Mettle on Rock

Up and at 'em 6am to test our mettle in Osaek. Uncle, Mega, and I climb sleepy-eyed and grumbling into the car. Laugh about class and students, talk plans for summer vacation. Get to the parking lot, warm up with a bit of hacky-sack and head down the trail into the valley, chilly in the early morning mist. On the way down Mega spots an untouched problem to warm up on. To warm upon. Work out the moves in a few short synapses and the three of us scramble up, cobwebs tumbling out our ears as we shake off the dust of a few hours sleep. 3 climbers, 3 projects, everyone excited to climb and brush and fall and catch. Throw the pads under "When Darkness Falls", Uncle's project of choice. He and Mega go quietly to work, brushing and chalking the holds, still damp with dew. I sit down to write and smoke as I hear the rip of velcro on Uncle's shoes and he starts the day's pulling and heaving. I'm a little cold, but very, very happy.

Had a break through recently in my climbing. A particularly tricky V2, Annyeong, (so named for the constant calls of "Hello!" from the nearby trail) was sending me sprawling for days. Mega mentioned to me recently a feeling that is singular to bouldering in the climbing world. Mega climbs much harder than I do, owing to his 10 years plus experience. He said to me that every (hard) project he finds feels completely impossible to begin with, and that it's a matter of working it out. In a sport climb, usually there is a crux (most difficult move or two), surrounded by easier climbing. Even if the crux is difficult, I usually find that I can visualize how to climb it relatively quickly and it doesn't FEEL impossible. Not so with bouldering. The aforementioned breakthrough came after sending Annyeong. Once I'd sent the problem, I found it much easier each successive time, and indeed something that felt completely impossible before was now a piece of cake. So I've found a couple new projects, both far above what I perceive as my current climbing abilities. Ceasefire V7, started off being far beyond me. It still is, in terms of finishing it. It starts with a jump to a good rail and then a big dynamic move to a sloper with the left hand. First I couldn't reach the sloper, then I couldn't hold it, now I'm working out how to move my feet while hanging on to it. The other project Exit the Dragon V5, had me laughing nervously on the first try. I could barely hold onto the starting holds, by the end of the day I was pulling through the third move. Progress. What all this means, is that my mindset has changed. The defeatist attitude of looking at problems my friends were climbing and thinking "Not possible." is gone. It seems I never know what's possible from the outset, which is great. This is another example of how climbing has translated to life (and acting) for me. So much of it is about getting out of your own way, focussing on the work, and letting your body and your curiosity rule. As a by-product of working these projects, I'm now getting a lot stronger, a lot faster, which is fun. I feel like that moment in Pinocchio where he shouts, "I'm a REAL boy!"

The change of seasons, and the ensuing climbing, has also shifted my focus greatly from, ahem, drinking and staying out late, to getting to bed at a decent hour and getting up to climb. This is good. And cheaper. With mountains of debt looming over my head from as far as Canada, cheaper is better.

I don't feel like ending this post by talking about money, so let me get back to climbing. Uhh...Climbing is awesome and fun. I love fun. That is all.

p.s. For those of you frustrated by (or curious about) the climbing jargon, click on the title of this post for a dictionary of climbing terms.
Uncle on When Darkness Falls.
<--Video of me trying to stick the opening of Ceasefire. There is chalk on my head, I'm not going THAT bald yet. Words of encouragement courtesy of Mega.
Yours truly trying to stick that sloper on Ceasefire.Mega and Tron below Mega's beautiful and terrifying project, Musashi. Currently being worked on toprope to avoid death and destruction.



February 11th, 2010. Laying here praying for a snow day. It started snowing yesterday afternoon and continued through the night. Normally, this would practically guarantee the day off, as Korea's not generally equipped to deal with extensive snow removal, but there are mitigating factors. The first is the snow itself. For most of the day yesterday, the sky poured down small, wet flakes that lay heavy on one another. It snowed for hours, but sadly only amounted to a few centimetres. I was disappointed enough to taste it, pasty in my mouth. Disappointment is pasty. However, it continued all night and there are now substantial inches. I've told my disappointment to shut up, and am now cultivating a healthy tension between hope for a snow day and bracing for work. The other factors working against me are time and the Korean work ethic. As I'm writing, I can hear the desperate scraping of no less than six snow shovels outside my window.ª I can imagine my boss (a "formidable, if diminutive" woman) standing inside, watching. Arms folded, lips pursed, she silently wills her worker bees (mostly made up of her extended family) to work faster, ever faster. And it's only 9:30 in the morning. They have until 1 in the afternoon to clear the roads. Sigh. But! Lest you should think my cause without allies, the fight is far from over. It still snows furiously, hopefully discouraging both the shovelers and the parents of the drooling, laughing little balls of grabby-grabby and fart-giggle we call "students." Every SUV heard sliding around the roads surrounding my apartment, barely avoiding the toddlers playing with their cold, wet, brand new toy that falls from the sky and melts in your mouth, is a blade slipped a little deeper into the chinks in the armour of "going to work today."

And there is also my will, for as the diabolical Mrs. Kim stands watching, quietly demanding that God stop shaking his hair out, I stand across the street and up a storey, looking out my own window, singing-- chanting really, "Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow."

ªMy boss, Mrs. Kim, as well as owning the hagwon at which I work, owns a kindergarten, located outside my window.

Today's Postscript: We didn't get the day off that day after all. BUT, it's been snowing for 3 days straight, literally, no exaggeration. Went skiing in 2 feet of powder yesterday after getting the day off. Scary driving, awesome skiing. Back home safe and enjoying the blizzard. Check out the pictures below.

Outside my window yesterday morning.

The little shadow near the fence in bottom left is the side of Greg's car. We drove out of there 20 minutes after this picture was taken. We're awesome.


More Hello Kitty, and the Deaflympics.

Back in Taipei. Last time I was here I tried to exchange money at a machine and instead bought a Taiwanese phone card. Somehow it survived my time in Thai and I gave my parents a call. Same old, same old, really, but it had been a while since I heard their voices and it felt great to talk to them. I can't believe I'm going to be back in Canada in a month. Crazy.

Speaking of crazy, some of you may remember me mentioning the Hello Kitty! gate at the Taipei airport. Yep, still here. Yep, still scary. I actually really want to visit Taiwan properly someday, because at this point the airport has both terrified and entertained me to a degree that you just can't get on network television these days. I noticed that next to the gate, there's a painted balloon that says "Hurry up! Last five minutes!" next to Hello Kitty! (For the record, these exclamation marks are hers, not mine.) Now I think that's fucked up shit. Why would you permanently emblazon something as full-pants-inducing as that at an airport? Think about it, people are exhausted. How fair is it to all of us walking zombies to freak us out with false warnings of missing a flight? And in TAIWAN? I'm not sure what would happen if I missed my flight here, but the lady on the plane read a warning that "Smuggling illegal firearms or drugs is a capital offense." over the intercom before we landed, so I bet they'd at least take a hand or something.

Ok. Haven't slept much, try not to take me seriously. I know, I know, nearly impossible.

So the second part of the airport, the entertaining part, is this incredible display they have up for the Deaflympics, which after some careful research I have discovered starts in Taipei in 4 days. Now, some of you may think, as I did, that this is some sort of contest between DEA agents in who can catch the most smugglers in Taiwan. It's not. It's the Olympics, for deaf people. Get it? Deaflympics. RAD.

Now, before I go on, I wanna say I think it's awesome that the Deaflympics are around. They started in Paris c.1924, and they've given athletes who might not be able to compete at that level an opportunity to compete against each other with the support of the international community. That's cool. I'm not a dude who's big into competition sports, but I've got nothing but props for people who dedicate their lives to something when they're up against that kind of adversity. What's also cool is the incredible comedy GOLDMINE that combining something as touchy as disabled athletics with the self-seriousness of Asian competitiveness gives us. The coolest "disabled" (or whatever the PC handjob word we use is now) people I've met have had a wicked sense of humour about themselves, so if I offend you, blow me.

Now, the display. Life-size (possibly larger than life even, they are Asian after all) photographs of different athletes in the midst of their particular sport. Under each athlete is a quote, an animal-themed nickname, and on the back of each 3-D display a little "story-of-life" blurb. Reading the quotes, I couldn't help but think of some responses to the hardcore shit these people were saying. I only had a bit of paper to jot down some notes, so I don't have the actual names, but if you click on the title of this post, it'll take you to the website

First up, two dudes who look like they could kick Forrest Gump's ass at table tennis. Their nicknames, "The Snake" (oooh) and "The Butterfly" (huh?)
The Snake: "I can move faster than light!"
(That's incredible, after Einstein, Hawking, String Theory, Quantum Physics, etc, all we really needed to break the unbreakable barrier was a deaf Taiwanese ping-pong player.)
The Butterfly: "I already see your weaknesses."
(Ah, sorry buddy, my weaknesses cannot be seen, only heard, so you're shit outta luck. heyo.)

Next we have a ripped mofo throwing a Javelin. For some reason, they gave him "The Bear". Javelin=Bear? WTF?
The Bear: "I know not where the limit is."
(......really, no one's gonna say it? Uh, I can think of one for ya. Sound.)

The dude throwing the massive kick into the air is a Karate fighter (Karatist?) they call him "The Killer Whale" next to him is a woman gripping a tennis racket like Paris Hilton driving stick, known as "The Leopard."
The Killer Whale: "My fists will break waves."
The Leopard: "Precision is my only way."
(I have absolutely nothing funny to say to either of those. They are both hardcore to the max sentences and I want to see these people in action. For real.)

And the last guy is kinda lame, he's a bowler, although his concentration looks pretty intense, something about bowling just doesn't have the same impact as Karate for me. I just like him because he has no animal nickname, after all the most badass animals were taken, he went with "Lefty".
Lefty: "I'll show you the real curve ball."
(Pretty sure this has some vague connection with the east Asian love of baseball, which is redonkulous.)

And of course, no Asian games (or Asian anything, for that matter) would be complete without some kind of strange little mascot. In this case, we have two. They stand amongst all the hardcore athlete picture boxes, although about half the size. A boy and a girl. How forward-thinking. They're frogs, and their names are Peace and Love. Awesome. I love it.

Seriously though, I'd like to think that these people themselves would see the humour in this, and I'd also hope that anyone feels free to take the piss out of me any time they want. Rock on, deaf people.
Who knows? If the Deaflympics are televised in Korea, maybe I'll even check out those wave-breaking fists. Sounds rad. In the meantime, I'm really glad this little display was here to entertain and, dare I say it, educate my tired, silly mind. Peace out.


Sesame Street was brought to you today by the letters HOLY SHIT. And the colour Bangkok.

Ah, Bangkok. The city that never showers. Or perhaps the city in which you never feel like you've taken a shower. Seriously, take a shower in Bangkok, I dare you. You'll probably be at a guesthouse, much like the one I write from now. You'll go into the slightly skanky shared bathroom, turn on the showerhead, and exhale in sweet, cool, relief.

Until you turn the shower off. As you dry yourself off, you realize it's not working, you're still wet. In fact, skin that was dry a moment ago is now wet again. This is because you've not been 10 seconds without cold water on you and already you are a sweaty beast. Gotta love it.

I really do love this city. Last time I was here, I was here for around 9 days. This was great, but too long. I think about two days in Bangkok is probably perfect. Khao San Rd is one big sordid party (which having watched "The Beach" recently, I can say with great certainty that the director who put that scene together SUCKS), the royal palace is beautiful, and the juxtaposition of modern skyscrapers, ancient architecture, and poverty is staggering. My preferred mode of transport in Bangkok is the local bus, because it's cheap. Dirt cheap. As in 17 baht for an hour long ride from the bus station to Khao San. However, when I can't be arsed to wait for/find a bus, the Tuk-Tuk is an option of immeasurable radness. Despite being given the runaround a couple times (see earlier post), I still love these things. Sure, cabs have air-conditioning (and doors), buses are cheaper, and the river taxi is great, but the Tuk-Tuk allows you to see the city up close, real close, 3-inches-away-as-you-swerve-past close. You're in the open air, not only seeing, but being seen. Thais stare or smile as you go by, other tourists in other Tuk-Tuks laugh with you as your driver passes theirs or vice-versa. And the possibility of you dying in a fiery crash just makes it all the more titillating. Bangkok traffic is fast and mad. I remember how terrrified I was the first time I took a Tuk-Tuk. (hehe...tukatuktuk) It's funny how you get used to things. Now I only tense up if I actually think I'm going to die in the next 3 seconds. I learned how to approach a Tuk-Tuk driver from Joel, the Aussie I have written about earlier in my Thai time. You walk up, state your destination, and your desired price. When he tells you his price, you walk away. If he doesn't stop you, find another driver. When you find one who does, congratulations, you've just learned how to haggle. I had a great driver today. As he took me to Chatuchak Market, we talked about my family, his family, money, how he hates driving a tuk-tuk and is getting an office job soon. He finally invited me to his place in the north if I'm ever back in Thailand, for some special chicken soup, with special ingredients. The kind of ingredients I don't touch in Bangkok, but certainly enjoy on the beach. Nice guy.

So, after spending the day souvenir shopping and spending waaaaaay too much money but getting sooooo much stuff for it, I'm packed and off to dinner and then Khao San. May meet up with a couple of mates from Ton Sai. I've got a cab picking me up to go to the airport at 3am, so I figure I might as well get lightly roasted. Until next time sports fans, Adios. See you in Korea.


Cuando estas bien, el tiempo vuela.

Sigh. I just had an incredible few days. Went over to Railay Beach a few nights ago to check out the social scene over there (more people+more money=bigger party?). We'd been talking about going for weeks. Met a wicked English dude named Tristan (who, on account of his Indian/Chinese heritage, everyone thinks is Thai and greets with a strained "Sawatdee Krap") and a couple of Germans, Manu and Patrick and we all went over together. One of the few lamentable things about Ton Sai (and the only one you hear with great regularity) is that in low season, a very high ratio of the population is, how you say, male. This may or may not have influenced our decision to check out Railay, I'm not at liberty to say. [As a matter of fact, more than one tourist has come over to Ton Sai, seen the shirtless climbers rippling with muscle, taken a head count of guys vs. girls, and inquired, "Uh...is this the gay beach?" Heh heh, no.) In any case, a party it was. Thai boxing, fire shows, dancing, and (It's true! It's true!) a few more people of the female persuasion in the room. Met some cool Finnish ladies and spent some time drumming on some congas with a Spanish woman I can only describe as luminous.
(Before this goes any further, get your mind out of the gutter, I can tell you now that our time together was 99% platonic, save a cheeky kiss I stole when saying goodbye. So if you're looking for smut, check out http://journals.worldnomads.com/stonesamurai and see what that cad Greg is up to.)

In any case, Ines, the luminous Spanish lady, and her friends took off, we all got supertrashed, and slept above the bar in a loft. Pulled out of a fitful sleep by noises of heavy construction, awoke with that "Where the hell am I?" feeling, along with "Oh god, how much did I have to drink last night?" and some sort of ballpeen hammer battling in my head. We went to get breakfast and headed back to Ton Sai, where I spent the next few (and last few) days hanging out with Ines, her friend Marta, and Tristan. Tristan is a relatively new climber and we had a great few days together. It was good fun to "show someone the ropes" and he wasleading a 6b by the end of his time here.

Ines and I did Humanality (4 pitches, Awesome 6b+ crux pitch) last night. At 6pm, we packed some head torches and an extra rope, took a look at the guidebook, and started up. Climbing in the dark is scary fun. Routefinding becomes a bit of a game, looking for bolts and slings with a circle of light about 4 feet across. At one infamous point on the crux pitch, you have to transfer from the main face, onto a stalactite behind you, then back to the main face. I had heard about this move from many many people. Climbing up on a bit of slippery, runout slab, just after clipping a bolt, I found myself at a loss for where to go next. I looked behind me to see the tip of the stalactite hanging down to about the level my head was at. I think I actually said out loud, "What the f@ck am I supposed to do now? Jump?". Well, I leaned over with one hand onto the stalactite and found some tenuous feet with which to chimney up, left arm and leg on the big piece of hanging rock, rights on the face. Once I had successfully moved over, I started looking for another bolt or sling. Nothing. Look behind me at the face, nothing. Look up into the group of stalactites, nothing. Shit. I couldn't see anything on the face behind me, so I decided to climb up the easy moves into the stalactite and look for a sling or bolt. I had no idea how long I was supposed to climb the stalactite before moving back onto the face, so I figured, go up. I climbed and climbed into this group of stalactites on big jugs, feet stemming from one hanging spire to another. Before I knew it, I had climbed much further than expected, still not finding a bolt or sling to protect myself. I looked back down at my bolt, which was on the opposite wall about 7 meters below me. My first thought was "14 meter fall" and I tried not to think of the words "pinballing off the rock". This was just nerves though, as the climbing was quite easy in the stalactite. Still looking at my bolt, I was debating on what to do next when I saw the next bolt. It was meters below me, on the main face, maybe two meters above my last bolt. How I didn't see it, I don't know. Downclimbing onto the stalactites nearest the wall (SCary!), I reached behind me (really scary!) and clipped the bolt, still clinging to the stalactite. Looking over, there were only two holds on the rock, a side pull and a small ledge. Matching my hands on the ledge, I reached waaaaaay right to catch a flake that turned out to be the floor of the little cave where the next anchor was. Whew. Awesome fun. As I was belaying Ines up, watching her work the moves out, she yelled out:



"Wan Mon kay!"


"I see.... Wan Mon kay!"

"Huh? You okay? You want me to take [the rope tight]?"

"NO! Wan Mon kay in the cave!"

"OHHHH a MONKEY! One Monkey, I get it. Ah, cool. Is it angry?"

(Laughing) "I don't know. I don't want him to bite the rope!"

The image of the monkey, sleeping alone in the cave, no doubt for some outrage he committed against the other monkeys, chewing through the rope in revenge for disturbing his sleep, was at once ridiculous and vaguely terrifying.

"Okay. Well, Venga Venga!"

Suffice to say, we didn't see the monkey again, just kept a nervous eye on his cave on the rappel down. Speaking of rappels really cool turn of events, facilitating my first problem solving session 100 (or so) metres off the ground. So the route is four pitches, but with two ropes the rappel down can be done in two rappels. The route moves to the right as it moves up, so you can't rappel straight down, otherwise you won't reach your belay station below you, and may end up stuck on the end of a rope for the night with nowhere to clip in. Standard procedure is to "back clip", meaning that the first climber rappels down on both ropes (now tied together to make one long rope), clips the rope into the bolts on the way down, and thereby follows the diagonal nature of the route. The second descender then raps down, unclipping the bolts, while the first holds the rope to pull them in the direction of the lower anchor. (If this is too confusing don't worry about it, just replace these couple of paragraphs with "blah blah blah, climbing blah blah I'm awesome blah blah) To facilitate this process, however, you need both climbers to have a rappel device that can work on two strands of rope, for instance an ATC. Turns out, I have an ATC, but Ines only had a Grigri, which for those non-climbers out there is a belay device that you can use to rappel on a SINGLE rope. We had known this going up, but had not realized the necessity of back clipping, planning instead to simultaneously rappel on on strand each side of the anchor, equalizing each others weight and going straight down. Now, we knew we could not go straight down. Long story short, sort of, we discussed a few complex possibilities of incorporating the grigri into a back clipping scenario, and decided, finally, to just rap straight down at the same time and hope that the full 60 meters of rope would get us to an anchor. Some anchor, any anchor, who knows. Stopping to take a photo at the top, we smiled nervously at the lightning hitting the water below us, smiled nervously at each other and with a "Okay, come on.", started down the rope. The coloured pattern on my rope changes at the halfway point, this is useful for determining how much rope you have until you reach the end, so I kept an eye on that and about 10 meters past the change, we found an anchor. Hallelujah. After what seemed like ages of coiling and managing rope, we started down the second rappel and made it slowly to the ground. Smiling constantly, looking up or down at each other to check that progress was going smoothly, we finally made it to the ground. Cheering and embracing, we jumped up and down with glee at the fact that in our hungry, exhausted state, we managed to make it down. Incredible time.
This morning Tristan came to my bungalow and woke me up, bearing the bad news that his plan to move his flight had failed, and he had to leave today for Singapore, where he would catch a flight to London. Sad to see him go, but happy we met, we said a long goodbye on the porch and promised to meet up sometime, somewhere, soon.
After having breakfast with Ines and Marta, I walked with them over to Railay and we caught a boat to Ao Nam Mao, where I'm writing from, they took off for Koh Thao and barring the possibility of a quick visit if they come back this way in a few days, I'll probably not see them until I head to Spain.
I've become very used to saying goodbye to people here. Being here for two months, you see so many people come and go, many of them wicked individuals with whom I've formed fast friendships. There's lots of acquaintances, and "see ya when I see ya's" but for every couple dozen buddies, pals, and chums, there are individuals that it really does hurt to say goodbye to.
Wistfulness is probably a character flaw in me of some sort, I often look back with a certain heartache at people and places I've been or been with. But I also try to keep my head from going to that place for too long, preferring to move forward, eyes [and heart] open to the infinity of new and beautiful experiences on their way. It can feel cruel sometimes, this "gift" we all have, of loving people, but this cruelty is born out of the most important kind of connection we have. It's through connecting with people, friends, family, and especially strangers, that we can learn and grow and change and not stop dancing till the music stops. So to everyone I've said goodbye to recently, I hope I see you soon, but if not, I'm glad we did what we did and now have what we have.


Multi-pitch adventure with two Aussies and a Frenchman.

Recently I had the pleasure of spending some time with three Australian dirtbags who I miss very much now that they're gone. We'll just call them Michael, Adam and Luke. Because those are their names. This is the story of doing a rather popular multi-pitch route on Ton Sai named "Big Wave" with two of those aforementioned scumbags. Although Adam has many talents, (including fire-twirling, convincing absolutely any woman he deems attractive that he is not the dirtbag we all know he is, and causing ceiling fans to burst into flames, thereby torching his passport) he will be the first to admit that climbing is not among them.

Over breakfast, we decided to do Big Wave in the afternoon. It's four pitches of 6a-6b climbing. Pretty breezy, and loads of fun. We had a late lunch and didn't get going until four o'clock, by which time Jean, the self-described "dirty French asshole" had joined us. Luke and Jean went up first, with Michael and I second. While being eaten alive by mosquitoes at the base of the climb, Michael and I wondered if we had, and further, if we should bring, our head torches. I decided to go and get mine, a decision we were very grateful for later on. The climbing went well. The first pitch is sharp and awful, but plenty of holds. (This pitch is shared with the 3-pitch beauty and the beast and is the reason for the line in the guidebook: "Climb the beast to get to the beauty.) The second was mostly uneventful, except for a sketchy traverse due to me climbing up the wrong side of a tufa. The third was incredible and fun, and the last one provided a singular moment in my year-long climbing career. As I was climbing the fourth pitch, I could see the top belay station, an ugly hanging belay that would be madly uncomfortable for one person, let alone four. Just as I was picturing my legs going to sleep in my harness, I realized that I could hear Jean and Luke's voices much closer than the top belay. As they came into view, I saw that they were sitting in a little cave, a belay station halfway up the fourth pitch for the purposes of shortening the rappels, laughing and smoking a joint. Climbing up to them, I got comfy on a jug with my right hand and smiled as they passed me the joint. I took a few hits, we laughed at the novelty, and I kept climbing. Just after clipping the chains, I felt a bite on my back, followed by giggling below me. I looked down to see that Luke had brought his bloody air gun up with him.

Cool Hand Luke. Sharpshooter of Big WAve.

Once I belayed Michael up to the hanging belay, (and he had been shot a few times from below) we took a few pictures to celebrate. It was getting a bit dark, so we wanted to hurry.

Me at the top.

Me and Tonks snapping victory in the dying light.

Once the photo shoot was finished, Michael and I rappeled down to the little cave and we all had a celebratory smoke together. Happy that we'd made it up. Confronted with an incredible view of the valley. Reluctant to start down. Finally, we tied the ropes together and started the first of two long rappels. (about 50M each). I was the last to go down, and by the time I started the first rappel, I needed to put on my headlamp. We did the last one in the dark, nervous, but safe with a headlamp at the top and the bottom. I was glad I got to be the guy with the headlamp, it was super cool to watch Michael and Luke descend into darkness. Once we were all on the ground, we checked a watch and found out it was 7:30. We headed straight for the bar, and that was that.

(above left) The last picture from the top.
(above right) Luke again, this time rappeling into the dark jungle.

Right in the Thick of It.

So, a friend of mine recently brought to my attention the fact that I haven't been writing on my blog. Well, cut me some slack, I'm living in a bamboo bungalow in the jungle surrounded by a fortress of limestone cliffs. If I wanna use the interweb for any substantial amount of time, I must make the trek to the mainland, yadda yadda yadda. Oh who cares.

Ton Sai is AMAZING! Gorgeous limestone, all of it bolted, everywhere. So, a day in the life of an unemployed climbing bum:

In the mornings, most of the crew meets at the little shack near the beach officially called "The Rendezvous" or something, but only referred to by us as "Chicken Mama's" owing to the fact that one of the friendly proprietress' many specialties is barbecued chicken. She also cooks a mean omelet for 20B, and this holds second place behind mango sticky rice as the most popular breakfast. Rubbing our eyes, talking-smack and planning the day as people rotate in and out, we figure out where we're climbing, finish breakfast and usually Dum the beach dog gets a few scraps from the table. (Side note: Dum is an incredible machine. Though I seem to remember people saying dogs can choke on cooked chicken bones, he demolishes them with the zest of a wood-chipper and doesn't bat an eye. I wouldn't be surprised to walk up one morning and find him gnawing on a hunk of depleted uranium.) From there it's off to the rock, possibly packing some of chicken mama's take-away along if we're going to one of the more remote walls.

Ton Sai, Railay East and Railay West are home to a couple dozen of the sweetest limestone crags around.

After a full day of climbing, with lunch at Kruie Thai or Chicken Mama's (or if you're really in the know the "Curry Man" behind Chicken Mama's) thrown in the middle, people retire to their bungalows for a couple hours, or the night, before those that are up for a party head to one of the few bars open during low season. The "few bars" is a little misleading. In Sokcho, a town of 90,000 people that is not particularly seasonally based, there are only 3 or 4 that we frequent. On Ton Sai alone, without going over to Railey, there are at least three popular options: Sawatdee Bar, Chill-out Bar, or Small World Bar. After a few beers, many spliffs, maybe a fire show, possible slacklining, and every once in a while, some dancing, everyone stumbles off to their bungalows (or someone else's) in preparation of doing it all again. Here's the view from the bungalow I shared (up until two days ago) with a Frenchman named Roman:As you can see, we're a well-oiled machine over here. Laundry is a constant companion on the porch, because if you don't catch the sun, it can take a week for your clothes to dry in the humidity. MMMMMMM......Musty!

On rest days, I usually spend some time at Pyramid Bar run by an incredibly friendly man named Chai, and his sister Nee. They have shitloads of comic books, and are right down the street from Nut and Thom's where you can get a killer massage for 250B. So that's "a day in the life of".

Now, I figured some of you might be interested in the day to day goings on here in Ton Sai, but before this blog becomes some sort of travel guide for the incredibly lazy, I'd like to relate some more personal experiences. See next post.


From Bangkok to Tonsai to Phuket to Tonsai.

After spending 3 more days in Bangkok than I had planned, due to a certain Aussie who I had a damn good time with, I took the all-night bus from Bangkok to Krabi. It's amazing at how quickly one adapts to new surroundings. The first couple days in Bangkok, I spent probably double what I had to on everything, because I suck at bartering. I'd say that on the way out of Bangkok, I had my first encounter which I dealt with properly. I got in a tuk-tuk (motorcycle taxi with seats attached) and told the guy I wanted to go to the hospital, then the bus station. After asking me where I was going, he told me that to get a ticket to Krabi, I have to go to the tourism authority of thailand. I said I was pretty sure I could get a ticket at the bus station, to which he replied "not at this time of day." I told him to take me to the hospital, and of course on the way we stopped at the Tourism Authority of Thailand. Pulling up, he pointed across the street to the police station, and said "See! See!" as if the presence of a police station somehow legitimized this place. I wasn't sure about all this, but went inside. From the minute I walked in, everyone was incredibly friendly and smiling, asking me where I'm from, why I live in Korea, etc. Finally,

"Where are you going this evening?"


"Ah, Krabi, long ride. You want air-con bus?"


"Well, my friend, if you want air-con bus, the ticket is 1200 baht."

"Well that's funny, because this book here tells me the ticket is 580 baht."

"Ah, but you buy ticket from me, 1200 baht, you exchange this voucher for ticket at bus station."

"Why don't I just buy the ticket at the bus station?"

"Cannot, my friend, cannot....(as I'm leaving) My friend, wait my friend!"

At first I was pissed and found this hard to believe. This guy was going to sell me the bus ticket for double the price and was willing to downright LIE to me to get it. I thought about how many people must fall for it, and sort of understood. I may be repeating myself from an earlier post, or just an email I sent someone, but we come here and get SO MUCH for so little, I suppose it's easy for them to see us as walking dollar signs. One thing I do find odd is that the TAT is listed in Lonely Planet as a source of information. Strange, cuz it's obviously just a con-job. Anyhow, I went to the hospital to get a vaccination for Hep-A I hadn't managed to get in Korea, and got to the bus station and took the bus to Krabi. For 580 baht. Yeah, that's right, not ALWAYS a sucker.

On to more exciting things! Krabi, Tonsai, climbing YES!!!! SO MUCH FUN MY HEAD IS GOING TO EXPLODE. First day I climbed only a couple pitches and went to bed. Next day, deep water soloing. DWS, for the uninformed is when you climb with no ropes or "solo" over deep water. So rock climbing, but with big scary falls not onto a rope or crash pads, but into the ocean. I think the biggest fall I took was probably 5 or 6 meters, but that was high enough for me. Scary and awesome.

New friend Patrick and I got up at 5:30 to try and beat the sun to Thaiwand wall, hoping to do some multi-pitch. Hangovers, and the fast sun meant we only did one pitch, but watching the sunrise over the bay was unbelievable.

Climbed on Tonsai for about 5 days before heading to Phuket to meet my friend Guy, an English bloke I know from Korea. Had a good time in Phuket, which was far too expensive. Now writing from Krabi, taking a boat to Tonsai in an hour or so. Probably won't write again for a while, as internet on Tonsai is ridiculously expensive, but when I pass back through Krabi, I'll do an update. Much love. Here's some more photos:

French Canadian and fellow Korean expat Philippe Deep Water Soloing.

The right hand side of Tonsai, just around that bend is Ao Nang, and then Krabi.


Chatuchak Market and Partying on Khao-San Road.

Went to Chatuchak with Joel as planned. Unbelievable. 13,000+ stalls of anything and everything you want. Live squirrels, T-shirts, furniture, plumbing equipment, tattoos, anything. (did i mention the live squirrels.) Joel (aforementioned and below-pictured Aussie guy.) introduced me to the joys of "coke in a bag." Pretty straightforward, "coke in a bag" is when you buy a coke from a vendor, and they pour the bottle of coke into a bag of ice and stick a straw in it. "Coke in a bag" rocks. Do not, however, under any circumstances, get into a taxi, tuk-tuk, or other motorised vehicle with a "coke in a bag." Invariably, you are stuck with the much less desirable, "ice in a bag" and eventually "water in a bag." Joel and I had just such an occassion to discuss this problem at length. We're thinking of filming a public service announcement.

One of my brilliant traveling schemes was to bring almost no clothing. I had heard from friends that Bangkok is T-shirt Mecca, and so I figured I'd just buy stuff when I got there. As it turns out, the "Bangkok T-shirt scene" (as we well-traveled dirtbags in the know call it) is, in a word, redonkulous. Met a woman at Chatuchak market who works with a Japanese partner designing T-shirts mixing traditional Japanese and Tibetan culture with urban themes. i.e. breakdancers decked out in Samurai gear, Kabuki sorcerers spinning records, etc. I think I bought five. For 400B. That's about three dollars a piece. Limited-run, original artwork T-shirts. Three bucks a piece. Hell yeah. Also, ever wonder what Astro-Boy (better known as Atom in Asia) would look like if he died in some horrible chemical accident, was then resurrected as a Zombie, and is now popping out of your chest. Cuz if you have, have I got a T-shirt for you. Here's a couple more photos of Chatuchak, note delightful "I make lamps and stuff out of dead animal bones" guy.

One thing that struck me about the market is how bloody friendly and relaxed Thai people are. Now that I'm getting slightly better at bartering, I had a lot of fun talking to various vendors about where they're from, where they get their goods, how many kids they have etc. Back at Soi Rambuttri, the next street over from Khao San, I spent a good twenty minutes talking to one of the "crazy hat ladys" selling necklaces and bracelets. When it became clear that I was just harassing her trying to get a good price for my friend, ansd wasn't going to buy anything she decided to cut off my nose. Luckily, the Thai people have yet to discover scissors, so I was alright.

Apparently we found the sketchiest people on Khao San Road and invited them to party with us. Funny, I don't remember inviting them, but there they were. After hitting a few bars, sometime around 3am we (Joel, English Alex pictured above, and a Canadian girl also named Alex) went back to Soi Rambuttri, the street on which our respective guesthouses lay, to have a nightcap at the affectionately and accurately named "camper-van guy who sells beer all night." We sat down with these rather sketchy looking English guys, and a dutch dude named Pascal. From the first five minutes is was rather clear that Pascal was cool, but these English guys had just been in Bangkok for waaaaay too long. Before long, a feisty looking-- actually more like homicidal-looking Thai woman showed up and started yelling at one of the sketchy English guys. I asked what was going on, and someone leaned over and told me that the woman was his wife. Having been drinking since sometime when the sun was still up, I hollered over to him to inquire if this was true.

"Is that your wife?"

"No, not really."

"By not really do you mean that she's not your wife in England but you're married in Thailand."


Okay, so the guys a bit of a scumbag. Whatever, we asked them to move their row, which was getting louder by the second, somewhere else. I don't know what the Thai lady said in response, but the English guy wouldn't budge. Finally, the climax arrived. After they were both on their feet shouting at each other, Thai lady wound up and smacked English sketchball in the face, full on. The next bit happened sort of slow motion. English sketchball grabbed Thai lady's shirt, everyone's head turned to look what was going on, and before I could mouth the words "What the fuck?", the English jerk was punching crazy Thai lady in the face. We all jumped up, broke it up and told them to get lost. The Next Thai Karate Kid and English Fisticuffs did move on. But we were still stuck with English Fisticuffs' friend, who we'll call Sketchy McEnglishing. (Actually that's the last time I'll be mentioning him, I just wanted to give him a name.)

We all moved to another bar down the road and had a ridiculous time until 9am. A guy from detroit whose name I can't remember but will forever be known to me as "Motown" showed up with a guitar and we partied hard late into the night. There was more sketchiness not worth mentioning, but all in all, it was an interesting and relatively fun night. It must also be said that I spent 5 nights in Bangkok, had a blast, and this was the only night things were weird. Well, no, things were sort of constantly weird. But that was the only night things got downright seedy.

Anyhoo, Tonsai Bound!


Day 1-Taipei, Bangkok

Just got into Bangkok by way of Taipei last night. The Taipei airport was awesome! Gate B6 (or thereabouts.) Was a hello-kitty horrorshow. Took a few pictures with my brand new lumix i picked up yesterday in Seoul.

Once in Bangkok, haggled with a Taxi driver for the forty-minute ride to Banglamphu (home of the famous Khao San and such), as the buses had all stopped running. The taxi was a bit expensive by Thai standards, but 40 mins for twelve bucks ain't bad. Damn it's hot here!!

Got to Soi Rambuttri, where my guesthouse is, to find everything shutting down for the night, although many people were still sitting on the street in plastic chairs buying beer from different vans parked around. After sorting my guesthouse (New Siam I 280Baht/night) I met a few Aussies and had a beer with them. We swapped stories and Joel, the "leader of the pack" went on about how good Trailer Park Boys is once he found out I was Canadian. Dave, a friendly Aussie living in London, was asking about Korea and had a hell of a story to tell. Apparently, the night before, while he was taking a piss, a lady-boy (read:transgendered prossie) walked up and gave him a grope. After telling him to piss off, he was approached by an undercover cop who asked him, "Have you just been robbed?". Checking his pockets, Dave found that indeed his mobile was missing. The undercover cop jumped on his motorbike and sped off to catch the lady-boy. Suffice to say, Dave spent the next three hours in a Thai police station, signing statements he couldn't read and generally shitting himself. Joel sat with him, chuckling away and they both tried to convince the cops not to give the lady-boy 5 years in prison. 5 YEARS! Anyway, they all got away fine (except the lady-boy, who i'm told will serve about two months of her sentence) and that was that. Awesome story to walk up to. Don't worry, I'll be fine. Any woman with bigger hands than me better keep her distance. Bangkok is bustling, noisy, and grand. Sure, there're lots of scammers, but we can come here and get so much for so little (my two big 1L beer changs last night cost me 120 baht, or about 3 dollars), having to keep your head about you is more than a fair price to pay. My first impression of Thais is that they're all incredibly friendly. (Including not a few ladies-of-the-night making kissy noises at me last night as I headed to my room. Well, I think they were ladies.)

Joel gave me a tip on a cheaper guesthouse across the street from the one I stayed last night, they have cheap internet, more atmosphere, and the rooms are cleaner. Wild Orchid it's called:

Heading to Chatuchak market today to get some first aid gear, and t-shirts. Might pick up a crocodile for protection. Yeah, you can buy a crocodile there. Don't know if I need one, but it's nice to know I can get it.


Can't we all just get along? In this modern Babylon?-Method Man. lol.

One of the nice things about having a blog is that you can just start throwing ideas out there, into the world, imperfect as they may be. So here's a few.

There's a man who works at my hagwon who I find pretty fascinating. He's a bus driver for one of the school's private shuttles. He is a stout guy, with a round face that is always beaming in a huge smile. We see each other almost everyday, albeit for very short periods of time. He lives in the same apartment complex as I and his jacked-up off road jeep is always parked out front, covered in mud from some weekend adventuring I can only imagine. We pass each other in the street often, saying hi and having a short conversation consisting of what little Korean I can speak. Usually it goes something like, "Have you eaten yet?" "No, I'm going to eat now." "Great." From time to time we eat dinner together in the cafeteria, the conversation there limited to how long I've been in Korea, where I'm from, and a little social dance in which we discuss his interests (off-roading) and mine (climbing) and that we both approve of each other's lifestyle. I can't overstate what a big smile this guy is.

What I find amazing about the situation is how little communication is required to form a relationship. From watching him and talking to him, I get a sense that he's a pretty simple guy, who takes a great amount of joy in his life. Watching him eat, you can see he loves his food. Talking to him about off-roading, you can see that it's very exciting for him. Whenever we discuss climbing, he gets a funny look on his face and tells me about how dangerous it is. Funny to me, because the idea of tooling around in that big yellow Jeep of his is far scarier for me than climbing. On these small chunks of each other's personality, we've developed a sort of shared benevolence toward one another. And I speak about 50 words of his language, and he even less of mine. Every time I see him though, my heart swells with affection. He's promised to take me off-roading, and I've invited him for a beer sometime, I hope this goes down. I'd be interested to see what would happen if our relationship progressed beyond pleasantries, and we got into some sort of difference of opinion. With the state of the world being what it is, and a holy war currently dominating the political spectrum, a big question that's on everyone's minds is "How can we get along?" It's not enough for us just to say, "Well, these people are fundamentalists, we can't get along with them, our values cannot possibly be in line." At this point, that's probably true, but in the interest of survival and breaking the constant cycle of empires, war, and power struggles, I think it's worth taking a look at how it's possible to relate to someone with a different outlook. Given, the difference between my Korean friend's outlook and my own is much smaller than the difference between my rather libertine views and your garden-variety religious fundamentalist. But, on the other hand, underneath the pleasantries, there is a constant sense that we are very different from one another. Being a "waygookin" or foreigner here has allowed me to see what it is to have someone not hate you, but assume that you have a different value set. There's a paradox in how Koreans see Westerners (generally). On the one hand, we are oversexed, warlike, and lacking in respect and tradition. On the other hand, our innovation, wealth, and pop culture (particularly the consumer-based sexiness of our media) is constantly emulated and aspired towards. Current Korean culture is a model for how two cultures might collide, and though it has its problems, Korean parents (the more traditional) still love their children (more "modern"). Interestingly enough, an adult student at our school, an older man and I were discussing the issue of seniority in Korean culture, and according to him, it's young people who are still holding on to this notion that with age comes not just wisdom, but unquestionable correctness. In Korea, in times past, in a group of people the eldest male in the group made decisions. It's still like that to a great degree, leading to obvious problems when the eldest male is not the most qualified. But Mark, the adult student, who is in his sixties, posited that older Korean men now see themselves as having the freedom to be young in mind and quite modern, and that it is the younger men who are keeping this tradition going. Makes sense, in a way, leaving responsibility to someone else is attractive, and keeping any objections you have to an elder's behaviour to yourself allows you to avoid actually engaging in argument, and discussion. This is why I would be interested to see what would happen if my Korean friend and I got to know each other better. Would we no longer be friendly? Would the gap between our values simply be too great? Or could we actively engage each other as people, and discuss what we think is right and why, and maybe both be changed for it? The likelihood of this particular relationship going in that direction is slim. My Korean is not going to massively improve in the next couple of months, and I doubt his English will either. The importance of this sort of engagement remains the same, however. Too often we shut our intellect down and draw lines in the sand when we fundamentally disagree with someone. I'm guilty of it, we all are. It's easy enough to say "He/She can go be with his people. And me with mine." But we're in the middle of a global clash of ideals, and I think it's in our best interests for the people on both sides to relax a little, and put their minds to work on how we can avoid the sort of polarization of cultures that led us here. People have often said to me, "How can you argue with a true-believer? It's impossible to argue against faith." I couldn't agree more, traditional argument and debate isn't likely to take place. But looking at where things are headed, we better figure out some sort of dialogue, because in this war, it doesn't look like either side can win.


How the hell are you?

I'm terrible at keeping in touch. The fact that this was supposedly going to be a daily blog and has been bi-monthly at its best underlines this fact. Apparently I'm even terrible at keeping in touch with myself. (This idea is best left saved for another post. Or perhaps is dealt with below. Hm.) But really, terrible. My parents rarely hear from me unless I'm asking them to send me something, my friends hear from me in sporadic bursts of love sent their way on the internet, in an act of unbelievable wherewithal, I sent my sister a birthday present last November. Her birthday happens to be in what I consider a very inconvenient month, May. Interestingly, although this lack of keeping in touch does point to a certain self-centredness and lack of concern for others, I think about the people I love, and even the people I like, all the time. I've always said that my friends were my family, because in my teens I never felt that close to my family. (To be clear, I always had that "Well, their family, still love 'em.", just didn't always actually want to spend a lot of time with them.) Luckily, in my twenties I've become quite fond of them as well, and if you had told me 6 or 7 years ago that my fridge in my apartment in a foreign country would be covered in pictures of my mother, father, sister, and (for lack of a better description) stepmother, I would've... well I don't know what I would've done, but I wouldn't have believed you. Anyway, the point is, I miss tons of people and everytime I go to see something amazing, or have a quiet moment, or am dancing in downtown Seoul, or facing new challenges, or guffawing at the ridiculousness of standing boozily in front of a bunch of hollering korean eight year olds after a particularly wild night, I think of someone, and how they would react to this. I know it's no replacement for actually getting in touch with them, but I guess I just want people to know that they had a lasting impression on me and I do think of them, often. (If you have ever been called family, a friend, or a lover, by me, this means you.)

One of the questions that one inevitably encounters when one lives so far away from (most of) one's friends and family is "How are you?". (Other variations include "How are you doin?", "What's up in your world?" and the classic, if coarse, "How the fuck are you, turtlenuts?") You would think this would be a rather straightforward question, but I always feel a little bit kicked in the gut by it. I'm.... uh.... well, I'm---inevitably---I'm good, or alright or not bad or even great sometimes. Occassionally I send back a long rambling rant, rather like this one, made up of all the swirling chaos bouncing around my dome, more often, I send back something terribly inadequate. It's not that I don't want to fill people in on what's going on in my life, quite the opposite, I want to share with them EVERYTHING. Since time doesn't allow me to share EVERYTHING, I generally share very little. This comes from a strange breed of procrastination that I've perhaps not invented, but recognized in myself, which goes something like, "Well, if I don't have time to do something completely and perfectly, I might as well relegate it to 'the future'. You know 'the future', the time when I'll do all those things I was going to do before but was too busy, or tired, or lazy, to do." This is of the highest caliber of bullshit. I say highest caliber because I think I've actually managed to fool myself with this one for years. The result, of course, is that I rarely do the things I want to do that require more than 5 minutes of planning, like write a play, treat my body well, get in touch with people, etc. So, this blog post is no declaration of my eradication of this behaviour. As a very good teacher said to me once, "I don't think you have the equipment to deal with that right now." I probably don't, but if sitting down and writing my thoughts as to "how I am" or anything else for that matter, is going to help me acquire that equipment, this is a shot at making some progress. Would that I could pick this equipment up at the hardware store. Although, on second thought, my Korean is still pretty terrible, so I probably wouldn't be able to find it.

So, how am I? Well, I'm ridiculously torn. On the one hand, I love Korea. I love Sokcho. (I love parentheses.) I love lamp. The set up I have here is great. I work from 1 till 8 at a job I don't hate most of the time, I climb in the mornings, sometimes 2 or 3 times, plus on the weekends, I drink heavily in fits and starts and then cool off for a bit, I make great money, as long as it stays in the country, and I've got a group of friends here that I get closer with all the time. I live in a town small enough to be clean, big enough to be interesting, and nestled in between the mountains and the sea. I have a climbing partner and friend who is, depending on the subject and the converstion, both a mentor and a student, and definitely approaching status of brother. I'm learning loads about myself and have life by the balls, most of the time. I had a girlfriend for a while who was (and still is) a jazz singer, a damn good dancer and who I loved. That went south, but things do, and life goes on. On any given day, I face massive physical and mental challenges climbing, get to play guitar on the beach, and have random encounters with people from a completely different culture. Life is pretty good. On top of all this, I've been bitten by the travel bug, and feel that at this point in my life, I just want to keep moving around, experience things I haven't yet, and see more of the world. And some of that is certainly cooking, I've got a big trip to S.E. Asia planned for June/July/August, and am working on moving to Whistler in November to spend a season skiing there, with the possibility of tree planting next spring and climbing next summer in Squamish.

On the other hand, goddamn I miss creating. Acting especially. After taking some time off, I'm both terrified at the thought of getting back on stage, and feel more ready than ever to get back to work. I want to play Romeo so bad I can taste it. The fact that I haven't done much in the way of writing, or working text, or anything is one that's no fault by my own, but I think about theatre, in one way or another, everyday. Recently, I've begun to realize that thinking about it isn't enough, and have started to get back into reading some Shakespeare. I've got a copy of the Arden's Romeo and Juliet in the mail, and my mornings have started with a scene or two from Anthony and Cleopatra for the past little while. So that's in the works and I guess the force and immediacy of my desire to get back on stage will be revealed over the next little while based on how diligently I pursue gettin myself into shape theatrically.

On another note, although the past year has been unbelievable, there's a great deal I didn't accomplish that I wanted to. The most obvious is becoming financially responsible. I came out here to get rid of my debt, and at this point have paid literally zero of it off. I've sent home just over a thousand dollars. That was not the plan, and although being so far away and completely unassailable by my debtors means I don't feel crippled at the moment, I fear that time is coming soon. I also planned on writing a lot more. So there's the negative in all this positive, I still don't really have my shit together. I get told all the time how mature my outlook on life is. I guess this is because I'm rather open-minded and pretty accepting, and (because most of my peers are at least a few years my senior) people generally look at me as pretty young here. But I've realized it does absolutely no good to be told how mature you are. It seems just to highlight everything I feel pretty juvenile about. Natalie Portman said something on her "Inside the Actor's Studio" appearance that I really identified with, about being precocious as a kid, which I was, and then having this feeling as you get older that people (including myself) are less and less impressed because there comes a certain point when you're no longer mature for your age, your supposed to be this mature now, because you're older. I could've worded that a lot better. Anyway, there's my little rant about what's still bothering me. Back to the good stuff.

I think if I can continue to write this, keep track of where I'm at, and be present in my own life, the path before me will get clearer. So let's do that, yeah. Here goes. Now, I'm gonna go do some yoga, have some breakfast, and go to the doctor and find out if my eye is infected, because I've got a big climbing trip planned for the weekend. Peace and love.


Lou [the] Fop

Hi kids. Been a while. Like almost three months.

Today I wanna tell you about 우협(U-hyop, long u, short o. Rhymes with Lou [the] fop). I only had the pleasure of teaching 우협 for two classes. This was back in May. One of our teachers (we'll call her Judy Garland, for she fancied herself a musical actress) had just taken off in the middle of the night over the weekend. Seriously. On Friday night she was drinking with friends and by Sunday morning, she had emailed one of us from Canada. Doing the math, we figured she must have hopped on a plane by noon on Saturday at least. There was shock, everyone scrambled, and in a couple of weeks it was forgotten. Though I didn't get to know her particularly well, and what I did know of her didn't make much of an impression, this was the beginning of a long, seemingly continuous string of goodbyes that would characterize much of my year to date. But anyway, when Judy left, in order to make up for our sudden lack of a teacher, our boss shuffled classes around in a rather complex scheme, the logic of which I have yet to penetrate. (I have yet to penetrate a lot of logic here. Maybe some logic is best left unpenetrated.) Somehow, I ended up teaching a few of Judy's classes, and it was through this twist of fate that I met 우협. Walking into the classroom, it was immediately clear that Judy was not much of a stickler for discipline. The kids were noisy and bubbly, an atmosphere that could potentially be a lot of fun but was a) not particularly conducive to learning and b) for me, as a new teacher practically still jet-lagged, terrifying. I quickly silenced them all with my best stern teacher-voice and was surprised to find that they were surprised to find and apparently completely unaware of the fact that they weren't allowed to just speak Korean, loudly, over my voice. It was excruciatingly cute, their gaping mouths when I informed them that they'd have to be quiet for a little while I spoke. I almost threw-up from the adorable-ness. So, 우협 was one of these kids and he was a cut above the rest. I am relatively certain that he was actually a reincarnated machine-gun, brought to life in the form of a six-year-old the size of a four-year-old. When he wanted to answer a question, if he had somehow stopped talking long enough for me to ask one, he would put up his hand and shriek "Teacher" at least five or six-hundred times a second, for as many seconds as it took me to get his name in edgewise. Having received his cue that it was his turn to talk, he would promptly stand up, run to the front of the class, then the back of the class, then up the wall, across the ceiling and backflip into his chair, chattering the whole time. I was never really sure what he said, I was never really sure of anything while he was in the room. He had succeeded in shifting my perception of reality so much that I was frightened and bewildered whenever he was around. In short, he was the six-year-old Korean equivalent of a peyote button, on cocaine. Alas, thank god, I only had the pleasure of teaching 우협 for two or three days before the schedules were again shifted in interesting ways and I was back in my own classroom fulltime. This was not, however, the end of my relationship with 우협. He seemed to have taken a shine to me. Everyday for a couple weeks, when he was released from his holding pen near the washrooms, he would race past my classroom on the way to the his, and his head would pop through my door for a split second with "Hiteacher!", before disappearing, leaving me wondering if I had just seen him or not. It was a bit like that part in Fight Club when Tyler Durden splices a single frame of pornography into a disney cartoon, though in this case the 우협 is the pornography and the disney cartoon is me trying to convince myself to wake up as I ponder over my schedule for the day. One morning, while I was talking with another teacher about something undoubtedly boring, he appeared and yelled "Teacher!". I raised my head, and as his face broke into a huge grin, he thrust his middle finger into the air with a proud "Puck you!" and then ran off.

"Excuse me for me a minute, I think I need to talk to him."

I followed the scent of afterburner tinged with dried squid and chili paste and found 우협 in a classroom down the hall. I pulled him aside and informed him that what he said, and his chosen gesture, weren't the most appropiate means of saying hello to a teacher. This was quite difficult, because reflexively I was trying to avoid saying the words myself and trying to use sign language to illustrate the gesture without actually making it. After looking confused for most of the conversation, 우협 seemed to understand that it was not okay to say "Puck you" or to flip me the bird. I patted him on the head and sent him on his way, feeling that I had somehow just done something very teacherly and wholesome. To be clear, I'm not a big fan of teacherly and wholesome, so I threw a kid out the window as soon as I got back to my class.

The next day, I was again rubbing sleep from my eyes and blearing at the schedule, when I heard a familiar patter of little feet running up to my door. 우협 poked his head in and thrust his fist (middle finger retracted) into the air and yelled "Teacher! No puck you!" Apparently, I hadn't quite sent the right message.

It's a pretty strange feeling, to have your associations thrown out in the cold. I've heard lots of Koreans say "Fuck" quite nonchalantly, seen the middle-finger thrown up in choreographed dance numbers by effeminate b-boys, and noticed a general lack of shock and reverence for the power of this word. I use the word all the time in my daily speech, I have a pretty vile mouth really, but it still sends a little shock through me whenever I hear someone use it here in a really public atmosphere. Of course there's no shock in it for the Koreans, why would there be, if I told you how to swear in another language, I'm sure you'd be pretty comfortable saying it to your mother, there's no association of the word with those stomach-dropping experiences of getting caught saying something that's going to get you in a lot of trouble.

On one of my first days here my partner teacher, Ms. Shin, came to me and told me that the students really like their new foreign teacher. They apparently said, "oh, foreigner teacher is very kind and funny and likes to play games." Never mind that I was playing a lot of games at that time because I hadn't yet figured out how to stretch a two-page lesson into a meaningful 45 minutes. Then, smiling constantly, and in sentences punctuated with laughter, she told me that one of the reasons they like me so much was because their last teacher "maybe used to say--only joking--'puck you' and 'shaddup' (insert more nervous laughter here.)" My jaw dropped to hear this 50-something, very polite, Korean woman giggle "puck you" at me. I sputtered that, where I come from (said in my best Texan accent), you can't say that to kids. She replied that he was "just joking maybe." But I was wondering for a while if the Koreans have equivalent words that are taboo. I have since learned a few Korean dirty words and it seems from my experience that who you say them to is way more important than the words themselves. Case in point, my girlfriend and I were sitting in a restaurant while she was explaining what some of these words meant, and I got (mildly) uncomfortable that there were some 10 year old kids nearby. When I explained the constipated look on my face, she just laughed and said, "Oh they know a lot worse." This struck me as a great attitude. Not that you need to give kids ideas for terrible things to say to each other, but that hell, they are just words, and the kids know most of them anyways. It should be said that we were discussing words (the korean equivalents of "fuck you" and "son of a bitch") that these kids would definitely know. I'm sure she would've had a different attitude had I spit out the Korean equivalent of the "c-word", which would be written "boji" in the roman alphabet. (For the record, I really like the c-word, but my mom reads this blog and it freaks her out, your welcome mom.) In any case, I'm off to see if I can get some yoga and climbing in before work. Haven't seen 우협 in a while, maybe he finally moved too fast for space and time and became a part of the underlying energy of the universe. Or maybe he changed hagwons.


Back to life.

It seems life had not gone too far while I was ignoring it.

Yesterday I woke up to a beautiful morning. The sunshine and november temperatures here (currently hovering around 7 degrees) make it difficult to miss Canadian winter, though I am looking forward to skiing when it snows. There's a new coffee shop near ECC, run by the very warm Ms. Jeong. Judging by her English, I'd bet she's lived in north America at some point. She makes a damn good cappucino and has an antique foot-pedal-powered little organ in the shop, which she let me play a little ditty on while I was waiting for my coffee. In case my use of the word "ditty" didn't make the mood of the morning clear, I'll go ahead and say that I was floating around with a goofy grin and on the verge of tears thanks to sunlight and Sufjan Stevens. This morning I again went down to the coffeeshop to play more ditties and study up on some Korean, a long-neglected task that I've found new motivation for in a pretty girl from Seoul. All in all, it's been a refreshing couple of days, and I'm looking forward to the next couple being as fresh.


an open letter...

Well hello there.

I have been away, I know. Aside from the odd literary fart (brought on by articulatory constipation momentarily giving way to emotional and psychological diarrhea), I have been remiss indeed. And like the sexual-nomenclature-ignoring little dutch boy, I may be on the verge of being smacked by someone big and mean. In this case, the dyke in question is my mind, and the percolations therein are demanding to be heard.

While I have been idle, I have not been idling, per se. In fact, my life has lately resembled an engine running very, very hot, in neutral. With Rs PM looking to go the way of the New York debt clock, it’s time to put things in gear. I don’t know where they got the extra zeros in New York, but currently the sign-changers in my head may be looking at capital Os with worried visions of an ugly, mismatched string of cyphers. I owe myself a lot. A lot of reading, and writing, and playing. My body is practically humming with reckless energy, determined to shoot my organs out my orifices. So before I go nose through nostril, adam’s apple through ear, or appendix through ass, it’s time to do something. This feeling is, of course, like everything, a reaction to something, although “equal and opposite” remains to be seen. While I’ve been stewing in my own juices, I’ve lost a lot of ideas to distraction and fear. And lethargy, which has been eating the previous two abstract nouns as big, fatty lunch for many many days. But, though one never knows when rock-bottom’s trap door is going to swing open, I’m pretty pumped and primed for production. After an excellent, if hedonistic, weekend, and through getting to know someone new and different, I find myself questioning a lot about what is important to me. And I’m realizing that what’s important to me has to be what is fun. What keeps my attention? And not the kind of attention being kept when I’m passively sponging up another evening of movie or tv-watching, that attention is far, far too easily held. But underneath that, through a murky soup of insecurity, neurosis, and shallow-breathing, in the place where you find, in the words of Yoda “Only what you take with you.” there’s another kind of attention. A full on, focussed attention where imagination and intellect do the tango to that old duet by Tom Waits and everybody else in the world. So I’ve got plans, loads of them, and it’s time to make some happen. I won’t share them all with you just now, I’ve got family and friends to correspond with, another joy I have been sabotaging myself out of for a while. Besides, it’s better if some things remain mysterious, in fact, it’s better if all things retain some mystery. See you soon.



I'm an actor. AND i want to be a DJ, and an MC, and maybe write an album of songs on acoustic guitar, and write plays, and direct plays, and make money, and travel, and meet more people who blow my mind, and win poker games, and have trysts with women in strange countries, and remix amazing metal songs, and create theatre based around great bands, and create music based on great theatre, and fall in love again, a bunch of times, and find a partner for life, and live in a mansion, and then on the street, or live on the street, and then in a mansion, and pay my student loans, and start a theatre company, and learn from THE MASTERS, and learn kung fu, or capoeira, or some obscure martial art from slovenia, and climb every rock that's ever rocked, and rock every sock that's ever socked, and have some of the friends I have now for the rest of my life, and watch everything and everyone, forever. that's all.


Cock Night

Had cock night tonight, this being the name we've lovingly given to our weekly "guys night out". We went to our usual manly haunt, this wooden place on the main drag near our apartments that serves decent chicken and wicked duck. Decent lighting, benches that look like pieces of tree, accommodating staff, and a centrally located canopy-sculpture that looks like a giant mushroom are among the winning points of this fine establishment. ("fine establishment" being a euphemism for "I don't know the name of the place") After food, we headed to this place right beside our apartment complex that we lovingly refer to as "Min-gyun's". It's a quirky looking wooden place, with a screened in upstairs porch, and an outdoor eating area with a campfire, dripping in ambiance. Apparently it was once owned by a man named Min-gyun, who then left it to his friend Joon, and is now owned and has been renovated by a new owner, whose name we don't know. It was nice to get out of the house, as my broken collarbone has kept me inside the last couple of nights, save for a walk I took last night with Jason to the local college campus, the architecture of which makes me feel like I've wandered a few thousand miles east. We drank beer and did Madlibs, Jason was sent a book of them by some friends back home. It was a good time and we talked a little about when we are all respectively leaving. This has a fair amount of importance, mainly because the three of us are the only guys really left who hang out and speak freely together. Jason swims home in December, Robert's contract is up in June, and mine next May or June. Robert joked about Jason re-signing for another year, which is hopeless, Jason kinda hates his job. I too am thinking of moving on after the year. With the won doing so poorly and the dollar so well, the money here is not as good as it was when I signed on. There are a few places where I could make a lot more money teaching english, a couple of arab countries and spain being the two most likely at this point. Talking about this, I realized how much I'm going to miss Robert if I go and he stays. He's working on a master's now with his better half and they've got a pretty nice set up, owing to their gorgeous new apartment and gorgeous old Sokcho. This post is now going to end as abruptly as most of them: I'm tired, going to bed.


Fuck fuck fuck fuck Motherfucker fuck fuck!

Awoke to the whining drone of a mosquito buzzing toward and away from my ear. Reached to smack it onto my left shoulder, forgetting both my broken collarbone and the figure eight sling I'm in that guarantees any large movement of my shoulders to send shooting pains through where the bone is broken. Slapping and scratching at mosquitoes (some real, some imagined) in the dark, I feel my whole body with nerves and itch from being dirty, uncomfortable, and relatively helpless. The first thing out of my mouth, echoing in my empty apartment, was the title of this post. Followed by an absurdly serious "alright motherfuckers..." Who are these "motherfuckers"? We'll probahly never know. Fighting better judgment and doctor's orders with animal panic, I removed my sling and the damp, chafing shirt it held to me. I turned on the light and squinted around for my glasses. Naked, I stood poised on my bed, listening for the high-pitched whine of one of satan's little bloodsuckers. I have done thorough, scientific, wikipedia-based research on these little bastards and have come to the conclusion that, scientifically speaking, they have been sent from hell. I killed three of them tonight, one of which wasalready full of my (?) blood. With mosquitoes and itch on the brain, and since i've already taken the sling off, i've decided to take a hot shower. I am so tired and angry right now I could punch someone in my sleep.


Alone but no longer lonely.

I had a wonderful, revelatory day today.
I just got home from Jangsudae, the first place I ever climbed outside, about an hour north of here. The climbing was great today, did some of the most difficult lead-climbing I've done which was awesome and makes me feel accomplished. Also climbed some familiar routes with greater amounts of ease than I imagined two months of experience could give me. That was great. The climbing, however, was only a small part of why I had an incredible day. We decided to take the scooters (henceforth referred to using the verb: to scoot) up to the crag. The past times, we've either been driven by a local friend, or taken the bus. Seeing the scenery through the window, we conceived the idea a while ago of scooting to Jangsudae, expecting that it would take a while, but that there must be the way. Last night I found a mapquest-style website for Gangwondo, and saw that the route was actually pretty straightforward. So early this morning, Robert strapped a milk crate to the back of my scooter, for extra carrying capacity, and armed with kim-bap from family mart, pears and ham (gifts from the boss for Chuseok), coffee, and a bleary eyed sense of optimism, we took off from Sokcho. The road there was unbelievable. After taking the number 7 highway down the coast, dodging the usual insane korean drivers, we came to number 44, which took us into the mountains. Once 44 enters the mountains, it's a winding maze of switchbacks, ups and downs, and blind corners made slightly safer by the presence of the ever-ubiquitous fish-eye mirrors to see what's coming around the corner. The whole route is surrounded by a dominating, gasp-inspiring mix of mountains, rivers, boulders, and trees. It was one of the most beautiful drives I have ever seen, and as my parents would proudly tell you, during trips to the Rockies as a child, I saw a few that were pretty incredible. We made good time to Jangsudae, about 1 1/2 hours. There's a sense of joy and danger riding a two-wheeled vehicle that can do 125 km/h. Not that I was going anywhere near that fast in the mountains. In fact, at a couple of points I discovered that if my scooter isn't at least at the top of first gear by the time it hits an incline, it won't accelerate going uphill. Luckily, the route is so inconsistent in its inclines and declines, I was never put-putting along at 30 for more than a couple minutes. We were met in Jangsudae by a couple we met climbing yesterday in Seorak-san, Mark and Jenny. They're damn cool people, very relaxed and they set up a slack-line (tightrope) on the ground, which I took a few comical stabs at. Grace even joined us later in the afternoon, reading and talking with Lisa on the grass. After climbing was finished, with the sun an hour from setting and us not wanting to risk the mountain roads in the dark, we headed back. The ride back was every bit as beautiful as the way there. Much more downhill coming back, the switchbacks and tight turns were a blast as we slowed down for them and sped up during the straightaways. The mountain air was cold now, and a mist moved over everything, shrouding the world twenty feet higher than us and above in a shifting mystery. Incredible. After getting back to Sokcho, when Robert and I got off the scooters, we were giddy with the satisfaction of a new and wicked adventure. Lisa laughed at us, but she definitely made multiple arm-waving, grinning gestures of freedom on the ride home. I had a shower, and now we're planning a late dinner with Mark and Jenny.

What was so incredible about the day, besides spending great time with people that I have come to love, was that for the first time in a very very long time, I had this overwhelming sense that absolutely nothing is missing in my life. I've been a mess lately, trying to improve upon myself and failing, irritated with myself and my job and generally taking a lot of things for granted. I've been lonely. A friend of mine wrote to me recently that loneliness is everywhere, but wants you to think somewhere else, it isn't. She also said that loneliness is wanting, and wanting can be replaced by joy. I felt that today. I don't feel lonely. I miss people, I have catches in my throat at the thought of seeing some people I miss, but I feel pretty complete in my incompleteness. I also had one of the most interesting contradictory feelings I've ever had today. Hanging out with these two couples, these people that have become as big a part of each other's lives as themselves, I thought of how great it would be to have that kind of partnership again. This feeling was accompanied by a real sense of independence and a sense that I don't "need" someone, I just want someone. And that when it's "meant to happen" it will, and that I'm actually okay until then, and can be happy as a clam without. I seem to remember a similar feeling just before I got together with the former most important woman in my life, so who knows what the future holds. All in all, damn good time and place to be alive. Happy Chuseok.


And that's when it hit me...

It's funny, I've been a bit reclusive and morose lately, but every once in a while something happens to wrench me out of a funk. I just got back from "French Club". Two of my fellow teachers are starting a master's program and have to become fluent in another language, they've chosen French, so here I am, in Korea, learning French. A little ironic. After French club adjourned, I played a few games of chess with Robert, who has been teaching me bits of what he knows about the game. We tried a new stew he had on the boil, and listened to a Beta Lounge set by Pantha du Prince, which is pretty wonderful. I had a great night. It served to remind me of how grateful I am for these two (Robert and his lady, Lisa) from Buffalo that have become such a big part of my life here. Friends are hard to come by in a foreign country, and I'm damn lucky to have such interesting, warm, fuckin' funny, and open-minded people to be around and soak up with my spongy brain bread.

I've also got a couple of ideas on the make for theatre pieces for the spring. The roof of the kindergarten below Robert and Lisa's apartment has this overhanging platform as access to a maintenance room or something and it would make a great stage. I've been less than focused and driven in any particular direction lately, so I've resigned myself to the fact that I'm not going to finish any show before winter comes. The nice thing about this is that it gives me until spring to prepare. betalounge.com, for those of you that don't know, is a free online archive of the betalounge sets going back to 1996. These sets are broadcast from hamburg, are five hours long apiece, and are awesome. I can personally reccommend the latest set from Assoto Sounds Connaiseurs. Check it out, registration is free, and gets you access to ridiculous amounts of great music. Click on the title of this post to take you there. They're not paying me anything. But maybe if their fandom in Toronto spikes after people read this post, they'll intuitively send me a check. I'll be checking the mailbox for weeks now.

Not sure what to do about Christmas. Thailand, Japan, Russia, all possibilities. More on this later.


and more climbing...

This weekend, Paula, a hip lady from Seoul who found my friend Robert (previously known as R, anonymity be damned.) on a korean climbing website, came over to Sokcho from Seoul and we did some SERIOUS climbing. We spent a good part of saturday doing multiple runs up the local artificial wall near the stadium, and I got to the top for the first time. It was the longest day I've spent climbing (until today) and I was pretty exhausted by the end. Afterwards, we went to a Korean teacher friend's house for a farewell dinner in honour of two long-time Sokcho residents who are moving on to a University job further south after a couple of months back home in B.C. and traveling around. We then moved on to a Karaoke bar (relatively rare in Korea, the private Norae Bang being more the bees knees here) to celebrate another teacher's birthday. Robert and I sang/growled Chop Suey by System of a Down and I headed home early-ish to get some sleep before today's big trek.

TODAY I CLIMBED ON REAL ROCK FOR THE FIRST TIME AND IT WAS FUCKIN' AWESOME!! I set my alarm for p.m. last night before bed and woke up to a phone call from Paula, who was waiting at our rendezvous point ten minutes from my place. Immediately after I rubbed the sleep out of my eyes and before I could scratch myself twice, Robert showed up at my door, scooter helmet in hand and ready to go. So i threw some water in a bag and we headed off to the bus terminal. After some transportation issues, we got on our way on the bus from Sokcho into the mountains to Jangsudae, a sort of hiking/camping area. The hour and a half ride was beautiful, we had the bus almost to ourselves and had some good conversation while I breakfasted on kim bap (sort of like Korean sushi but with kimchi, radish, and veggies or egg or ham or tuna instead of raw fish). Paula's a neat lady, from montreal, korean by descent, and has lived in Seoul for five years writing for the tourism board. After we were dropped off on Jangsudae, we walked about twenty minutes to Ahgulbawi. (Ahgul means lip, bawi means rock) The wall is on the edge of a parking lot, surrounded by mountains and forest and a river and it's beautiful. There were fifteen routes up the crag (yeah, that's climbing lingo, booya.) and they were pretty wet except for one. The grade (i.e. difficulty) was a little high for Robert to comfortably lead-climb (lead climbing is the first trip up the rock wall, clipping in the rope as you go, to set up a top-rope, and is the most perilous part of the day) so Paula gave it a go. About twenty feet up, there was a particularly ugly part that we couldn't figure out how to get over, so we took a little detour and just before Paula had to head back to catch her bus to Seoul, she was able to get to the top and set up a rope on the top anchor. This was pretty miraculous, as I can't lead-climb or belay on lead climbing yet, and so if we didn't set up a top-rope, Robert and I would've likely been done climbing for the day. Once the top rope was set up, Robert and I set about climbing, and it was super exhilarating. Climbing on real rock is a lot more creative than on a climbing wall, you have to be a lot more flexible with different techniques and there's a fairly heavy element of problem-solving as you figure out how to use the natural holds. It's a lot easier to know where to put your limbs when the holds are pieces of coloured plastic sticking out of the wall. After some frustrating attempts to get past the twenty foot patch of angry, I was able to find a decent balance point and hold and I got up it!! I feel a little trite talking about how damn proud I was and the feeling of accomplishment at figuring it out, but goddamn I was proud and accomplished! After that point, the climb got reaaalllly interesting, with lots of moves I had never done, but I made it to the top and crowed like a certain green-tights-clad childhood hero of mine. Looking from 60 feet up out at the mountains, my limbs throbbing and slick with sweat, I had a what-the-shit moment of "Woah! I'm totally rock-climbing in South Korea!" It was great.

Throughout the day, we met a couple of Koreans. One came up, reeking of Soju, and started telling Robert how we should get past the difficult part, in Korean, and was annoying as hell. It seems that a lot of the climbers we meet are all self-professed experts and this really rubs me (and Robert) the wrong way, cuz we're there for the enjoyment of the climb and spending time outside, not to have a bunch of people "show us" (as in tell us) how we should do it and put extra pressure on a situation that can already be frustrating. We also met a dude who saw me looking around for water, and he took us to where the river comes out of the mountain and assured us the water was clean, "No town nearby. Very clean." We thanked him profusely and spent the rest of the day climbing up the wall, the hard part didn't get easier and Robert was getting pissed and exhausted in his attempts to get past it. But at the end of the day, both exhausted, he took one last run up the thing and made it, me hollering obscene and profane congratulations from below. We then walked back to where the bus comes and found that we'd have to wait an hour and a bit. So, we walked across the street to this rustic looking restaurant, where we had kalbi (ribs) and beer outside overlooking a gorgeous forest and another river. Exhausted and satisfied, we took the bus back to Sokcho and hopped on Robert's scooter for the ride to our apartments. Good day.