Thursday, October 30, 2008


Same park. Here are some close ups of the vegetation you would see in Korea. It was super cold that night.

Korea isn't this dark or scary, it just so happened that 10 at night was the earliest I could go out to take photos. I'll post happier, more brightly lit photos at a later date.

More Photographs

I'm using a Pentax k200d Digital SLR. It's amazing where digital technology is taking the image making process. The camera has an anti-shake feature that made a lot of these images possible without the use of a tri-pod.

New Camera!

Bam! I finally got a new camera! After waiting patiently for my next paycheck, I made one of the largest cash purchases of my life. Seriously, I've paid more for some of the cars that I've driven. But then again, one of them was an '85 Jetta, so that's not saying much. Here are some photos from a nearby park.

Can you tell that I studied Visual Development at San Jose State University?
(Sorry, inside joke)

Across the Street

Korea is great because in the middle of every neighborhood, between tiny streets overcrowded with cars and in neighborhoods where every building is at least 4 stories tall, you can find small patches of vegetable crops. Here's some pumpkin leaves from the field across the street.

By the river

Got out of the city and rode my bike through the rice fields. There I found a nice place to sit by the river. Here's the drawing.

New Artwork

Sorry guys, it's been a while, here's the latest stuff...

This was at a coffee shop on the beach. The beach was wonderful, but the observation post is a testament to the tense relationship between the two Koreas.

In a personal note, the light was really bad in the coffee shop, hence the weird blue marks on the observation post. I didn't notice the color until I returned home and had another look at the drawing.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

View of Gangneung City from Woldea Mountain

There are several small hills in the middle of the city. They all have hiking trails and usually have benches and exercise equipment at the peak. Here's a view of my city from the top of Woldae Mountain.

In the garden...

Went out for the weekend and visited some historical sights. Here's a drawing.

Another Monster Spider

Another large Korean spider. These guys hang out between the trees that border the rice fields.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Weekend in Seoul

Chuseok weekend was coming up after only my second week of work. From what my co-teachers were telling me, the Chuseok holiday is equivalent to American Thanksgiving. It's the one time of year when everyone goes home to spend time with their families. It's also a time whenKoreans go to the grave sites of their ancestors to tend the grass around the tomb. One of my co-teachers had gone the weekend before to 'cut the grass' of his parents burial mound. I asked him exactly how he had done this, laughing to myself as I imagined him walking over his parents grave with a gas powered lawnmower. In reality he just used a pair of hedge clippers. Having no family in Korea and no burial mounds to tend, I had a three day weekend to look forward to.

Up to that point I had been keeping my activities pretty low-key. The previous two weekends I stayed inside to set up my apartment or just went for a bike ride around the city. It was time for a change and for something a little more exciting. I called my friend Eric who lives in Seoul and he offered to show me around the capital city for the weekend. I was hoping to collect some stories to post on this blog but as it would turn out, my time with Eric would give me much more than I would want.

I hadn't seen Eric since my last trip to Korea two years ago. He's an awesome guy to travel with and I knew it would be a good time when he said he'd show me around. Eric, like myself, is an American who teaches English in Korea, only in the much more exciting capital city of Seoul. I was looking forward to the visit because he always boasted how cool his neighborhood was. Like any major city Seoul has its collection of immigrant workers. Eric's neighborhood near Dongdaemun Stadium was it, and it was full of Russian, Uzbeck, Mongolian factory workers and Korean prostitutes that catered to them. As my subway train approached Dongdaemun Station I noticed more and more hairy, dark skinned, Asiatic men boarding the train. I figured I was heading in the right direction. Strangely enough, they had the same look as the Indian computer engineers you can find anywhere in Silicon Valley. I exited the train and found Eric waiting for me at Exit #5.

We had dinner in his neighborhood and you could hear at least 4 different languages being spoken at any one moment. The whole street in front of his apartment building was a crowded mess of lights, karaoke bars, taxis and unusual mix of Central Asians speaking Russian, Uzbecky, Mongolian and Korean. The whole scene reminded me of Paul Popes' comic 100%.

The plan for the night was to head to Itaewon, the nightclub district of Seoul, to meet a few of Eric's friends and hit the bars. If you've ever seen a 70's Japanese action film, the kind Quintin Tarantino loves, where the hero has to go undercover to catch a heroin dealer at a foreigner bar filled with American G.I.'s and strippers, Itaewon is that in Korea. Itaewon is also the place in Seoul where you can find the usual group of Africans selling imitation hip-hop gear that you'll find in any major city. At night foreigners from all over the world crowd into Itaewon, including the Russians and Uzbecks from Eric's neighborhood, to visit the bars, clubs and special “business clubs.” Koreans hate the place though, so you won't see any locals except for the bar staff and prostitutes on Hooker Hill. Additionally, the G.I.'s have to clear out at 11pm because of a newly imposed curfew. Around 10:30, when Eric and I were at our second bar, 4 huge MP's in full uniform and carrying sidearms strolled through the crowd looking for guys to send back to the base. Eric and I took this as our cue and moved on to the next bar.

There was nothing eventful about bar #3 except for a cute but rude bartender who got really heated when we started talking about Dokdo island.
It was at the fourth bar that the shit went down and why the weekend deserves its own blog entry. Outside of the third bar, a drunk Uzbecky man from Eric's neighborhood recognized him and demanded that we join him and his friends at their favorite bar across the street. Between the 5 of them, they spoke 6 words of English and while none of us spoke any Uzbeck, the alcohol did a lot to bride the language gap that night. It was around 1am and I was probably 9+ drinks deep. So when they invited us to join them I thought, ... well, I don't remember what I thought but we went along anyways.

They took us to what was probably the most popular, if not the only, Uzbecky club in Korea. The place was filled with groups of dark skinned central-Asian men and single Korean women. I'm guessing they were on the job. The DJ was blasting middle-eastern music remixed with a club beat and on the dance floor groups of guys danced in circles showing off their moves to one another. Eric sat down at a booth with his neighbor and I dragged a girl out to the dance floor.

Eric later told me that he was sober enough to be cautious of our situation. Immediately after sitting down the Uzbeck man called a Korean girl over and had her sit between them. Eric recognized his neighbor from his apartment complex but had never said anything more than hello. He got a little concerned when the girl appeared, fearing that he was really some kind of pimp and was trying to find a customer in Eric. As it turned out, he just wanted her to translate. She spoke English and translated for both Eric and his Uzbeck neighbor. They had a pleasant conversation over a few beers.

As for myself, I was neither sober nor aware of how cautious I should have been. The Korean girl eventually ran off, I guess she didn't care to dance, but I stayed on the floor and enjoyed the bad music. After a while I noticed a crowd forming on the other end of the dance floor. Some of the lights had also been turned on, though the music didn't stop. I was plastered but I could still recognize the signs of a fight. Immediately I began shoving and pushing my way through the crowd, hoping to catch a glimpse of two Uzbecks throwing punches over a Korean prostitute. I was disappointed when I got to the middle and didn't see a fight. Instead, the circle of people stood strangely silentl around a man lying on the floor holding his hands over his face. I looked down at him and at first thought that someone had spilled pink cool-aid on his white shirt. I kept staring and realized that there was a pool of blood growing behind his head. I stared at the others and they had the same dumbfounded look of awe and surprise. The man had been stabbed and here he was, on the floor in front of us. He was still alive but no one had any idea of his condition or even what to do.

Two men broke the silence by yelling at each other from opposite sides of the body. This was the fight I had been hoping to see and it was breaking out right in front of me. However, and I still can't explain it today, for some strange reason I thought it would be a good idea to break up the fight. Of course I was drunk and couldn't see the problem with this idea but I went with it anyways. I grabbed one of the men from behind in a bear hug underneath his arms and began pulling him backwards. I walked him back to the other end of the dance floor, about 8 feet, while he continued to throw punches and yell at the other man. His friends eventually showed up, pushed me off and grabbed him. Thankfully they showed up when they did because I didn't know how long it would be until he turned his aggression to the man holding him.

I backed off and suddenly felt a hard jerk to my right shoulder. It was Eric. He looked at me and said, “It's time to go.” Right, I thought, definitely a good idea.

We tried to make our way out of there as quickly as we could, beccause at this point so was everyone else. We made it out to the the street you would have never guessed that there was some kind of emergency going on inside. Despite all the people pouring out of the club they only flowed into an even larger group of drunken foreigners outside. Eric and I jumped into the closest taxi and made our way home.

Eric looked at me and asked, “what the fuck were you thinking”? Finally, I realized what had really happened in that club. A man had been stabbed and I tried to break up a fight around it. That's when I realized how bad of an idea it was and how much trouble I could have gotten into. I sat quietly the rest of the cab ride and sobered up by the time we paid the cab fair. I was hoping to see a little action this weekend and I got much more than I asked for.

True, I did not actually see a stabbing. I did see a man on the floor bleeding heavily and it could have been for a million other reasons that he was bleeding. Also, I was drunk. A few days later Eric told me that another friend of his who was with us at the bar had called the Military Police and saw the injured man being escorted out of the club. His shirt was covered with blood and he was holding his abdomen, still alive and capable of walking. Hopefully he is alive and well today. I checked the news and did a google search, but couldn't find anything. I did learn of another, much more famous, stabbing incident in Itaewon involving two American servicemen. Check out the article here.