May your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome, dangerous, leading to the most amazing view. May your rivers flow without end, meandering through pastoral valleys tinkling with bells, past temples and castles and poets’ towers into a dark primeval forest where tigers belch and monkey’s howl, through miasmal and mysterious swamps and down into a desert of red rock, blue mesas, domes and pinnacles and grottos of endless stone, and down again into a deep vast ancient unknown chasm where bars of sunlight blaze on profiled cliffs, where deer walk across the white sand beaches where storms come and go as lightening clangs upon the high crags, where something strange and more beautiful and more full of wonder than your deepest dreams waits for you---beyond that next turning of the canyon walls. ---Edward Abbey (thanks Trudy Hall)

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Korea Klean Kute and Kind

What Sue?

Journal Round the World Korea April 9 Through…

Prika: Troy Home Cat
March 7-11—After caring for our friends’ dear cat, saying good-bye to our dear dog and colleagues, we caught the Megabus back to NYC on Easter. 
Easter Bonnets

We walked along a park built on an old train line above the streets in Chelsea, ate BBQ and admired Easter hats.  Early the next morning we were on our way to Korea. 

During the 15 hour flight the sun never set.  I looked out at one point and saw ice covering much of the ocean.  Cool!  I watched 4 movies too! 
We got to Korea in the rain and took the last airport bus to our hostel, arriving finally at midnight.  We followed one man to a spot where he thought our hostel was then went to an internet place where a nice young man called and the hostel staff came to pick us up.  We met Ms. Sea, the cat who seems to own the place.  I slept deeply on the nice firm bed.

Early Spring in Korea
The next morning we had toast for breakfast, packed, found (eventually) an ATM so we could pay them the dollar we were missing last night for the room.  Like in Finland, people wait for the green light to cross.  The staff helped us call Jeong-Rae Cho, who was our couch-surfing host.  We made our way through the AMAZINGLY well organized, clean, clearly marked subway.  There’s even a trumpet fanfare that sounds before the train comes.  There are so many clues as to where to go and what to do.  There are even footprints where you are to stand and line up so that folks can leave the cars and make their way before the others board.  The train takes off gently and arrives without jerking.  It is contained so no one can jump onto the tracks or throw in garbage.  Wow, compared to this, NYC’s subway is a pigsty!  Koreans must think we have no self-respect.   I am impressed with the clear efforts of everyone to recycle and to exercise to keep healthy.
Jeong-Rae's Place

Up the mountain
Jeung-Rae joined us with a box of KFC chicken nuggets, which we inhaled at his nice apartment.  Our room was upstairs and big enough for a full sized bed and our bags.  The floor was warm and welcoming.  I love this heating from below idea that is very old.  Downstairs is a modest kitchen, open living room and a small bathroom under the stairs: toilet, hose with showerhead, drain, bowl to wash in/with and washing machine.  The home is the perfect size.  Funny that I was lamenting leaving Spanish-speaking areas as I was starting to really improve, when behold Jeong-Rae is more comfortable speaking in Spanish!  We were equal in our abilities and could communicate very well.  Soon, we were off hiking up the nearby mountain where we could see the University below.   

In the templ

The view
We climbed a path with colorful lanterns to a temple that was getting ready to celebrate the month of Buddha’s birthday.  Inside the temple were beautiful reliefs, sculptures and paintings.  Jeong-Rae donated money so I could light some incense for good karma.  We were so fortunate to have Jeong-Rae talk with us about the culture of people hiking on the holiday in their fancy expensive mountaineering clothes, when really it was a pretty basic hike up the hill.   That day was Election Day for the local government positions, and Jeong-Rae was clearly disappointed that the conservatives were ahead of the progressives.    
cleaning pants with compressed air

At the end of the hike I was surprised to see power air guns used to clean off pants and shoes that may have gotten dusty along the trail.  I think the Koreans might be the cleanest people I’ve ever met!  I gave the air supply to a man who in turn sprayed off my backside!  Surprise!  Jeong-Rae said that traditionally people go up the mountain in the morning, have a nice meal and some rice beer together at the bottom before returning home.

Korean BBQ  Warm!

After a short rest, we went to a Korean Bar-B-Q.  We had pork belly in the center over the charcoal and under these mini hoods that vacuumed out the smoke!  Around the edge, they poured in stirred up egg, kim chi, onions and garlic to cook and then we put all these on a lettuce leaf to eat them together.  The chopsticks were stainless steel and very slippery.  We enjoyed the fermented rice drink and the delicious bar-b-q until we were stuffed.

ancient bridge
Figures to say how important a building it i
March 12—Jeong Rae made us toast and egg-dipped tofu for breakfast before we made our way to the palace.  On the way, the subway failed (doors wouldn’t close properly) so we took the bus.  It was great to see Seoul from that level too.   

After a snafu with the subway, we took the bus to the Royal Palace Museum.  When we arrived, a tour in English was just starting, so we jumped in.  The tour guides here don’t mess around.  They go fast and start without everyone.  We saw lots of beautiful, colorful buildings for the king and queen, their doctors and servants.  There were places for scholars to take their final exams before the king, and libraries that had special roof extensions to keep the sun from ruining the books.   One enormous building held the throne.

Gate of forever young

Hallway between men and women's quarters
As soon as the tour was over, we went to the tour we reserved on line for the secret garden.  The land is about 400 hectares and was restricted to royalty.  We were able to see many pagodas, each for relaxing, pondering the health of the nation, meditating, studying or flirting.  Reflection lakes in the shape of Korea or in square shape to represent the earth dotted the hilly landscape. 
There was an area where the king could experience the life of a nobleman.  The building there was divided by gender with a long hallway to connect the two so that husbands and wives could get together.  
Little or big waterfall?
  A carved windy ½ tunnel for water to flow down a flat rock provided an opportunity for the king and his friends to put a cup at the highest point and write a poem before the cup reaches them.  Otherwise, they have to drink four cups of wine.  Sounds like the start of drinking games to me.   
Juniper to keep away corruption

We finished where a 400-year-old juniper grew, and functioned to ward off corruption.  I wish that’s all it would take….

Ancient homes

antique homes with modern city behind

Dook Knockers

Then we went to the ancient house neighborhood and saw places that were made like the traditional houses way back when.  There was a super view from the hill where we could modern structures as we looked through these colorful traditional homes.

Treats shaped like Poo!

Stone couple
We went to a shopping area, and had little red bean waffles in the shape of poo and rice punch.  We looked at the beautiful artistry of locals and got a nice view of the area. 
REALLY  nice tea!

Then we went to a teahouse.  I’ve never had tea like this!  It was so flavorful: spicy, sweet, sour all together.  We were very tired still from jet lag, so resting in this beautiful teahouse brought us the energy we needed for the rest of the night.
Friend in a band

Ryan Ritter: Violin Rocker!
My friend Sheryl had written me to say that her brother lived and played music in Korea.  It so happened that he was playing at a bar that night, so that we could meet him.  Ryan played a mean fiddle to support a rock band, and we enjoyed the music, watched people play pool, ate delicious sandwiches and hung out with English-speaking locals.  Before the band came, there was a terrible American TV comedy show that berated others sent to him on home video.  It was pretty ugly I thought, but many of the onlookers seemed entertained. 
art named "Dancers"

Contemporary art

March 13—The big part of the day was going to the Leeum Samsung Museum of Art.  The gallery we chose to visit was the contemporary art section, and it was full of Korean modern artists, famous contemporary artists from around the world and a special exhibition by Do Ho Suh who focused on the concept of “home.”
Les behind a door


Fabric toilet

home art

 His work was sensational!  The largest pieces were replicas of actual homes from Korea and New York City (toilets, screws, handles, cupboards, hinges, light switches, slide door locks, etc.) in sheer fabric.
Korean Home in the air

 Sewn into parts were designs of dragons into elaborate doorways; or for the US homes, brand names on items like the sink or hardware.
Korean home crashes into NYC home

Detail in Miniature

The other large item was a detailed miniature house (about 10 feet tall by 25 feet long) that was split down the middle.  Even the items on the kitchen counter were split in half in the middle room.  On the backside of the home a traditional Korean home appeared to have parachuted from the sky and crashed into the American style home.  It was hard to fathom the time that went into all the detail of this piece.
Sculpture in metal

 His documentary movie showed that he sculpted in metal, created installations of a life-sized Korean home crashing into apartments in London, a simple home teetering on the top corner of a university architecture building, and shiny gold and silver people strung like a fishing net and hung by the ocean, and made 2-dimensional work using colored thread on paper.  On our exit from the museum, we visited the giant spiders.
Jeong-Rae gave us an assignment to seek a special food in the nearby area.  We found it in the basement of a place we thought looked closed, but persisted in calling out “Ingoing.”  The delicious meal had a big pot of veggies and meat with an egg on top, and lots of little items to taste around it. 

The last night of our wonderful trip to Korea, we spent in a restaurant where one woman cooked like good ol’ mom.  We watched her work her magic as she brought us tidbits and a big plate of delicious food.  It was so nice to have Jeong-Rae to introduce us to the “real” Korea.  We are very grateful for this gift to us.
April 14—We were up at 4AM and off early to the airport to travel to Taiwan. 

On the way I looked at the newspaper, and there with the zodiac I know was the Chinese zodiac. Les and I are both the year of the dog.  Korea has been a place where people are intensely considerate. 
Mother and daughter potties at the Seoul Airport

Even the airport bathrooms have a place for a parent and child to go to the toilet together.  I love how the language is written phonetically in a box for each syllable.  It seems logical, clear and organized, like the city and the subway and the happy people.  This is a place to where I would like to return!

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