Thunder-off: Round 1

I’ve been back in the states for just over a month now, and I start my life as a real-world, paid professional tomorrow. It’s terrifying, I know. I’ve decided to get my e-pencil moving on my e-paper for my e-friends to read on the e-nternet. Sounds like a good distraction from the anxiety of a new job, huh?

I’ve still got some Korea posts to slap together: the two things I’ll miss the most, some random pictures, as well as videos of my kids performing “Intergalactic,” “Hollaback Girl,” and the Academy Award nominated “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing.” I also have plenty of stories and pics from my week-long vacation in Cali and my month-long vacation in MN. But now, I turn my attention to a much more pressing matter, the Thunder-off.

What is a Thunder-off, exactly? It is a battle of wits, pride, patriotism, tomfoolery, photographical skills, and boorishness. It is an international and digital cockfight. It is tantamount to a battle between Fanta® and Crush® to see which trails Slice® as the second best orange-flavored soda pop. In short, World War Three. In abbreviation, WWIII. Maybe I should put this all in perspective…

A few weeks back, I was celebrating the good life. The good life entails a clear Minnesota dusk, a deck or porch to enjoy the waxing evening (I don’t care if that usage is correct, figure it out), and a hefty bottle of the most O.G. malt liquor your $3 can buy, Olde English 800. I was so enthralled by my place in space, time, and inebriation that I took a picture and shared it with the caption “‘MERICA.” In just over 12 hours, the other Nick replied with his own execution the of the same picture with the caption, “‎’Zeealund. Thunder officially stolen.” Thus a call to arms was sounded.

In an attempt to defend my honor, my country, and to recapture my thunder, I proposed the Thunder-off. Both Nicks were to take pictures of what we considered to be brag-worthy sights, places, events, activities, etc. in our respective countries. The subject of the picture was at our discretion, so long as the intent was some combination of “look at me/this,” and “you suck/are therefore inferior.” We pick three single-tear inspiring photos and make them public. Then, to see who really has the most thunder, we attempt to recreate and out-do our opponent’s submissions.

I set out to find my pictures. I wondered around the river–m0m, no vans were involved; I promise. I wondered around campus. I wondered how to spell wandered. I visited the “Pride of Minnesota,” the University of Minnesota’s marching band. I attended the “Great Minnesota Get-Together,” the Minnesota State Fair. I took too many pictures to be happy with only three. It was not an easy decision, but with a few drinks, a few paragraphs behind me, and way too much thought put forth, I’m prepared to submit my three to Taylor.

[10 minutes later] Alright, I lied. Still deciding.

[10 minutes later] Okay, okay. I’ve really decided now. Phew.

#1, The MPLS Skyline

I set out one night toward the historic Stone Arch Bridge to get some shots of lamps, people, bridges, buildings, waterfalls, and my favorite skyline in the world. I placed my camera down in the middle of the path, set an extended exposure, and cursed several times as I knocked the camera around or passersby fucked up my shot. Eventually, I got one I would describe in cup sizes.

#2, You Are Here

One day, Kate and I rode our bikes around town, following the River Road along the Mississippi South, until we reached it’s confluence with the Minnesota River. Above the valley is a scenic waypoint where you can see trees and water for miles. At the site are some crazy rocks that appear to be smoothed out into weird curves by the river along with a stone map of the two rivers set into the ground. The designers were kind enough to indicate where within the map you are when viewing it, in realtime. Kate is in the background, dangling several inches from a fall to the ground many inches below.

#3, ZOOM ZOOM!

I just want to see how Taylor will recreate this.

 Some celestial event. No – no words. No words to describe it. Poetry! They should’ve sent a poet. So beautiful. So beautiful… I had no idea. –Jodie Foster, Contact

Just for entertainment purposes. Here are the runners up to the Thunder-off selection. Several of them I REALLY like, especially those of TCF Bank Stadium’s field in the sunset, JD and My shadows at the fair, and that motherfucking chicken.

In summation: Bring it, Taylor. There’s a thunderstorm up in here, up in here.

P.S. The MN State Fair is like Myeongdong with fat people.

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tEHC 4 life

Korean tradition is for lovers to place a lock on the railings and wires surrounding N Seoul Tower. The rumor is that the loving bond will continue so long as the lock remains. So many people have thrown their keys off the edges of the tower plaza that signs now ask you refrain from doing so. I threw ours in the trash. This lock will definitely stay locked, but I’m not sure it’s any better for the environment.

You can take tEHC out of Korea, but you can’t take the Korea out of tEHC.

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Taylor Definitely Left Korea too Early

The latest find at HomePlus, Max: Kiwi edition.

Of course, when you hear that a Korean brewery has made a special, limited New Zealand edition of their typical swill, your immediate thought is that it will somehow include kiwi juice. Instead, they apparently used a crop of New Zealand hops (and possible passion fruit) to make their newest brew.

There's even a Kiwi on the box!

"Fruity" lawl.

Of course I cracked one open, and let me tell you folks, it tastes like Max. Meh. New Zealand hops, huh? I’m guessing it’s closer to New Zealand hop. Oh well. I’m also not sure where this “fruity” flavor or aroma is hiding, but it ain’t this beer. At least the marketing is cool. On the can it reads,

뉴질랜드 청정지역에서도
사람의 손이 잘 닿지 않는 Secret Valley의
라카우 호프를 사용한
Max Special Hop 2011

100% 보리맥주의 맛과 향에
Passion Fruits의 산뜻함이 더해져
더욱깊고 풍부한 맥스의맛을선사합니다

전세계 호프 생산량 0.001%의
소중한 라카우 호프가 선사하는
새롭고 신선한맛의 세계에 흠뻑 빠져보세요

Which Google translates to,

New Zealand in clean areas
I do not reach the hands of people in the Secret Valley
Rakau with hop
Max Special Hop 2011

100% wheat beer flavor and aroma
Passion Fruits plus the santteuthamyi
Brings more to the taste of the rich, Max

hop the world production of 0.001%
Hope that offer valuable Rakau
Fresh new look immersed in a world of taste

Both side of the can, rocking the weird pictures and description

Apparently, Rakau is a city or area in the NZ. I’m sure Tay could tell me more, but what he can’t do is taste this excitingly unremarkable beer.

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Days 7, 6, 5, 4, & 3: I Got Got Got no Time.

Aight, so I’ve been insanely busy packing, cleaning, applying for employmenting, and hanging with friends before I leave Koreaing. Obviously, if having nothing to do can distract me from writing, so can having an ungodly amount.

In light of this recent but not at all stunning revelation, Imma spit out 5 days worth of texticles. 3, 2, 1, go.

Day 7: Bu Mountain

View of the Narimaru APEC House in Busan.

In February, tEHC made their one extended trip outside of Seoul. Having a 4-day weekend for Lunar New Year (Seolnal), we opted to escape the dreary frost of Seoul and headed for the beaches of Busan.

On the Southeastern coast of Korea, Busan in a bustling port city, second in population only to Seoul. There’s quite a bit to see and do, so we saw and did a lot. We saw Busan tower, Haeundae beach, the largest department store in the world, and visited an uncanny number of college bars in our Pusan University bar crawl.

Our hotel was one of the nicest I’ve ever been in, certainly in the best location. We stayed in the Westin Chosun on the tip of Busan. The peninsula is home to the Nurimaru APEC house and the Southwest end of Haeundae beach. We could literally walk out of the hotel onto the sand of the crescent shaped beach. In a word, it was perfection. If I ever return to Korea, or maybe even Southeast  Asia, I’ll be stopping in Busan stup to stay at this hotel.

Day 6: 고기 구이, Gogi Gooi, Meat Grilled

Google translates this restaurant’s name “BBQ,” with an alternate definition of “pot roast.” BBQ is a pretty apt description, but doesn’t quite provide the appropriate mental image, which is a table with a fucking grill in center of it, designed for maximum herd to stomach transportation efficiency.

This joint has been the weekly joint for tEHC since before tEHC was even called tEHC. Being a restaurant with solely Korean clientele, it certainly didn’t take many Friday nights for us to become regulars. Mr. Gooi, as we prefer to call him, seems to take morbid pleasure in provided excessive amounts of meat to our super-sized appetites.

The cuts range the humblest samgyupsal, to the immaculate sowangkalgbi. In the unfortunate event that time, money, or appetite limit you to only one meat, your one and only choice should resoundingly be the usamgyup. This is the meat that dreams are made of, literally; several people have claimed to had hunger pangs, MeatTs (the carnivore equivalent to the DTs), and insatiable meat sweats following their first consumption of this godly cut. Imagine beef belly sliced into paper thin, bacon-like strips before being drenched in a sweet, umami sauce. Words simply will not do it justice. I vow to attempt a recreation in the states.

As tEHC has left Korea in phases, the orders at 고기 구이 have steadily declined, approaching more socially acceptable portions, despite Mr. Gooi’s admirable efforts to provide service. I can’t imagine not having at least one more order of that meat before I head out.

Day 5: Kingstraw: Fusion Conestoga Wagon

Look at everything you get for ordering fries!

Korea pretty much sucks at food service, at least in terms of the service portion. This is not a stereotype. I’ve left more restaurants than I care to count muttering, “the food was good, to bad the staff wasn’t.” Then there are hofs, Korean style bars where most come to get sloppy off cheap beer or soju. It’s common in Korean drinking culture to move from bar to bar through out the night, making stops at a variety of establishments in a single night. So, most hofs serve anju, food one must order with their drinks, to get the most out of their patrons.

This concept is the bane of my existence, not because I don’t want food with my drinks, but because the food os often shitty as fuck (excuse my incredibly accurate French). For a while, tEHC was frequenting the Bonghwa hof, Jjokki Jjokki. If you thought a two foot cheese dog sounded appetizing, imagine it served frozen in the middle, with mayonaise. Imagine paying $13 for it.

For a while, we went. For a while, we thought that was the best we could do without an hour train ride. For a while, we were wrong. Then, we found the single greatest hof ever built: Kingstraw.

KING STRAW!

On a chilly night strolling around Anam, hoping to hit up enough bars to find one decent one, we stumbled into the fusion conestoga wagon. How could we say no to a name like that? What was the worst that could happen? “Let’s have a round and move on,” we said. It was our first and only stop of the night. WHAT A TWIST!

We ordered 3000cc of Cass, a bottle of Chamisil, and a plate of fries. First, we received a plate of tteokbokki and a bottle of Fanta. We thought it was a mistake, until they brought our beer and fries, too. Service because we’re foreigners? No, everyone else has the same on their tables. Later, we were greeted with nachos, even later came a fruit plate. On several occasions, our fry plate has included chicken nuggets, chicken wings, cheese sticks, and calamari.

After some time just ordering fries, we eventually worked our way out to other dishes on the menu. I can really only remember the one with weird dancing shavings and the only odenguk (fish cake soup) I’ve actually liked.

Best of all, it’s cheap. I’ve never walked out of this place hungry, sober, or spending more than $15. AND, when you’re not too busy filling your stomach with food and booze, you can soak in the awesome K-pop on the plethora of wide-screen TVs. Kingstraw was where I was introduced to Itaewon Freedom, J-Tong, and a few other crazy songs I never found out the names to.

Day 4: the LG Twins

Man. Baseball is cool. I love it. What makes it better?

Cheerleaders? Yeah.

Thundersticks and highly complicated cheers? For sure.

KFC and Burger King being sold at the door? YUSSSSSSSSS.

Vendors dishing out dried fish and squid? uuuuuuuh, not so much.

Pictures of cheering did demonstrate the organization, so here's a picture of everything instead.

Look, baseball is baseball, and I really love baseball. There is nothing better than watching a game live, with a beer in hand. In Korea, no one settles for a relaxing game of ball, risking the off-chance of boredom. Instead, they’ve brought in beer, scantily clad ladies, jubilent mascots, and INTENSE cheers and songs.

Some Korean version of a Kelly Clarkson song? HEEEEEeeeey!

Day 3: Hongdae

[note: I don't have pictures of Hongdae, because bringing my camera would be technological suicide]

I ran out of steam during the writing of day four, had to call it a night an and start again this morning. Now, I have the vitriol and enthusiasm to write about the most intense neighborhood of Seoul, Hongdae.

Hongdae is the name given to the area on and around Hongik Daehakgyo, one of the major universities in Seoul. How can a neighborhood with a portmanteau for a name be anything but spectacular? I don’t know, because it can’t.

Hongdae is insanely active on Friday and Saturday nights. People are simply in every possible place a person could be, even on top of other people. Appropriately, there are also an unknowable number of bars, restaurants, and clubs for said people. Answering the question of “which came first, the people or the clubs?” has eluded traditional Korean-style scientists for dynasties.

The best part about Hongdae is that you can go in practically any mood–only wanting to be alone would be excluded–and have a great time. Wanna sit outside and enjoy the weather? Grab some Capri Sun-style bags of alcoholy goodness and head to the park near the top of the hill. If you’re lucky, there be some hip band entertaining the crowd. If not, there will probably be a circle of semi-decent drummers.

Want to listen to awesome pop music from the 90′s and 00′s? I’m talking about Blackstreet, Salt-n-Pepa, Michael Jackson, Rihanna, and other bands I can’t remember hearing because I had too much fun (wink wink nudge nudge (I was a little inebriated (okay, more than a little))). Do you enjoy being in a tiny, windowless room with crazy customer art and graffiti on the walls? Well all of these things are Sk@. I swear it’s pronounced “ska,” despite the very natural desire to call it “skat.” A good place to get a buzz and into a dancing mood.

When your dancing mood inevitably overcomes you, head to Ska2. Its not far down the road, but it couldn’t be more different from the original Sk@ if it tried. This is a club, simply put. Well dressed people grooving to a surprisingly good mix of current pop tunes. I’ve never heard “Like a G6″ or “We no Speak Americano” so many times before in my life though. If there is a hit of the season, Ska2 will definitely play it. Drinks are priced below the club average, so you can feel like a baller without spending like one.

If you’re craving some fuel for the party, you can also hit up one of only two Taco Bells in Korea. Get your bean burrito on, y’all! No night is ever perfect if it doesn’t include a crunchwrap supreme. If you’d rather get some korean style food, you can also hit up the many hofs, chicken joints, or galbijib (rib houses) in the area. If you’d rather eat the best sandwich of  your life, find that lady serving up the egg and spam sandwiches. I saw her once, got a sandwich once, then she disappeared into the mist. A spectre of delicious food past, never to be seen or smelled again.

If you’d prefer to get trashed without talking to anyone, head to one of the many Ho Bars. I’ve only been to Ho Bar III, but are reported to be over ten. I dispute the existence of a Ho Bar VI, but I’ve spotted all the other editions of Ho Bar. At any rate, Ho Bar is the loudest bar I’ve ever been to, and unnecessarily so. Nobody’s dancing, everyone’s drinking and screaming in vain attempts to communicate with other members of their drinking party. Good luck. If, in a twist of cosmic fate, you’re able to actual get an entire conversation across to someone, you’ll probably also get free LASIK surgery from the far too intense green lasers going epileptic inside. Why do we go here? No reason other than cheap drinks. SAY LA VEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE.

In retrospect, I suppose Hongdae is really only fun if you want to drink, think outside of the bun, or dance. If you don’t want to do those things, well, you’re either a robot or Democratic People. If the former, you can still go to Vinyl; they have a robot on the outside of their building.

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Day 9: Sandays (No, not Sundays)

Seoul is an amazing city. It defines metropolitan. People, people, and more people, and buildings, and roads, and electricity, and smog, and all sorts of things that scream of modernization and G20 membership at the top of it’s yellow-dust-filled lungs. Seoul is dense, in every sense of the word. Concrete and jungle are appropriate words.

B
U
T

If you head in the right direction for the right amount of time, wind and humidity considering, you’ll soon step outside of the hustle and bustle of Seoul’s metropolitan atmosphere without leaving Seoul. Headed in the right direction, you’ll soon find yourself ankle deep in wilderness from the head down.

Seoul is full of Skyscrapers and apartment complexes. This is mainly because of the audacious number of people living in one city. It’s also due to the fact that there are an INSANE number of mountains; Seoul has nowhere to grow but up. It is a city nestled in mountains in every direction.

A climber taking in the view from the flagpole atop Buramsan.

So, if the tyranny of city life is getting too much to bear, one simply straps on some well-treaded shoes and walks toward the nearest, greenest peak. My own apartment is only a block away from a “mountain,” but it’s the smallest I’ve ever seen. It goes by the name Bonghwasan, the suffix san meaning mountain.

Venture out a little bit further, and you’ll find legitimately portioned mountains, some within extended walking distance, others a quick subway ride away. The closest “real” mountain to my abode is Buramsan. A 20 minute walk from my apartment followed by several hours of hiking along the ridge-line and boom. You’ve got an amazing view of the entire Northeast side of Seoul, not to mention there is a sweet flagpole at the peak.

For a while, my crew was climbing a mountain each weekend. I’ve mounted (tee-hee) Bonghwasan, Buramsan, Dobongsan (both Uiam and Obongsan peaks), Bukhansan, and Namsan. I must admit, a lot of Namsan is ascending stairs and paved paths, but there’s an effin’ tower at the top of it.

Seoul is an amazing city. It does being a city really well, but I’m an outdoorsman at heart. Reaching these peaks has been an amazing reprieve from everything stressful in my daily life. There is something about sweating, huffing and puffing one’s way up the mountainside that peels away everything eating away at your motivation. Something about seeing nothing but trees, rocks, dirt, the occasional herd of Korean grandmas sprinting past you up the hillside in florescent purple lycra, and the lack of anything sterile makes me feel at ease.

Some climbers chillin’ atop a boulder on Dobongsan, Seoul busy at work in the background.

Just because these are city mountains doesn’t mean they’re playing. These are serious business.

Huddled over, wondering how many more rocks my knees can take, I’m suddenly overcome by the fact that I can’t hear a single car honking, a single Daelim scooter revving the fuck out of its engine to deliver fried chicken, or screaming children ranting about their favorite handphone game. The smell, the sights, the sounds, the feeling, the place is different. Suddenly, I’m not in Seoul.

Suddenly, I’m on the top of this gigantic–”fuck off” as Taylor would say–mountain, and all the problems I was worried about fade into a haze of homogenous apartments complexes. The people down there are freaking out about who’s in line first at Homeplus, and I’m watching clouds brush against the neighboring peak. How can anything matter when I look DOWN and see a fucking bird fly? I’m higher than you bird! Who’s so great now?!

It’s hard to imagine but off in the distance, you can still see the remnants fo Seoul. You are still in the city, believe it or not.

That’s why I like the mountains, I think. Look in one direction and I see all the petty shit people deal with everyday. I wipe my brow, chug some Pocari Sweat, turn around, and there’s nothing but green. Supposedly, somewhere in these forests are moon bears and white tigers. I haven’t seen either yet, but I’ve seen enough to enjoy myself, enough to want to go back for more before I leave. If you visit Seoul and don’t climb these mountains, I’d sincerely argue that you haven’t seen Seoul.

P.S. Always bring toilet paper when climbing mountains, even in Seoul. Shitting in the woods is never fun when there are thousands of people on the same mountain and you don’t speak the native tongue.

P.P.S. My face in tingly from gin, so I feel like this post is rambly. Deal with it.

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Day 10: Craftworks, Noksapyeong, & HBC

Before I delve into my favorite 10 things/places/et ceteras of Seoul, I should mention that these are in no particular order.

Anybody that knows me knows I enjoy drinking. Anybody that knows Korea knows Koreans also enjoy drinking. So Koreans and I should get along just fine, right? Well, yes and know… I mean, no.

Anybody the really knows me knows that I truly enjoy drinking a finely crafted beer. Koreans, on the the other hand, tend to drink macro can-piss and soju. Now, when I’m chilling at a Hof after a long day of repugnant children, there is nothing wrong with 3000cc of Cass, bottle of Jinro, and a plate of assorted fried things. Hell, it even goes great with barbecue (in fact, I’ve come to expect them together).

See the best beer in Korea: Craftworks’s Jirisan Moon Bear IPA.

The underlying problem, however, is looking for some sort of flavor in my beverage. Luckily, my colleagues and I discovered a wonderful little brewpub at the station just past the foreigner neighborhood. Just 35 minutes on the brown line out of the Bonghwa, and you’ve reached Noksapyeong and, more importantly, Craftworks Tap House.

Halla Mountain Golden Ale is one of Craftworks more delicious brews.

Craftworks brews 6 beers, all of which are delicious and named after a mountain. My personal favorites have been the subtle Namsan Pilsner, the maltier Halla Mountain Golden Ale, and the heavy and creamy Geumgang Mountain Dark, the Gwanaksan Köslch, and the much sought after Jirisan Moon Bear IPA. I’d been waiting since April for this fucking beer, and finally, after months of strenuous effort, sitting and drinking non-IPA beers, I was able to enjoy one a few weeks back. Worth. The. Wait. It’s a good beer, 1000 times better than anything else I’ve had in Korea, probably the only beer I’ve had with a perceivable amount of bittering hops.

Unfortunately, all the Moon Bear has done is put the taste of blood… er hops… on my lips. USA, prepare to drown me in your hoppy potables. I am coming for them. They are not safe.

As great as Craftworks’ beers are, the remainder is less fulfilling. Weeknight service is respectable, but the weekends are chaotic, and stressful. To Craftworks’ credit, they waitstaff seems to get better and less antagonistic with every visit. The food is decent but not particularly noteworthy, and pricey for the portions.

Luckily, Craftworks is located at a hub of awesomeness, a little intersection of hidden gems in the massive city of Seoul. Head up one hill and you’ll find a smattering of weird bars and one cool one, Blue Beer. It’s just cool, has cheap mixed drinks and board games to prevent bored drinking.

In focus are corn chips and guacamole. Out of focus is Taylor and his pre-busted gut.

Head up another street and you’ve wandered into Haebongchon (HBC). A budding street that I’m told was nothing a year ago. There are a few bars, black-market shops, and a handful of delicious restaurants. For good, fairly-priced imported beers and a gooey philly cheese, hit up Phillies. For every possible burger permutation, head to Jacoby’s burger. Chili burgers, bacon burgers, guacemole burgers, veggies burgers, and the “Gutbuster” especially are all waiting to fill every corner of your digestive system. Come hungry. Also come thristy, because you can order buckets of draft Hoegaarden. Along the way you’ll also find a makgeolli bar whose name I don’t know. What I do know is that their selection is second to none: at 30 varieties including black bean and another made “with yeast that has listened to classical music for fifty years.” Find it. Drink there.

If you head up another street, you’re walking towards the tunnel that goes under Namsan. Turn around.

Take the last street and you’ll reach Noksapyeong. On your way there, you’ll pass a few pizza joints, some bakeries, and Namsan Kimchijjigae, the best purveyor of kimchijjigae I’ve ever encountered. At the top of the hill, you’ve reached Noksapyeong, the West end of Itaewon. Itaewon, of course, is the foreigner capital of Seoul. It has it’s ups and downs of its own. Ups include Chili King, Hoolywood Grill, Suji’s, Taco Bell, What the Book?, and a host of other restaurants I’ve never been to. The downs include Rocky Mountain Oyster Club and all the d-bags.

Ros performing the traditional Korean dance of the Korean people who eat the traditional Korean kimchijjigae.

At any rate, Craftworks is a destination in its own right, and one I opt for as often as possible. If it turns out to be packed, or the night leads elsewhere, it has the added benefit of being near A LOT of great places. I will miss you dearly, my Canadian Expat run brewpub. You are truly an inebriated beacon of joy in the otherwise dreary cesspool of Korean liquor (which may make it on the top ten, as awful as it is).

P.S. Hoegaarden is in WordPress’s dictionary. WordPress is not.

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A Gentleman and a Scholar

An amazing day for young Sunny. He was quickly spiraling down a path towards soju and sleeping on the number 2 train, but he has found a higher calling in trying to get more smiley faces than anyone else in Lemon Class. Good show, old chap. Jolly good show.

HATERS GONNA HATE


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