Thursday, October 25, 2007

In Moments of Sickness

The night before I came down with, what translation tells me, "stomach inflammation," I briefly witnessed a burial ceremony, which took place a building over from Lily's parents' home.

My understanding is that the complex in which Lily's parents currently inhabit is highly populated with elderly people, so it was no wonder that this had been the third ceremony I've seen since I've been in China. Not to be funny, but that would make it 1 death for each month that I've been in China... I'm wondering if counting down the days until I come back is really such a good idea...
The beautiful side to this is the juxtaposition that the apartment's small park serves (yeah, the very same park that I had mentioned previously in my blog). In the center of this park, there is a statue which shows a mother reaching out to her newborn, something which might indicate "youth," or, at the very least, "happiness."

During times of reflection, we begin to think more about our existence, where we're going, where we're headed in life, and what we've done along the way. But, I was just thinking about life's cycle, how we're born into something which has been in place since time immemorial. I'm not just talking about culture and history, but the earth and everything around it. God only knows - quite literally - where all this stuff came from, how long it has all been around, and the future of it.

Just like an old abandoned building that once housed many people, but is now just a backdrop for Tianjin's scenery, we too, like the leaves, grow and fall from the trees. More so, our structure becomes brittle and we begin to slightly crumble. I too felt this last Sunday, when my body took over me and began to operate me, rather than I it. First the headache, then the bizarre burping, followed by a loss of appetite. One thing led to another, and very soon I was in bed, receiving I.V. from "san yi," Lily's third oldest aunt. By no means was it a "near death" experience; rather, just another shock I felt within culture...

As it turns out, I.V., which rarely seems to be in use in America (I remember only using it maybe once or twice in my entire life), is administered fairly frequently to people in China. I only had the chills and threw up a few times, but these symptoms were enough to have me slightly bed-ridden. I was also told that anything "cold" was out of the question; a breeze, a bottle of water, a hand, a look.

In China, much like the rest of the world, it is bad practice to mix warm and cold food. Yet, in America, we do it all the time. You walk into a hamburger place and usually, with some fries and a big fat greasy one, you "wash your whistle" with some ice cold coke. But, attention to the stomach, more than just a bad chemistry experiment of hot and cold, is crucially important within Chinese concept.

As a result, the blanket was not to leave my stomach under any condition. "Gai beizi, gai beizi" (cover your stomach with a blanket) was what mama had to say when I was lying on the bed. Of crucial importance are also the feet. Both of these - the feet and the stomach - should be warm at all times. If they aren't, then you didn't learn anything in med school...

As strange as it sounds, some of the best moments come when you're sick. I remember the time when I had my wisdom teeth taken out... my mom and were with each other in the living room, watching some crappy movie... I think it was "behind enemy lines." However, this moment in time for me is like a wine stain in a porcelain-white shirt. I remember witnessing the time go by, as my mom and were just sitting there in that living room, living.

Much in the same way, mama baba and I saw the sun set, making its way across the world, to rise once again, above the land where my mother is buried.

The enjoying moment came, when I had realized that, not just I, but mama and baba too had their eyes glued to the television screen, watching the latest development in the escape of Michael Scofield and Lincoln Burrows! Yeah, "yue yu" (Prison Break) will surely have you begging for more.

I think these moments of sickness give us a chance to remember how fragile life is. No longer are you caught up in the fast paced lifestyle of making it to work, working the day, and constantly gripped with what your next move will be. No; you are slowed down; you are living for each minute as your body recovers and regains its full health. Not only are you reminded of how great it is to be healthy, but you are equally reminded of how great is to be alive.
I'll never forget my mom, just like I will never forget mama baba, nor any of you...


Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Illness, Age and Death

No, no, no, you don't have to worry, I haven't become "emo." Actually, I have learned quite a bit about these three areas -- illness, age and death -- as it is understood with a Chinese frame of mind.

Last Friday, October 19th, was "lao ren jie," or "Old Person's Day" in China. On this day, many people will get together with their family members, especially with their elder members, and have some sort of meal and share a moment in time with each other; you know, pretty straight forward. At this point, I can't exactly remember what I did, step by step, that day. But, I do remember a few moments that might have led up to the illness that befell me on Sunday (I'm trying to sound like some old, ill-plagued Russian author here).

Okay, I remember now. Lily's dad and I began our morning with a jog in a nearby park. This was nice, because it gave Lily's dad and I one of our first man-to-man moments, where we were able to test our strengths and abilities. Actually, I just ended up jogging at a slightly faster pace than he, and it was a fairly laid back experience, with the park being filled with many "lao ren" (older people).

A bunch of old people like to chill out at the park, whether they're doing some form of "tai chi" (slow body movement), walking, or playing some kind of board game with each other. There was this one activity where everyone had a "sword" and they were practicing their upper-body movement with the sword.

This is a picture I took... on Saturday? It was taken in a nearby park area, found in the center of Lily's parents' neighborhood. Most living quarters have a small park, where you'll find trees, grass, benches and a lot of other stuff most people would have in their front lawn; except, this is everyone's "lawn."

I also learned one new exercise technique from Lily's dad. I found out that walking backwards (yeah, backwards) is actually a popular technique for many middle-aged/elder Chinese people. Lily's dad had told me that it is a good exercise for the lower back. After talking with Lily, I found out that Chinese people believe it is also a good mental exercise.

So, later that day, in the evening, we had one last visit to make -- to see nai nai, Lily's dads' mother. Like most Chinese people, nai nai quickly filled my hands with oranges and anything else edible in sight. Not wanting food to go to waste or to hurt anyone's feelings, I graciously accepted her fruit and we were on with our ways; we didn't stay too long, because it had already become late in the evening and Lily's dads' parents aren't so sociable. I mean, it's good enough to stop by, say "hi," and call it a day for some people.

Well, later that evening (I keep saying "evening" -- it was just one big blur in memory), my appetite got the best of me and I just had to bit into one of the oranges. Man, I have to say, that was one funky orange. I wasn't about to live on the wild side with this fruit, so I ditched the orange asap. However, the damage had been done (I'm laughing to myself right now).

No, I'm really not sure what led up to my stomach issues on Sunday (which is the next segment in my blog), but I have a feeling it was food-related. Maybe the orange, maybe a few hands that hadn't been washed in the process of making the food... I'm not really sure, but what I experienced on Sunday had snatched my appetite away from me for the last couple of days...

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Summer Palace in Beijing

Sorry for the lack of updates, everything has been going well for me on this side of the world.

My life in China at this point has sort of fallen into a routine. During the week, I am at the university, catching the bus in the morning to teach, or meandoring through the nearby neighborhood. It is in this area where my friend Yao owns a small shop. At this shop, many of the guys like to congregate and hang out. We usually go out for lunch together. If not that, we hang out in the front area and "shoot the shit."

However, I tried to change this up a little by making another trip to Beijing this past weekend. I met up with my friend Lu Kai Friday afternoon at some bus station near downtown Beijing.

I should start by introducing Lu Kai, or Lukey (as Lily likes to call him). Lu Kai is an old classmate of Lily's from high school whom I had the pleasure of meeting while Lily was in China back in August. We hit it off real quick when we first met; he bought my a beer, and then we all went downtown to a few clubs, where we shared more beer and laughs. From this point in time, I remembered Lu Kai to be a happy-go-lucky kidster, always laughing and cracking jokes. However, as is true for most people, you are only first introduced to one side of the story, to one component of a complex personality.

As it turned out, Lu Kai came off as one of the most caring, most mature persons I ever met. Every second we spent together in Beijing, he always looked after my well-being. He made sure that I was never tired, that I was never unhappy, and always did what he could to put a smile on my face. In short, Lu Kai really left an impact on me, one that has changed the way I would like to approach friendships in the future. More than that, Lu Kai gave me reason to further believe in a virtuous life. What I mean is, he always showed respect to elders -- Lily's aunt "da yi" -- he always had us going to bed early, and when tempted by "mistresses" of shi sha hai, he never wavered in his position.

Yeah, there's a place in Beijing called "shi sha hai." It's not a bad place; actually, it can be a very romantic spot, with many restaurants located right on the small lake. However, it also offers the "nightlife," where one can grab drinks in the bar, go dancing at the clubs, and even "call girls" for the desperate. With that said, no of this phased Lu Kai.

So, shi sha hai was Saturday night's activity. We didn't stay out too late for one minor inconvenience -- I left my passport back in Tianjin! Yeah, I made the high mistake of leaving the most important document back in another city. To be honest, it did not even cross my mind; I have become so used to living in China now, that it would be the same as me carrying my passport back in Austin.

Well, with a little bit of help from Lily's aunt, we made our hideout, like Anne Frank, in some nearby hotel. Yeah, I felt like some runaway fugitive, sneaking in and out of our hotel room. However, everything turned out to be fine after a few headaches and some thinking.

At this point, I do want to comment on some rather disappointing, yet real discrimination I finally encountered in China. When Lu Kai and I were trying to find a reasonably priced hotel in Beijing, we thought the "hu tong" would suffice. For some who don't know, Beijing has many hu tongs, which are really compacted neighborhoods that have streets big enough for pedestrians and people on bike. So, Lu Kai (I think I'm going to call him "Luke" from now on) and I perused some of the resting places one could find in the hu tong.

However, to our dismay, due to the fact that I am a "wei guo ren" -- a foreigner -- I was not allowed a place to stay. This was an interesting experience, because not only was it the first time I faced discrimination, I actually understood the Chinese coming out of the lady's mouth.

You know, sometimes it takes experience, or at least a few instances of some form of human behavior to, in the least bit, understand the circumstance of other people. I'm not trying to say that I am a completely changed man, that I finally fully understand racism and the plight of many non-whites; my encounter with discrimination was very minor. However, it did get a few cogs running in my head.

Back to Beijing and tourism, I was told by Lu Kai that we would be going to some "park" on Saturday. At this point, I was thinking, "of all places to see in Beijing, why the hell is Lu Kai taking me to some park??" Okay okay, time to practice a little patience and flexibility, I'm sure things will still turn out to be okay. I mean, at least I'm spending time with a nice guy.

As it turned out, some information was lost in translation. We weren't just going to some park. On the contrary, we were going to the Summer Palace! I soon realized this once I met up with Lily's cousin, Hu Miao.

First, here are the pictures I took:

I want to start by saying, of all the places I have seen in Beijing, the Summer Palace has, by far, been the most impressive. Located on a lake, the Summer Palace was once the home of China's kings and queens (at least during the Qing Dynasty). I am not sure how far back this historic place goes, but one can really feel like a "king" when taking a stroll along the lake and up the hillside.

On one side of the lake, one can walk in and around some of the finest architecture Beijing can offer to a tourist. The Chinese government has done a great job of restoring and preserving many of the relics the Summer Palace has on display for visitors. Speaking of visitors, although there were many, the number of people at the Summer Palace did not compare to the horde of people Lily and I saw at the Forbidden City.

Although I always encourage people to experience a place for themselves, I should warn you all not to have high hopes for the Forbidden City. Though the place is deeply rooted in history and has a background that overshadows any other historic landmark in Beijing, the place in modern times is just a deathtrap for tourists.

So, as always, the weather played its role in my experience at the Summer Palace. When we first began our adventure within the palace's walls, there was a foggy mist that hovered above the lake. It was very ideal for a moment of reflection and awe for nature's beauty. To me, it sort of reminded me of a romantic moment, when two lovers are taking a stroll along a lake with the weather's energy beckoning the lovers to slow down in time, and to just savor the moment. Well, I did my best with that description; you could also say it was like being "sleepless in Seattle."

Moreover, the weather had a second face. While cool and calm in the morning, the clouds broke and the sun soon shined down upon the lake and palace; it was truly a magestical moment, as if "God" or the kings of old were once again reigning down upon this sacred place...

For us though -- Luke, Hu Miao, and I -- we were just a bunch of frockling youngsters retracing the steps of China's high officials and various people of ancient royal status...

I hope you all enjoy the pictures I've posted! I have plenty more to say about China and I will keep the thoughts coming, one chance at a time.


Thursday, October 11, 2007

Ethanol and American Politics

I recently helped Lily with her government homework and found the articles somewhat interesting. She had to dicuss the impact of campaign contributions on Congressional behavior. In other words, how much does big business influence American politics?

This is interesting in that I have recently taken an interest in a fairly new television show called "Prison Break." I know I'm behind the times, but since I have had more time to watch television and movies, I have come to appreciate some areas of American pop culture that I before overlooked. For example, I recently watched "Minority Report" and found it to be a very interesting movie. In this movie, Steven Spielberg adapts one of Philip K. Dick's novels. As some of you know, Philip K. Dick has written many science-fiction novels which center around several common themes; these themes include technology, drug use, and paranoia towards government control. Of course, I am oversimplifying the complexity of some of Dick's works.

However, at this point, I think it is worth discussing the mechanisms of American politics, seeing as how the next presidential election is not too far off. Again, I find it intriguing that, without great effort, I find myself entrenched in a subject that greatly correlates with current events. In other words, I did not choose to look into politics at this point. Rather, it sort of just crept up on me.

Back to the point here, I read some interesting articles on ethanol and the motivations behind this "corn-based additive." Many people argue that this will come to replace gasoline, that it is more environmentally-friendly than our current energy sources. However, Lily had to read some articles which debunk this idea. In fact, these articles point out that, if anything, ethanol has the potential to produce in excess 25% more in greenhouse gas emissions than regular gasoline.

Looking at the matter more closely, it seems that in actuality, the ethanol industry has a strong grasp on the politicians' priorities. Back when Bob Dole was running for president, because he supported the ethanol initiative, he received $74,000 in campaign contributions. It is clear as day that, if you are in need of great money for your presidential campaign, you should think twice about shooting down ethanol as a potential option...

What I find more interesting, of course, is the television show that I have recently been watching. I must say, I am really hooked on "Prison Break." In fact, I can't wait to watch the next episode when I have the time and place. Without ruining the overall storyline, the main characters do encounter some larger problems, problems that involve the government and political corruption once it comes down to energy and profit. After all, America is an "energy-based economy," right?

Well, in any case, it will be interesting to see what course America takes in the next several decades to safeguard its power and economy. I just hope that many families will avoid catching fire of the political corruption that is soon to take place once things come down to the line; when peoples' wealth and power are at stake.

On another note, I will be heading back to Beijing tomorrow. I figure it is due time for another visit, because I haven't been back since August. I will be meeting up with one of Lily's friends, Lu kai. He's a really nice guy, we share many jokes together and share a similar sense of humor; so much so that we call each other "gemer," or "bro." I'm not sure what we'll do, but I'm sure we'll hit up some of the tourist hotspots and possible go out on the town at night.

For now, I'll leave with you this picture:

Isn't she beautiful? I miss Lily a lot, but thankfully, she will be coming back to China for Thanksgiving. In this time, we will be reunited again, and we all (as a family) will be able to eat together, enjoy one another's company, and all feel happy and warm. I want to say more about this, and I think I'll save it for next time. The conclusion is that family matters, and the more you become in love with your family, the more life becomes meaningful and worthwhile.

This I also learned from "Prison Break." Each character may seem dangerous, but in the end, they just want to be back at the same point with which we often take for granted. That is, they all want to be back with their families once again. After all, you don't know what you have until it is gone...



Sunday, October 7, 2007

Action speaks louder than thoughts

Not much can be said in the last few days. It has been quite relaxing since my return to Tianjin from Seoul. For the first few days back, the weather wasn't very encouraging with the continuous, albeit intermittent, rain. However, the rain did give me time to reflect, catch up on sleep and chill.

I slept quite a bit this past weekend, making up for some of the sleepless nights in Korea. Although I had only been in South Korea for just a week, I quickly got used to the college lifestyle once again; a lifestyle of going out late at night, drinking, not returning until the early morning, and just living a silly daydream.

I think part of me feels disappointed for having to leave so soon. Though China is hardly my turf, I have to admit that I have become accustomed to the city and the lifestyle already. With that said, Korea sort of brought me fresh air once again - quite literally - and I wasn't finished breathing.

That's when I got to thinking, what if I could make my way back again one day? Hell, why not just make it more than a simple visit? As Eileen and many others have said, I'm "young" and have a lot of time to explore myself, to explore the world and to learn more about life. I guess I'm trying to say that I've caught the "bug."

No, really, I'm thinking about making Korea my next destination once I've completed my year of teaching in China. And, I don't want to do it alone this time... *smiles* yeah, I want Lily to go with me this time around.

I know it won't be an easy goal to achieve, but since when have lofty goals been easy to reach? The biggest "obstacle" at this point is that she's a Chinese citizen, and I am not sure how the process works with non-American citizens. For the most part, Americans are gladly accepted into many countries and cultures. Of course, you would never know this according to what the news tells you at home. My time outside of America has highlighted some of the many freedoms we Americans take for granted.

I'm sure a lot of you know how dreamy I can be at times, neglecting to see the reality of things. But, for me, the best part of life is dreaming. Moreover, chasing that dream makes life worthwhile.

I'm thinking, walks on the beach, holding Lily's hand. Hikes into the mountains, where we can both get lost in nature. Perhaps we can make an occasional bullet train shot to Seoul, or a ferry trip or two to Japan. Japan is not the only place within one's grasp from Busan. At your feet, you've got Jeju Island - a supposed beautiful island of Korea - and at arm's length, you've got Lily's homeland, China.

The pay is also considerably better than what I am making in China. As a "developed" country, Korea's economy is on par with Japan and the US, making the Korean won fairly strong. Not only is this attractive, but Korea's relative position below the Japanese and US economy makes the cost of living in Korea lower. For example, you can get a 2 floor apartment loft for about US $450 a month. If you're lucky enough, the school for which you work will subsidize this expense. In a nutshell, those who go to Korea to teach English will leave with a nice sum in their pocket. After China, I’m not so sure how much I’ll be “worth.”

With all of that said, perhaps you can all appreciate the excitement I have for next year. Either way, I will be with Lily, whether in America, or someplace else in the world. However, to think that we could be setting sail down a highway that winds the mountains and overlooks the beach... I'm just in the sky right now with my thoughts...

As any man would do, the next step would be to consult the parents. Now, in America, it seems to be perfectly fine to voice one's opinions and ideas, whether they seem potential or otherwise. You know, you just talk out your ideas and have others contribute to the thought. Before I made the decision to go to China to teach, I had all the wise men sit at the table and discuss the issue - a few beers at Stone Werks with Valdo and Brian.

With this in mind, and my excitement at its peak, I thought I could discuss the idea of teaching in Busan with Lily's parents. Well, as it turned out, Lily's parents weren't so upset as much as Lily. Actually, Lily's father thought it was a really good idea, said I was smart, and Lily's mother also had a nod to give. I really did make all the pieces fit; location, pay, quality of life, it all fits nicely into my scheme.

However, I learned from Lily that thoughts are just thoughts, and one needs to have a sure understanding that the thought will become action before it is talked about before one's family. This, Lily told me, is another one of those unwritten rules, if not guidelines, in Chinese culture.

I admit, I have no idea if my plan will fly or sink to the bottom of the ocean. And, as Valdo once said, with which I agree, it's not so good to blow hot air; you should know what you're doing before you begin to tell others.

Right now though, my "hot air" is keeping me afloat in the sky and I haven't come down from it just yet. I thought China was a crazy idea, but it has turned out to be perfectly sound. My confidence is now creating another path in life for me to follow, but my maturity/experience needs to catch up.

Although I have seen some ugly sides to life, I have also been exposed to life's beauty and wonder.

The wonderful point here is that Lily and I give each other room for mistake and we learn from each other. The beautiful aspect of our differing cultural origins is that we are learning more about ourselves just as much as we are learning more about each other.

The next step for me is to grab Lily by the arm and take her on this ride before the dream is over...

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Busan Reflections

Today was a very nice and relaxing day. I've been told that you haven't "experienced" Korea until you have gone to a public bath. So, I took these words with heart and set out for the nearest public bath.

For some who are unfamiliar, public baths are places where Korean men strip down completely and chill out in pools of hot, jacuzzi-like, water. Well, today, I did just that, took the clothes off my back, and became "Korean" for a moment. Here's the view from the hot pool:

For 1000 won more, they will give you a customary outfit for public baths. They look something like this:

I spent the rest of this day relaxing at the spa, reading some of Josh's "Korea" travel book. It had some interesting tid-bits on North and South Korea; of course, I was more interested in North Korea.

There's something about a country which is still highly isolated in this day and age. The best the book could do in describing North Korea was to say that visiting Pyongyang (North Korea's main city) would be like going back to the Cold War communist days. That says a lot, considering that much of the Cold War ended in the late 80s, early 90s.

As the book would say, much of what we know about North Korea seems to be mostly rumor, and, as a result, it is hard to say what is "true" and what is "false." The truth remains that living standards are very minimal within North Korea, where everyone has highly limited freedom and low access to food and/or other resources.

The book also discussed the emergence of Kim Jung Il and the diplomatic relations North Korea has had with the US over the years. According to the book, Kim Jong Il came to power in 1997, after his father, Kim Sung Il, died of a massive heart attack in 1994. Interesting fact, Kim Sung Il is the world's longest ruler, even surpassing Elizabeth II. The sad part about Kim Sung Il's death was that his death occurred around a time in which Clinton was making strides in improving US diplomacy with North Korea; this involved disarmament in return for aid.

Late in Kim Jong Il's reign, efforts were once again made to improve diplomatic relations with South Korea and the US by inviting both figureheads to come and visit North Korea. However, by this time, Bush was flying words around, labeling various countries as an "axis of evil." No surprise, diplomacy with North Korea has since greatly suffered, with North Korea testing nuclear missiles last year. Not only that, but most North Koreans are fed anti-US propaganda as a result of this deterioration in diplomatic relations between the US and North Korea.

Of course, the political situation and the events which have led up to today are not quite simple, but I'm eager to talk more about some of the other experiences I've had so far in South Korea.

The day before my trip to the public bath, I and some of Josh's friends hiked Jangsan mountain, which is located to the north of Busan. For the sake of geography, Busan is in the southeast corner of South Korea -- clear across the country from Seoul -- and is right on the beach. Busan also has a mountain range to the north of the city. This really makes Busan a beautiful and lively city; if there isn't beach fun, you can always find yourself a hike.

So, I hiked on Monday up to the top of the mountain. It was fun hiking with Josh's friends; one of them had been teaching in Japan for 3 years. She had a lot to say in the way of Japanese relationships between men and women. She had mentioned marriage in Japan and said that it is largely seen as a "contract" between men and women. Once women become married, they soon evolve into the role of "mother" and quit their day jobs to raise the children. She also explained that women subsequently control the family's finances, and sex between a husband and wife is greatly strained; husbands do not believe in sexual intimacy with the "mother."

She also talked a bit about Japanese notions of "race" and what it means to be "Japanese." Her understanding is that, unless you are born in Japan, you'll never really be Japanese.

One conclusion that we all reached from our conversations with each other is that generalization is an easy, but dangerous mistake to make. Though she obviously knew something about Japan -- she lived there for 3 years -- and I know more about China at this point, we both still need to be mindful of diversity and differences within culture and society.

In other words, it isn't enough for me to simply say, "Chinese people are nice." Sure, some will be nice, but others will be bad. Likewise, for her to say that old Japanese men are rude and mean would be a gross generalization of Japan's elder population.

I think this is true, not just for people, but also for other aspects of a country. In the end, I just told her, "Don't listen to me. Experience China for yourself." That's really all I can say at this point, other than to share my own personal experiences.

I have not forgot to take things with a "grain of salt." Instead, I will remember what has been told, and then proceed to reach my own conclusions with well-needed research.

I had to point this out, because it's been bugging me a lot. Since being in South Korea, I have suddenly become a spokesperson of China for those who wish to visit the country. In some cases, I had to defend China in the face of criticism for those who have visited China

However, much like my situation with Japan and South Korea, these people only visited China for maybe a week. It's a bit of a stretch to say you know China after having been there only 1 week.

In my mind though, China still has to be my favorite place of the Asiatic countries I've visited. I admit, I am biased; China has become my second home. I really like China, and I can further say this after having spent time outside of the country once again. There is something there about the people and the culture which goes a lot further than just nice beaches and high technology; believe me, I was quite surprised by Korea's "bullet train," which went up to 300 km/hr!

Monday, October 1, 2007

Seoul Nightlife

Hey everyone,

Sorry for the lack of update, I have been spending the last few days in Seoul and I recently traveled with Josh to Busan, where Josh is currently teaching.

Last I remember, I mentioned the events that took place Thursday night and Friday. Since I met up with Josh, we went to Hongjik University area, where you can find many bars and clubs. Friday night happened to be "Club Day," so they had a special $15 fee charge for all clubs; so, you could get admission into any club for a flat fee of $15. I really should have waited to drink and party hard for this night, but seeing as how I did so the night before, I was somewhat of a lamer Friday night with Josh.

No worries though, Josh is a very laid back and cool guy. We ended up sitting outside a club, chatting for a couple of hours. It was funny, because we both had a bottle of this rice wine which we hardly touched. In Korea, they call it "makali."

Next to that, we took a taxi that night to head to another area in Seoul called "Itaewon." On our way to this place, we sparked up a short conversation with the taxi driver.

Before I begin, I should say that taxis in Seoul are some of the nicest taxis I have ever rode. First off, the car has a built-in screen monitor which acts like a GPS system; Josh joked around and said it looked like an old version of "Grand Theft Auto." Second, the cushioning is all made of some kind of synthetic leather which is fairly comfortable. Quite a change of comfort, especially coming from taxis in Tianjin.

About taxi drivers in general, they are super crazy when it comes to the actual driving. Much like China, they don't seem to adhere to many of the road rules and will often pass red lights when there is no oncoming traffic; according to Josh, this is very common in South Korea. Josh said that once, a taxi driver even made a left turn on red! Yeah, pretty crazy.

Well, the taxi driver seemed willing enough to make friends with us, despite the great language barrier. First, he offered both of us Korean cigarettes, and then he made an interesting comment about Josh. He looks into his rear-view mirror, and says "Hali Pata." Huh? Oh! Josh looks like Harry Potter!
Haha, really though, this isn't the first time a Korean has said Josh looks like HP.

Next day (Saturday), Josh and I made it out to one of the many palaces in Seoul. He and I walked around and did more catching up. Josh mostly talked about his recent travels through Europe, and told me some of the places he recommends. Of these places are Austria, Germany, Czech, Hungary and Turkey. I'm already thinking of doing such a trip with Lily someday :)

One experience Josh tried in Europe was "running of the bulls" in Spain. According to Josh, this was something his friend Nick really wanted to do, and also something very frightening! He was telling me that there is no strategy other than: avoid getting hit by the bulls! Josh said that all he remembers was, in a flash, he saw the bulls up ahead of him, barely getting their horns on one guy.

So, later that afternoon/evening, we met up with one of my new friends in Seoul. Her name is Cathy and we met on the bus ride from the airport to my hostel. She was very nice and helpful. She told me that she studied in Australia for college and that she had recently visited her parents in Tianjin.

In any case, I told her that I'd love to see more of Seoul and eat some good food, so we arranged to hang out Saturday. With Josh, we all met up at Burger King and then took a taxi to some area near Seoul Tower. She took us to a place that was highly recommended. For good reason, the place seemed more traditional, where one could sit on the floor.

We had a bunch of food starting out with many samplers. One thing Koreans like to do for meals is have many small side dishes, consisting of kim chi, and other vegetables with different spices; there are also different meats and fish too. I wish I could remember the Korean names for these small side meals...

For the main course, we had bulgogi, panjeon -- which is some kind of pizza/pancake -- and some type of egg meal. It was all very delicious!

After dinner, we all made a long walk over to an area where we were able to take a cable car up to Seoul Tower. Seoul Tower was a lot of fun; it itself was very beautiful, but the tower also offered great views of the city. Apologies, but my camera did not come out with very good shots of the views we had from the tower. Really, you guys will just have to come out and visit when you get the chance ;)

One cool thing about Seoul Tower was that it had a circular walkway, where you could see all sides of Seoul. Much more, it also had different cities and countries listed on the glass, corresponding with the direction of these places. So, there was one place in Argentina which is about 19,000 km from Seoul Tower; pretty long.

Afterwards, we all walked back down, rather than hitching a ride on the cable car again. It was actually a wonderful opportunity, because the weather was really nice that evening. We all also got to talk more and share with each other our dreams and accomplishments. Cathy was telling me that her boss is Irish, so she has to speak in English every day for her job. When I asked her of her goal, she said she would like to be a good mother one day. I said I want to be a travel writer...

We landed in "Namdaemun" market after visiting the tower. This was a lot of fun, we saw tons of people and side shops along and in the middle of the street. One section also had a stage where people were performing, doing singing to performing dance routines. From one of the vendors, I ended up buying some cute bunny slippers for my tuzi (Lily) hehe ;)

Later that night, after we parted ways with Cathy, Josh and I went back out to Hongjik University area for a special night with George Acosta. It was perfect timing, because George Acosta -- a famous DJ from America -- happened to be performing that night in Seoul. What's more, he was playing on the opening night of a new club called "Blue Spirit."

It was an awesome night, because there weren't many people and the first two drinks were free! A couple of times I shook Acosta's hand and the rest was spent taking photos, watching Josh dance and filming part of the show. All in all, it was a very special evening, watching a popular Florida DJ play a lot of oldschool trance.

Well, there is more to tell, but I will save it for next blog!

Until then, here is a link to some of the pictures I have of Josh and I in Seoul:

Love from Busan,