Monday, June 27, 2011

Open Happiness

Dear Coca Cola,

You may not know who I am, but I am very familiar of who you are. For most of my life, I've known you. I've seen you in the supermarket or at the gas station. Your red can and cursive logo is so familiar to me, and every Christmas I look forward to seeing the most jolly of Santa's on your can.

Of course, it's what is inside that counts, and this is where you truly shine. I remembered the first time I enjoyed a Coca Cola. I was 13 years old, and my mother said I could finally have some caffeine. It was at a summer BBQ, and nestled in the ice chest was you. Beads of condensation ran down the can as I grabbed you out of the chest. I opened it with a nice *pop* and tasted Cola for the first time. It was delicious! To this day, I can't describe the flavor, but only how it made me feel. After my first sip, I put the can down with an audible *ahh*, like the commercials I had seen on television. It's instinctive, and to this day I still enjoy that first sip out of the bottle.

It wasn't until I started seeing the world, however, that I realized how special you are…

In the past 4 years I've been to 12 countries on 5 continents, and it's been one hell of a ride. Humanity never ceases to amaze me, and seeing all the wonderful cultures and people of this earth really gives you perspective and humility. Most of all, it teaches you how to love life and to be happy.

That being said, there are many times where I wondered if I could keep doing this.  As I write this, I miss home with all my heart. I miss my family. I miss my friends. I miss everything familiar to me. This world is wonderful and I intend to see as much of it as possible, but overcoming homesickness is very hard to do.

This is where you come in. Everywhere I've been to you were there waiting for me. When I was climbing the mountains of New Zealand or seeing the plains in Kenya, you were there. You may have come in different sizes or languages, but your familiar red can and contour bottle always stood out…like a beacon in a sea of the unfamiliar. No matter where I went, I knew that you would be there. I knew that I could open that can and in an instant feel the happiness I had when I was 13. You were, and still are, my constant in life.

You are so much more than that, though. You are a mediator. You are a translator of happiness. No matter where you go, everyone can enjoy a Coca Cola. I've been to places where the language, culture, and values were all different. Yet, after visiting a local shop, we could share a Coca Cola and enjoy each other's company. In a way, you connect all of us together. It's one world, and you know that.

So, for all the years that you have delivered happiness, I wanted to express my gratitude and thank you. Thank you for the wonderful memories and thank you for being there when I needed a little piece of home. I know that, no matter where this crazy and amazing life takes me, I can always sit down and enjoy a Coke. Here's to you, and to many more years of this amazing adventure. Cheers!


6-27-11 Video Blog

I stayed at a Buddhist temple overnight this past weekend. I'll post some written details later, but I wanted to share with you one part of the experience.

The monks let you write a message on some of the tiles that they put on the roof. You are suppose to put your wishes or prayers on them, and this is what I wrote:

- That I may not be just another piece in the puzzle
- That happiness and kindness will always prevail

One World, Ryan Abella's a little self-fulfilling and maybe too poetic for a tile on a temple rooftop. It's from the heart though, and if written words on stone have even the slightest chance of coming true then it's worth it in the end, right?

Monday, June 20, 2011

Korea 2011 - My Adventure Book

For the past 8 weeks I have worked with 12-14 year olds in South Korea, and it has been one crazy ride. Monday through Friday I get home around 6pm just exhausted, wondering if it is worth it to wake up in the morning. These kids amaze me and test my patient for 8 hours a day. This is a great learning opportunity for me, and I've documented what I've learned in a little black notebook that I carry around with me all the time. 

I call it My Adventure Book (yes, from the Disney/Pixar movie Up), and everything from life-changing realizations to funny things I saw on the bus are recorded in its pages. Here's some excerpts from that book…a collection of what I've learned in the past two months:
  • Creativity is a replenishable resource, but does burn out quickly. During the school day, I apply most of my creativity to the lesson and to ensuring that my lessons go smoothly. It mentally drains you, and by the time I get home writing a status update on Facebook is hard. I've never been that creatively tired before. Thank goodness for television: I can veg out on the couch, recuperate, and wake up the next day to do it all over again.
  • Half of teaching is conducting social experiments on your students. I know some teacher is going to read this and cringe, but hear me out. Learning, and especially learning a new language, requires a deep understanding between the teacher and student. I have over 500 students…so learning about each and every one of them in 2 months is impossible. Conducting social experiments like changing seating arrangements or shaking up how a lesson flows keeps them on their toes, and I can get a better idea of what classes respond to. Plus, it's just a lot of fun watching them try to bargain with me so they can sit with their friends. One kid offered me money.
  • Coffee is my friend, but only in the morning. My first week here I was downing 3 cups of coffee a day, just to get through. The weekends would be so tiring, and I often had headaches and just general fatigue. Now I'm down to one in the morning, just to get my head in the game.
  • Koreans spell based on sounds they hear in popular culture. This creates some truly ridiculous titles and signs in English. I've begun collecting pictures of these places as a hobby of mine. The best one so far is a bar called the "Ho Bar". Yes…the Ho Bar. Best part is there's more than one: there's 6 of them, and they're all numbered. So if you're not feeling like Ho Bar II is happening, there's always Ho Bar IV or Ho Bar VI. Don't go to Ho Bar III though, it's full of dudes.
  • Koreans get a lot of things right. Their public transit system is phenomenal. Everything is easy to find and makes sense. Busses are easy to navigate. Taxes are integrated into prices. The things that should be cheap are cheap, like soap and milk and eggs. All their utilities and telecom prices are based on how much you use, and internet is a solid 30mb/s or faster. Oh, and they have escalators that work with your shopping carts. They're awesome.
  • At the same time, Koreans get a lot of simple stuff wrong. Not like "Oh, we do this in America, so you're wrong" wrong…more like "This makes no logical sense" wrong. For example, public transit is open till 2am on the weekdays but closes at midnight on the weekends. Because of this, many people stay out at the bars till 5:30am (when they all open up again), and by that time many people are passed out in gutters. Roads don't go in any specific order, and addresses are all mixed up. Some of their products just don't work, and it's frustrating when the knife you bought breaks or a door won't open unless you do it a certain way.
  • Routine is critical Monday thru Friday. It makes the work week go by faster, and you get more things done. Come Saturday, however, that routine goes out the window. Spontaneous trips to Seoul or seeing how long a certain subway line goes is a great break in the monotony and lets you really see a country.
  • You have Burger Kings and KFC and McDonald's, and on every street corner there is a Dunkin Donuts and a Baskin Robbins. And yes, all of them are pretty darn delicious. However, for the same price of your donut and coffee ($5 or so), you can go to a Galbi restaurant and order a feast that's not only healthy for you but fills you up. People spend top dollar in the states for Korean BBQ. I have one in my basement that feeds me for $3 a day. Take advantage of the local cuisine.
  • Screw octopus. They fry it like pork, and they sneak that crap into everything. I've accidentally eaten the vile creature more times than I can count. I've tried it willingly too. It sucks. Literally and figuratively.
  • Worth noting again. Screw octopus. 
  • Kids are kids no matter what culture, and people are people no matter where you go. We all share the same wants and needs, and once you break through the craziness of different cultures you realize how awesome humanity really is
  • Never….ever…..ever go get a hair cut at the double barber poles. Ever.
This is a short collection of observations I’ve been collecting, and there will be plenty more by the time that the year is up. Next week, I go to a Buddhist temple for a templestay. It’s not often that one can say “I’ve stayed a night at a Buddhist temple”. I’ll let you know how that one goes. Life is seriously awesome.