Wednesday, January 22, 2014

In Which I Give an Update

So, really I just wanted to write on here a little bit. The update that I want to give the most is that I'm pleased to report that my novel that I've been working on for several months has made it to 22,000 words. I realize that's not a lot of progress, but as I'm only doing it in my spare time at work, I think it's pretty good. I have the whole story outlined, and I'm not even halfway done yet, so it will definitely count as a novel-length piece when I'm finished with it. If you'd like to read a chapter of it, you can find it here. I like my idea, and while I'm not sure if it's that original and if people would like it, it's fun to write. I like that I'm making up my own story, and I really like how the characters and the story really seem to come to life for me and take on a life of their own when I'm writing. So, if you'd like to read something set in a world that's only slightly more advanced than ours and includes magic and monks, go ahead and read what I've posted, and look for the finished book (probably not published) at some point in the future.

In other news, I ran about 3.38 miles this morning. It was fantastic. It's crazy how I used to hate running and now I legitimately enjoy it. I think I may have found my new favorite route here in the city. Well, it's actually not in the city for the most part, because I go on trails in the Halla Arboretum for a good chunk of it. Parts of the run have excellent views out over the city and down to the ocean, too. I finished this one in just under 31 minutes, which means I could definitely do a 5k in under 30, which is good to know. At least I'm not as slow as I was at the beginning of cross country season in my senior year of high school. I used to think that that was a good thing to measure myself against, but I just realized that that's now more that 10 years ago, and so it may not be the best thing. I'll have to find another measuring stick.

At any rate, I think that's about all I have to say at this point. I'm hoping for a good adventure with some pictures this weekend. This is Captain Danger out.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

In Which I Get Splashed

So, I'll admit that I've started to really want to get out and do something. We've just kind of relaxed for the past couple Saturdays, which, I'll grant, is nice, but I need some action, too. Yesterday (Saturday) we were planning on going up to the mountain to play in the snow, but it was raining a bit when we woke up, so we decided against it. Instead, we finally did something that I've wanted to do for a while. Jeju is a pretty windy place. And, every time I've looked out the window and saw the trees blowing around like crazy, I've thought, Man, Captain Danger, it would be really fun to go down to the ocean and see how big the waves are when there's a really strong wind. I've never had a chance to do it because it was a weekday and by then it was like 10:00 so by the time we rode the bus down there we'd have to get on it and come back. But, today we took a bus down to one of our standby places to go on a slow Saturday: the Dongmun market. This place has it all. It's pretty close to the ocean, it had a market with delicious hodeok (not to mention prodigious amounts of fish), and also a Daiso with lots of western candy.

Our first stop was to get our hodeok. That took longer than it should have because of something that I've noticed to be a bit of an oddity. Let me make an aside that hodeok (or usually spelled hotteok (호떡 in Korean), but you can debate about how to spell Korean words in English) is a delicious fried chewy pancake with honey inside. And the oddity is that when Koreans buy them, they always want a gross (I don't really know what a gross is, I just assume it's a lot). Seriously, though, almost no one buys one or two and eats them, they always want like 20 and so the people are there cooking a berjillion of them and we don't get any because some doofus ordered seven dozen. I'm not sure why they do this, because the kicker is that hodeok is really only delicious if you eat it warm. I mean, it's fine cold, but much, much better warm. Anyway, we finally got it and set off for the ocean.

I actually hadn't realized that the wind was blowing hard until this point, but then I got excited for the waves. The ocean did not disappoint. The waves were awesome. Also, it was really cold. I managed just fine, but Nancy was pretty chilly. I took a few pictures, but it's hard to convey how excellent the waves were in photo form. I'll do my best.


It was shortly after I took this picture that the waves started breaking and splashing over the seawall, and Nancy ran for it. As you'll see soon, I did not run for it.

In the distance of this one you can see the wave splashing over the wall. I wanted to get a closer picture of one of these, but I'm pretty sure that wasn't really possible without getting soaked.

Proof that I didn't run for it. Well, I mean, I did, I just wasn't that good at it, and I kept going back. Also, go Cougars!
So, that was a pretty fun small outing. It's been a while since we've been down to the ocean and I liked it. That's one thing that I'll miss when we move back to the mostly landlocked Western United States. Living this close to the ocean is pretty awesome. Also, I Googled it and found out what a gross is. For those who didn't know, it's 144 of something. That's an apt exaggeration. At any rate, that's all I've got to talk about at the moment. This is Captain Danger out.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

In Which I Share Some Thoughts (About China!)

So, I did promise a post where I would tell you what I thought of China. Here's my overall thought: I liked it. I was actually surprised to realize that. China has a terrible reputation (and don't get me wrong, some of it is definitely earned) but it really wasn't as bad as I thought it would be. Most people were pretty welcoming and nice and did their best to help us out. I don't think they were as friendly as people in Korea, but not bad. The way I usually do this is in list format, and I think I'll do it the same way here. Off we go!

1. You know, I expected to feel the crushing power of communism or something. Maybe that's dumb. I really didn't. In fact, the only thing that may have indicated an increased level of government control was the security checks you had to go through to get into the subway. I don't really know if that's an indicator of government control, though, or just a desire for security. I don't even know if that's very abnormal. I've only been on the subway in three cities.

2. Scamming was actually more prevalent there than pretty much anywhere else I've ever been. However, I found that it was not as bad as our guidebook and the Internet made it sound. Sure, we ran into plenty of shady people, but they were much easier to avoid than I thought they would be, and I'm pretty sure we only got scammed like three times, and it wasn't that big of a deal.

3. They talk about the heart and soul of Beijing being its Hutong alleys. I wasn't impressed. They're alleys. Seriously. They're dark, narrow alleys and that generally have cars driving down them trying to kill you. I wasn't impressed.

4. Food is CHEAP! Seriously. I was way surprised by that. I'm not sure what I expected, but we could go out and drop well under a dollar and get a pretty good meal. At least in Xi'an. It was harder to get away with that in Beijing, but the food was still cheap there. We probably only threw down about 20 dollars for our really fancy meal there, and we had like three courses and got the duck. I mean, how much are you going to pay for duck in the US? I pretty much guarantee it will be more than 20 dollars.

5. I've noticed this in other places, but good public transportation is the shizzle. I would never buy a car if I lived in Beijing (not that I want to live there). Traffic is utterly ridiculous and people are crazy drivers. Turns out that the stereotype about Asians being bad drivers is, in fact, based in fact. It think it's more that they just drive differently here and when they go to the US where there are things like, you know, rules, they have trouble. Anyway, the subway in Beijing costs about 30 cents! So cheap! I would never use any other mode of transportation in the city.

6. The Great Wall: it really is as great as they make it out to be. I was really impressed by it. What I'm saying is, if you have a bucket list (I don't) and if the Great Wall is on your bucket list, it's a good thing to have on it, because it's seriously awesome.

7. Authentic Chinese food: Was it as good as Panda Express? Yes. Some of it was better. Some of it wasn't as good. Is Panda Express authentic? You know, I didn't try enough different kinds of food to really know for sure. At least they didn't have the annoying habit that the Japanese have of putting under cooked or uncooked eggs on or by things (once again, not cool, The Japanese). I wasn't disappointed with any of the food we had there, and the dumplings were AWESOME. I want more. I wish they made dumplings like that (and that cheap) in Korea.

I think that's all my thoughts for the moment. Really, it's hard to get an idea of what China as a whole is like, because it's almost as big as the US. It would be like visiting LA or New York and saying you know what the United States was like. Overall it was a great experience, though, and I recommend it.

 This is Captain Danger out.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

In Which I Turn 29

I'm not sure how old it makes me in Korean age, but for better or for worse, I turned 29 yesterday. I can't say it worries me, I'm healthy and now that I'm married, I feel like there's not nearly as much pressure for me as I get older. Before it was like, "Gah! I'm 26 and I'm not married!" but now, it's no big deal, especially since my sister is the only one who's really pestering us to have kids. Anyway, we had a pretty quiet day. Apparently Nancy ordered my true birthday gift a few days back and it hasn't arrived yet, which I'm okay with. Heck, she gave me such a nice Christmas present, I'm surprised that she got me a birthday gift at all! We knew we wouldn't be able to go out to dinner on my birthday itself, so last Saturday we went to my favorite restaurant in the city: Self Bar! I don't know if I've mentioned this restaurant on our blog before, but if I haven't, I have thoroughly neglected it because it is AWESOME! You go in, they sit you down, and then you go and get meat and cook it on your table and you eat AS MUCH AS YOU WANT! You don't even have to pay that much and you can cook and eat pounds and pounds of meat! As this was our fourth time there, I've gotten substantially better at cooking meat. Used to be I'd burn all of it, but now I'm pretty awesome at it.

Anyway, on my birthday itself, we had an ice cream cake from Baskin Robbins, something which is always great. Nancy took some pictures of me with it.

I have to say, I look pretty fantastic in this picture.

I was successful in this. I think that the reason why there's even a question of non-success back home is because we usually have a huge sheet cake and the candles are all spread out. Here, they're all close together, and therefore much easier to blow out.

Apparently I was pleased. Also sideways.
Anyway, it was a good day. I confess that we didn't really do anything particularly exciting. I mentioned to my kindergarteners that it was my birthday and they were really cute and they all said happy birthday and gave me pencils and pieces of eraser and one of them gave me a hug. Nancy, of course, made it an excellent birthday. She's a lot better at giving gifts than I am. I have to be told exactly what to get and she always comes up with something great for me. I don't really have any other news at the moment. I think we're still recovering from our trip to China. Hopefully we'll have some kind of adventure this weekend to report on. This is Captain Danger out.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

In Which We Go Shopping

So, our last day in China was pretty good. It was really relaxed, which I'll never complain about. The first place we went was the Beijing bell and drum towers near our hotel. We didn't go inside of them, because we figured that bell and drum towers are probably a lot like Buddhist temples; (though for some reason we keep visiting Buddhist temples) if you've seen one, you've pretty much seen them all. Here are a couple pictures we took of the outsides.

Bell tower.

Drum tower.
Then we went to the last of the big Beijing sights that we hadn't seen yet: the Temple of Heaven. It's in  a park, and our guidebook said it was a good place for people watching. If by "people watching" they meant "seeing old people dancing" then they were right. There were a bunch of them. Anyway, the park is built around the old temple that the Emperor had for worshiping heaven and praying for good harvests. According to the signs, it was a fairly convoluted process, but the buildings were pretty cool. Here are some pictures.

This building is called The Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests. Despite its long name,
it's a pretty cool building.

Nancy was pretty pleased that she managed to get this picture with only me in it.

They really liked their round buildings here.

After the Temple of Heaven we headed out to do what we really had planned: shopping. I wasn't overly excited about it, because, as I mentioned in my post on day 2 in Xi'an, I found that I wasn't a huge fan of Chinese markets. We went to two. The first one was called the Silk Market, and one nice thing about it was that it was indoors. There were very few merchants who would let you walk by without saying something to you like, "Hey, you need shoes? Come buy!" or "Scarves! Buy scarves!" or, one of my favorites (which was said to Nancy): "Hey, you! Tell you husband buy you something nice!" I guess that guy saw our wedding rings. After the Silk Market we went to another clothes market, and actually found a couple things that we wanted. We got Nancy a nice thick coat for only 25 dollars. Nancy had decided that she didn't need it, and we were walking away, but the lady kept on yelling lower prices at us, and when she said 150 yuan we were like, "Eeeeeeeeeh, okay." and went and bought it. There were a lot of really good-looking North Face and Columbia jackets and shoes in there, but I had to remember that I already have more jackets and shoes than I really know what to do with, besides the fact that they wouldn't have my shoe size. (That's one of the problems you run into as a big person living in Asia.) And also that I have some of the best canyoneering shoes on the market in our storage unit back in Utah. I also looked at a few "Rolex" watches, but we decided that I couldn't really drop more than 20 dollars on one because I can get a watch for that at Wal-mart in the US that would look just as good and probably be higher quality. Overall, the markets were a pretty fun experience. You get used to being yelled at after a while.

For dinner that night we decided that we had to try the capitol's signature dish: Peking Duck. We went to a restaurant that our guidebook recommended and it was really good! We even took a couple pictures of it, and I'm usually not in the habit of taking pictures of food. Here they are.

The chef would come out and hack it up next to your table.

This is what it looked like cut up.

With all the trimmings. We were trying it just plain before they brought us this stuff, and one of the waiting staff told us to stop (we tried it plain anyway). We weren't sure what to do, but as near as we could tell, you were supposed to take one of those little tortilla things and put some duck that you dipped in that dark sauce (which, btw, was delicious) and then put in a cucumber and some of the other vegetable (I wasn't sure what it was) and them make kind of a burrito out of it. We ordered the dumpling separately. We got two. We thought they would be normal sized because they were only 8 yuan each (just over a dollar). Then they brought them and they were huge! I liked them, though. Nancy didn't really. Anyway, the duck was really good.
Anyway, that's the story of our day, including our dinner. It was pretty fun. The next morning we got on the plane and flew back to Korea, which felt great. Coming back to Korea feels like coming home these days. It's nice to be able to read again, even if I don't know what I'm reading. So, that's our trip to China! I'll put up a post with my overall thoughts soon. That's it for this one. This is Captain Danger out.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

In Which We Walk on a Wall

So, you may have guessed that this post is going to be about our trip to the Great Wall of China. You guessed right! This was quite possibly, in fact, not possibly, it was, my favorite day we spent in China. I mean, the terracotta warriors were awesome, but it was definitely a "see" attraction, and I'm a guy who prefers the "do" types of attractions, so the Great Wall was just more fun for me, because we actually got to do something. (It's for that same reason that visiting Fushimi-Inari-Taisha was one of my favorite activities on our trip to Japan) The fact that that something happened to be hiking, which is one of my favorite things, only helps its cause. But, I get ahead of myself. It was actually a bit of an adventure just getting to the wall. We chose the section called Mutianyu, because we had heard from a few people and also the guidebook and the Internet that the most popular section, Badaling, actually kind of sucks and is ridiculously crowded and is so restored that it looks fake. While Mutianyu is the second most popular section of the wall, it is a bit more difficult to get to. You start by getting on a bus and then taking it to a certain stop. What stop was that, you ask? Well, none of the sources we had were really definitive on that subject. The guidebook said one. Another website said another. Another website listed three stops that were fine. Besides that, the bus announcements are only in Chinese, and even though the names are also Chinese, that doesn't mean that we can understand them. Luckily, we came up with a system. A family of foreigners got on the bus in front of us, and we saw that the father of that family spoke Mandarin, and we figured that they were probably going to the same place we were, so we decided to do what they did. Also, that wasn't really necessary, because the bus conductor marked us right as we got on and told us in sign language that we should get off when he told us to. We did that, and he led us to a minivan (he called it a minibus) and drove us to the wall. The family who got on in front of us (who turned out to be German) also rode in his "bus." He told us (through the guy who not only spoke Mandarin and German, but also English) that he (the bus conductor-turned taxi driver) would wait for us for a few hours and drive us back to the bus stop, and it would only cost like 20 dollars total for the whole shabang. We said that was cool. Then one of the bus conductor-turned taxi driver's friends helped us buy our tickets and off we went. The whole experience started with a chair lift. Here's a picture:

Here's another picture:

First view of the wall!
Sure, we could have hiked up to the wall for cheaper, but then we thought, "Hey, how often do we get to ride a chair lift?" we also got plenty of hiking in, so the extra exercise was unnecessary. Plus, chair lifts are fun. When we got to the top, I only banged my head a little bit getting off the lift, and we were on the Great Wall of China!

So, what can I say about the Great Wall? It was GREAT! (pun intended) Seriously, I loved it. It was awesome to be on an ancient structure that has stood there for thousands of years. And granted, I realize that it's restored, but part of it is original, and this wall feels pretty legit. Plus it's up in great scenery with excellent views. It was really a lot like hiking in the mountains, only your trail is a giant, ancient wall with irregular, sometimes crazy steep steps. We both had a really great time, though, and the weather was excellent. About halfway up the first set of stairs I decided to go coatless. I got a lot of funny looks for that, but I didn't regret it. I get warm when I'm hiking. It was just a great experience! Here are some pictures (disclaimer: there is probably going to be a crapload of them)

That's the Great Wall in the background!

Totally stoked.

But trying to keep cool.

This part was crazy steep!

Me on the steep part.

Warning: There are probably going to be a lot of pictures that look like this. I couldn't choose a favorite.

This is the end of the Mutianyu tourist section of the wall. You're technically not supposed
to go past here, but there was a very well-defined trail and based on what I read I think this
leads to the section called Jiankou.

Nancy was excited to be there too.

We were happy to be there together!

Going back down the steep part. One lady with a British accent that we saw said, "They don't
make them like they used to!"

In this picture you can see part of an unrestored section of wall. I thought that was pretty cool. It's been there for thousands of years!

"Oh, you know, just chillin'. With my gut hanging out."

This wall has the Captain Danger seal of approval.

Another picture of the "wild wall" you could see from the restored part. I just thought it was awesome.

I think the big blocks might be original. How cool is that?

We took this picture to prove that we were actually there.

I thought this shot was artistic. It would have been better if all those people weren't standing
there. Or if I knew how to use Photoshop to take them out.

Nancy with an old cannon. I don't know if it's original or not, but it's pretty cool.

So, the wall was sweet, as you can see from the many pictures above. The way we got down was pretty awesome. They have a toboggan that goes on a track there and you can pay to take it. We figured, "Heck, we're on vacation! Let's go big!" We took the toboggan. It was fun. It would have been more fun if there wouldn't have been a really slow girl in front of us and a really loud Chinese guy behind us who (unfortunately) knew enough English to tell us repeatedly that we were going too slow. We did, however, manage to snap a couple pictures.

Nancy getting started.

Nancy ahead of me.
In this one you can see the annoying Chinese guy behind me.
Things went fine getting back. We actually ended up having dinner with the German family, who were really interesting, and it was fun having dinner with a larger group, because we got to try more things, since we ate Chinese style with all the food on a lazy susan in the middle of the table and split the bill. So, that was our day at the Great Wall! So cool! It definitely made the trip to China worth it (not that it wasn't already) and we both had a great time. This is Captain Danger out.