Sunday, July 10, 2011

moving...time for post-post-nicaragua...

The blog is moving.
To here: http://allophile.blogspot.com

Thank you, readers...

Saturday, July 02, 2011

...still jet-lagged; a Lego-inspired geography lesson iPhone photo-essay. Yes, you read that right.

It is 102 degrees at ten in the morning; forecast high of 111 today. I'm still jet-lagged, back in Tucson...After 30 hours in transit, I got home in the wee hours of Wednesday morning, and then Wednesday night, after 81 days without measurable precipitation, it finally rained. I got to 'welcome the monsoon' twice this year--first in Korea, and then back in southern Arizona...

Today's seemingly random posting is not random. (Although my time-zone-frazzled trains of thought are indeed susceptible to sudden track-changes...)

I grew up with Legos.
(After I moved out of my parents' house,
my mother, well-intentioned, gave away my Legos
to a neighbor-kid...
Yes...I've forgiven her.)

In Korea last month, I noticed t-shirts with graphic designs such as this:
A Lego-man rushing by a saguaro! Too cool...

And, just before I left Tucson at the end of May,
my wife, (only half-jokingly), got me this keychain-flashlight as a 'travel-companion:'

One cloudy afternoon, two weekends ago at my Uncle's in Sokcho, my wife was napping, my uncle, aunt, and mother were resting, and I was restless...So...Mr. Legoman and I decided to prepare a geography lesson. (Really, I'm not that weird. Really.)

I had just read a column in The Korea Times by an economist who'd gone to spend a couple of years, teaching/researching, in England...and who was suprised to be asked, by educated Britons, questions such as--"So, Korea--where exactly is Korea?"..."Don't you just speak Chinese there?"..."Do you have your own money?" (Incidentally, South Korea's population--48million--is not too far behind England's--51million...According to the World Bank, South Korea is the 14th largest economy in the world...the UK is 6th.)

I've written before about questions I heard when I was in school--"So, Korea, is that, like, a country?"..."Are there trees in Korea?"..."Do you have seasons there?"

So, a geography lesson...with a chopstick as a teaching-tool...
It also recaps where we've been over the last few weeks.

The Korean peninsula, in relation to its NE Asian neighbors, surrounded by China, Siberian Russia, and Japan:
Latitudinally, for Americans--think of going from Massachusetts to the Carolinas,
or, in a European context, from mid-France down to Morocco.

Flying into Korea from abroad, you land at Incheon international airport, built on re-claimed tidal land on an island about an hour's drive west of Seoul:

 In relation to Seoul, here is Sokcho, where my Uncle lives, on the coast of the Sea of Japan/East Sea: 
You'll note that on the above map, the border betwen North (where Legoman is standing) and South is not overtly marked...But the DMZ is definitely there...

(above map from Wikipedia)

Strangely enough, the world's last, and heavily-fortified, relic of the Cold War is used as a brand-name for bottled mineral water:
It might seem bizarre, at first, using a military acronym as a selling point for mineral water, but it has its own logic--parts of the DMZ run through isolated mountains, full of natural springs, and just 2km inside the South Korean border, this stuff is bottled...the DMZ has even become a wildlife refuge of sorts, after almost six decades of being uninhabited...

...So, there in Sokcho you can relax on the beach or in the nearby mountains:

Toward the center of the country is the mid-size city of Wonju...
...from where we flew to Jeju-do island: 
The above map is an inset;
the map below shows the island in relation
to other places in NE Asia:
(above map from here)

Oh...and I almost forgot the small city of Yangju, a northern suburb of Seoul:
This is where S. and I spent the better part of a day at the "Dae Jang Geum Theme Park."
(By the way, one of the corniest things we've ever done--
corny-but-wholesome fun!)

Wave good-bye...
Ahn-nyoung!

...and back to the T-shirts that inspired all of this: 


Back in Cactus-land.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

...a grey afternoon and evening in San Francisco Airport: arriving before I left Seoul, clockwise...

Jet-travel and the international date-line--always surreal to have the clock not be in agreement with one's inner circadian rythyms--I left Seoul this (yesterday?) afternoon at 12:40, had a couple-hour layover in Tokyo's Narita airport, then arrived in rainy San Francisco after a 9 1/2 hr. flight (where I've spent ALL afternoon and early evening) two hours before I left...My flight to Tucson is about an hour from now, weather willing...

Among the last sights/sounds from my four-week stay in Korea, this:
video

There is a small 'cultural activities center' at the Seoul-Incheon airport, and twice daily there are traditional music performances; I caught this kayageum-performance as I made my way to my departure concourse.
She's playing sort of a 'theme and variations' on 'Arirang,' perhaps Korea's most well-known and beloved folk-song.

The kayageum is a zither that dates back to the 6th century--traditionally made with paulownia, chestnut, and walnut wood, with silk strings--and I've been fascinated by it from the first time I saw and heard one when I was seven years old. When I was in grad school, I actually had the chance to study it briefly--as part of the University's ethnomusicology program, there was a visiting professor--designated an 'Intangible National Treasure' by the Korean government for his work in preserving traditional culture--and I was able to take a summer quarter's worth of lessons from him! It was truly one of the most interesting things I was able to experience in graduate school--totally unrelated to my concentration of studies, but completely stimulating as it was unexpected...

I was able to 'avoid' jet-lag going to Korea...coming back, though, combined with today's purgatorial lay-over in San Francisco, is a different story. (I just found out that my flight has been delayed by another hour and a half! Egad...Flying United through San Francisco--not my favorite thing)...So, brain too fried--no insightful trip-wrapping-up comments tonight...Those things need time to marinate, anyway...

I can say what I ate, though--here in the airport, I at least had 'local' things--dim sum, soup in a sourdough bread-bowl, and a couple squares of Ghirardelli chocolate to go with Peet's coffee! Minutiae...At the airport in Incheon, my final meal in Korea was...a burger! Not just any burger, but a 'shrimp-bulgogi' burger from Lotteria, a South Korean fast-food chain:
(pronunciation note--pronounce "Lotteria" more like 'roh-teh-ree-yah,' ok?)

I wasn't really 'craving' a burger, but it fit my final hours' budget, and I hadn't yet eaten in a modern Korean interpretation of a burger-joint, so I figured it would be fun. I'd heard of bulgogi-burgers, bud had never had one. (Bulgogi, for the unitiated, is marinated beef stir-fry--it's usually what Koreans serve to people who've never had Korean food before, and it's almost always a hit.) So, on a long bun, were two meat-patties--one, a bulgogi-marinade-flavored beef patty, and the other--a breaded shrimp 'square'! I have to say, it was quite tasty. And the fries came with 'Mexican chili' seasoning. Fusion fast food...

Before any more banalities, I should sign off--find something to read...

Back in the U.S.
Last day--in the rain: a locked palace...colors of food...a German/Korean moment...bright caffeinated lights...thoughts at the end of four weeks...

My final full-day in Korea--this was 'Morning in Bukchon:'
A coffee-to-go from around the corner...(a walking dream for an ex-Seattlite in Seoul!)
...and then a stroll under sycamores and ginkgoes along old palace walls:
The leafy canopy offered slight protection from the rain, which alternated between drizzle and blustery downpours all morning...

My goal was Chang-gyong-gung Palace, a place I visited when I was 7 years old; I still have vivid memories of that late winter day. Chang-gyong-gung was called Chang-gyong-WON back then--'won' meaning 'garden' instead of 'gung' meaning 'palace...' During the Japanese occupation, this royal palace was 'demoted' by having some of its building razed, and then a zoo (!) and botanical gardens were installed on its grounds--even kiddie-rides! In the mid-80's, the grounds and buildings were finally restored...

Across the street from the Palace is the new Cancer Care section of Seoul National University Hospital...out front was this 'negative' sculpture, which I thought was pretty cool:
...I would end up spending time inside this hospital, because the Palace was CLOSED! My guidebook and several websites said that Changgyongung is closed on Tuesdays...but the gate sign said 'Mondays.' So much for my nostalgia-re-visit...But I noticed through the glass façade of the hospital that there were public areas on the upper floors--a café, even! So, in I went...and the drizzle became a downpour, so it was good timing...

So, from the 5th-floor café terrace, I pieced together this panorama with my iPhone:
Outer gate, inner gate, Throne Hall--typical Joseon dynasty architecture...the outer gate dates from its re-construction in the 1600's--one of the oldest remaining wooden structures in Seoul...

After I took the photos, I saw that there were stairs to a roof terrace on the 6th floor,
a slightly better view, so up I went, with the umbrella:
...and then back down to street level...
...peeking through the gates; 'the locked gates of childhood memory,' perhaps? You can peep through, but you can't return...


...afterwards, while walking in a reflective mood,
couldn't help but take a picture of this reflection of yet
another palace gate:
With five royal palaces in its historic center,
Seoul is a city of grand gates and picturesque walls..

This is the secondary east gate to Kyong-bok-gung palace, across the street from my next destination--
a place to read and dry out--this little underground bookstore/café--one of the best spots in Seoul for English (and even a few French and German) titles about Korea:

And then--lunchtime! (my last lunch in Seoul!) One of the bookstore employees recommended a place back up in the Samcheongdong section of Bukchon, that serves traditional Korean meals in courses...

Now, I know that there have been many food photos in this blog the past few weeks--you would be forgiven for thinking that my wife and I are 'foodies'--but we're NOT! At least, not in the gluttonous sense--we eat to live, instead of the other way around. (Proof being that I've LOST weight on this trip! Lots of walking, and lots of vegetables cooked in low-fat traditionally Korean ways.) But...But, Korean food is just so COLORFUL and at times 'scary'...so now that I've explained myself a bit--food photos.

First course--a little bowl of hot pumpkin porridge:

...and then this beautiful appetizer assortment...the pinkish disks in the center of the 9-compartment dish are thin slices of pickled radish, which you use as 'wraps'--kind of like mini crunchy vegetal crêpes--for the delicately textured fillings, which included julienned omelette, tofu, carrot, seaweed, seasoned beef, and some other vegetables. This is 'royal-style' cuisine--similar to what was served in the palaces nearby...
...and THEN--the 'main course' of rice, wild mushroom-clam-and-tofu-stew, and a pan-seared little fishie, along with kimchi and various banchan--side dishes:

Such a variety of textures, colors, and flavors--it's satisfying without being overly filling...But a post-lunch walk is always good, so off to explore parts of Bukchon I'd not been to yet...

A random rabbit:
 ...and a gallery window:
...Samcheongdong's leafy curving main street, lined with hanok, boutiques, cafés...gentrification with all its pros and cons...check out the Buddhist monk in traditional clothing waiting to cross the street...
...and this guy with the long hair à la chinoise--an actor on a period drama set?--on his cell-phone...

...fun use of stacked roof-tiles in this wall:

...a dash of French color on this bakery wall; Seoul is really into macarons...


...up and down in this hilly neighborhood...

..a view over Samcheongdong, with the leafy hill surrounding the Prime Minister's official residence; this area has been a government-neighborhood for over six centures..

...and then, after a long afternoon, back to 'my' hanok...


...one last afternoon to enjoy its quiet garden:


...with a snack: a cup of ubiquitous instant café-con-leche and a ring of tteok (rice-cake)...

"Mit-jee," the resident rabbit, decided to join me:

...then, evening--dinner-time...just down the road, this steaming hole-in-the-wall caught my eye...and nose:

...specializing in freshly hand-made mandu (dumplings--think 'gyoza' or 'wontons') and North-Korean-style naeng-myeon--chewy buckwheat noodles served with a spicy sauce and sliced vegetables in an ice-cold radish broth...



And here is where I had my German/Korean moment...At a neighboring table, a woman noticed that I was looking at the menu on the wall, reading it along with my iPhone dictionary app...Assuming that I was a foreigner (correctly assuming), she asked me if I was an English teacher--I said that no, but that I do teach Spanish and French...she spoke some English, but then it came up that she had lived in Berlin, so I asked her, in German, if she spoke German...She seemed surprised, then delighted to be able to speak auf Deutsch--I was surprised and delighted too! Fun to communicate beyond the rudimentary! My German, such as it is, is better than my Korean...kind of sad, really, but true...At any rate, it was fun to dig up a language that I've not used in ages...Her German was better than her English, and my German is better than my Korean...

Ahh, German...on my linguistic backburner, along with Korean...
After dinner, another walk--my last night in Seoul, so I wanted to be out and about in the city lights a bit...caught this glimpse of a Buddhist priest getting his dinner in a temple basement:

...before going futther, I gotta say that for taking point-and-shoot night-time photos, the iPhone is pretty amazing...

Some scenes along Cheong-gye-cheon stream:


...fun light-art...

....and some caffeination--I'd been wanting to take some photos to show the various names of local multi-story coffee-chains, which are EVERYwhere...

Here's 'Holly's:'
...and then on this night-market street, several more:

"Coffine Gurunaru." (Huh?)

A couple of weeks ago, I posted 'God in a cup," so why not 'Angel in us?"

Aww, isn't it romantic--'a twosome place'...

...an Italian touch here in the Far East:

...this one's hard to make out, but it specializes in serving 'Singapore toast,' whatever that is...

...and another Italian name:

...and the prosaically-named American chain "Coffee Bean" is a fixture here in Korea's capital as well:

One can see why this city's citizens are wired for night-life:

...this place is not a coffeeshop, but I liked the back-to-back verbs:
...appropriate for the end of a trip.

Lots of thoughts/memories/feelings swirling around this month, and especially today--almost a physical sensation in my throat and chest at times this morning--not a bad thing, but definitely present...pretentious sounding, perhaps, but 'Proustian' comes to mind...sights sounds tastes smells--all reminding me of the past and of loved ones, either elderly now or gone...and of my own 'youth'--now that I'm past the halfway point of 'threescore years and ten,' I'm no longer really 'young'...(?)

'Teach me how to count my days...' wrote the Psalmist...

One of the thoughts that weighs most on my mind/heart is that I've arrived at this age, after 'mastering' (more or less, for practical teaching, if not 'professional interpreter's purposes') French and Spanish, but I STILL cannot communicate effectively in Korean...

'Had we but world enough and time...' Alas...

Being 'cut off' from family and background--at least from half of myself, if that makes any sense--it's weird how that fact can be 'compartmentalized' for so long, but resurface from time to time, especially during this stay...

'The limits of my language mean the limits of my world,' wrote Wittgenstein, an Austrian philosopher...I hate that it includes the limits of one's family as well...

Anyway, that's what's swimming around in my mind as I sit on the papered floor in this Bukchon hanok...wondering when/if/ (and to whom) I might return to Korea...Eighteen years since my last visit: too long...

It is WAY after midnight, and I need to catch the airport bus in the morning...


...signing off, then,
   from Bukchon, Seoul, Korea...