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?