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Wuddup everybody. I am officially an uncle! At 1:33 am on May 28th, Holden Alexander Jacobs was born. Congratulations to my bro and his wife and welcome to little baby Holden. The name was kept secret until the day of birth, but I figured it would be a literary figure of some kind (Holden is the name of the main character from Catcher in the Rye). I was pulling for Humbert Humbert (I will let you guys look that one up) but I like the name Holden. I can’t believe it though, I have a nephew! Can’t wait to meet the guy and see how he turns out. Should be great because he has a great family already (as long as he can deal with Jack’s barking). He is a great looking baby too, doesn’t look like a newborn to me but I am horrible at judging the age of people of all races and genders, especially really young kids.

Holden

As for us, we are just plugging along, working a lot, living life. We found out that tutu, our rabbit, is a girl. That was the biggest recent development. I will keep this short and sweet, just wanted to update people on the exciting news for the Jacobs clan. Thanks to my parents, their parents, and so on for making all of this possible. Congrats again to my fam, I will see everyone in 20 days. Peace.

“One generation plants the trees, and another gets the shade”

-Chinese Proverb

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OK, I will pick up where I left off about the Seoul trip. So, it was Saturday evening and we were going to meet up with a friend of a friend, Laylani (Leylani, Lalani, idk which) and her boyfriend James. We went to a very Korean place for dinner, a dak galbi place, which is the super traditional Korean BBQ. Basically, its a hot plate that you cook a bunch of different food on, usually thick noodles, chicken, peppers, covered in a BBQ sauce. I love this stuff and was glad we got to have some. Our friends were both army folk, which represents a large number of the Westerners in Seoul. I knew that Seoul was the second biggest city in the world in terms of the greater metropolitan area, but it was remarkable how spread out the city was. Our friends came from hours away to Seoul for the weekend, which seemed to be a very common theme for people we met. It was cool meeting some people living a similar adventure to us but in Korea. If I were in the army, it would be pretty great getting stationed in South Korea than most other places (large understatement alert). I had heard that Koreans loved to get drunk, even more than Chinese, which I thought was going to be a stereotype. I can now confirm that the stereotype is completely accurate. I don’t mean a “little tipsy having a few beers with friends”, I mean “chugging rice and grain alcohol to the point of total intoxication.” Again, we were in a popular area to party and filled with university students, so they were perhaps more wild than others, but lets just say that the general population we saw was loud and drunk (and wearing baseball apparel). Dinner was great and we headed to another bar to meet up with some other friends.

One thing about the area that we noticed was tons of live music. People were playing on the streets and pretty large crowds formed around them, making the area a lot more lively. We went to another bar and met up with some other people, one of whom went to my friend’s alma mater, Western Kentucky University, played some electronic darts, hung out for a while, and then headed home. It was a fun night out and it was great meeting James and Laylani. We are hoping they decide to come to China so we can repay their hospitality. We headed back to the hostel to get ready for another festival that was happening that weekend, celebrating the birth of Buddha.

Sunday morning was our last day to tour, so we tried to hit up some of the other hot spots. Luckily for us, there was the festival we went to the day before and the Lotus Lantern Festival going on. We went to Jogyesa Temple, which seemed to be the center of the Buddha Bday celebration, and looked at the booths on Asian medicine, crafts involving Buddhism, got our picture dressed like Buddha, and marveled at the Korean celebrities that we didn’t know. The temple was covered in lanterns of all different colors, and there was some sort of prayer ceremony going on inside the temple. It was cool to see but it seemed a little strange that people could walk into a temple and just take pictures of people praying on seemingly such an important day. I don’t think it would fly in the USA if on Easter Sunday or Christmas if a bunch of loud Chinese/Korean tourists stumbled to the front and started snapping pictures. We did it anyway and nobody seemed to mind. We were close to the famous street and tourist spot called Insa-Dong, which is basically a big street with shops and restaurants on both sides. Similar to China, it made you realize that you were in Asia, because there just aren’t places in the West that have that many people around all the time. Erin mentioned in the last post about the Turkish ice cream vendors, and I will try to put a video of one of them playing with the kids. These guys should be in every major city in the world because it was pretty hilarious to see them messing with the kids. Big crowds gathered just to watch each kid take their turn being faked out and fooled by the ice cream man.

We walked into some tea shops and other places looking for clothes or presents, eventually stopping at a pretty authentic looking Korean place for lunch. We had to take our shoes off and sit on the floor, and the place was filled with only Koreans, so it seemed authentic to me. I got a bibimbap, a great little Korean dish that is rice inside a hot stone pot, filled with vegetables, seaweed, an egg, and sometimes meat. Of course the meal came with kim chi (as did every meal), and the prices were pretty solid for a lot of food. 5 bucks to get completely full on fresh food…I was impressed. Erin found a tea shop where she bought some “naturally” sweet tea called Snow Dew tea, which is green tea that is supposedly sweet on its own. It is good and sweet. We walked around a famous shopping area with a weird name (Ssamziegil), then headed back to the heart of the city to try to see some palaces.

We walked back to the palace we had started at the day before (where the changing of the guard ceremony took place), but it wasn’t the palace I wanted. I am very anti-taxi and would basically walk until I couldn’t anymore, but at least they are reasonably priced in Asia. I should mention how amazingly nice the taxis in Seoul were. They were all nice Hyundais, pristinely clean on the inside, modern on the outside, and with some pretty amazing innovations to boot. All of them had visible GPS’s that showed exactly the route you would take, and if you say the words “interpreter” or “English”, the cabbie will make a call, get you a translator in a few seconds, and off you go. This city is so modern it is insane. Anyways, the cab dropped us at Changdeok Palace, which is known for its gardens. It looked a lot like Chinese palaces, but it had some cool features and looked “older” than most other palaces we have seen. The royal family from Korea must have been real short, because my head would have smashed through just about every doorway that we saw. It was a beautiful palace, remarkably quiet considering how close to downtown it was, and offered some amazing views of the city. The garden was pretty “meh” (a word I use commonly on the internet to express apathy), but it was a nice escape. Plus I saw a chipmunk, a very rare wildlife sighting! We left the palace and headed out for dinner.

We met a teacher named Demond in Tangshan, the city in China we used to live (I know you all probably know this). He taught right after we left, and I wrote the new teachers a long note if they needed any help or if they ever visited Beijing to email me. We met up with him and the other teachers in Beijing, and I remembered that he mentioned he would be going to Seoul to get his PhD, and luckily we were able to meet up. We went to a place called Yeti, a Nepalese/Indian fusion restaurant that was GOOD. I am starting to really fall for Indian and Pakistani food…I find myself craving it as much as Italian or Mexican these days. We were with Demond, his roommate from Chicago and girlfriend from South Africa, and it was a lot of fun. They all seemed to love Korea and it did seem like a great city to be in. A huge difference between Korea and China is the internet. The internet in Korea is foolishly fast. 5 or 6 times the speed of our internet at home was what I was getting on the wireless at the hostel we were staying. Faster than the USA. The place is paradise I tell ya. We finished dinner, walked around and talked at another bar for a little while, met the insane “Makgeolli man”, a guy that drags a cart with awful South Korean liquor around, saying “I love you”, “Obama” and other hilarious English phrases (see the photos of the insane looking Korean man in the last post). After that, it was bedtime, back to the airport, one more bibimbap for David while waiting, then on the plane. Trip was short but sweet, but hopefully I will be back.

South Korea is a great place. The people were friendly to us, but we were told that they have an overall bad attitude towards foreigners, especially Americans. It seemed that the older generations really respected and appreciated Americans and realized that they would be part of North Korea without help from the USA, but the younger generations seem to lean strongly to the socialist side of the political spectrum. Combine that with the heavy presence of American military and you have cooked up a pretty good batch of anti-American sentiment. The city of Seoul, the food, the culture, and technology are incredible though, showing the ingenuity, intelligence, and resolve of the Korean people. I was really pleased with the trip and really impressed with the city. Definitely one of the favorite cities that I have ever been (Barcelona, Hong Kong, Seoul, Rio de Janeiro, San Diego and DC of course!).

Hope everyone is doing well. Ready to be an uncle. Bye for now.

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So last weekend Erin’s visa needed to be stamped outside of China, so we decided to take a little weekend trip to South Korea. Lots of foreigners live in China with tourist visas and need to leave the country every 90 days, a so called “visa run”, but it gives people a good excuse to travel. I got off of work a little bit early and we headed to the airport. Beijing’s main airport has 3 terminals, and the majority of international flights leave out of terminal 3, the biggest terminal. The terminals are a decent distance apart, and it is always confusing which terminal your flight leaves out of. In one of the more bizarre scenes of my life, I jumped off of the train at the last second because I saw a flight leaving for Seoul on the electronic board. Erin, however, did not jump off the train. We had plenty of time, so I exchanged money and then went to check in. I waited for a bit and was waiting for Erin to come back to terminal 3. When I got to the front of the line, they told me we needed to go to terminal 2. Erin was already on the bus back to terminal 3, and I frantically darted off in the direction she had just left. I told Erin we needed to go to terminal 2, and she tried to hail a cab back to terminal 2, in tears and feeling like the trip wasn’t going to happen. I checked in at terminal 2 and told them Erin was on her way, and she made it about 10 minutes after. We walked on the plane just in time, with phase one of our journey complete. It seems like a dream now that I am writing this, I almost didn’t remember because I guess I tried to forget it. I was flush with 600k Korean Won as the pictures can attest, and we were relieved to even be going.

We arrived in Seoul an hour and a half later and hopped on a bus towards our hostel. Within a few minutes on the bus, I noticed some things different about Korea. First, the bus driver came by to check everyone’s seatbelts! WHAT?! Bus drivers in China don’t care if you walk on the bus with chickens, and Chinese taxi drivers sometimes urge you to undo your seatbelt since they are a safe driver. Second, the bus driver bowed to us before we started. Chinese don’t bow to anyone (that I have seen). Third, baseball was playing on the bus TV. Baseball, you ask? I knew that Japan liked baseball, but we came to learn that Korea LOVES baseball. There are a few Koreans playing in the major leagues, but this was a Korean league game, between the SK Wyverns and the LG Twins. As you can see, the teams are named after companies like in Japan (the Nippon Ham Fighters is my favorite), and I was pretty impressed with the play overall. The game was very different though, and the strategy seemed to slant much less towards power and hitting home runs, and more towards trickery and speed. I watched about 15 batters on the bus, and EVERY SINGLE BATTER acted like they were going to bunt on every pitch. It was ridiculous, and I can only imagine how quickly you would have your head thrown at if this were MLB. 2 out of 3 pitchers I saw had a submarine delivery, which means they basically throw underhand, and there are maybe 2 submarine pitchers in the entire major leagues. I know this is boring for anyone that doesn’t like baseball, but it was still pretty surprising to me that Korea liked baseball so much.

We got to our little hostel run by Jun, a Korean guy who spoke about 20 words of English. We walked around the neighborhood to get some food and the lay of the land, and luckily Erin put us smack dab in the heart of the hippest area of Seoul, Hongik University (right where we belonged…). It was mobbed with people under the age of 25 and we could start to see big differences between Koreans and Chinese. Hygiene, fashion, size, face structure, and skin color were all pretty different, with the Koreans being more “modern” in regards to fashion and hygiene. The Koreans are known in Asia for being fashionable, but I guess I’m really not fashionable (not I guess, I am not fashionable (and proud of it)), because the Koreans clothes were pretty laughable in most cases. About 20% of girls looked like Amish people, wearing long, country America style dresses, 30% looked fairly normal, and the other 50% looked like total trash that you would find at clubs in Beijing. We were in a young area, so that skewed the results, but even still these girls were not trying to look wholesome (barring the Amish impersonators). A lot of people were wearing hats and shirts with American baseball team logos, even though many of them had no idea what they were. The vast majority of people were wearing Cleveland Indians apparel, because Shin Soo Choo, Korea’s baseball champion, plays for them (and is really, really good). A lot of Yankees, Red Sox, Cubs, and some Phillies were seen too. We ate some nasty food and slept for our early trip the next morning.

As you should know, Korea is divided into two parts, north and south. The North is a dump ruled by tyrants that seem to only want to hurt their own citizens, citizens of other countries, and remain in power. The South is awesome and has the misfortune of having only one border, the DMZ, or demilitarized zone. The Koreans actually are still at war with one another, but signed a cease fire that the North loosely adheres to, and the DMZ was created after the Korean war in order to maintain peace between the two nations. The 38th parallel is the center of the DMZ, with 2 kms on either side of it serving as a buffer between the countries. There are tons of landmines inside, and it is the most heavily militarized border in the world. We got to see some interesting things on the tour, such as guard posts, the only train station in South Korea that goes to Pyongyang (has only made two trips ever and hasn’t gone in years), an observatory where you can look over the DMZ into North Korea (and see NK’s 3rd biggest city, which was basically a few factories), and go into one of the many tunnels that NK dug in failed attempts to invade the South secretly. I should mention that all South Koreans have mandatory 21 month military service (not Shin Soo Choo), but the North Koreans…mandatory 10 years for men, and 7 for women! The tour guide, CK, was a jolly South Korean guy who spoke great English, and although the tour itself wasn’t super interesting, it was pretty incredible to be able to see such an important part of history. It is a bit cliche, but you could “feel” the tension, and it is amazing that these two countries need to be divided physically just to maintain peace. Because of the lack of humans (due to the abundance of landmines), the DMZ has turned into an environmental wonderland, where animals and plants have been able to thrive without any human intervention. That is the positive from the story. We ate some soy bean chocolate, went to a ginseng store, and then were dropped off downtown.

We were dropped in front of one of the many palaces in downtown Seoul, just in time to witness the changing of the guard ceremony. The guards were dressed in traditional military clothing which was pretty cool, and again we noticed some differences between Chinese and Koreans. The Koreans not only waited in lines to take their picture with the fake soldiers, they also let us go before our turn in some cases! Don’t get me wrong, the Chinese are hospitable people and I love them, but this would be basically unheard of in a touristy location. We walked towards a giant festival that had booths and food from basically every country in the world, and were really enjoying our time in Seoul. Festivals everywhere you went and international food from everywhere on Earth? Yes, please. We ate falafel, pretzels, ceviche, and other stuff, while walking around a bit more and seeing Gyeongbokgung Palace before heading back to the hostel.

I guess I am in a writing mood because this is already pretty long. Somehow I wrote 1400 words already, so I will finish the remainder of the trip tomorrow. Also, my brother and his wife are going to have a baby in just a few days! Can’t wait to meet it and have a new member of the fam. For now, to be continued…

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This past weekend I organized a “Bohai or Bust Kick-Off Party” at The Hutong. The event was a way for Beijingers to learn a little more about supporting the biking community in Beijing, hear a factual talk on pollution levels, and register for the upcoming Bohai or Bust charity bike ride at The Schoolhouse at Mutianyu. We made museli bars, gave away prizes and listened to a few awesome speakers, including Beijing’s accident traffic and air pollution expert Gilbert Van Kerckhove. I had a really good time at this event, especially since I have just recently become a Beijing biker and would love to see this turn into a more bike-friendly city!

A few reporters wrote about the event…and you can catch a glimpse of some familiar faces in this article. *Despite the fact that I’m NOT the organizer for Bohai or Bust and David is making muesli bars, NOT dumplings…this is a fun article!

My future goal is to actually write something worthy enough to be published in one of these magazines!

Well, it’s still pretty cold here and the heat has officially been turned off. The wind also gusted so hard today that I had to momentarily stop riding my bike on the way to work! This week I’m busy preparing for The Fig Tree’s booth at the Expat Show, and David is also experimenting with riding a bike to work.

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