Category Archives: Storytelling

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!

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.

On this Veterans Day…

I am grateful for three grandparents, an uncle, and a cousin that have served in the armed forces for our country.

It’s my grandfather Robert that stands out for his service the most, in my eyes. He served in the Korean War in the 1950s and it was then, while based in Japan, that he met my grandmother, Sueko (who I previously remembered here).

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Derek and Grandpa, circa 1990

He was tall and gentle. He was the father of my mother and we knew each other only 9 years. His death was the first close family loss I ever experienced and while I’ve lived the majority of my life now with him only in memories, I feel his influence around me often.

I have greater respect for our armed forced because of him. I know it’s because of his openness and interest in a woman from an exotic culture that my life is so full of diversity. And of course everyday when I put on my 34 inch long pants, I am reminded that he is surely and genetically responsible for my height.

While he was in the U.S. Navy, he was awarded a number of medals honoring his service, most notably the Purple Heart, for shrapnel wounds to the leg he received during conflict. In addition, he received the Korean Service Medal, the National Defense Service Medal, the Navy Service Occupation Medal and the Good Conduct Medal. Several years before his death (at the young age of 62), he sat me down and gifted me with his medals. I remember the day vividly. I sat quietly, as I usually did in his presence, as he meticulously laid out and explained each to me, and handed them over one by one, a transfer in ownership.

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For many years after his death, the medals were stored in various places… as I graduated high school, college and eventually moved to California. Earlier this year I realized the medals needed a proper home and deserved a more worthy display. I did a little Pinterest and Etsy research and determined that there was no display available for purchase that met my precise requirements. So I sketched out a plan for a frame display that I would create myself with a variety of supplies.

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The project came together not long ago, with a beautiful photo of my grandfather in uniform that my mom sent to me, and I couldn’t be happier with how it turned out. The display now lives proudly on the wall above my bed, amidst some other personal art.

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Thank you to all that have served to make the world a more peaceful place…

MTA (musical theater anonymous)

My name is Derek and I am a Broadwayaholic. I admit this and I am not ashamed. I like musicals, plays and the performing arts, more than the average human.

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2012 Tony winner for best musical, Kinky Boots

My interest in on-stage song and dance originated after I saw my dear cousin Rachel perform in the Hastings High School rendition of Hello Dolly, way back when I was a lad. I saw a variety of marquee shows through high school including Fame, Les Misérables (my first show on Broadway), The Lion King and Sunset Boulevard, with the one and only Petula Clark.

In college, I did a ridiculously fun PR internship at MSU’s beautiful on-campus theater, the Wharton Center for the Performing Arts where I got to see and work on promoting some great shows like Chicago, Urinetown (one of my all time unsung favorites) and Movin’ Out.

Through the latter years I’ve been fortunate to see dozens of other shows, touring, in SF and in New York, including big Tony winners like Rent, Avenue Q, Wicked and Spring Awakening.

One of the things I like to do in New York when I see a show is to camp out by the stage door after, to wait for the cast to come out at the end of the night, because they almost always stop to say hi to fans and to personally sign Playbills (the official programs of a Broadway show). I’ve built up quite a collection of both signed and unsigned Playbills. I recently decided it was time to do something with my accumulation other than let it sit stacked up in the corner of my bookshelf. I decided to pick out a few favorite shows to frame and hang as art in my bedroom.

BEFORE

It was fun to lay all my Playbills out on the floor, try to arrange them in chronological order and reminisce about all the great performances I’ve enjoyed. I didn’t have a specific criteria for deciding which of the programs I’d frame and which would go back in the stack. I ended up with six favorite Playbills, signed by the most talented performers I’ve had the pleasure of seeing on stage…

AFTER

  • Dirty Rotten Scoundrels – starring and signed by John Lithgow, Norbert Leo Butz, and Sherie Rene Scott, with Joanna Gleason.
  • Promises, Promises starring and signed by Kristin Chenoweth and Sean Hayes.
  • Spring Awakening – starring and signed by Lea Michelle (Glee), Jonathan Groff (Glee and COG) and John Gallagher, Jr. (American Idiot, Newsroom and Short Term 12).
  • Kinky Boots – starring and signed by Billy Porter, and an overall amazing show and Best Musical Tony winner.
  • The Mountaintop – starring and signed by Samuel L. Jackson and Angela Bassett.
  • Newsies – starring and signed by Jeremy Jordan (Smash), Alex Wong (So You Think You Can Dance) and others.

It was hard to pick just six and I may rotate other notable Playbills out when I feel like switchin’ things up.

Misadventures with Derek

Six words you don’t want to hear five weeks before an international trip:
You need to renew your passport.

This is the sentence I awoke to on Monday morning in an email from my travel agent. A perfect way to kick off the week.

I’ve planned the hell out of this upcoming 15 day trip to Peru and I did confirm two months ago that my passport is in my known possession and does not expire until March 2014.

Little did I know that to travel to many countries, like Peru, you must have six months valid on your passport, as of your planned return day. My trip concludes in early October so basically I will be expired by about six days. In a world where details (sometimes) rule, this is enough to require me to renew and expedite.

It’s always something isn’t it?

Well as I renew my passport I have to send in my current (and first) one and will likely not get it back. So it seemed appropriate to capture my international travels over the last 10 years and do a little reminiscing…

I got my first passport in college in 2004 as I prepared myself for my first international trip, a summer study abroad throughout Asia. .

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My summer in Asia took me in (Tokyo) and out (Osaka) of Japan (with Kyoto in between), before camping out in Hong Kong for two months, with side trips to Macau and Singapore.

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Following my study abroad, I didn’t leave the country again until a trip to Australia in 2006 and then again in 2008 when I participated in a one week exchange program with Racepoint Group to London, with a side trip to Paris (although with no photos or passport stamp from France, I can’t actually prove I ever made it there).

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It was around 2009 that the rules for carrying a passport in and out of Mexico changed so I got a few stamps for trips south of the border. Then it was 2011 that I most recently left the country on a trip to Barcelona for work and play, although my immigration checks were in Zurich.

While I’ve only left the country a half dozen times in the last 10 years, I always feel blessed with the opportunities I have to travel. Here’s to filling even more pages in passport #2 (which hopefully will arrive without delay) starting with an adventure to a new continent.

(Shout out to my dear friend, seasoned blogger and world traveler Andi, who I clearly and blatantly used as inspiration for the title of this post. I hope she doesn’t mind. 🙂 Visit her blog, Misadventures with Andi, for travel stories and tips, food porn and other great content that inspires me to blog more.)

I’m not a Survivor, but I’ve hung out with a few

Survivor: Philippines!

I’ve been a fan of the TV show Survivor since the very beginning. I watched Richard Hatch win it all in 2000 and I haven’t missed an episode since. That’s 25 seasons and 375 episodes. (If you watched every season back-to-back, 24 hours straight, it’d take you 17 days!)

My love for the show reached its zenith this weekend when I was treated to the opportunity to go the finale and live reunion in Los Angeles with my friend Lee, who does business with Mark Burnett, the creator and producer of the show.

I had no idea what was in store for me when I arrived at CBS Television City on Sunday, but it was an event I had been looking forward to all season long.

front row, all-access

Little did I know going into the night that I would be treated like VIP. Not only were we in the audience, but we were seated in the very front row, next to the family of final four contestant Malcolm.

Before the 2-hour finale began airing, we mingled with Mark Burnett himself and a few past contestants. I even had an awkward run in with a moody contestant from last season. At first I couldn’t pinpoint what season she had been on and when I asked she snapped at me, reminding me it wasn’t that long ago… Without me even saying another word, she immediately went into defense mode, yapping about how she was edited as the cockroach of her season because she ticked off some producer during filming… Dang honey, chill out! Then I rubbed elbows with long-time dreamy host Jeff Probst, and previous contestants Rob Cesternino, Parvati Shallow and Burton Roberts, yum.

Survivor: Philippines!

It was exciting and surreal to sit in the studio and watch the two-hour finale. Audience members and especially family members cheered and jeered at different points of the show. I probably had a smile on my face the entire time.

After the final tribal council aired and it was time for Jeff to read the votes and announce the winner, the entire cast came out and got set up for the big live reveal. At this point I was rooting for Lisa but thought Michael had the best shot of winning. However, both of them delivered weak answers to jury questions during the final tribal council and I knew Denise had made a much stronger case for the million dollar prize.

LIVE!

Before I knew it, the votes were read, Denise had won 5-1-1 and it was time for the live reunion show. This was my chance to appear on national television for the second time! (The first being when I stood behind a person being interviewed by Al Roker during The Today Show in 2001.)

It was fascinating being part of the live show. There were cameras zipping around everywhere and countdowns-til-the-next-commercial flashing all over.

After the reunion concluded, we jetted for the hallway where Lee knew the cast would exit the set. He knew if we acted fast we’d have a chance to take a picture or two with a contestant or two. We poked around, crossed paths with many of this season’s notable contestants including Jeff, Pete and RC, and Michael, Malcolm and Lisa, and I got to congratulate Denise on her win. We even popped into the media tent (we literally had all-access!) and I got to meet one of my favorite contestants of all-time, the sweet and friendly Jerri Manthey!

back stage, on stage, in the halls, media tent

Finally after about 2 hours of stalking around CBS, we finally had the chance to pull grumpy, hottie, fourth place contestant Malcolm aside for some quick snapshots. 🙂

Malcolm and Derek, no big deal

A lot of my friends poke fun of me over my long standing love for Survivor, but I have no shame. There aren’t many things I’ve done in my life for 12 years straight and I’m proud to say being a Survivor fan is one of them. It’s a fascinating show about how strangers interact and treat each other under extreme conditions, what drives people to win, competitiveness, physicality and basic human interactions. The experience changes people in positive ways and it’s always inspiring to watch that unfold. The show is always set in beautiful locations, from Africa to the Amazon to all over the South Pacific, and it makes me want to explore the world. Every season is different and worth watching for its own reasons. As long as it’s on, I’ll be a loyal viewer.

As dorky as it may sound, being at the finale and reunion was a night I’ll probably remember for the rest of my life. I had a blast and am so grateful for the experience.

Thank you again Lee, I owe you big!

For all my photos from the night, visit my Survivor finale Flickr album.

At Last: The Book of Mormon

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Late last month I finally had the opportunity to see The Book of Mormon, winner of nine 2011 Tony Awards, including best musical. Usually I don’t feel like the last to see great musicals because of frequent trips to New York City and daily monitoring of Broadway blogs to stay on top of what’s good. (I’m proud to have seen half of the shows nominated for best musical in the last three years.)

Seeing it one year and eight months after opening in New York didn’t come easy. I dragged my feet buying tickets during the pre-sale and missed the window of opportunity. As a result I had to make sure I woke up early on the day tickets went on sale to the public, which just so happened to be the day that the Space Shuttle was being flown over San Francisco on a 747 on its way to LA. Of course, I wanted to see that too. No joke, the exact moment I could hear the 747 jet engines flying outside my apartment, tickets went on sale. Unfortunately, I missed the flyover and was forced to instead enjoy all the photos that flooded my Facebook feed from friends. The ticket site crashed multiple times when I was trying to buy 4 seats and then it crashed a couple more times when I tried to buy 2. Eventually I had to accept the fact that this show was going to sell out quickly and that I was only going to be able to get a single ticket, which I quickly did.

This isn’t the first time I’ve gone to see a Broadway show alone. I’ve gone in New York lots of time when traveling solo on business and I even did in San Francisco once to see Wicked a second time. Sometimes you can get really great seats if you are going alone. For that Wicked show I had a great orchestra ticket and was surrounded by (fellow) Broadway nerds… one guy that boasted that he’d seen the show dozens of time and was in the audience for the San Francisco premiere back when it was in previews.

Anyway, flash forward a few months and I saw The Book of Mormon!

And I enjoyed it.

It’s extremely funny. There’s lots of great choreography and a handful of memorable songs (Turn It Off ! ). There’s some fun Orlando humor which totally cracked me up given the amount of time I spent there this year. Oh and there are lots of fit, cute, dancing boys in the show.

There is a part of me that wishes I had tried harder to see it sooner. There’s something about this type of satire and humor that isn’t timeless. Given the fact we had a Mormon in serious contention for the Presidency this year makes some of the religious inappropriateness slightly less scandalous and over-the-top.

With that being said, I 100 percent recommend anyone and everyone try to see this musical (as soon as possible). It’s one of those shows you can enjoy without having hardcore appreciation for musical theater and one that will most definitely make you laugh out loud.