the Mysterious East, I can say that that's definitely a case of selective perception; we see the ones who've gotten into American universities, who are the best of the best. Very much as in American schools, some kids here work hard and some don't give a rat's clavicle.

Incidentally, so far this year our kids have been admitted to Illinois, Tulane, Michigan State, SUNY Stony Brook, UNLV, Cal Irvine, three Japanese universities, and Yonsei, which is one of the three schools in Korea's "Ivy League". So I guess we're doing okay.

Once, not too long ago, I would have said that it's the Asian parents who care more. That would certainly seem to be borne out here in Korea by the huge number of families who send their kids to hagwons in the evenings for additional study; some kids go to school from 8 a.m. to midnight. Certainly the parents who spend big bucks to have their kids attend our school, and the much pricier international schools, care enough to pay for their daughters and sons to get a valuable introduction to Western education.

But they don't always put their mouths where their money is.

Eww... that wouldn't be good, actually; you never know where your money's been.

Anyway...

We have a ninth-grade student, let's call him Cole, who's a very pleasant guy, popular with the ladies, but just doesn't give a damn about school. If we let him, he'd sleep through every class. He will admit to going to bed around midnight, so it's probably 2 a.m. or so. I suspect video games and handepones-- cell phones-- as the culprits. He has a "C" in my class-- probably because I'm a brilliant teacher, although conceivably not-- and is okay in art and phys ed. He's failing everything else, generally with averages in the 30s.

Last week we had an SST-- Student Success Team-- meeting to talk with his mom and him about how to improve his performance. It was a an hour-long, awkward meeting, with Cathleen Won, our teacher who is Korean, translating back and forth throughout.

About ten minutes in, Cole's mom started crying quietly and kept it up for the next 45 minutes or so. It was positively the most embarrassing meeting I've ever been in, if you don't count my first marriage. She said she knew he was doing badly, but she had no idea just how badly. This is despite the fact that all the parents know that the kids' grades are posted 24/7 on our Gradebook Wizard site.

It was painful for me, and I'm sure for her and all the adults, to sit through her crying. What I'm wondering is whether it was equally painful for Cole. I don't know how he could sit through a long session of watching his mother cry in front of his teachers, knowing that he's the one who caused it, and not feel humiliated and determined to do better.

In his first class with me afterward, he positively did not put his head down on his desk.

He only practically snapped his neck as he sat up with his face pointing straight at the floor.

For about five seconds, till I got to his desk.
---
I'm so happy! I know I have a weakness in my writing style: I use parentheses far too often. But in this entry I didn't use them even once! (Isn't that great?)

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Much too young... er, old

Nearly 20 years ago, Garth Brooks recorded a song called I'm Much Too Young (to Feel This Damn Old). I remember many times between then and now, especially trying to get out of bed in the morning, when the song seemed all too appropriate. But in the weekend just ending...

I'm much too old to feel this damn young.

I really got out and played this weekend. On Saturday, in my new capacity as Hash Chef (actually, this just involves getting munchies for the pack), I horsed an enormous amount of pretzels, tortilla chips, cookies, more cookies, bread, and peanut butter across the river to the beautiful big park next to the National Museum of Korea. Then we had a really nice hash run down along the river and a great circle afterward.

When I got home I had email from my friend Nikki, our school's art teacher, that she and her husband Dex would be in Citizen's Forest Park in our neighborhood if I'd like to play Frisbee. So I rode my brand new used bike (which replaced my late lamented purloined bike) over there to see them and their three-month-old son Loku. I played Frisbee golf with them (well, the two older ones) and even a little hacky sack. I'd never actually played Frisbee golf before and hadn't touch a hacky sack in 30 years. I'm no Nikki with the footbag (she played soccer in college, not very many years ago) but I managed not to humiliate myself.

My South African friend LesBalls (okay... Lesley; the other's her hash name) had cricket gear sent to her and she's trying to start up a cricket club. Her first event was today, Sunday, in the big long park on our side of the river. I took the subway up there and found her along with her friend Jane, who'd just flown in from Johannesburg.

Now, I'd never played cricket before, but felt eminently qualified because I saw a game in England... um, 35 years ago. We took turns batting and bowling (pitching) and fielding, and, frankly, I did okay. I actually made a nice one-handed, knee-high catch and knocked some runs (or however you say it).

 Me. (Artist's rendering)

The park was crowded with people playing catch, flying kites, walking dogs, and so on, and most of them (though not the dogs) seemed interested in what we were doing. At one point, a couple of Korean men came over and one said something in Korean in which we could catch the word "cricket". Yes, we said, it's cricket, and one guy threw his hands up and roared in laughter. He told us in halting English that he'd bet his friend what we were doing was cricket and he'd won 100 Won. (That's eight cents American; often Koreans and Westerners get their monetary amounts mixed up-- maybe he meant 1000 or 10000 or 100000 Won.)

And then, as Sunday is long run day in my training for the half-marathon in five weeks, I ran home. Actually, the park was only five miles or so from home, so I had to put in some extra time on the Yangjae Cheon.

So... I ran and partied with the hash, played Frisbee golf and hacky sack, played cricket, and ran; that's a lot of recreation for a :: koff :: mature gentleman such as myself, but I felt young. Aside, of course, from my knees (from pounding on the sidewalk) and my back (from bending over so much playing cricket... I'm not 55 anymore, you know.) But it feels really good.

Till tomorrow morning, when it will take 16 ibuprofen, a winch, and a wizard to get me out of bed. Then I'll be just a tiny bit too young to feel so damn old.

But it was worth it.