Saturday, June 12, 2010

Four Months In

It has been about four months since I got back stateside, and I'm well and fully acclimatized. No longer do I accidentally speak Korean to shopkeepers, I don't tense up for the inevitable shoulder check in crowds, and I remember what good coffee tastes like. I still can't deal with the wall of selection in the bread / cereal / shampoo aisle at the American Supermarket, but I really don't see how anyone can, given that particular plethora.

The biggest change, of course, is the long-distance relationship. It is quite manageable, as it turns out, thanks equally to Skype and email. Sara is back in town for a holiday (hooray!), and it is strange not having seen someone in person for that long (four months), and yet not having any new stories to tell, since we are in constant communication via the interwebs.

I'm moving forward with my plan to change careers from marketing/communications to mechanical engineering, and have enrolled at a community college to do lower-level prerequisites. As it turns out, to be a mechanical engineer, you must have an undergraduate degree in the field. This is too bad, since it'll take me four years to get. Some of my previous credits will transfer, but since I got a BS in Business, and not an actual science, I'm missing all the physics, chemistry, etc. that I need.

When I first got back, I thought that I'd support myself doing the freelance marketing/design stuff that I've always done, but since I'm trying to change careers, it has been hard to put my heart into it. This shouldn't come as a surprise, of course, since the whole reason I'm changing careers is that my heart isn't in marketing any more. Generally speaking, you can't get hired on at an engineering company until you start your third year of engineering school, but my current goal is to get involved with an engineering company now, in my first year. I still hope to be involved with alternative transportation / energy / fuel in the future, but at this point, I'll take what I can get. If anyone has any thoughts on how to get involved, let me know!

So, between Skype and school, where has that left me? I built a workshop in my house, putting down an interlocking foam floor to protect the silly bamboo flooring, and have been basing projects out of there. I'm fooling around with electronic engineering, thanks to the Arduino (open source hardware), working on my bicycles, and doing small home-improvement projects. My biggest hobby is bike polo, and I've gotten involved with the administrative side of things, helping to organize tournaments, manage press relations, etc.

Playing polo is still my biggest leisure-time activity, and by far what I have the most fun doing. The sport is getting really popular, so we are looking to expand / move to a different area where we can have more than one game going on at a time, and also have some lights so we can play into the night. I've taken lead on this process, but it is a long one, and there are a lot of passionate voices in the community about how to do it right.

Well, that's about it for now. It is the first beautiful day of the summer and I'm headed outside!

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Cascadia Triple Crown Presents the Oregon Bike Polo Championships

Press Release

Cascadia Triple Crown Presents the Oregon Bike Polo Championships
Tournament to be held April 17th and 18th at Rose City Park, Portland, Oregon.

Portland, OR – April 17th, 2010 Portland Bike Polo will host the Oregon Championships, the first of three tournaments making up the Cascadia Triple Crown. Hardcourt bike polo is a fast-paced, full contact, team sport played on bicycles. This exciting sport was born in Seattle, grew up in Portland, and now has a large world-wide following.

Over 100 competitors from around the world are expected to compete. Two other tournaments, in Seattle, WA and Vancouver, BC, will complete the triple crown later in the season.  The event, Cascadia Triple Crown Presents the Oregon Bike Polo Championships, will be held on April 17th and 18th at Rose City Park (NE 62nd St. and NE Thompson St.). Spectators are more than welcome and this is event is free to watch.

Want to get involved with Portland Bike Polo? Portland Bike Polo is always glad to have new members – come out and play! We play every Sunday afternoon at Alberta Park in NE Portland. We do ask all players to be 18 years or older, due to the inherent danger of the sport.

About Hardcourt Bike Polo:
  • It is a fast-paced team game played on bicycles.
  • To play you need a durable bicycle, a mallet and a ball. The sport is very DIY focused, so mallets are hand-built out of old ski poles and PVC tubing. The ball is a street hockey ball.  
  • It has many similarities to grass bike polo, horse polo, and hockey.
  • There are three people to a team, and games are played to five points.
  • There are no time outs, no penalties, and there is no referee.
  • It is played on pavement and is a full contact sport.
  • Due to its fast-paced nature and spectacular crashes, it is a popular spectator sport.
Press Contact:
Sasha Friedman
Secretary of Polo


Friday, February 5, 2010

Back in the USA!

It is good to be back.

Sara and I got back to the US on January 8th and then traveled around visiting my mother in California and Sara's brother and his wife and new daughter in Colorado. We finally made it back to Portland on January 22nd, and a few short days later, Sara was off again to Korea for another year.

A few highlights from the trip and travels:
  • On the Seoul to Vancouver, Canada plane, Sara had checked her bag at the gate. (This is great way to get around baggage fees. Also, a bike box costs $50 to ship, but an extra suitcase costs $150. So, pack your clothes in a bike box.) When we got to Canada, we were waiting on the tarmac in the cold, dark, and rain, for Sara's suitcase. They finished unloading them all, and it wasn't there. We described it to a worker and he said that he had given it to an Asian man. We were about 500 feet out on the tarmac and there was about another 500 feet of walkway to go to get inside. Since we had been waiting so long, people were already getting inside the terminal. We bolt across the tarmac, down the walkway, and I start yelling at this guy who has Sara's suitcase. He was very apologetic, explaining that he thought it was his friend's suitcase. Since he was walking alone, I didn't think that was a very good excuse and yelled at him for a while and watched him closely in the baggage claim. Regardless, after an international plane ride, there is nothing more invigorating than chasing someone down and yelling at them.
  • We had a great visit with my mom in California. She lives right near where there are a lot of earthquakes, so we helped with the ever-constant battle of straightening paintings. The earthquakes are the downside, but the upside is how beautiful it is there, between the redwoods and the Pacific. She has an amazing garden and even in the middle of winter, it was incredibly lush (especially compared to Seoul).
  • It was my first time to Colorado, and I was impressed with the wide-open spaces and the mountains. We were in central Colorado and there was snow on the ground, but it hadn't snowed for weeks, so you could see all of the animal tracks - thousands of them. Sara and I babysat her for her niece, which was really one of the first times that I've spent a good portion of time with a baby (8 mo.) Not a problem!
Being back has not been as hard as I was expecting, although I do have trouble interacting with shop-keepers and supermarkets are totally overwhelming. The hardest part, by far, is getting used to not living with Sara. Thank goodness for the internet - email and video chat make a long distance relationship a lot easier than, say, the telegraph.

Really it felt more like I was in an alternate dimension in Korea and popped back into the regular dimension here in the USA. A few stores have closed down, a few restaurants (and like a hundred food carts) have opened up, a year's worth of drama happened, but everything is more or less the same!

I'm back in my house, which Aurora took great care of. My days are spent with playing polo, figuring out transfer credits (U of O + PCC -> PSU, UW, or OSU) and starting to get my networks back in order. There are a lot of full-time jobs out there, but since I'd like to go to school part time and work part time, I'll be going back to contract work again.


Thursday, January 7, 2010

A year in Korea... so what?

Tomorrow I leave Korea, 373 days later. So what of all this?

I came here for a variety of reasons: I was tired of safe, insular Portland; burned out from my last job; wanting a change of pace and to see a bit of the world; wanting to support Sara. I didn't have too many hopes for Korea - I really had no idea what "moving to Korea" meant. I did, however, hope to learn about Korea, make some life-long friends, find a second home, and all that.

Overall, living in Korea is easy. Food is cheap, there is very little crime, and a little Korean can get you pretty far. If English is your native language, and you know how to negotiate, you can get a pretty good salary, a decent apartment and maybe good hours too. That said, unless your favorite activities are drinking and shopping, it is almost impossible to thrive here.

Now it is easy to get all negative on Korea - shooting fish in a barrel is a good analogy. The Koreans are pretty gung-ho on Confucianism, and a lot of times it feels like a bad 1950's sitcom. The workplace is as hierarchical as the army, women are treated horribly, and people treat strangers like dirt. I don't want to dwell on these things though... you can find them discussed ad nauseam elsewhere on the internet.

When I first got here, I was so excited to make some Korean friends - get into the Korean counter-culture and ride bikes and play polo. It took me a long time to figure out that the most successful ex-pats here are the ones that have almost exclusively ex-pats networks, and that there is not much of a Korean counter-culture scene. I'm leaving Korea with only one Korean friend, which might actually be a success, but I have to say I find it surprising.

As I have discussed in other posts, one of the things that I've had the most problems with here are how strangers are treated. It has been explained to me that if you know someone, you must be very polite to them, but it doesn't matter if you don't know that person. Wanting to fit in, when I first got here, I copied the locals and it drove me crazy -  I hated myself, even if I was fitting in well. I decided that I was just not going to give up this core-value of what I think is polite behavior - being polite to strangers. I've gotten so many crazy looks when I've held the door open for people, let old people sit down on the subway, or simply said thank you to waitresses. Once I realized that I didn't have to give up on who I was, things got a bit easier, at least from my point of view.

Working here was definitely a challenge. Fortunately, foreigners get a lot of leeway in the workplace, and aren't expected to work like their Korean counterparts. Again, I'm going to resist the temptation of talking about how messed up Korean companies are, and just say that I am so happy I don't have to work in Korea anymore. Also, it has made me resolve to buy American-made products whenever possible.

So, besides the fact that I'm not wild about Korea, what have I learned? Well, like they say, only when you don't have something do you realize how much you miss it. I miss living in a community. I miss small groups of like-minded people. I miss trees and clean air. I miss having choices about food. I miss America. Sure we've got problems, and plenty of them, but they are our problems.

Now, perhaps the most interesting part of all of this will come very soon... the reverse culture shock! What will I, in America, prefer back in Korea?


Sunday, January 3, 2010

Snowy in Seoul!

I started my first work-day of unemployment (I finished my contract) waking up to eight inches of snow! I went for a walk in the park to take some photos and sure am happy that my Pentax is water-resistant.

Here is a timed-photo that almost went horribly wrong. I should have known better than to lean on that tree, but as you can see - the avalanche just missed me!