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Ever Evolving Primate: Travel, photography, food, cooking, and just about anything else.

Ever Evolving Primate: Travel, photography, food, cooking, and just about anything else.: May 2012

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Congratulatory Jealousy...or is it?

"I envy you" is one of the most awkwardly and frequently used expressions that I hear from my Korean coworkers and students here. I'm not sure how it entered the common conversational framework here, and that's probably less important than the fact that there is something lost in translation. When you dissect the sentence the Korean English speaker is correct in their usage, but I think most native English speakers would agree that "envy" has a slightly more sinister connotation than does "jealous." The use of this phrase has nothing to do with what I'm going to write about in this post other than its role as a metaphorical fish-hook that I'm setting in your cheek right now so that you may continue reading my wonderful writing.

An acquaintance of ours just announced on Facebook that he has been accepted into the JET Programme and will be moving to Hiroshima in August to teach English in Japan. This guy is well known among the expat ESL-teaching community here in Daegu (probably in Korea, for that matter), and is that guy that you're always afraid you're being compared to in some way by your coteachers and evaluators. He's one of those very rare (from what I can tell) people who has a huge passion for education, learns the local language to rather admirable degree of fluency and is probably outstandingly effective at his job, despite the difficulties that the educational system here lays on top of simply getting your job done well enough. So basically, he's one of the most upstanding native-English speaking teachers in the area, and has really earned himself some great opportunities.

Something you might need to know for this post to make sense is that the JET Programme is essentially the holy grail of ESL jobs in East Asia. The benefits and pay are good, the working conditions seem to be great, the jobs are extremely competitive to land, and the interview process is arduous. The job is good, and the place you get to live is, well, Japan. How many nerds from the U.S./Canada/U.K. and other English speaking countries are secret or not-so-secret Japanophiles who want to spend some time in Japan doing karate, eating sushi, reading manga, and all sorts of other things that you can only really do in Japan? Get the point? The JET Programme is in essence, a very, very cool job to land for a year or two or five or however long you want.

Here's a little backstory. In 2007 I needed to escape my hometown, so I left to be a scuba instructor and move to Hawaii. I got bogged down by financial concerns (the concept of "go big, or go home" was a little too daunting) and settled on Florida, before moving to Hawaii when the dive shop I worked at in Florida tanked. I fostered an unhealthy attachment to some friends in Florida that kept me on a leash, didn't really enjoy my time in Hawaii as much as I could have, and moved back to Florida when those friends (who I really should have estimated given 27 years of life on this planet) planned to relaunch the previously failed dive shop. I knew about 3 days into the new job that it wasn't going to work, and that we were pretty much doomed. I got depressed. I was financially stuck, I couldn't dream of coming up with enough money to escape, and the job paid enough to barely (and I mean barely) keep my head sort of above water. It would take me about three and a half years to recover to a place of true comfort from this decision. For whatever reason, I latched onto the idea of Japan to right myself. I took karate classes (a great thing for anyone struggling in life, I might add), tried to learn some of the language, and kept a JET Programme brochure on my table throughout my (probably also ill advised) master's degree in teaching.

Something happened that caused me to throw the brochure away. I met a lady. I fell in love with the lady, and I knew that the JET Programme was no longer an option. I thought Asia itself was off the books (but hey, it turns out I was DEAD wrong about that), but the most important thing in my life now was my relationship. Now, push came to shove, and as we worked together we both needed a way out. One day while browsing job opportunities in her office, she discovered that the public schools in Korea would accept couples' applications, and we applied. Nearly two years after making that decision we're both sitting at our desks in Korea and I see an announcement from an acquaintance (someone I have met exactly once) that they've been accepted into the JET Programme and all of the sudden it's time to reflect a little bit.

Here's what's going on in my head:

  1. Our time as expats is quickly coming to a close. We're nearly halfway through our second contracts, and at the end of this contract we'll get married, celebrate with a tour of Europe, and settle back into the United States to reboot life. This is exciting, but it also comes with some scary things like the lack of nationalized heath insurance and paying rent again and all of that tripe that really makes life hard sometimes. What will it be like when and if we have to struggle just to make ends meet again instead of prosper like we have here?
  2. I will never even apply to the JET Programme. I knew this anyway. It's always been there. This is not news. How many ways can I say the same thing in order to make the point that this isn't surprising, it just is. I'm not sad that I won't apply to the JET Programme or eat onigiri every day or become fluent in Japanese (right, like I became fluent in Korean?) or any of those things. I guess seeing someone else achieve a dream that was the light at the end of a really dark and dismal tunnel for you just reminds you about how bright and beautiful that light was when everything else was pretty terrible.
  3. I'm so happy with the twists and turns that my life has taken. I thought that I was escaping the orbit (death spiral) I was in when I left San Antonio in 2007. If we were to put this into spaceflight terms, I think I simply achieved escape velocity. I think the move to Hawaii showed me I could live and survive on my own and be happy-ish. I think that spending half a year as far from home as I'd ever been was probably a really important step towards being the kind of person that was ready for love and a relationship and all of the really good stuff that at that point I would have said wasn't important to me. I even think the dark times of the death of my diving career, and the resulting irrational hatred of water sports that has thankfully passed, was a crucial developmental phase that I needed in order to be truly happy.

    The fact that I found a light in the middle of that dark tunnel that just needed to be turned on (pun so not intended) to see that it was so very much more bright and beautiful than that light over at the end of the tunnel; and that it would walk to the end of the tunnel with me and hug me when I needed it or just tell me that shit was going to be okay when I was sure that it wasn't; is simply the greatest twist or turn that any adventure could have taken me on.

    Our time living together in Korea has really been one of those blessings that I never in my life counted on, thought would happen, or even considered as a possibility until I met my match. I think it's kinda sad when I look back on parts of life where I tried to fill what I didn't even realize was a void with various different obsessions and discounted what it would take to make me feel whole and fulfilled. Thankfully I think I've grown out of that and righted the ship, so to speak. My life is pretty great
  4. Japan is still happening for us. It's just going to be for 5 days instead of years like I initially thought. The good news is that even with rising oceans and a changing climate, Japan is still going to be there for the rest of my life, and I'm sure we're going to have a good occasion to visit again. I'd rather take the brighter light I found in the tunnel than the not quite as big and beautiful one that I thought was waiting for me at the end of it any day of the week.
  5. You know, had my original plan remained unchanged, would I have been too scared to go to Japan for a year by myself anyway? Probably so. I was petrified when we were at the airport about to leave for Korea on February 17, 2011. I could not have done this without my beautiful bride-to-be, and that's all there is to it. We've got plenty of adventure yet to come in our lives. You know, screw that. Our lives together are constantly adventurous. Even cooking dinner is an adventure together. No, seriously, have you ever had a bean steak? We have. Top that, I dare you.
At the end of the day, I feel really, really happy for the guy that now has the awesome opportunity to go live and teach in Japan for a while. I also feel really, really happy that I don't have the opportunity because the reasons that opportunity isn't there for me are really pretty great circumstances. Am I happy with my life? You bet your buttons I am! Do I feel a little melancholy when I see someone else achieve a goal that once sustained me through a terrible time? Sure. It's all normal human stuff, right?

Also, I might add, EPIK (the English Program in Korea) to my understanding no longer allows couples to apply together. I think we're really damn lucky we took the chance and came when we did, or else we wouldn't have had such a crazy, incredible, amazing experience. I feel pretty blessed. Did I really just say that?

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Monday, May 21, 2012

A Weekend of Tea (and sniffles)

We had quite a big weekend here in beautiful, cosmopolitan Daegu. Saturday Morning found us awake before 7:00am, and out on a run before 8:00am. After our run we cleaned up and headed to the EXCO convention center to see one of our friends compete in a Tea Ceremony contest at the Daegu Tea Expo. The Expo was pretty cool, with lots of different teas, the foreigner tea ceremony contest, taiko drummers, and a fashion show. It was really worthwhile. I bought some Chrysanthemum tea for Carolyn, and she also got some sort of fermented green tea. I think my favorite thing that we tried was the powdered Japanese style green tea that is frothed with what looks like a bamboo shaving brush. It was a little bit bitter, but looked like it should be creamy. The color was as green as green can be, and I felt like I got a little bit of culture out of it.

After the festival we went to an Indian restaurant we've been wanting to try called Maya. It was outstanding. The decor in the restaurant was nicer than most if not all of the other places I've been in Korea, and the food was amazing. I had a samosa, vegetable curry, chicken curry, tandoori chicken, and garlic naan. I had the sniffles before we got there and when we left my sinuses were wide open.

With full bellies, we headed downtown to run some errands. We made quick stops to get body wash, look at sandals, and find a book for our upcoming beach weekend before realizing that we didn't want to go home yet, and we didn't want to keep walking around. What do you do in this situation? Well, you go to a movie, that's what.

We got to the theater about 20 minutes before Dark Shadows was about to start, so we got our tickets and headed up to the theater. I thought the film was hilarious, and it was perfectly cast with Johnny Depp doing what he does best, essentially playing Captain Jack Sparrow (although his character's name was Barnabus Collins). After a few laughs we headed home, although I got into a bit of a tiff with the subway ticketing machine. Oh well, it's over and I survived, right?

Sunday morning we woke up and headed over to DaVinci Coffee to have our regular vacation-and-wedding planning date. So far it's been all vacation and very little wedding. We did get something accomplished though. After a couple of weeks of shopping online we found a resort to stay at on Railay beach, and also found out that there are cooking classes available on the peninsula that won't require going into Krabi or Ao Nang. Huzzah. Sunday was pretty uneventful, a short trip to the Emart for groceries later and we were at home. I made a Thai red curry for dinner with tofu, eggplant, mushrooms, and pineapple, and we watched some TV show reruns on Korean TV until we both gave up on the weekend and went to bed.

Pretty great, eh?

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Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Mass Effect 3 not-so-realtime-blog: It's Over!

There has been a lot written about the ending of Mass Effect 3 on the internet, and I've managed to avoid reading it all until today. I finished the game last night just after midnight, and it was, I think, a beautiful ending to a great game, and an even better story. Before I continue I should say that...

I am going to ruin the whole fucking thing for you in this blog post if you haven't finished the game yet. Spoilers will reproduce faster than rabbits in this post, and if you don't want to see them don't let your eyes drift below the red text. Also, if you're reading about the endings of the game before you finish playing it you're really cheating yourself.

Back to regular text now. I've had video games provoke some really visceral feelings from me since I started console gaming again in 2008. The Yakuza series really moved me, even though the plot was less believable than the sci-fi fantasy Mass Effect series. The Uncharted series has moved me in a genuine way, and the ending of Red Dead Redemption left me in a shock so big that I couldn't get to sleep. Mass Effect 3 is so far as I can tell and remember, the game that has gotten the biggest involuntary reaction out of me at its conclusion.

I remember a couple of years ago sitting in my video game chair playing the final sequence of Mass Effect 2 and literally holding my breath as Shepard, Jack, and Samara jumped back onto the Normandy as it flew out of the collector base. I was holding my breath because I didn't know which characters had survived the suicide mission, or if Shepard himself would survive. That was one of the greatest moments in gaming that I can remember, and even it was eclipsed by the ending of Mass Effect 3. Bioware promised that the third game would conclude the story arc of Commander Shepard. I thought that might mean that he could die in the end, or save the galaxy and return as a hero or savior figure.

Making such assumptions, I feel like I was really and truly underestimating the Bioware team and their writers. What they did with Mass Effect 3 actually transcended the game and put my head in a completely different space than it was in before. I think that this kind of thing makes a lot of people uncomfortable, and that's part of the reason that there has been such a huge reaction to the end of the series on the internet. People want a clear cut ending, clarification on what happened to everyone and every plot line left untied. I think it was at its most beautiful just the way it was.

The way my story arced, I thought for sure that when I embarked on the final mission, Shepard would not come out of it alive. There were three or four times before the actual end of the game where I thought that my mission had failed, and each of those times it felt like my heart stopped or at least skipped a few beats. One scene in particular, I think, created the feeling of desperation like I've never felt before. During the final push towards the transport beam up into the Citadel, your only job is to run. As you run you see all of the troops running with you get vaporized by the reapers' red lasers. The screen goes white and you come to, shell shocked and barely able to use a pistol to kill a few enemies before you make it to the beam alone. Time slows and all of your movements are pained, and it's done so well that your heart just aches for Commander Shepard.

Once you're inside the Citadel and have your final encounter with the Illusive Man you are summoned to the to another level where you meet the Catalyst, a god-like electronic child who explains to you why the cycle of reapers-destroying-all-organic-life-in-the-galaxy occurs, and you're presented with two or three choices. Destroy all synthetic life (this sucks, because you would lose the Geth and more importantly, EDI), control the reapers and break the cycle (this sucks because they tell you that this option will kill Shepard), or join synthetic and organic life together as one (also kills Shepard).

I felt the choices were a bit vague as the path split and there was only blue (the paragon color) and red (the renegade color) to guide you and I couldn't figure out in my head which option was more paragon. I walked toward the blue control panel, flipped the switch, took control of the reapers, and died. Afterwards, a cinematic featuring the Normandy crashing on a jungle planet, and it's door opening aired, the reapers pulled back from Earth, and the story was over.

I remember listening to Game Informer's podcast The Game Informer Show back when I was a professor in Miami and had a 90 minute commute, honestly it was always one of the bright points of my workweek to have a long ass commute and listen to dudes talk about video games for an hour on the way. Anyhow, one of the guys mentioned that he liked "Skeletors", you know, those  scenes that happen after the credits. I felt, even at midnight, that I had to let the credits roll all the way without stopping. The developers deserved it, and I had a sneaking feeling that there would totally be a Skeletor. There was, and it was beautiful. There was an old man talking to a child about the exploits of Commander Shepard, but they were just calling him "the Shepard." I can't say how much a simple scene with bad voice acting made the whole story feel okay, but it did. The whole Mass Effect story happened years ago, and Shepard had become known as the Shepard who had done his damnedest to protect his flock. And protect them he did.

So that was the ending of the game. A lot of people didn't like it. I've read lots of complaints from people who felt that all of the choices made in the game should have provided some sort of options or outcome that didn't exist in the game. People said that they felt like all of their previous choices didn't matter, either because Shepard died or because the outcomes were all catastrophic for the galaxy. That demand seems outrageous to me. We, as the players, aren't the ones writing the story. We don't get to decide how it starts or how it ends. The fact of the matter is this game gave you a lot a leeway for how you got to the endpoint, but the endpoint is the same, with perhaps very slightly different outcomes. I see it this way: If I'm driving home from work and I see that I'm about to get into a car accident, and I can either swerve left or right (one of which results in my own death), that last choice doesn't reduce the value of every other decision I've made in my life, right? Why would it be any different for a game?

All of this said, I loved the series, I loved the game. The ending was just part of it, and it really did work. The soundtrack was particularly stellar, the voice acting for the most part superb, the setting, graphics, visual design, and gameplay were great. The story behind Mass Effect, through three games and three (I've heard that reading the fourth novel somehow disgraces the whole series) novels works as a whole to create an incredible allegorical galaxy where you have adventures, but more importantly relationships that force the complex decisions you would never want to make in your real life out of your brain. I think that at this point in gaming, it's the ultimate "what would you do if" type of experience out there.

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Monday, May 7, 2012

Vacation: Booked!

I just thought I should throw an update out to my last post about vacation booking frustrations. The principal came back a day early and confirmed our vacation dates, so we went ahead and booked our trip. We're going with Air Asia again, and flying direct to Phuket. Obviously we're pretty excited about the whole thing. Now we've got trips to Thailand and Japan in the works, who could possibly complain about that?


Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Summer Vacation: So close, yet so far.

Here's a short little ditty about the old "Dynamic Korea" situation. Today I asked about summer vacation. There's really only one set of days I can possibly use thanks to scheduled summer camps. I asked if I could use those days, and my coteacher said "Yes" so I asked if it was safe to book the flights. Surprisingly, she said "yes." After this I started looking at getting flights booked and got to the last screen, last click, and decided to ask again. This time the answer was "give me one day so I can ask the Vice Principal." I hope the flights aren't way more expensive tomorrow.

Ugh. Dynamic Korea strikes again!

The good news is that this can hopefully be resolved by tomorrow and we'll have another trip to plan at the cafe on Saturday. Woot!

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Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Today's self-improvement idea

The other day I read an article on Lifehacker about 10 desired skills you can teach to yourself. Two of them struck me as things that might look good on a resume or otherwise make finding work easier in the future. Since it's mid-term week at my school I really don't have a whole hell of a lot to do, so today I watched the four part series on how to code.

The coding he teaches is JavaScript, and I'm not wholly unfamiliar with the process of coding altogether. It's been a long time, but I was one of the top students in my Computer Science class way back in 1998. Yeah, that was a long, long time ago, but I still remember a bit of C++ and think that it would be easy enough to relearn. Hell if I can relearn a whole language I can relearn simple coding and logic. I'm not sure how useful C++ is anymore, but Java is certainly not too complicated from what I learned today. I just need to find a progressive series of tutorials or perhaps a book to give me some direction to grow in. This might be my next big project for this year of way-more-than-I'll-likely-ever-have-again-free-time. I think if I could learn JavaScript and ActionScript I'd be in a pretty good place.

The other series I started to watch before the students and teachers returned to the office making it too loud to concentrate is "how to make a website." I'm not new to HTML, but it's been quite a while since I've used it. I don't think it'll be any problem to pick up again. I have zero experience with CSS though, so I've got plenty to learn there. I think that learning HTML and CSS will help with the JavaScript and ActionScript too.

Now, so much to learn, so little time. Today I wish I would have double majored in German language and Information Systems in college. Oh well, you can learn anything you want to know for the price of a few library late fees right? Time to get cracking on my code.

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Mass Effect 3 Not-So-Real-Time-Blog Update: Oh shit, the Quarians!

This blog post will contain copious spoilers that will ruin your enjoyment of the game. 

My struggle to save the galaxy continues. During Mass Effect 2 I developed a romance with a Quarian named Tali. I really liked the girl, she was super smart, slightly oppressed, and had a really sexy accent. If you're not familiar with the Mass Effect series, Quarians are an alien race who seem to have nice bodies, but only 3 fingers, and must remain inside of their enviro-suits because they have no immune system. They're generally regarded much the same as Gypsies, and live in a fleet of migrant ships. They also sound a bit like Gypsies speaking English with an Eastern European accent.

In Mass Effect 2 I decided to rewrite the Geth (a robot species) to be on my side, and Mass Effect 3 posed a choice to me, save the Geth or the Quarians. I thought I could save both. Bad move. I saved the Geth, at which point my little Geth friend Legion melted into a puddle of lifeless parts, and my girlfriend Tali tried to call off her fleet from attacking the newly evolved and improved Geth fleet. They didn't listen to her and all of the Quarians were destroyed. Not to be outdone by the rest of her species, Tali slowly (and dramatically) removed her mask and jumped off of a cliff.

To all of the Quarians out there reading my blog, I'm sorry. I didn't mean for you to go and become extinct. I just wanted us to all work together. Because of your stubbornness my video-game girlfriend has jumped off of a cliff. Thanks a lot for being selfish!

I guess I didn't pass the reputation check. Crap. Well, at least the upgraded Geth are on my side (I think it might be a good thing...but I don't really know.) More on this as I get some more play time in.

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