We've been on the road for almost two years now. From South America to Southeast Asia, and a few places in between. It has certainly been a memorable adventure. As a rule, we really try to immerse ourselves as much as we can in the place we are, because really, why else we would we be doing this??
(Blogger's note: we broke this rule in Beijing, going to McDonald's twice as the grease from the Chinese food was getting a bit much. Seriously. But the duck was good.)
In Ecuador though, it was living in a glorious barrio called Guapulo, with unparalled views of a massive valley and mountains, and even a volcano in the distance. It was enjoying things like some ceviche on a Sunday afternoon after a night of drinking Pilsener, Ecuador's answer for beer. It also meant becoming an ardant Sporting Deportivo Quito fan, squeezing myself into the stadium to watch World Cup of futbol, umm, I mean soccer qualifying between South American rivals, and even going so far as purchasing some goalie gloves so I could backstop our team to a 5th place finish out of six teams in a league where games were played on concrete!!
In Korea, it's been hitting the beach when everyone else is hitting the beach, hiking the paved trails of the mountains when everyone else is hiking the paved trails of the mountains, becoming accumstomed to living in a box in a building full of people in their little boxes, next to and across from other buildings full of people living in their little boxes, trying to avoid Soju after my first couple of encounters, all the while enjoying the Korean grub. And in fact, if I am to believe what I've been told, I've significantly added to the overall quality of my life and its health by consuming loads of Korean food, especially kimchi, a delightfully spicy, fermented (yup, fermented) cabbage.
(Blogger's note: I do have to say everywhere I've gone we've always managed to find great food, and in fact will try to make that an entire section here one day.)
But in all these travels, it is sometimes nice to have those small touches from home. I mean, it's not like I am completely out of touch with what's happening (Did you hear Obama was in Ottawa??) as I make conscious efforts to keep up with the news and events of the Toronto area (Oakville Funkfest). With the internet, it seems at times as if I'm just around the corner or in my old bedroom at my parents house, although I am pretty sure my bedroom was bigger than the apartment I am sitting in. I can't even begin to imagine what it would have been to travel 15 years ago with limited or no internet or email. That seems so adventurous!
But as soon as I step out the door or turn on the TV, I am immediately reminded that I'm not in Kansas anymore, or southern Ontario as the case is. However, from time to time, it seems the world will smile on me and give me some tangible aspect of home that I can hold onto for a few hours. And for me, this generally means live sports of some sort on TV - although the recent discovery of poutine at the local watering hole is nice too.
In Ecuador, it was a little easier to get my fix as Quito and Toronto were in the exact same time zone, which was surprising and a little confusing ("Really? Are you sure?", was asked a couple of times as I had never bothered to check before arriving) to learn. The only difference is Quito does not have day light savings being at the equator and all getting the same 12 hours of sunlight everyday. While we didn't get any Canadian television, the three major American networks fed Ecuador with their Miami affiliates which meant (and this was the truly exciting thing for me), I got every single Miami Dolphins game for the first time ever on my own home television!! Of course, as fate would have it, the one time I was guaranteed the opportunity to watch all 16 games of my favourite NFL team, they go on to lose 15 of them!! They would of course rebound this year, becoming AFC East champs and making the playoffs for the first time in years, of which I did not see one single second action, just so the sporting gods could remind me I need to be thankful for what I have - I don't think I expressed much gratitude watching my team go 1-15 even though I was WATCHING my team.
Ecuador also meant having to sit through NBC's coverage of the hockey playoffs (amazing what you will put up with in desperate times), although we did manage to find a hostel owned by a dude from Detroit that had a slingbox, so we got to watch CBC's Stanley Cup coverage as those dastardly Red Wings won again (three or four too many times in my lifetime already). But the day that stands out for me was the perfect storm of ABC showing the Toronto Raptors on some Saturday, which was followed up by hockey on NBC. We managed to host a little sports day in Canada in Ecuador in our tiny apartment, complete with poutine, wings and nachos. I think I even managed to squeeze in a little Toronto FC (truly Toronto's premier sports franchise at the moment) on the radio over the internet. It was great.
In Korea, things have been a little tougher to come by as we sit 14 hours ahead of Toronto. While not as soccer mad as Ecuador, the sporting choice for television is the English Premier league, followed by baseball, neither of which I want to spend any amount of time watching with Korean announcers, especially as the language continues to elude me, outside of an-yung-a-sayo (hello) and kum-sam-nee-da (thank you). But that all changed today as I got to wake up to watch the Raptors getting their collective butts kicked by the Knicks.
See, they are trying to grow the NBA here in Korea, to go along with the burgeoning Korean Basketball League, which sports two imported players from the US that are usually washed up ex-college players from top programs avoiding something from home, and show the Friday night ESPN feed here (which means it's being shown Saturday morning here). And with little Nate Robinson of the Knicks winning the dunk competition last week and the Raptors making some deals, it meant this game became the featured ESPN telecast, which is probably the last time the Raptors get that distinction for a long time after that stinker.
But making it even more like home was the fact that instead of producing their own telecast, the Korean channel picked up the Raptors feed from TSN, meaning I could sometimes make out the ramblings of the Raptors guys just under the still incoherent to me, Korean announcers as they ooh-ed and ahh-ed their way through. It also meant I got to see Air Canada, President Choice, and Ford commercials. It was amazing to me the excitement I had leading up to the game. I was restless from about 7:30 am onward for the 9:30 am tip, believing somehow I would miss it! But what was bewildering to me were the subsequent reactions of those damn commercials and the feelings of nostalgia they conjured up in me. I felt kind of sick. Even after all this time away, I am little more than Pavlov's dog!?
I've got to get me some more kimchi.