Ultimate Excursions – How I stay active abroad

예들아!  Guys! (This is how I get my students attention during class).

            I’ve got an update that is a little cold off the press (a few weeks late, but that’s ok).  Remember my suffering at the hands of my bicycle earlier in the fall?  If you weren’t able to grasp the gravity of that moment, just remember that I had unnecessary trouble transporting my bike from the Incheon airport back to Cheongju.  Well I can proudly announce that not only did I reassemble my bike (all by myself, like the grown-up I sometimes can be), but I also have actually been riding it around the city and beyond.

I am by no means a handyman and I honestly was doubtful about my ability to put my bike together without endangering myself or others.  The assembly is pretty simple; you’re finished after reattaching the handlebars, pedals, seat, and wheels.  But I imagined a few times that I might make a mistake and while riding my bike the wheel might slip off and I’ll go out being crushed by an elderly woman’s trash cart while my bicycle safely escapes, watches and revels in my pain. 

The pink grass of Gyeongju in late October

With this ridiculous scenario in mind, I decided to make my first venture on the restored bike a brief local one.  I biked only about 15 minutes over to my friend’s place through low-traffic areas and avoided the normalized chaos of rush hour.  And guess what?  My bike held up just fine and there was no fiery crash, no fire and brimstone hellish accident.  Just to be safe, I went to a local bike shop to have new tires put on my bike.  The old ones were starting to crack and weren’t looking too great.  The bike store guys marveled at the size of my bike and even asked if they could try to ride it – it wasn’t successful, too hard for them to mount and dismount – after finishing the job.

Fulbright Fall Conference in Gyeongju

With this renewed confidence in the bike and wanderlust creeping into my life, I decided to take my biking to the next level.  In the spring I discussed taking a longer bicycle trip with 성휘, one of the gym teachers at my school, but we never had time before.  So now armed with a bicycle and a free weekend, we scheduled a short day trip from Cheongju to 증평 (Jeungpyeong).  Knowing that my bike was a flight risk, we choose a relatively low-stress route.  There were very few hills and few people or cars to compete with along the way.

Bike trip with Seonghwi to Jeungpyeong

There were three of us total, the third rider being one of our second-year students who’s pretty into cycling.  This was the first real test of my bike.  The weather that day started out friendly and inviting, rays of sun warming up my skin after biking through the biting wind.  I had to go initially from my place to our meeting point and just as I arrived there, clouds shot out from the horizon and a chilly sprinkle started to come down.  Despite the sudden change, the weather was not going to deter us.  And in fact, although throughout the ride there were intermittent periods of rain and sun, the weather held up nicely.

One of those periods of intermittent sunshine

About halfway to Jeungpyeong, I noticed something a little off about my bike.  It felt as if I was sinking as I rode on, like I couldn’t sit squarely on the bike seat without the seat angling skyward.  For the latter half of that trip, I had to bike basically standing up and all while concealing this problem from my fellow bikers.  My poor gluteus maximus couldn’t take much more of this and definitely not for the entire ride back to Cheongju.

Jinpyo and his racing bike

Clearly upon tightening some nuts I had made a mistake or not used enough elbow grease.  Once we had arrived in Jeungpyeong and gotten some lunch inside us, I asked Seonghwi if we could stop at a bike shop.  I wasn’t quite sure what the problem was, but I knew I had to tighten the seat before trying to go all the way back.  The bike shop owner looked at the seat for approximately two seconds before pulling out a wrench, tightening the seat, and sending us on our merry way.

Bicycle crew lunch in Jeungpyeong

Delicious beef stew on a brisk fall day

So began the trip home, this time with a comfortable, functional bike seat.  The ride was therapeutic with the clear country air filling my lungs and even the all too familiar smell of manure from a nearby farm, reminiscent of childhood trips to farms and petting zoos.  Biking is just one way I like to keep healthy and blow off steam here in Korea.  Let me tell about one other recent athletic adventure of mine.

One Friday night, a group of us decided to cap off a long week of teaching with a board game night.  Have you ever heard of Avalon?  Well it’s a game of deception and deceit.  Friends turn on friends and no amount of delivery fried chicken can repair the damage.  One of the guys there, a friend of a friend, managed to get past the mental sorcery and torture of Avalon and invited some of us to try out his ultimate frisbee club.

Ultimate Frisbee at KAIST

Though ultimate is a very popular sport in the U.S., it is still gaining traction in Korea.  And not surprisingly the meetup was not in Cheongju but instead at KAIST, a renowned science university in nearby (and bigger) Daejeon.  The next day after recovering from the board games we set out in his (Kyle’s) car for KAIST.  I would consider myself pretty decent at ultimate, but I haven’t played since high school.  After shaking off the rust, the game began.

There were about 14 people total, a ragtag group of international students at KAIST, English teachers, and local guys.  In particular, I enjoyed developing an intense rivalry with a guy named Adam, a transplant from Ohio studying at KAIST and with whom I was matched up against due to our similar heights and athletic abilities.  That afternoon we became rivals and yet that kind of competitive joust is one of motivations for playing sports. 

Look carefully and you can see my jump in the back (I’m in the blue)


Post-ultimate meal with a portion of the group

Sometimes teaching can be draining, sometimes life itself can be draining, and sometimes I just need an outlet for stress.  Sports have become a big outlet for me here in Korea.  Sometimes I play ultimate frisbee, if only just once, and that one afternoon of competition and camaraderie resets me for the next week.  Hiking, biking, tennis, badminton, ultimate frisbee.  Volleyball, soccer, basketball, going to the gym.  It sounds like a lot, but keeping my body active is the best form of stress relief after a long day.  As I prepare for my upcoming trip to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro, I will continue trying out active experiences and integrating myself further into the community.     


Soccer with my 1-10 class

One student/teacher soccer outing

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