Sunday, May 3, 2009

It's About Time!

It's hard to believe that it's already May, which means that I've already been here for 7 months.

It's also been 4 months since I last updated. My apologies to my readers, several of whom have pleaded and/or berated me for new posts.

Between my laziness and my busyness, it's been hard to carve out a chunk of time to update my blog, though it really shouldn't be that hard. But this is a long holiday weekend, a combined observance of May Day (May 1), Buddha's Birthday (May 2) and Children's Day (May 5). So instead of preparing my lecture for tonight, I have some time to catch up on my blog.

Just a note about chronology. I'll be posting flashbacks (ala LOST!), meaning that everything from Jan. to this entry are recollections of the past.

Friday, April 17, 2009

The Swell Season

The 2007 film Once proved that it's possible to create a thoughtful, moving film on a shoe-string budget. The combination of creative film-making (blending musical and dramatic genres), true-to-life characters and dialogue, and the melodic, melancholy and occasionally haunting tunes made watching Once a memorable experience.

Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova, the winners of the Oscar for best original song, "Falling Slowly", will be performing in Seoul ... again.

I missed their concert in San Francisco in Nov. 2007. I missed them again when they performed in Seoul in Jan. of this year. Now that they're coming back to Seoul for two concerts in May, I'm determined not to strike out!

I bought two tickets for the Friday, May 15 show. At the moment, I don't have a date. But I bought two tickets in faith that I'll find a date by then. "If you build it, they will come." I'll let you know how it works out.

Friday, February 6, 2009

What Does Gandalf Drink?

Today was a randomly interesting day. Yet another friend, Kevin Lee, was visiting Korea on his way back from a business trip to India. We met for lunch in Daehangno, a performing arts district in Seoul. After lunch we explored the neighborhood, and low and behold, who do we see?

So if you were wondering, Gandalf drinks Hite! And LOTS of it!

That evening, I went to dinner with my friend, Jieun, who works in Dongdaemun, a major shopping district. On the way out of the restaurant, guess who I saw?

Move over Abraham Obama. It's all about Obama Claus!

After dinner, I returned to Daehangno to hit a jazz club I had long wanted to visit. It's named Jazz Club. Fortunately, the music is far better than the name, as it's hands-down the classiest live jazz venue I've been to since I got here.

On the way to Jazz Club, we passed an outdoor stage in the Dongdaemun shopping district, which features live performances from members of the audience. Have you heard the Wonder Girls' mega-hit Nobody? Here's the original and the "alternate interpretation"!

Yes, that's a he! Needless to say, it was an entertaining evening.

Saturday, January 31, 2009

"Colorful Daegu"

This week, I visited the city of Daegu. I'm always a little skeptical when I pass a restaurant flashing a name like "Yummy Curry" or "Tasty Teriyaki". So what about "Colorful Daegu"? Since it's the third largest city in Korea behind Seoul and Busan, I thought it deserved a visit.

After spending two days there, I had mixed feelings about my visit. It's much smaller and slower than Seoul. Definitely not a bad change of pace. But it was mildly depressing to see a once-prominent city in a slow and languishing decline. I heard that Daegu was once surrounded by many textile factories during the 70's and 80's, but since the flight of manufacturing jobs to China and Southeast Asia over the last two decades, Daegu has suffered the fate of many manufacturing cities in the US, which have seen jobs leave and few return in their place.

This was a clear reminder that Korea is essentially a one-city country. There's shipbuilding in Ulsan, there's fishing in Busan, there's manufacturing in Incheon. But Seoul has no real cultural, political or economic rival. So most young people find that all road lead to, if not through, Seoul, which means that most of the smaller cities in Korea are in various phases of the long fade.

While I was there, I visited a native of Daegu whom I had met in Seoul. She is a flight attendant by training, but she was a terrible tour guide! Of course, she's nice to look at. But take her off the plane, and she's totally useless!

The KTX train to Daegu

Midnight arrival at East Daegu Station

There were very few tourist attractions in Daegu. We visited a university campus, a bookstore, and the central shopping district.

On my last night, Lia took me to an "amusement park" (the rides included a small merry-go-round and Ferris wheel). I know it was a Thu night, but we were literally the only people there. Here's a picture of the park at night.

Shooting hoops

Look at that follow-thru!


"Napkin" =)

Seoul Station. Home sweet home.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009


Lunar New Year (they don't call it "Chinese New Year" in Korea!) is one of two big holidays in Korea, Chu-seok (the Korean Thanksgiving) being the other one. Many Koreans travel back to their hometown to spend time with their parents.

Fortunately, most of my mother's brothers live in/near Seoul, which made travel easy for me. We ate ddeok-guk for breakfast, of course. Then after a memorial service for my deceased grandparents (jeh-sah), we watched early-round play from the Australian Open and then ate again.

Then came the highlight of the day: yut-nori! Yut is one of the simplest games known to mankind. You can draw the board in a few seconds. The rules are few and simple, although there is some advanced strategy. But despite the simplicity of the game, it can be the catalyst for hours of entertainment. A little soju doesn't hurt either.

My youngest uncle is the talker and entertainer of the family, so he made this into a gambling affair, just to make things a little more interesting. So after three games and two victories for our team, I was up $30.

To close the new year's festivities, we did seh-bae, a ceremony in which you bow to your elders at the start of the new year. But this is no ordinary bow. First, you start on your knees, and then you bow until your forehead is nearly touching the ground. Second, you get hooked up, as most of you well know!

Since this was my first time celebrating Seol and participating in seh-bae with my uncles, they wanted to make up for all the lost years. So they all gave me "back pay" for the seh-bae money I haven't received over the years.

Jackpot! All told, the take was about $500. If this is any kind of sign, this is gonna be a good year!

Friday, January 9, 2009

Homesick yet?

Some people have asked me whether I'm getting homesick at all, now that I've been in Korean for three months. First of all, I've been busy enough that I haven't really had a chance to feel homesick. Second, people keep coming to visit Korea and/or me. If people keep visiting me, there's no reason for me to visit the States, except for my occasional Zachary's fix.

I've been surprised, even shocked, by the number of people who have visited Korea in the last few months, and more are on their way. It just seems that all roads lead THRU, if not TO, Seoul. So come on by for a visit! Spring is not far off!

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

I finally gave in ...

... and got some new glasses. Although I've updated by prescription a few times, I haven't changed my style of glasses for over a decade. I was quite comfortable with my old glasses, and as they say, if it ain't broke, don't fix it.

Prescription glasses are much cheaper in Korea than in the US, perhaps 1/2 to 1/3 the US price. So this is the place, if any, to update my style. Basile and I tagged along with Eunice and Jane as they visited an optometrist to pick out a new pair of glasses for Jane. While Eunice was helping Jane, she spotted these for me. A new look for a great price!