The Hmong

Live at the highest point of the mountainous range of Lao PDR (Laos); a small landlocked country sandwiched between Vietnam and Thailand. It took my college study abroad group 4 days of trekking up the steep mountain side to get to their village.

Known as one of the more well off of the people that populate the different levels of the mountain side, they assisted the US during the Vietnam war. The most heavily bombed country in the world, much of their population fled to the US after the war as Lao remains a communist country.

Yesterday, I met one of these people. He happens to be in the military serving in Korea with me. How ironic and interesting the world is. A man, whose family moved to California following Vietnam, now finds himself the US military serving in another divided country on the eastern side of the world. I love it.

There are spies!

Today, I heard a very interesting story from one of the Korean ladies I work with.

I was asking her about the sentiments of the South Koreans with the American military being a strong presence in her country. While I was expecting some sort of negative backlash, she was stating that most people feel safer with our presence here knowing that the North Korean’s are a lurking and unpredictable neighbor. With that she shared an example.

Apparently, a few months prior, there used to be demonstrations every Wed in front of the main gate at Kunsan AB. Well at one point, Ms. Kim asked one of the protesters what they were protesting for. The member replied that they were paid $100 to do so.

By who you may ask?

By a North Korean spy it was later found out. He was caught just a few months prior, right at the moment the protests stopped. And there have been none at Kunsan since.

The tests of Life

In addition to the fountain of youth, you will encounter four figures at the entrance of every Buddhist temple in Korea. These challengers stand before at the entrance into the halls of the holy temple.

Meant to represent the challenges of live that you will encounter prior to nirvana, these figures hold a sword, a palace, and a snake – all representing different challenges. The final figure plays a tune for you as you have survived the three encounters and make it into the entrance of the temple and therefore nirvana.

Kimchi: The other name for Korea

Fun fact of the day: there are over 200 types of kimchi – a pickled snack/ h’orderve that can be anything from a spicy pickled turnip to the most well known version, spicy cabbage. It is the foundation and most essential element of every basic meal in Korea. Breakfast, lunch and dinner: all have at least 5 different types of Kimchi.

Korea often gets tagged with an unpleasant name because of this essential dish. The assumption is that Korea smells terrible due to the cabbage being buried under ground to ferment. In actuality, I have seen none of this – only large clay pots filled with delectable kimchi sitting outside of houses, stores and even in the middle of Seoul.

Yes, one of the MOST basic and essential elements to Korean culture is food. Pictured above is just a sampling of the delectable offerings you will get for free with every meal. Enjoy!

The moment that Changed my Life

While I would say I have gathered a few life changing moments in my short life thus far, this particular story tells a tale of love – for life, following what your heart tells you and letting the confusion of life take over.

It was a warm Tuesday afternoon in Buenos Aries, I was sitting in an air conditioned classroom on one of the most famous streets in the city, Avenida Corrientes. Know for its bookshops (my favorite was an old theater turned bookstore), it is famously termed ‘the street that never sleeps’. I was 19 and had somehow financed my way to a study abroad course in Argentina for a month.

While study abroad’s had academic coursework – they were rarely about that. They were more for the ‘cultural exchange’ of Quilmes (local beer) and the locals themselves. Yet, I found myself wrapped up in the coursework focused on the effects of globalization.

On this particular day, we had just visited a factory full of blue collar workers wearing little protective equipment and all too skinny. Not to mention our ride there saw many begging children and homeless scattered along the streets. It was my 5th day in the country and I am only slightly ashamed to say that I had a small hangover from our excipades from the night before.

After our field trip, we returned to our classy air conditioned apartment in one of the wealthiest areas of the city. Our professor was asking us what we thought of the experience and we proceeded to discuss the issues of the poor. It was at this moment that it hit me.

I was very, very rich. And it all seemed too unfair in the scheme of the world.

While I was a ‘struggling’ college student – I was in college, in America and born into a family that while they could not afford to pay for college, where defiantly middle class America. Yet, I was born into a society, a nation, that had more opportunity and wealth that a strong 80% of the world would never see. Regardless, we sat there, in our air conditioned, fancy classroom and pretended to discuss issues of the poor like we knew exactly what they went through every day! Ridiculous!

It was at that moment, confused and confronted with the reality of world poverty (and believe me Argentina is not even close to the real poverty line) that I made a very important decision in my life: I would dedicate my life to the service of others.

It was the only way I could begin to accept the random occurance that placed me in America and berka wearing oppressed women in other countries. It drove me nuts that people could parade around in their prada and pretend like they didnt notice the poor in their own country!

At 19 I was about to discover that the issue of poverty was far more complicated than I ever imagined, however, I have never regretted my decision to live for others. For as long as I have lived, I still believe it is the only way to achieve true happiness… for yourself.

There is a fountain of Youth

And I found it in Korea (and I would guess at most Buddhist temples).There are a few things that you will find at every temple, and one of them is a well full of communal spring drinking water.

Locals believe that if you take a sip from this life giving water you will add one year onto your lifespan. More a metaphor in the modern age for the importance of drinking water, locals still take a sip every time they visit the temple, just in case.






Korean Karaoke

By far one of the top things to do in Korea on a Fri night, Sat afternoon or even Sunday morning is karaoke.

Koreans LOVE karaoke. Not because they are particularly good at it,  well I am not even sure why they love it, but they do. And if you see the state- of-the-art rooms that karaoke is conducted in, you may begin to understand.

Korean karaoke is not in a massive room full of strangers, it is set up in your own personalized VIP room full of pitchers of beer, Soju & coke. With chandlers on the ceiling and red velvet  couches, you feel a little better belting out cheesy tunes with a group of your friends – And belt out tunes we did. From Korean pop tunes to some beetles, our terrible voices screamed the best of the era full of laughs and dancing.

Surely a must stop if living or visiting, Korean karaoke leaves little to be scared of when the room is filled with your friends plus pitches of beer.

Well, what the Hell

Why not go to the FIFA World Cup 2010 in South Africa?

In Feb 2009, this was exactly the thought going through my head. So I applied for the Golden Ticket – and seriously this is how it goes, without the chocolate bars.

You apply for the lottery, maybe you get one, maybe you don’t. I found out that I had, in fact, got a golden ticket when my credit card agency called me for fraudulent charges to my card. Apparently when you live in Texas it is weird to get a charge in Geneva.

Well when I got that call, I figured out that I would go to Africa in a year. Did I have a plan? Nope. But I soon recruited friends to go along with the adventure. Two awesome college friends, Ben and Kayode, also joined for the trek to South Africa, which in and of itself could have a separate couple of pages written on.

Honestly, I would have never traveled to South Africa had it not been for the world cup. It is a rather interesting country with a sorted past – I didn’t quite like being white in a country full of a purely white upper class and purely black lower class. It was ire and made me want to put a huge A (for American) on my forehead.

But turns out, the world cup events were nothing of the sort. It was simply a gathering of people from all around the world bonding together through the name of sport.

And don’t imagine a football game either – it is nothing like that. Is there beer? Yes, but rarely belligerent drunks. Simply, excitement. The feel of being there for one purpose: to root for YOUR country against another. The game takes on a whole new edge just for this fact – that there are thousands people from all around the world all there to cheer eachother on. It was an amazing experience and absolutely not what I expected.

Brazil 2014?

I’ll put my hat in for the lottery and see what happens.

Make a Wish

In Italy its a coin toss into a fountain. In America its a penny down a wishing well. In South Korea – it is a rock.

Within the confines of the array of temples scattered around the country, you will find a series of stacked rocks all containing the hopes and dreams of the people of South Korea.

Stacked one atop the other, this cultural trait is just one of the folk similarities found while gallivanting around Gyeongju, a historical city home to the Silla empire.

While a common trait of South Korea (just like any wishing well in the states), this particular city holds history and a great deal of meaning to the people of the ROK.