Archive for the ‘traveling’ Category

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The Cats of Minsokchon

July 26, 2007

Some brief thoughts, but first a song for your enjoyment. The song and thoughts have no relation whatsoever. I’ve just been giving it a pretty hard listen, so, I thought I’d share. Pure pop, of the summer variety, by a band named Phoenix. They hail from Paris, and sing in English. Go figure… Song’s called, “One time too many.”

We said goodbye to Jaime, who had a splendid time here in Korea (and we had a splendid time hosting her). It was her first time in Asia, and she was very excited to take in everything. She seemed to really like the bath house, especially. I second that.

The monsoon weather has set in to a pretty even pattern, lots of haze, sometimes cloudy, occasional showers… and always humid. Luckily, we’ve escaped the wrath of heat I faced two years ago when I was here for a summer of research. Daily temps over 100 and scorching sunshine. No thanks.

A sign that home is near . . . the 10 day weather forecasts no longer apply.

A sign that will be near our home . . . I ordered a wood name plaque for the 방랑당 bahngnahngdahng. It turned out incredibly well. I got goose bumps when I saw it. Then, later that night, two of my study partners, Yujin and Giseok, gave me a going away present – a big dojang (stamp) with the characters 放浪堂. It’s absolutely gorgeous. Gave me goosebumps and a few tears. I’d show pictures, but that’d spoil it. If you want to see them, you have to come to the bahngnahngdahng.

Finally, we visited the Korean Folk Village in Yongin (한국민속촌). I hadn’t been there in 13 years. They’ve made continual improvements, and the entire site is just fabulous. The preservation of trees has made all the difference, as each section remains separated from the other, lending the entire park a feeling of multiple cozy villages nestled into one another. An interesting side-note, and one I hope that others will catch onto, such that the little guys might gain a little fame… the village is full of chubby, beautiful cats! There were cats everywhere we looked. Of course, they steered clear of the humans, and rightfully so, but they seemed to love the village the most of anyone. They reminded me of the cat portraits from the Joseon dynasty painters Kim Hongdo (김홍도):

Kim Hongdo

-Hwangmyonongjeopdo (황묘농접도)

and my personal favorite, Byeon Sangbyeok (변상벽):

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-( I don’t know the title 😦 )

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-Myojakdo (묘작도)

To the cats of minsokchon MAN-SE!- may they live long, peaceful, and happy lives (and stop fighting with each other, you two I saw – you have a huge space to yourselves, enjoy it!).

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Congrats to Chris – now well into his thirties!

July 21, 2007

Mr. 31 ~ Happy Birthday and many more!
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Here’s hoping this year’s version of July 22 is plenty enjoyable for the dongsaeng. As someone who associates “birthday” with “gray and rainy,” there’s certainly no small amount of jealousy that Chris can enjoy his birthday grilling by the pool and tossing back a coupla cold ones. Then again, the dog days of summer far better suit his sunny and warm personality than the gloom and doom of November. We’re looking forward to celebrating in person in only a few weeks. Congratulations!!

As for news in Korea, the past week of travel was most enjoyable, as nearly every chance to get out of Seoul has become. The stress of city, uh, supermegamonstercity life have truly started to take their toll on me. Irritable, exhausted, distracted – I can’t seem to calm down unless I have a beer these days. Just too much too fast too often. And the tiny apartment doesn’t offer much respite.

Fortunately, I have generous friends who offer solace at their sanctuaries. First, in Gwangju where we spent time with my dear friends Bob, Hwanchul and Vanya. At night, we chatted til the wee hours and watched silly youtube videos. During the day, we ventured to the Gwangju National Cemetery to learn about the 1980 Democracy Movement and subsequent massacre. Then, up to a valley deep in Mudeung-san to sit by a mountain stream and gorge ourselves on mountain vegetables and rice wine.

Oh, how can I forget? Before the day’s trip began, I had my own Korean version of Michael Moore’s Sicko. On the way down to Gwangju, as our bus stopped into a highway rest area, I indulged as I always do on some roasted new potatoes. Suddenly, my tongue notices a new topographical feature in the cracks and crevices of my dental plains – ack, a new canyon! Seems my tooth got brokened by the potatoes! Weird indeed. Granted, a smaller piece had broken off earlier that week, but still – potatoes? This second piece was significantly larger and demanded quick attention. Still, we wouldn’t be back to Seoul for a while and we wouldn’t be in Gwangju but for a few days – would I have time for a crown? Yikes.

Well, long story short – went to dentist without an appointment, didn’t need a crown, had a permanent porcelain filling to cover the hole, final price – $40 and 2 hours – 1.25 of which were waiting in the office. Not bad.

Okay, back to travel tales. The next day, we took leave of the boys and went to see my Gwangju gal pal, Elaine, and hunkered down in the air conditioned comfort of her swanky apartment. Of course, no week goes by without sweat and toil, so, I did have to include a running workout, this time on the nice new track at Cheonnam University. It was my first “speed” workout in a while. Using the discipline accorded by a track, I managed a decent 5 miler in rather ridiculous heat and humidity. Warm up mile, 3 fast miles each quicker than the previous, then a “cool” down. Made me very eager to get on a track more regularly. Though my mileage has improved this year, my speed has tanked, so, I need some more training of that sort. Plus, oddly, I love the monotony of laps, where all I have to worry about is pacing. Anyways, sorry to bore you with that.

The night proceeded with ssambap (rice and side dishes wrapped in greens – think, fajitas, but using lettuce instead of tortillias) and patbingsu (ice, sweet milk, red beans, strawberries, sweet rice cakes), not a bad combination. Then home for more chats and wishful thoughts that we’d see each other again in the not too distant future. Elaine was one of my best friends here this year. I can’t say enough about how comfortable she made me feel when I was stressed, or how generous she was as a host. We spent quite a few hours complaining, laughing, and teasing each other. It was sad to say goodbye.

But goodbye it had to be, and at a very early hour. The next day we had to catch early buses, well, I had to catch an early bus and the ladies decided to join the fun. I was off to Baengnyeon Hermitage and they were headed back up to Seoul. My mission was to meet up with one Ilman Seunim 일만(日卍)스님(Seunim is the appellation for Korean monks), a friend I’d made at a trip to a temple in May. His hermitage is part of the immense Haein-sa complex. Though the weather was less than ideal, with fog enshrouding the entire Gaya Mountain, it made for a very peaceful and contemplative mood. 79350-01.jpg

My room was on the front face of the building on the far right. It looked straight out into a mountain valley, as you see in the second picture. Though the valley was mostly fog, it didn’t matter. Somehow in my mind, the beauty was all there intact. It made a great frame for my little cell, and I spent a good long while simply staring into that pleasant abyss.

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What is a visit to a hermitage like? Quiet. Great vegetarian food. Lots of green tea with chatty monks who like to laugh a lot. Prostrations, hundreds of them. Booming chanting that echoes in the hills. 2.40 am wake-up! Visits to surrounding hermitages and “brother monks.” Baengnyeon-am is famous for being the final resting place of the most famous Korean monk of the modern age, Seongcheol Seunim. This meditation master was known by everybody, primarily for his incredibly strict regimen and his meditation prowess. His fame grew so wide, and seekers so many, that he instituted a rule stating that only after doing 3,000 prostrations can anyone get the chance to meet him. Even now that he’s passed on, people still come to the hermitage to do their 3,000. I didn’t manage that many, but a minor chunk at least. Seongcheol welcomed anyone, rich or poor, Buddhist or Christian, as long as they did their prostrations. When President/Dictator Park Chunghee came by, Seongcheol blew him off. “Did he do 3000? No. Sorry. Not interested.” To Christians, he did have one fairly major stipulation, however:

Just a few days ago, three Christians came and did their 3,000 prostrations. I always tell Christians that there is one condition that they must agree to concerning their prostrations. The condition is that when they prostrate, they must make a wish that all those who refute their God and who curse Jesus are the first to go to their heaven. And they think that is really nice. After all, isn’t such an attitude a truly religious one? The one thing I can’t fathom is how people who claim to be truly religious can go around saying that only followers of their religion will go to a wonderful place after death, and everyone else will go to some place terrible.

The Buddha always said that the greater a person curses and hurts you, the greater you should respect, help and serve that person.

In fact, despite the fame of this hermitage, I wasn’t really all that interested in the legacy of Seongcheol, I just wanted to visit my friend. He’s an incredible man, Ilman. He was previously a Korean Marine Recon soldier (basically, the Korean version of the Navy Seals), but had a conversion after seeing not a few deaths take place right at his side during training. He also took part in the brutality that is Korean military training, beating many a young recruit. He himself admitted to “shedding buckets of tears” during his own training, suffering from the pain of constant abuse. Interesting confession to hear from such a big, strong man. He shared his picture from his Marine days, and he was definitely a frightening sight. I said he looked terrifying. He said he was terrifying, and that’s why he became a monk. We were both glad for his change.

The visit was only one day, as Ilman Seunim had to get up to Seoul to prepare for his own trip to the States. He’ll be staying in New Jersey at a Korean temple there for three months. Looks like I may have an east coast trip to ponder.

Well, that’s it for now. I’ll leave you with an odd cartoon that kind of suits my state of mind about now….(click on it to see a bigger size if you can’t read it).

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Quick Update

May 22, 2007

We were oh-so-sad to see our friends leave Seoul this AM, but could not have asked for a more wonderful visit with them.  At least we can re-live the memories on flickr.

 And now, it’s back to work for both of us….

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bien arrivée

May 5, 2007

Just a quick post to let everyone know that I arrived safely to Korea. The plane ride was direct from Chicago to Seoul, and therefore the 13 hours actually seemed short in comparison to the 20+ hours it generally takes when transferring through Tokyo Narita. So far, we’ve been busy, but busy having fun playing, eating, and visiting friends and cousins before our friends arrive next Monday. “Real life” (i.e., back to teaching, research, and writing) begins after they leave. We’re making sure to photo document as much as we can, so you can check out the fruit of our efforts here.

Two noteworthy events/observations that are not mentioned on our flickr site: First, for some reason, I’m noticing more so than before that seemingly close to 90% of women in Seoul under 40 have undergone s’sangkapul, or double eyelid surgery. At only between $500-$1000 (compared to over $3,500 in the US) and with all of the social pressure to undergo the procedure (my own mother, for example, has told me that she’d be thrilled if I came back having had it done), it’s no surprise that natural eyelids are rapidly becoming a novelty. Speaking of suffering for beauty, it’s now also possible (and not surprisingly a Korean specialty) to have plastic surgery to obtain slim calves. Those who grew up with me know how much I complain about my own stumpy stems, but actually cutting out the calf muscles? Yikes. [So, if I come back with much bigger eyes and skinny legs, but unable to walk, you’ll know what happened!]

Secondly, the oddest thing happened yesterday in the subway. Matty and I were standing in the train on our way to my cousin’s house. I was holding a medium-sized giftbag and standing in front of a seated middle-aged man, who, after watching Matty and me speak for a bit, suddenly grabbed at my bag, as if he wanted to hold it. I refused and moved away from him. The only explanation we could come up with was that he was likely trying to show Matty (i.e., “whitey”) up by insisting to hold my bag, since no proper Korean man would allow his woman to hold a bag that he himself should have offered to carry. Maybe this wasn’t actually the case, but I have to wonder whether or not he would have done the same thing if Matty was Korean.

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Late April… a wedding and a mass murder, so it goes.

April 18, 2007

Hello loyal reader. I have been a bit remiss in regularly blogging, I know. I tend to save up everything and then let it out all at once. I think I can blame the lack of good beer for my inability to write more often. The lubricant delivered by that sacred combination of fine hops and barley has earned my even further appreciation. Not sure I thought that was possible, but there you go.

Well, leave it to big events to get me going again.

Read the rest of this entry ?

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the new world

December 12, 2006

When I first came to Korea in 1994, I was one of like 3 non-Koreans on a huge airliner. I arrived to a smallish international airport and proceeded to live with very little interaction with foreigners or friends and family back home. Now here I am 12 years later and there are foreigners everywhere. The airport is chock full. Moreover, i’m in direct contact with friends and family daily, not just emailing but talking with them (virtual) face to face. Back in ’94, we blew over 1000$ on phone charges trying to keep the ties of romance tight during our first long-term, long-distance separation. Now it’s more or less free.

And then there’s the fact of this blogpost. I’m sitting here at Incheon International using computers they provide in a free internet lounge.  Unreal.

And so, my last hours in Korea for a while. I’ll miss kimchi, and my new friends, and maybe most of all… speaking and hearing Korean. I’ve been working on this language for so dang long, and only now do I finally feel like I’m starting to get a grasp of it in situations that aren’t totally under my control. That is, I can be thrown into the midst of a crazy scene (like this past sunday when a drunken ajeossi came up and kicked the street cat i was petting… woah. goodbye buddhist calm, hello madmatty) and still talk (or shout) my way out. Whereas I used to have to bring friends along to get complicated things done, I do it on my own now. One other change, I can now actually discern a lot of the jabbering that goes on around me. What used to be a din is now separating out into distinct converstations about boyfriends, bosses, and bitchy next-door-neighbors who’d get a perm and lose 5 pounds if they knew what was good for them. Hmm… maybe the din was better?

In short, even as I’m overjoyed to be going home, I’m going to miss this place a lot, even for only three weeks. And reflecting on this fact, I think this is the best thing I could have possibly hoped for as I set out on this journey a few months back.

So far, so good. Korea Annyoung!

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Some sights and sounds from my latest 'ventures

October 1, 2006

This past week, I got a ton of work done at school and then took thursday and friday to travel down south before 20 million other people do next week for Chuseok. It was absolutely dandy. I went swimming! for the first time here in Korea. The water was really warm… and made me ascareda sharks, even though I know there aren’t any maneathers around the peninsula. Dumb, eh? I partook of delicious raspberry liquor and took in the sights and sounds of a temple I visited for the very first time, Naeso-sa. The video of the evening bell is below, along with a bunch of other pictures that all link to larger images on Flickr.

On Saturday, I had my first super hard run, a mountain climb up the slopes of An-san (“san” means mountain). It was an hour 45 minutes total. I didn’t run the whole way, I admit, cuz at times the trail looked like this. I almost made it to the peak in an hour anyways. Unfortunately, i got lost a bit, and ended up on the military side of the mountain. Not smart. How’d I know I was in the wrong place? The foxholes and trenches should have clued me in. But the guard dog going nutso was what really tipped me off. Now that I know the path, I’ll make it in under an hour next time, fo’ sho’.

Next week will be very busy, with visits to the mountain graves of Dominica’s cousin (who died tragically only a few months ago) and uncle (who, along with his wife, came all the way from Korea to attend our wedding). Then next-next week I’ll be headed to Pusan to research the Pusan International Film Festival.
I’ll let you know more about that later. For now, enjoy some pix and a video.