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Beijing – Part 1 September 10, 2009

Posted by jorkat in Beijing.
11 comments

It occured to me this morning that its already been a month since we returned from our trip to China. Having only written about the Hong Kong portion of the trip, I vowed to finish Beijing today and try to write a couple more posts this week.

Instead of writing a 5,000 word essay covering all of our adventures in Beijing, Katie and I decided to sit down and conduct a more formal interview. Katie prepared a series of questions which I did my best to answer. Here is a transcript of the interview.

Katie: What was the biggest highlight of the trip?

Jordan: That’s easy. The Great Wall of China. It wasn’t even close. We were fortunate enough to pick a  less-touristy portion of the wall (Mutianyu) and hired a private driver to take us to and from, rather than just signing up for some tour group where you’re herded around like cattle. We arrived as early as possible and virtually had the place to ourselves for a couple hours before a few other tourists trickled in.  Even then it was never close to being crowded.

IMG_6175This picture features me first touching the wall after climbing an obscene amount of stairs just to get to it. Luckily, I barely exercise anymore so I was feeling pretty good at this point.

Here’s what we saw next…

We’ve heard many stories and read all about just how awe-inspiring this wonder of the world is, but no picture or description does it justice. You have to see it in person to fully understand the scope of not only how big it is, but how steep some of the sections of the wall are, and how steep the hills are on either side. It’s absolutely astounding that this was built by hand thousands of years ago. I thought building the driving range on an uneven rock surface at the cottage was difficult, but this might actually be more impressive. I’m still undecided.

We covered as much ground as we possibly could and saw 75% of this particular portion. There are boundaries at both ends which forbid tourists from passing as these sections have not been restored. It’s also nearly impossible to find a perfectly flat surface along the path. You’re constantly going up or down to varying degrees, some of which is so steep that it feels like you’re climbing or descending a rock ladder. We tried to take some video/pictures but it doesn’t capture how truly steep it is.

IMG_6193IMG_6192Imagine walking up and down this sort of terrain non-stop for over 3 hours. The best analogy I could come up with (don’t worry, it’s sports-related) was walking from the first row of any Major League Sports Stadium with a seating capacity over 50,000, all the way to the very last row in the upper deck. Then turn around and come back down. And then go back up. Don’t get me wrong, it was worth every step but it was physically taxing.

The only negative aspect of the entire experience was how smoggy it was. I can only imagine how breathtaking it would look like on a clear day, but clear days in Beijing in August are few and far between.

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Once we reached the last guard tower, I managed to find a crumbling piece of stone inside and may or may not have kept a substantial piece of it as a momento. We then returned to our initial point of entry for the long trek back down the stairs, but not before stopping for a quick refreshment. Our first chinese beer – Tsingtao.

IMG_6236Katie: Could you please keep your answers to under 5 minutes. You’ve already eclipsed the 600 word mark.

Jordan: Yes. Sorry about that.

Katie: Oh, and I just bought two new skirts like the one featured in the pictures from Lululemon. They’re super comfortable and great for travelling.

Jordan: Next question.

Katie: OK…What was the coolest unexpected experience which quickly became awkward?

Jordan: Good question. First let me preface this with the fact that I’m a firm believer in karma. What goes around comes around, and the story I’m about to share is a prime example.

After exiting the airport shuttle train in central Beijing, we were confronted by a pushy cab driver who couldn’t speak English but insisted on driving us to our hotel. I asked him how much and had a pretty good idea that the hotel wasn’t that far from our current location. I also knew that cab drivers have been known to prey on foreigners and try to rip them off. Our Lonely Planet travellers guide warned us of this and advised to always use the meter, don’t accept a flat rate. He offered to do it for 150 Rmb’s which equates to approx. $25 CAD. Seemed a little steep to me so I simply asked to have the meter on instead. After hesitating for a split-second he accepted.

About halfway into our 10 minute cab ride, I quickly realized that we had been had. The meter started going up faster than anything I’ve ever seen but started to slow down as we approached our destination even though our speed and distance hadn’t changed. Coincidentally, the meter ended up charging us 140 Rmb’s. After taking our first cab after that from the hotel we confirmed our suspicions as every other cab ride of that distance was never more than 20-30 Rmb’s. Somehow, our first driver had rigged the meter so that even if the unsuspecting foreigner opted for the meter, it would always come close to 150 Rmb’s, if not exceed it. We’d been in Beijing for less than a few hours and had already been ripped off.

Fast forward to our next unusual travel experience. We were leaving the famous Pearl Market after doing some shopping for counterfeit goods when we quickly realized that it was rush hour and that traffic was going to be a nightmare. We approached a few cab drivers outside the market but they all insisted on flat rates and we had already been ripped off once by these guys. We started to walk a few blocks and hail a regular cab, as opposed to the guys hovering outside the market who try to fleece foreigners, and weren’t having much luck until fate intervened.

We had a gentlemen on a large tricycle with two seats on the back stop and offer us a ride. He had already approached us as we walked out of the market, but we had declined. Our situation had changed somewhat now, so I asked him how much. He said 40. I said too much and started to walk away. He said 30. I looked at Katie and we decided to give it a shot.

My first thought was “I can’t believe this guy is going to drive us across the city for about $5 CAD”. My next thought was “how are we going to tell him where our hotel is?”. Fortunately, I had the address of the hotel on the paper which accompanied the key card for the room. Unfortunately, he still didn’t know exactly where it was, but appeared determined to find it.

And yes, we have some video…

After a few minutes it became clear that he was lost. He asked us to see the address again and was looking around like he should have been sitting in the back with us. Finally, he stopped to ask someone  for directions.

I think this next video captures the mood of the moment quite nicely…

After about 45 minutes, our surroundings started to look much more familiar and we recognized our hotel in the distance. After getting a bit closer we were starting to feel guilty for paying another human being to bike ride us across the city. I decided that we would give him a generous tip and started to discuss it with Katie. Once we were within a few blocks of the hotel and were stopped a major intersection, we motioned to him that we would get off here and hadn’t him the generous sum of 50 Rmb’s.

I wish I had a video of the conversation that took place next. It went something like this.

Me: (I hand him 50 Rmb’s instead of 30 as we disembark from his tricycle) Shez shez (“Thank you” in Chinese)

Him: (Gets very irritated and starts shouting) 300! 300!

Me: You said 30. Katie did he say 30?

Katie: Yes.

Me: You said 30.

Him: (Getting angrier while pointing at his legs in an attempt to acknowledge that he’s tired from peddling us across the city) 300! chinese obscenities 300! chinese obscenities. 300!

Me: Here’s another 10. That’s all I have on me. (I motioned to my pockets and showed him that they were empty)

Him: 300! More chinese obscenities. (I don’t even know for sure if they were obscenities or not, but sometimes you just have a feeling)

This conversation continued for what seemed like forever until we slowly backed away feeling guilty and scared that he might call some of his other tricycle buddies and follow us to our hotel. Thankfully, I don’t think he could afford a cell phone and we managed to get back safely into our hotel unscathed.

Katie: That story was over 900 words. You’ve eclipsed the 1500 word mark and I’ve only asked 2 questions.

Jordan: Why don’t we split this post into a two or three-parter so our readers’ legs don’t get numb.

Katie: Good idea. Hopefully you won’t be wearing that stupid Red Sox shirt in every picture in the subsequent posts.

Jordan: I can’t make any promises. Stay tuned for Beijing Part 2 later this week.

Happy Birthday August 25, 2009

Posted by jorkat in Seoul.
5 comments

Monday, August 24th marked the 6-month anniversary of our arrival in Korea. Upon arriving at school that morning, we were greeted with an sombre anniversary present. One of the children at our school has been diagnosed with Swine Flu over the weekend. The young boy is in the classroom right next to mine and a number of our students had been sick over the past week. After spending most of the day washing our hands and hosing down the kids with Purell, the administration decided to close the school for the balance of the week. Therefore, we are now back on vacation. Happy Anniversary!!

With all due respect to those who have lost loved ones as a result of this virus, I’m pleased to announce that this strain of influenza has just cracked my Top 3 Favourite Flu’s List.

1. Swine Flu (H1N1)

2. Bird Flu (H5N1)

3. Regular Flu? (I don’t know any other ones and I’m too lazy to look it up.)

As a result of this unexpected gift turn of events, we decided to head for the beach and leave early tomorrow morning. Before departing though, I wanted to take a moment to acknowledge a very special young man’s 1st Birthday.

Nathan Richard Algate aka Nate Dawg was born into this world on August 26th, 2008 and has quickly become one of my biggest fans.

I can’t help but be amazed by Nathan’s eye for raw comedic talent. That wasn’t even my best material either. Just wait until he learns how to read about his Uncle Jordan and his adventures flipping golf carts and shooting crotch fireworks. His other Uncles don’t stand a chance.

Happy Birthday Nate Dawg, from Auntie Katie and Uncle Jordan. Your laugh is almost as big as your head.

Editor’s Note: The Beijing Post is in Post-Production and will be unveiled upon our return from the Beach. Stay tuned.

This Day in History August 18, 2009

Posted by jorkat in Seoul.
7 comments
Today marks a very special day in history.
On this day in the year 1227, Mongol conquerer Genghis Khan died in China.

Robert Redford was also born on this day in 1937.
genghis-khanRobert-Redford
But most importantly, it’s the day that I asked Katie for her hand in marriage in Central Park, New York (2006) and married her the following year in Muskoka (2007).
jorkat818
How about another list?
Here are my Top 10 favourite things about being married to Katie.
10 ) She makes me food.
9 ) She enjoys watching most sports (with the exception of football which I’m
working on with Tom Brady‘s help)
8 ) She likes almost all the same TV shows as me (with the exception of PTI which she doesn’t like, and the Bachelor(ette) which she likes a little too much)
7 ) She laughs at my jokes. Sometimes.
6 ) She loves me even if I haven’t showered in a while.
5 ) She manages my obsessive compulsive disorder. I suppose it’s better than being a complete slob but I like having things organized almost to a fault and sometimes have a habit of moving her stuff around too. Even though 99% of the time, I’m moving it to the right spot.
4 ) She lets me watch her in the shower. She doesn’t always know about this one, but it makes me very happy.
3 ) She’s a Leafs fan.
2 ) She’s a beautiful, kind and compassionate woman who’s going to make an
excellent mother to our children.
1 ) She doesn’t get upset when her husband buys her fake flowers on their anniversary by accident. Mostly because he walked for over an hour in scorching heat to find this particular type of flower but didn’t inspect them close enough when he finally found them.
Katie, I couldn’t be happier with the decision we made as individuals to spend our lives together, and the decision we made as a couple to move to Asia and travel the world. We couldn’t have picked a better time in our lives to do this and I’m the luckiest guy in the world to have you by my side.
Happy Anniversay Katie. I love you more than anything. I hope the next two years are just as exciting and eventful as the first two years have been. ‘Cause after that, I’m really going to let myself go…

Hong Kong August 18, 2009

Posted by jorkat in Hong Kong.
4 comments

I love to make lists.

I have lists of everything. I have lists of the books I want to read. I have lists of the places I want to go. I even have a list of all of my lists.

Therefore, I’ve decided to present my most recent list of the Top 5 things we’ll remember most about our recent trip to Hong Kong.

Before I get started though, I want to take  a moment to acknowledge our rather interesting trip to the airport. One of our friends had told us about a shuttle bus that left from a stop not too far from our place. It only cost 9,000 KRW’s (less than $9 CAD) and would take us directly to the terminal. As a precaution, I scouted the bus stop’s exact location the night before to ensure that I knew exactly where we were going. The sign was clearly marked Airport Shuttle in English, but the rest of the sign was in Korean. Seemed good enough to me so I headed home to finish packing for our 8-day excursion (4 days in HK and 4 days in Beijing). Our flight left at 8:30am and it was about a one hour drive to the airport so our day would be starting around 5am.

We arrived at the bus stop right on schedule with our massive backpacks on and waited patiently for the 5:52am bus to arrive. Despite being very early in the morning, there was a fair amount of people already out and about. Some of them on their way to work, some of them on their way home from the bar.

A few minutes after our arrival an older Korean woman who worked at a restaurant in front of the bus stop approached us and started explaining (in Korean) that this wasn’t the right stop. Fortunately, some younger guys who spoke a little English intervened and were able to translate. One of them who was clearly intoxicated indicated that the shuttle bus stop had been moved a few blocks away and was nice enough to escort us to the exact location. Korean hospitality at its finest. I maintain that if this country had a last call in bars, that this encounter would never have happened as he would have been home in bed, and we may have missed our flight. Score one for the friendly alcoholics.

We arrived at the airport in plenty of time and enjoyed a smooth day of travel into Communist China. Without further ado, here are our Top 5 favourite things from our trip to Hong Kong. In no particular order…

1. Sky Terrace

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When you ask any local what you should do when visiting Hong Kong, this place is invariably the answer given by most.

If you’re fortunate enough to visit on clear, smogless day, it’s easy to understand why. It was incredibly humid out but the view was breathtaking and made the heat a bit more tolerable.

To access the Sky Terrace, you have to take something called the Peak Tram. It’s basically a railcar that’s been in operation since 1888. Despite numerous renovations, it still sounds like it’s from 1888 and can be a little nerve-wracking when you’re pitched on a 60 degree angle knowing that you’re a broken cable away from plunging to a certain death. Totally worth it though.

Here’s some video from the Sky Terrace…

2. Spicy Tuna from Tokio Joe’s with Old Friends.

Katie and I were both excited to try some some authentic Chinese cuisine. So where did we go for our first dinner out in Hong Kong?…We went for sushi.

This wasn’t actually our decision but we couldn’t have been happier with the result. Katie and I were very fortunate to both have old friends from high school currently living in Hong Kong, and both spoke highly of this restaurant. I must admit that it was pretty cool sitting down for a nice meal in a cool restaurant on the other side of the world with Rob and Colin. Aside from being informed of Big Papi’s positive steroid test, it was a fabulous meal. Colin was in charge of ordering everything and he didn’t disappoint, the spicy tuna was as good as I’ve ever had. And the company was even better. It was nice to sit with an old friend and argue about which Phillies’ outfielder was accused of juicing earlier this year, and once again be proven wrong.

Rob & Jordan

Rob & Jordan


Katie & Colin

Katie & Colin

Thank you both for a memorable stay in Hong Kong.

3. We have two subcategories for this one as Katie and I had slightly different preferences. See if you can guess who chose what?…

a) Epic Ping Pong matches with Rob.

Rob is a very busy guy who travels a lot for work and doesn’t get to spend much time relaxing at home. So I’ll never forget when I asked him about the pool on the second floor and he immediately remembered that there was a Ping Pong table in the games room that he had never used. It was the most excited I had seen him in years and I quickly adopted his enthusiasm. We made it to the games room in less than 11 seconds. I think Katie went swimming, but I was too focused on Ping Pong to notice for sure.

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I had a table at home in High School and me and a couple roommates had one in one in University that took up 50% of our living room and doubled as our kitchen table. I haven’t played much over the years, but the rust quickly wore off for both of us and we were right back at a pretty high level after only a few games. It was also one of the nicest tables I’ve ever played on with barriers surrounding it to prevent the ball from bouncing all over the room after I won the point. I can’t remember exactly who won or lost, but I do remember beating him pretty badly and I know the exact score if anyone cares to discuss it, that’s not what matters though.

b) Shopping at Stanley Market

We spent one afternoon at this cool little market that sold all kinds of crap. It was called Stanley Market and it’s been around forever. I bought a fridge magnet with my name in Chinese on it. You can read more about it here.

4. Filipino Sundays

Hong Kong is a very affluent city. It’s consistently ranked as one of the most expensive cities in the world and thus, has a considerable upper class who can afford and enjoy this lifestyle. It’s also quite common for those who have the means, to hire housekeepers, maids, helpers, etc. who usually live with the families they work for. Many of the condos built for this demographic are even designed with a room for the maid in mind.

The other common thread that most, if not all of this hired help share is that they are usually of Filipino decent and they have their only day off on Sunday. We had been warned in advance by Rob to be prepared as we ventured into town on Sunday, but it was still staggering nonetheless. Hundreds and hundreds, if not thousands of Filipino women were huddled together on the streets, in parks, basically anywhere they could find shade where they wouldn’t have to spend money. These pictures don’t do it justice, it’s really something you have to experience in person to appreciate the scope of how many there are. And then you start to think about how each one of them is employed by someone with considerable wealth and you really start to understand why Hong Kong is so expensive.

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5) The Heat

Easily the hottest and most humid weather conditions either of us have ever experienced. We had to shower and change twice a day without exception. We also had to take shelter in H&M while wandering downtown one afternoon just to take cover from the sweltering heat and enjoy some A/C. I’ll never forget the gusts of A/C coming from the shops as we walked by and how refreshing they were. True story – on more than once occasion I had to use the washroom as we were drinking a lot of water to try and stay hydrated. We couldn’t find a washroom in the immediate vicinity and continued exploring hoping to run into one. Within a few minutes when we had finally found one, my urge to relief myself had dissipated. Now I’m no Doctor, or Scientist, or whoever would study something like this, but I’m pretty sure that my urine evaporated.

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Now I don’t sweat nearly as bad as some people I know (my wife) so I can only imagine what their shirt would look like (it’s gross) after a day in the Hong Kong humidity. It’s also impossible to tell from this picture how much of that moisture is actually sweat and how much is the aforementioned urine that evaporated from my body. I will acknowledge that holding your pee isn’t the best idea and that I’ll probably develop prostate cancer by the age of 50, but it was nice not having to go the bathroom every half hour and letting our depleted ozone layer do all the work.

IMG_6040This is the view from Rob and Dana’s terrace which didn’t quite crack the Top 5, but deserves honourable mention along with Rob’s hospitality. The lone blemish on our trip was the fact that his wife Dana and daughter Alice were back in Montreal visiting family. Hong Kong is a very cool city (figuratively speaking) but this trip was more about reconnecting with old friends, and we couldn’t have been happier with the result.

We awoke Monday morning and headed to the airport for the next leg of our journey. Fortunately, this time we didn’t require the escort of an intoxicated Asian. Off to Beijing…

Mud Fest – Part 2 August 1, 2009

Posted by jorkat in Boryeong.
9 comments

Have you ever had a really good idea that ended up being a terrible idea in retrospect?

I’ve had lots of them. Lots and lots.

Well this is a story about the exact opposite. A really bad idea that turned into one of the more memorable nights I’ve had here in Korea.

The story you’re about to read took place after the busy day and night that I just described in my previous post. As I mentioned at the conclusion, we were headed back to our hotel and debating whether to turn in for the night.  Katie decided to go to bed as she had a headache, but Kirsten, Darren and I decided to sit on the couch in the lobby of our Minbak (hotel) and pretend to be security. Keep in mind that there’s no front desk, no security, nothing. Just a couch and a flight of stairs.

We grabbed some drinks, set up shop on the couch, and started asking people for ID as they entered. We informed them that we had been hired by our tour group to provide late night security to ensure the safety of all participants. Most people walked by and laughed. Some people obliged and showed ID (while I made them hold my beer), and some even turned around in embarasssment as they were clearly trying to sneak in. Nevermind that we were slurring our words and had trouble walking straight, we provided our tour group and the community with a valuable service.

Kirsten eventually grew tired of the charade and retired to the (dis)comfort of our Minbak floor. Not sure what time it is at this point, but my guess would be sometime between 2am and who the hell knows. Darren and I weren’t quite ready to call it a night, so we headed to the Family Mart, but made a quick stop on a restaurant patio to arm wrestle a small group of Koreans. I wish I could remember more details, but I’m pretty sure I beat one of the girls and Darren beat her boyfriend. It didn’t matter though, we were all winners.

After grabbing some beers and listening to some Canadian tell us about the lung surgery he had in Korea, we started back to our couch when we both suddenly stopped dead in our tracks.

It was one of those moments when neither of us had to say a word. It was destiny. We ended up in that exact place at that moment in time for a reason.

Neatly parked amongst some cars on the side of the road was some sort of golf cart/bicycle. It’s difficult to describe so here’s a picture.

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I still don’t really know what it is, but I’m buying one as soon as I find out where they sell them. In our minds, it was our “car” as we had no idea what else to call it, and  referred to it as such for the remainder of the night…err, morning.

When we first hoped aboard and took off, I remembered thinking there was no way this joy ride would last more than 30 seconds. I fully expected the “car’s” rightful owner to come running out and apprehend us. Once we made it a few blocks away from the scene of the crime, I remembered thinking that this place was crawling with cops and there’s no way our joy ride would last more than 5 minutes.

Of course, less than a few minutes later we approached a couple officers questioning some Koreans on the side of the road. We maintained as low a profile as 2 foreigners driving a golf cart/bicycle at 3am can, and drove right by. The entire group looked right at us and went right back to discussing the issue at hand.

At this point, we knew we were in the clear. We were absolutely giddy…and thirsty. After a brief pitstop to refuel, we mounted our trusty steed and set out on our next adventure.

After touring the neighbourhood for a while and showing off our new ride, we arrived at the top of a hill and immediately started downward. There was a light drizzle so the roads were wet and slippery. About the midway down the hill as we approached an intersection with cars still out and about, we made a horrible discovery – we didn’t know how to use the brakes. We were so excited with our new toy that neither of us had bothered to research this rather vital feature.

As we picked up speed and headed for the criss-crossing traffic ahead, we had a minor communication breakdown. As you can see from the picture, the “car” has a very narrow wheelbase and both steering wheels operate independently of each other. So basically each steering wheel controls the front wheel on their respective side of the vehicle. Therefore, its important for both parties to be on the same page when making decisions at high speeds.

I had intended to sail through the intersection and hope for the best, whereas Darren had other ideas. Just as we entered the intersection and it looked like we would sail right through unscathed, Darren decided to make a hard right and try to turn the corner. This was of course news to me and the vehicle immediately flipped on to it’s side and slide into the middle of the intersection with me on top of Darren.

Once we came to a stop, I simply asked Darren is he was ok and we quickly picked ourselves up, turned the “car” right side up and hoped back  on board. There was several onlookers who rushed over to see if we were ok, including a man who ran out from the restaurant and had a look on his face like he had just seen a ghost.

We rushed from the scene in shock and took a few minutes to digest what had just happened. We had flipped on our left side so Darren had absorbed most of the blow and had landed on his left shoulder and knee. As you can see from these pictures, our knees are pretty beat up. I remember making fun of Darren for making such a bad decision and suffering as a result, when he suddenly looked down and noticed that my knee was pretty chewed up too. I was sitting the right side of the vehicle and still managed to rip apart my knee. Oh, and we also stopped and figured out how to use the brakes.

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This was by far the most memorable episode of the entire adventure, but far from the last.

We ended up circling the community for hours and made friends from all corners of the globe. We actually starting giving people lifts home and managed to fit 5 spanish guys on the cart at once. We also encoutered a Korean girl in tears who had no idea what hotel she was staying at and had lost her friends. We picked her up and drove around for awhile until by chance we found someone she recognized from her tour group who helped her safely back to her hotel. Another valuable service provided to the community.

The final chapter of our story involved a new friend who loved the “car” as much as we did, maybe more. His name was Doug, he had a british accent and looked like Side Show Bob from the Simpsons. We called him Side Show Doug.

DSC00809Doug joined us very late in the festivities but proved himself to be a valuable asset. He abandoned the group of friends he was with so he could join us and didn’t mind sitting on the back. He really won us over when he volunteered to drive the car down a flight of approximately 40 stairs. He was an admirable addition to our squad and added a little UK flavour to our Canada-US partnership.

The best part about Doug was when he informed us that since he had separated from his group of friends to join our crusade, that he had no place to stay. Without thinking twice, Darren and I offered to let him stay with us as we were already sleeping in a room with at least 10 other stangers and Doug practically felt like family at this point. I’ll never forget hearing Katie and Kirsten wake up the next morning, notice the guy sleeping at their feet and quietly whisper to each other, “Who’s that guy?”

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That’s so Side Show Doug. No pillow, just using his hand and happy to have a roof over his head. Once again, another valuable service provided to the community.

As fate would have it, after escorting scores of people safely back to their hotels/minbaks, we came upon one last lost soul as we headed back to our place just after sunrise. It was the Canadian who had lung surgery we had met shortly before our adventure began. He couldn’t find his hotel, but he knew he was close. We had become such experts on the neighbourhood, that once he gave me a description, I was able to escort him home safely within minutes. Another satisfied customer.

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Some may say that we committed a theft and acted recklessly. I prefer to focus on the positives and all the good deeds that we performed as a result of this “temporary” theft. One might even call us modern day Robin Hoods. Regardless of your position, I’m proud of the service we provided and slept (un)comfortably on the floor with a clear conscious and Darren snoring.

As we left the hotel the next morning, our “car” had mysteriously vanished, hopefully back to its rightful owner as we had “borrowed” it from less then a block away. For a second, I wondered if the whole thing had just been a dream, until I started walking and felt the gash on my knee. I hope it never heals.

Editor’s Note: I may or may not have video of me someone shooting roman candles from their crotch in a park. I wanted to include it in this post but the content is questionnable due to mature themes and inappropriate language. Feel free to email me if you’re over the age of 18.

Mud Fest – Part 1 July 27, 2009

Posted by jorkat in Boryeong.
8 comments

And we’re back…I apologize for the delay, but out computer was being repaired from a virus that we contracted last week. And that’s all I have to say about that.

Two weekends ago we attended the 12th Annual Mud Festival in Boryeong, Korea. Boryeong is small town on the West Coast of Korea about a 3 hour drive from Seoul. The entire town is geared around this annual Mud Festival and it attracts thousands of visitors from all over Korea.

The special mud is dug up near Boryeong, trucked to the beach area, and dumped at a ‘Mud Experience Land’ which is basically an amusement park full of Mud. The Mud is considered rich in minerals and used to manufacture cosmetics. Maybe this was part of the initial allure of the festival, but healthy skin appeared to be last thing on most people’s minds that we encountered.

You can read more about the actual event here, but let me attempt to summarize the festivities in one sentence. Mud Fest is an excuse for Foreigners (and some Koreans) to come together and throw mud at each other while intoxicated. Imagine being Crescent Street during Grand Prix weekend and then incorporating mud into the festivities.

We had been warned in advance thanks to the Mulloskey’s blog and several of our co-workers that this was basically one big fraternity party (with mud), so I did my best impression of myself from ten years ago and probably shaved a few years off my life as a result.

Let’s get to some pictures shall we…

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These are our luxurious accommodations. It’s what Koreans call a “Minbak” which in English means, sleep on the floor with strangers. I’m not kidding. This came as no surprise, as this is a common type of cheap hotel and we wanted a truly unique Korean experience. And when I say unique, I mean “cheap”. We ended up paying less than $60 each for our accommodations, 3-hour bus ride both ways and a t-shirt. We honestly spent more on beer then we did on transportation and hotel combined. We ended up in a room with 16 other people even though the room was only big enough for maybe 10 to sleep comfortably on the floor. Upon arrival we met a few people in our room and exchanged pleasantries. The only problem was that they had only provided 6 pillows and blankets for 16 people. I wasn’t too concerned though, as I didn’t intend on spending much time asleep in the room anyway.

Anyway, enough about the crappy hotel, let’s get muddy shall we…

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After

Let’s just say the picture on the left is that last we’ll ever be seeing of that white t-shirt.

We had also been warned ahead of time to beware of the paparazzi. I paid little attention to this warning but was shocked by the number of Koreans carrying thousands of dollars worth of camera gear and taking pictures of every foreigner in sight. Some of them even camped out on rooftops with zoom lenses that would put any major sporting event to shame.

Whenever I had the opportunity, I turned the tables and took pictures of the paparazzi, while they took pictures of us.

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This picture really doesn’t do it justice. Keep in mind that there were hundreds of Koreans with cameras much bigger than these, and that it was raining most of the day. Not to mention that mud was being flung through the air by yours truly every chance I got. There’s no way to didn’t take out a Nikon or two with some friendly fire.

How about some more random pics and video?

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After wreaking enough havoc and posing for the paparazzi, we jumped in the ocean and cleaned ourselves off. We had showers back at the hotel floor and went back out for dinner. After a nice meal we headed towards the main stage for a concert and fireworks when the skies opened up. Just as it started, I suggested we take cover in a familiar location that I had read about a couple years ago.

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This picture was taken in 2007 and was the only shelter within the vicinity that offered coverage from the rain and a nice view of the fireworks. It’s called Mud Prison and was full during the day of people posing for pictures, but we were the first to take occupancy once the rain started and it was the second best decision I made all weekend (the best decision will follow in the next post). We spent some quality time mingling with Koreans and Foreigners alike while taking in the impressive fireworks display.

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The rain finally let up enough for everyone to move over to the stage area where a variety of performances kept us occupied and dancing well into the night. The acts ranged from break dancing to Hip Hop to Michael Jackson tributes. It was thoroughly entertaining. After it finished and the rain started back up again, we slowly headed back to the hotel after a long eventful day.

Little did we know that my (and Darren’s) night was just beginning…

Speech Day July 10, 2009

Posted by jorkat in Seoul.
8 comments

Back in May our school held a speech contest for all afternoon elementary and middle school students. Each student was to prepare a one-page speech on  a topic of their choice. Depending on the class’s skill level, the students would then present their speeches in front of the entire school and either read or have it memorized. Most of the subjects were fairly obvious and mundane – soccer, my family, the usual boring stuff. But there was one student who stood out from the from the crowd and undertook the task of covering a topic so fascinating and complex, that it would shake the foundation of school right to its inner core. A topic so awe-inspiring and enlightening that it would be talked about for seconds, if not minutes after being read.

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When I first announced to my afternoon class that we would be having such a contest, it was met with mixed reviews. Some of the stronger English speakers were somewhat enthused whereas the others displayed anxiousness or downright displeasure. Despite my attempts to dismiss the task as no big deal, the kids weren’t buying it. One girl in particular became downright angry and stated matter of factly that she had no intention of doing the speech and would not come to school that day.

IMG_6563After spending a few minutes doing damage control, I got all the students on board except for the hostile female. We’ll call her Julia because that’s her name.

During our break, Julia was almost in tears and extremely upset over the whole speech contest. After several minutes of negotiations, I was able to cut a deal that satisfied both parties. She agreed to prepare the speech but would not have to memorize it and would have the option of reading her speech in front of the school. After signing off on the agreement, we discussed some ideas for topics, but Julia had already made up her mind and wanted to keep her topic a secret. I agreed and was just thankful that she didn’t want to kill me anymore.

May 24th, 2009 is a day that will go down in the annals of history as the day the world’s next great speechwriter was discovered. This young lady composed a series of elegant prose that was destined to be considered among the great speeches of all time. When I read the first draft, my immediate thought was, there’s Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” speech, there’s Lou Gehrig’s “I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth” speech and then there’s this:

 I would like to tell you about my English teacher named Jordan. Jordan is funny and smart. The funny part is that he makes studying fun. When we play hangman he makes it fun and helps us learn new words. The smart part is that if we don’t know the answer he says a lot of things that help us understand. He also knows Spanish and French too. He is so kind to us that if we are hard at work and need help, he will tell us how to do it. If its a hard test he will say “it’s OK, you can do it” or “you can get a great score”. He says lots of nice things to us. I love you teacher. Oh, and one more thing, he makes us laugh when we do some of our work. He makes class fun and helps us understand English much better. I’m really happy to have Jordan as my English teacher.

Every word of this opus is completely authentic. I might even use it as a reference letter when I apply for my next job. The only aspect of the speech that she neglected to cover was how handsome I am, but aside from that I think she covered her bases. Unfortunately, Julia was too nervous to get up in front of the whole school and read her masterpiece. So for now, the only ones lucky enough to be exposed to this magnificent tribute are my loyal readers, and every teacher on staff that I forced to read it.

Sleeping June 29, 2009

Posted by jorkat in Seoul.
8 comments

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This picture has nothing to do with Korea.

However, it’s still one of my favourite pictures which I’ve been looking for an excuse to post on this blog since its creation. Fortunately, it couldn’t be more perfect or more relevant to the content of this post.

The picture was taken about two years ago shortly after we moved into our new condo in Montreal. Katie almost always went to bed before I did and greeted me upon arrival sound asleep with her body contorted in various awkward positions. This one was too good to ignore so I snapped a picture with my blackberry and its made me laugh ever since.

Another byproduct of her earlier bedtime was that she was often well into her sleep cycle and had a tendency to talk in her sleep. She usually wouldn’t say more than a word of two but sometimes it would be something amusing which I would try to remember to make fun of her for the next morning. Sometimes her banter could be traced back to some current event or issue at hand, but usually it was just rambling or random words.

Well these sleep patterns haven’t changed much at all. I go to bed even later than before as I don’t have to get up until 8:45am and she’s almost always in bed asleep before I arrive. But for some reason, she’s taken this whole sleep talking thing to unprecedented levels.

Random words have been replaced with full blown sentences. Mumbling while tossing and turning have become body actions incorporated into her statements. It’s amazing. Sometimes I actually think she’s talking to me until I respond and the room remains completely silent. Other times I would almost be asleep myself when she would utter something amusing and I would do my best to remember what she said the next day, but would often forget. Now, no matter how tired I am or what time it is, I laugh out loud and get up out of bed to write it down. Some of these are too good to forget.

I’m trying to limit my blog posts to 1200 words so I’ll provide you all with only three of my favourites.

1)  “Why do you keep writing it?!” – This was said in a fairly angry tone which sort of scared me. I wasn’t writing in bed so I knew she wasn’t talking to me.

2) “Put your toys away, NOW!” – This was said in an even angrier tone. I didn’t have any toys in bed with me that night, so I knew she wasn’t yelling talking to me.

3) “Very good everyone, your speeches were amazing.” – This one was the best because she said it as she rolled over and managed to clap her hands a few times. It was classic. It was also nice to here her praise her kids in her sleep as opposed to getting mad at them.

The great part of this whole thing is that if I ever want to know about something that’s bothering her and I don’t feel like asking her about it, all I have to do is pull an all-nighter, pull up a chair and wait for the show to begin. It’s also become clear that she’s such a good teacher because she’s basically doing it 24/7. If she isn’t in class during the day with her children, she’s at home praising me for not spilling on my shirt while eating, or disciplining me for leaving the toilet seat up. Then once she goes to sleep, she’s back in her sub-conscious classroom prepping for tomorrow’s lesson. She’s a true professional.

Speaking of sleeping, a few of the teachers who preceded us at our school shared a little game with us which was a big hit with their kids. The game is called Sleepy Lion and it’s one of the greatest gifts ever given to me. The premise of the game is simple. The children have to lie on the carpet in dead silence and not move for as long as possible. If you’re caught moving you have to go back to the table and sit in your chair in complete silence. Next to hockey and golf, it’s the greatest game known to mankind.

 Now, if I had my way, I would probably play Sleepy Lion a couple hours a day, but this is one of those games that isn’t exactly encouraged by the administration, so you have to pick your spots. I try to avoid playing it unless I have 5 minutes to kill at the end of class, or I’m hung-over on Friday and want to join in on the game myself.

The best part of the game is that the kids absolutely love it. You could inject them with caffeine and get them to run laps around the classroom, but as soon as you say Sleepy Lion they can lapse into a coma on command. Two girls in my class are on a whole other level compared to the other students. Jessica and Sally are the Federer and Nadal of Sleepy Lion. I would put them up against any other kids in the school and it wouldn’t even be close. Jessica is one of the most hyper and energetic children in my class. She laughs at everything, and I mean everything, but the second that she hits the carpet she goes to a special place. No matter what I do to make her laugh or flinch, she just stares back blankly at me as if I’m not even there. It’s incredible.

Federer, Nadal, and Djokovic?

Federer, Nadal, and Djokovic?

 Here’s some video of my class in action (maybe “action” isn’t the right word). As you’ll see, the boys (Bob Jack & Nathan) never fare as well. The third girl in my class, Adela sometimes contends with Jessica and Sally, but it almost always comes down to Federer vs Nadal. I guess Adela would be considered Djokovic or Murray and if you don’t know what I’m talking about – shame on you. As you can see, I’ve given this a great deal of thought and may even start a ranking system similar to the ATP so that I can seed them for future competition. Enjoy.

Now if only I could train my wife to be as quiet as my class while she’s sleeping.

Dr. Fish June 22, 2009

Posted by jorkat in Seoul.
4 comments

Have you ever been in line at the coffee shop and looked down at your feet in disgust because of how dirty they were?

If yes, then how disappointed were you when you realized that there wasn’t any kind of podiatric services offered at that coffee shop?

Have you ever been late for a pedicure and/or foot massage and couldn’t stop for coffee on the way?

What if I told you that there was a place in Seoul where you could order a cafe latte, and then have all the dirt and dead skin removed from your feet for a nominal charge?

Interested?

Now, how would you react if I told you that the method of removing this dirt/dead skin involved dipping your feet into a shallow tank of water with hundreds of small fish? And that these fish would make your feet cleaner and smoother then they have ever been by eating the dead skin right off your feet. Still interested?

This isn’t a joke. It’s called Dr. Fish and it has easily cracked the top 5 for most bizarre, yet oddly satisfying things we’ve encountered here thus far.

We had heard about it from a variety of sources but didn’t have the courage to go until our friends Meghan and Daryl (the couple that was staying with us a couple weeks ago) decided to visit one last time before heading back to Canada.  They insisted that we join them. Needless to say, we weren’t disappointed and will definitely be going back.

When you first walk into the place, you wouldn’t even know that it was anything but a coffee shop. In fact, most of the young patrons were there only for the coffee and to socialize with friends. After ordering a slightly overpriced latte by Korean standards (approx. $5), we paid the additional 2,000 KRW (approx. $2) for Dr. Fish’s services. I still don’t know where the name comes from, or if an actual Dr. Fish exists, but we were informed by one of our Korean colleagues that the fish aren’t actually Doctors. Thanks.

After enjoying our respective beverages for a few minutes we were summoned to a slightly elevated area overlooking the entire coffee shop, right next to the large main window outside. This is where the nerves kick in a little once you take your first peak inside the tanks. The fish are smaller than we expected, but there were lots of them. And they looked hungry.

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If you’re feet are overly sensitive and easily tickled, then this activity probably isn’t for you. Once you get over the initial sensation and get past that fact that hundreds of small fish are gnawing at your legs, it can actually become somewhat relaxing. I couldn’t even look down at first and just kept telling myself that I was being tickled, after a few minutes I was fine and started taking more pictures and recording some video. Enjoy.

I was on the phone with my Uncle this morning and he asked me if I’d come across any million dollar ideas that I could bring back to Canada. Dr. Fish didn’t immediately come to mind but now that I think about it, maybe I should put together a business plan and get in touch with Tim Horton’s/Second Cup/Starbucks, if only just to see their reaction once they read my proposal. They’ll probably throw me out of their office, but my feet were cleaner and smoother than they ever have or ever will be again. That is until we head back again after accumulating enough dirt and dead skin to feed the medical professionals at Dr. Fish.

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Mart Drinking June 14, 2009

Posted by jorkat in Seoul.
7 comments

One of the great things about living in Montreal is the convenience of being able to buy beer at the local depanneur (or convenience store for those of you outside of La Belle Province). Korea offers this same luxury and takes it a step further by offering quality wines and even hard liquor. These establishments are commonly referred to as “Marts” which I suspect is derived from the name of one of the more common chains “Family Mart”.

These marts offer an impressive array of imported alcohol at reasonable prices (bottle of Heineken costs 2,800 KRW which equates to approx $2.50 CAD). They also have a full selection of domestic beer and liquor which are even cheaper. You can purchase a 1.5L bottle of any of the local brands (OB, Hite & Cass) for 2,000 KRW, which is less than $2.00 CAD.  If beer isn’t your thing and you’re looking to take it up a notch, you can take your chances with the Korean’s beverage of choice, Soju. They drink this stuff with almost everything and at all times of the day (ie. at breakfast after a long night of drinking and no sleep). I wasn’t a huge fan at first, but lets just say that it’s an acquired taste. It’s about 20% booze and costs around 3,000 KRW. It’s also great for drinking games and waking up the next morning with no recollection of the previous night.

So yeah, the booze is cheap and it’s easily accessible. We thought we had it good when we were living in Montreal and had a depanneur on the corner of our street, but here in Seoul we can fall out of our front door and spit on the small convenience store located less than 10 feet from the entrance to our building. The irony of this convenient location is that we rarely purchase alcohol from there as we rarely drink at home. With the outdoor temperature having been comfortable since early April, we’ve become avid “Mart Drinkers”.

Most of the larger marts set-up tables and chairs outside for their patrons to enjoy their selections without having to walk all the way home to sit down. Despite being allowed to drink anywhere in public, it’s not that common and is usually only exercised by foreigners who can’t fathom how this is legal and think it’s too good to be true. There’s nothing quite like dropping less than 2 bucks for a beer and immediately cracking it open as you stroll outside on a beautiful Saturday afternoon. Or a Tuesday. Wednesday and Monday’s are good too. So are Friday’s. However, as I mentioned, this is rarely practiced by Korean’s as they prefer to consume their alcohol in a more formal or relaxed environment, such as a restaurant, a bar, or sitting on plastic chairs outside a mart.

Aside from the obvious financial benefits and convenience of the mart, it also offers the prospect of something unusual occuring as you sit and watch the world pass you by. This is the ultimate people watching activity, especially if you live in such a concentrated area as we do where there’s a steady flow a foot traffic, and not many cars. Some nights are tamer than others, but when you’re a foreigner in this place, you tend to attract more attention and can often find yourself involved in entertaining or awkward conversations.

A few weeks ago, Katie and I decided to go and have a beer outside the mart near our place, which is called the Mini-Stop. It was a quiet Saturday evening and we had no big plans in mind, just wanted to take it easy and do some people watching. Shortly after sitting down at our table, the two guys sitting at the table next to us started to stare and eventually mustered up the courage to start speaking with us. They asked our ages (a common practice here to see who is the oldest and therefore the most respected), they asked about our relationship status and were impressed when we told them we’re married (another positive status symbol) and told us we were a handsome couple. We exchanged the rest of the usual pleasantries and found out that these guys are actually in a rock band. One is the manager and the other one who looks like the Korean version of Slash from Guns and Roses, is obviously the guitarist. We chat for a few more minutes before they excuse themselves to head to their next gig and invite us to come by if we feel so inclined.

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As their walking away, our friend and colleague Naomi passes them and overhears them saying how much fun foreigners can be. She then sees us and comes to sit down with her dinner in hand. Naomi is a Puerto Rican buddhist who was born and raised in New York City. She has been living in Korea for the past three years and has studied hard to learn the language and culture. She’s extremely entertaining and a valuable resource when trying to eavesdrop on a Korean conversation or simply read a sign that we can’t understand. She also isn’t shy about trying new and exotic foods. On this evening she had with her a very popular Korean delicassy – cow intestines. Even though I already had a few beers in me and was feeling a bit adventurous, I wasn’t going near that shit (no pun intended). Katie on the other hand…well, here’s the picture.

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Apprently, it tastes just like sausage, but I won’t be confirming or refuting this claim anytime soon.

After watching my wife eat cow intestines, we sat back and listened to Naomi entertain us with her vast array of stories and experiences. One beer led to another and soon I decided to free up some space on the table by arranging our beer cans in a less space consuming arrangement.

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What initially started out as us going for a beer at the Mini-Stop on a quiet Saturday night, turned into a quest to build the tallest beer can tower in Mart Drinking history. I can’t remember what the final tally was, but I’m pretty sure it was broken just a few weeks later when we must have set the record for most foreigners mart drinking in one location. Our friends, Meghan and Daryl (who were the couple teaching at our school and living at our place before we arrived) were back for a week in Seoul after traveling for three months.   They made arrangements with many of the friends they had made throughout their stay here, and instrusted them to meet them at the Mini-Stop where we had already assembled the better part of our current teaching staff. The result, 23+ foreigners crammed into an area designed for 2 tables and 6-8 chairs, all enjoying cheap beer, good company and endless stares from the hundreds of Koreans passing by. It was a night I won’t soon forget, mostly because I took this video to mark the occasion.