Monday, December 19, 2011

Update Through December - Performances and a Novel

So hi! It's been a while since I blogged and there is good reason for it. I've been really busy since the beginning of November with various projects, performances, etc.

First, I want to take a moment to reflect on the passing of Kim Jong Il, the late dictator of my neighbors to my north, North Korea. I received a text from my friend Zach right before lunch that Kim had died. These kinds of rumors aren't exactly rare form so I hopped on the internet and sure enough, reports of his death were just minutes old, hot off the servers. It seemed as though the country as a whole felt a moment of elation, followed by dire concern. South Koreans, by and large, do not fear North Korea as much as they fear North Korean unpredictability. It is not known who will resume power and when nor is it known if North Korean, in a gesture of catharsis and loss, would sweep the peninsula once again. The country, at least on paper, is still technically at war. That said, I feel quite optimistic. North Korean media reported that Kim died reroute on an inspection trip from natural causes. North Korea has rarely missed an opportunity to justify loss or slight by blaming their favorite scapegoat, South Korea. The fact that the North didn't take this opportunity to blame Kim's death on an assassination attempt conspired by the South gives me hope. Hope in that they are not looking for a reason to instigate aggression. The North would never openly attack the South. Anything I can say about the situation, other than what I have already said, would entirely be speculation. The country has maintained its security system at DEFCON 4 and all public offices are being manned 24 hours. I'm optimistic that there will be a peaceful transition of power as far as the two Koreas are involved.

Other than yesterday's big news, I have been quite busy with personal projects this last month or so. I have continued to play with Jonno and Ryan though we now call ourselves The Band from Out of Town. Here are a couple of songs we performed here in Yecheon at Yoger Presso, a local espresso bar.



Toward the end of the month, I was also asked to perform solo for the anniversary festival of my school. I played "Sydney (I'll Come Running)" by Brett Dennon and "Hotel Yorba" by The White Stripes.


Most notably, I have written a novel! For the first time, I participated in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). The goal of the project is to write 50,000 words in thirty days. My novel is called Maximum R&B and it clocks in at about 120 pages in Word. I have gone through on a five-hour editing spree and the novel should be readable but it still requires some tooling. It's about a Max Arenbee, a CD store clerk living in Minneapolis dealing with finding happiness in place and time. I have the current revision in Kindle, Nook and PDF formats if anyone is interested in reading it. I'm not interested in publishing it, just something I've always wanted to accomplish. 

My winter vacation is coming up and I just bought my tickets and visa for China to visit my brother, Colin. I cannot put into words how excited I am to see him. I sat in my apartment the other night, passport and tickets in-hand, unable to believe I was actually going. He and I plan on spending Chinese New Year in Hong Kong, going to Macau for some Portuguese food and then going to mainland China. We will stay a while in his city of Zhuhai, then going to see the terra-cotta warriors in Xi'an. There we will part ways and I will spend the remainder of my trip in Beijing, seeing the Great Wall and Forbidden City. Since I was a kid, looking at my Grandpa's collection of National Geographic magazines and gazing for what seemed like hours at the spread on the terra-cotta warriors, I have wanted to see them with my own eyes. I can't believe my fortune in not only going to China and seeing them, as well as my brother, but how full my passport actually is. The China visa is a full page in my passport and took up the second to last remaining page in it.


Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Rooting the South Korea Motorola Atrix

Gaining root (administrative) access to Android phones abroad can be difficult. Often a crack or break made for a device in one country is incompatible with the same model in others due to differences in firmware. For this reason, I have been apprehensive about rooting my South Korean Motorola Atrix. Today, I finally found a method which does not brick the phone and works splendidly on the South Korea model of Moto Atrix.

I have compiled all of the prerequisite software into one downloadable bundle here, tools for the job.

The following instructions worked wonders for me. The following instructions are taken from

How To: Motorola Atrix 4G Root

Root method found and executed by Brandon15811, the2dcour, and of course eval-! Make sure to thank them over at the forums.

Prerequisites [see above link, tools for the job"]


  1. Extract the ADB-Fastboot package and root image to your C: Drive under a new folder titled “root”
  2. Put your device into Fastboot mode: – Turn off your device. – Hold down the power button and downward volume button until you see “Fastboot” on your screen – Push the upward volume button
  3. Open your command prompt (Start >> run “cmd” >> enter)
  4. Type the following commands
    • cd C:/root
    • fastboot flash preinstall root.img
    • fastboot reboot
  5. Enable USB debugging (Settings >> Applications >> Debugging)
  6. Type the following commands
    • adb shell
    • /preinstall/dosu [dosu is actually not correct. instead, use "/preinstall/su" but without the quotes]
  7. Type the following commands
    • /bin/mount /system -o remount,rw
    • cp /preinstall/su /system/bin/su
    • chmod 6755 /system/bin/su
    • PATH=/system/bin:$PATH pm install /preinstall/Superuser.apk
  8. Congratulations! You are rooted!

So why would I risk bricking my phone in order to root it? First of all, Motorola pre-installed Swype and I wanted the newest beta version, a huge improvement. Secondly, I wanted to install Market Enabler in order to shop the U.S. Android Market with access to apps such as Google Music beta, Wells Fargo, Google+, Netflix and other U.S.-only content. Here are instructions to uninstall the pre-installed Skype from a Motorola Atrix in order to install the latest beta version.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Getting the Band Back Together

Link to Songs

As some of you may know, I have joined a band here, consisting of two other foreigners and two rotating members who play with us when they are able. The core of the group revolves around three guitarists, my friends Ryan, Jonno and myself. We have been playing about once a week and have come up with a solid set list of about 10 songs. We had rehearsal last night with Alex, a pro-grade sax player who was a pleasure to play with for the first time. We recorded a few tracks together. Please excuse the quality as we were recording three guitars and a sax on the tiny built-in mic of a MacBook.

Baby Please Don't Go - Ban Ki Moon and The United Nations by sstanhill

We have played two gigs together, both fundraisers for local orphanages in Andong and Jeomchon, respectively. Last Saturday night, after the fundraiser, we went to our favorite local watering hole in Jeomchon called Advice Bar. We played there for friends and customers for a good hour to an hour and a half and we scored a free pitcher of beer out of it. We have another open mic at which we will play this coming Friday and hopefully a gig will come out of a meeting I'm having with a local coffee shop owner later this week here in Yecheon.

Please visit my music page to listen to some of the songs we recorded last night. We are tentatively calling ourselves Ban Ki Moon and The United Nations (as our members consist of musicians from the US, Canada and the UK).

Friday, October 14, 2011

Monday, October 3, 2011

Installing NH Smart Banking Android App

  1. Download the NH Smart Banking App from the Android App Market. Search for "NH" and download the app labeled "NH 스마트뱅킹".

  2. Using Windows and Internet Explorer, visit

  3. On the Nonghyup webpage open in Internet explorer. Be sure to have your USB key inserted as if you were checking your account online. If you do not have a USB key, you must go to a branch and set up internet banking. Be sure to bring a USB key to the branch.

  4. On the bottom of the Nonghyup site, look to the bottom right for a small phone icon which says 스마트뱅킹 next to it and click it.

  5. Next, after a few moments of processing and a couple automated page loads, find the OS list of options on the right hand side of the page. Click the little Android dude.

  6. After clicking the Android link, a new page will load. It will have a super annoying pop-up which looks like this. Close it by clicking the close link on the bottom right of the pop-up.

  7. Click on the purple USB key looking link. It will open a new page/tab. When asked about the security warning, click "yes".

  8. A new window will pop up over Internet Explorer. Click on the dropdown next to the floppy A: button and select your USB key from the dropdown.

  9. Log in as you would to check online banking.

  10. On the Android Device, open up the installed app. It will self install V3 security software. Next, on the bottom of the screen is a picture of a padlock. Hit that shit up. Choose the first of two options under the new screen.

  11. This window will pop up. In the top series of boxes, enter in the code displayed on the android device. In the second series, enter in your bank account ID number. Usually it starts with the first set of numbers found on your ARC card. Click the "next" button on the bottom, the one on the left.

  12. Next, make up a unique password. Enter it in twice and continue. 

  13. Back on the android device, hit the green button under the serial you already eneterd in. You will be asked for that same password on the android device. Enter it in and hit the button on the left. Hit OK. Next hit the Home button on the android device on the bottom left of the screen. Next hit the magnifying glass button on the top left. Choose the first option. It will ask if you want to enable push notifications. Left button means yes, right button means no. You should no be looking at your account balance!

Sobaek San

Beyond the mountains are more mountains.

-Korean Proverb

Sobaek Photo Gallery

Monday the 3rd was a public holiday in Korea. Zach, Mr. Do and I took the opportunity to climb Sobaek San (mountain), the 3rd tallest mountain in South Korea, the 4th tallest in the peninsula. This last weekend, I picked up a new telephoto zoom lens, 55-250mm and I was quite anxious to use it. 

Mr. Do picked Zach and I up at 8:30 in the am and we drove 40 minutes to the base of Sobaek mountain. We parked near a pagoda and began our two and one half hours hike up what mostly seemed like a 20-25% incline. Mr. Do packed snacks and lunch for us. We ate oranges to stay hydrated as we progressed up the mountain. 

Before a hike, I anticipate the endeavor to provide ample opportunity for conversation only to discover I spend more time winded, unable to talk and breathe simultaneously and this hike proved no different. The three of us (mostly me) spent the hike up huffing, puffing and cursing the gods, the rocks and the roots. Without conversation, I spent a lot of time in my own head, wondering why I ever even bother to climb mountains. "I'm a Midwestern boy," I thought, "I have no business on these mountains. This isn't hiking, this is mountain climbing. Give me a good trail with hints of inclines and declines, a river and some woods, that's a hike!" But no matter how I tried to nominally justify my exhaustion and effort I was still on the side of mountain with no end in sight. The hike itself wasn't as scenically rewarding  as would help motivate me as most of the mountainside was covered in a a tall, thick canopy of broad leaves. But once we reached the summit, I was whistling (or wheezing?) a different tune.

We stood roughly 1439 meters (4721 feet) above sea level, above everything on Earth in every conceivable direction. "Beyond the mountains are more mountains" indeed. The ridges of the mountains beyond, the the backbone of Korea, the dirt, time and tectonic fury which chiseled out this beautiful country, lie before us like a ruffled blanket, stretching beyond infinity and ever deeper into our imaginations. 

We saddled up to a rock outcropping where we partook in the packed lunch Mr. Do brought. Traditionally, Koreans eat kimbap while hiking and on picnics. We ate with gusto and washed down lunch with some warm plum tea Mr. Do prepared in a Thermos. We spent a good 30 minutes at the summit, Zach and I contemplating our surroundings. 

After lunch, we began our decent, which lasted a mere 60 minutes or so. Driving back toward Yecheon, we stopped at a jimjilbang or traditional Korean style steam room. These steam rooms are essentially public baths which offer warm, hot (I mean hot) and cold bath pools as well as a sauna. We soaked our sore muscles and brutalized feat, rotated through the different pools twice through, dried off, dressed and called it a day.

My camera as inspired me to spend a lot more time outdoors and I am quite happy that I bought the telephoto lens just two days before this hike. It certainly came in handy. 

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Zach and I Quitting Facebook


Creative Fiction With My First Year A-Class

I decided to try a little experiment, inspired by a the theater sports game, and divided my class into two teams. Each team received one piece of paper. The first student started by writing "Once upon a time" and finished the sentence. That student then passed the paper to the next student and that student had to write a second sentence. Each student had to add a sentence to the story to further the plot and the story had to comply with the Aristotelian plot structure (I just told them a beginning, conflict and end). I promised them that the winning team will recieve a pretty bodacious prize. Here are the stories they wrote, unedited.

Team 1

Once upon a time, there lived three people whose names are Jack, Brian and Ann. Jack is kind, Brian is strong and Ann is smart. They want go on a picnic. So, they go to picnic on the mountain. Suddenly, three wolves appeared and threatened them. The three people shouted loudly. "Oh my God"! Jack said "Hey, come on. We can solve the problem together but they bark more loudly. Brian you are strong! You can kill them. Suddenly, Brian began to kill all even Jack and Ann. Now he survive alone so he climbed down. He finally suicide and there was nobody, just blood.

Team 2

Once upon a time, a old man went to the street. He looked a woman who is pretty, glamorous, sexy. So he approached her but she was very old woman. But she it look like young woman, and he fall in love. He went her home and shouted her name loudly, but she wasn't answering. He shouted in front of her house for 1 month, but it was another person's house. So the old man go to the street, where he met the old woman and making house on the street for waiting old woman every day, but he never see old woman because she died one month ago. But he don't know she died. He heard her death. So he was so sorry that he killed himself and his neighbor made a grave.

I love the creativity but it's dark they both independently ended in suicide. I took the opportunity to to teach them the expression "dark humor". 

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Baby Got Back...end hosting

I've received a lot of positive feedback regarding my new website as well as a lot of interest in who is hosting it. For those of you whom are interested, I am using Squarespace. Squarespace offers a very unique opportunity for inexpensive hosting as well as a true 'what you see is what you get' (WYSIWYG) web-creation toolset.

Remember the days of Geocities? Back in the day I thought that site was pretty cool because it offered a WYSIWYG approach to building a website for those of us without HTML or CSS experience. Years later and one college level web design class later, I still prefer WYSIWYG. I hate fussing with code, stamping out browser compatibility bugs, creating CSS templates... I mean this is 2011 after all. Squarespace gets a fellow up and running with a completely customizable template. For those who are technically inclined, the HTML and CSS of the site are 100% accessible and customizable. As far as WYSIWYG, Squarespace is truely drag and drop. They use some kind of Java scripting to bring powerful tools to those, like me, who are lazy when it comes to design and layout. I love the fact that I can go in and tweak a lot of the HTML and CSS and have those changes rendered for me in real time as my readers would see it, as if the changes were live. It also offers a powerful importation utility to bring in blogs, photos, links and archives from almost all of the major blog hosts. I imported my Korea and Philippines blogs from Blogger and I spent about five minutes setting them up.

Squarespace offers a 14 day free trial without a credit card. I also have a 10% off code if you do decide to go with Squarespace.

As for my domain, I purchased through for $8 using a coupon code I found through a simple google search. Attaching the domain to squarespace took about 3 minutes. Squarespace offers an excellent visual step-by-step for this process. 

Monday, September 19, 2011

Practicing Slow Shutter Speeds in Yecheon at Night

I just bought a new Canon 450D SLR last month as an anniversary present to myself and a tripod last weekend. I was anxious to try out some slow shutter speed and time lapse settings (which my Dad taught me!) in Yecheon at night time. Here are the resulting pictures from last night. I showed my coteacher and her first response, "Yecheon looks like Seoul!" Sometimes I wish there were as much to do here too. Steve, Zach and I hiked to Cheungharu for the over-the-town shots. Here is a link to higher res photos.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Hiking Above Yecheon

Yesterday I woke up in a funk and after attempts at curbing that funk, including heavy caffeination, watching a movie and reading, I put on my walking shoes, dialed in to some Tom Waits and left my apartment. I didn't necessarily have a direction in mind but I knew I didn't want to follow my usual path around the river, typically a 40 minute walk.
Whatever can be said about the path not taken, I took a hard right instead of the gradual left that leads to the river. I wound up walking the base of the mountain around which Yecheon skirts. I recalled a Buddhist temple high up on the mountain that my coteacher took me to my third week after arriving, almost exactly one year ago. I decided I'd try to find it. After walking a good 25 minutes, I saw a sign which I could read but not understand. I intuited it to be a sign for the temple. Almost immediately, the road ascended at a 20% grade (I understood that sign) and I walked and walked, following the snaking road up the mountain.
After another 25 minutes of walking uphill, I arrived at the temple and was once again humbled by the solitude of standing alone on its vista. The temple itself is simple though the beauty of the main room left me speechless all over again. Unfortunately I only had my smart phone with me so the pictures are not as spectacular as they ought to be. I will rectify this with a subsequent hike and my DSLR.

Yecheon from the temple
The entrance to the temple
Inside the main chamber
Paper lanterns
Woodwork on the outer wall of the main chamber
Under the roof of the main chamber

After poking around, straining to catch my breath and trying to raise the pall of the funk, I saw some wooden stairs which shot up the mountain. My curiosity got the better of me and I decided to follow them up.

I reckon there were somewhere in the neighborhood of three to four hundred steps to the top. As I walked, short of breath, blood pulsing through my neck and forehead, I wondered what was up there. Was there a kind of sanctuary for the folks who lived at the temple (I only saw their shoes outside a building adjacent to the main chamber), a platform overlooking Yecheon or a family tomb? I had no idea so I just kept on hiking.
The walk was silent aside from the shuffling of my tired feet and my heart beat throbbing in my ears. As I walked just above the temple, an acorn landed on my right shoulder and without a beat, another landed in front of me and behind me. I looked up hoping to spite whatever squirrel caused this nuisance. The strange thing was, there was no squirrel and the acorns fell from a sapling about twice my height. Strange. I recalled stories of similar coincidence my friend Zach related to me about his experiences in sacred spaces in Japan.
As I continued to ascend, I felt like I was progressing from late summer into autumn. A cool wind blew, whispering through the trees, leaves fell all around me and the further up I climbed, the less dirt I saw for leaves of various colors.
I finally made it to the top only to come upon a path running perpendicular to my own. I couldn't quite decide whether I should go back down, turn left or right. 

Steps from the temple on the right
I decided on left and came upon another vista, this time higher than any other point in my vicinity. The hike up flattened out into a grassy patch overlooking the entirety of Yecheon.


After admiring the view, I turned around and took the path to the right of the steps coming from the temple. This was a singular path, varying between 10 and 20 feet wide, from which I could look over the side of the mountain over either face.

Autumn had indeed arrived atop the mountain while we in Yecheon still wait for the heat of the midday sun to dissipate with the oncoming season.
I walked this path for a good 45 minutes and realized I was on my way to Cheungharu, the pagoda which sits atop the hill near my school. Along the path, I found some family tombs. Traditionally, Koreans are buried atop mountains as flat land in Korea is very expensive.

I knew Cheungharu was in this direction, however, there were a couple of times when I felt completely lost, having lost sight of Yecheon down to my right altogether. Fortunately, I ran into the odd hiker coming my way and in my broken Korean, asked if the direction I was going was correct. After some encouraging words and charades, I made it to Cheunharu, down to my school and finally back home.
All said and done, the walk, which turned into a hike, took around two hours and I felt calmed and refreshed.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Unfriending Facebook

I started off this post researching, trying to find articles I have read in the past which substantiate my reasons for wanting to quit Facebook. In the end, I really don't need to. Since posting yesterday afternoon that Zach, a friend of mine in Yecheon, and I were tandem-quitting Facebook in three weeks (approximately Oct. 12) and that I was collecting emails and phone numbers of contacts, many folks offered up their contact info as well as sharing that they wished they could do the same. I know for a fact that many people feel the same way I do about Big Blue (neologism for Facebook, sorry IBM). Below are my reasons for wanting to quit and taking the plunge.
First, let me offer that I am in no way trying to recruit fellow dissenters. This is a solo journey and am only quitting with Zach for mutual support during the withdrawal phase. He actually brought it up yesterday. Neither am I trying to serve as an example. My reasons are mine and mine alone though I know most of my readers, if not all, will resonate with many of my reasons.
First of all, Facebook friendships are disingenuous. There is a a theoretical limit, known as Dunbar's Number, wherein a person can only maintain approximately 150 meaningful relationships at any given time in their life. I currently have 426 Facebook friendships at the time of this writing; it is ludicrous to think that Facebook is, in and of itself, maintaining friendships or relationships for me by simply connecting the dots in a consistent way. I have fallen into a fallacious mindset wherein the effort of maintaining relationships has been delegated to Facebook, as a service, and that when and if the mood strikes me I can contact anyone, from my grandma to my middle school classmates. Indeed, while I do have instant access to communicating with these people, the medium of communication, text-based, usually tops out at a couple hundred characters. Thinking about this led me to think of saccharine as an analogy for Facebook friendships. Saccharine is the main ingredient to most artificial sweeteners, providing a sweet taste without any caloric intake.
Living and travelling abroad for the better part of the last four years has made maintaining friendships from home and from travels more or less difficult, even with the use of the Internet. Facebook, in particular, has provided me a platform on which my emotional response to friendships are constantly stimulated while, in the meantime, my need to relate and attach myself in deep and meaningful ways has been left to chew on artificial sweetener. This kind of empty but constant stimulation has left me with feelings of loss, anxiety and ennui. Instead of the smiles one should come to expect out of a social networking site, seeing a flood of information from friends and family, pictures, status updates, events, I feel depressed, flat. I've been running on empty. Leaving Facebook will force me to return to more significant media of communication: phone calls, Skype, emails and (fingers crossed) contemplative and frequent blog posts.
The flat feeling reading Facebook causes me leads me to my second reason: I hate living in a constant state of mind that "the grass is always greener on the other side." This mentality inspires feelings that, no matter what I'm doing or where I am, I am in the wrong place at the wrong time. Without getting into too much personal history, this mindset played a large part in a long and arduous clinical depression with which I dealt for a number of years. Personal issues aside, no one likes feeling left out. Readers should know how many of the foreign teachers use Facebook while in Korea. We have ubiquitous and constant access to Facebook, among other time sink-holes on the Internet.
When I arrive at work at 9:00, the news feed is already cycling at a furious pace and only slows to a steady stream by 17:00 when most of us go home and log right back in. In order to feel "in the loop" I feel like I must be glued to the screen. And let's face it, everyone has had the experience where one is meeting with friends and every attempt at conversation ends with, "oh yeah, saw that on Facebook." That sucks.
Zach and I were also talking about how almost every status update is positively spun. Sitting indoors for hours at a time, staring at a screen leaves many people susceptible to feeling like their own lives could never measure up to the constant positivity experienced in the lives of others meanwhile feeling isolated at a desk. This reminds me of my friend Alex's reason for quitting Big Blue, "I realized there is a bigger world than Facebook out there." It's easy to read this and respond cynically but it's absolutely true. I could be reading, hiking, studying Korean, working on a blog post, a short story, practicing guitar or catching up on my sleep during the roughly four hours I personally spend on Facebook every day. I don't want to look back on my life in terms of how much content I consumed, but at how much content I produced.
This leads to my next point, Facebook is a distraction. Enough said? I thought so too.
As with any free service, the consumer gets what they pay for, buyer beware. Facebook has done a marvelous job at manipulating its users into thinking that Facebook is the gold standard and only means of communication on the Internet. This is especially true in light of the fact that Facebook has incorporated Skype's brand of video chat into their instant messenger service. And best of all, it's a free service! So what's in it for Facebook? Ads. I'm guilty, I've clicked on them too. So what's wrong with that? Every click is recorded and archived in ways most people don't realize. I once visited a site (I tried finding it again and couldn't) that had me click a link which essentially gave the site permission to read the cookies on my computer and it spat out a pretty realistic profile of me. It said that I'm a Caucasian male between the ages of 22 and 30, that I enjoy travel, reading and have left-leaning politics. I'm not going to claim this site has any connection with Facebook but if this random website could glean this information based on my browsing history, there is no end to the profile Facebook could create about me based on my history and how they target me with ads. Does this concern me in terms of privacy and security? No. Is it freaking weird? Yes.
But there are real privacy and security concerns that this issue brings to light. Every status update, comment, tag and picture ever posted to Facebook is archived...forever. Even if a user untags themselves, removes comments or pictures, their profile and associated content is never actually deleted and is stored on the servers maintained by Facebook, along with the profile created by Facebook based on their cookies and clicks until the Chinese send a electromagnetic pulse bomb somewhere over Palo Alto.
We've all had pictures of us posted that, in the spirit of Internet curation, we have asked others to take down. I have had a number of pictures posted of me drinking and behaving in a socially acceptable way which may not necessarily be acceptable to a future employer. Yes, there are means to edit privacy settings but while these settings are constantly improving, I can never be sure who has access, at present or in the future, to my complete, archived and annotated profile created and maintained by Facebook in spite of the hard work I have put into curating my public and semi-private profile myself. Call me paranoid but I'd hate to lose a job opportunity over a picture from a party.
It is in the spirit of cutting the past loose and moving on that I am leaving Facebook; at least for the foreseeable future. I intend to continue to use Google+ because I am able to bring the knowledge of profile curation with me and I can start over, fresh. I have roughly 40 friends on G+ and they are actually people I consider close and important friends. I like G+ because it does not push the same volume of meaningless content as does Facebook. And I enjoy Twitter because it seems to be the only platform available to Peace Corps volunteers in any given country of service. My hope is that, by refraining from posting little tidbits about my life two to three times a day to Facebook, I will have more meaningful, thoughtful blog posts.
To reiterate, I'm not trying to recruit dissenters but merely wanting a record of my reasons to show people who ask and to refer to for personal uses in the future. I know only one person who has quit Facebook at the time of this writing, but he said, after a month, it was one of the best decisions he has ever made.
That said, I still have three weeks and I have notifications to check ;-)

above image taken from

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Reposting of my brother's blog regarding his stay with me

Originally posted August 25, 2011

I write from Shanghai Pudong Airport, safely arrived at the gate to the final leg of my journey to China. Within the hour I will board a plane to Hong Kong and tomorrow I will be in Zhuhai, where I am to teach for the next year at United International College (UIC). Happy as I am to leap into all that, I have to admit that most of my enthusiasm and nearly all my thoughts right now are focused on the past week, which I spent with my best friend and greatest ally, my brother Sean, in South Korea, where he has lived for over a year now.
Last Friday, at 5:30 Korean time, I arrived in Seoul. I was twenty-five hours travelling from Minneapolis and Sean greeted me with a hug, a quick picture to send to the parents, and a command to hurry: we had a train to catch. An hour and a half later we were still in Seoul and I still had not taken a single breath of outside air. Given my experience of the city from airport down to subway and onto train then, finally on the city’s outskirts, catching the last rain to Yecheon (Sean’s home), Seoul had the effect on me of being a sort of enormous glistering compound. A city-sized airport. The dystopian surreality of thsi effect was only heightened by the fact that I have only known the city in shades of teal-green, all the windows on the train being tinted just so. I have no idea whether this is directly related, but this very same color palette has shown up in many of the Asian films I’ve seen – several Korean – to induce a subtle mellowing effect, a sort of vivid sedation. This, combined with the pristine clarity of the train windows, gave the simultaneously unsettling yet calming impression that I was viewing the city of a series of giant HD screens.
On the train and busrides in, and throughout the week, I tried to keep my eyes open and observe the nuances of this new setting as I flashed past them. As was the case when I’ve travelled abroad before, no matter how far abroad or abreast of my comfort zone, there were many familiar details to be found: my brother’s laugh, the sky overhead, the grace of running water, the the precise angle of disapproving mouthslope I get from elderly folk when I play on playgrounds. Riding on the same token though, it is often in the small details that I most realize I’m somewhere new, radically far away from my past: like cranes walking in the fields and flying over the town; or that when you go to the barber he shaves between your eyebrows; or canyons of individually-wrapped industrial food product; or that when you go to the barber he gives you a vigorous scalp massage; or buying a handle of rolled sushi at the convenience store, for a dollar, then walking home and having the fisrt distinct feeling of enjoying a delicacy on the run; or that when a barber finishes with you he buffs your head like a vintage car; or the sight of sproingy handles swaying from train’s ceiling; or that going to the barber makes you feel like a mound of calm marble under the hands of an old master sculptor; or an inexplicable frequency of plastic cels shaped like the top pyramid of a big top tent, a couple meters each, in grids on the ground; or that when you go to the barber he slathers cream on your forehead and shaves your hairline, making you feel like your sporting the platonic ideal of scalp; or that mountains lie nonchalantly in far ranges, the very inspiration for the Asian brushstroke paintings that have made me want to see this continent my entire life.
Yesterday I went to the barber to get my hair cut before going to China. It was neat. I don’t really know if I have anything much to say about it.
The most common question I was asked by Koreans was whether I had tried the food, followed by whether I had liked it. I have not the time nor you the patience to go into all the details but suffice it to say that I tried everything I could and the worst of it was merely borderline fantastic – I can still feel all the kimchi working its way through me. I will, however, single out my brother’s co-teacher, Mr. Do, for inviting us over for a terrific barbecue of pork cheek and sow belly along with his wife’s wonderful side dishes (including their own homemade sour kimchi!). Indeed, for all the sights and tastes I indulged in this past week, what I am tremendously most thankful for is the company I had the opportunity to keep. The difficulty of not being with my brother for the past year was alleviated in full by being able to see what great and bountiful company he keeps in Korea. Zack, Dave, Paul, Kyle, Mr. Do and Ms. Jang, Mei and Hani and Gucchi and Lindy and everyone else whose names I don’t know how to spell: thank you all for taking me so quickly and warmly into your society and giving me the opportunity to feel at home so far away from Minneapolis. Without the goodness you’ve shown me this past week I’d be much more of a fearful wreck leaving for a year in China. I’ve experienced hospitality in my life: I’ve never been welcomed the way I was to South Korea. In particular, my visit coincided with the departure of Sean’s close friend Thwani, who must be just settling back into South Africa right now. I am very grateful to have made it to Korea in time to meet her. It is difficult to figure what she means to me or why I was so sad to see her leave, having just met her. The only other person I’ve felt so close to after so little contact was my dear friend Dan Kocabek (who I’ve just learned is going abroad to Leeds just as I leave for Zhuhai!). Her going-away party on Monday was a blast, with Paul – a brilliant Korean blues guitarist and cook – closing down his restaurant in order to host the feast, after which we got a private norebang (Korean karaoke) room, where I sang, cried, danced, nodded to ununderstandable friendly conversations under gyrating neon, and made a fabulous fool of myself singing a Romanian pop song I didn’t realize I knew so many words to.
That was Monday. On Saturday Sean took me to Daegu city, where he most often goes for weekends away. The city, like its phone-line dred-tangles, seems overrun but kept neat. The whole scene was overwhelming but inoffensive, perhaps in large part because I could not understand the meanings of what all I wa surrounded by. I can only compare it to the internet, bits condensed to neon gas and all fit into a physical marketplace.
One tangential question – where do I have to go in this world that Bon Jovi won’t follow?
Earlier on Monday, before Thwani’s going-away party, Sean took me to visit the ancient mountain paths of Mungyeong Saejae. I had seen pictures he posted from a trip there last year and have been entranced ever since. The view from the busride there is a sharp and pleasant contrast to the closed-in train-view green-tint of Seoul, and a small testament to the continued existence and beauty of rural Korea. For over an hour I saw nothing but mountains, farms, forests, beat Hyundai mini-trucks, and old architecture (or at least all in an old style) with interruptions of military barbwire wallmiles and regular rows of greenhouses plugged into large vats of something or another. I’m a bit too exhausted to try and describe Mungyeong Saejae and I fear I’ve already overwritten my fair share. I shot quite a bit of video there which I hope to edit down and post at some point, which will speak much better than words here and show off the expanses of sharp black cloud shadows over mould and texture of green mountain fur that so enthralled me.
It was also at Mungyeong Saejae that I ate silk worms. While my mom fears, I grow hopeful that they may be spinning inside me. I could use some interior decorators – I’m thinking something bawdy but elegant, silk curtains flowing from ceiling billow to floormat, like Inara’s room in Firefly.
On Tuesday, Sean finally had to go back to work, which left me free to wander around the sometimes labyrinthine and everywhere lovely town of Yecheon. As it turns out, after all the partying and planning, two of the best experiences I had all week entailed nothing more than walking.
In honor of Steve Thimmel and lily Morris, I played on a playground while wandering in Yecheon and it was delicious: the slides were slick and had black markered graffiti running all their length down.
One last reason to be thankful in Korea: I’d never seen green in a sunset before.
As a sort of postscript: I’ve been reading John Steinbeck’s A Russian Journal, which is the record of a trip he and photographer Robert Capa took through the Soviet Union in 1948. Without too naively equating his Russia to my China, I have nevertheless taken to heart the attitude and approach to travel and writing that he sets down in the first chapter and would like to share it here. He writes, “Together we decided on several things: We should not go in with chips on our shoulders and we should try to be neither critical nor favorable. We would try to do honest reporting, to set down what we saw and heard without editorial comment, without drawing conclusions about things we didn’t know sufficiently, and without becoming angry at the delays of bureaucracy. We knew there would be many things we couldn’t understand, many things we wouldn’t like, many things that would make us uncomfortable. This is always true of a foreign country. But we determined that if there should be criticism, it would be criticism of the thing after seeing it, not before…This is just what happened to us. It is not the Russian story, but simply a Russian story.”
Signing off inside a Chinese cloud,
P.S. What time is it?
P.P.S. Adventure Time!

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Trip to the DMZ

After being in-country for almost one year, I finally went to the DMZ with a couple of friends who will be leaving Korea come August/early September. For those unfamiliar with the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) in Korea, it is a narrow strip of land which divides North from South. The DMZ roughly follows the 38th parallel, which demarcated the line of the cease fire at the end of the Korean War, 1953.
While the DMZ has been a flashpoint of intense violence in the past, it is open to tourists visting either country. Often, tourists from Western countries visit the DMZ on the side of South Korea while tourists from China, the East and Western Asia visit the landmark from the North. It is impossible to visit the DMZ aside from one particular area, known as Panmunjom (as heard in Billy Joel's classic "We Didn't Start the Fire"), wherein the United Nations' Joint Security Area is established and outlines the only meeting point between the two Koreas. This area was definately the highlight of my visit to the DMZ, which also included a visit to Fort Boniface, the 3rd tunnel, a lookout point over North Korea and a train station which will eventually connect Seoul and Pyongyang, pending reunification.
The JSA was my favorite part of the tour. Located within the JSA is the famous conference room wherein heads of State of each country confer and meet. Standing in South Korea, I saw, for the first time, North Korea and North Korean guards.
A view of the conference room between the two Koreas. North Korea is opposite where I'm standing.
United Nations Command Military Armistice Commission Building

Me and North Korea. We're tight like that.
There are four guards (two pictured) who watch the North 24/7.
The microphones on the table represent the line of demarcation. I do, in fact, have one foot in North Korea and one in the south.
Me and a soldier of the Republic of Korea, defending freedom and looking good doing it. Ray Bans are standard issue, not even kidding.
A real-life North Korean guard
This concrete divider represents the literal dividing line between the Koreas. And yes, I am standing in North Korea.
We had many opportunities to look over North Korea. One such opportunity came when we got to look upon, what the South calls "Propaganda Village."
This village was, in the 1960's, a modern and confortable looking town to lure South Koreans into the North. It was later discovered that it is not occupied by anyone and never was. In fact, the lights which light the town at night are completely automated. Approximately six North Korean soldiers man the town, their job is to raise the Korean flag, pictured atop the 525ft (160m) flagpole.
Another highlight of the tour was visiting the third tunnel, one dug by the North after the cease fire, to transport soldiers and weapons into the south. The South Korean government detected the digging. Upon questioning the North, leaders said they had sent miners down to excavate coal. In a quick and strange attempt to substantiate this story, workers from North Korea quickly and haphazardly painted the inside of the tunnel black. The South Korean scientists who investigated the matter were not impressed.
We then went to a lookout where we could overlook North Korea. I half expected a baren wasteland, void of trees; something baren and desolate, a land which reflected the human suffering and desperation plaguing the country. Instead, I overlooked a lush and beautiful country, shrouded in fog and mist. The mystery that was and still is North Korea, in my mind, was symbolized by the fog.
A candid shot from a vantage point where photography was strictly prohibited. Many Bothans died to bring us this picture.

Finally, our tour ended at a train station which will connect Seoul to Pyongyang pending reunification.

"Not the last station from the South, But the first station toward the North."

I have wanted to visit the DMZ for many years. This trip was something of a History major's dream-come-true or as my companion Jamie put so eloquently, a "dorkasm." Visiting the DMZ, standing in North Korea, was something of a surreal experience. Like visiting Narnia. Much like my trip to and experience in Palestine to visit Hebron, I felt like I was entering into a void in the American psyche, a place that existed in spite of the geopolitical, political and economic will of others. 
I felt like I was trespassing into a forbidden place. I later realized that such forbidden places exist only in the mind. North Korea is, I am sure, full of warm, kind and open-minded people, given the opportunity. The North Korean people are not the enemy and North Korea is not a pariah-state, a taboo in the Western media. The enemy in North Korea, the same in every nation on earth, is oppression. Oppression knows no ethnicity, skin color or creed. It knows only exploitation and feeds on apathy and ignorance.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Desk Warming Is Killing Me...Literally

For those unfamiliar with Guest English Teacher (GET) jargon here in South Korea, desk warming is the act of sitting at one's desk during the obligatory eight hours at school for reasons including cancelled classes, test days, etc. and not teaching. A GET literally sits in her/his desk chair and must find something to occupy her/his time and wait out the clock. Why subject us to this cruel and unusual charade? I have heard a myriad of reasons, from inspectors from the Office of Education (of whom no one I know has seen heads or tails) inspecting schools to ensure Korean tax money is not "wasted" to co-teachers getting jealous and inciting a mutiny. Whatever the reason may be, desk warming is, for me, the greatest hardship of living here. When I have to deal with one day of desk warming, I usually enjoy catching up on reading blogs, reading a book, playing guitar in the broadcasting room adjacent to the teachers' office, taking a nap (how is this not wasting tax money again?) and generally minding my own business. Desk warming is indeed a double-edged sword and when stretches of time, such as finals week arrives (and the week of review preceding it), I can anticipate at least a full two weeks of sitting at my desk, staring at the clock, thinking to myself, "if only I could be cleaning my bathroom".
I have always harbored a suspicion that desk warming will be the end of me (read Sean's Bane). I found this infograph which beautifully illustrates and substantiates my suspicion. Indeed, sitting for eight to nine hours a day can literally shortening our lifespan up to 40%! Credit for this infograph is listed at the bottom.

Credit and hyperlink for infograph removed due to content provider's request - 6/3/2013
And for those who have made it to the end of the infograph, here is a video of Hitler having to desk warm.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Waiting for Something to Happen

It seems as though I spend a lot of my time in Korea waiting for something to happen. Part of it may have to do with a lot of the friends I have made here are getting ready to leave in August, having opted to stick through only one contract; it's difficult not to resonate with the excitement they share via SMS, phone calls, Facebook, etc. But I have chosen to stay. I know what to expect in August: I'll show up to school the day many of them depart and I'll most likely suffer the real though unreasonable feelings of being left behind, wondering if, in fact, this was the right decision.
If Peace Corps was a swing to the direction of living more or less tech-less, Korea has afforded me the revolution of the pendulum and my head is now awash with tech mill rumors, keeping up with the latest information technology trends, Web 2.0, living and thinking in the Cloud and buying gadgets galore. This month, in fact, major software updates are coming to my new Android phone (2.3) and my MacBook (OS 10.7). While there are no specific release dates, both Motorola and Apple have promised the updates will be released this month. I obsessively check the rumor blogs multiple times a day hoping that today (whichever day it is) might be the day. This is proving to be exhausting and the feeling that something could happen any day now has seeped into many aspects of my life.
I never thought of myself to be the kind of guy who lives for the weekends either. But this sort is what I have become. I spend five days a week waiting for two that go by way too quickly. This is problematic; it feels as though I am in jettison, in perpetual motion racing to something which will pass all too quickly and then looking for the next big thing. This is no way to live.
I used to believe that routine is the fastest way to a short life; but my experience this last month or so has revealed otherwise. I'm not exactly sure how to put it into words, but here goes; it is not routine, but anticipation which robs one of "the moment", keeping one's mind and attention one step ahead of one's feet, which accelerates the inevitable demise. No one can be sure what happens next after this dog and pony show which is life, but I, for one, am not in a rush to find out. Nor am I interested in answering the question, " why are we here on earth?" for that matter. I just know I want to accept and appreciate where I am before my 20's, my 30's and so on, becoming memories instead of the inevitable.
I haven't blogged in a long while and I'm not sure if I'll keep it up. But I needed to make a declaration and put this into words where, perchance, friends and family might know some of my more intimate thoughts. I'm done rushing and ready to sit on my balcony, enjoy a beer and the falling rain and going everywhere slowly.
I'm a quarter century old and am in no disposition to rush into the rest of what lies beyond. I'm in a good place, with good people. I may not see everyone as much as I like but damnit, they're important people in my life and for that fact I should sit contentedly and just watch the rain. Many of my friends are going to their respective home countries but many are also staying here.
Peace Corps made me somewhat of an optimist; the self-appointed purpose of my life is to accept warmly those who come into my life and leave an impression on on those who I may with something whole and heart-felt upon our divergence. Folks in their 20's live at a velocity that rarely runs parallel to one another but the vertices of our acquaintances leave the same lines of longitude and latitude which outline the maps of our lives.

Monday, February 28, 2011

I couldn't say it better


Monday, February 7, 2011

Quitting Cigarettes and Twitter

Well I finally decided to quit smoking...again...and Twitter.
Why quit smoking? Well, I have tried six times in the past because I should quit. After my heart complications mentioned in this post, the fact that I'm winded when I walk the five minutes to school and I'm the only one in my social group who smokes regularly, I decided I actually wanted to quit. Wanting to quit is 80% of the battle, so I'm told. I have been going on walks of varying length, chewing crappy Korean gum, making a plethora of cups of herbal tea and, when all else fails, rolling around on the ground in the fetal position cursing God and everyone. The first night of my cold-turkey approach, last Saturday, I went out with a few friends in Yecheon for a couple of drinks. If I had ever had a 100% chance of lighting up, the conditions were perfect then and I still obstained. Having that kind of a mile stone anchoring the effort right away has actually boosted my resolve not to lose that achievement.
In an effort to be more productive and not rely on time killing habits, I have decided to eschew Twitter for a while as well. Fewer and fewer of my friends are on it and it has become a way to kill time more so than the useful social networking tool I found it to be a while ago. It used to make sense but not anymore. That's for another post.
And as I sit back down to finish this post after lunch, I feel good about not smoking even though my co-teacher and I used to have a smoke everyday at this time. I still joined him but had a mint instead and, walking back into the building, I felt good about my decision.
So which is more addictive? I have gone 3.5 days without a smoke and have not been able to get off of Twitter. I decided to compromise with the little voice in my head and top out my tweets at 3,000 first (I have two more to go) so today will (hopefully) be the day.