지리산 여행 (Jirisan Trip)

Jirisan; the first of my last minute trips to see Korea before leaving this chapter of my life behind.

Sejin-noona from BLU offered to take me along on a visit to her friend’s house near the Jiri Mountains in the southern part of Korea. Up until then I had almost exclusively been in Seoul with only a 2 day trip away from the city in the summer, not quite the great exploration that I had imagined but then again, this was possibly the most busy times of my life. Not enough time to have all the fun in the world!

When we got on at the Nambu Bus Terminal in Seoul the weather was gloomy—not uncommon for this time of the year. The real surprise? Two hours later we awoke from a nap while arriving at a rest stop that was completely covered in snow. 우아!

Though the trip was only three days long it felt as if much more time passed by. There is something about being in the countryside which seems to slow things to a crawl. Not only was the scenery different, but the people took time to move about at a comfortable pace which to the city boy that I’ve become was quite a shock.

Sejin-noona’s friend was incredibly nice, as was her partner. Their house sits on the side of a mountain overlooking the valley below. To be honest, the Korean countryside is much different than I anticipated. Somehow I thought it would be more lush and green, but I was greeted by a wall of earthy colors; grass that was brown (maybe just recovering from the winter?) and green trees relegated to the top halves of mountains that have become red after being terraced and made suitable for farming and living. Across the landscape were scattered houses here and there, some in a cluster that would constitute a small village and others sitting more idly by the road–all with their telltale blue roofs adding a flicker of color to the otherwise seemingly barren landscape.

Amongst the adventures we went on were a stop in at a festival celebrating the first full moon of the new (lunar) year, a walk in and along a nearly dry river, watching men shoot pocket ball and then going to a wood carving artist’s home late at night, a visit to the construction site of Sejin-noona’s friends family’s new house (the photo above is taken from a hill above that house), and a trip to a clearing in a bamboo forest where another friend was building a traditional Korean home (한옥). The last escapade was more like a drunken, dizzy spin through a majestic wonderland that nearly swallowed me whole due to my overconsumption of makkeoli (막걸리) at lunch. I can say from firsthand experience that being surrounded by green walls of bamboo when you can barely get your bearings straight is a disorienting and bewildering (if not slightly uncomfortable) event. Everything was documented, just check the photos out on flickr!

I hope to go back again someday, maybe with a bit more time to go hiking in the mountains and find more rhythm with the countryside. It’s refreshing to get away from Seoul, but I’ll never complain about a return to Hongdae. 아싸!

My trip to Jirisan took place from 16 February 2011 – 19 February 2011.

Noona Wa Shong, Noona Wa Shong!

When in Korea, Jean-noona was the best sister, ever, and definitely helped make my experience there a happy and memorable one. Riding bikes, talking (and listening to me, a lot), consuming tons of food, hanging out at the studio, and walking around Hongdae are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to describing the fun we had.

Five months after I departed Seoul, we’re both here in San Francisco… probably one of the most unlikely meeting places for us, yet, here we are.

Despite her not sleeping for nearly two days, Jean-noona, Doohong-hyung, and I had fun eating burritos, watching dogs play in Duboce Park, and then taking coffee at the Cliff House overlooking a very foggy Ocean Beach.

And today’s one more thing? Half-way through the evening, I realized that she hadn’t spoken a single word of English to me and we had still managed to have no problems communicating. Maybe I haven’t lost my Korean after all!

I’m definitely looking forward to the next 10 weeks!

Dogs at Duboce Park… what are you doing?!

Doohong-hyung feeling very cold and probably wishing he was inside.

Ocean Beach was a cold, mostly deserted (save the surfers) strip of sand with a serious amount of fog rolling in from the Pacific.

Keeping it Blu

The other day I came across a place called Blu Cleaners. The name is pretty non-descript, but I couldn’t help myself from stopping to take a photo since it reminded me so much of where I used to live in Seoul; Blu Guest House.

From the actual blue color and the spelling to the use of all caps in a sans on the signage, it all instantly brought me back to the backstreets of Seogyo-dong where salary men smoke cigarettes endlessly while foreigners meander about, and then—just as quickly—I was sucked back into San Francisco with all it’s hilly hills and streets wreaking of piss. Okay, so it wasn’t actually that jarring, but for a moment there I definitely stopped and had a good chuckle to myself. I can’t wait to go back!

A Day in SF

All of a sudden I’ve found myself with this totally straightforward 9–5 lifestyle. It isn’t so bad, but what makes it actually fun is the group of guys that I work with.

We’re all nerds with a strange sense of humor. I’ve actually become a bit crude and “dudeish” in my commentary over the past few weeks. It’s taking all of my effort to not have my language devolve into a horrible mix of  broken *and* lewd words!

Here are a couple of photos from the other day, including a couple of candid portraits to give an idea of the type of cool people that I’m around and some photos taken while walking home from work.

Jonnie is ridiculously silly fellow, here in front of our burrito place.

He looks totally innocent, but with Kim, looks can be deceiving.

All of us have a slight obsession with photography, Matt (blue shirt on the right) is no exception. (Dropping off film)

Walked with Matt up towards his place and we saw helicopters in the air to cover the BART protest.

We caught up with a girl who was at the photo lab as she was checking out her negatives while walking up the street.

“Can you hear me now? Can you hear me now… Can you hear me now? Can you hear me now?!”

Even Anonymous were at the protest, giving interviews and being surrounded by media.

Caffeinate Me, Please

A few years ago I was drinking soy caramel macchiatos from Starbucks and wouldn’t even come near a cup of proper Joe. Flash forward to today: I drink 32 0z. of the good stuff—black—at minimum per day. My drug of choice is the almighty Americano.

When and where did this all get serious? Last time I was living in SF. Back in the day, Four Barrel were the new kids on the block and Blue Bottle and Ritual were the Queen Bees. These days, I hear Sightglass is the new hot stuff (my friend Brian did design for them), though I’ve yet to check them out.

To fuel my caffeine needs, I just picked up an Aeropress. I’ve tried espressos from this thing and they are the real deal, so the product is legit. The bonus? It’s small enough to travel and doesn’t weigh much at all. All that’s left is to track down a small coffee grinder and I’ll be forever ready to push out the daily grind.

And by the way, the cup above is from Blue Bottle in Hayes Valley (notice the tell tale blue bottle logo poking out from just next to my thumb). Highly recommended.

This is San Francisco

I’m back. Back in San Francisco, that is.

Almost exactly two years ago I left this city with a plan. That plan didn’t make it very far, but ironically it is in pursuit of finishing the MFA in Sweden that I left California for that has brought me back.

This time, instead of working in a small studio as I’ve done for most of my post-MICA days, I’m doing an internship at Adobe. Yes, the one that does the PDF thingy.

I’m working as a UX Designer with a small group of talented folks while seeing the innards of a a really large company. The office is great, and one of the best things is that I’m finally getting the opportunity to work again with my friend Jonnie.

Not only are we working together, but he and his fiancé, Jen, are letting me crash on their couch while I wait for my apartment to become available. As such, we hang out all the time and this past weekend was a great opportunity for us to go hang out in some of the parks.

Coffee, hanging out in Hayes Valley and then walking up to Alamo Square made for a nice time. If nothing else, San Francisco has great coffee, great food, and great views. Oh yeah, and sometimes when the fog stays away, it also has great weather.

Coffee at Ritual in Hayes Valley.

Sitting in the park, drinking coffee and watching people enjoy the sunny afternoon.

I was going to take a photo of the type painted on the wall in the background, but this guy made a loud comment wondering if I was photographing him. Here’s to you, Mister with the poofy black hair.

Carpe Diem, right?

From the top of Alamo Square, a view overlooking downtown San Francisco.

My First Korean Food

This is one of the simplest Korean dishes to make. Throw together a couple thawed rice cakes (떡), some water, sugar, red pepper paste (고추장), onions (파), ramen (라면), and soy sauce into a pan and 10 or 15 minutes later you’ve got a delicious batch of dokkbokki (떡뽁이) to chow down with a drink (or two… or three).

So then, why is this worthy of writing about? Well, for one it marks the end of a nearly year long hiatus from anything that resembles cooking (I’ve eaten out for over a year) and two, this is the first time I’ve ever cooked Korean food by myself. I guess it could seem like a trivial event but for me it feels like some kind of milestone. I’ve long been the helper, but never the “cook”. Perhaps it’s one step further towards being a bit closer to Korea.

Floating Around

This year has been a total whirlwind, woosh woosh woosh, and has entailed a blinding number of changes to my bed place for sleeping.

I realized upon arriving to San Francisco that my friend Jonnie’s couch would be at least the seventh sleeping place (one night stays and sleeping arrangements for the Norway road trip are omitted) I’ve had since January. From my apartment in Seoul to fold out mattresses on the floor in Berlin, I’ve gotten pretty comfy falling asleep just about anywhere. Even since I’ve arrived back in California, I’ve been on two different couches.

This only goes to reinforce the fact that I’m pretty nomadic right now, a state of mind and being that I’ll ask myself to heartily embrace in various forms for at least the next 4 months 10 months. Yikes! Nonetheless, this is a testament to all the good friends and people I know and have met around the world. To any and all of you, thanks for the place to rest, I appreciate it so much.

If I come away from this wild journey with nothing else, it will be the knowledge that providing a place to rest for friends and/or weary travelers will always be worth any hassle that may be entailed. I’ve got to pay it — backwards(?) — for all the generosity that has come my way.

Oi, odota hetki…

In this space should be a story about how I felt taking off from Helsinki, landing in Amsterdam where I was questioned for over 10 minutes by security, departed for Minneapolis and sat next to a guy who didn’t get up or pee for the entire flight, and then arrived in San Francisco; a proverbial time machine to my life two years ago.

But, no. I’m not ready to describe what it’s like to be back in America because I’m still reminiscing about the past month. Previously, I have written about living life in the moment but at this hour it’s just beyond my capacity. Yes, I’m even saying “Oh my God, you’re still on about Finland?” to myself, but I just can’t help it.

Consider this: isn’t it possible that we hold onto cherished memories in the same way that we may savor our favorite dessert even after we’ve brushed our teeth and all but the very last traces of that sweetness have been masked by the overwhelming flavor of mint toothpaste? A futile attempt at prolonging the past, but a sure sign that you’ve found something worth treasuring.

So let’s be honest, not every experience we have is a profound one, but when you think something has possibly fundementally altered the way you feel about yourself, life, or the world, or perhaps has just left you a bit dumbfounded, then you owe it to yourself to stop in your tracks and slow things down. That’s what I’m doing now—taking a few moments to close my eyes, replay it all in my mind, and keep the smile on my face for just a little bit longer.

Isn’t that nice? I think so.

I Say Goodbye Too Often

Way far away, thousands of kilometers across the globe is a city called Helsinki. It’s become kind of a big deal to me. Why? Easy:

Park benches with pigeons walking too close. Chinese food in a sweltering hot restaurant. Number 14 from the food cart outside Helsingin päärautatieasema. 3.00am sunrises over Lauttasaari (that’s what’s up) at the end of a 45 minute walk home. The smell of cider and smoke in crisp summer evening air. “Huomenta” through a partially open parlor door.

Need I say more?

Hip-hop shows in a museum cafe. Ink on Iso Roobertinkatu. Vodka and Fanta as witness to being forced to move by a tourist boat. Juice on beanbags by the harbor. 15km of riding bicycles in the dark with over 40 people. Stumbling across a vegetarian fast food joint while wandering aimlessly. An epic performance of Bohemian Rhapsody in a karaoke bar (but not the creepy creeper). Doenjang jjigae and pizza monkey bread.

See, plenty of amazing memories there and that’s just what I am recalling 2 weeks later while sitting half way around the world.

The end of my stay in Finland came all too soon, but I’d never trade that month of my life for anything.

Reluctantly, I said goodbye to Tony the night before I left (he had duties to attend to the next day). In the morning, Satu accompanied me to the bus stop and Monika rode with me to the central station where I took the 615T to the airport. Waiting for me there was Jee Hei and an hour and a half long parting that evaporated into thin air.

In comparison to my exit from Korea earlier this year I did quite a good job of keeping the tears in, but as a consolation prize was socked with a gut wrenching emptiness as I took the first steps in the long walk towards security. I take it as a sign that though I’ll be gone on hiatus for several months, these friends and city are a place worth returning to. Afterall, it is the world’s most liveable city, and what’s so bad about that?