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Merry Christmas December 26, 2009

Posted by jorkat in Seoul.
10 comments

Well, it’s Christmas Eve and I’m sitting at a Starbucks in Seoul, Korea. If you had told me five years ago that this is where I’d be, I probably wouldn’t have believed you. It’s a balmy 10 degrees out and we’ve had two minor snowfalls in the past few weeks which amounted to zero accumulation on the ground. Any snow back in Eastern Canada/US?

Today also marks our 10- month anniversary here in Korea so I decided to sit back and reflect on where we are, where we’ve come from and where we’ll be going. I guess the ultimate compliment I can pay Korea is that this feels like home. Maybe it’s because I know there’s an end to our time here that has always been in sight. Maybe it’s a tribute to our ability to adapt to new surroundings, but I often forget that I’m on the other side of the world until I walk outside and everyone is Asian. Even then, I’m completely comfortable and capable of going about my day without any stress or frustration. It’s a nice feeling.

It also feels more like Christmas than expected. Christianity is the religion of choice for most Koreans so it’s hard not to notice all the Christmas holiday sales and décor on display. Especially the area we live in, which is as commercialized and superficial as it gets in Korea.

We actually had our last day of classes yesterday in which most of it was consumed by a Christmas talent show performed by all of our Kindergarten classes. Each class, with ages ranging from 4-7 years old were responsible for putting together a 5-minute performance with a Christmas theme. We’d been practicing with our respective classes for weeks so it was pretty entertaining to see the finished product from the 10 respective classes.

This is the video from Katie’s class (taken during practice the day before)

This is the video from my class (also taken during rehearsal)

My class starts off with a skit in which the infamous Jack is the teacher and is leading the class through the opening routine that we do each morning. The idea for this skit was borne out of Jack’s impression of me that he would do every Friday. I would walk into class where they’d all be seated and Jack would be sitting in my chair. I played along and went and sat in his chair. He proceeded to start the class and lead them through my opening monologue. It was hysterical. This kid couldn’t speak a word of English 10 months ago and now he was doing an impression of his teacher in front of the whole class. I wish I had taken video of it, as he became extremely shy in front of a larger audience and didn’t perform with the same charisma that we all came to expect. Not bad for a 5-year old though.

Speaking of 5-year olds, today marks the fifth birthday of my dear little Adela. She is the youngest and by far the cutest little girl in my class. We had her party on the 22nd as the school was closed on the 24th. Christmas now has new meaning for me and I’ll always remember that Jesus was born on the 25th and Adela on the 24th. Here are some pictures.

Way back in late-Spring, one of my students named Nathan brought a hat to wear on a field trip we were going on. He never actually wore it but I found it when I was putting books into his bag. I spent the next few months pleading with him occasionally to wear it again so we could take a picture of us wearing our hats together. After months of persistence, he finally wore it and I brought mine to school the next day for a photo opportunity.  He hasn’t taken it off since. We also both liked the John Lackey signing and agree that we need another big bat in the lineup, preferably Adrian Gonzalez or Miguel Cabrera.

We recently completed a social studies unit in which I taught them all about different sports from around the world. I brought in different jerseys from various sports and found videos of these sports to show them on our laptop. I’m pleased to report that hockey was by far their favourite to watch as they are still asking me to bring in my laptop again so they can watch some more. They especially like the hockey fights and I even did a live demonstration with Jack and Nathan to show how to jersey someone in a fight. Jack tries to fight me almost every day despite the fact that I’m still undefeated and I’ve stretched 3 or 4 of his shirts beyond repair. (Editor’s note: These kids are 5-years old).

I also combined my explanation of North American sports with Geography (which we studied a couple months before) and showed them on a map where all the cities for these sports teams were located. I then took it to another level and combined the unit we did on animals and taught them about team names and mascots. Throughout this entire process, I was careful to remain objective and never demonstrate an obvious bias towards a certain sport or team. I wanted to expose them to everything that I was capable of explaining to them and allow them to judge for themselves which team was worthy of their support.

So you can imagine my surprise when one day out of nowhere, this chant started out of nowhere and shook the entire school to its foundation. Fortunately I had my camera in hand by sheer coincidence.

It’s common at this time of year to look back at the year that was and acknowledge what you’re thankful for. The following are a series of pictures and videos from the past 10 months which we’ve wanted to share with everyone but haven’t had the chance until now.

We’re thankful for our favourite restaurant. We don’t even know what it’s called but we call it 2am because the first time we ate there was at 2am after a few beverages. Katie and I eat here on a weekly basis and the total bill comes to less than $25 total. This place probably deserves an entire post on its own, but here’s a sneak peak at a typical Korean galbi experience. Note how many side dishes are on the table. These are delivered within 10 seconds of sitting down, with your drinks and main order arriving a few minutes later.

We’re thankful for new friends – Darren Grimes, Kirsten Binstock, Brielle Morgan, Stephen Fulton, Nazli Prisk, Clay Condon, Cody Stone, Jared Teitel, Naomi Santiago, Eunjin and Hooyoung. When we started discussing moving to Korea I remember acknowledging to Katie that we would likely end up making new friendships that would last a lifetime. This statement could not have been more prophetic as we’re blessed with an incredible group of new friends from all corners of North America. Even though Darren insists that a BBQ is a sauce and that the actual device is referred to as a grill, we still love him dearly. This is a picture from my birthday where the only thing I asked everyone to do was wear one of my jerseys for the entire night, regardless of where we ended up. Everyone was happy to oblige and we even did a draft to decide who got to wear which jersey. It was awesome.

We’re thankful for old friends who have become even closer. Sean and Erin, commonly referred to as the Mulloskey’s. They were the couple that inspired us to move to Korea after following their experience via their blog. They decided to come back and we’ve spent the past 4 months together and will be waking up on Christmas morning in each other’s company. We are blessed to have them in our lives and I will cherish our time together abroad for the rest of my life.

We’re thankful for Norabang’s, commonly known as Karaoke Rooms. I’ll let these pictures and video do the talking.

This is our favourite Korean song. I think Darren kinda likes it too.

Mullin really enjoys the Norabang.

We’re thankful for wonderful family and friends back home that give us something to look forward to when this adventure ends. My only regret from this entire experience was missing the weddings of very close friends – Matt & Michelle, Laura & Matt, Mike & Heather, Mark & Vanessa, Dave & Suzanne, Szabolcs (this isn’t a typo) & Julia. Thanks to the power of the internet we haven’t felt that out of touch but we will be sure to make up for lost time upon our return.

I’m thankful for Katie’s incredible fashion sense. This is an inside joke for everyone on the Algate/Clapperton/Harnden side of the family. We brought this shirt to the other side of the world for one picture and this is it.

We’re thankful for the opportunity to see parts of the world that we never imagined possible. So far we’ve visited Hong Kong, Beijing and Shanghai in China, Taipei and various cities in Korea including the 3 coasts and North Korea. We leave for a 7-day trip to Japan tomorrow where we’ll be visiting Hiroshima, Osaka, Kyoto and spending New Year’s in Tokyo. And we just booked our flight to leave Korea in March and start our real traveling in Thailand. We’ll have two months to cover, Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos, Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia.

I’m thankful for a select group of friends and family that are lugging my golf clubs across the globe to meet me in London in May 2010 so I can play St-Andrews. The clubs started their journey at my parents place in Montreal and departed for Toronto on Nov. 25th. They were then passed off to my in-laws (Ron & Brenda) who held on to them until my brother-in-law (Jamie) came for Christmas brunch on Dec. 20th. Jamie is currently in possession of the clubs and responsible for meeting up with Josh (my best man) who currently resides in London, England but is back in Toronto for the holidays until Jan. 4th. Josh will then lug them across the Atlantic and keep them at his place until we arrive in early May. It’s a thing of beauty, and the best part is that I organized this entire effort from the comfort of our couch in Seoul. I fully recognize that the entire process is completely irrational, but I haven’t played golf on an actual course since October 16th, 2008 so forgive me for wanting to play my next round with my own clubs at the birthplace of golf. It’s also Tiger’s favorite course and anything he does, I have to do likewise. Well, almost anything.

We’re thankful for Slingbox, and modern technology in general. Keeping in touch with loved ones and the rest of the world is so much easier than it was even 3-5 years ago. We can see and talk with anyone on Skype, or record and watch live TV with Slingbox whenever we want. It’s a nice luxury that has made this transition much easier.

I’m thankful for my wife and traveling companion, Katie. This picture was taken at one of the many media poles which you can read about on the Mulloskey blog here that are located in our neighbourhood. Once your eyes recover from the paleness of our faces which feels like staring at the sun, check out the onlookers in the background. This picture perfectly encapsulates what it’s like to be a foreigner in Korea. Even though we’re doing the same things as any other average Korean, they can’t help but watch in amazement and either loath our existence, or chuckle as we attempt to integrate into Korean culture.

In lieu of sending everyone Christmas gifts (read: fancy chopsticks), we decided to sit this year out of both the giving and receiving side (at least with friends and family back home). Best rest assured that a donation has been made in all of your names to the JorKat Southeast Asia Travel Fund. This is a worthwhile cause that will allow us to spend a couple months lying on a beach in Thailand while you all slave away at your 9-to-5 jobs. A charitable receipt will not be issued.

Finally, Team Canada’s Olympic Hockey Team will be named on December 30th while we’re in Kyoto, so here’s my prediction for how the squad will look:

Forwards:

Nash – Crosby – Iginla

Perry – Getzlaf – Heatley

Lecavalier – Thornton – St.Louis

Doan – M. Richards – Sharp

Toews

***St.Louis and Heatley are interchangeable on their respective lines and Lecavalier is a natural centre but someone is going to have to move to wing as they have too much depth up the middle.

Notable omissions: B. Richards, Tavares, Stamkos, E. Staal, Marleau, Carter, Fisher and Gagne

Defense:

Niedermayer – Keith

Boyle – Pronger

Green – Phaneuf

Bouwmeester

***This is where the hardest decisions are going to come. Seabrook, Weber and Doughty are all worthy of being on this team, but it’s hard to take them over any of the seven listed above.

Goalies:

Brodeur – Luongo – Fleury

***Brodeur starts the first game and alternates with Luongo. Whichever goalie plays better in the round robin will emerge as the starter for the elimination round although I still think Brodeur has a slight edge based on past experience.

Happy Holidays. See you in 2010.

Tiger in Shanghai December 8, 2009

Posted by jorkat in Shanghai.
6 comments

As outlined in my previous post, we arrived in Shanghai mid-afternoon on Friday with the intent of following Tiger during his third round of the HSBC Champions event on Saturday. I had been planning this trip since Tiger announced his participation over 6 months ago. So needless to say, I was looking forward to this day quite a bit. 

Tiger has competed in this event every year since 2006 with the exception of last year as he was recovering from knee surgery, but has never actually won it. After solid opening rounds of 67 on Thursday and Friday, Tiger had a share of the lead and was playing in the final group. Phil was just a few strokes back and playing in the second to last group right in front of Tiger. This was better than having them play together because it dispersed the crowd somewhat between the two groups and allowed us to watch both players throughout the day. 

Tiger actually received a $3M appearance fee just for showing up. He also played the following weekend in Australia and collected another $3M for that as well on top of the prize money he earned for winning the Australian tournament. Therefore, he collected in excess of $7M for playing in two tournaments. He then boarded his private jet after two weeks abroad and went back to his perfect life with his loving wife and children. 

Back when I wrote about Tiger and my top 3 man crushes, I discussed how much I missed having Tiger and Tom Brady in my life while they were recuperating from respective knee injuries last year. I missed watching their clutch performances on sports’ grandest stages, even if it was almost always from a far. Sure, I had seen Tiger  live at Augusta, but those crowds were overwhelming. I got even closer at the Presidents Cup in Montreal, but I had never met any of my top 3 in person…until Shanghai. 

I had no idea what to expect in terms of crowds, but we had every intention of following Tiger as closely as possible. An article on ESPN on Friday mentioned how the crowds following him were extremely large and that security was having problems with people using cameras and cell phones. In most PGA tournaments in North America, cameras and cell phones are strictly prohibited. If you get caught using either, you can get kicked off the property. At the Masters in Augusta, Georgia, they have metal detectors and pat down every patron. The security is tighter than an airport. This wasn’t the case in Shanghai. There were signs posted all over the course banning the use of cameras and cell phones, but that didn’t stop anyone. Golf has a very small following in China, but it’s growing quickly, so I think they implemented the no cameras/cell phones policy to appease the players, but turned a blind eye to it to encourage more people to come and get pictures of the world’s best golfers. I obviously took full advantage of the situation, but was much more discreet than most. 

 It wasn’t much of an issue with any of the other players, but Tiger and Phil had very large followings and more than half the people had some sort of electronic device. They didn’t mind if you took pictures in between shots, but as soon as the player was about to address his ball, security would go around to everyone in the crowd and try to get them to put away all cameras and cell phones. Not a fun job. Every threesome has two security people assigned – Tiger and Phil had six each. Luckily I was able to get some footage of him on the practice green and sneak of few action shots throughout his round without being noticed by security. 

Check out this lag putt that he hits from over 40 feet away. And yes, I’m likely responsible for the majority of the 100-plus views of this video on YouTube so far. 

The best part of watching a golf event live in China is that if you’re over 5’10”, you never have to deal with obstructed views. No matter how large the gallery is, finding an open sight line isn’t a problem. I estimated that between 5-10% of the crowd was visible minorities, meaning that we stuck out rather easily. Tiger may not have known who I was before the round, but he surely did once it was over, as me and Stevie (his caddy) were almost always the only white dudes within 20 feet of him. 

 In fact, we were able to get so close that Tiger and I had a nice chat after he finished up on the practice green en route to the first tee. I don’t remember the exact wording of the conversation, but I’m sure if you ask him he would remember it word for word. It went something like this… 

Me: Good luck Tiger. 

Tiger: Thanks. 

After I regained consciousness surrounded by Chinese paramedics, I reflected on the depth of our exchange and the undeniable bond of our burgeoning friendship. Here’s a picture of where the exchange took place. 

Taken shortly before “The Conversation”.

As Tiger readied himself on the first tee, Katie and I immediately started down the left side of the fairway. I explained to her along the way that Tiger has a tendency to be a little wild off the first tee and that if he hit an errant shot, that he would likely push it left. We walked to about the 300 yard mark and I looked back towards the tee waiting for Tiger’s ball to receive clearance for take-off. Sure enough, as soon as he completed his swing, he immediately pointed left with his driver indicating to the crowd and tournament officials that he had indeed pushed it left. Since most of the patrons had never attended a live golf tournament before, no one even knew the ball was in the air. I did my best to warn everyone but I didn’t know how to say “Head’s Up!” in Mandarin. No one budged until the ball came screaming into the crowd like a scud missile about 10 feet from where we were standing. I watched it the whole way and we immediately positioned ourselves to be right next to it for his approach shot. This was the first of many close encounters with Tiger and Stevie throughout the day. 

 From this position, he ripped a wedge through the deep grass and put his ball safely on the green for an opening par. 

Golf is a made-for-TV sport but watching them live gives you an even greater appreciation for how good these guys really are. I love hearing the conversations between player and caddy as they discuss club selection, weather conditions, and targets. It’s also amazing how much control of the ball they have. One of my favourite shots of the day was Tiger’s famous 2-iron stinger. He uses it whenever he needs to put the ball safely in the middle of the fairway and doesn’t want to risk hitting a driver or fairway wood. He can hit this shot in his sleep and rarely makes a mistake. As soon as I saw him take out the 2-iron from his bag, I knew it was coming. He uses a ¾ follow-through and keeps the ball real low so it stays under the wind and he gets maximum roll. It’s like watching an airplane taking off. It goes dead straight and slowly rises off in the distance, over 250 yards straight down the middle of the fairway. He doesn’t even watch to see where it will end up. He already knows. 

The more time we spent following Tiger, the more I realized how much we have in common. We both love golf. I bought a white Nike Golf hat at the airport. He wore a white Nike Golf hat on Saturday. He ate banana bread on the 6th hole. I had banana bread while the players made the turn after the 9th. The only real thing that separates us is the fact that Tiger gets paid $3M just to show up and I had to pay approximately $120 for 2 tickets. That, and he sleeps with whores. Aside from that we’re virtually twins. 

 Tiger isn’t very accommodating when it comes to signing autographs or posing for pictures, especially while he’s playing. Fortunately, he was nice enough to make an exception and pose with Katie for a picture on the 12th tee box. He even agreed to make it an action shot. He was a little unsure of which club to use, so I recommended a 7-iron and moving the ball back in his stance to keep the ball flight low as the wind had picked up slightly. Here’s the famous picture – Katie and Tiger have never looked better. Look at that incredible form. Tiger looks good too. 

 Where’s Katie you ask? That’s her ear on the left. Check out his mammoth security guard in the background too. This picture will soon adorn our mantle right next to our wedding picture. 

Tiger and Phil battled for the lead back and forth for most of the day with both players making some nice birdies. Phil ended up with the lead going into the final round on Sunday and eventually won the tournament. He also won a waffle eating contest in the clubhouse the following morning. Tiger settled for 6th and was a non-factor on Sunday. I didn’t actually see any of his final round but from what I heard from those he did watch, he didn’t play well at all. Maybe he had something else on his mind. 

All in all, the entire experience was exactly what I was hoping for. When we started planning to live and teach overseas, I never imagined getting to see Tiger play live and get as close as we did. Getting to speak with him and becoming friends was an added bonus, although he still hasn’t added me on Facebook yet. 

Here are some more pictures from our day with Tiger…and Phil in China. 

 Stay tuned for another post about the rest of our weekend in Shanghai.

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