A Visitor

27 08 2009

We’ve had a visitor for the last 10 days.

Furry Bear’s mom is here! She took a crazy connecting flight from New York to Helsinki (Helsinki???) to Seoul. Though she’s traveled to and lived in many countries around the world, she’s never been to Asia, so I was a little curious about how she would react to Korea. It’s always interesting to get an outsider’s opinion of something you take for granted.

Since Furry was at work, I met her bright and early at Incheon airport. We boarded the KAL Airport Limo bound for the Grand Hyatt Hotel by our apartment. A little while into the ride, she commented that Seoul reminded her of Albania of all places!! Furry had mentioned this to me earlier, and now his mom had confirmed that something about Seoul was reminding her of Albania – and Tirana in particular. It’s so interesting to me that 2 cities that really should have nothing in common, were so similar to both of them. It must have something to do with the energy that both cities are carrying. Needless to say, Furry’s mom felt immediately comfortable and at home.

Here are a few more of her observations about Seoul:

  • She did not expect Seoul to be so modern. She was extremely surprised by this and mentioned it a few times.
  • She loved the tomatoes – the ones Furry has grown – and the store-bought ones. She said that you could tell they were local.
  • That it’s a myth that all Asian people look the same! She started to really notice the difference between all the people, and the differences between different Asian races.
  • That Korean women are beautiful, tall, very slim, and stylish. (lol…not me, I am Canadian-Korean!! ūüôā
  • The children are angelic and innocent compared to North America, and that it would be a great place to raise children.
  • That’s what I can remember off the top of my head. I’m off to Kuala Lumpur, Borneo and Brunei tomorrow. See you in a few weeks!



    6 08 2009

    Yesterday, Furry Bear, Michel, (a French-Canadian friend I met on a flight between Seoul and Vancouver), and I headed to the 63 building. The 63 building is one of those Seoul landmarks – a tall, skinny building that I assume is 63 floors high. Pretty hard to miss in the skyline actually.

    Inside was a predictable zoo of bratty, screaming Korean boys having temper tantrums, well-behaved little Korean girls, ajumas, Chinese tourists, and a few foreigners. We purchased our tickets, and headed up the glass elevator to the art gallery and views at the top of the building. What an eye-opener! I knew Seoul was huge, but the pure visual impact of the geography from the 63rd floor was unbeatable. Simply put, SEOUL IS MASSIVE, and I must say, quite beautiful from up above.

    Han River - Seoul

    This is the Han River, which basically runs through the centre of the city and divides North and South. I’ve been over 3 or 4 of these bridges, but seeing them all stacked out into eternity was pretty cool. The Han River is over 1 km wide. It is by no means, a small river, and everyday millions of cars, people, scooters and dogs dressed in funny outfits cross those bridges.


    Here’s another view. Buildings upon buildings upon buildings. It’s kind of mind-boggling to actually think about how many people are living in all those buildings. Twenty-five million in metropolitan Seoul, which is approximately the same geographic size as the GTA. Almost 11 million in Seoul – a city the size of Toronto. Imagine 11 million people in Toronto!! The city can barely sustain 3 million. You know the craziest part? There’s no more traffic here than there is in Toronto…


    8 06 2009

    Last November, I sold the condo I’d owned and lived in for 5 years, and either sold, packed up or gave away most of my remaining possessions. I condensed my life into 2 suitcases, which were transported to Seoul, South Korea by my parents, 2 months before I arrived. At the time, I had this urge to be rootless and unencumbered by the world of form. The process of packing up boxes and actually delving into all of the STUFF I had accumulated, only underscored my desire for this. I could not believe the number of things I had that I didn’t need or use. I just had them to have them.

    After leaving Toronto, I travelled to Seoul, Vietnam, Cambodia, back to Seoul, then onwards to China, Laos and Thailand, before finally returning to Seoul. Those 3 months of traveling condensed life even further, as all of my possessions were forced into a 48 litre backpack. I literally became the turtle carrying it’s home on it’s back. I was unencumbered by work, a home, mortgage payments, possessions and deadlines of any sort. In fact, I couldn’t even use credit cards for most of my travels, (and I had come to realize that credit cards tie you down in the most devious of ways!)

    Life was lived moment to moment. At least for a time.

    We settled into Seoul at the end of February and began the process of setting down a few roots. We tried to do this in a more conscious way, purchasing only what we would really need, rather than what we thought we might need. We have much less stuff, but it’s a much cleaner and simpler existence, free of unnecessary excess.

    I wasn’t sure why I started this journey…and of course, there were multiple logical reasons for taking it on. The real estate market was crashing and I had to get out, I wanted to travel, I wanted to go back to my motherland and discover my roots etc….etc….etc. Looking back now, with the gift of hindsight, it is clear to me that this journey was really about letting go, creating a void and learning how to live in a cleaner, simpler and more conscious way.

    It seems to me that we are all involved in this evolutionary process, and that this economic collapse is actually the impetus for governments, corporations and ultimately every human being to undergo the process of living in a way that is more elegant, less wasteful and more harmonious.

    Part-Time Job

    4 06 2009

    Last night, we were sitting outside on Friend Jane’s step chatting, when the landlady’s son returned¬†home. He’s around 18 years old, lanky and wears his glasses, jeans and t-shirts in the careless way that teenage boys do. I think his name is Hong-Il, but for some reason, his name just doesn’t stick in my mind. It was around 10 PM, and as he entered he called up and apologized to Jane for arriving home so late. Apparently, he had offered to help her take out her copious (from the move) amounts of garbage and recycling.

    He speaks a little bit of English, so we started talking, and learned that he was just arriving home from work. The conversation went something like this:

    Us: Were you at work? or school?

    Hong-Il: I was at work. At my part-time job.

    Us: Oh, how many hours do you work?

    Hong-Il: Monday to Friday, 7 hours every day.

    Us: PART-TIME job!!

    Hong-Il (matter of factly): Yes. And on weekends, I work on Itaewon, selling clothes.

    Suffice it to say, that we were pretty impressed. 

    I had read in a study a few months ago that Koreans were the longest working people on earth, and Hong-Il’s words confirmed the fact. If 7 hours a day, 5 days a week, is part time, what’s full time?

    Asking around, I discovered that most Koreans only get 1 week of vacation per year, no matter how senior they get, and that they work 5 days a week, from 8 AM until 8 PM. They also work for a few hours on Saturdays. My North American sensibility thinks this is pretty crazy. But then again, I’ve been living the passive income lifestyle for over a year now. I’m not too into sitting at a desk, working.

    I think though, that the thing that impressed me most about Hong-Il, was the absolute sense of presence he had at the tender age of 18. There was no hint of victimhood in his tone or being when he told us about the hours he worked…only a sense of peaceful acceptance.

    What a beautiful thing.

    Wellbing in Seoul

    22 05 2009

    My rice cooker has a quote on it that says, “for your well-being life.” I’m not really sure how, but still…

    There is a huge well-being trend happening in Seoul right now. Products, stores and services are all promoted for their well-being capacity. Yoga studios are popping up all over the place, and Koreans are starting to work out big time. (A big change from when I was here 10 years ago!)

    My favorite place of well-b(e)ing though is the grocery store right by my house.


    And for a closer look. Good marketing? Hmmmm….


    Ode to the Kumquat

    27 04 2009


    Never before had I witnessed such beauty of flesh

    T’was not till I reached Seoul on my journey

    That I saw you and your friends in that fine bag of mesh

    “What a crime!” I exclaimed to the district attorney

    who happened to be standing close by my side

    poking and prodding the most wondrous of fruit

    in that Itaewon market, I wrung my hands and cried,

    “why is this delight not imported worldwide?

    reflecting with pride, it’s bright orange suit

    it’s a sin, it’s a sin, I just can’t abide!”


    I purchased that bag and took it on home

    Anticipating with joy, the crunch and the juice

    I sat down cross legged with a sigh and an om

    (Thought surely, this rhyme must be better than Seuss)

    Choosing oh so carefully from among your brood

    I admired your lustre and took my first bite

    Imagine my surprise at the sweet and the sour

    A flavour most rich, you began to exude

    The glorious kumquat! a fruit of such might

    Complex and delicious, this must be your hour!

    The Basics

    16 04 2009

    I’ve been in Seoul for about 6 weeks now. Moving here, renting an apartment, setting up a bank account, and finding work has been the easy part. It’s dealing with the necessities of life that are most trying. Probably self-created, but it’s the basics that cause the most turmoil. For instance, I have spent far too much time pursuing the following activities:

    1. Pressing buttons on the washing machine in the hopes that some combination of them will result in a clean and freshly scented load of clothes.
    2. Staring at the rice cooker. The damn thing looks like a spaceship, and I fear that rice will come exploding out of it, or worse!
    3. Trying to buy a fork.
    4. Getting a gift certificate from a courier company delivered to my house, by a courier who couldn’t speak English, and a me that had the wrong house address written down, resulting in multiple back and forth phone calls and text messages with his semi-english speaking daughter. Still took a FULL WEEK¬†to make this happen.
    5. Standing in the aisles of grocery stores, attempting to decipher ingredients and decide if the products are full of MSG or not.
    6. More standing in the grocery store, evaluating unrecognizable salad greenery for consumption. Sesame leaves anyone?
    7. Attempting to access the voicemail on the cellphone. After 2 days of beeping, we finally had to go back to¬†Jenny’s Cellular (and tanning salon!) to get a lesson.
    8. Searching out non-processed cheese, and eating too much Pizza School in order to fulfill my monthly melted cheese quota.
    9. Figuring out the “ondol”(under-floor) heating/hot water system, which sounds great in theory – I mean, heated floors all the time – but in practice, a little confusing.
    10. Practicing zen and calm when countless Korean people crash into me on the street, and don’t apologize OR vice versa, when I apologize and they ignore me. (I’m told this practice is somehow rooted in Confucianism).
    11. Watching reruns of CSI and CSI: Miami, because this is the only thing playing on one of three English television channels we have here. 

    I could go on and on, but I like the number 11, so I’ll stop here. Back into the land of Korean appliances I go….