Sunday, December 28, 2008

South Korea; October-December, 2008

   The longest, most miserable flight experience of my lift was finally over. 39 hours of travel time is about enough to make anyone change their mind. The drive from the airport to the hotel took about an hour and a half, and I was mesmerized the whole time. Anyone's first trip to Asia will take them to a strange place in their head. The combination of the time change, lack of sleep, lack of food, and the totally immersive culture shock into a place that seems otherworldly is a big shock to the system.  And we would be here for three months.

   Korea is where I really started to learn how to travel. The first place I really felt like I started to learn my way around and learn the local culture. Brian was of Korean decent, and his grandmother happened to live in Seoul. And she also happened to be a very wealthy and powerful woman. She took a few of us out to an amazing dinner. One day, Brian invited me on a weekend trip to an off season ski-resort and trip to Seoraksan national park, several hours drive from Seoul. We saw the big buddah, and went on a hike that left even the physically fit circus performers gasping for breath. It was way out in the country, where people act like they've seen a ghost when they see a white person. It seemed to be a first time experience for some of the younger locals.

   Our show was on the 1998 Summer Olympics site, the stadium only a few hundred feet from out tent. It was cool to walk through a former olympic stadium. It hosted a design expo during our run. There were some amazing pieces and designs on exhibition.

  One of the site guys had found a local place to get a tattoo. Tattoo's are technically illegal in Korea, so this place doubled as someones house. I went to check it out, and three weeks later ended up with a huge koi fish tattoo on my left leg. It took two 3-hours sessions and, I don't care what anybody says, it hurt excessively. I could barely walk. I later got kicked out of the hotel's hot tub for having a "gangster" tattoo on my leg.

   I visited Gyeongbokgung palace on a day off. It was massive and beautiful. The ancient world that you always hear about was right there in the middle of a huge Asian city  I had Korean BBQ, which was to die for. We went to karaoke, which is apparently a huge deal in Korea. We had our own private room, our own hospitality crew, and anything else we wanted. We visited the massive night market, a labyrinth of endless turns and corners that would easily swallow up a person of lesser stature. We drank plenty of Soju, the Korean sweet potato distilled spirit. Soju has a mind of its own and likes to play tricks on you. One morning I was lucky enough to wake up in a casino sitting at a slot machine. Needless to say, I hadn't won.

   I still wasn't as daring as I should have been with the food. I was still holding back a bit and eating American when I could.  I was easing in, but I still missed a lot of good food in Korea. However, there was a garlic themed restaurant. I certainly did enjoy that.

   It snowed the entire three days of load out. Freezing.

   I would love to go back to Korea.  

Seoul---> Taipei.


Monday, September 1, 2008

Santiago, Chile; July-September, 2008

   I was floored when I saw the Andes mountain range for the first time.What a stunning city, and I had six weeks to explore it. By this time, I was well into the Cirque groove. I had moved the shows a few times, and finally started to pick up on my place and responsibilities. I started to leave my inexperienced self behind and really pick up on my career. I was assigned to the marking crew, so I spent the first five days setting points for the thousands of tent stakes that would hold the tent and other structures to the ground. I gained experience using basic surveying tools and equipment. It was a long setup for me, a little over two weeks. Most of the crew spent time exploring Santiago, skiing, or even enjoying Easter Island. But I was hard at work from day one.

   Santiago was beautiful. The food was so new and fresh to me, i'm sure I spent a fortune eating. But the money was coming quick and spending easy. I wandered the city aimlessly for hours, as I had grown fond of over the past few months. I always knew that I was a loner, and a bit of a rambler, but it started to really set in.  I met a beautiful girl and went on a date to get sushi. She barely spoke English. She asked ME out, and we had a beautiful time.

   On a day off, the crew went on a ski trip in the Andes mountains. I sat in the club house with one of the other tour guys, Grant, as we were both recovering from injuries. I couldn't afford to hurt an ankle again. I had already fallen on it again during load in, and it was still soft. But we went for a walk through the mountains. Stunning. It was so steep, we almost slid right down the mountain. I wish I could remember the name of where we were.

   I still wasn't very good at traveling. I went to see the famous Virgin Mary statue, but I know now how much I really missed. It's a shame, but all part of the learning process. But, on the other side, I didn't actually have that much time off.  I guess i'll have to go back. I went out with the guys a few times and visited some really local places. Pickled pig testicles, plates of food I had never seen, engulfing smells, and drinks near as strong as the Tennessee moonshine I was used to. The kind of places where they stare at you for being a gringo, but are quick to accept you when they see that you can hang.  Sometimes you end up in some places that you probably shouldn't. I guess it's a shock to anyone when you realize you're in your first brothel, or riot, or protest, or bar fight, street scam, or any fresh experience of the sort. But it all made for a good experience, and I wouldn't change a thing. The time seemed to fly by.  I lived, unscathed. And then, after shutting the doors on the last shipping container (and running over a few extra hard hats with a forklift... you know, for testing purposes*) I got on a plane for the longest travel day of my entire life.  Santiago, Chile---> Atlanta, Ga---> Seoul, South Korea.

   * 100% of hard hats tested failed catastrophically under forklift load.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Argentina; June 2008

   The airport in Buenos Aires, Argentina was quite a drive from where I was staying. I was on the same flight as the tent master whom I remembered from the Corteo transfer, and shared a taxi ride with him. We were bombarded by taxi drivers and hawkers from the second we walked out of the airport. I was glad to be with him because it was immediately obvious that he was good at dealing with everything. He knew the right taxi to take and who to ignore. The drive in was my first view of real poverty in the world. It seemed like we drove for hours through dilapidated shacks and falling down buildings. The separation of wealth and poverty was thrust right into my face as we finally pulled up to the Hilton Buenos Aires.

   I only had five days in Argentina. I didn't have much time, but I tried to make the best of it. The rumors were right. The best steak. Ever. I went to Spettus. I thought I was in Heaven. When we showed up to site the first time, it was a mud pit from hell. Fork lifts were getting stuck right and left and everyone was covered with the slop. We had a meeting for everyone just arriving because the truck drivers were protesting us. We had blocked one of their roads and were diverting their traffic, so they were all violently pissed off about our show. "Don't wear your Cirque shirts out in public."

   Welcome to the real world.  It wasn't a long stay, but it was a fantastic thrust into the real world. Five days later I was off to Santiago.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Canada; June 2008

    My frist trip two trips out of the country were to Canada. I started easy. While studying theatrical design in university, I was lucky enough to land an internship with Cirque Du Solei's KA in Las Vegas, NV. I spent three months working at the biggest, most technically complex and impressive live entertainment show in the world. I kept in good graces, and about a week before I graduated, I had a full time job with one of biggest and most revered entertainment companies around. I had loved Cirque for years and was thrilled beyond belief. I flew to Seattle to transfer Corteo to Vancouver. And wow was I in over my head. Nothing in my past had even remotely prepared me for the demands of the next two weeks. I barely held on to my job, but by the time we were set up in Vancouver, I had vastly improved and my career started to move forward. Looking back, those were the most valuable two weeks of my entire career.
  Vancouver was a great introductory city to visit. I had no idea how to be a traveler or a tourist. After the shows, I would wander the streets aimlessly at all hours of the night. I walked through grocery stores and shops and sat at random restaurants for hours. I didn't have a camera and I didn't write down a single thing I did. I visited the Capilano suspension bridge. It was raining and beautiful. It felt like a scene straight out of the Donkey Kong Country treehouse levels. I didn't do nearly enough in Vancouver. I was lonely, fresh, and scared of the feelings I was having about being away from home. I was already starting to love it too much.

    I returned home after about a month in Vancouver, and a few weeks later, I began my first extended stay out of the country. I flew to Montreal for a few days to visit the Cirque Du Soleil headquarters and apply for work visa's for the Alegria South American and Asian tour. Again, I spent my time wandering the beautiful streets of Montreal. This time I had a camera, and vowed never to travel without one again. A canon rebel would spend the next nine months right by my side. I had taken a photography class in college, and had always had an interest in it. That interest has grown and continues to grow every day.

   The first cup of coffee that I ever enjoyed came in Montreal. The French seemed to know a thing or two about food. Now that I think about it, Montreal is where I really started to appreciate food on a higher level. The crepe's and Salmon lox smothered bagels were amazing. Food suddenly became an infatuation that has never gone away.

And then I lost my passport. Personally, I don't think it was my fault, but that opinion doesn't matter and never did. What mattered was that I had a flight to Buenos Aires in 48 hours and my entire career depended on me being on that flight. I was already having a hard time dealing with my recovering sprained (the doctor said it was the worse he had ever seen) ankle and hiding it from my employers and almost had a heart attack when I opened my envelope at the Argentinian embassy to no passport. It's amazing what a company as powerful as Cirque can do if they need to pull strings. I got my visa in my new passport within a day and a half and was an hour early for my flight to Argentina. I was hooked on the world. All I wanted was more, and that's all I was about to get.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Johnson City, TN

   What can I say about Johnson City, Tennessee?  My home for four years. A fantastic roller-coaster voyage of debauchery, growth, insanity. It’s amazing that we call got out alive, with most of our limbs, unscathed, un-arrested, and unbelievable on top. Somehow, I managed to graduate Cum Laude with honors and win an achievement award in my department. When I think back to those years, I feel like I’m lazy now. Like I’ve lost my edge. I used to be a King. I was on the move every second, always working hard or having fun, nothing in between. It just goes to show that if you have an iron will and an amazing set of friends, anywhere can be the best place on earth. I miss college more than I ever thought I would. I’d go back in a heartbeat. There isn’t much to do in Johnson City. But boy did we make the best of it.