Wednesday, April 28, 2010

holy mountains, oregon coastlines, board games, hockey day in canada, bromance

alright alright.

Ginny convinced me that it's time to stop attempting to catch-up on old events on my blog and to start writing about what's happening NOW. The thing is, one thing or another (usually laziness) prevents me from taking to time to keep this blog up to date (oh! another one is aversion to technology) and so I'm like nearly a year behind. There are many MANY things I don't want to leave out over the last year, but I'll have to get to those later.

Here's what's going on in my life now:

I've been in Hong Kong about six weeks now. It's been kind of difficult to get all settled in, but Ginny and I eventually managed. It happened like this:

Let's see, where should I start? (oh crap, here I go again, digging up the past... oh well, I guess it can't be helped...)

I guess the best place to begin at is Christmas, because that's when the most recent transition in my life began, and everything since then has just been a series of happenings that have all gotten mushed together like I was in a hurry to live or something. Christmas marked my exodus from Korea, a sad event, but necessary all the same. I won't get into in detail here, but, in short, I was tired of Korea and Seoul and my bullshit job. Don't misunderstand, I LOVE Korea and even more the friends I have there and made there. BUT I got tired of the city and the pace of living there a part of it. I'll stop there before I go too far along that train of thought...

CHRISTMAS! How wonderful to be going home at Christmas! But really the only thing I was really thinking about was seeing my girl. Yan (her family's nickname for her, pronounced 'yun') and I have been together for 2 1/2 years, TWO YEARS of which had been long distance. Fucking INSANE, I know, but what could we do? No, really, it was great, the long distance. Taught me a lot about love and intimacy and myself and her. And it was good to stretch ourselves to see how far we could go for each other and for our relationship. So ending that stage of our lives was easily as significant as moving to another country, and probably more.

I didn't come straight home from Korea. Well, not exactly. My brother and I were able to orchestrate a gathering of sorts at long-time-co-conspirator-Chris Dreyer's home in Spokane, WA. Yan had been studying at University of Idaho, which is near Coeur d'Alene and thus, not far from Spokane. She would be meeting us there too. And Tim came with his funky girlfriend, Jocelyne, too of course, much to the delight of all (the fact that she is capable of being in a long-term relationship with Tim is itself, alone, the stuff of legend and a testament to either her courage or her questionable sanity). Well, we didn't end up meeting initially in Spokane, cuz I was flying in from across the Pacific and had to at least stop in a city like Seattle, Vancouver, or, well, Portland. So I just stayed overnight in Portland, met up with Tim and Jocelyn there, and we all drove up to Spokane with my dad the next day (thanks, Dad!). It was great to have a mini-road trip with family as a welcoming back to America, so to speak.

We arrived in the evening and there was a big coalescence of affectionate bodies on Chris' porch and a little bit of crying as Ginny and I held each other. We spent about 3 days in Spokane, joking, talking, playing games, watching movies, hanging out at Chris' workshop, and drinking lots and LOTS of beer. One of the highlights from our stay was Chris' 'Holy Mountain' party in which we watched the Alejandro Jodorowsky film 'Holy Mountain' (a wonderfully colorful mind-trip), ate a 'Holy Mountain' (Chris' invention consisting of spaghetti sauce, homemade noodles, and homemade french fries), and listened to the album 'Holy Mountain'. Fun times. Several of the guests couldn't get through the film though. Most of us couldn't get through the door after eating a holy mountain...

Anyway, it was a good sojourn. Playing pictionary was fun. Chris' workshop was also great to see. Ginny got a little depressed cuz she wanted to spend more time with me alone, which was hard in Chris' house. I got a little depressed too cuz I had been gone from America for a year and a half and really wanted to spend some quality time with Tim and Chris, but couldn't really be satisfied because Tim is sometimes pretty dominating in the way he interacts with people and when there are other people around, he usually focuses his attention on them rather than on my, probably because he can talk to me 'anytime' since I'm his brother. Tim is attention-demanding, but I think it's mostly because he's determined to make interaction with people as meaningful and 'real' as possible. Well, I tried not to get too bent out of shape over it this time; I focused more on Ginny and decided I'd come back to Spokane by myself before leaving for Hong Kong in February.

Chris, Tim, Jocelyn, Ginny, and I drove down to Portland on Christmas Eve, and we had a nice next couple of days at home with the family before T&J left for Seattle to visit some friends. Dad and Mom weren't as busy at Christmas this year as usual now that Dad had started working as district president of the Lutheran church in the northwest and Mom had quit her job as church secretary. After Tim and Jocelyn left, my parents decided to go stay at a beach house with Ginny and me for a couple days. The cabin belonged to some old friends of our family's. It was a perfect. I love the beach. Being near the ocean is a must for me. And staying in a cabin with family, a fireplace, the wintery ocean outside, and a good book is simply wonderful.

Also during my winter in Portland I decided to learn the stick. My dad's old toyota lying unclaimed tempted me to try. Anyone who has also attempted to master this skill will quickly relate to the difficulties and joys I experienced in this undertaking. At first, I felt like a 10 year-old trying to learn to ride a bike. Frustrated, I often thought to myself, "but I KNOW how to drive!" But then suddenly I figured it out and it was wonderful. I love the feeling of control I have driving a stick shift. It's like I can decide how bumpy or smooth my movements are, and there's no possibility of falling asleep. I became more aware of driving and the road. Anyway, I almost got into a serious accident once when I was driving with Ginny to a hiking spot near Portland and accidentally took an exit that forced me into downtown. But I don't need to recount that experience in detail. In short, I was pissed at myself all afternoon and Ginny was a wonderful support regardless of me being a dingleberry.

Later, I did manage a trip to the beach in the truck with Ginny. We went back to the beach house by ourselves for a few days, stopping in Tillamook of course for ice cream and cheese (WOOT!). It was pretty rainy, but the ocean was faithfully majestic. We cooked, played cards, walked the beach, argued, sat in peaceful silence, watched star trek, made love, window-shopped, swung on swings, ect. Marvelous. Later, we also took a trip out to Dallas, OR (near-ish to McMinnville) to visit Adria and her boyfriend Brian. We had some excellent homemade chicken pot pie, played some board games, and went for a bike ride amidst indecisive showers (yay Oregon).

[at the beach; i think that's my parents in the background] [anyone recognize this beach?] [perfect spot for some swings] [enjoying a lazy afternoon smoke on the deck] [me and greg after a game night]

Ginny was scheduled to leave for Hong Kong at the end of January (so that she could be home in time for the Chinese Lunar New Year), but before leaving North America, we took a trip up to Vancouver, BC to visit Matt while he was home with his parents and Hyejin in Courtney on Vancouver Island. Yan and I had a very pleasant train ride up to BC. We arrived late though, and there was an apparent mixup as to the time of our arrival, so we waited with baited apprehension for an hour late at night in front of the train station in Vancouver. But Matt and co. eventually showed up (I heard him shout my name across the station lobby while I was talking to his sleepy-sounding mother whom I had just woken up with a call from a payphone) and we grabbed a case and headed back to the house of his friend Sal who works at a ski resort just outside Vancouver (and whom I had actually met before in Korea when he came out for a visit and stay with Matty the previous summer). The night lent itself to excessive intakes of beer and attempts at fuseball (Sal's ingenious decor-choice). Much talking and sharing of affections (leave it to Matty). Ginny and I slept on a pullout which was not so bad.

The next day we grabbed a delicious breakfast at a local diner, walked around town a bit, and took a ferry over to Nanaimo on Vancouver Island. The ferry ride was wonderful, albeit a bit chilly, and the scene of the thickly tree-clad, rugged mountains rising out of the sunset-reflecting waters of the Strait of Georgia was awe-inspiring. The setting made one yearn to go off wandering in the mountains, to embrace the land and nature and be absorbed into it, to disappear into the trees and be lost to the world of man. When we got into Nanaimo, Matt's dad met us and drove us back to their home in Courtney - a considerable journey. But there is never a dull moment with Matt's dad who very entertainingly spoke nonstop recollecting humorous anecdotes about life in Courtney and the world as he saw it. Matt calls his dad 'Deaner' and so that's what we all called him. Matt's mom greeted us when we arrived along with a dog and a couple strange cats and the meatloaf she offered to our wagging stomachs hit the spot perfectly. That night Matt and I smoked a major doobie, something I had been anticipating for a long long time in Korea, which turned out to have medicinal origins. As a result I went off on a never-before-suffered bender that had me biting glass jars and groping walls the rest of the night. Sadly, I wasn't able to recall meeting Matt's older brother the next day (especially strange because I have very specific and detailed memories of the walks to and from his house that night which from my perspective seemed to take an eternity). Interestingly, I had a continual acute paranoia that everything I was experiencing was deja-vu and that I was trapped somehow in a reality where I would forever feel like everything had happened before. ANYWAY, the Australia open tennis tournament thankfully helped distract me the rest of the night and I managed to escape such an imprisonment. Ginny was a big help and emotional support, as always.

The following day was a nice, relaxed and welcome respite. After a late Mexican-food-brunch Deaner took us on a tour of Courtney and the surrounding area. We did a little forest trekking, and my hunger for seeing the nature of Vancouver Island was satisfied. We played a big game Settlers of Catan that night with a couple of Matt's friends which also included some wonderful lasagna and homemade cookies. We headed back across the bay to Vancouver the next day since Ginny would be flying out to Hong Kong the next day. We had a night on the town and Ginny and I ate some wonderful Thai food at a restaurant in the city. Sal put us up again. We took a trip to the airport the next day and saw Ginny off. As I would be going to Africa with my family for a few weeks, it would be about a month before we would see each other again in Hong Kong. I guess I got a little gloomy as a result during the last couple days in BC. Luckily there was plenty of distraction.

[harbor on Vancouver side] [beautiful sights of the vancouver island landscape] [matty and HJ]

The day after Ginny left was 'Hockey Day in Canada', a national holiday consisting of day-long hockey games (Canadian teams only) and day-long drinking (Canadian beer only). I must say I got pretty exhausted by the end of the day (I honestly tried to understand hockey and get into it, but I was mostly unsuccessful). I have to admit I felt a little alienated by the end of the day (mostly due to being sad that Ginny was gone). But there would be no time to think about it too much. I had to leave at dawn the next day to take a train back to Portland. Bleary-eyed Matt and Hyejin saw me off as I stumbled into a taxi. When Dad picked me up in Portland, we went immediately to my aunt and uncle's house to celebrate Amma's (my grandma) birthday. Although I was exhausted, I was really glad I could be there for my Amma and see the whole family because the next day, my parents and I were flying out to Africa! I hurriedly packed that night. We had brunch in the morning with Rachel and Leland, and then we were off!

Now I know some of you reading this are really waiting for me to talk about that trip to Africa. Unfortunately, due to the extremely massive amount of thoughts, experiences, stories, and pictures I want to share about that trip, I won't be going into it here. I'm reserving some special time and space for that. Don't worry, it'll come soon! For now, I'll just say that it was incredible, challenging, and wonderfully exciting and inspirational. I felt things I haven't ever really felt before and I was moved in ways I never could have imagined. My parents and I spent 2 days in London and about 18 days in Nigeria. That's all for now!

As tired as I was upon returning to Portland, I set out for Spokane, WA again immediately the next day. I had about 6 days before I'd be flying out to Korea again, and I wanted to spend some quality time one on one with my good buddy Chris Dreyer. Since my semester of schooling (I'm doing an online masters degree in Applied Linguistics through a school in Australia) had started already while I was in Africa, I needed some time to catch up a little before heading to Hong Kong. Staying with Chris and studying while he worked in his printing workshop sounded like a great idea to me and Chris readily encouraged me to come. Ever since going to high school together (having parted ways along different university paths afterward), I hadn't really had much of a chance to hang out in a chill, normal-lifestyle kind of way with any of my high school friends (with the exception of my good friend Lucas who became a real pal to me while I was home for 5 months after graduating from U. of Hawai'i). This is mostly due to me never really staying in the northwest for long. Everywhere I go, I see people hanging out with old friends and keeping those relationships a part of their daily or weekly routines. Having chosen wander (a little aimlessly) through my young adulthood instead of being sedentary, I often experience strong feelings of nostalgia and occasional longing for permanence (especially for the intimate friendships made possible through such a lifestyle). I know I'm digressing here, but I want to express this as it is a large part of my experience living abroad and transiently. Well, this was part of the motivation for me to go stay with Chris, and I'm glad I did. Being able to be housemates for a couple days meant the world to me.

I got to Spokane in the evening on Sunday. I guess there's not a whole lot to say about my stay beyond trying to express what I have above. It was great. Chris's workshop is literally within walking distance of the bus station. We spent the next few days often hanging out at his workshop, me studying, Chris printing, listening to tunes, going out into the alley to smoke. We watched some movies at his place, drank some beers, played Kirby Golf. We hung out with his neighbors and other acquaintances, played boardgames (Ticket to Ride which was fabulous), cooked food, visited a few bars. I accompanied Chris to an interview he had for a job at a design company, which he got and was really excited about. We took a short trip up to Coeur d'Alene to look for some cheap smokes and gaze at the water. It wasn't a long stay, but gave me (and maybe Chris too) a solid dose of much needed 'bromance' (mom and dad: that's a term for homosocial, non-sexual intimacy between men, so don't worry). Leaving the States again didn't seem so hard after that.

[at Chris' workshop; Ginny's on the monitor talking to me on skype videochat] [at Coeur d'Alene]
[one last beautiful sky along the Columbia river gorge as seen from the Greyhound bus]

I had a couple days back home with my parents before leaving. Normally, not enough time, but since we had just spent 3 weeks exclusively in each others' company (Africa, remember) it was okay. Leaving them at the airport was hard, though, as always. I love them dearly.

I got to Korea without yet a solid plan for getting to Hong Kong. I had to send money from Korea to Australia to pay for the current semester of schooling, and I still had to buy my ticket to Hong Kong. I figured I'd do it from Korea, using a Korean travel agent, but there were several unanticipated obstacles. First of all, I had planned to leave Korea on Monday, but Monday turned out to be a national holiday commemorated to Korean War casualties, so getting through to a travel agent was not an option until Tuesday (and the banks were closed anyway). This postponed my departure already, and Ginny was not pleased with that. It was also impossible to get a ticket for the next day with out spending exorbitant fees, so I couldn't leave until Wednesday or Thursday (this made Ginny even more displeased).

It was a good thing I was staying with my good buddy Piper with whom I had worked at Hankuk U. of Foreign Studies the previous year. He was totally fine with me staying at his place as long as I needed. Piper had been hired at another university in Seoul (first day of classes on Wednesday) and was living in the Russian district of Seoul, near Dongdaemun Stadium, a favorite stomping grounds for him, Matty and myself. So, on the upside, the extended stay gave me lots of time to spend with him and the chance to meet up with a couple old friends before leaving for HK. Pipe and I actually kept it pretty low key (not too much craziness). We hung out with Hyejin (who was visiting Korea and her family on her way to Japan where Matty would be starting work soon) and her friend Joohee and once also with Piper's friend Youngbum (an older Korean guy with a carefree and a little irresponsible perspective on life who Piper met while living in Imun-dong). Other than the stress of trying to get myself to Hong Kong, it was a great albeit short stay in Korea and it was really nice to be there and not working! I can't forget to add a big thank you also to Hyejin who helped me immeasurably with my banking issues. Totally a clutch-play I couldn't have accomplished without her.

And suddenly I was off again!

Finally, on my way to Hong Kong.

It had been a real whirlwind of traveling the last few weeks. I was exhausted, but very satisfied and happy about everything. No issues getting into Hong Kong. No issues with luggage (which was pressing on my anxiety due to the sheer volume of things I was attempting to pass through every airport - moving to another country is exciting, but I hate the process just the same). And there was Yan waiting at the airport for me. I made it.

Next post will be about my wonderful initiation into Hong Kong! Patience!