Ecuador: What a View

This world is a big and beautiful place. It is incredible how anywhere, and everywhere, has something to offer. I would wager that we have all been lucky to have seen something amazing, no matter where we have been or where we are from. That very thing is what makes life good.

There are endless locations that can inspire awe with their beauty. Because of this, it is impossible to dub any one place “most beautiful.” It is a competition that should never be won, however, if you have never been to Ecuador, than you are missing out one of the front-runners.

Though geographically small, the nation has been blessed with incredible diversity, and vistas that can rival anything else on Earth. There is no such thing as a bad view in Ecuador. Anywhere you turn, there is bound to be something you have never seen that will make your jaw drop.

It is silly to try and describe geographic wonders, and all that comes with them, so instead, just look.

From the islands:

Floriana, Galapagos

Everyone should build a boat on the beach.


To the continent:

Why not ride into Columbia?


Gaze upon Quito.

And into the Mountains.


One word: Cotapaxi

What are property values like inside an active volcano?

Don’t forget to stop and rest.

Yes, even the restaurants.

When you do, the view gets better.

Just save some room for the the Amazon.

It’s a lot to digest.

No camera could do it justice, so why not go and see it for yourself?

Ryan

Welcome to the Galapagos…Try Not to Step on Anything

Yes, it’s true. That’s true. What he or she said was correct. It’s all true.

Anything you’ve heard about that mysterious and enticing string of islands resting hundreds of miles off the coast of Ecuador is entirely as it sounds. Good or bad, word about the Galapagos travels as fast as it wants, but is seldom over-stated.

Yes, you may be caught off guard by some of her truths. There are in fact far more tourists than you may have expected. Perhaps you did not see the impossibly high level of taxis and gift shops in your travel guide. And I’m pretty sure white-guy dreads was not in that beautiful coffee table book you saw a few years back, but that’s also not why you bought your ticket, right?

Here in one of Mother Nature’s last great strong-holds, it seems nearly anything is possible. The natural world blends seamlessly with the man-made, and to both, no rules seem to apply.

As with any national, and in this case much more international, park, there are, in fact, a laundry list of do’s and don’ts. However, once you actually hit the ground, so long as your itinerary does not include punching a sea lion, then just about anything is fair game.

Feel like feeding a bird out of hand? Go for it. Want to share a bench with a sea lion or race a sea turtle? Why not? Or perhaps you would rather star gaze on the runway of your local airport. There’s no doubt a rule against it, but the door is never locked and I am not about to stop you. All of the above are likely bad ideas, but when supervision is more of an idea than anything, your imagination is really you only limitation.

Now that the lawlessness that applies to man and animal alike has set in, it is time to learn your place in the madness. If you happen to be a bipedal mammal(i.e. human), then your status is simple:bottom feeder. You are worth less than the bugs that feed on you and you paid good money to like it. That being said, your nothingness does come with a burden.

Though insignificant in it all, you are the ones who keep it all afloat($$$) and whom have the power to destroy it all. Wildlife can be anywhere here, so be careful where you step, swim, surf, or sneeze. One wrong move and you will be on your home soil faster than an entire continent can curse you out.

So here you are, expenses paid, and a general understanding that the only law around is that you mean less than everything else, be sure to enjoy yourself! There is no feeling quite like living in a zoo. Hail from the city, country, or anywhere in between, and you are still bound to see or do something entirely new.

Just pick your island or boat(and do try to change your scenery now and then as well), then get out and explore. Watch an iguana feed under water, play tag with a sea lion -also true, most have a better personality than most of your co-workers- pet a shark, watch rays dance around a light or take a dip with Equatorial penguins.

Whatever you decide to do in a place like this, never limit yourself. After-all, everything you heard is true.

Ryan

Backpacking then Backtracking

The hardest decision of my young life was just presented to me. One in which there was no bad option, but where two extremes tugged at my heart in a way I had never known before.

On the table were my options. Choice one: ramble about South America for as long as my legs, and funds, could carry me. A constant up-hill battle that would hopefully yield more rewards than tribulations. Choice two: accept a standing job offer in Korea, a land that I have grown to love more than the one in which I was raised, and continue to explore in a personal sense, perhaps finally finding what my story is, beyond a life-long traveler(that part has always been clear).

In the time since my return from Korea, I had little doubt that wandering about the southern persuasion of the Americas was the only option. That a, “thanks, but no thanks,” would be the easy response and that Korea could be something for another day. This feeling persisted for quite some time. Two months in America, a job lined up for the summer in Ecuador, and Korea was still on my back-burner.

Yet, like a quick Asian slap to the face, I suddenly found myself entertaining the idea of Korea, again, for the first time. No longer thinking about it as something for later, but rather what it could offer me now, and what I still wanted to accomplish. The sudden switch was concerning and easily threw me for a loop.

For more than two weeks time, I seldom slept, knowing I would have to choose between the unknown and that which I wanted to know better. It tormented me and I could not even explain why.

Finally, I reached a point where something had to be done. Though not the smartest man around, I knew enough that, for my own sake, a decision had to be made, or else sanity would always elude me. With that, I forced it all in front of my face, and had a long, very long, talk with myself. Turns out I’m a pretty interesting guy. But beyond my exploding ego, I also walked away knowing what had to be done.

My entire life, nothing has ever pulled at me harder than my urge to always move on. Find a new challenge and chase the horizon towards anything new and unknown. After speaking with myself, it turns out that in truth, there is something that affects me even more. I can not live with the feeling of unfinished business. And so:

Following my summer spent living on the Galapagos Islands, and hopefully a quick stop in Peru or Argentina, I will be heading back to Korea. Time will tell if I chose wisely.

South America’s not going anywhere, is it?

Dim the Streets Lights

I was first introduced to The Streets by a dear friend of mine in the early days of our college experience. We were hosting a campus radio show that featured our more “diverse” musical tastes. We were, are, both music nuts, but at the time, I was deep into my hippy phase and he was expanding from his Skin and hardcore roots. It’s still a mystery to me how we clicked so well at the time. Since then we have both grown a great deal, and have, in fact, laughed at our younger selves more than once. However, the beauty of our show, was that we were still able to find music we both agreed on, and often took it as a challenge to find such things in our playlist. Listeners be damned! We were going to make eachother bob our heads. One such find, on one such night, was The Streets, and his first release, Original Pirate Material.

From the first time he played it, I was taken by the strong beats, and remarkable rhymes flowing in such a slow, deliberate and yet somehow sensitive manner. I can still remember asking immediately who it was, writing it down and setting out to get my copy. We were both shy to admit that we might not know a band, so this was a major step, though I can now admit John is far more knowledgeable than I. That album was played over and over, until two new things came into my life. An ipod, and a new album.

It has been mentioned before that the introduction of my first ipod, the origional clickwheel, changed a lot of things about how I listen to music. No longer was I just sitting on the floor to tear through new tunes, I was finding which beats could match my steps and my scenery. Mike Skinner always did both very well. Once he released his second album, A Grand Don’t Come for Free, and I placed it on that new toy, I found love.

For years, that second album would be known as my all-time favorite, and it still ranks high. Smooth, sexy, sorrowful and full of verbal vulnerabilities, it’s was like nothing else I’d ever heard before. Not to mention, telling a singular story from start to finish, it was like listening to a well written movie everywhere I walked. There have been several hazy debates as to which of his albums is the finest, and there is merit all around, but this one still wins out for me.

Following that second album, our relationship really began to blossom. He was always in heavy rotation, and quick to come up in many musical converastions. Sadly, I never got the chance to se him live, but I did receive a late-night phone call from him once(really, I’ll explain later if you’d like), so I settled for that. Granted, since then, we have parted ways a bit. He has released a few, not bad, yet lack-luster albums and I have had other musical crushes to court. Yet, now Mikey Skinner, at least as The Streets, is on his way out the door, and I am happy with his exit.

A few years back Skinner talked of hanging it up. Doing one last entirely instrumental album(a huge shift for anyone who knew the leader of Grime), or entirely synth album, and then moving onto other things. No one knew how seriously to take it, but pictures floated around of him playing with a sitar or mandolin, so we all had to wonder. Apparently, about a year ago, his final Streets album was completed, and then shelved by his label until the “proper time.” According to them, that time is now, and I’m content with that.

Computers and Blues, just realased on the 7th, would seem to be that final album, and it offers an interesting take on everything from then to now. It is easily not his strongest release, that is still left up to his first two works, but there is something special about it all the same. It feels somewhat fun, and easy, while still touching on a few of his darker days. It’s easy to smile from start to finish as he still flexes his production muscles and drops a good Skinner quip or two, like rhyming his way through the entire alphabet, just for fun.

I am no music critic, so I can’t really sit here and break down all of the finer points of the album, I won’t even try. However, I can say that this final album is still one worth hearing for any who have enjoyed him before. The tone of the album somehow feels like it’s leading you through each track of his you’ve heard before. A fitting send-off to a persona that has always been hard to pin down.

Ryan

Computers and Blues by The Streets, released by Atlantic Records.

As a side note- I was trying out this new theme on for size and will be rapidly switching back. Was not a change for the better.

10 Things I Learned in the Philippines

I never actually saw this. Looks nice. (Photo courtesy of Tawny Clark-permission pending))

Every traveller has a story, most will have more than one. If you’re lucky, after some time, you will have so many that you lose track of them and can’t remember what you told to who. Should you find yourself in that last category, it is also a safe bet that a few of those stories are not all tales of sunshine and unicorn farts.

Anyone who has wondered a long road can also tell you that often times the best stories come from the things that don’t go right. This road warrior has more than a couple of those, and just racked up a few more in the Philippines.

Sometimes, nothing at all goes to plan. Every last detail will be blown to hell and and even the best traveler is left completely at the mercy of the winds. When you are like me, and plan as little as possible, you know you’re in deep whenever this happens. The lone thing you can do is adapt and find the best of what is left in front of you. Thankfully, the Philippines is never short of stimuli. Considering our history together, this was a very good thing.

The past seventeen years of my life were spent dreaming and determined. At the ripe old age of eight I had the Philippines dangled before me and then quickly yanked away. At that time in my life I was surrounded by Filipinas and in love with everything about them. Nothing sounded more wonderful than to know more. Nothing sounded worse than to wait.

Year after year I hoped I would get my chance. I never did. However, like she has so many times before, Lady Korea was ready to help.

Now my 5-ish days in country were full of countless stories, some of success, most of failure. It was a trying stay, one that tested every ounce of my considerable experience. It was at times lonely and discouraging. However, in the end, I regret nothing and am proud to have finally made it. I’ll spare all the details, I will simply say I learned a lot about the country, and life. Here are a few of those lessons:

10. The rum is good and cheap. The libation of choice on the islands, it actually costs less than the coke it is so often mixed with. Go for at least a double. You’ll find yourself happy and your wallet won’t lose much weight. Did I mention it’s really good?

9. Like everywhere else, if you’re smart, you’ll eat on the street. Try everything. Start with the eggs.

8. If you have a pulse, you will befriend a hooker, most likely a transvestite. They’re really not bad friends to have, just be weary anytime you open your wallet, it might also be Pandora’s Box.
-Foot note: I still hate sexual tourism. Thanks for the reminder.

7. There is no wiser philosopher than a 400 pound Filipino. Once they take you under their wing, there’s no way out. Sometimes literally.

6. Ferries live by their own rules. Anything they say can and will change. Prepare for this. I didn’t.

5. Millipedes can be very big, and are not afraid of shower drains.

4. Manila is the definition of sensory overload.

3. Unless you’re rolling in money, you will never know a full night’s sleep. Your chances are only diminished if your accommodations are a plywood box.

2. Solo travel is fine, but your company can make all the difference. No one is invincible, sometimes we all need backup.

1a. I still got it. The universe tossed every monkey wrench she had at me. Though worse for wear after five days, I still came out on top and saw some incredible things

1b. I know I said 10 things, but this one simply cannot be left out. In life, not everyone can be trusted, that’s a given, but I still vote some of the finest people on this planet hail from the Philippines. We are all better off having known anyone who can call themselves Filipino.

If you ever get the chance, swing by the Philippines. It will be eventful.

Ryan

Keep Going Up

And the sign at the airport still reads: “Visitors are allowed: Cigarettes-200 sticks; cigars-50 sticks; alcoholic liquor- no more than one bottle; one binocular; one movie camera films 12 rolls; one tape recorder with 15 tape reels or cassettes; one perambulator; 10 disk records; one tricycle; one stick; and one set of fountain pens.”

Nepal is a land that had always been on my list. For years it had tempted and tourmented me. Everything about a place that you hear of, but that no one really knows anything of, just sounded like magic. How many people do you know that have been there? Exactly. Need I say more?

Years ago I had made plans to spend a semester abroad there. I had hoped that it would afford me the kind of time to unlock some of her mysteries. However, at said time the Moaists decided they needed to mix things up a bit and I was swayed to let it rest for awhile.

Of course the Himalayas were always on my mind, but I could never find the chance to go until I moved to Korea. One of the fine hobbies that a traveler develops is spending their free time trying to figure out what it would cost to land somewhere off the map. Turns out, Seoul to Kathmandu is pretty reasonable. And just like that, this rust belt boy had found his way.

Knowing I had to get to Nepal was easy. Knowing what to do from there was quite hard. Though a small country, it is as diverse as they come. Within her borders you’ll find the highest peaks, and jungle safaris. No easy choice. Thankfully a friend had issued me a challenge. That tends to resolve most problems in my world.

Upon hearing of my impending trip, an old travel buddy shared a story of her time in Nepal. It seemed she had lived on a coffee farm high in the mountains outside of Pokhara. It sounded like a magical place, one that had become her home and that she still thinks of often. At the end of her story she mentioned that the woman who had looked after her was about to have a birthday, and that it would mean the world to her if I could deliver a gift. Clearly I was curious and asked to know more. Turns out those were the details. Everything else would depend on some savvy navigation and a bit of luck. Clearly this had to be done!

Quickly I began to set myself up for the adventure ahead. I found the quickest route to Pokhara (a 30 minute flight from Kathmandu) to ensure that scheduling would not be the reason to fall short on my promise. From there I would set out. My directions consisted of a name, and little more than, “take a couple of buses before getting another bus into the mountains, from there, get off and keep going up.” However it was the rainy season and most of my roads would be dirt. I had no idea if any of this would be possible, even with GPS directions. (I would later find that this place was really on no map, let alone a GPS.) Considering the weather I developed a plan B, though that was just as vague.

Upon arriving in Pokhara, I rendezvoused with a friend from Korea who happened to be passing through. Over coffee I explained my quest. While watching her eyes grow wider with each word I had the feeling she would be along for the journey. That night, we ate at a small place on the banks of Phewa Tal. We could not see the mountains, but were still in awe of them. There is no feeling like only knowing adventure is ahead, nothing else. No plans. No details. Just adventure.

The next morning, in my haze I went to pull the curtains in our room to find this staring back. It was the first time I had seen them. I still cannot describe it, but I knew something good was about to happen.

After breakfast we set fourth. One bus after another, the city slowly melted away and the mountains, somehow, grew larger. It was no small task trying to find which bus was which, but after awhile you just start to follow your gut and see where you land. Before we knew it, we were in the heart of Bagnas Tal. A Small village at the foot of the mountains. I was told there would be a bus leaving from here. There was not.

We waited for a bit, wondered the two streets in town, and still no sign. We asked what we could, where we could, but nothing. Just as it seemed the end of the line had been reached, a giant Soviet made bus came lurching down the hill. It was covered in mud, and people. Our ride had arrived.

Still not knowing if this was the route to take, we boarded the bus and waited to see what would happen. I contemplated riding on the roof. Once we started the ascent, I was grateful to have opted against.

It had rained heavily the day before and the road showed it. It’s one muddy lane rounded curves up the mountain with sheer cliffs on one side or the other. At certain points we would dance around another bus or a cow or two. Other times, our driver would simply let the bus slide around curves or dangle at 60 degree angles to keep momentum. If i can ever afford a driver, I’m hiring him. With fear in her eyes, Frederique (my friend) noted she had never seen anything like it. In truth, I had not either. I did not tell her that. Instead, I told her it was just like this road or that in countries I had been to before. Perhaps it helped.

During our ascent a conversation was struck up with the man sitting next to me. His English was good and he seemed to know of our final destination. We had our guide. Soon, he would show us exactly where to get off and where to begin our hike. He was very kind, and happy to help. He stuck with us for a long leg of the trip, though he would eventually prove too damn well at ease with the terrain for our weak western lungs. After a valiant effort we had to separate, more to save face than anything. It was clear our frequent rest stops were wearing on him.

Despite the shame of having to rest often, it did yield some rewards. Stopping for a breath here is never a bad idea.

At long last, we had wound our way near to the summit of our mountain. Several people had pointed us higher until I stopped to question an older man one more time. “Adihikari Coffee,” I asked. He smiled wide and simply said,”that’s me!” Finally, we were home.

He led us down a path to his house. Still smiling bright, he introduced us to his wife, the woman I had been sent to find. We were to call them Aama and Bua and we would be known as Sister and Baboo. Before I could even explain why we were there, we were ordered to stay with them. More than once I tried to dig out her gift from my pack, but was always interrupted by a conversation or some fresh Chai tea.

Here we found life to be beautiful, and simple. Our hosts, whom I now consider family, live in a traditional mud and rock house that had been built nearly 100 years before by Buas grandfather. He was born there, and is determined to die there. Our room was upstairs. It had two wooden beds and open windows. We slept over the goats.

Our days were spent lounging and working, though it was hard to tell them apart. The social place was the porch. The entire village would pass through. Some to talk, others to work. Aama and Bua were clearly the paternal figures of the village and we were happy to be among them. On this porch we would talk about life, theirs and ours. All of the food preperation was done there and and most meals would spill out from the kitchen. (I will die before I find words to describe how good the food was.) It was wonderful to sit there at night under the soft light, when there was power, or to wake to the sounds of Buas meditation in the morning. And it was on that very porch that I would set up shop as the village doctor.

Every chance was taken to be part of things. If it was helping cook dinner, churning the yogurt or clearing the damage from the rains, nothing was missed. Before long, my small first aid kit had earned me the title of doctor. People would wonder down to the porch to show me their wounds. I did the best I could to patch things up with some bandages and neosporin. Aama was endlessly grateful. She explained to me these were the first signs of medicine they had seen in months. I left them everything I had.

Sadly our time with Aama and Bua was limited. We only had 2 days to spend, but not a moment felt wasted. Our conversations were real and deep. It was a true honor to sign their book of visitors. We came to find that the names and faces in the book were not of people passing through, but of their ever-growing family. A fmaily we were now a part of. Aama had taken note that I was sick at the time, and treated me like any mother would. She scolded me, “Baboo, you should be resting!” Then she made me tea with fresh honey.

On the morning we were to leave, Aama told us that she would be heading down to the city as well, to shop for the farm. It was good to know we would have a few more hours to spend. Before heading off, Bua placed bindi’s on our foreheads for a safe journey and sent us on our way. Aama held Frederique’s hand for most of the walk down.

The rest of our time in Nepal was full, yet never felt the same. We would come to find that no one in Nepal seems to like the city. Everyone loves to ask where you’ve been. Upon telling them of the farm, they would all say it was the REAL Nepal, and always with a tone of longing.

Kathmandu is a special place. Beautiful and exciting. The 8 hour drive back is a fitting build-up(keep in mind that 30 minute flight I referenced earlier, welcome to the mountains). But it speaks very little to the total aura of the country.

Nepal is somehow different from everything else. It sucks you in. Everything about it bleeds adventure yet makes you feel at home. People do not go for quick trips. At customs, they accept answers with “-ish” attached. For those looking to get lost, it is ok to not have words. You are not the first, you will not be the last. If danger is your middle name, it is a country where the bold are respected and idolized, even in great poverty.

At it’s simplest, the tourism board’s slogan for Nepal is, “Once is never enough.” They got it right.

Ryan

(Photos courtesy of Frederique Huard Vanasse)

Reflections: Living in a War Zone

Above is a picture taken on November 23rd, 2010, of the small island of Yeonpyeong do. The events here, on that day, are what led to this post.

Before anything else is said, know this: I am no authority, I simply care.

Being that it is now a few hours until the month of December, that means I have had the great pleasure of having resided in Korea(South Korea to the rest of you) for over a year. In said time, I have done and seen many things, and am now proud to call this place my home.

This land is one that I love tip-to-toe. Beyond the glaring gap in their quality of dairy products, I really cannot say a bad thing about it. However, no matter how long the list of positives is, it will always somehow be tied to one thing, the North. That band of wacky, trigger-happy, can’t remember what a full meal looks like folks that are still, technically part of the same country, though they are pretty damn separate by now. The two are forever tied, and will hopefully someday be reunited, but until then, all I can ask is that the world try and gain a slightly better understanding of things.

In the past year, the world has been ablaze with rumors and fear. Two “major” (I do not use the quotes to undermine the events, but rather as a means to relay the most popular word used in the same sentence as the two countries) events, the sinking of the Cheonon, and the recent attacks on Yeonpyeong do, have the entire planet on high alert. Well, everyone but the Korean peninsula that is. Clearly both sides did not just miss the evening news, but in their own way, they did.

The world, the western world, loves a good scary story. Nothing makes us happier than to be unhappy, or at least uncomfortable. We like suspense. We enjoy not knowing how things will end, and who dosen’t miss the cold war really? All of this is well and good, however a little perspective in the whole thing would not hurt either.

The blunt fact is that the world really knows very little about Korea. When telling others that I was moving here, most thought I meant into North Korea. Of course the global community has heard of Seoul, and no one can miss the name Kim Jung Il, but beyond that, this place is a giant black hole to most. Did you know Samsung, Hyundai, LG, and KIA, among others, are all a product of Korea? Or that South Korea has a larger population than Canada? It would almost seem fitting that the Korean War has become known as the “Forgotten War” in American history. It is this kind of gap in knowledge that makes the media hysteria in the west, so funny to those here in the east.

Side note: I want to be very clear, there is NO humor in the facts of the relations between the two countries. Not a soul laughs at the huge human toll taken by the war not long ago. No one here finds it funny that their world could end any day. This is the life they live, and the cross they did not choose to bear.

As a westerner, particularly an American, it is amazing to see how people here view things. For us, war has always been a far off notion (unless you’ve served, at which point, you’re a damn brave soul and we all appreciate that). Wars are not supposed to be in our yards and involve every aspect of our lives. Here, that is exactly how it is. Much of the world forgets that this war technically never ended. Korea is a war zone. Every single day shots are fired. Every single male has been a soldier and knows how to kill. And it is that very thing that makes it all so normal here.

I liken the state of things here to the way the United States viewed New Yorkers following September 11th. Many were in awe of how functional the population was after such trauma. Mystified by how life just kept on going. It was damn impressive, and yet, in the end, it was so very simple. They had no choice. They could not live every day in fear. That is not living at all. When reality gives you no options, you simply have to carry on. Now, take that very thing, and multiply every number involved. Add up the years, the population, the deaths and it equals out to Korea. Most here, have never known anything otherwise.

It is not fair to say that Koreans laugh at war, but they are not so shaken up by it either. Every article written abroad in the past year about hostilities between the North and South has happily painted the picture of a world on the brink. Perhaps it is, but only if you watched CNN. There is more media coverage on these events overseas than in Korea. Personally, I get more updates from my parents than anywhere else, all of which I take with a grain of salt. Now, when the Koreans around me start freaking out, then I’ll toss all that salt over my shoulder and be on my toes.

As a final thought, I would like to just break down some of the finer things at work in the conflict, as a way to hopefully put some minds at ease. Whenever you stop to think about the state of things in northeast Asia and wonder when the two are just going to fight it out already, consider these points.

First, I know there is plenty of crazy involved with those north of the DMZ, but it would be just plain stupid for either side to engage is an all-out war. Beyond the clear human toll it would take, it would also leave the two in financial ruin. The South would lose their highly prized place among the worlds economic powers, and the North would just simply starve. Also, it would, no doubt, lead to a global, and perhaps, nuclear war. Ninety-nine percent of the world, the US included, supports the South, however places, like China, still have ties to the North. Saving face is a big deal here, and should the two decide to tango, you would likely have the two largest militaries in the world having no choice but to join the fight as well. This would not be good. Nuclear war might well be the next step from there. This would really not be good. At which point, it is as much your problem as mine. Enjoy.

Next, let us not forget that the two are all the other has left. Korea was the Poland of Asia for a long time. They saw their culture stripped apart by countless occupiers, and carry many strong, still living, grudges for it. The two governments may not like each other, but the people generally do not mind. They are both Korea. They share a language, a history, tasty food and plenty of other things. Many families are still separated by the DMZ. Clearly war has happened before, so it could again, but would your first choice be attacking your family for reasons you were not even alive to remember?

Finally, I can honestly say that Korea is the safest country I have ever been in, including the US. I have never once felt the need to look over my shoulder, nor had to fear a “bad neighborhood,” double check that my wallet was still with me or make sure that my friend had not fallen too far behind. Last year, all 53 million in this country were at wits end because of a single murder in Busan. When was the last time that one death registered with you like that? Does that sound like a place ready to explode into war?

I will never be able to understand every nuance of what exists here between the North and South. It is simply not my place to understand. However, I have been a stones throw from conflicts between the two, stared over the DMZ and gotten to know, and love, many Koreans, including those that serve. I hope you will see my observations, and my take on things, as at least being genuine and somewhat informed.

Love,

Ryan

“Best Cheusok Ever…”

It is only fair that in life you celebrate the things that matter. Always raise a glass to the good things and hold you head high about any bold move you have made. Recently I turned a major corner in my life, completing my first year of living in Asia, something I am damn proud of. With that Korea is now my home, also something I am damn proud of. I would sit here and tell you over and over about why this place is wonderful, but let’s face it, that would take a long time, and you should really just come here anyway so I’ll just let the mystery draw you in.

This recent milestone is something that simply could not slip by. A moment in time to be remembered always, no matter where life takes me from here. For awhile, I was unsure just how I might be able to truly pay homage. I tossed and turned, trying to think of a fitting tribute, but nothing came. Then, suddenly, as if I were smacked upside the head by a large Korean paddle, I knew just the thing. A merging of two loves, and the completion of yet another long-standing goal was in order.

For years upon years I have been plotting and dreaming of tattoos. I’ve always appreciated the art and been eager to add the things that matter onto this here nubile body. Though ripe with ideas, I had never yet found the one to drive me to jump, until Lady Korea came around. At last I had my reason, now she and I would be one. Little did I know, that it would come in a sort of perfect storm of events.

The mother of all holidays in Korea is Cheusok. It’s an age old time that brings together the family to celebrate life and the ancestors that lived it before them. It’s essentially a three day Thanksgiving, and quite simply the best thing on Earth. Who does not love an excuse to stuff your face with all your favorite foods simply for the sake of celebrating gluttony? Ok, so I may have missed the point of the holiday there, but it has always been my favorite and where’s the down side in multiplying it by three?

One of the other true beauties of Cheusok is that it is among the only guaranteed holidays in the country. Korea does not really subscribe to the idea of national holidays(but for a few exceptions), so if one happens to fall on a Saturday, tough shit. This year, we decided the date had to be celebrated in style.

Though our (The Captain, Clark, May and I) plans started much bigger, in the form of Mongolia, we were still determined to not let the free days go to waste. We arrived at the idea of renting a car and driving the length of Highway 7 all the way up the East cost to North Korea. Granted, customs was bound to be a bit stiff at the boarder, but damn was it an adventure! We managed to incorporate nearly every major, and minor, stop along the way and often found that we had never felt so close to our adopted home. A feeling I felt compelled to pounce on.

Upon arriving back in Pohang, I could not help but feel the spirit rising within me. A fine journey had just come to a close, I was among great friends, and but a month shy of my big day. Now was the time! No more than a few hours after our return, I was asking where the nearest tattoo parlor was. Being nothing but the best of hosts, Chris and Tawny were eager to oblige. Before I knew it, my fate was all but sealed.

No matter how determined, no matter how long I had waited, there is simply no way to describe the feeling of knowing your body is now in the hands of someone you simply can not communicate with. However, in hindsight, that was just as much a part of the experience.

Side note: in an earlier conversation with my companions, it was decided that my over all plan for this ink, and that to come, must be an honest one, where work is to be compiled in the place that it recognizes. Should a lack of communication come with this, then so be it.

Confident as I could be with what I had requested, and generally satisfied with the price, it was time for action. I had opted for the Taegukgi (Korean flag), approximately credit card sized, on my upper ribs. Though shaking like a leaf in the moments before, I was shocked to find how generally easy the whole process was. Anyone who tells you it does not hurt is full of shit, but it really was nothing like I had expected. No real pain, even in such a sensitive area, just no real comfort either.

The flag has now been resting on my ribs for a bit over a month, and I am damn proud of it. Sadly something did go array somewhere in the process, and the blue, and a path of black, looks a tad thin. However, that just gives me an excuse to make a touch-up trip a birthday gift to myself.

The end goal of this all is that someday life will be generous enough that other flags, from other homes, will be able to join my first one. Either way, it’s damn good to know that a good story came with this one.

For those looking for a bit of proof, the Captain was happy to help:

Ryan

(Stick around, Nepal is next)

UPDATE: I have now had my tattoo re-done by the best in Korea. I am excited to finally have it look the way it always should have, and can not say enough about the staff and shop at Tattoo Korea. Now I just need to keep the kids from poking me in the ribs for about a week.

Just One Moment, Please

I know, I know…it is always the same excuse isn’t it? “I have been busy,” and so on. I wish I could say there was something else at work here when it comes to my absence, but how could I lie to a face like that? So I will be entirely honest with you. Two things have been keeping us apart:
1. I have been busy, but you already knew that
2. I am lazy

However, You have never been far from my mind, and the wheels have been spinning. I will, soon enough, be ready to unleash a steady flow of content that has been building up behind the dam in my mind. With any luck, I will be able to flesh them out into a rather diverse cross-section of posts.

On tap:

– Warm Korea! Granted, it is fall now, so most of the luster here will be lost, but it’s still a hell of a place to share when it’s not frozen over.

– Nepal? Yes, I have been there. Do I know how to write about it? We will see.

– The Quandary of space. How do we use it, how do we lose it? Take an American, place him the compartmentalized world of Asia and see what it does! And what comes next?

– Plus a few Buffalo and Cincinnati blogs that are long over due.

If any of this tickles your fancy, stick around.

Love,
Ryan

Shameless Plug

It’s funny what can happen once you get out of the television business.

Once up on a time, before devoting my life to exploration and general nomadic tendencies, my aspirations lay in the world of film and television. I had big dreams, drive and what I still think was a decent share of talent. Though always ready to burst onto the scene and pursue with reckless abandon, I still went about things the way that you’re supposed to. I majored in the field, interned, did countless personal and side projects, knocked on every production companies door and even started the process of working my way in from the ground up. With all that experience and hard work in my pocket, I figured, with a little luck, I would be armed with all that was needed to be producing badass travel documentaries in nothing less than a respectable time frame.

Well, not all things go according to plan. Working hard as I could, my wheels spun at best. Before long, my restless soul got the best of me, and it was time to dive into something else. The irony in all this, is just as this was happening for me, quite a few things were starting to take shape for someone elsewhere.

Just about the time that I was getting out of the business, my good friend Chris was in the process of putting his foot in the door. Now well into his “amateur” film career, it is with great pride that I bring to you the work of Captain & Clark.

For roughly a year now, Chris, and his lovely better half, Tawny, have been hard at work documenting their (and I’m proud to say in a few occasions, our) adventures around the globe. With each video it becomes clear that they are only honing their skills that much more.

Though a great deal of their work has been centered around their time living in Korea, they also go to great lengths, literally, to bring to you content from far reaching points of the globe. With work coming from areas like the desserts of Dubai, the streets of Bahrain and the country side of Thailand, it’s obvious they have no desire to limit themselves.

That being said, in so many ways, nearly anyone can produce their own low-brow travel videos. Fear not friends, taking a trip with the Captain & Clark will never take you anywhere near that. A fact that is now becoming known through out the interweb.

In the span of just a few weeks, they have begun to garner attention from travel sources around the globe. Most recently making the headlines of Matador TV and only slightly before that receiving a top rating from Lonely Planet.

Look out world, here comes the Captain, Clark and Crew. You may recognize at least one dastardly handsome face there.

Perhaps you just never get out of the TV business.

Ryan