Thoughts on mediocrity, poverty, and micro-loans.

I just started reading this book called "Provocations: Spiritual Writings of Kierkegaard". It's a compilation of segments of his writings, ordered by topic; slightly more accessible than reading his complete works. Kierkegaard's got some strong words for the 19th century church that are just as applicable today. Case is point:

"The greatest danger to Christianity is, I contend, not heresies, heterodoxies, not atheists, not profane secularism - no, but the kind of orthodoxy which is cordial drivel, mediocrity served up sweet."

He talks about faith being trampled "amid smiling, Christian politeness." I read this, and all I can do is cringe, not so much because I see it all around me (which I do), but because I see it in myself. Brutal.

On a more positive note, my pastor here has been doing sermons about financial responsibility. How can that possibly be positive, you ask? Well, he's recommended a couple great websites to check out. My excuses for not giving usually boil down to either "I don't want to just give a handout." or "How do I know what their doing with my money is really worth while?" But each of these organizations seem to be using the money wisely, in ways that will really make some long term changes.

One -- The main goal here is to end extreme poverty by raising awareness and by pressuring world governments to follow through on the 1% gdp pledge they have already allocated but have resisted actually giving toward ending poverty. Check out the declaration and sign on to join the movement.

Opportunity International -- This group gives small loans and training to people around the world to help them start their own businesses and become financially independent. You can't argue with that. It's a good thing.

Compassionate Ministries -- Okay, so, I've heard many a guilt trip from places like these complete with pictures of big eyed children with flies on their faces. But, despite my general discomfort with these advertising tactics, I think they are doing good. Every kid deserves a decent education and, of course basic health needs and care. And, as a little perk to the giver, we get little notes and pictures from our kid.

Lastly, a little plug for my cool friend Jackie's "$100 a Month" blog. Giving just $100 a month can make a big difference. Join up.


Everland Adventure!

God bless Korean holidays. And non-retail jobs that assure you will get off on every red numbered holiday on the calendar. It's almost as good as working for the U.S. government.

Last Wednesday was a holiday. For what, no one seems to know, but we took advantage of it and whisked ourselves away to Everland, Korea's answer to Disneyland (click here for more pics). And, indeed, they seemed to take their cue from everything Disneyland-ish, from the quaint shops of main street to the electric light parade, which, I swear, had little musical quotes from the Disney one. The main difference was that instead of crab cakes at the Blue Bayou restaurant, we were stuck with peanut butter octopus (no joke!) and bulgogi burgers.

Although the food left something to be desired, the company didn't. We marveled at the foreign performers (none of them Korean) and laughed at classic misspellings, like the "Pizza Rool" ("Pizza Roll" on another nearby menu) and the succulent "Soft Baked Crap". The rollercoasters were decent and the theme rides at least mildly entertaining. But the best part was hanging out with super cool people who will ride subways wearing animal hats. You guys rock.


Bauer or Bourne?

While watching Jack Bauer single-handedly wipe out 7 terrorists with only a handgun, stealth, and a chain, this formidable question arose: in a battle between Jack Bauer and Jason Bourne, who would win? They both have to be the biggest bad-asses ever to grace the screen. Man, I just can't decide....a tie maybe?



Recognize this? That's right, you guessed it. Bible Adventures for Nintendo! I just downloaded a NES emulator and let me tell you, it RULES! I have every game imaginable: Mario, RC Pro-am, Contra, Zelda....sheesh! I've never had it so good. So, goodbye work, social life, and church. I'll be helping Noah find two of every animal to fill the ark. This is important stuff, people.


The holidays are here! It's Chuseok, which is like Korean Thanksgiving. The whole of Korea migrates to their families houses, everything except McDonald's shuts, and I get three days off work. Five including the weekend. So, what do I do with this precious time off?

1. Get gifts. In the store there are a plethora of gift set options to give to your fam or co-workers. Our school gave us a kiwi set of about 15 huge kiwis in a fancy box and a soap set, complete with 6 tubes of toothpaste and 8 bars of soap. I'm going to have to step up the hygiene and start brushing my teeth about 5 times a day so I can use it before I leave.
2. Have Thanksgiving dinner. Turkey's a little hard to come by, so we opted for a big chili dinner. About 13 of us set up camp in the hall and had two kinds of regular chili, one with no beans, and a veggie only chili. To top it off we made a couple apple pies and a cheesecake. We do dinners up right!
3. Play scrabble. What holiday would be complete without it? Afterwards, we proceeded to the speed scrabble. Now everyone's addicted. Excellent.
4. Frolick at the park. We packed up a deluxe picnic and headed to the big sports stadium to throw around the pigskin and play an exciting game of ultimate frisbee. My team, the Canadian/U.S. alliance, won, probably because of our intimidating group cheer of "eh!".

I would also like to add that tomorrow is the day after Thanksgiving (in Korea). And, since everyone tells me I have to wait until then to listen to Christmas music, I think I'm perfectly okay to start listening tomorrow. Charlie Brown Christmas here I come.


Free Coffee is the Shiz

Yet another Starbucks gig gone past. This time I practiced day and night, my calluses were (painfully) reformed, and I think we played pretty well. The ensemble included Adam rocking out on the keys, Robb's soaring vocals, and yours truly on guitar and vocals, with guest appearances by the talented Young Min on guitar and singing. We played for nearly two hours to a good mix of foreigners and Koreans. The set list consisted of the Beatles, Decemberists, Sufjan Stevens, Mason Jennings, Simon & Garfunkel, and Coldplay, among others. We had to keep in check our tendency for melancholy, slow-ish tunes, but I think we managed to get enough variety. Overall a super fun night.

And might I add, if anyone who maybe started a band that's not really together anymore, but they recently turned their garage into a recording studio or they just moved into their aunt and uncle's downstairs guest room, and now they want to get the band back together is reading this ....all I have to say to you guys is: book a gig!! There's no better motivation to practice. You owe it to us to share your music.


The homeless feeding me.

Okay. So I've been off the blogger band-wagon for a while now. What can I say? Routine is a difficult subject to tackle. And even this belated post guarantees no revival of my earlier posting glory days. I just have something to say, that's all.

So, fall arrived in Cheonan virtually overnight. One day, we were all bemoaning that our clothes were sticking to our sweaty bodies like paper mache. The next day, there was red and orange in the trees and I was joyously (and somewhat redundantly) pointing out that I could wear a long sleeve shirt and tuque.

All this to say, that it was absolutely beautiful today, a perfect day to read in the park. Unfortunately, parks in Korea are not the grassy, tree-filled expanses that they are in the States. They usually consist of some sort of walking track, a small kid's playground, some vague, rusty stretching machinery, and dirt. I scanned my Cheonan map to look for a decently sized park that I could walk to, in the hopes it would have some space to relax and I found one, about a 45 minute walk away. I made a pb&j, stuffed a bottle of water and my magazine in my backpack, and went out into the glowing, but not too hot, sunshine.

As I neared the park, I noticed an abundance of oldsters riding around on bikes. Oldschool bikes. I walked under a bridge to see groups of old men huddled in circles. They were talking loudly and shouting at sticks that were thrown in the middle of the circle. Apparently, this is how Korean grandpas spend their Saturdays. It may have been this game.

I saw the park on the top of a small hill, and climbed the grass covered steps to it. It was a big dirt area with benches, a small fountain, and a wooden pagoda in the middle. There were old men hanging around up here, too. I had just sat down in the pagoda, when a man came up to me with a handful of newspapers. He motioned me to stand and proceeded to spread the papers on the floor so I would have a decent place to sit. He then squatted next to me and tried to talk to me. Between my five words of Korean and his five words of English, we didn't get very far. But this didn't deter him. He kept up his side of the conversation just fine and I would just interject a "Mulayo" ("I don't know) whenever he would pause for my answer.

At the other end of the pagoda, I could see his wife lying on a thin mat next to two suitcases, which I assumed were all of their belongings. From what I could tell, they lived in the pagoda, although the man did say something about his "home" being somewhere. So, I "talked" with the man for a while, and his wife came over and then another old man. They didn't seemed to be bothered by the fact that we were not really communicating at all. Eventually, everyone wandered away, and I was left to my reading.

After a while, the woman came over with a plastic bag in her hands. She pulled out packaged ice cream and handed it to me. I couldn't help thinking about the group from church who had just this morning gone to the train station to hand out food to the homeless, and here I was being given food from the homeless. I didn't want to accept it. I wanted to give them something. I wanted to know their story and what I could do to help. But I couldn't. So I took the ice cream, with much bowing and thanks. I thanked them again as I left, wishing that I could do more.

As I was walking home, among many other things, I was thinking about this language thing and how it creates a bubble. I gravitate toward bubbles. I use my family and friends as a bubble. I use my church as a bubble. Pretty much anywhere that makes me comfortable, I'm there. And there's a place for comfort. But I think that if I was to stay in Korea, I would have to learn the language. I create enough bubbles for myself without using language as yet another tool for isolation.

I have many ideas for change in the world. But there needs to be communication for them to happen. Wherever I live, I need to be able to communicate in order to be a participating member and a force for change in society.


The Final Chapter

Finally. The last installment of Vietnam pics. Looks like it's time for another vacation. *sigh* I wish....Thanks for all your comments, though!


Cat Lady

This is freaky. Oh, they look docile enough at first...but just you wait.


Will they survive?!?!?

Did Pete and I get eaten by huge, flesh-eating monsters while trekking through the rice paddy steppes??? Find out in the second exciting installment of Vietnam pics!

Have I mentioned before how much I love Adobe Lightroom? Thanks, Jesse. And thanks, Jayson.


back on the blogger wagon.

I'm back from Vietnam, and that means back to blogging with a treasure-trove of new pics. My bro and I conquered northern Vietnam with our traveler's prowess. We braved the motorbike infested streets of Hanoi, battled the shoe-eating mud in the stunningly beautiful, but treacherously slippery, hills around Sapa, and defiantly waited patiently for many a bus on our tour through Halong Bay. Peril? Yes, you could say we were in great peril. But we faced the peril. And we had a super time doing it.

If you're in my vicinity, ask me more and I'll tell you. If you're in Pete's vicinity, ask him about it, and I'm pretty sure he'll tell you. If you just want to look at the first installment of pics and be done with it, go here. If you think all vacations are the same and have no desire to hear yet another story about traveler's diarrhea, then maybe you will find this interesting instead (Trust me. It's cool. Check out the movies, too.).

In other news, I also went to a Muse concert last Sunday at Pentaport Rock Festival in Incheon. They ROCK in concert! So go, now, buy tickets, and see them. And the rock gods will be appeased.


Fourth on the Fifth (or Sixth, for me)

Happy 4th of July!

For more fun 4th photos, click here.

Ode to Mom & Dad

So, I haven't posted for a blog-land eternity (known as a month for us in the corporeal world) because my parents made the long journey west to come visit. Hooray! I had thought that we wouldn't have enough to do, seeing that Korea isn't exactly an exotic destination for world travelers. But there was no shortage of sites to see and stores to shop! We survived the two weeks with no clashes, very little complaining, and lots of good memories. So, thanks Mom & Dad for being such super travelers! I love you!


B is for Bunny.

Mipa's bunny, Bunny, is super cute.
And my new lens is super cool.



So, last Friday night Young Min, Matt, and I had a gig at Starbucks. Diss S-bucks all you want, but one thing they do well is give local musicians and/or artists a chance to show their stuff. I dig it.

On two guitars and a djembe drum, we played some church stuff, some Beatles, Coldplay, one of my tunes, and that old Coke commercial song, "I'd Like to Teach the World to Sing." It was all semi-thrown-together, but it was still cool. I wasn't even that nervous. It was good clean fun, and a hey-day for foreigners, who flocked to the place like Koreans to a kimchi tasting.

The main thing is that now I can say I'm "internationally acclaimed", or some other such aggrandizement. Ha. Cool.


Beachee Fun!

Last weekend, Adam, Elisa, Houston, Jackie, Jenni, Jayson, and I hopped a bus to get some sun at the beachee (or at least, that's what all our kids call it in class...unless they're calling it some other word that starts with a b and ends with ch). It was a blissful day full of sun, frisbees, climbing over rocky outcroppings, and all around good times. The beaches in Korea don't quite compare to Cali and are known to be swarming with bathers once the heat comes, but this one was big with plenty of sand to frolic in or lay on, and there weren't many people. In fact, we practically had the entire beach to ourselves until the post work and school crowd came out.

It's when the Koreans come out that you realize they have a significantly different perspective on beach-going. Pale skin is in here, so while all of us foreigners were stripped down to our suits trying to get golden brown, the Koreans were walking, playing, even swimming fully clothed. I don't think I saw a single Korean wearing a swimsuit without a t-shirt and shorts over it. I don't know how they can stand the soaking wet with saltwater jeans with sand trapped inside, but there's always a price for beauty. For us, the price was colored red. Despite us all mooching off Jenni's sunscreen, we each left with pink splotches somewhere or other. But no worries. We went to the store to get some aloe afterwards and they gave us a free sample of skin whitener, so we can always just bleach our skin back to it's original pasty whiteness. Ah, the things we do....

For more pics, check out my flickr.

Buddah's B-day: visual supplement


Belated Blog about Buddah's Birthday (in the style of the Bob Loblaw law blog)

So, last Thursday was Buddah's b-day, in case anyone missed it. If you did miss it, I suggest getting a Korean calendar because all the holidays (read: days I don't have to regulate screaming children) are listed in red. My mom has one, so she lets me know if there's a holiday coming up. Like this one, for instance. And, she also told me that virtually every Buddhist temple in Korea (and there are a lot!) has a big lantern festival on said day. So, like any good mother, she made sure that I made plans to celebrate the day off Buddhist style.

After the rare splurge at T.G.I. Friday's with some pals, Cara, Jo, Jenni, and I decided to head up toward Taejosan mountain to Gagwansa Temple. The clouds were brewing overhead, and just as we got off the bus, the rain started coming down. With three out of four umbrella-less, we made our way through town, which was littered with tents and booths selling food and Buddhist paraphernalia. We soon had the appearance of drowned rats, calling more attention to us than the usual "whitey stare". The rain was refreshing, though, and it was still warm out. After a seemingly infinite stair climb, we reached another string of booths. One had some ladies making the paper lanterns that we could see were hanging everywhere up ahead, so we decided to try our hand at making one. The ladies helped us, sometimes losing patience and just doing it themselves, but we ended up with some pretty sweet lanterns. They wrapped them in plastic for us so they wouldn't get wet.

The big Buddah (15 meters high and 60 tons!) loomed ahead and we could see hundreds of pink lanterns strung in front of it. By this time, we were thoroughly soaked, but Buddah drew us closer. We watched as people lit candles and bowed in respect before the giant statue. It was really quite a serene sight. After taking altogether too many pictures of the wet paper lanterns, we jogged over to the temple, where people were streaming in to pray. Three golden Buddahs were in the front of the place and a monk was beautifully chanting and playing a drum. It was so simple and peaceful and reverent.

I swear that Buddhists are some of the nicest people around, because as we headed down the hill toward the town to catch a taxi, an older lady pulled over and waved us into her car. She didn't speak a lick of English, but she saw that we were cold and wet and had pity on us. Not only did she pick us up, but she drove us the entire way back into downtown, about 20 minutes! She even gave us some gummy seaweed candy (it tasted about as good as it sounds). But it was really cool.

After a Chai at Starbucks, we split ways and went home. To top off my great day, as I got off the bus a Korean lady motioned me under her umbrella and walked with me part way home. Buddah was definately shining on me that day. It was good. Thanks, mom.

Pics to come soon....


Pill Popper?

....or secret message giver?

Now you can pass notes in class without any fear of getting caught. Your teacher will just think you're passing amphetamines or some other drug.

I got these for my pals' birthdays. Only in Korea.....


Everything's a target...

...with my new Canon 50mm 1.4 lens.


It's true.

I'd like everyone to know that I have mastered eating birthday cake out of a dixie cup with chopsticks. "What?!", you may say. "That would take some kind of chop-sticks genius!" Well, genius is a pretty strong word. But, if you insist on using it, I can handle it.


Get thee to a nunnery*

Last-last weekend, Julene and I went to Busan upon the invite of some of Julene's nun buddies. I know it seems like a preponderance of convent visits for me recently (does two count as a preponderance?), but, no worries...I'm not planning on signing on. It's just fun. These nuns showed us all around town and were so gracious to us. They didn't even know me, but they extended the invitation to me anyway. And the beach was right there! So I got my little beach fix and got to spend some q.t. with Julene before she left for Africa. (Check out her blog for some of her adventures thus far...)

I conquered Seoul last weekend. Am I weird for actually wanting to go down by myself? Probably. I had to pull some major avoiding to make a solo trip. It seemed like everyone and their brother was going to Seoul last weekend. No, really! Probably %80 of the people I know were there. But there's some sense of adventure that comes when you go to a foreign city alone, and some freedom, too. So, I went down with only one plan: to buy a Canon 50mm f1.4 camera lens. I went to Yongsan, this huge electronics market, to haggle with the many salesmen vying for my money. My haggling skills are not so hot, but I got the guy down to the lowest price I found online, $50 less than where he started. So I was happy.

Afterwards, what to do? The options were endless. I decided to hunt down a Mexican place I had read about in my Lonely Planet guide. But, alas, my taste buds were not appeased; I couldn't find the place. I settled for this 50's diner place, complete with red leather booths and a parking sign reading, "Elvis fans only. All others will be all shook up." I ordered up a burger and a chocolate shake for a little slice of Americana heaven. Sooo good.

After a bit more wandering around, I hopped on the KTX for a quick ride back. All in all, a good trip, especially good with my new lens. I love it. The depth of field is sweet. I need to do this new lens thing more often. Next trip to Seoul = Mexican food! Must....have...Mexican.....

*10 points to whoever can tell me what famous play this is from....


Last weekend, I hung out at a convent. I went there with Julene, Jackie, and Alfred for a retreat-type deal. Julene goes there all the time for some peace and quiet, so she decided to share the wealth and take us there. Alfred stayed for most of the first day, long enough to tell us his amazing story of coming from Tanzania to Korea. Then it was just the girls, and we had a great time just lounging around, figuring out Taize songs, reading the Bible, and talking. Luckily, all three of us value deep, honest conversation and are okay with silence, otherwise it might have been too much time with too few people. But it was good. We sat in on the nuns singing their daily prayers and they made us super delicious Korean food. The place was simple and quiet. And I even had time to take some cool photos, which I have been slacking on. So, thanks, nuns, for a very peaceful weekend.