Exci(Settle)ment in Songtan [Travelogue]

011With a month into my stay here in South Korea, I dare say most of the time has been wasted.  But, “wasted” might be a harsh term.  Although I have yet to travel too far out into the vast lands and many spectacles available in this country, I have indeed settled in quite nice here in the first month.  I’ve gotten to know the Americanized strip along Songtan, but like many people around here, I have chosen my watering holes and pretty much limit myself to certain particular places.  But unlike many of the foreigners around here, no places I frequent are not blaring out the latest Lil Wayne dance craze to entice passer buyers or filled with scantily clad Juicys wanting you to spend 20,000 won (18 dollars give or take) on a drink just for you to talk to them.  No, as I have stated before – The VFW, The Dawg Pound (the CE oriented joint), and for a wild card, a place called The Free Zone (which is finely bartended by the same gentleman who you can find at the VFW).  My wonderings around the city and base have eased up a bit because, well……it is freaking cold!

A couple of days ago, that devilish white powder began falling from the sky and a ridiculously rampant page.  I had arrived home at 7 a.m. from work, settled into my bed with a Netflix documentary on the drummer of Hole and nice glass of gin and orange juice, only to wake up several hours later to see the entire place blanketed in the filthy white mongrel sperm known as snow.  Now, I don’t particularly “hate” snow, I simply wish it only existed in regions of the world I will never live in, or even have to pass through in.  Whilst spending much of my time in the Northwest, I learned to endure the rain.  In fact, I manage to love and appreciate it.  I would still take a weekend in Manzanita on the Oregon Coast in February, over a week in the Jersey Shore or Miami Beach, places I can only imagine reek of fake bronzer, rotten silicone, and regret.  No, I like the dreariness.  It’s real to me.  But, this snow stuff is for the birds.  I spent 5 years in the desolate midwest, and 3 years in Eastern Washington (which everyone forgets is just a damn gaggle of prairie lands for the most part)….I want it gone!  Although I am definitely more fortunate now that I throw away all my blue collar shirts and am now a hack who sits in front of a computer watching YouTube videos of cats and answering phone calls from people I don’t care to talk to.  Unlike my first 8 years where I can clearly wishing death upon myself if it meant putting an end to the ridiculous frost bite my face was feeling at the time.  That sort of cold that does absolutely nothing but piss you off.

Rosie.

Rosie.

But, alas, I can manage.  It’s a cold walk in the mornings going either to or from work, depending on the schedule, but I have managed to make it work.  And I still have managed to make it down to The Dawg Pound and VFW (it was my one day off!  I’m going somewhere) to have a few OB Drafts or a couple of Korean Sunrises and to visit my girl Rosie.  Rosie being the sweetest pit bull you can ever know.  The bartender and owner of The Dawg Pound, an American named Max, began brining this precious little girl, who fits easily on a bar stool, around and we have started to bond.  And by bond I mean I always try to bring a pocket full of this disgusting to humans, but lovely for dogs, Korean beef(?) jerky (insert cannibalism joke here) and we are the best of friends for a few minutes.  These are the things I do to pass the time.  I feed dogs to dogs.  Whatever.

Although I do try to partake in as much activity as I can, I would be lying if I didn’t say I spent most of my time sitting in my room watching obscure documentaries about things that probably a dozen people in the world care about, watching my reoccurring TV shows (Can you believe the end of SOA?), and, most importantly, talking to my wife and kids via Skype.  The moments I get to see them are the best times here.  And since I work such an odd schedule, sometimes I get to talk for a very very long time.  Today was actually only the second time since I have been here that I have not gotten to see at least my wife’s beautiful face via Skype.  And let me tell you this….it sucks!  I can hardly wonder how it was so many years ago when I was lucky to get a phone call a day, and a few pictures every other week or so.  Such primitivism!!!  Alas, I am thankful for the communication I do have, and at times it really does feel like I am sitting back in that living room in Spokane that I love so much, with the people I love so much.  Almost, but not quite.

Whitey and I enjoying a freaked black and mild at the VFW.

Whitey and I enjoying a freaked black and mild at the VFW.

Beyond this, there is very little to report.  My dear friend around here, Whitey is soon be out of here at the end of December, and unlike I would be, he is seriously depressed about it.  He would love nothing more than to stay in this land for the rest of his life, and I will not be surprised to hear that he will be a permanent resident in the coming years.  So, I have been roaming from the V to Dawg Pound with this guy for the last month, and will continue to do so until he leaves.  But, when he leaves, he has left a trail of fine friends who have graciously taken me under their wing.  I’ve even subbed in for a couple of games of pool during the league (which is crazy intense and popular around here!) and sort of got the itch to join a league after a spot was offered to me (even though my official winning percentage is 0%), and I might just do it (stay tuned!).  I’m starting to become a bit more comfortable with my new job, and feel as though I could handle working there for another 11 months, and truly enjoy all the people I work alongside.  I feel as though I am going to make it, folks.  In the near future, when it’s not so damn cold, I will definitely be making some trips to Seoul, The DMZ, several museums, possibly Guam (when Melissa flies in), heading back to Longview, Washington (possibly for my 10 year High School reunion, ugh), and wherever I may find myself throughout 2013.  Basically I promise that the Travelogue sections of Trainwreck’d Society are definitely going to become more interesting.  Well, I can hope anyway.  I guess we will have to wait and see.  Until then…..

Anyoung he Kay Ship She Yo!

Entering The Land of the Morning Calm [Travelogue]

entrance to “the strip” in Songtan

I am currently into my third week here in Land of the Morning Calm.  I have yet to break from the invisible borders of Songtan, and the very visible borders of Osan Air Base.  But, I have found ways to keep myself occupied without having to travel too far.  I began training at work, and am very excited about the ease and quality of the job I am entering, something I was pretty nervous about and have gladly exhaled from that pressure.  I’ve continued my escapes at the VFW with Whitey.  I was sad to be away from my family on Thanksgiving, but it was all alright since I had made a huge turkey dinner before I left Spokane, and I am not one for the holidays anyway.

I spent this Thanksgiving in two places.  I was “asked” if I would like to attend a luncheon at the chow hall on base with the current Republic of Korea-U.S. Combined Forces Commander, General Thurman and dozen other distinguished folks, from the wing commander on up.  I say “asked”, because I didn’t exactly have a choice.  It was rather nice, although the food was pretty bland, but it was served to me by 3 different generals, so you can’t beat that, I guess.  But, the day got better when I left for the dinner at the VFW.  Now these are some people who know how to make some grub!  With 6 fried turkeys, 4 hams, and more than enough fixings, it was rather tasty.  I also had the privilege of meeting a few Korean students from the university in Seoul (the name escapes me), as well as a cool young cat named Richard, who I will be keeping in contact with, as he has vowed to show me around Seoul and other sites of attractions around Korea.  We exchanged numbers and e-mail addresses as our mutual friend, Pam (another professor, active VFW member) showed him and the very nice Korean students a little around Songtan, including a stop in at the previously mentioned, Dawg Pound.  It was sort of a day of misery that all the soju in the world couldn’t drown due to the fact that I missed my wife and children dearly.  But, as I have learned in my times of traveling alone, you have to make the best of it.  You have to try and move forward and experience all the experiences that are to be had when you visit a new place, no matter how brief your stay may be.

 

Miss Kim burger, yakimandu, and soju @ Dawg Pound

Beyond Thanksgiving, I have simply been surviving.  I’ve tried some good(?) food, but to be perfectly honest, it has been a late night food cart and grease riddled sort of eating.  For all of you city dwellers, you know what I am talking about.  That food that somehow tastes so amazing in the late hour, but you probably wouldn’t consider eating if it wasn’t late at night and you may have had a few alcohol beverages digested (i.e. for Portlanders, anything from Big Ass Sandwiches, although I honestly would eat there sober as well.).  But, still some pretty unique things.  I’ve had my share of Yakimandu, which is basically a fried dumpling filled with assorted ground up vegetables, and I have actually had this prior to the booze, and I do suggest.  I tried the famous Miss Kim egg burger, and absolutely loved it.  Basically a cheeseburger with an over easy cooked egg thrown in the mix, and some sort of Korean lettuce that tasted a lot like cole slaw, only dry.  Would I attempt to eat this thing without being in an alcohol infused state….probably not.  There is also the chicken and lamb skewers you can find anywhere.  As this is a very American serving area, the jokes are out there that it is actually cat meat, but there is no proof of that.  And if it is cat, it’s some damn good cat!

lamb and chicken (cat?) skewers

And of course, there is soju.  Oh, the devilish little soju.  Technically classified as a wine, it actually has the texture of vodka, but is easier to drink.  It’s not a hard alcohol, but it has its ways of violently attacking you, should you ingest too much of it.  I’ve yet to reach that sort of state, but lets just say I have come close.  The most delightful thing about soju is the simple fact that it is sort of like the mushroom of alcohol.  Like mushrooms, the taste alone is pretty satisfying for some, but when you cook a mushroom with another thing (i.e., red wine or poultry) it will absorb that flavor as well.  This is what soju will do as well.  Due to its low alcohol content (around 17 percent, a little bit more than the average wine), it is very easy to over do it, so it is a good idea to monitor yourself while drinking it.  Not to mention it is cheap!!  If you were to buy a bottle of soju at the 7/11 on the strip, it is about 1,300 won, roughly $1.25.  I am actually sort of thankful that soju has been banded from the dorms I live in (a longer story, and pretty absurd), because I would probably do just that, and have some pretty terrible mornings.  As far as served drinks, I have become fond of three different drinks involving soju – soju with cider (cider being a loose term, it’s basically the Korean version of 7 Up), the local favorite known as a White Dog (soju, cider, and a splash of a liquid yogurt that is amazing!), and a Korean Sunrise (not sure if this is an official term, or one that Whitey made up himself, but it’s simply soju, orange juice, and a drop of cherry Grenadines).  Yes, if you come to Korea, you must try soju.  It is actually the most sold alcoholic beverage in the world (google that!), but please, be careful!

Beyond late night grub, soju, and watching Wheel of Fortune at the VFW with the old guys, I really just go to work.  I write a bit.  I spend hours chatting with my lovely wife and children via Skype.  Advancements in technology always seem even more amazing when you are away from those you love.  I remember when during my first trip to Iraq in 2006, I was lucky if I got to make a simple phone call each day, and even thought of making a phone call everyday was quite the advancement back then.  Things have advanced quite a bit.  Now I am able to make phone calls with a free Magic Jack app on my iPhone, I can text my wife anytime I feel like it, and as previously stated, I get to see the love of my life and our spawns pretty much everyday.  My work schedule is sort of a blessing and a curse when it comes to communication though.  I work 12 hour shifts, but never longer than 4 straight days or nights.  Therefore, when I work a 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. shift, it is actually 2 p.m. to 2 a.m. the previous day on the west coast.  So trying not to work around normal sleep schedules sort of blows dogs for quarters, but we have made it work thus far.  I am able to call from work if we aren’t too busy, and I am actually off of work just about as many days as I am on, so that is good.  Plus if I work night shifts, I have times during the day that work out as well.  All in all, I am thankful for what time I do have to speak with the ones I love.

Tucci the Bluesman of Songtan

And when I am not at the VFW, or sitting in my room drowning in my own self pity, I have another bit of excitement…….a musician!  Yes, for those of you who know me pretty well, I tend to seek them out and demand friendship.  Here it is the form of a 65 year old Samoan folk singer named Tucci (Not sure on the spelling really, but it’s pronounced To-See).  I have watched him perform three times since I have been here, including a very memorable experience at a small jazz club just outside of the gate of Osan called Blue Jazz.  Whitey accompanied me to the show, and we had a pretty good time.  The only other occupants in the establishment (it was a Sunday night after all) was a small Korean family who was celebrating their youngest daughter’s birthday.  We ended up socializing with them a bit while Tucci played covers by request, covers by choice, and a couple of original tracks themed around the local Songtan area and its military influence (tracks like “In Songtan”, “The Songtan Hex”, and “Songtan Sally”).  We laughed, we danced (well, I didn’t, but Whitey sure did!), we bought rounds all around, and basically enjoyed a couple of hours of a man and his guitar doing everything he could to entertain less than a dozen people, all the while making you feel very special and warm.  Yes, a pretty good escape.

rooftops of Songtan

So, there you have it folks.  A little update for you.  I have already getting very excited for Melissa to come visit me this summer, I really miss her a lot for a lot of reasons.  In which time I know we will spend some time in Seoul, and maybe take a trip somewhere else (Guam???), and eventually head back to the states for my mid tour to be reunited for a little while with my beautiful daughters and more family.  I also plan on taking a few tours, meeting up with Richard in Seoul to have him show me around, and hit up a few museums I was told where phenomenal.  So keep in touch, there will surely be more exciting stories to tell in the coming 49 weeks before I make the move to Spain.  Until then,

Anyoung he Kay Ship She Yo

Ron

Sing (Another) Little Songtan [Travelogue]

Somewhere in Songtan

So I have officially been the Land of the Morning Calm for two full weeks as of this writing.  And to say that this place is growing on me would be a drastic overstatement, basically entirely false.  It is probably factual enough to state that I am beginning to understand Songtan and Osan AB a bit more, and maybe getting more settled in.  I’ve begun showing up for work, which I have recently learned is far more relaxed that place I just left, so that makes me smile inside and out.  But, I have also had the fortunate experience of having a wonderful tour guide around the area, who has in turn introduced me to some very nice folks.  His name is Whitey (short for Michael Whittenberg, a nickname I am sure myself or a colleague gave him for obvious reasons) and he knows these alleyways and bars in Songtan like no one else I could ever know.  He has been a big help in introducing me to some very fine locally displaced Americans and local masters of servitude towards Americans and our foolish ways.  But, most importantly, he introduced me to something I have been wanting to do for a very long time….the VFW.

As I once stated, Songtan is a collection of bars and shops placed in whatever hole local Koreans or returning Americans can fandangle a way into making into making their space a legitimate establishment.  But, 80% of the establishments are places that built around the philosophies of what Americans want.  Well, to be fair, what the locals and displaced Americans think we all want.  It can be easily summarized into a couple of categories:  dance music, beer pong, endless flirtation, and a place so fucking loud that all inhibitions become drowned out by the sound of Eminem or LMFAO screaming at you in 15 by 15 room.  So basically, not a place you would probably find myself frequenting too often.  While I have enjoyed a few rounds of beer pong in several garages in middle America, it isn’t exactly a spectrum of a night out that I really want to see.  And this is where the VFW comes into play.  Whitey has been a member of the V since he arrived here in Korea, and it has been his home away from home, and I suspect it will be my home away from home (away from home…..because Korea will never been considered a “home” to me).  The drinks are cheap, the people are nice, the atmosphere is as calm as you could imagine.  Although it is an association dedicated to veterans, which includes many active duty members and several old retirees who moved back to Songtan as soon as they could, something I could never fathom.  And yes, being around a bunch of old men does mean one thing…..a young person of my personal belief will be ostracized from time to time for being a bleeding heart liberal who doesn’t believe in God and voted for that “son of a bitch socialist Kenyan”.  But, this is something I have come to expect by 90% of military affiliation.  But still, they are good folks at heart.  And when you become a part of this community, it feels just like that, a community.  I’ve played rounds of poker, had Friday night free dinner (which also means I am going to be able to cook!!), and simply threw back some Korean Sunrises (a speciality drink named by Whitey, Soju and Orange Juice and a splash of cherry Grenadines) and just laugh at shared experiences and what not.  I have been to a few other places in town in brief spurts, but without a doubt, the VFW is going to be the best thing I take out of my experiences here in Songtan, I can already tell.

Somewhere in Songtan

As I mentioned, I have gotten to a few more places.  I’ve frequented The Dawg Pound, a small hole in the wall bar owned by a retiree that is frequented by mostly Civil Engineering folks from Osan.  Which also brings us to another point: almost ever unit, detachment, section, whatever, has a place they frequent the most as a group.  A big part of being stationed here at Osan is the a common sense of community with the people you work with every single day.  And being a former CE guy, this is where I like to go.  I like to look at the walls and see pictures of so many people I have known throughout the years taken in the very spot I am standing in.  The true Korean experience is almost a right of passage in many ways.  In one way it is one experience that many Airmen experience, and love to share their experiences, which have been going on for 60 years.  But, in a brighter way, so many of the people stationed here at Osan are only here in order to make it to greener pastures.  Meaning, we may not want to be here in Korea, and it is a terrible situation to be away from the one’s we love the most…..but after this, “I’m going to motherfuckin’ [insert preferred station] man!!”.  For me, it’s all about getting to Spain, where my family is allowed to be.

But, that being said, I do plan to travel a bit while I am here.  My theory is that you simply do not enter a foreign land and not try and discover as much as possible.  Songtan is a fun town in a cliché sort of way, but there is so much more to this country.  Obviously, there is Seoul.  I will definitely be making my way through the typical tourists spots of that city, and definitely hitting up the Jazz and Indie Rock social scene they have (yes it exists, and you knew I would find it).  But, there is also so much more!  A very common tour to take around here is heading up to the DMZ (De-Militarized Zone) which for those who are clueless to its importance, it is the area located on the 38th parallel that separates North Korea and South Korea.  You can literally stand and stare into the abyss of darkness that is the country of North Korea, a land most of us will never venture to.  Seoul and the DMZ are obvious tours that must be done before one departs Osan, but there is even more!  There is the the Changduk Palace, the Haengju Fortress, Busan City, Kosu Caves, Wawoochong Temple, the Korean Folk Village, and so much more things that have actually interested me more than I ever expected.  And I plan on making my way to as many sites as possible, and obviously reporting them all back to you, the fine readers.

Somewhere in Songtan

But, until then I only have Songtan.  Which I am learning to accept, and enjoy considering I have no other choice.  I wonder the town in the middle of the day, for it would be a death wish to do so at night (I’ve been jumped in the sweet city of Spokane, I wouldn’t want to even chance that here).  And I’ve spent a few nights dining on lumpia and other Philippine delights at a cultural bar, while listening to a wonderful new friend and blues man, Toosi, do Jim Croce, Bob Dylan, and Van Morrison covers, as well as a few originals about Songtan Sally (who I plan to fill all of the unfamiliars in on at a later date), the Songtan Hex, and other variables of life in this area.  I’ve shot pool in the inappropriately named Irish themed pub, The Free Zone (what the hell does that mean?).  All is going okay.  I am beginning an irregular work routine, just like I once had, and I know the days are going to continue to disappear into time as I plan for several day trips, my lovely wife’s first trip out of the country to see me, my mid tour in which I will return to Kelso-Longview (watch for that reporting, I will try to be nice to my home of record), and eventually getting the hell out of here and off to El Puerto De Santa Maria, Spain!  But until then folks,

Anyoung he Ka Ship She Yo (Good Bye),

Ron

Sing A Little Songtan [Travelogue]

I’ve been in South Korea for approximately 4 days now.  It has been a slow, yet productive introduction to this estranged society.  Estranged because it is so different.  But estranged because of the forced similarities.  Where do i start….

 

Songtan is a city that is literally based around Osan Air Base.  Without an American presence, I would hate to see what happened to this community.  It is a few city blocks filled with shopkeepers who are willing to barter, food carts making delicious midnight drunk grub (which I am sure I will have entire posts about at a later date), and even more pre valiant….bars.  Lots of them.  Some with insanely simple yet defining  names like “Nice Place” or “America Bar”.  Of course it’s not all that simple.  One place seemed ripe for Chinatown in Portland, Oregon with its clever address as the “Th?nk Pub”.  And then there are several hotels smack dab in the middle of it all.  One of which I frequented for a couple of nights.  It wasn’t to shabby, I must say.  A bit of forced class.  The slanted eyed kitten slippers and the 45 inch TV really set the mood of the place, if you ask me.  Even better:  I could smoke in the room!  A luxurious feeling in itself!  I now kick myself for not taking advantage of my usual “cigarette in the bath tub” routine I love to do when I am in a city that allows me this great luxury.  Oh well, maybe I will stay there a night or two on my way out.

 

I have yet to really frequent any place in Songtan.  I’ve walked the city a couple of times.  Once guided by a three year veteran of the area.  He took us on a guided tour letting us know all of the places that were once banned from military use, but seem to have gone legit.  For many of you old time military folks out there, you all remember the Juicy Bars.  Juicy referring the “fine young women” who would share a glass of Soju with you, and conspire upon you to spend even more for “good time”.  Well, I have to upset some of the old folks around to let you know, these plays are legit.  The Juicy franchises as they once where have been reorganized.  Think of it as 60’s Las Vegas, to the Vegas we know today.  Still a den of sin, but kids are welcome too!  No, these bars are now “sports bars”.  What does that mean?  Well, you can now play pool.  Throw darts.  Watch American football.  And strangely enough still speak with the same “fine young women” (or perhaps their offspring at this point) who could be found just years before.  Now that’s progress, right folks?

 

Asia Hotel in Songtan

But, as I said, I have yet to really do any purchasing (obviously not Juicy wise, not in this fucking lifetime) other than the amazing energy drink I discovered that cost a measly 1,000 Won (roughly 1 U.S. dollar) at a 7/11.  But, I did flirt with the idea of living down in the city.  It has become constimary for many low-level non-commissioned officers and airmen to live off base due to over population on base, and the lack of torn up rooms (like the one I have!) that were to be provided to us.  But, alas, I decided to keep myself on base.  While the prospect of living within 2 minutes of more bars than you could throw a bag of kimchi at did seem flattering, I eventually opted to stay with the rest of my American slob counterparts and live the dorm life.  Something I have never actually done before in my career, so I guess that is an adventure in itself.

 

I moved into my new quarters rather quickly by mere luck.  As of this writing, I have spent one night here.  I have yet to meet my suite mate, but by the looks of a refrigerator loaded with several different types of beer ranging from Pabst Blue Ribbon, to Shock Top, to a full range of seasonal brews, I think we might just get along.  The room is decent size.  Probably 9 ft by 15 ft, with a walk in closet added.  The furniture is shabby, and seems typical for a junior college dorm room, but adequate.  After a bit of rearranging, I made it into my own personal space.  I have my twin comforter that my wife’s Grandmother made for her when she was a young child that I have become so fond of in the 11 years I have known my sweet wife, I’ve got my books I intend to read (Sartre, Anthony Bourdain, Jess Walter, etc.) but probably won’t, a few cheap DVD’s I picked up while here (how many Children of the Corn movies did they freaking make?), a digital picture frame, iHome, and of course, my beloved MacBook Pro.  Yep, more essentials than I could really even consider to be essential.  Staying here is actually pretty reminiscent of two of the four months I spent in Iraq in 2008, when I was given a trailer to my own.  Only upside here: I can have vodka.  Down side here: there is no way I could get away with smoking in my room like I did in Iraq.  Pro’s and cons I guess.

So, here I am.  I’ve been doing all that is required of me to be a part of Osan Air Base, and getting myself acquainted with the base.  Which really isn’t that hard.  Osan is similar to every base I have ever been to.  And this one even has a Chili’s!  Although I loathe that place, it is comforting to know that some sort of American lower middle class luxury still exists.  For those who have never frequented a military base, here are some of the usual accommodations (Note: this is not all-inclusive, obviously):  Your major fast food restaurants (Burger King, Taco Bell, Popeye’s, Subway) minus McDonald’s, but don’t fret, there is one directly outside the gate in Songtan.  Also there is a movie theatre, a pool, a club of sorts, a community center where I recently watched every major news channel pronounce Barack Obama as president of the United States once again and got to chat on Facebook with my beautiful wife while wishing diabetes on an old fat friend of mine, a library, and more.  Typical for a military installation.

 

Well folks, I guess this is the basic layout of the place.  As more events and unique traits make themselves more visible, I will surely share them with you.  Until then….362 days left!!!  Cheers!

Anxiousness and Despair: Words En Route [Travelogue]

Airports are all the same.  Whether your in Spokane or Seoul,  it really makes no difference at all.  Half a day ago I was sitting outside the international drop off site at San Francisco International.  Now I am writing from a marble floor in the Incheon Airport in Seoul, South Korea.  Using an airport as a judgement of a location can create a terrible sense of idealisms.  Red Bull is still expensive, and you can’t smoke anywhere!  You’re going to pay 7 dollars for a sandwich you could make at home for 65 cents.  Getting drunk in an airport is only for the upper middle class and above, as it would cost an entire paycheck to accomplish that feet!

But, alas, a long day of traveling has come and gone.  A quick jump from Spokane down to San Fran, and then the longest damn flight I have ever had the “privilege” in taking part of from San Fran to Seoul.  11 hours in a confined space.  4 movies, 2 dinners, and probably 45 minutes of something maybe resembling sleep.  And all of that time.  All of that time of anxiousness or despair.  I chose despair.  I usually do.  I closed my eyes to sleep and saw the face of my wife and my three kids, and my heart began to sink when I realized that, here I was, abandoning them all once again, and I thought I might cry.  I’m hardly ever anxious upon leaving the country, it’s usually my route back that makes me anxious and irritated at every little set back imaginable.

a little bit of 30 Rock over the Pacific. Just like home!

I anticipated a long flight, and did my best to prepare myself.  But, I would be a liar if I said I didn’t find it to be “that bad”.  If it makes me weak to hate 11 hours of sitting in a small space, then so be it.  I was thankful to have an aisle seat, although it was almost debunked by the other side of me, a Frenchman with a terrible attitude.  I avoided all temptation to simply order as many cocktails as I could before I passed out, and opted for Ginger Ales to even avoid caffeine in hopes that the 2 hours of sleep I had in almost two days would pay itself off.  I guess it wasn’t meant to be.  I could barely doze.

But, I arrived in Korea, made it through immigrations and customs (which by the way, is so more lax that coming into the States, which many of you will probably wet yourself knowing) to find out that I have to wait for a bus, coming in three hours.  I made a few feeble attempts at getting ahold of Melissa via Facebook, and eventually got the bright idea to charge my phone on my computer, which has an astoundingly great battery life.  I made what was probably a ten dollar phone call to my sleepy wife (it may be 5 p.m. here, but I am in the future), told her I missed her like hell already.  For those of you who mock modern technology and our utter and stupefying dependence upon it, try doing what I do, and you will see why it is so special.

But, alas, here I am in a damn Airport again.  I’ve been trying to contemplate how much of my life I have spent in Airports.  Technically, I am in a whole new country, right?  My seventh country!  But, no, this is an airport.  In an hour or so, I will be touring the country/city side via a tour bus, just as I have done across the state of Wisconsin, the country of Kuwaitt, and more.  I guess that will bring me closer to Korea.  But, I should fret not, I have an entire year in this place.  A place I really don’t want to be, but continue to vow to myself to try to make the best of the experience.  Or as my dear friend Chris Eaves would say, “find some happiness”.

Later…..

I arrived at Osan Air Base.  An hour and half bus ride completely evaporated into time.  I hardly remember a damn thing.  I actually strained to keep my eyes open as we passed the bright lights of Seoul.  But, I could not fight the urge to sleep for at least a while.  I knew I would be back.  Sleep was necessary, ogling was a privilege.  I chose what was necessary.  I moved into a hotel in Songtan, and began the route of finding happiness.  Like a slow dog in the hot rain, I drag on.

Spokane: The Lost City of Potential [Travelogue]

Before I leave the United States for such a long stretch, I thought I should speak about the last place I will have lived, and currently reside.  Spokane, Washington.  I’m not ashamed to say that I truly love this city.  Even though I can perfectly understand why a westward bound traveler would rather land themselves in Portland, Oregon over this region, I still love this place.  I’ve had my ups and downs living in this city.  So many things I would like to forget, but just as many things I will always cherish.  And as I depart from its plain of existence, I wish only the best for Spokane and its people.  Let’s begin….

Riverfront Park

Spokane, Washington was once destined for a somewhat divine greatness.  In the mid to late 19th century, it seemed as though this region held everything you could every need to exist in the newly trampled Northwest territory.  As the city’s current motto states, it was “Near Nature, Near Perfect”.  Then, and now, it was a vastly expanding metropolis equipped with a large river that proved both beautiful and profitable.  For anyone looking to move any and everything along this river.  Throw in a later boom in mining around the present day Couer d’Alene and Northern Idaho area that proved (just as it does today) to be a very convenient and by far cheaper to operate within that say, you know, the other place that was known to draw in miners across the globe.  Throw on top of that the inclusion of the Union Pacific railroad driving through, and it appeared as though this place could hold nothing but great things for the future.  By 1900, the population of Spokane was well over a hundred thousand, which was even after The Great Fire that almost wiped the damn place off the map.

But, alas, you don’t hear of Spokane in the same way it may have been expected to have this place be on par with the likes of San Francisco, Chicago, etc.  So what happened?  Well, the story is actually a whole lot better documented and embedded with corruption, greed, and a stand-off between the International Workers of the World and the giants of  the corporate world, than I could ever really get into.  Let’s just say, things have slowed down a bit.

But, to even have reached the current state in is now, Spokane had to develop itself in a world that really didn’t seem to give a damn if it succeeded or not.  In 1974, Spokane hosted the first ever environmentally themed World Expo which left a pretty spectacular sprawl of a park in the downtown area, which I will surely speak of more.  It has also a city that subsequently needed to leave its manufacturing roots behind after an almost obsessive collection of failures and ineptitude that may not be entirely the people’s fault, rather the on slaught of the American dream simply fading into a different direction, leaving The Lilac City in the proverbial dust, so to speak.  The city can now boast itself as a thriving facilitator of several amazing opportunities for collegiate advancement, especially in the medical world.  Population has slowly risen.  110 years after reaching 100,000, the city itself has broken the 200,000 barrier, and the Spokane/Couer d’Alene metropolitan area can show over 600,000 residents, respectively.

Riverfront Park

Yet, where is the hope?  Where does the potential really lie?  How does one truly epitomize or even describe what Spokane really is to the rest of the world?  In my own personal opinion and experience in this city, Spokane can be described by what it actually isn’t.  There are two VERY important things that Spokane is not that need to be addressed.  And what are these two things?  Well, Spokane is NOT:

Seattle or Portland.

When somebody from outside of the Pacific Northwest (or even within its boundaries, at times) thinks of the gloomy, caffeine laced, region of this country, Spokane is not what they envision.  They know grunge music, indie rock, rain, The Goonies, Starbucks, Microsoft, etc.  It’s really a tired story for most of us from this region.  I specifically understand the differences being born in a failed industrial town actually situated within the walls of liberalism and the divine social epitaph of society in which most see the world.  I grew up in a town at the base of Mt. St. Helens that is simply a stone’s throw from Portland, and only a bit further from the technologically enhanced Seattle.  Yet, black and white can not even begin to explain the difference between where I lived what people think when they think of this region.  And if you live here, you know that the Cascade Mountains might as well be the equator that divides heaven and hell, which could be on either side dependant upon how you want to look at it.  If you don’t live somewhat along the coast, you live in a prairie farm town nobody has heard of (at best, you live in Spokane), which millions of people will find hard to believe.

So, why is it important to note that Spokane is definitely NOT one of these cities?  Well, for their own damn good really.  One walk through the downtown area of this city, and you will see what is obviously a collection of medium-sized buildings with the influence of the cities it can never be, but so obviously yearns to be more like.  There are more bars than you could throw a hooker from Sprague Ave. at, and also has certain commodities that you just really wouldn’t expect to see in this region.  Say, an Apple store.  One street is lined with concert venues (including a Knitting Factory, which always surprises out of towers) that rivals in comparison to the scene in Portland.  They’ve also managed to make Spokane a pretty walker friendly city, even when temperatures are known to drop well below freezing in the winter with several buildings being connected by enclosed walking bridges.  Yes, as I have clearly stated, the potential is there.  It would actually become a bit lengthy and wordy of a description if I tried to acknowledge all the positives of this city, as they are indeed plentiful.  But, alas there is still a probable.  Let’s all it, an identity problem shall we.

Spokane, Washington

Novelist Jess Walter epitomized the brilliance of his hometown of Spokane better than I, or anyone else probably, really could have in his harrowing novel, Citizen Vince.  How did he do this?  By explaining to us why Spokane is probably one of the greatest cities for somebody in the witness protection program to hide out at.  Why?  Well, it’s not a large city.  But, it’s no small town neither.  It is a city that you can actually go your whole life without really knowing anybody in, and be just fine.  You don’t have to stand out if you don’t want to.  And the resources to live a meaningful yet unnoticed existence are definitely there.  The problem?  This element of simplicity over extravagance is simply not an American way of thinking, is it really?  Canadian, definitely, but not in this country.  No, we are a capitalist nation.  Our goals are supposed to be ever-expanding and more than likely never reached prior to our demise.  That being said, for many Spokanites, the fact that they will never “accomplish” (for a lack of a better word) what Seattle or Portland has “accomplished”, is something they will never be able to look past.  Which, as we all know, is not a far self-realization at all.  This is not to say that there isn’t anybody around here who appreciates the surroundings they DO have.  They are there.  Likely enough, they are probably the same people who feel as though Spokane has been suffice enough to reach their every single need.  And this is can be a good thing.

Case in point: Every year Spokane’s free weekly newspaper, The Pacific Northwest Inlander (one more fine commodity Spokanites should greatly appreciate if they don’t already) does a “Best of 20_” for everything in the area, especially when it comes to food.  There are indeed some amazing eateries in this area.  Maybe not any sort of special forte, but some really good places.  Places that could easily rival neighborhoods in Seattle or Portland based on quality itself.  But, when this list is revealed, what do you think is there?  For best burgers, fries, Mexican food– Red Robin, Zips, and Azteca respectively.  And while this may simply

Spokane, Washington

be because people really dig these chains because they hold some sort of special quality around here that others don’t (Idaho and Washington DO have amazing potatoes), this is simply something you are not going to see happen in the twin cities Spokane seems to live in the shadows of.  That and throw in the fact that Spokane is consistently on the list as having more fast food restaurants than you could really imagine (don’t believe it, take a drive down 3rd Ave and count them out, and try not to get in a wreck).  Simply stated, a small independent newspaper in Portland would never see this sort of thing.  And what does it matter?  Shouldn’t Spokane truly embrace its differences from these other sacred holy hipster lands?  Shouldn’t the lack of pretentious fortitude be a celebrated thing?  Spokane has the little nooks and coffee shops with guitar strumming, angel headed hipsters lurking about, just like every city on the planet!  Why do we care what the residents of the city choose as their favorite french fries?  Why can’t they be proud of what they do have, and stop worrying about what they don’t, or how the outside world looks at them?  Yes, this is about food, but it’s not as simple as that.

Spokane has its arts community.  It has events that bring joy and love to its residents.  It has good food, plenty of things to do.  It is located on a beautiful river and amongst some pretty exquisite nature.  But, it is not Seattle.  It is not Portland.  Just as a pig can never be a cow, Spokane can never been these cities.  But, don’t some people prefer pork chops over a steak?  And until all Spokane’s residents realize this idealism to be self-evident, I’m afraid Spokane will never have its own identity.

Spokane, Washington

But, with the potential in place, it’s not time to give up hope.  Call me Barack Obama in 2008, but I still have hope for this city.  Even if I am abandoning this metropolis for what will probably be for good, I will still hold hope this fair city, and for the fine folks who see it for what is it, and not for what it can never be.

To be continued…..

Introduction [Travelogue]

Ali Air Base in southern Iraq (2008)

So for those of you who know me, you know what I do for a living.  And it definitely isn’t running this site, for I would be one broke ass person and would probably have to fire myself for lack of motivation.  No, my job is actually far less interesting, though some people find that hard to believe.  I’m a staff sergeant in the U.S. Air Force working in the command post.  What the hell is a command post, you may ask?  I’ve been doing the job for just over a year now, and I really can’t tell you what the hell I do.  I used to be an electrician which was really nothing more than the standard blue collar construction job that everyone else in the world would do.  No matter, the job takes me to some pretty strange places from time to time. When stuff got too wet and gross and need plumbing first, that was my limit, I always had a service like www.contractorstoday.com/plumbing-contractors-near-me, ready for those rare cases I just wouldn’t go near. I’m all for specialized work anyway.

The Air Force has always been a part of my life in some form.  My father recently retired after 26 years of service.  Let’s just say I was a month shy from turning 26 when he retired, so there you have it.  Now, I’m no super patriotic being in any way shape or form, though I am far from a fist fighting Marxist or well-organized Anarchist.  No, to me it’s a job.  It has its benefits, and it has it downfalls.  Of course there is some honor involved, but we can just imply that part, and move on.  In fact, I will more than likely refrain from mentioning work, unless it seems absolutely necessary.  Who wants to talk about work that much, anyway? In my tenor as a military brat turned military member, I’ve made my way across the glove several times.  But, I have yet to spend more than 6 months out of the United States since coming back from a second two-year round in Turkey when I was just 8 years old.  Until now.

Biloxi, Mississippi (2011)

Yes, I will soon embark on a journey to the old world for a serious amount of time.  And I am looking forward to sharing the experience with you all.  I will be setting forth for South Korea for a solo 1 year mission in less than a month from this post, returning to the states for two briefs periods, and then setting sail (or air, I guess) with my family in tow to live in beautiful southern Spain, near El Puerto De Santa Maria.  And since it doesn’t really happen unless it is documented (some may say), I will share the adventure with everyone.  There will be obvious topics to cover like the difference between western and eastern civilization.  Especially in food, which you will soon learn is a vital subject for me when it comes to travel.   I’ll also try to find some times to recollect on a few other places I have traveled to, lived in, and/or experienced.  I hope you enjoy the ride as much as I expect to.

So let’s begin, shall we?