Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Portland At Long Last

I crossed the bridge over the Columbia River, grinning at the Welcome to Portland sign, though it was so foggy I couldn't even see the river below me. I had found a Latino radio station and was listening to Tejano music, conjuring images of warmer climates in my head, incongruous with the cold mist all around me. With extremely limited visibility, it was not the easiest day to make the drive to Portland, but the trip was long overdue, and I didn't want to wait any more. Also, with just 5 weekends until leaving for Korea, many mini-trips are becoming imperative to go now or wait at least a year.

I wanted to see my old friend from college, Adam, who has lived there for over 4 years. Yes, I'm been meaning to visit him that whole time. We went for a walk around his neighborhood in Northeast, getting almost completely drenched in the rain. Then he took me to one of his favorite restaurants for dinner, called Biwa which does Korean-influenced Japanese food. It was almost Asian tapas style, with casual small plates from yakitori (grilled skewered meats) to fried kimchi to seaweed wraps to seafood pancakes to pickled sampler plates. It was really really good and took me until the next day to recover from the pork belly yakitori.

Then I visited another friend, Dan, who I met on Orcas two summers ago when we were both newbies on the island. Amazingly, the sun came out and we walked around the city, went thrift store shopping, hopped happy hours, ate great food, and finished the day with a drink at the Portland City Grill for a view from the 30th story.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Hiking Mt. Si

Another good winter hike from Seattle is Mt. Si, which at 3,900 feet towers over the towns of Snoqualmie and North Bend. It's 4 miles to the top and fairly steep, gaining over 3,100 feet of elevation. I went with some girlfriends on Monday, an exceptionally warm day for January. It was sunny, mild, and clear. The view from the top is pretty sweet- Mt. Rainier, the Cascades, and back over to Seattle, Bellevue, and Puget Sound.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Moving to South Korea

I just signed a contract and it's official: I'm moving to South Korea to teach English for a year. What kind of crazy person decides to move to a country without knowing anything about it?! Okay, I am raising my hand sheepishly. I have been so focused on Latin America the last few years for studying, living, and traveling that I have just never learned much about east Asia.

I quickly realized that I better start doing some research. I'll be in the city of Gunsan, also spelled Kunsan, and here's what I've learned so far:

* It's on the coast! West coast too, so I'll get sunsets over the water. There is major fishing in the Yellow Sea and subsequently a lot of seafood in the diet and markets.
* Population is about half a million- large enough that there are things happening, but not so large as to be a crazy concrete jungle
* Lots of urban trails for running and cycling
* The city is supposedly fairly industrial, and a U.S. air force base is located on the outskirts.
* Korea is 70% mountainous and 30% arable land. Kunsan is in the main farming region

About Korea in general:
* One of the few countries that has been one nation with one language since its earliest history
* Korean is in the Ural-Altaic language family and very different from Chinese and Japanese. They originally had no written form of the language, and attempted to use Chinese characters to write Korean, which was extremely difficult and not very functional. Finally in 1446 the king's scholars INVENTED the Korean alphabet, and the shapes of the letters are based on the shape the mouth/tongue makes when forming that particular sound. How cool is that??!
* One of the highest literacy rates in the world
* They are 50% non-religious, 26% Christian, 23% Buddhist, 1% Confucian
* One of the most homogeneous ethnic populations in the world- 99.9% Korean

Well, it's not much, but I guess I will have a year to learn a lot more. I would also like to study Korean and be able to do some basic reading, writing, and speaking. And what better way to get acquainted with a new culture than to eat some of the food? There are quite a few Korean restaurants in Seattle, and my mom and I just checked out one here in the north end called Hosoonyi. We drove past it at first because the sign was in Korean. They have really good soondubu, which is a soft tofu soup that can be made with beef, pork, mushrooms, or seafood. We also tried Mae-Un-Dak, chicken barbeque, and Job-Chae, a veggie and beef dish with potatoe noodles. Apparently a signature part of Korean food is Banchan, which are the many little side dishes that accompany a base meal of rice and soup. Kimchee is the indispensable Banchan, usually fermented or pickled spicy napa cabbage, but can refer to other fermented/pickled veggies as well. Other Banchan may include seasoned bean sprouts, fish cakes, seaweed, marinated vegetables, kelp, dried fish, sweet potato, fried tofu, etc. I did not take this picture, but here is an example of Banchan at a meal.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Wallace Falls

The rainy, grey weather is no reason to stay inside... it is just more reason to find good winter hikes! From Seattle you pretty much have to head down I-90 or Highway 2, and if you are willing to do a little driving, there are some great spots this time of year. Recently I've been going to Wallace Falls near Goldbar. It's before the road starts climbing towards Steven's Pass, and the low elevation means minimal snow for the most part.

It's a cool trail because there are 4 different views of the falls, so you can choose how long to make your hike while getting a view along the way. To the highest lookout point is 2.7 miles, but even past that are several lakes if you wanted to do a longer hike or overnight backpack.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Ringing in 2010

Happy New Year y'all! 2009 held some growth and good times for me, but all in all I'm pretty stoked that it's over. I kicked off the new year's eve festivities at my mom's house with dinner of spare ribs and family game time. I tried to meet a friend on Capitol Hill for a drink, but there was NO parking. So I headed to a house party in the central district, where the fine folks were holding a "hall of shame". People brought remnants of their adolescent expression, such as essays, journal entries, songs, poems, or photos from awkward teenage years to read aloud. It was HILARIOUS. As midnight approached they projected the ball dropping in Times Square... from 1989. I rang in an old new year with a little champagne, but more excitement for getting a solid night's sleep.

Waking up fairly early, I was ready to take the year by the horns. I met Tegan at Greenlake and we ran around it together, then did our own polar bear plunge by jumping off a dock. Here we are afterward, cold but invigorated.

After that my friend Heidi was hosting a brunch, so I went and feasted. With Heidi in a rooster-print apron, she was an amazing hostess serving up waffles, blueberry or chocolate chip pancakes, bacon, eggs, veggie sausage, carrot muffins, homemade biscotti, fruit, coffee, and mimosas. Thanks Heidi! Another friend brought a little figure of a man made out of newspaper to do a Colombian tradition of "el aƱo viejo" or "the old year". This is where you write any old issues, events, patterns, etc. from the previous year on the man, before symbolically burning him. We didn't actually write on it, but the little man got passed around the gathering so people could put any old energy from 2009 that they wanted to discard. Then into the blazing fireplace he went.

I like traditions like this because it's useful to have a physical act to help us let go of things. While I am grateful for every year of my life, there are definitely things from 2009 I want to let go of. I am reminded of Anicha, the impermanent, changing nature of all things. I never wrote about on this blog, but in November I did a 10-day silent Vipassana meditation retreat. It was a hard and amazing experience that I would highly recommend to anyone. The basis of the meditation is Anicha, the awareness that everything that arises shall also pass away. Whether good things we want to grip tighter, or bad things we want to fling away, those circumstances will ultimately change. So I'm just going to believe the New Year is like an informal, nationally-recognized, raucous meditation on change.