Sunday, January 29, 2012

4D, 5K, 1 Splendid Day!

For those who have known me for a while, especially since my high school days, it is a well known and accepted fact that I, Michael Owen, do NOT play sports. You are looking at the kid that got out of gym all four years of high school (thank you Harry!), while my brother attempted to take 5 gym classes in ONE semester his senior year. Needless to say, sports and highly physical activity were never my forte. However, during my time here in Korea, I have started to slowly shift away from that hard outer shell and have begun to embrace a small part of the sporting and exercising world (as is evident by the gym post a couple of weeks ago).

Saturday was a day full of firsts for me.

I have joined a volunteer group here called Mannam International with a couple of my friends. This group goes throughout Seoul and volunteers at various events and locations, helping the locals. The organization also has a sports component to it, as a way to involve a larger group of people. Recently, they started a running club and have been actively recruiting members to join, regardless of skill, stamina, and speed level. Seeing as I have been trying to get break into the fitness realm of life, I decided to join. Part of my reason for joining is to get in better shape. Another piece of the puzzle really belongs to my friends, Leah and Kari, who have run multiple long distance races over the past few years. Watching them do it has made me want to accomplish something like that as well. Thanks guys for being part of my inspiration to see this through!

Saturday was our first meeting. Our coach, Mark, is currently training for his second triathlon and is a really awesome, relaxed, motivating guy. It also helps that his instruction comes with a British accent! We spent the first 45 minutes going over some basics about running (what to wear, nutrition, setting objectives, etc.) and then we went for a little "warm up" run. This said warm up run ended up being a 5K! No biggie. There were about 15 of us that participated in this first run and I ended up bringing up the end. But I was just more proud of myself that I finished and did not once slow down until the end. The end goal is to partake in a 10K race in April. Now that I have that goal in mind, this whole work out thing might actually be worth it!

This past weekend was also my friend Megan's birthday. We went out Friday night and had a great time living it up Seoul style. So Saturday, it was decided that a more mellow and low-key day was in store. Megan really wanted to go to the movies, so we went and saw Puss in Boots. But not just the regular Puss in Boots --- Puss and Boots in 4D!

This was the second 4D movie that I have been to (when I went to Disney World in high school, we saw A Bug's Life in 4D, which was pretty cool). The movie itself was definitely intended for a younger audience, but with all of the awesome effects and sense gripping extras that they added, it was definitely worth seeing. The chairs moved, wind blew through your hair, water sprayed your face, and flashes of light momentarily blinded your sight, giving the you impression that you were somewhat in the movie. It was a pretty awesome experience and great way to end my glorious day of firsts!

Monday, January 9, 2012

2012 Kick Off!

Here's a quick run-down of life over the past few weeks:

Christmas Weekend:
On Christmas Eve, I went to the Seoul Arts Center with Emma, Andy, Katie, and her boyfriend Nate to see The Nutcracker. It has kind of become a semi-tradition of mine to see this performance around Christmas time as I worked it numerous times at the Gallagher-Bluedorn up at UNI while I was working as a stagehand. It was definitely neat to see the performance from the audience and not backstage.

The theater was absolutely gorgeous and the performance was very fulfilling! It was different because the Nutcracker was actually dressed more like a jester than the traditional Nutcracker character that I have grown up with, so it did take me a little while to realize that. The performance really made me miss working at the theater and brought back tons of memories. I'm hoping to attend some more shows at the SAC during my remaining time here.

Inside the theater...a little dark but still amazinga discussion
On Christmas Day, I joined up with my friend Mitch for some really good Korean food, then headed over to our friend Megan and Travis' place, where we watched National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation. Great movie! Then we all headed to Sinchon and met up with some other people to enjoy a Christmas meal at a restaurant called Yaletown. The dinner consisted of turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing, mini slider (small cheeseburgers), mac and cheese (complete with broccoli and ham), pumpkin pie, rolls, and unlimited drinks. While it wasn't the same of dinner back home, it was still nice to be surrounded by great friends and enjoying a delicious meal.

New Year's Weekend
For New Year's Eve, a group of us gathered together and went out to eat at a really good Korean restaurant in Sinchon (obviously one of our favorite places to go out at). We had some really good fried rice with chicken and pork and some other traditional Korean dishes (their names escape me at the moment). Afterwards, we headed over to a country western-style bar that some of us discovered during Chuseok (Korean Thanksgiving). We spent some time there catching up and playing darts (I beat Emma both time thank you very much! Thank you triple 17!). From there, we headed out to try and find some of our other friends that were at another location in Sinchon. After wandering around the about 20 minutes, we ended up at a small club for the remainder of the night. We were very disappointed that there was no official countdown to the new year, but we still enjoyed ourselves and made the most of it.

Hotel Nox!
This past Saturday night (Jan. 7) was by far one of my favorite during my time here in Seoul. At the Thanksgiving meal back in November, a discussion about party hotel rooms here in Seoul came up. The group of us that were at that meal talked long and hard about this opportunity and decided that we should look into it further and rent one of these rooms for ourselves. Since all of the websites are in Korean and none of us speak Korean, we needed the help of a native speaker. I volunteered to look into as my co-teachers have been super supportive and are always willing to help me out.

The next day at school, I brought this idea up to my co-teachers and they went into a frenzy! They have all heard of these hotels and have always wanted to try them out, but just have never had the chance. Needless to say, they were more than willing to help me out. So after doing a little research and discussions between a few of us, it was decided that would rent the large suite at the Nox Hotel in Yeoksam, in Gangnam-gu, which the richer area of Seoul. One of my co-teachers volunteered to call over the weekend and find out more details for us. Perfect!

On Monday, my co-teacher told me that she had made a reservation for us! Wasn't expecting that! I told her that we didn't even have a solid number of people yet. She told me that I had one day to find 15 friends that wanted to join in on the fun before we would lose our reservation. Challenge accepted. I quickly threw together a Facebook event to 20 people and stated that the first 15 to respond would be included. By the end of the work day, I had my 15! Easy peezy!

So for the low low cost of 900,000 won (approximately $900 or $60/person - total steal!), our room included the following:
- Pool
- Sauna
- Hot Tub
- Karaoke system and full-wall projection
- 2 double beds
- Kitchen with full sized fridge with complimentary drinks (Coke, OJ, water)

Awesome deal!

So the big night finally came and went! We had SOOOO much fun! The room was everything that we could've wanted and more! The only downfall was that the pool wasn't heated. We called down to the front desk multiple times and they said that they would fix it, but it never really happened. Nonetheless, we persevered through that minor setback and had a great time! We enjoyed the hot tub, sauna, and exhausted our voices with the karaoke system! I'm really hoping that we rent another one of these party rooms sometime in the summer before everyone heads in their separate directions. I know that I'd be down for another one!

The pool


Getting ready for the evening

Andy and I belting out some awesome song rendition I'm sure

The girls enjoying the karaoke!

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Working up a sweat...

A couple of days ago, I joined a gym here in Seoul that is right across the street from my school. The gym is in the basement of an 8-story office building and takes up the lowest three floors. Included is a pool (big selling point for me!), billiards tables, darts, aerobic classes, and your usual workout equipment (treadmills, bikes, free weights, etc.)

One of my co-teachers assisted me with the signing up process. Yesterday (Wednesday) was my first day of actually using the facility. Had quite the experience.

After swiping my card at the front desk, the lady working there gave me a key to a locker and asked if I needed any clothes to work out in. Being always prepared, I had brought my own and kindly declined her offer. Before you can even walk into the locker room, you need to take off your shoes. Without even thinking, I took my shoes off and placed them on the shoe rack with all the other shoes. I walked into the locker room and found my locker and started getting changed to go work out. It suddenly hit me that I had no other shoes than the ones that I wore in, so I had to sneakily head back out to the entry way, retrieve my shoes, and avoid the glaring stare of the older man "guarding" the shoe rack (with a hot plate, nonetheless!) Lesson #1: Buy extra pair of "gym only" shoes.

Having finally changed, I headed down the stairs that connect the locker room with the workout area down below. As I entered the workout facility, I was given a sideways glance/glare by another lovely Korean. Maybe I'm not supposed to wear my shoes down the stairs either? Mission #1: Figure out gym stair etiquette.

Instead of trying to stir up trouble, I just headed over to the treadmill and started my workout. The rest of my time working out went by smoothly without any interruptions, evil glares, or cultural blunders (at least I think). The second great adventure occurred as I headed back up to the locker room.

My co-teacher had told me that the locker rooms here in Korea were a bit different than those in the United States. That is a bit of an understatement. There is no sense of shame here in Korea. Men walk freely around the locker room, baring all for everyone to see. I have found that body image and nudity is accepted much more around the world than it is in the United States.

I go to take a shower, using my towel as protection device. Before entering the showers, there are two different rooms. One is the equivalent of a lounge area. There are couches, a mini-bar, TV, and tables and chairs set up for patrons to use at their leisure. A couple of Koreans were taking full advantage of this accommodations. This area though is a clothes only zone. The other room that you walk through reminded me of the large dressing rooms at the Gallagher-Bluedorn in Cedar Falls. Large mirrors adorn the walls, along with chairs to sit in. There are also robes that can be used while "grooming" yourself following the shower.

The shower area is a treat all in itself as well. There are about 16 personal stations complete with a stool that you sit on. I'm guessing this is used for the "pre-soak". Then there are two massive hot tubs to "soak" in before concluding with the "final rinse." It also turns out that there is no need to bring a towel or shampoo, as both are provided. It is also expected to walk around the shower area bare footed. Lesson #2: Leave your sandals outside the shower door before entering.

It was a good first go round at the gym. I'm intrigued to see if I get the same locker when I go back again tomorrow. I'm also really excited to start using the pool and get back into swimming. This membership will turn out to be a positive thing, just as long as I don't step out of line along the way.