For the first time in nearly three years, I am posting from abroad. I arrived in Korea this afternoon with almost no idea what to expect. If you read one of my last posts on the other blog, you’ll recall my lack of anxiety. That anxiety set in shortly after takeoff from San Francisco as the flight attendant made a series of announcements in Korean, and I suddenly realized that I was wholly unprepared for this.
What I have realized, though, is that I was never going to be prepared. I would never get to the point that I would feel comfortable relocating to a new country. I probably speak enough of the language to get by, but I’m not comfortable with it, yet. Not only that, but I can certainly get around without it. When I arrived today, I easily jumped on the airport wifi, got a new SIM card so I can call in Korea, and I arranged to meet with a fellow teacher. Instead of directing us to the bus across the city, her cousin was so kind as to drive both of us all the way to our temporary residence and coordinate with our recruiter to make sure we were in the right place. Now I am rooming with a guy who was born in Korea and is fluent in Korean, so even getting dinner required no interaction with the locals.
Part of the reason I came over here was to remove the option of staying in my comfort zone. That option is still completely available. It will take continued force of will to expand my horizons and truly learn this culture.
After a tear-filled, yet hopeful goodbye with my parents, I cast off for California. I had arranged to meet with a local fellow who had offered to host me through the travel community, couchsurfing. I somehow managed to find my way into the downtown from the airport using the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) rail system. It was actually quite simple. Same principle as the D.C. metro: find the stop where you need to get off (provided by Google maps), look for that on a chart posted at the pay station, and buy a ticket for the listed price. After that successful little journey, I found myself outside Union Station, which was surrounded by gawking tourists, nagging street performers, and doomsday preachers. Failing to locate the famous cable car that was supposed to take me to within a block of my host’s house, I decided to just trek it. It turned out to be nearly three miles, almost entirely uphill. California may not have mountains like Colorado, but they have some serious hills. The fifty pounds of luggage strapped to my shoulders didn’t help the situation, but I eventually made it.
I met two of my host’s roommates who were working from home before dropping my stuff, changing out of a sweat-soaked t-shirt, and heading back out to meet my second cousin, twice removed (I think? We’re related somehow), Rosemary. That, in itself, turned into quite the adventure. A couple blocks short of where we were to meet up, I ran into a road block buttressed by reporters. A member of the news crew informed me that they were waiting for President Obama’s motorcade to pass by. Of course rumors of when that would actually occur were far from accurate, and I ended up spending about 45 minutes waiting catch a glimpse of the President. I never did, but the frenzy surrounding it was entertaining.
While waiting, I decided to try to make some friends. The young man in the maroon shirt in the center of this photo is a UCSB film student named Marten. Spending the weekend up in San Francisco to get some still shots, Marten took the time out to potentially get some freelance shots of the President. It wasn’t until he revealed that he had grown up in Sweden that I even picked up on an accent. After sharing a little bit of our stories, he asked for the title of my blog so that he could follow my adventures around the world. I was greatly honored, but I should have gotten his information as well. Marten, if you find this, please comment. I hope to hear of your adventures and your future career in Hollywood.
After the grand disappointment that was the motorcade, I ran down to the next block to meet Rosemary. We walked along the bay, past Ghirardelli Park to the old Fort Mason, which has been converted into an arts center. Her boyfriend operates a theater out on the pier, which regularly hosts the likes of Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates, and Ken Burns. The theater is in a fabulous location. Here’s a view from the backstage door:
He gave us a fascinating tour of the theater before we continued on down toward the Golden Gate bridge. We wound our way back around toward my host’s house, admiring the views of the bay and the high class residences in the area. We got distracted briefly by the sounds of youth baseball. A confident and inspirational coach was hosting batting practice for some audacious youngsters.
After parting with Rosemary, I found my way hesitantly back to my host’s house. I was a bit confused when I saw a group of guys standing in front of what I thought was his door. Turns out it was. Ben and his friends were actually waiting for me, who had taken the keys. The timing could not have been more perfect. A quick game of some dice game and a couple shots later, we headed out to dinner.
Unfortunately for you (a mistake I will not make again) I forgot my bag and my camera, so I didn’t get any pictures from the rest of the evening.
Quick rundown: We ate at a fantastic Lebanese restaurant called Mazzat in Hayes Valley. It turned out that I was with a group of very classy people. They were all a year my senior and most knew each other from a prep school they had attended in Massachusetts. They had all gone on to Ivy league schools like Penn, Stanford, and Harvard. A few had studied abroad, and one earned his masters from the London School of Economics. I had the pleasure of sitting next to and picking the brain of Alexander Heffner, the host of PBS’s The Open Mind. In an attempt to provide a media outlet that represents fairness and legitimacy, Alex interviews prominent leaders in politics, culture, and technology. Having just binge-watched the entire third season of The Newsroom, I can’t help but think of Alex as a young Will McAvoy on a mission to civilize. You can find his interviews here: http://www.thirteen.org/openmind/.
I also got to meet some other great people like Lambrose, a native-born American citizen who has close family ties with Greece. His views on the situation in Greece are rather pessimistic. He opened my eyes to the lack of sympathy much of the EU has for Greece and the rising extremist sentiments in Erdogan’s Turkey that could threaten Greek sovereignty. His views on this country seemed to be far more optimistic, particularly in his field, renewable energy. On a slightly different not, in discussion of social programs, he mentioned that he wouldn’t do anything if he weren’t required to work for a living. Having recently written a paper claiming that 99% of people would continue to work on a guaranteed income, I found this quite surprising. However, given his position in and passion (that I sensed) for his career developing projects in renewable energy, I simply don’t believe it. He, and his Ivy friends, seem far too Type-A to stop doing great things even if it weren’t for a paycheck.
The night ended relatively early, which was good because I wanted to get on the road early. After stopping at the coffee shop, at which I posted my Goodbye, I caught an Uber cab ($15 flat rate to SFO), with a Korean university student visiting the U.S. for winter break. Conveniently, Jung and I were on the same flight.
How do I get so wordy? I must take after someone who has put me up to all this.
Talk of Korea and my first day at work tomorrow.