Monday, July 30, 2007

Mud Fest '07

While some people might "take it easy" or relax a little after returning from a trip like mine to France, I did not. My first weekend back in Korea I had plans to attend the 9th annual Boryeong Mud Festival, and I was not going to miss it. So while my body was still confused as to whether it was on Korean time or French time I totally threw it off by staying up all night partying on the beach.
What is a Mud Festival? Well, I guess it kind of explains itself, huh? People get together and play in the mud, what more do you need to know. However, this isn't just any mud festival, it's a Korean mud festival and now that I've been here in Korea for over 4 months I can tell you a little bit more about the history of the event.

It was made for foreigners, by foreigners, to make money off of foreigners, and to spite foreigners all at the same time. In case you didn't know, when I go outside my house here for shopping, school, or just to visit the mall, I am the only white person. Check that, I'm the only non-Asian person. I don't see any whites, blacks, or Latinos, coloreds or albinos, it's just thousands of Asians and me; the tall, bald headed white guy. However, at Mud Fest, I was just another muddy body in the crowd, and it was great.

I think every foreigner in the country might have been there, which means roughly around thirty of us, for one day, became best friends. That is of course besides the US Military personnel that also invaded the beach that day, I'm leaving them out because they're not really foreigners. They spend most of their time on US land in Korea, and from the ones I met, I wish they would have stayed there.

No offense to the military, but the ground force of 12 that took the beach by train that day, were not so ummmm, stealth? They sat only a few seats from us on the 3 hour train ride there. They initially gave up their location with loud cheers, usually having to do with some sort of alcohol. Upon further inspection the 'no neck' look, that is so hot in the military right now, gave away a few others in the surrounding brush areas. Not like they were blending in with their surroundings anyway (12 large, loud, drunk, round-eyed, whites amongst a train of Koreans), but they were in uniform too. Not a uniform I'd ever seen before, but black shirts with an odd hand signal pictured on them with the word "Shocker" in bold letters below. Undoubtedly, this must have been some sort of search and destroy souvenir battle t-shirt they all got after boot camp, but they all wore it proudly, like an American beacon of light. Yet, as if all those things weren't enough, the kicker was the game they played on that fateful day our paths crossed. The game was called "celebrities", yup "CELEBRITIES", where the ummm (cough, cough) challenge of the game was to name a celebrity. The only thing more sad than the fact that people actually got kicked out of this game for not being able to think of a celebrity was that when the name "Barack Obama" came up, these fine military personnel couldn't get 2 people out of the group of 12 to corroborate who he was, what he did, and thus his status as a celebrity was denied. I thought about stepping in at this moment, but the rules were clearly stated only minutes earlier during an argument about "ODB" (aka Dirt McGirt) and well I'm not one for breaking the rules, or showing off, so I decided to stay out of it.
The weekend was great though. We met a new friend, Alex from Iowa, and also met up with our old friends from Gumi. We played in the mud, ate, drank, and shot off fireworks. And even though I now have a burnt hole in the back of one of my favorite shirts, I wouldn't have changed a thing. Now after all that, maybe's time to relax.
More Mud Fest Pics Here

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

A Wedding to Remember

Hello, I'm back in Korea (for better or worse). Things are good and I'm doing fine. I hope you are doing well too. It has been a while since we've spoken. I've been out of the country for a while now, and my trip to France was the longest I was away from a computer during this experience. I'll try to catch you up on what you've missed.

It seems like a really daunting task to describe my trip to France in a blog post. As I sit here my mind is running wild with images of museums, women, castles, boat rides, round-a-bouts, art, food, wine, cheese, family, friends, women, and more food, wine and cheese. And while I'm sure everyone who went to my brothers wedding has similar memories to mine, I think mine might be a bit more intense. Not just because it was my first time in Europe, or because I love to travel, but because I was coming and going from Korea. Have you ever left for vacation from another country? Or returned from vacation to another country? I'm sure that sounds like a small thing to you, but hey, you don't live in Korea...I do. Trust me, it's a weird experience.
Before I left, my well traveled coworker, Rachel, described France to me like this, "It's the opposite of Korea, you couldn't go anywhere in the universe more different than Korea, than France." After a lengthy discussion about the composition of Uranus, its atmosphere, and gaseous environment she still would not back down from her bold statement. At that time I looked at her kindly, smiled, and agreed, but in my mind I was thinking all the kimchi was going to her head, and she needed serious help. Well, a few weeks older and a tad bit wiser, I can honestly tell you, from the bottom of my heart, "SHE WAS RIGHT".

Differences, hmmmm where do I start? I guess I should start right from when I got there. I was on the subway, or Metro, leaving the Paris airport literally 10 minutes after arriving there (always avoid checking bags whenever possible), and at the first stop a nice young couple came on and sat directly across from me. That in itself has happened many times to me in Korea, but now lets take a closer look at the glaring differences in a seemingly all too common occurrence:
1. Neither the man nor the woman was Korean...(that's not like Korea at all)
2. The man and the woman were of different ethnic backgrounds...EXTREMELY rare to find that in Korea, but obese white men and small Korean women is the one minor exception to that rule.
3. The girl was showing cleavage. That was startling for me on two accounts; one, women in Korea do not show much skin around the chest or shoulders. And two, Korean women generally do not have cleavage to show.
4. They were all over each other, kissing, touching, fondling, groping, it was like I should have payed money for my seat. While in Korea, public displays of affection are strictly frowned upon. A good way to understand this is that in France when you say hello to someone you give them kisses on both cheeks, but in Korea you bow, no contact at all. It's an overly physical culture compared to a non-physical culture.
5. Lastly, and maybe the most interesting to me was...they didn't even look at me, not once. I was just a fly on the wall, even though we were face to face separated by only a few feet, my presence went unnoticed. In Korea, eyes almost always wander in the Wagooks (foreigners) direction, if not stares.

As if that wasn't enough of a rude awakening, it was barely 10 minutes after that when I nearly got caught up in a fight between about 15 black males of questionable character. I don't know if I've ever seen 15 black people together in Korea, and they definitely don't yell at each other in French and then try to beat the hell out of each other. I ended up hopping over nearly an entire subway car full of seats to escape the melee. I'm sorry I don't have a picture of it, but I'm happier being alive to share the story with you.
As a kicker to my first subway ride in Paris, the next people to sit next to me were two cute girls...who decided to make out next to me. I'm all for gay rights, but Korea is not, and I was taken by surprise seeing something that I hadn't seen in a long time. Crazy how that can happen, to see same sex kissing in New York is common place, but a few months in Korea and I was amazed.

I've written plenty and we're only about 25 minutes into my trip to France. If I stay on this pace I'll never finish, so I won't, but trust me, I could. Instead, I will try and skim through the rest.

Paris was a beautiful place. It's exactly how I pictured it, only bigger, and with even more of the things I expected than I thought; more statues, more old buildings, more museums, more parks, more tourists, and most of all more wine and cheese. I was totally amazed at how their culture seems entirely focused around art, creativity, relaxation, and enjoying life. Everywhere you look they are celebrating some one or something creative, and nearby people are relaxing and talking about it. It seemed awesome. It was like a HUGE college campus, and we all know I love them. While Korea feels almost entirely focused upon work, and America is caught somewhere in the middle, France has this one right. Enjoy life, be creative, relax, eat good food, drink good wine, and stop worrying.

After about 4 days in Paris I flew down to Bordeaux for the wedding. It's safe to say, things were not the same. The house we stayed at was built in the 15th century, the church was built in the 12th, and the entire town had only 80 people. So even while the small towns were hard to find, and caused for a lot of arguments in our car, they were secluded, peaceful, and beautiful. There were tons of grape fields, sunflower fields, rolling hills, huge castles, and again wine and cheese.

Some of the meals we ate were of epic proportions. About 40 people who threw caution to the wind in the name of Kevin and Susie's wedding prepared meals fit for kings and queens. Blocks of cheese the size of a small elephants, enough wine to get the mother and father of that elephant to fail sobriety tests; steak, chicken, sausage, duck, soup, strawberries, whipped cream, and of course chocolate. Not just a little chocolate, but like all of the other foods, loads of it, enough chocolate to have a full fledged chocolate fight, enough chocolate for there to be collateral damage in that chocolate fight. As the large French Man put it "Zay boght zee whole SUPERMARKET".

All of that fun, night after night in a castle that was haunted with the ghosts of 30 generations of French family members, and 100 generations of French rats. It was equal parts exciting, and scary, but that just made it more of an experience. This was still just leading up to the wedding.

The wedding was beautiful, all be it in French, but beautiful none-the-less. If there was one language to listen to but not understand, it's French. It was in a church built in the 12th century, that could probably only fit about 50 people. Nice and cozy for us, but perfect for Kev and Susie. After just a couple (trillion) photos, then the real party began. Back to the house for more food, drink, and festivities.

That is where the story ends for most of us. Some people getting tossed in the pool, then passing out, and then back to our normal lives in the states, Hong Kong, or Korea. Even though my story goes a little further which includes missing my flight, meeting ladies on my new flight, and teaching a class on no sleep for 36 hours, I will always love Kevin for having his wedding in France.

It takes a special person to realize when a once in a lifetime opportunity is starring them right in the face, and while most people look down and avoid it's gaze, Kevin grabs it, and gives it a big fat kiss.

Who has no relation to France what so ever, but still has their wedding there? I'll tell you who does, Kevin does. He allowed for a bunch of people from different parts of the world to gather in France and have an experience they will never forget. My Grandmother, for example, Gramma Kroll at 83 years young enjoyed her first time out of the country, and after her break dancing lesson to "I like to Move It, Move It" there wasn't a person around who could contain there gratefulness for being able to be there.

Thanks Kevin. From everyone. We all had a great time. This is just the beginning for you and Susie but I hope you can always look back and think about how wonderfully it all began because we always will.

More pics can be seen at these links:
The Wedding Photographer's pictures
My pictures
Megan's pictures
Jen and Terrance's pictures #1 and Jen and Terrance's pictures #2
Kim's pictures
Chris's pictures