Thursday, February 28, 2008

Skiing in Spain?

Yes, there is actually skiing in Spain, up north in the Pyrenees. Perhaps not as famous as the Alps, but beautiful scenery. The sun seemed to play with us on almost all of the days, so we battled between white-out conditions (ie, which direction is down?) and gorgeous blue skies.

The goal of the trip was to see my cousin ski (she is on the US ski team and ranked in the top 100 in the world!) Unfortunately she got mono late last year, and so she was at home resting. But we did get to watch Europa cup races (a course that I could not even stay in for the first 3 turns, these racers were amazing!)

Also was great family time, my nephew's 12th birthday occurred on the trip (my brother and I gave him lots of snowballs as presents, delivered at high speed of course ;) Only a few small calamities. Michelle hurt her knee on the 2nd day of skiing (total bummer!) and I shot off a 10+ foot hill trying to follow the snowmobile after her. I was able to ski afterwards, Michelle meanwhile is limping a bit, but no major damage thankfully!

Business time means no personal time (when traveling)

I know I mentioned this before, but business trips in Korea versus the US are different. Koreans have STRICT rules, and they just don't bend them. If you want to leave a day early on a trip (say Saturday instead of Sunday), good luck. Trying and take a vacation over a business trip? Good luck. And all of this makes you wonder, what do they really do on business trips in Korea? (And why are the rules so strict, how badly have they been bent before?) Is it lack of trust, or have people done something to lose the trust? (I am not going to answer that).

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Do not disturb in Spain

No molesting...I should have kept this sign.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Barcelona: Tribute to Gaudi

Spent about 2 days in Barcelona last week, amazing place (and weather even better than San Francisco!) Explored around with Michelle, seeing various places/cathedrals/parks done by Gaudi. It is fascinating to have an older European city that has all of the beautiful architecture from the 19th century, and also really interesting modern buildings. Simply walking into the cathedral (which may be completely in the next 20 years), and looking up at the ceiling is absolutely amazing with the lines that are modern AND graceful.

On a totally random note, Michelle struck up a conversation with a girl at a Tapas restaurant, and this led to an introduction of someone who was a year ahead of me at Harvard (and rowed for 2 years, what are the odds?!?) We headed up to a bar at the top of one of the hills, and had one of their interesting beer concoctions, in effect a fresca-tasting beer. Pretty nice for an afternoon in the middle of February!

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Losing a friend to the states

So it is strange to watch friends of mine from over here leave. First two of the women in our group left, which definitely makes me sad. In addition, another co-worker is transferring to the NJ office. I can understand why, but when you have a small network over here, it hurts to watch people leave who are a lot of fun and just genuinely nice people. One of the hardest ones is my friend who is a dentist over here. He is going to Harvard for 2 years to as a visiting professor, and I am truly going to miss him and his wife and their baby boy. I met with him about once a week to teach him some random English and give him pointers on Boston. Their whole family is so nice, and I realize that I would not have necessarily met him if he hadn't been going to the states, but I am definitely going to miss meeting with him!

(Add to this losing co-workers to other countries, and it is a bummer to have the number of folks I know over here decrease!)

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Too many languages!

So we have a Korean test in about 2 weeks, and I am not looking forward to it. My time in Japan has made my language MUCH worse! Before I would pause before thinking of the word I needed to say in Korean, now I think of the word in Japanese, and have almost forgotten the words in Korean! We'll see if Spanish will make it worse!

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Ice sculptures and winter festival

The last day of my vacation in Japan was spent at the winter festival in Sapporo. I spent almost the whole day with my host family from 1997. In typical Japanese style, they brought me gifts (which was unfortunate given that I had brought them gifts as a slight gesture of everything they had given me in 1997! They one-upped me! It was wonderful to see my mom and host brother though, we wandered around the snow sculptures (there were two full avenues full of them, ranging from the swans to the pyramids of Egypt). We went up a tower in Sapporo, and talked about life in general and some of the differences between the cultures. The kicker is that my host mother had been to Korea about 5-6 times and spoke better Korean than I did! My Japanese came back in floods though. It was still not much better than an elementary school student, but that was the only language which we could really communicate in, so I did my best!

Night-time was my first meal to test my stomach (after all, I wasn't going to let a stomach flu or the likes actually ruin my vacation!) We had all you can eat crab (king crab, hairy crab and snow crab). Fantastic, and then after dinner I wandered around Sapporo at night (the statues were light up and looked amazing!)

Friday, February 8, 2008

Niseko (the other side)

i have a BIG stomach bug, and so struggled thru 2.5 hours last night in the bathroom and skiing. it is either something like the flu, or a massive case of dehydration. No idea what, but had a great time with the captain of the rowing team from my time in japan, he happened to be up here with his company, i was like a little toy, they were very impressed with my japanese, people over here are sooo nice! I do miss that part of japan!

Funny moment in the elevator, we were 9 people in a small elevator, and on the 2nd floor an older man (like 50s) and a woman are there. when the door shuts (there isn:t space), the japanese guys smirk and start talking. i asked taka later what they said, and i was pretty sure i knew. *when you get to be older I guess you don:t have to take teh stairs* too true, i had just been thinking, you lazy...

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Skiing in Japan (Niseko)

This place is gorgeous, it has been quite a trip to be back in Japan and using my Japanese to get by. The slopes are not crowded at all, we had a good 6 inches of powder last night, and there are little to no lift lines. the food was incredible (although not cheap, we had a 9 course meal last night, with fresh fish, pasta, a great wine). and the coolest thing is that there is a big volcano rising in the horizon across the valley that continues to pass in and out of the clouds. i climbed up to the top (about 20 minutes from one of the chairlifts, a one person lift), and found some of the best powder i have skied in a while. i was spoiled by California powder last year, but this experience has been fantastic. i skied by myself most of the day since we have too many different ability levels, but managed to meet a nice Slovenian, and ski with one of my co-workers on this back bowl, who has done this trip now 4 of the 5 years he has been in Korea. the only bummer about the whole place is that it is minus 10 (celcius), so something like 10-15 degrees. but that is what leads to such great powder. The resorts are wide open, and I didn't get sick of the area I skied, and apparently there are 3 areas total here!

Oh, and my favorite part of the whole thing? we have a natural hot springs in the hotel, which is perfect for post skiing!

Sunday, February 3, 2008

More guests!

Nick, a friend (and former coach) of mine came to visit with his girlfriend Sue for a week in. It was great to see him, and catch up about random stuff. He was the one who started my love of scotch, and he brought a great bottle of Maccallan. I was absolutely amazed by the number of places they went to, the explored various temples, the palaces, and the fish market. I will need to look at his pictures to figure out where to go.

I met one of his friends, a professor at Yonsei, and that led to me buying a book of a friend of his friend Gabe about a Korean-American in the US. "Native Speaker" I read it in about a week, the first book I had read in a while! It was funny though, there were debates involving where to meet, and it is reminiscent of NYC. If you live South of the river in Seoul, your motivation to go North is much lower. We ended up meeting Gabe up north twice though, and I am glad we did since the food we found in Insadong was fantastic!

Nicks brother, who is stationed over here in the Air Force came up for the weekend. They went to the DMZ (there was NO way I was getting up at 6 am on a Saturday, even though I do plan to visit the DMZ one of these weekends!) We intended to have a good night out in Hongdae, but we went to Hooters (Nick's brother wanted proof about the dances they do on the hour), and we ended up staying there for 2.5 hours and 3 dances. We have video proof now though!

And finally, I was told a week or so afterwards, they got engaged while they were here!

Friday, February 1, 2008

Fun times in Itaewon

Ah the fun signs that you can see. All of this after a weekend brunch in Itaewon (the area with the most foreigners).