Wednesday, April 25, 2012

A Blur of a Month...

How the month of April has just FLOWN by! Can't believe May starts next week. I guess having your weekends filled up to the brim with activities and outings also helps make time go faster! I have been actively participating in Mannam and have had a flurry of events in the past few weeks that I want to get you all caught up on!


One of the big things that I've been helping to set up is a Spanish conversation group. About a month ago, four of us (Nate, Colleen, Sarah, and myself) all put our heads together and started putting together ideas for making this group a reality. After several planning meetings and some creative brainstorming sessions, it finally happened!

We had our first official meeting Friday, April 13th. Held at a local Krispy Kreme (classy, I know!), 10 Spanish enthusiast got together to enjoy each others company and talk some EspaƱol! It was a great two hours. One of the attendees, Mauricio, is from Guatemala. It was fantastic to have a native speaker to help us with our questions, but most importantly, to be exposed to that native dialect. It took a while to adjust to his speaking style, but after about 5 minutes, I was right there, taking in every (or every other) word that he was saying. It was super exciting and reminded me why I want to hopefully eventually end up in South or Central America for an extended period of time.

10KM Walk in Their Shoes

The next day (Saturday, April 14th), a huge event was held at Seoul Grand Park. The 10KM Walk in Their Shoes is an event that is held throughout Korea as a way to raise awareness for countries that have been devastated by natural disasters in the past couple of years. Countries represented included Japan, Turkey, Haiti, and Pakistan, among others. A total of about 250-300 people participated in the walk, which took walkers around the zoo.

I was able to participate in this event in two different ways - through the volunteer committee and with my running club, MIRC. For the volunteer committee, we used this event as our last big push to get volunteers for our massive Earth Day event that was going to be held the following week. We were able to corral about 60-70 additional people for our efforts, which was fantastic!

Some of the promotion team for the day! (Thanks for the photo, Emma!)
Through MIRC, our role was a little bit different. Seeing as this was a walk for awareness and we are a RUNning club, we we given the task of leading some warm up stretches for the participants (we always want to practice safe exercising, no matter what the degree of intensity!). So as a group, we led our fellow walkers (and a few runners) through the basic stretches that we as a club do before any of our group work outs. It was really cool watching everyone come together and be willing to make a bit of a fool of themselves for a great cause!

So not only did we help lead warm-ups, we also ran the 10K instead of participating in the walk. Seemed easy enough (and a good warm up for the 10K race I was signed up for the following weekend). We get going and about a kilometer into the course, we are met with an unexpected twist - a mountain! That's right, the course we were running included scaling one of the nearby mountains and traversing through the rough terrain for a good 2 kilometers or so. To say that we were all unprepared for this would be a major understatement! Following the conquering of the mountain, the rest of the course was a piece of cake. All in all, it was a great day, great weather, spent with amazing people!

And we're off!!

The banner for the event

Group shot! I'm in the back somewhere...
Bukhansan Earth Day Event

For the past month, my life has been consumed by getting ready for this event. Between planning meetings, Mannam club promotions, public promotions, and the event itself, I feel as if I have been living and breathing Bukhansan day in and day out. Here was our original plan for the event:

1. Recruit 500 expats/foreigners
2. Head to Bukhansan, one of the largest and more revered national parks in all of Seoul
3. With the help of the National Park Service, wrap between 600 and 800 trees with biodegradable paper made out of sweet potatoes to help stop the spread of a virus known as oak wilt disease.
4. Do our part for Earth Day, and help preserve a popular hiking destination for local Seoulites

Sounds like a great plan right? We were already to go - materials bought, almost 500 volunteers signed up, wraps purchased, just waiting to be adhered to the deserving trees. Only one problem - no one talked to Mother Nature about bring lovely, sunny weather.

The day of the event (this past Saturday, April 21st) it rained. And it rained some more. And then for good measure, it continued to rain and rain and rain...and rain. So we had to enact Plan B at the last minute and try to pull this event off.

Plan B was to do some root recovery by covering up exposed roots with soil. So with the volunteers that did show up, we would form an assembly line and pass bags of dirt up the mountain to the areas that needed this extra soil the most. As 1:00 neared, we were all skeptical how many people would actually show up. Some had bets on 50; the more optimistic in the group guessed 100. Boy were we all wrong!

Despite the rain and downright horrendous conditions, close to 300 people showed up to help us out! It was such an amazing turnout and absolutely surpassed our expectations considering the conditions. I was in charge of briefing the volunteers as they arrived at the national park. After informing the groups of the change in plans and the safety requirements for the day, they moved out to the parking lot area, where they were once again briefed about the actual process for the day. Then they were guided up the mountain, placed either in the assembly line, top of the mountain, or bottom filling bags and got under way. Despite some chaotic times and miscommunications along the way, it ended up being an amazing event.

As people were coming back down the mountain at the end of the day, I heard nothing but positive comments. It seemed that the rain actually ENHANCED the day and made it more memorable for all of our volunteers. Turns out that nothing can stop Mannam from pushing through and completing what we set out to do and accomplish!

(All photos courtesy of Mannam International)

Briefing inside

Outside briefing

Assembly line

Small portion of the group
Here is a video of the event that was put together by the Mannam media team. Check it out!

Parent's Visit

To finish out this busy and hectic month, I'll be getting an awesome visit from some very friendly faces - my parents! They fly into Seoul Friday afternoon and will be here until May 7th! I'm beyond excited to have them here and show them around the city that I've called home for the past 8 months! But we won't be spending all of our time in Seoul. The last four days of the trip will be spent on the beautiful island of Jeju, just south of the Korean peninsula! Should be an amazing 10 days!

Finally - would like to wish my brother, Matt, a very happy 22nd birthday! Hope you had a great time celebrating your GOLDEN birthday bro!

Monday, April 23, 2012

How I Became a Runner

I'm sure for those of you that have known me for an extended period of time, this title may catch you by surprise. Trust me, 8 months ago, I never in a million years thought I'd be writing a post about how much I've come to love and enjoy the sport of running. That day has come...

As I stated in this earlier blog post, I was not the most athletic person growing up. I was that kid in the outfield during pee-wee baseball that was more interested in the butterflies and grass than the actual game. The last organized sporting thing that I did was track in 7th grade! So if you had told me that I'd be an active member of a running club in Korea and would actively be running (between 3-5 times a week), I would've looked at you like you had 3 heads and an 11th finger!

But here I am today, having just completed my first official 10KM race this past Saturday (in a personal best time of 48:31 - granted it was my first time, but I beat my goal of 50:00!). It all started about three months ago. I had started to become quite involved with Mannam International, a large volunteer group here in Seoul that I've talked about many times before. I had heard a rumor that they were thinking of starting a running club and became a bit interested. I obviously wasn't the first in line to sign up, but reluctantly told myself to just check it out and see what it was all about.

In all realities, the only reason why I even joined was because my friend Fred (who's from Vancouver and has since gone back to Canada) told me he was going and I should come as well. So on the day of the first meeting, I remember sitting outside the subway exit, anxiously awaiting Fred to show up. Had he not come that day, I don't know if I would've gone through with the first meeting. Honestly. I was that unsure about my running abilities.

Luckily, Fred showed up and we headed up to the Mannam Office for our first day of training. We started off the session by doing a quick round of introductions (there were roughly 8-10 of us that first meeting) and doing a basic orientation on the proper way to run, what to eat, etc. from our coach, Mark. It turned out to be a really great session. Then came the dreaded part - the run itself. Having not run a very substantial distance for more than 10 years or so, I was super nervous that I wouldn't be able to complete the first chunk.

We headed out from the office and started jogging down the street. We made our way to the Han River and jogged past two bridges, turned around and headed back to the office. I was doing good until I hit the first bridge on the way back. Fatigue, soreness, and just plain out of shapeness set in and I struggled to finish the last little bit back tot he office. I was embarassed for myself and vowed that the next week I would be able to not only finish the run but finish it in the middle of the pack and not at the very end. So that week, I joined the gym across the street from my school and started running on the treadmill at least 3 times a week to get ready for our next regular meeting.

Was I ever ready! We ended up running close to 10K and I was one of the first ones done! No slowing down, no struggling to finish at the end. I felt absolutely amazing and knew that this was something that I wanted to keep up. Within two weeks, I was hooked on running and have not stopped since!

That was almost two months ago and even to this day, I'm still doing runs about 3-5 times a week. I have found some really cool websites (thanks to the help of other members in the club) and apps for my phone that have helped me keep track of my distances and times. Just last week, I ran everyday from Saturday to Wednesday and ended up covering close to 50 KM (which is about 31 miles for those of you not on the metric system)! Since I've started running regularly, I've dropped nearly 8 pounds, which is fantastic! Seeing as I'm not one that tracks the pounds, I'm pretty excited about this new lifestyle of mine!

All of this training culminated at the Cherry Blossom Marathon last Saturday (mentioned above). Despite some horrid conditions (thanks Mother Nature for not cooperating and bringing the rain and the wind!), I set my personal best and now have something to base the rest of my races off of. I'm exicted to continue the training process and hope to complete a half marathon before I leave Korea! Once again, never EVER thought I'd be saying that as a personal goal!

As we say in MIRC (Mannam International Running Club), we run for fitness, we run for health, we run for life! This has now become my new motto and I couldn't be happier to live by these words!

Getting ready to go on our second run as a club!
Following one of our runs around Namsan Mountain

The start of the 10K Walk in Their Shoes - we ran the course while others walked to help raise awareness for countries that have been affected by natural disasters

At Cheongpyeong helping with the river clean-up effort!


Volunteering at House of Hope, a home for people with mental disabilities

Before the start of the Cherry Blossom Marathon, my first official race!

Finally, if you would like some more information about MIRC and what we are doing, you can check out the following blog. I have spent the last couple of weeks getting it all set up! Check it out and let me know what you think of it!

Thursday, April 12, 2012

The Blossoms are A-Poppin'!

Cherry Blossoms.
They line the National Mall in Washington D.C.
They dot the entire country of Japan.
They were the focus of my weekend trip to a town called Jinhae.

This past weekend (April 7-8), I headed down to Jinhae with Mitch, Travis, Megan, and Steve to take in the Jinhae Cherry Blossom Festival. The town of Jinhae is in southern South Korea, about an hour west of Busan, a popular beach town on the peninsula. We had heard rumors that the blossoms may not be in bloom yet, but luckily for us, they were out and blooming in multitude!


Now the blossoms were absolutely stunning during the day. We managed to make our way around the festival with ease. It felt like I was back home. Jinhae definitely had a small town feel to it and it was nice to be surrounded by that. Seoul is so busy and so cluttered at times that being able to just walk through the streets without being bumped and pushed in a million different directions was so refreshing!

We made our way to the center of the festival where the stage and a bunch of tents were set up and what did I run into?? Mannam people from Busan! It was super super cool to see other members of this amazing volunteer organization helping spread the group and support such an awesome festival! I was even interviewed and talked about my thoughts on the festival and Mannam in general. Who know, they may use my comments in their next promotional video!

Busan Mannam folks!

Being interviewed!
Not only were the blossoms cool to check out during the daytime, but they really popped under the lights that the nighttime brought with it. Along the little stream just north of the main festival area, the trees were filled with various lights and even a laser show down at stream level! Mitch and I spent a few hours taking pictures and taking everything in. I got a chance to try out the awesome new features on my new camera and actually captured some pretty cool shots!

That night, we ended up staying in a jimjilbang, which is a traditional public Korean bathhouse. Most offer gender separated saunas, showers, and hot tubs. The other features (Karaoke, sleeping rooms, various dry saunas of different temperature, etc.) are all co-ed. These are a popular place for Korean families to stay at while they are on vacation because of all the options they offer, along with the cheap and affordable price. This was my second time staying at a jimjilbang and this one wasn't as nice as the first one, but it served its purpose.

The next day (Sunday) was spent just roaming around the town and taking in the sights, sounds, and smells of the festival. We made our way onto the Naval Base and were treated to streets just lined with cherry blossom trees. All in all, it was a very relaxing, lazy day that was very much needed. It was so nice to get away from the hustle and bustle of Seoul for one weekend and get back to Mother Nature.

The upcoming weeks are filled with tons of activities and will definitely keep me busy! Here's the future schedule:

Saturday, April 14th: 10KM Walk in Their Shoes (this event is designed to raise awareness for countries that have been recently devastated or effected by natural disasters)
Saturday, April 21st: Yeoido Cherry Blossom Marathon (my first official 10 km run!!)
Bukhansan Oak Tree Event (going to one of the most popular national parks in all of Seoul and going to wrap some trees with biodegradable paper to help stop the spread of oak wilt disease)
Sunday, April 22nd: Matt's Birthday (Happy B-day Bro in advance!)
Friday, April 27th: My parents arrive for 10 days! Super excited to show them around Seoul and take a 4 day trip to Jeju Island, just off the southern coast of South Korea!

With so much going on in the upcoming weeks, you can all expect many updates! Spring has finally sprung!!

Monday, April 9, 2012

Helping Hands

As most of you know, I've become very involved in a large volunteer group here in Korea called Mannam. There are two branches to this organization: an international branch and a Korean branch. The Korean branch targets Koreans and gives them lots of opportunities to get involved with the local community. The international branch aims at joining people from different nationalities together and provides 17 different clubs that people can get involved in.  I have become actively involved in the running club (MIRC - Mannam International Running Club), the volunteer planning committee, and starting up a Spanish conversation club (MannAmigos). I even dabbled with the Judo club for a while.

One of the main goals of this organization is to volunteer and help the local Korean population around the Seoul area. Two weekends ago, we headed up to Cheongpyeong, an area NE of Seoul, to participate in a river clean-up. About 75 people showed up to help with this effort. All in all, it was a very productive and amazing day. Everyone split up into about 5 different groups and targeted a different area of the river bed and mountain side. We originally had brought 40 bags with us, but had to request an extra 40 from the parks service in the area due to the large amount of trash that we picked up. This was all within the course of about an hour and a half.

Following our clean-up effort, we headed over to a park nearby for a well deserved and delicious BBQ put on by the head Mannam people. The chairman and chairwoman of the organization even showed up and gave a few words to those in attendance. About 10 groups showed off what they do in their clubs with short, entertaining performances. Included in these was a short skit promoting our upcoming Earth Day event in a couple of weeks. Watch the below video to get an idea of what we will be doing.

Overall, it was a great day and a great event. Outside of the Earth Day project, I am also going to be participating in a 10KM Walk in Their Shoes that raises awareness for countries that have recently experienced natural disasters, running a 10K with MIRC at the Yeoido Cherry Blossom Marathon, and wrapping between 500-600 trees on Bukhan Mountain in northern Seoul. It's going to be a busy month, but being able to give back to the Seoul community and meet people from all over the world has been an awesome experience and has made me think about possibly pursuing non-profit management in the future!

Bukhan Mountain Promo Video

Bukhan Mountain Promo Video (Sentimental)

Our efforts ready to get picked up!!

Fellow MIRC members at the clean-up!