Archive for April, 2008

Ah . . .Korea

Ah . . . Korea, the land of hearty food redolent of garlic, public bath houses, cell phones, cherry trees and smog. April turned out to be a lovely time to visit. The weather was primarily good, the trees were blooming all over the place, and it seemed like sometimes we were the only foreigners there. What a treat to spend two weeks wandering around, seeing the beautiful and tumultuous old Korea mix it up with the gadget/technology crazy modern Korea.

My favorite memories include:

  • Our first sight of Joan, Tracy, and Kaden in the elevator;
  • Sleeping on the warm floor of the 500-year old home on sleeping mats;
  • Relaxing in the sun on the porch of the same house;
  • Scrubbing every last speck of dirt off my skin then soaking in the blazing hot water, followed up with a dip in the freezing cold pool;
  • Strolling along the newly day-lighted river in downtown Seoul-it is lit up at night with thousands of tiny white lights;
  • Sipping tea with Halmoni while listening to her memories of the war years and meeting Hadaboji;
  • Tasting all the street vendor food;
  • Exploring the twisty curvy narrow streets;
  • Window shopping in Insadong; and
  • Searching out the cheapest tastiest lattes available.

It was a great trip and the kids loved it too!

Gwen

Elli’s walkover

She’s been practicing hard to accomplish this feat. Nice work Elli!!

Dodi Beach

In an effort to enjoy as much of the island before we leave, we played at Dodi Beach on the Naval base. The weather and water was perfect. The shallow corals made for some of the best snorkeling I’ve seen on Guam. The beach borders the north water body where dolphins frequent. So, next time we intend to go back with kayaks and a bbq.

Impressions of Korea

Now that I’ve caught my breath and enjoyed a good sweat in the tropical heat, I feel the need to reflect on our recent trip to the homeland.  Why do I call it the homeland?  Even though I was not born there, nor have I lived there for longer than a 3 month stretch, I am full blooded Korean and feel that the values I was raised with are from that country.  My parents only did arrive in the US a couple years before I was born in Washington DC.  So you could say I was raised in a Korean enclave in the capitol city.  Ok, enough about me.

My impressions of Korea are many.  It’s polluted in the big city.  You can see a haze in the sky and sadly it tends to masks the beautiful mountains all over the country.  Once you leave Seoul, you can imagine how beautiful the landscape was prior to the industrial revolution.   Money money money.  I have visited the country in the 80s, 90s, and now the 00s.  Each time, the sheer number of stores (franchises now), cars and technological advances seem far greater than the last visit.  In the 80s, the streets were filled with taxis and chauffeur driven cars.  In the 90s with the emergence of a middle class, more privately owned cars hit the road.  Today, you see all types of models but not many of the SUV gas guzzlers like in the states and Guam.  I went to neighborhoods of the past and recognized the bones of the place, but the stores had mostly changed and grown taller.  Asian countries have a way of putting retail businesses on top of one another vertically.  It’s common to find 5-7 story buildings full of tiny shops accessible by the same narrow staircases.  I walked much slower than everyone else as I was gazing up and down to read the signs to the stores.

People dress nicely.  One of the perks of living in the tropics is I get to wear shorts everyday.  Let’s not underestimate how much I love that.  Being warm blooded, I’m always hot.  Here at least I can air out the legs.  In Korea, it’s poor taste for men to wear shorts in public unless exercising.  Of course, it’s perfectly fine for women to wear mini skirts and high heels though.  Such a bummer for me…or maybe not.  If you aren’t wearing a uniform from your workplace in Seoul, you are wearing something stylish.  Number one reason I don’t fit in very well.

People are incredibly social.  Walking around at night, it’s restaurant after restaurant with groups of people dining and drinking together.  It’s common to see men carrying their drunken friends down the sidewalk.  One fella in the subway fell off his seat and decided it was easier just the lay flat on the train floor.  People just gave him space.

People work till late at night.  The city streets are full until around midnight.  Don’t these people go home!  I see men in suits leaving bars and restaurants and can’t imagine that they will be at work at 8am.  I’m sure many of them have 1-2 hour commutes too.  Maybe you can’t smell the liquor on their breath the next day because of the overwhelming garlic kimchee aroma oozing out of their pores.  On a personal note, the spicy foods played havoc on my system after a few days.  I was seeking out mild dumpling soup to ease the fire.

You can get a hot meal anytime anywhere.  Eating from a food stall on the street, some even standing there like at a bar, is completely normal.  I’m not talking hot dogs, though you can now even get those with a Korean twist of cabbage or potato salad jammed in the roll.  You can spicy rice cakes, steamed dumplings, chix skewers with a selection of sauces, kimbap (sushi rolls), fried anything, or just a toasted egg and ham sandwich.  How about a beer, or milk, or vitamin drink?  No problem.  These stall have fridges too.  Luckily, inflation hasn’t caught up to foods.  You can still get a full meal for about $5 bucks on the street.

Lastly, I’m not so tall anymore.  In the 80s while in my early 20s, I could walk down the street and be a head taller than most.  Nowadays with the better wages and access to any kind of food, the next generation is growing taller.  I’m only average now.  Yes, it’s hard to come back down to earth.  I saw a documentary about N. Korea and they said that the N. Korea 7 year olds are on average 5 inches shorter than their S. Korean counterparts.  N. Korea has had horrible famine in the recent past.  They say humanitarian aid is not being spread evenly to the lower classes.

All in all, it was a fantastic trip mixed with a view of the past and present.  I’m confident that the kids will remember Korea for the rest of their lives.  And hopefully, they will have the curiosity to explore their heritage even more as they grow.  That was my goal at least.

At the folk village

Back from our Korean vacation

Just got back tonight and couldn’t wait to share some of our photos.  Click on Recent Photos on the right for a sampling of the over 400 pictures we took.  The trip was fantastic.  We had 11 days in Seoul and 3 days in a small town called Andong a few hours train ride from the big city.  Quite a contrast.  Luckily, we shared our vacation with Joan, Tracy, Kaden and my folks.  The weather cooperated, my Korean was revitalized, and the kids got their first real taste of the homeland.  More posts to come.