This episode of The Tribe Seeker Podcast, I’m sharing a little travel story about how a very poorly planned vacation wound up being just perfect.
If you want to check out my photo album of the pictures I took, check out this link.
This episode of The Tribe Seeker Podcast, I’m sharing a little travel story about how a very poorly planned vacation wound up being just perfect.
If you want to check out my photo album of the pictures I took, check out this link.
Quick update on what I’ve been working on and up to. I started a podcast called The Tribe Seeker.
I spent a lot of time mulling around ideas for a podcast. I wanted the topic to be relevant to my life, interesting to me so I was compelled to make content about it as well as something I had some street cred in.
So without further adieu, here it is. A podcast about what it’s like to be a seeker of one’s people, at all costs.
Today is Buddha’s Birthday in Korea. In the previous weeks I’ve daydreamed about how I’d greedily plan and spend this extra long weekend by traveling somewhere far and strange from Cheonan, the city where I reside, and do something really fun. The reality of the situation is that I slept in until 10AM, drank too much coffee at my apartment and took about 2.5 hours to decide to go outside and hop on a bus to the opposite side of town to explore and find a coffee shop to write in. I wasn’t aware that the buses weren’t running on a scheduled cadence because of the holiday and I subsequently waited in the hot sun on the side of the road for my bus for about 45 minutes before going home, eating lunch and taking a nap. Rockstar lifestyle, I’m leading, I’ll tell ya…
This is one of those periodic updates that I really had to force myself to write. Being in Korea has become incredibly… normal. I wouldn’t go as far to say as I’ve lost my sense of wonder or awareness that I am in fact all the way across the world from where I’m originally from. However, there’s a certain level of comfort that routine here has brought me that I’ve never felt before.
Last week I hit my 7 month mark here. I can’t quite believe that 7 whole months have passed by so quickly. Every month when the 20th rolls around I remind myself to try to be present in the moment but also aware that time is continuing to pass faster and faster every day. I think there are a few reasons for time feeling like it’s passing faster. One of those reasons probably has to do with my proximity to strong gravitational fields and whatever other business there is about black holes and such I learned from watching Interstellar. But I also think time is passing very fast because of the relative comfort and familiarity I’ve found with my time here in Korea.
Comfort means different things to different people. Loosely, I’d describe what I’m feeling as comfort because I’ve managed to learn enough about my immediate surroundings, my job and to navigate language barriers where I don’t really have anything inhibiting my day to day life from operating within the margins of “smoothly.” Mind you, there are some things that are downright maddening to me that will never be remedied as long as I live here, no matter what I do.
I think the things that have proven to be most important to me are regular communication with family. When I moved to Wisconsin in 2009 and then Colorado from 2010-2014, I recall seeing my family on average somewhere between 3-4 times a year. I was only, at any given point, about 2-4 hours of flying time away from seeing my family back home in Massachusetts. It was a simple enough affair to hop on a plane and go home. However, I often found myself feeling sluggish to book a plane ticket to go home, or go anywhere for that matter. I’d rationalize that plane tickets are expensive and in the last 6 years (but really, my entire adult life) money has usually been tight as it’s been allocated to paying debts in an unwise and unstructured manner, or there were things locally I’d rather do.
When I landed back in Worcester in the terms I’d like to describe as “on my ass” last Spring in 2014, my head was still spinning from a breakup that had me questioning pretty much everything that seemed secure and normal for me. I had a career in social media that had seemed to be more successful as each year passed, but never quite seemed within the reaches of being what I’d consider “secure.” Much more often than not, I wasn’t doing the kind of work I’d describe as being in line with my soul-purpose. I’d say that could mainly be attributed to not having, or not knowing clearly what my soul purpose was for most of those years. I’d pivot and change things up from time to time, aligning myself with eco-friendly or holistic living companies when I could to do work that seemed more inspired, but that never seemed quite right. I met some great people along the way and looking back I can honestly say I lived what some would call a blessed life.
But, I realize in hindsight that I was always playing catch up. I was terminally behind the eight ball as I continually set my goals and my personal sense of accomplishment to the tunes of what I viewed as successful around me. I knew a dozens of people who were business owners, who had made hundreds of thousands, if not millions of dollars over their careers building and selling businesses. I always wondered if that could be me. If I could just idly dream up some sort of product or service that would have demand explode around it and I could fill my days with purposeful work either growing my own business or helping people I truly admired grow theirs.
I don’t know if that was ever something I ever really wanted. I suppose I had an idea of a lifestyle I was chasing instead. I had my girlfriend and our friends, many of whom just seemed to have their proverbial shit-together. Dinner parties, cocktail hour, day trips to wineries and farm dinners. This was in fact the good life I never knew I could have. But I always felt like I was somewhat just along for the ride and not actually driving that car. Even though my girlfriend at the time and myself lived in a relatively modest apartment in a fabulous neighborhood, with some of the best friends anyone could ever ask for literally within stumbling distance of our front door, I always felt like the pieces, and in turn my happiness, were being held together by a string and poised to fall apart at a solid jostling just around the bend.
When the relationship I was in suddenly finished in January 2014 I felt an incredibly heavy burden on my shoulders. I realize that from the outside my life looked enviable to most people and that I wasn’t doing anything too out of the ordinary from the average person. But as I had slowly acquired a few possessions here and there, some online subscriptions, gym memberships, etc and I was living in Boulder, all I felt was that I had to somehow maintain all that. Like I wasn’t going to able to rebound from this breakup and re-discover myself while being responsible for everything that I felt tied to. With a great deal of honesty and generosity, I even felt like I had to walk away from my job at the time which was in many ways a great place for me to be. Almost everyone and everything in Boulder, with the exception of my Brazilian Jiu Jitsu family at Easton BJJ, reminded me of how I had ultimately failed at my relationship and keeping my life I had worked so nervously at together. I realize now that this perception wasn’t entirely correct, but as I walked around in a fog filled with anxiety, sadness and complete stupor in the 4 weeks after the breakup, everything inside of me told me to drop it all and walk away. I still to this day am almost moved to tears remembering the looks in some of my friends eyes who stared at me helplessly, unable to understand why I had to leave, but loved me anyways and supported me in my decision to do so. I will never forget this period in my life.
So in an act of reckless and irresponsible abandon, I set a date for myself to sell every possession I owned that couldn’t fit in my car with complete abandon and with my dog headed on a long-extended road trip back East to Massachusetts. I would stay there, regroup and figure things out for as long as I needed to and get healthy. In my months between February, when I arrived back in Massachusetts and in October, when I left for Korea, I did my absolute best to simplify absolutely everything about myself and take a long hard look at my life, my decisions, my strengths and more importantly, my weaknesses and come out of this situation a better person.
I started with my physical impediments which I felt were making it harder than necessary to live my best life. I had lost large amounts of weight in my life at various points in my adulthood, but never quite managed to make those positive changes stick and wound up putting most of not all of that weight back on over the years. I experimented with low-carb dieting, kettlebell lifting and daily walking and hiking with my dog when I was home in Massachusetts. The weight started to come off steadily and has continued to ever since. When I look at pictures of myself now compared to where I was just a year and a half ago I think I look like a different person. Not only do I carry around less body fat, but my musculature makeup has changed for the better. I think I look better and I more importantly feel better. I’ve also continued to meditate every day which I’ve written about already. This has helped me even out as a person in how I react and deal with everyday challenges a lot better. As far as money and lifestyle goes, I’ve learned that making less money can in fact make more a simpler and more easy to manage life as long as I am focused on managing the important parts around saving and paying off what needs to be payed off and when.
Everything feels so much closer to equilibrium right now since I’ve come to Korea. I’ve continued to develop myself in ways I set forth when I went home specifically in my weight management and meditation goals. However, I’ve realized that this sense of comfort comes with some challenges, as everything in life seems to. Being away from family and not seeing anyone familiar for 7 months (and I likely will not see anyone familiar for the remainder of my time here) has made me feel a bit dissociated. I came to Korea with an open mind of how long I’d stay. I didn’t honestly tell anyone I’d be here for just a year or if I’d plan to be here for a decade or any amount of time. I just came here with an open mind and open heart to whatever was possible. I discovered that my job could be incredibly satisfying in many ways. I also discovered how easily I am able to adjust to and integrate into a different lifestyle in a foreign place. These are valuable lessons for me to learn. But, something in my heart tells me that where I need to be is back stateside closer to family and trying to make a go of doing good work that aligns with my values that can also support my simple lifestyle.
The decision to come to Korea was a simple one. I sometimes wish I could say it was out of total whimsy and passion and that I wanted to make good on a promise I’d made to myself years ago to come here, but that’s not entirely true. When I moved back to Massachusetts I entertained several interesting job offers and interviewed with some very well-know ad agencies, technology companies and even did a bit of freelance work for some companies as a marketing consultant. These are all things I’m proud of to an extent because they represent the work I’ve put into becoming somewhat of a good marketer over the last 10 years. However each time I got to final rounds of interviews or when I’d get a job offer for basically the same type of job I’ve always had, I couldn’t tap into the excitement or passion for that opportunity that I once had. I was ashamed of myself. Like, who am I to be having what seems like my 3rd mid-life crisis and I’m only in my early 30’s? Eventually I realized that these types of jobs weren’t going to pan out, my freelancing work was drying up and I needed to do something. Working as an English Teacher in South Korea is easily one of the most comfortable lifestyles anyone from an English speaking country could ever hope to have. For all of the bitching that English teachers here do about this and that, we get paid a good salary in a relatively cheap cost-of-living country and our skills are highly in demand (until the proverbial bubble pops on the English teaching industry). I fully recognize how good I’ve got it here. There’s no question to that. However, the price to be paid for this life is that I’m a very long ways away from my family and loved ones. Making a life here and developing friendships and relationships here is definitely something I could pour myself into successfully, however when I think of what I value in the long term, I don’t think that throwing away what I have back home in turn for a “fresh start” in Korea makes the most sense. In essence, I learned that lesson the hard way when I moved to Wisconsin in 2009 and lost my job when my company wasn’t doing well and again learned that lesson over and over in Colorado bouncing from startup to startup and eventually experiencing the coup de grâce (hah!) which was a bad breakup. At the end of the day my family back home were always the shelter in the storm for me, even when I was begrudging to accept that.
So, are things good here in Korea? Overall, yes things are very good here! It’s a good life! It would be a good life for just about anyone! However, as my values have changed and solidified in the last couple years, I am realizing that maybe investing more of my energy into developing something solid and long-lasting back home is what my calling might be, or at least part of my calling, for part of my life. So, I am going to do that.
What does this all mean? This wound up being a MUCH longer email/newsletter than I intended and I’m sorry about that to anyone who bailed on reading this at any point. However, the TLDR; version is this… at the end of October I’ll be coming back home to Massachusetts. I’m starting to look for, network towards and apply to jobs in the greater Worcester area and surrounding places like Portland, Maine, around New Hampshire, etc. Maybe I’ve said too much about my personal and professional struggles in life and this makes me a less than desirable candidate for an employer. However, I believe my journey is something that a lot of people can relate to in some ways. My experiences have made me a stronger, more sure-footed person and I believe that all of my skills as a writer, as a marketer and as a general businessman have brought me to this point in life. Whether I find a great company or small business to work for, or if I go back to agency world or if I have the courage to start my own business, I know these experiences will shape the ethos of the work I do for the rest of my life and will help me to be a better man, partner and person into the future.
… and if the economy is looking too rough and I can’t find anything in America, maybe I’ll just go teach English overseas again 😉 But let’s not cross that bridge unless we must.
Thanks for reading!
Shortly after moving to Boulder, Colorado in 2010 I learned how to meditate and I’ve been practicing it consistently for about 4 and a half years ever since. I recently saw a blog post by Sami Paju where he wrote about what he had learned in two months and I appreciated his perspective and it made me sit down and reflect on my own experience.
Growing up I never knew much about ways to deal with life’s stresses. I always had a bit of the world’s weight on my shoulders for various reasons when I was developing as a kid into my adulthood. Whether it was the circumstances in which I was trying to figure out my path in a working class family in a blue-collar city, to being creative and a naturally introverted person, I internalized a lot of the stimuli that overwhelmed me day-to-day.
I remember a big reason why I started doing creative things when I was a young teenager was because I couldn’t verbally articulate my emotions to family and friends and felt completely hindered by the anxiety I felt. I’d come home from school and lock myself in my room and blast anything from Nirvana to Miles Davis and furiously scribble words down into my notebook or doodle drawings of monsters that I perceived to be my inner self.
As I got older, as with most people, life got more complicated and my coping mechanisms didn’t really develop at the pace of how I was exposed to stimuli. Luckily when I moved to Boulder, Colorado after some tumultuous years post-college I was exposed to Transcendental Meditation through the woman I was dating. Her and her family all meditated and she grew up in a community in rural Iowa called Fairfield. Shortly after we started dating I was allured by the lifestyle that my ex-girlfriend and her family had and their overall presence when just talking to you and how they approached life’s challenges.
Her parents offered to introduce me to their style of meditation, which is called Transcendental Meditation and got me into a short course to learn how to meditate with a friend of theirs. It is without a doubt one of the best gifts I’ve ever received in my life and I’ll be eternally grateful to them for it.
I’m certainly not an expert in the mental or physiological benefits of meditation as they pertain to your brain and body, but I wanted to share some insights that I’ve observed in my own practice that have kept me practicing daily for so long.
Meditation Is Like Pizza
You’ve heard that saying applied to other things, I’m sure… Even when it’s not that good. It’s still great. Every morning I wake up around the same time and I either sit up in bed and immediately start meditating or I get up and have a large drink of water and then get right into my meditation practice. Regardless of what I do before I meditate, I get into the practice the same way. I sit comfortably, I close my eyes and after a few seconds I begin my meditation. Whatever happens next I just sit and let my mantra bring me deep into my own consciousness and stillness. Sometimes I have a lot of thoughts that bombard me about my upcoming day or something I’ve done or didn’t do recently and all I can do is let the time pass and repeat the mantra over and over again. Sometimes I feel like I am not going deep at all, like I’m not even meditating, just thinking and unwillingly contemplating my life. Other times I blissfully drift off into a soft, black quietness and come out of my meditation like I’ve just taken the best nap or full night of sleep that money can buy. Regardless of the outcome or feeling of the duration of my meditation, I come out of it as a better person. I simply feel better than when I started. I’ve learned that no matter how the meditation feels as I’m doing it, taking place in the practice with a daily cadence is what helps me make the daily progress. I don’t know what the ultimate picture will look like from meditating will be, however I am able to appreciate the journey at every step.
Don’t Focus On Anything, Seriously
Chill, dog. Even when the thoughts won’t come, I’ve been trained to not focus on any thought or stimulus that is happening in me or outside of me. If I have some disturbing thoughts, I focus on my mantra and the thoughts either leave or stay with me, however the mantra stays ever-present. If there is a noise outside of me, or if I am meditating on a train or bus, the conversations happening around me or the garbage truck making noise outside of me don’t get my ultimate attention. You can meditate anywhere,any time. As long as you have the time to sit still for a bit, you can meditate. One of the actual beauties of meditating when it’s not perfect quiet and peace sometimes is that you hone your ability and tolerance by separating how you feel from the actual world around you. Growing up in an insanely loud Irish Catholic family full of guilt and shouting (and love), I used to just run away to a spare room to avoid having an anxiety attack from too much stimulation. Nowadays I can tune most things out at will when I want to. So yes, if it seems like I’m not really listening to you or the things around me, I’m probably not.
You’ll Look At Your Absurdities In The Third Person
This part is one of my favorites. When you’re not meditating, I’ve been able to look at myself in a much more objective way. I can see myself speaking certain ways and when I feel emotions come up it’s like I have a pre-roll of what I’m about to do or say. Sometimes I still go into my petty emotional tirades and do or say things that I don’t mean. But as I’ve been meditating over time I’ve found that more and more, I am able to intercept these emotional or mental outbursts and impulses better and interpret them better. It’s like I’m able to talk to myself and say “hey man, you notice this? Do you really feel this way? Do you really want to say that? Why so?” This has helped me immensely in my interpersonal relationships as well as in my career and professional development. I’m an emotional person and I’ve let myself live inside myself un-checked and unfettered. With meditation, I am able to feel the source of my actions before they come more often. I find that invaluable.
Try a Group Setting
I am an introvert and I avoid groups. This is just a reality of who I am and I truly embrace this part of me. However, I’ve had some pretty amazing and fulfilling experiences meditating in various ways with groups of people. Whether it’s been part of a mens group I was lucky to be invited to or if it was a specific Transcendental Meditation group meditation practice in Boulder, there’s a certain energy that can’t be replicated when you focus on meditation and bettering yourself with others. I believe this is part of finding your tribe. I’m still looking for my core tribe of people. Wherever that may be or whomever they may be, I want meditation to be a shared commonality between us, for sure.
Even though meditation is ultimately a very personal practice and something every person will find their benefits from. I think Transcendental Meditation is the best kind of meditation, though I’d suggest you try apps like Calm.com just to get the ball rolling and see the immediate benefits of meditation. One of the big detractors from T.M. is that it’s expensive to take a course. I really don’t think meditation should be something you pay for, should it? I guess I’m torn because I know the value of it. But if you must pay for training, I don’t think the cost should be prohibitive to someone who can’t afford it. Regardless, you can meditate any way you want. Just get started and be consistent about it and watch the benefits start accumulating over time.
This message comes to you from an undisclosed location in Seoul, Republic of South Korea. I type these words in between large gulps of South American red wine and a belly full of homemade Korean food courtesy of those who shall remain un-named. If this message reaches you in time only know that I have come out on the other side of the wormhole that was the year 2014 and seem to be molecularly in tact.
Actually this post comes to you a few days late. No one should be surprised at this given the lack of discipline I’ve shown blogging for god-knows-how-long. I had most of it written already but was just enjoying myself too damn much bouncing about Seoul and other parts of Korea to sit down and upload it. Oh, well. Here it is.
Christmas came and went without much fuss or fanfare (for me, specifically) here in Korea. Don’t get me wrong – people were partying like it was 1999 all over the place, but as I’ve become more comfortable living in my own introverted skin, I choose to bow out large social gatherings more regularly. Personally, most of the festive nature around Christmas this year came in the form of me dressing up like Santa Claus for the kids I teach and telling each of them in their ears that I know what they really did this year and that receiving presents would not necessarily be a foregone conclusion unless repentances were made as soon as possible. Some responded with fear and distrust, others laughed at my attempt at infusing Catholic guilt into them by saying “James Teacher, I know it’s you. You’re not Santa. Give me my present.” I got my beard pulled off so many times I stopped counting.
I was invited over to a Korean friend’s house for Christmas eve dinner and I went with a full heart and empty stomach without much in the way of expectations for the evening. I expected more of a cocktail party, but was pleasantly surprised to receive a heaping plate of roasted chicken, mashed taters, brussel sprouts, stuffing and gravy. Even though most of the expected guests cancelled last minute it was great to actually spend Christmas eve with a family, in a real home, rather than the hobbit cave I have come to call my own. Even if I had stayed at my own place that night and made myself dinner (rice, eggs and kimchi has become a staple for me), I would have been content enough. I took my Christmas Eve this year with a particular gratitude.
It was also nice to call home and talk with everyone once our time-zones lined up and I knew everyone would be in one place together. It’s not my first Christmas away from home and I remember being distinctly sad in previous years when I’d call home and it seemed like everyone was having fun without me, like they forgot me. I’d bite my lip and try not to sound sad and isolated in whatever state or country I was in and say “well I hope you have a Merry Christmas, I should get going..” until I was able to hang up the phone and go be blue.
I laugh when I recall the time I was living and studying abroad in Prague and wasn’t home for a Christmas. I was 21 years old at the time and my friend Max who came from a large Catholic Haitian family was also in Prague with me. We were in opposite phone booths talking to our families and got off the phone around the same time and both were on the verge of tears because of how tore up we felt over being away from our families. We of course coped the best way we knew how, by finding Chinese food and getting drunk with other foreigners and wound up having a fun night.
This year, calling home I had a particular fortification in my heart that didn’t bring any level of sadness to bear. I had learned so much about myself in 2014 that I was actually happy to be standing tall where I was, even though it was fully across the planet. I made a choice to do something, I made it happen and here I was. I had no regrets. I had done right by my family and loved ones as best I could and I honestly had no regrets. I was able to offer my best self to my family and be honest with how I felt — I felt happy.
All of my fellow foreigner teachers took off to warmer climate destinations for vacations this year. Places like Thailand, The Philippines, Vietnam, Japan (maybe not warmer) were on the list and frankly I wanted to just pick one and go myself. When you start talking with people about good reasons to come teach English in South Korea, one of the first things people tell you about is how “cheap” and easy it is for you to travel to exotic locations you’d probably never see living in the Western Hemisphere. While we do get fairly substantial breaks from work, our Winter break being nine days total, I didn’t feel like I had the time, confidence or money saved to make a trip. Knowing myself to be a fairly sensitive traveler who likes lots of time and comfort to get from one place to another, I realized I was going to be on a shorter than preferred timeline trying to get to and from my far off destinations traveling alone and likely confused. Though I was constantly brown beaten by some foreigners for squandering my time off and choosing to stay in Korea, I knew in my head that taking my week and two weekends to recharge from a hectic two months of getting acclimated to Korea would be wise and more enjoyable than others gave me credit for.
So, what have I done on break so far? Well, I’ve slept a lot. I’ve caught up on that good sleep that comes when you have absolutely nothing you must do the next day. I’ve seen some movies at the movie theater that is a 15 minute walk from my apartment, I’ve worked out a bit and have taken a couple trips to Seoul to explore new neighborhoods and meet up with friends. All good stuff.
So what does it mean that it’s 2015? On thinking about how or if I wanted to make any more resolutions this year, I felt truly lucky to realize how far I’ve come in 2014 and that mainly I just hope to continue on the path I’ve set for myself. It’s more of a multi-year plan. Wellness is they key that holds everything together. It’s been a long time, if ever at all, that I’ve been able to look at my life as it stands and not really feel conflicted that a period of time had passed and I hadn’t capitalized on it in a), b) or c) way.
So here’s to you. Here’s to your new year. Here’s to your last year. I hope the passage of time hasn’t been too fast or too slow or too uncomfortable for you and if it was any of those things, I hope it was in tandem with some amazing growth and self-realization.
Okay, some details updates:
Coming to teach ESL in Korea I sort of wrote myself a blank check for figuring out what my “next” step would be. I was not sure if teaching would be my end-goal or if I’d find something else out of left field that would inspire me to rush back to the United States to continue on my career development journey. After being here for about a month I’m feeling it’s a bit of column A and column B.
I want to enjoy my time here without putting too much pressure on myself to decide my long-term goals in a specific time frame. Luckily for me, inspiration hits when the pressure is off. Considering I’m an unattached, single 30 year old man, I have the ability to take a lot of different paths of interest.
Within about a week of getting to Korea I stumbled across an NPR episode on the growth of wind energy technician jobs and how there are only about half as many candidates with the necessary skills to fill jobs right now. I’ve wanted to work in renewable energy for a long time, but never quite made it happen. Not for lack of effort, but I’ve always had a distinct shortage of education and experience when it comes to technical skills and renewable energy in particular. That, matched with the fact that every job I’ve had as an adult has been as a white collar marketing guy, lent zero credibility to my desire to work in an industry that was physically demanding and blue-collar-ish.
So, it slowly started to dawn on me that if I really wanted to take this path and if it was still burning a considerably large hole in my chest, I should give my best effort to see it through. Granted, there will be boundaries and challenges to making a career in wind energy possible. First is, as always, money. I’ll have to go back to school for at least a year, maybe two. This isn’t some super expensive degree from a four year university, luckily, but it will still require I put a significant amount of money aside while I’m working in Korea for the next year (or two) to be able to afford this type of degree. I doubt I’ll want to or be able to take another student loan to get this certificate or degree so we’ll see how that part pans out.
Also, there’s always the wild card. Will I discover some unknown passion or love here in Korea that will make me say “fuck-it-all” and choose another path? I’ve done that before, so I won’t write myself off yet.
Regardless, I think it’s important that I didn’t write myself a blank check with my time. I came here to enjoy, but to also learn about myself and make some decisions at this pivotal point in my life so that I don’t wake up one day when I’m older and say that I let opportunities slip by while I wandered aimlessly.
I’m looking forward to seeing what unfolds from this whole experience.
This past week after work one of my coworkers asked me if I wanted an “interesting experience” with a mischievous grin. I was tired from having hyper children crawling on me all day while I tried to teach them English and my first impulse as an introvert was to go back to my apartment and re-charge for the following day. However, I figured I owed it to myself to at least try something new, even though I didn’t really know what I was getting myself into. I was told it was a “spa” and that it was unlike anything I had ever done before. I was advised to keep an open mind and that it might not be for me. I was more intrigued after being warned of the weirdness so I happily agreed with a “how bad could it be?” mindset.
So, we walked about 20 minutes from our school to a neighborhood that I had never been to in Cheonan. I probably couldn’t find it by myself if I tried right now, or maybe I could trust blind faith. Either way, we showed up to what looked like a typical gym. We paid at a welcome desk, about $4 USD per person and my coworker smiled and said “here we go.” He lead me into a locker area and after a confusing ritual of taking our shoes off, putting our shoes in one locker, walking to another locker room, I was told, “time to get naked.”
What ensued was a typical male gym locker room experience. Hell, it was a typical after-phys. ed. experience at my all boy high school too. You strip down and head over to the showers. Except, there was an entire self-service spa here. It’s called a jimjabang. Yes, it’s pretty much a bath house. Now you might be thinking, is that the same sort of place the singer George Michael got bagged for soliciting another young gentleman back in the 90’s? Well, hell if I know.
Essentially what you do here is open up the pores in your skin by alternating between hot tubs of various heat level, steam room, sauna, icy baths, swimming pools and ice cold showers. I’ve done such things while staying in a friend’s cabin in the northern woods of Wisconsin in the dead of winter. I’ve been blessed throughout my life with pretty good skin so exfoliating has never really been something I was too concerned with. However, I’m a sucker for a good hot tub, especially if it’s just a few marks below scalding. Luckily these hot tubs are very hot and big enough so you’re not too close for comfort with the other buck naked dudes splayed out getting their skin treatment on.
I think the series of events that unfolded were as follows: first you’ve got to shower before you go in the spa area, so you just wash up with soap and water. Then, you dunk in a hot tub for a bit and soak for a while, which leads to a steam room. After steaming for me was an unquestioned amount of time (think somewhere between discomfort and unconsciousness), you walk to an industrial looking shower that pours ice cold pressurized water on you. Hampton Beach Innie Club. Then, you go back to the hot tub area to the hotter tubs, which are, even by my standards, hot as hell. Then from there, you get into a lap pool which seems really cold as well and do some laps to get your blood flowing. Then, back into the fire; a 130 degree sauna for say 10 minutes to death. After the sauna you go lay on cold bricks and marble flat on your back until your heart rate normalizes and you start to come back to the real world. Then, it’s one last dip in the special hot tub which looks like a kiddie pool that a dirty dog just got out of. Apparently it’s a specialty soil bath that is very good for your skin. I reserve judgement.
After your repeated scalding and cooling in rapid succession, you head over to a separate shower area again and scrub the skin off of your body with a body cloth that feels like it’s been dipped in commercial grade sandpaper. You just lather and scrub, lather and scrub and lather and scrub until your skin starts to either bleed or feel clean. For whatever reason, I can take the super hot water, but rubbing my skin until its raw turns me into a weakling, so I just finished up a little early and headed back to the locker room with my co-worker.
At the end of it all, I felt good. I felt like my skin was clean.I also felt like I lost at least a quarter inch of epidermis too. At what cost? Well, at just $5 USD, I think it was a fair price for such an experience. Would I recommend it and do it again? You betcha. As long as you don’t have too many body self-esteem issues (there are dongs literally everywhere) and you don’t mind putting yourself through dramatic shifts in body temperature, I think it’s a fine experience to re-invigorate just about anybody.
For the ladies curious about jimjabangs; yes, there are jimjabangs available just for females too. I hope to be invited to review one of those someday as well.
Until next time, stay weird and righteous.
I’m writing this to you from my tiny studio apartment in the Buldangdong neighborhood of Cheonan, South Korea. I flew into Incheon last Sunday night around 6PM and then took a bus to Cheonan where my school director picked me up and brought me to my apartment. I went to bed almost immediately after having been on the road (or in the sky) for what felt like forever, but was realistically closer to 18 hours.
I went straight to work that Monday, getting to know my coworkers and shadowing classroom teaching for a few days. Wednesday I started teaching my own classes. It’s funny how preparing to teach sucks, but actually teaching is fun. I’m not sure how that works, but that’s what I feel so far. I hate planning, so I guess I need to just get good at looking like I plan well. But I really do love teaching the kids and playing with them.
My kids are between the ages of 5 and 12. A pretty wide range. Most of the teachers at my school have been there for several years, so it doesn’t seem like a place with high churn rate, which is good. The owners of the school seem nice enough and have been helping me get my medical screenings and immigration work squared away, but maintain a general stoicism that I’m coming to expect from them as the year progresses.
About 36 hours into getting here I started to feel a little off. The jetlag, which I’m familiar with from traveling abroad a few times, was really getting the best of me. I was waking up in the middle of the night or super early in the morning and unable to fall asleep. I started to feel a little sick on Wednesday and tried to ward it off by going to bed early, but with all the clamor and stress of being a new teacher, by Friday night, I was fully in the grips of some awful virus. Headaches, chills, body aches, sweats, stuffy nose and probably fever. I was a mess. I really wanted to go out and explore this weekend and thought about trying to power through it, but realized I was going to have zero luck with that. So I went home after work on Friday, meditated and took a short nap. I woke up feeling way worse and tried to grab food in a restauraunt right near my apartment and was politely asked to leave because the lady running the place spoke no English and couldn’t take my order. So, I went across the street to the other place I knew of in my neighborhood and had porridge for dinner (see picture above). It was good, but I’ve already had it 3 times this week and wanted something different.
Saturday I woke up feeling terrible still, so I pretty much stayed in bed all day until 5 PM, when I put some clothes on and forced myself to leave the house in search of food. I went down to where my school is, where I know there are restaurants with picture menus that I can order from and grabbed some food. One of the ladies working at the restaurant heard my voice and saw me generally looking and feeling like shit and brought me over a big cup of hot broth and told me in broken English to drink it and that it would make me feel better. It was a very nice gesture and one I appreciated very much. After that I made my way back home, talked with my mom on Facebook chat and then went to bed early again and woke up a reasonable hour today.
So, all-in-all, South Korea has been an interesting experience so far. The little kids are fantastic. The food is very good and interesting (and very cheap!). Getting sick my first weekend was a huge bummer, but I’m hoping I’m developing anti-bodies that will ward off more germs as the year goes along. I need to find some vitamin C packets somewhere and make that a daily regimen.
I’ll try to keep these updates going out as regular as possibly without being spammy. I’m off to find some bibimbap for dinner and hopefully avoid getting asked to leave for having no Korean language skills yet. Luckily I found a few survival phrases on my phone that night help me.
As always, feel free to email me any time or Skype/Google Chat me if you see me online!
Get ready to shake your butt and not understand why.
OK, here’s the update. I just accepted a job offer teaching in Cheonan, South Korea at a school called ILS (International Language School). It’s pretty close to Seoul, the water and a bunch of city life that I’m excited to explore.
I start November 3rd, so I’ll be hanging around the USA a bit longer than I originally planned, but patience is a virtue. Hoping to be productive, get some more freelance work and maybe travel a bit domestically in the meantime.
I must say, I’ve been very lucky to have a lot of advice given to me along the way by people who have been there and done that with the ESL teaching thing. I wouldn’t have figure it all out on my own in time, I’m sure, so thank you! You know who you are!
If anyone’s interested in checking out ESL teaching jobs in South Korea, I’m pretty much an expert at the process now, so feel free to ask me!
Anyways, that’s my news for now. I’ll be updating more as time goes along.