Seoul: First Five

I started this blog nearly eight years ago as a way to chronicle a two week cross-country American road trip with my friend Meagan. Over the years I’ve used it erratically to review movies, document hikes, and share music and musings. As I embarked on a 3 month work assignment in Seoul this summer, it seemed appropriate to document my adventures in some way shape or form, here.

As I cap off my first week residing in, working in, and exploring Seoul, here are five of my first impressions, in no particular order:

1: Baseball is tops.

Koreans love baseball and their 10-team national league, and they know and love the Major League Baseball teams with South Korean players on their roster. This includes the Pittsburgh Pirates, Texas Rangers, and especially the LA Dodgers, home of starting pitcher Hyun-jin Ryu. In fact, Koreans love the Dodgers so much that they tried to buy a stake in the team last year.

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I met Joe and Song during one of my first nights at the hotel bar and they quickly insisted the bartender to turn on baseball. When they learned I was a San Francisco Giants fan, their Dodgers love created a friendly riff.

2: Like many other large Asian cities, Seoul’s subway is incomparable to American subways.

There are more than 2.6 billion rides taken on Seoul’s massive, efficient, and insanely clean subway system each year. That’s 1 billion more rides than in New York, which serves around the same population (both city and metro). In Seoul, you can get anywhere easily and on time, you don’t see rats running around tracks, and you can’t fall on to the tracks in most stations because of platform screen doors. The city-center stations are massive underground developments with shops and restaurants, and you can actually use the bathrooms because they’re so clean.

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I thought maybe it was an anomaly that the Anguk Station featured art all along the subway station walls, and have been delighted to find art in other stations.

3: During the last 60 years, South Korea has shined.

Following Japanese colonization and World War II, Korea was one of the poorest developing countries in the world. Seoul was heavily destroyed in the Korean War. Once established, the South had to create a government and economy more or less from scratch. Not only has South Korea leveraged an intense work ethic and resilience to become one of the most important global economies, it’s joined the world stage by hosting the Summer Olympics in 1988 and the World Cup in 2002, and will host the Winter Olympics in 2018.

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Seoul is about to open its first supertall skyscraper, Lotte World Tower (555 m) and construction will soon begin on the next: the Hyundai Global Business Center (553 m).

4: Conglomerates rule the roost.

While the U.S. has powerful multi-national companies like Comcast, General Electric, and Berkshire Hathaway, none seem as visible and dominate in our culture like chaebols, as they call them, in South Korea. Korea’s top chaebols include Samsung, Hyundai, LG, SK, and Lotte. Samsung makes TVs and mobile phones, right? Subsidiaries with Samsung in the name also build ships and power plants, offer auto and life insurance, operate a hospital and cancer center, and supply credit as the country’s #1 credit card company, among dozens of other operations. You can’t watch baseball in South Korea without being reminded of the reach of the chaebols. Teams aren’t named after their home city, they’re named after sponsors, such as the Samsung Lions, LG Twins, and Kia Tigers.

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LG is the fourth-largest chaebol in South Korea and has subsidiaries in electronics, chemicals, and telecoms.

5: It’s true what they say about Korean drinking culture, and

The two most common comments I received when I told people I was going to spend my summer in Seoul was that it’s going to be hot and humid, and that I better be prepare my liver. While I can already confirm that soju, makkori, and beer are ways of life in Korea, I’d add that I think the drinking culture is positively tied to a broader culture of being social. Koreans like spending time with friends and colleagues. Drinking is one of the most obvious and popular ways to do that. Is that really much different than in the U.S.?

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Learning how to order a beer became one of my first learned phrases… maekju, juseyo!

As seen in Sunset Magazine…

I’ve been seen in the background of live nationally televised shows like The View, The Today Show and Survivor’s live finale and reunion. I’ve had an op ed piece published in defense of Survivor, my TV favorite show. I’ve been quoted in USA Today commenting on H1N1. And now I’ve had photos published in Sunset Magazine!

Two of my photos from last year’s Yosemite trip to Vogelsang High Sierra Camp, appear in the July 2015 issue of Sunset Magazine. They are part of a story on Yosemite’s High Sierra Camps which I’ve become a big fan of since visiting last year.

It was a fun process to be randomly contacted through LinkedIn by a Sunset travel photo editor with a request for two of my photos found on Flickr. In exchange for a small payment, I handed over high resolution versions of the photos, happily, to a publication I’ve enjoyed since moving here. (It’s a West coast-centric magazine focused on traveling, the outdoors, cooking and gardening.)

The Boys in the Boat: Derek’s Three Favorite Things

When I like a book I tend to rave about it. The Boys in the Boat was released in 2013 and as of June 2015, still sits on the NY Times non-fiction bestseller list. It will appeal to those that read Unbroken in awe and everyone else that enjoys well written accounts of amazing achievements and interesting times in history. The Boys in the Boat tells the true story of Joe Rantz and eight other unprivileged, hardworking boys from the University of Washington. They would eventually represent the United States in the eight man rowing competition at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin (where Unbroken subject Louis Zamperini ran the 5,000 meter race).

The 1936 United States 8 man Olympic rowing team. They ended their 4 year University of Washington collegiate career undefeated as national champions.

The 1936 United States eight man (+coxswain) Olympic rowing team. They ended their four year Univ. of Washington collegiate career undefeated and as national champions. (photo credit: Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 1936)

My favorite things about this book can be wrapped up into three buckets:

The Boys in the Boat1) It introduced me to rowing and piqued my interest in it as a form of exercise. Early in the book the author confirms that physiologists have calculated that rowing a 2,000 meter race — the Olympic standard — takes the same physiological toll as playing two basketball games back-to-back. I’ve  since added the rowing machine to my gym routine.

The cat and mouse dynamic of rowing races is also interesting and fun to watch. I’ve scoured YouTube for recent Olympic regattas as a form of entertainment.

2) Reading the book was a fun geography ride through the Pacific Northwest, notably Seattle and the University of Washington campus. The author describes in detail the key water ways and bodies that makes the Seattle area unique: Lake Washington, the Montlake Cut, Lake Union and Union Bay adjacent to campus. I was reading the book during a visit to the Emerald City, and I was so intrigued by the geography that I enjoyed a special trip to check out the Hiram M. Chittenden Locks, a unique engineering feature on the Lake Washington Ship Canal.

Lake Union is a beautiful freshwater lake entirely within the Seattle city limits.

Lake Union: a beautiful freshwater lake within Seattle city limits (photo credit: Jelson25)

Reading the book while visiting Seattle was a fun and appreciation-filled experience.

Reading the book while visiting Seattle was a fun and appreciation-filled experience.

3) Finally, The Boys in the Boat told a beautiful story about a man that suffered at a young age and prevailed, fulfilled and proud in the end, through hard work and an unwavering will to live. Many chapters of the book take place during Joe Rantz’s tragic adolescence after he was abandoned by his family in Idaho. After working his butt off, living alone and supporting himself through his early teenage years, Joe made his way to the University of Washington and eventually and serendipitously battled his way on to the well respected rowing team, with seven similarly hardworking boys. Compared with East Coast rowing royalty from schools like Princeton and Columbia, these boys worked there way through college, barely making ends meet. Rowing was their outlet and their teamwork and determination learned through hardship growing up, led them to become the best rowing team in the world.

If you’re intrigued by this story, you’ve now got two options. Read the book, or  watch this well-made book trailer:


(And in case you’re wondering, The Weinstein Company owns the film rights to the story and intends to produce a movie.)

Derek’s Water Saving Tips for Urban Dwellers

There are no two ways about it. California’s water situation does not look good. Governor Brown recently and smartly imposed mandatory water restrictions. Government agencies are now responsible for coming up with strategies to cut water use by 25 percent. Rural dwellers carry much of the restriction burden because of the lawns they want to water and the cars they want to wash. I believe that there are small things we urban dwellers can do to easily cut back as well.

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Derek’s everyday water conservation TIPs:

  1. Get a timer for your shower and restrict yourself to 5 minutes. I randomly received a shower timer as swag at a tradeshow and my roommate and I randomly started using it. We’ve both become much more aware of our time in the shower and the water we use. We’ve realized how efficient we can be in 5 minutes. It’s easy to consider showers as relaxation time and it can also be rewarding to know you’re saving water. Get a shower timer on Amazon.
  2. Stuff your dishwasher full and experiment with settings that use less water. Dishwashers are wonderful machines of convenience. While they generally use less water than hand washing dishes, there are still opportunities to conserve. Don’t run your dishwasher unless you couldn’t possibly fit anything else in. Run out of clean spoons? Buy some more spoons. Also, test out your settings to see how low in water use you can go before you aren’t satisfied with the wash quality. Try a half load wash setting with a full load.
  3. Don’t overlook the small things. Don’t let the water run unnecessarily during hand washing and tooth brushing.

While these small habit changes will not get us out of the drought, they should at least get you thinking about water more as a precious resource and make you more mindful of your water use.

Water conservation is no joke! Do your part and encourage others.

More Easy Ways to Conserve Water from NBC LA.

Vogelsang: A Yosemite First

The trek to Vogelsang High Sierra Camp begins near the Tuolumne Meadows backcountry permit station. A brief part of the hike in overlaps with both the John Muir Trail and the mighty Pacific Crest Trail

The trek to Vogelsang High Sierra Camp begins near the Tuolumne Meadows backcountry permit station.

I’ve blogged about Yosemite on several occasions. I’ve recounted a time I took a friend to the park for the first time, a time I hiked up Half Dome, and a time I cross-country skied to Glacier Point. Each time I trek to Yosemite I try to experience it in a new way, through the eyes of a first time visitor or on an entirely new adventure. This weekend I explored a new part of the park and dipped my toe into the High Sierra Camp culture and tradition.

Yosemite is home to five High Sierra Camps that form a popular 51 mile loop. Lots of people hike the full loop, staying at a different camp each night. Others enjoy individual Camps on shorter trips.

Each Camp has around 12 tent cabins that can be rented, and each is equipped with cots and log stoves for warmth. Some Camps even have shower facilities and all of them serve you a hearty dinner and breakfast the following morning. Securing spots in the tent cabins is a lottery, so planning takes time and patience. Each Camp has an adjoining backpackers camp and each day a few meals-only spots are held for those that fully trek in, bringing their own sleeping bag and tent to pitch, and roughing it out under the stars.

This weekend, we took advantage of the “meals-only” opportunity at Vogelsang High Sierra Camp, a 6.7 mile hike south from Tuolumne  Meadows, and it was a fun, new way to experience Yosemite…

Glen and Derek

A brief section of the hike up to Vogelsang overlaps with both the John Muir Trail and the mighty Pacific Crest Trail. In several beautiful spots, the trail crosses the Tuolumne River, as it begins its journey to Hetch Hetchy. 

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Vogelsang is the highest High Sierra Camp at over 10,000 feet. Our trip up with backpacks (sans food and cookware) was a scenic workout, which we tracked  using several apps including Strava.

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Approaching the High Sierra Camp at Vogelsang felt like an accomplishment. We were exhausted yet eager to explore. It took a while for us to get our bearings of the amenities and the area that was open for us to set up camp.

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As exhausted as we were when we finally arrived at Vogelsang, we took our time exploring the backpackers camp, looking for the best spot to set up our weekend residence. I credit Glen for ultimately leading us to our home base location. It was not a horrible place to relax, gaze and daydream.

Vogelsang area

There are at least a half dozen day hikes available starting from the Vogelsang Camp. During our delicious fried chicken dinner the first night of our stay, a cheerful, adventurous group of retired ladies from Incline Village (Lake Tahoe) insisted we head up to Vogelsang Lake and Vogelsang Pass during our following free day. We obliged and were treated with mega views of the high Sierra. 

View from Vogelsang Pass

About 1.5 miles and 700 feet up from Vogelsang High Sierra Camp is Vogelsang Pass, which offered sweeping views of the Lewis Creek  valley.

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The views from Vogelsang Pass out into the Cathedral Range were among the most beautiful I’ve seen in Yosemite.

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On our way down from the pass we took a pit stop at Vogelsang Lake.

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This is the spot where I jumped in. Cold and refreshing!

Mule

There are a lot of amenities at the High Sierra Camps and it’s thanks in large part to the hardworking mules that carry supplies up and down the mountains everyday. Each time we passed a line of these friendly and peaceful creatures on the trail, either going up or coming down, we stopped and expressed our gratitude.

Whether you’ve been to Yosemite once or ten times, I highly recommend working a visit to a High Sierra Camp into your next trip. It doesn’t matter if you reserve a tent cabin far in advance or snag a meals-only permit a little less far in advance, it’s a unique experience to meet fellow trekkers, share stories and socialize in such a beautiful setting.

Learn more about the High Sierra Camp lottery process or check out more photos from our trek.

A Wonderful Whirlwind in Japan

japan-112722_640While traveling for work, I always make an effort to carve out at least a small pocket of time to enjoy my destination… through cuisine, local acquaintances, or a drive-by sight-see. When I found out I was going to go to Japan for work recently I wasn’t sure what to expect. Meetings, dinners, train rides, repeat. While I was excited to return to Land of the Rising Sun, it was hard to imagine having any time to enjoy the culture.

Without really trying, my experience of traveling to Japan for work exceeded expectations by a mile. My trip was full of out of this world food and flavors, unexpected hospitality, meaningful local connections, and exposure to a new side of global business. I even was able to wrap up some unfinished business from my trip 10 years prior…

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My American colleagues and I were lucky enough to have a few of our local Japanese colleagues with us for the vast majority of our week. When did this become invaluable? Not only when navigating the intimidating train systems, but even more so when it was time to eat. From ramen and rice to sashimi to shabu-shabu (above), I ate some of the most delicious Japanese food. The most adventurous selection of the week went to sea urchin.

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I’ll try everything once and that’s a great attitude to have in Japan, especially when you’ve got locals ordering on your behalf.  A dictionary of food came in handy at one meal to help in our interpretation of the beautifully presented edibles.

Name that sushi?

Name that sushi? My favorite is on the top left.

When traveling on business, you have to work to see the sights. That's why one night I kidnapped my colleague and took him on a field trip to Shibuya crossing to see the famed intersection. With little research we hoped on the train, found our way, and even stumbled into a local watering hole.

When traveling on business, you usually have to go out of your way to see some sights. That’s why one night I kidnapped my colleague and took him on a field trip to Shibuya Crossing to see the famed intersection. With little research we hopped on a late night train, found our way, and even stumbled into a local watering hole for a sake nightcap.

Coworkers

Getting the chance to do business in Japan was invaluable experience. Business in Japan is built on a foundation of respect, honesty and follow-through. I am a wiser professional after building relationships with colleagues from some of the most successful and well-established companies in the world.

Umeda Sky Building

I’ve always had a fascination with skyscrapers and tall structures, and the Umeda Sky Building in Osaka had me entranced from the moment I laid eyes on it. I had never seen or heard of it and it became the subject of early morning exploration. While I didn’t have time to go up to the hanging gardens on the top floor, it will forever be in my memory as one of the most unique buildings I’ve ever seen.

Perhaps the most

After 5 non-stop days of meetings, presentations and train rides we finally earned some official sightseeing time. Thanks to the never ending hospitality of my local colleague, we enjoyed Kyoto with visits to the Nijo Castle and the Kinkaku-ji (Golden Pavilion). While I had been to both spots during my study abroad in 2004, being back was a time to reflect on how I’ve grown in the 10 years since my first visit.

Because of the nature of this trip, we spent a lot of time on the Shinkansen (bullet train)…  traveling from Tokyo to Hamamatsu to Osaka to Kyoto and back to Tokyo. During my premiere trip to Japan 10 years ago and during our ride early in the week south to Osaka, I missed the opportunity to see beautiful Mt. Fuji out the train window due to less than desirable weather. On our final train ride back to Tokyo, the day before we were to depart, as the sun was setting, without a minute of sunlight to spare, we lucked out and I finally got to see the majestic mountain.


It was a spectacular and satisfying way to wrap up an unforgettable week. More photos and memories on Flickr.

Treasures of the Sunset

I’m not shy when discussing the joy associated with my living situation. In addition to having a great apartment and great roommate, I embrace my neighborhood and take advantage of its riches frequently. There are many things to love about San Francisco’s Sunset neighborhood. I love brisk after-work urban hikes to the top of Grand View Park and Strawberry Hill (in Golden Gate Park). I love the delicious cheap dinner spots like Lime Tree, King of Noodles and Crepevine, and its classier joints like Pasión and Nopalito. I even love Donut World, open 24 hours a day.

Grand View Park, Sunset, San Francisco

My roommate (Austin) and me at the top of Grand View Park, one of my very favorite vantage points from high above the Inner Sunset. Along your urban hike up to the park, be sure to stop at Moraga and 16th Avenue and discover one of the two nearby sets of mosaic tile staircases. (Photo credit: Nicolas Smith)

The Inner Sunset has a hot dog joint, comic book store, and shoe repair shop that’s been open since 1900. From its streets you can look in various directions and lay your eyes on Sutro Tower, the Pacific Ocean and Golden Gate Park, an oasis where you can run on trails, run on a track inside a former NFL stadium, run a half marathon, hike, paddle boat, golf, frisbee golf, cycle laps, geocache, play baseball, soccer, kickball, attend a music festival and more. Our glorious park is home to a world-class science museum and art museum, Japanese Tea Garden, carousel and bison paddock.

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There is never a shortage of things to do and see in Golden Gate Park. Starting clockwise from top left: a butterfly inside the Academy of Sciences, ducklings and their parents at Stow Lake, a Burning Man tent set-up dress rehearsal with Brian, and a geocache discovery with Austin.

In celebration of my adoration for my neighborhood I recently contributed to my dear friend Andi’s travel, food and France blog, Misadventures with Andi. As part of her new series on SF neighborhood profiles from locals, I share more of my favorite Sunset neighborhood gems including a worker-owned bakery and a magnificent cheese shop. Check out my Sunset profile here.