Tag Archives: korea

Adventure IQ’s Three F’s of Culture Immersion


Recently I have been getting asked for input working overseas as well as picking up a few seminars on travel safety, working with other cultures, and specifically travel and work in Asia. The work in here comes from a few of my own sources including a dissertation in my post-grad program, a few blogs on travel in Asia and SW Asia (Middle East), and a course I developed for a client on cultural diversity….

So let me start off by saying I am not an expert, I am seasoned. My experience includes negotiating terms with Bedouin tribesmen, training soldiers in Europe, SW Asia, and Korea, working with sales and marketing teams, running projects for orphans in Mexico, and coaching corporate leaders. I count thirty-eight countries to date for work, travel, and expedition. My language skills vary, but honestly I can order a beer or ask for the bathroom without going to jail or having a chicken sacrificed in front of me when I simply ordered the daily special in a restaurant.


I have what I call the “Three F’s”. This is my guideline for getting to know and appreciate various cultures, and more importantly, get done what I need to get done to make my travel or mission successful. While I do carry a pocket guide for language with notes and my own system of annunciation, the basis goes beyond learning rudimentary language skills, it includes a total immersion into the culture. On a quick side note, for language I also carry post-it-notes and everything in my hotel room gets labeled with my annunciation of the item in local language.

First, when on assignment and if possible, I am on the ground at least the weekend prior to beginning to work. I take this opportunity to visit local parks, museums, malls, etc. I do this on my own without a guide. Often it involves a taxi ride to another part of town. Second I carry a “Go-Bag” which I describe in another blog and podcast.

I have always been the guy who took off to explore. I used to frustrate commanders and team leaders when I was in the military because I took off to explore on my own. Post Desert Storm, there were buses that would take troops from Khobar Towers to downtown for shopping at the mall. 40-50 troops on a bus going from the base to the mall, first of all looked like a target to me. Second, most troops, I felt, were kind of loud and obnoxious for me. I would breathe a sigh of relief that the bus had not been attacked on route, then as everybody headed into the mall, I darted across the streets into the sooks- open air markets. There I could test and learn new language skills, explore new back alleys, and try to learn as much as I could about the people. I did the same thing in Egypt and after meeting with a Egyptian/French family for a period, almost wound up with a wife!


The Three Fs: Fun, Food, Faith

While I have contemplated adding another “F” here and there (at one time I used “Future” when working with refugees in Turkey) I have stuck to these main three. I find if I can master these immediately, I stand a greater chance of both getting my assignment completed as well as enrich my own life.

Knowing what a culture does for entertainment makes great conversation starters. Last year when working in Taipei I followed the national baseball team rigorously. The people I worked with in Taipei were highly energized by the success the team was having in the world tournament. This gave me a basis to start conversations with them. By mid assignment I could rattle of the stats, identify players by face, and discuss the previous night’s game. I was allowed to be a part of the frenzy. I was the only white guy sitting in the open mall area with thousands of new “friends” caught up in both the excitement and disappointment as Taipei fell to Japan in a 4-3 loss.

I count museums as fun as well as adding to my historical and cultural knowledge. Not only do I learn about the history, art, and politics of a nation, I see how people interact with one another. I see how children interact with parents, I am privy to interactions between business and customers, and I see the diversity in people who gather in these places.


On most trips I pack my GPS and a stack of printed Geo Cache targets to visit that are close to my hotel (in most cases.) I usually pick areas such as parks, museums, nature centers, etc. It gives me a chance to get out of my hotel and explore. By going to all these different places it not only allows me to take in different samples of the culture and see what they do for fun, but often I gain “an insider’s view” of the city. A few years ago I was working in Shenzhen. My geo-adventure took me to a national nature preserve that was in the heart of this massive city. I spent the day learning about a petrified forrest that most of my counterparts did not even know existed. For more info on Geo Caching, check out my other blogs and podcast.




A guy has to eat. In my time working as a liaison and trainer to many of our allies I learned that most of the time what’s for dinner is only a shade away from “what’s that for dinner?” I know I have eaten things that would put me in the limelight of a travel and adventure reality show on some cable network. The combination of having a mother who insisted I try a bite of everything once and a natural curiosity for food, I have surprised most host.

Breaking bread together is a bond that unites people. In many traditions to host or feast with someone is similar to passing the peace pipe in our own Native American tribes. I have found that entering a food situation that it is better to ask what something is after the meal. More than an understanding what animal or plant a morsel of food derived from, I often get a story about a grandmother who made special dishes or the history behind a food.

As I said above, I travel solo most of the time. This is more by design. I like to go and experience the area before getting the guided tour from my host. I find I can process the experience the host provides much better if I do this. Going solo provides unique opportunities to try different foods in the area. I try my hardest to stay away from the “American” fast food stops and restaurants. I tend to look for where locals are gathering at feeding time and head in the general direction.



On a trip to Korea a few years ago I found myself in what is the equivalent of a “greasy spoon” in the US. Good, cheap food, average service, and lots of people. My tactic is usually the same. I order the same dish as the person closest to me. This not only provides some of the most unusual dishes I have tried, but also respect of my co-workers when showing them pictures the following week. In Korea I experienced Kimche, Bulgogi, and Kimbap all on my own. Bulgogi is probably my favorite. The table-top grilling experience is something I return to time and time again. None of these fantastic foods would have been experienced at a TGI Fridays or McDonalds.

One of the richest experiences of food and fun was my best friend Amund and his wife treating me to a Burns Night when I was working in Scotland. If you are a frequent reader of the blog or listen to the podcast, you already know I am a kilt fanatic, owning eight of them and wearing them most of my free time. (No pun intended.) Burns Night is the celebration of the life of the great poet and includes Haggis, bag pipes, and Scottish traditions. It was truly a memorable night participating in a truly unique experience.






I have very strong spiritual beliefs. I know where I stand in my own faith. Still, in order to better understand people, you have to know what they believe. As I was deploying to Saudi Arabia for Desert Storm, I read the entire Koran. I did the same thing on my first trip to China, trying to grasp an understanding both Confucianism and Taoism.

I have been very fortunate to be invited into various houses of worship. From “High Church” in Scotland to small corner temples in Taipei, I relish the experience. Last year while working in Seoul I had found myself at a large Buddhist temple in the Gangam complex. Right across from one of the largest malls in the world was a site dedicated to faith. I spent the entire day and several nights on the site. I watched “drumming prayers” and monks meditating. I spent time praying my own faith while basking in the warmth of communal fires. I shielded myself from a spring rain in a temple, while reciting complines I had learned in my own journey. Tied closely to food, I was invited to sit and eat a very humble meal of rice and soup with resident monks and other invitees. We discussed life, faith, religion, and history. One of the best travel days I have ever experienced.

I had a similar experience in Scotland where my good friend and spiritual mentor and I spent an afternoon in an older orthodox church. It was interesting in how both places, the conversations were much the same.


Understanding Fun, Food, and Faith of a people has helped me connect in so many ways. It is a great place to start to understand a culture and even the variances within a culture. I always find it interesting when told by a client in an interview, you need to understand (fill in the blank) culture. I believe that there are people who can learn one or two cultures through experience, then there are those who can adapt and assimilate into a culture to a point where they are more than accepted, they are respected and almost made an honorary member of the culture. On a trip to China, I got to know the area and people in the area so well that I was dubbed “The Mayor of Shanghai” by the ladies in the office. As they took my boss and I out for the night, we kept running into people who knew me…by name. That is assimilation.





Bongeunsa Temple in Seoul

IMG_6292         Forget about Gangnam style…when in Seoul there is so much to see beyond the glitz and the glam. Beyond the hustle and bustle (Korean women are ALWAYS running and nobody patiently waits for elevator doors to close…they repeatedly hit the close button), there is a quite retreat known as Bongeunsa.  Bongeunsa is a Buddhist temple where like many other unique and interesting places, I found through geo-caching. Needing to drop off a travel bug, I discovered an interesting monastery only blocks away from my hotel.IMG_6293IMG_6312

Founded in 794 during the reign of King Wonseong by the monk Yeon-hoe, at the time the highest ranking monk of Silla, It sits on the slope of Sudo Mountain in Samseong-dong, across the street from the ultra-modern COEX Mall. Buddhism in Korea was violently repressed during the Joseon Dynasty.IMG_6348

Bongeunsa was reconstructed in 1498 with the support of Queen Munjeong, who revived Buddhism in Korea for a short time in the mid-16th century. In 1551 it became the main temple of the Zen (Korean Seon).

Today it is a revived temple complex with several buildings and rooms for followers and guest to meditate in. There is an air of friendliness to visitors and I even had the opportunity to sit for a very humble meal of rice and soup.

After dropping off my travel bugs and picking up a few in return, I stuck around to just relax on one of the trails on the side of the mountain. Later in the evening, I returned to watch the drumming ceremony. As an avid percussionist, I was completely captivated by the experience.IMG_6355

IMG_6347I believe that to understand a culture, you have to first understand that culture’s faith, food, and recreation. This is something my time in the military taught me, and lessons I still carry today. I am very solid in my faith, and though not a Buddhist, I found I could go into one of the buildings where others were praying, and I could simply relax and enjoy the atmosphere as I prayed on my own (Celtic Daily Prayer).

I was glad for the visit and I was more aware of the 4am gong and 6pm drumming. I made it an evening pilgrimage most nights to watch the four percussion instruments be played as part of a faith-based ceremony.

I won’t pretend to understand the faith, but found its followers very open to me being in their presence and very thankful for their acceptance of me. Great photo opportunities and it made me with I had my Dad’s technical expertise for taking great photos. At some point I need to get a great point and shoot digital and save my iPad and GoPro for other things…IMG_6314

Just Joined Outdoor Blogger Network

As we try to get the word out about our mission and who we support– we decided to sign up on OUTDOOR BLOGGER NETWORK for a little more specific culture in the areas we try to reach…so let’s see how this goes for us– Pretty excited about this opportunity and feel this is another venue to gain new followers as well as help our own audience find other outdoor news.

A few quick updates– We are in the process of getting an agreement with NBRAN to support them as we travel and spread the word about the plight of pups who need good homes– stay tuned! We also took in a new foster pup, Champ, who is a sparky little pup.  Would do great in a family (or single guy/gal) who loves adventure.

We are headed for Indian Meadows this week to explore a part of the Owyhees (Idaho and Oregon) that does not get a great deal of attention….or traffic! We are getting access to private land that has quite a bit of history.

Just finished a keynote speech on Geo-Missions, specifically the ones we did in Korea and China. Had a terrific audience and I think my buddy Brad even took a few pics.

Will be doing more survival seminars next week- but to be honest- as much as I enjoy these, I really need to find a new venue for a keynote I am doing on Vehicle- Based Expedition. If you know of any venue that needs a speaker- let me know. As I pilot this one out- I will be doing it at no charge.

Working on the rest of the blogs from the Idaho Overland Expedition…but real work is in the way…

Had a great weekend of exploring Petroglyph sites in the desert…man it was hot…

Which leads to….posted a video on YouTube about a special piece of gear to keep yourself cool…. 

Questions About China and Korea (part 1)

Just returned from a great trip to Shenzhen and Seoul. As always, I get several questions on my trip to Korea and China- and specifically on subjects like crime, food, censorship, fear of the government, and language.  Since all of these can have some pretty in-depth answers I will answer them in several blogs. In the mean time since I still need to get out a blog or two on gear we have been testing, I will focus here on China.

Let me provide some of my background on the below subject area before I dive into it. I spent 13 years of my life traveling to both the brightest and darkest places on our planet. I have been in just as many 5-star hotels as well as hell-holes where life seemed to be one big eclipse. In that time I provided both personal and property protection to some of the most important resources for my country. I have degrees and certifications in law enforcement and resource protection, trained with some of the world’s top experts in counter-terrorism, and have a working knowledge in second and third languages. Those days behind me, I enjoy travel for different reasons…now back to the blog…

China is a wonderful place to work and visit. Beyond getting warned about drinking with young girls who have my body parts removed as I sleep, I guess the biggest question I get upon returning, is if I was afraid of getting mugged – specifically in China. I have to say, not once was have I ever been fearful of getting hurt or robbed. I have been in situations in Shanghai where a counterpart and I were getting targeted, but I took positive control of the situation. Like anything large city though, Shenzhen can have its share of petty crimes. So does any other city. What I have found is most of the time, you are in control of the situation. As I travel large cities, I find purse snatching or pick-pocketing to be the most invasive. This can be controlled by how you place your items. By the way, the story about a businessman having his kidney stolen and waking up in an ice bath is complete urban legend.

I carry a backpack with me everywhere. Really good pick-pockets can get into your zippered bag without any difficulty. Because I do strap my pack to me and buckle both the waist and sternum straps to prevent snatching, the back part of the bag is at risk of being tampered with. One method I use is to place a small carabiner to secure the zippers. This makes it difficult to un-zip. Additionally, I make sure that when in a crowd I give myself plenty of space, and when I find someone camping out directly behind me I will either move or turn to face them momentarily.  If I have an opportunity to place my back to the wall I will do so. This gives me protection from any wrong doing that I can’t easily detect.

Another threat is when you are standing at a red light – waiting for the light to change. I will back away from the street so that everyone else is in front of me. This takes away the opportunity to tamper with my bag and gives me a few feet of comfort area.

Getting scammed is probably a greater threat. I was fortunate that when coming into Hong Kong to have a driver pick me up. Shenzhen is a growing city and even though there is access to any place you want to go by bus, rail, or taxi, you need to be careful about the taxis. The authorized taxis in Shenzhen are red and grey/white. They will have a meter in them. Getting into any other cab can result in getting scammed and a 20RMB ride can cost a few hundred RMB. BTW- there is a small surcharge for fuel that won’t show up on the meter and you will need to get two receipts when you exit the cab.  As another side note, depending on your sense of adventure, the cab rides can be interesting. You may feel unsafe- but in reality you are ok. These guys are better drivers than most of us. Also- the horn is a device for communication and not aggravation. You will get honked at- don’t get offended.

Another way to get in trouble is if you are asked to go somewhere with someone. If they want you to see their shop, go to their apartment, go see a watch collection, etc….don’t follow them. I am amazed at people who allow them selves to get involved in a scam so quickly.

Finally, if you want to find trouble, you will. Again- amazed at people who insist on getting involved with drugs or prostitutes- and then wonder why they got robbed. Stay away from trouble (people/situations) and more than likely you will be safe. Both prostitution and drugs are illegal in China. Not only do you risk your own personal safety, but you also risk arrest. It’s simple…enjoy China and don’t be stupid.

I enjoyed my time in both Seoul and Shenzhen. The people are fantastic and curious about westerners. I walked in many streets, back-alleys, parks, and shopping areas and not once did I feel I was in danger. I will cover more about food, weather, getting around, and other subjects in my blog, podcast, and v-log. Both Korea and China are great places to visit and work and I enjoy each opportunity I get.

Mission Accomplished!

Mission Accomplished!

My last night in Korea. So wish I was on a red-eye to Tokyo. Ready to be in the arms of my bride and feel the hugs of my baby-daughter. Pretty sure Trigger and Ranger are ready for some much needed Daddy time as well. As a bonus, my Mom and Dad are there and I will get a chance to see my Dad for Fathers’ Day.

The class did a terrific job on their Geo-Mission. They really thought outside the box and leveraged technology, high speed transport, and of course lots of communication. When one of the team members was not feeling so well, they left him in charge of a command post, where they could check in with him, provide updates, and get better intel on each cache site. He would even send pictures of each hide site to them. In one case, this was the only way they found the hide. We also boarded a bus to get across town to a site. Pretty innovative.

I was proud of the way they used their problem solving skills. It was great to work with the teams in Korea and the people are wonderful. I also enjoyed working with their leaders who really want to see their people be successful.

After class I had one more mission to complete. I brought several travel bugs with me. All the cache site I had been to were micros. I needed a place to to put a couple that I had been carrying for awhile. I also wanted to see something historic. I was able to complete both when I dropped them off in the park built around the tombs of Seolleung and Jeongneung, from the 9th Monarch. He was a great king during the 1400s.

With both job and adventuring behind me, it is off to the airport in the morning and a long flight home. Ready to close the chapter on this adventure.








Spicy of Life

Hanging in my favorite little coffee place tonight. Great class today, awesome dinner with new friends, a two-mile walk, and now….third cup of the joe. Its late but isn’t that what Ambien is for?

Dinner was really spicy. Korean pizza…. Kemche pizza to be exact. There was other great foods served, spicy of course.

Enjoying the company of my host. I find I am much more outgoing here than I am in the states. I am the social butterfly. Where is that introvert…not really sure.
Perhaps still in baggage claim in Hong Kong.

Two more days in country and I am afraid of that shy-guy returning. That guy who wasn’t so popular in school. That guy who doesn’t speak up in meetings at work. That guy who doesn’t jump up and dance with the TeleTubby in front of the License Bureau. Yes, I danced. Please pick your jaw up from the floor.

I am living with purpose right now. I have a mission. I have a great support team here. I have people who believe in me. I have no fear. I am bullet proof. I hate spicy octopus and asked for more!

My life here is much more spicy. I hit the streets after dinner. Threw the ear buds in, walked briskly, saw parts of Korea that were out of the way. Walking like I knew where I was going. Having no plan, turning on a dime, going down alleyways lit by faux-neon.

Twenty years ago I couldn’t wait to be on a plane and back home. I know tomorrow afternoon I will feel the same way. When the gig is over I am ready to be home to my bride and kiddo. This time is different than when I was an observer/advisor at Kunsan. Though I miss my family, I hope I am returning with a bit of spice in my step.

Yes life here is spicy. I love it!