Saturday, February 28, 2009

Tales of the Porcelin God in Korea AKA Mispent Youth

There is nothing like it. The sound of someone stumbling up the stairs at three in the morning. You hear the unsteady steps. The dropping of keys on the floor, followed shortly after by the falling down on the floor. My neighbor is home. However, her night (and mine) is not over yet. I was treated to the unexpected pleasure of realizing that we share a bathroom wall. The acoustics are incredible. I could hear every horrible thing that came out of her mouth. A part of me wanted to go over and check on her. Another part of me said, 'as long as she is vomiting, she's still breathing.' That was my Friday night last weekend.

I was trying to write a column for my friends back in the states, and somehow managed to get that completed the next day...though I had a pretty nice sleep deficit going for me. I managed. Then my second promise to keep, a submission to Goldfish publishing...a wonderful anthology for a worthy cause...but somehow the echos from my neighbor came back...revisiting me like a Dickens character...the ghost of Past Drunkenness to the ghost of Future Drunkenness.

Saturday night came...and so did the retching of my upstairs neighbor. The man suffered. I can tell you that it was not as violent sounding. Hmmm, was I ever going to feel any inspiration with all of this retching going on. The worship of the porcelain God was a silent groan.
So on Sunday, enough was enough, and I decided to go to a place I hadn't been to before. A nice establishment that looked warm and inviting on a rainy Sunday called "Come Together" (ah, The Beatles). I enter alone with my bag, camera and notebook...and the urge to find something to inspire me. Anything. Ah, quiet...side rooms and open spaces...and now to contend with the terrified look of the host..."Foreign Girl" is here and I am not the least bit concerned how I throw off their seating plans.

Now taking my order was a comedy. I was gesturing, pointing, and even went to the kitchen to show them the kind of spices I liked. I don't think they were prepared for someone like me. I possibly broke a few taboos...but I think I would have really pushed it if I had whipped out my camera at that point.

My first course arrives...a segmented platter that held a light cabbage salad with cucumber dressing, mandarin orange segments, pickled seaweed, and the mystery that is pictured above. I wondered if I was a contestant on 'Survivor'...only thinking to myself..'What the Hell IS THIS?' after I did not taste what I expected.

Now Foreign Girl, sips away at her soup when the main course arrives. Yes, seafood...and I ordered chicken. Did I return the platter? No, I took a deep breath because I see a lot of tentacles in the mix. I am an octopus virgin. The other thing to take note of, is that I never eat prawn with the heads on...for me it is a matter of liking clean shrimp. The hard boiled egg also caught me off guard. Oh, this was another challenge for me. I lost my virginity on Sunday. I had actually eaten octopus and found I preferred not eating it.
The Dickens drunken classic continued with the ghost of Present Drunkenness. Though the side rooms do have doors for privacy...they are not exactly sound proof when you have a bunch of College Students chanting a drinking game. 'Ah Sah Geem...Ah Sah Geem...Ah Sah Deem....Ah Sah Deem...Ah Sah WOO! Ah Sah WOO!' You too can play the home version...just get some soju and chant and chase! I have to say it looked like more fun than the typical game of quarters.

I had to choose...get pissed off that my weekend was shot and I was going to procrastinate again...or COME TOGETHER. I knocked on their door. The manager, was panicked...and was starting towards me...I raised my hand and smiled. He stayed at his post.

The door slid open and silence filled their compartment. "Hi, can I take your picture?"
In perfect English one of the girls said, "We are drunk." I smiled. "I know." A few pleasantries were exchanged, they offered me a portion of their egg loaf and a glass of water. Both were accepted as a sign of friendship and they returned to their game.
A few days later, in another part of Daegu...believe it or not...sober, wiser, and a bit red faced I was recognized and we introduced ourselves to each other, properly. With camera and notebook in is the trio...the three freshmen at the university. All three are single and are really enjoying their youth...and were happy to be a part of this blog.

Now, where was I? Ah yes, to write the prose I am supposed to submit...perhaps this weekend...but there is the Soiree, Daegu Art 2009 - The Third International Art Fair...and Naked in Daegu...perhaps a few events I am missing.
I'll get it worries...four pages of notes to sift through....and then on to the next.

Friday, February 27, 2009

An oasis for lovers in the center of Daegu

Near the center of down town Deagu...just off and away from the night life, I found this little park. Now most parks at night are not so heavily travelled, but as I walked through it kind of reminded me of the mythical lovers lanes that populated American folklore.
Two-by-two they sat together, having their private moments of conversation. Somehow, I found this scene oddly unique. Somehow, it seemed innocent and childlike...and romantic.
It isn't springtime, yet here they are, gathering in their private oasis, in the midst of this city. It almost makes even the most jaded person want to believe in love again. I had to really think of a time when I had seen anything quite like any other place. Sadly, I couldn't...not even at the Eiffel tower at night when I walked through the park and photographed it with all of its beauty. For the tourists are told to take extreme care.

Yet, here, in this large city, couples are able to sit unmolested. Where, even in these complex days of wars, terrorism, and even the rumblings from the North...lovers and friends gather to sit and appreciate the relationships that are important to them. Somehow it made me ache with the hope that this way of life could be preserved.
Yes, the night was truly beautiful in this city of hope. Even though the city is all around, you just have to stop for a moment to really see what is around you, and if you are might just see the unexpected.

I wonder what the Eides of March has in store for me?

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Swinging in Korea....ah not exactly what you are thinking

I know, unfairly I baited you into reading this posting. I happened to come across this scene of a father pushing his daughter on a traditional Korean swing. Korean swings are built 12 meters high and about 3-4 meters across. It seems kind of strange that there would be such a requirement for swings to be built this way, but as my friend explained to me, it was often the only way a girl could get a view from outside of the high walls of their home compounds.

Girls were segregated from the male population and marriages were largely arranged by the parents. Still, to this day, for a majority of Korean women, permission is usually secured before a young woman can marry. There is also the requirement of a dowry and the parents of the suitor also has the right to exercise their approval of the marriage based on the family status of the young woman.

To complicate matters further, it is common practice here for young adults to remain at home until they are married. It is unusual to find a single person living alone. Special circumstances must exist for a young person to remain on their own. One of the women I met up in Seoul who is 36 (in Korean years...they turn one at about three months of age) who still lives with her parents because she is single.

Ultra conservative does not begin to describe the traditions that are deeply imbedded.

Ah, back to the purpose of the swing...I also suspect it was a way for families to have interested suitors catch a glimpse of their daughters. Sometimes a glimpse is enough to stir a man's heart.

Presently, in Korean society, a woman does not have the status a man holds. Of the observations I have made, I would be a scorned woman here. For a woman does not divorce her husband, the husband divorces the woman.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009


Daegu is the center of the textile industry here in South Korea. They are indeed very proud of that status, and are hoping to conquer the world and have been working on their image. They aren't really known for design, and unfortunately what South Korea is known for is their lack of imagination and recapitalization efforts through the plagiarisms of other's work.

I think part of that problem is being so focused on mathematics and sciences, they have been able to flourish within the realms of the creative processes such as fashion. Fashion is often based on function and culture. What is acceptable to one culture, is not necessarily welcomed in others.

For example this "Sex and the City" boutique, and obvious attempt to piggyback off of the wildly popular HBO series and movie. However, in conservative Daegu, this just doesn't seem to work. The fashions are oddly conservative and don't match the name. Also, I just didn't see a pair of shoes that the main character, 'Carrie Bradshaw' would have been caught in a subway in. Hence, the name doesn't work for the Koreans and the styles don't work for tourists. A death in the making.
As I made the rounds, I did notice as far as shoes were concerned, you found very little in the way of sandals, or shoes that exposed a lot of 'toe cleavage'. This could be because a lot of taking our shoes on and off homes, some places of work, and in traditional eating establishments...just to slide our feet into some slippers.
For women, this is what you mainly will see in Korea. Pumps and more pumps. Yes, we know we do know though there are never enough in our wardrobes (for us shoe whores), but for the most part...I kept feeling I needed to see something new and exciting, even perhaps outrageous.
As for dresses and skirts...short is the style...and isn't viewed as obscene because the women here are incredibly thin and have the most petite bone structures. They can get away with it...hmm I would be afraid to pick anything up.
I know this isn't Paris. Oh, but they do try so hard here!

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

The Bus Stop

I do know the streets of Daegu can be a little busy sometimes. However, I couldn't believe my eyes when I saw this crossing-guard in the club district. Safety first folks! It seemed like a good picture to use since I realized this entry has a lot of vehicle imagery.
I spotted this mini...minus the noise of the wedding reception...announcing to the world the happy nuptials. Good luck kids...getting married in Korea is a lot easier than getting divorced.

However, I had to do a double take as this bus seemed to be planted into the side of a building.

A nice place to eat, if you don't mind people (like me) staring at you through the window. Complete with booths that reminded me of the 1950s, the patrons sit, but never really go anywhere.
But for good measure, had to throw in this shot warning taxi passengers to take care when opening their doors. Trust me, they drive with a death wish. As for the taxi drivers, just close your eyes and chant..."take me to a happy place."

Monday, February 23, 2009

"Korean Style...Korean Style!"

"Korean Style! Korean Style!" Is what this group of men screamed at me to goad me into taking their picture. So as I was going through my shots from the weekend...I thought why not? After all style is a way something is done, worn, or just has. It isn't fashion.

I must have that look that screams to be talked to...because I like to take my solitary adventures. Often, there are people that think I must be lonely because I am single. I kind of laugh because I feel like I have things that happen to me when I am alone and not with a group of people. Don't get me wrong, I adore my friends, but it just seems at times my life is full of magic. I think it is in part that I just look for it.
There are things I would possibly miss. The non-verbals of communication. I have to admit I had to wrestle my camera out of the bag for this procured shot. One dressed to the nines with even the placement the ad looking. Perhaps an unfair comparison, but telling.

Yet, somehow, as I was strutting down one of the side streets I was motioned into an opening for a new place. Though it was a new designer boutique, I found the food was more interesting than the clothes.
Also, a provocative announcement..."In Daegu Naked" which is set to be held this weekend...and those of you who do know me...will laugh at the dress code...'Black Chic' a time when I am trying to add more color into my wardrobe.
But this scene was perfect. I was wondering when men would start having to do their makeup...and I guess that time is now. Oh, soon we will start seeing blogs that offer beauty tips for men!

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Who says you can't find a bottle of Bordeaux in Korea?

As one ages like a bottle of wine, you hope to age gracefully. You don't want the acrid taste of a cork that has gone bad. You wants the notes to reflect. You want the sparkle, the brilliance, and the health benefits of a good life. Life is like wine. My love affair with wine began later in life. When you are young, you might not appreciate the passage of time, because it seems plentiful. Young wines don't have that well developed feel, but there is potential.
In a piano lounge bar, here in Daegu, aptly titled, "Temptation", I came across a scene of a young student skillfully working her magic on the piano with a multitude of empty wine bottles on the floor. I entered the place alone and surveyed the area. There was a young woman sitting at the bar, the only one watching the artist, while others were engaged in their private conversations. The room noise of hushed conversations without an audience for the artist.It always amazes me when I enter a place alone, because it shocks the host. They never seem to know what to do with a single person. I set him at ease and motioned to the bar where the other solitary wall flower sat nursing her drink and asked to see the wine list. Of course I went to the reds...and scanned and saw so many offerings of Bordeaux...and promptly ordered the bottle.

Was I to consume this bottle alone? Of course not. So I began to make conversation with the other solitary soul sitting at the bar. With her halting English, I motioned that I was offering her a glass as well. I came to discover she was friends with the pianist, her name, Carla...and they were both students at the university majoring in music.

We drank and listened to the passion her friend played with...reviving the notes on her music sheets...bring them to life. In the end the three of us sat, drank wine and spoke of music, life, and love. However, the conversation fell to the challenges of following your dreams in life...and really living those dreams instead of being in the shadows of them.
As I was leaving, I saw this collection of notes...perhaps accolades for this wonderful venue. Perhaps, notes that simply stated 'I was here'. It reminded me of the Shakespeare house by Notre Dame where I posted my note there as well...of what I came to Paris to find.
I just simply signed my name...glued it in a hidden place...leaving another clue in the world of me. Life is an adventure, and I am still aging well like a bottle of well travelled wine.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Instant "Karma" is going to get you

It's Saturday night, and the streets are teaming with action and I decided that it is time of course to get ready and just go into the heart of Daegu on my quest to find a few things...mainly an unknown artist. Oh, what made me think that in the heart of all of the Soju houses and Hofs I would find anything? However, at an establishment, called 'Old Skool' where a cross-section of ex-patriots and the local student population meets in Daegu...I saw something incredible.

In the states, Obama art, has been a cash cow. Here in Daegu, South the entrance of Old Skool, I saw a work that perhaps made me a touch homesick. However, even more than a passing feeling, I was able to see firsthand the impact of his election. The artist that rendered this work goes by the name of 'Karma'. When we spoke, I asked him why he painted Obama. "He simply moves me," he said with a broad smile. The 35-year-old, former graffiti artist was commissioned to paint all over the walls of this club...a living canvas that reflects not just art, but the social issues of Daegu society.
Yes, there are some pieces that are a bit whimsical, and often he continues to paint over some work with new pieces, making this an ever changing canvas. However, his painting of Obama may be one of the first paintings that will be a permanent fixture at Old Skool.
From starting out with 'graphing', Karma is going to make his way into his first gallery showing this year. With pool cue in hand...Karma sends his greetings from Daegu.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Art Daegu 2009

The Third International Art Festival in Daegu is kicking off 27 February...and looks to be more than impressive...but massive as well. I was hoping to see more artists and galleries from the west sign up for this event, however there is a lot of incredible talent on display.

In Korea, they are sometimes slow to move, appearing to us in the west as last minute, BUT they do get there on time. They are never about rushing and information is sometimes grabbed for. Finally their web page is up and running...
HOWEVER...this event looks incredible and I am definately NOT missing this one. A great way for me to meet the gallery owners and artists from around the world. The venue is massive...
If you can make it this year... the entry fee is only 5,000 won. There should be some incredible finds.

The oddly eccentric

In downtown Daegu, I happened to see this older woman sitting outside a club in an office chair in her house slippers (which you are never supposed to wear outside...very frowned upon) smoking a cigarette. I was praying my camera would work, since I had been warned by my camera that my battery had run down (hmm, I didn't give it a fresh charge before I left).

When I powered on the camera, I had an angry warning come on again...but again all odds, I happened to squeeze out just enough energy to get this not so random shot of her just dragging away on her cigarette outside an unnamed door next to the entrance of another bar. She looked like she owned that area as I watched her to see if anyone would approach her.

No such luck...perhaps it was still too early to discover her purpose...

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Street market scene...the backdrop of urban Daegu

Just out and about during my lunch break, and realized a scene that has been more like background noise, needed to have the volume turned up a bit. So often in many major cities throughout the world, the street vendor is largely treated as someone to ignore. They scratch out their way without the benefit of having a stable place to sell...and depending on the city may have to have a license or permit to sell their wares...but most of the time, I often think of how this is an indicator of a society's economic pulse.

A street vendor's life a hard life if they are unaware of their consumers. That is true, regardless of the size of your business ventures. If you are out of won't have a clue. From under the pedestrian bridge, you can view this scene as just routine perhaps...but I see the customers still look...and a lot of them buy.

That is good news...the rest of the world should have such luck.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Bouquets of Paper Roses

February is a significant month for elementary school students, for most graduate from their schools and proceed to their next level. Parents mark this milestone for their children by giving them a bouquet of paper flowers...ah though you can usually see bouquets of sweets as well. Most parents opt for the traditional flower bouquet.

However, this celebration is very short lived because their next session begins within two weeks of graduation. Education in South Korea is a year round event, often with very full class loads and extracurricular activities that extend deep into the evening hours. There is no mistaking the performance based system that is deeply imbedded within this culture, but nothing beats the smiles on these students faces as they beam proudly carrying these symbols of achievement.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Perhaps there was something to Howard Hughes' germ phobia

Who would have ever thought of elevating surgical masks to something of a fashion statement? Little smiling faces, with cute little English sayings adorn the typical masks for children so they will keep them protected from anything that could possibly get them sick. Yet as March approaches, there is a very good reason to wear these adorable little creations, the infamous Chinese dust storms . They don't take them lightly here in Korea for these storms have been known to spread their unspecified toxic dust as far away as...Denver, Colorado.
What causes this phenomenon every March? The rapid deforestation of China...and their ever expanding desert kicks up a plume of yellow dust that spreads hundreds of miles to urban areas within China, picking up toxic elements from cities such as Beijing and Hong Kong...and it is carried eastward. China has classified these storms as a 'state secret'. Thus begins the season of yellow rain and dust...and depending on the severity of the season, can usher in closures of schools and warning for those with respiratory problems. If you think you are safe from this event...think again...NASA has taken to tracking these events due to the encroachment into US air space.

My mask is an ordinary blue one...I didn't get my 'Hello Kitty' order in time, but I will be brave enough to try to capture this moment...if I can breathe.

Hmm...Howard Hughes may not have been so insane after all.

Postscript: There is a way to track the air quality in South Korea after all. Special thanks goes to Mark Patterson in Seoul for sharing this link...I recommend all in South Korea to bookmark it. Already you should get your masks ready. Yellow Sand

The art of Kimchi

As I was out exploring Daegu...I came across a place I affectionately will call Kimchi town...which really is a row of kimchi huts and pots dedicated to the private production of kimchi.

Kimchi is a staple in every traditional Korean meal that is often likened to the fermentation of a fine French wine. It literally means soaked vegetables. You prepare the right mixture of red peppers, onions, garlic, spices and cabbage and allow time to work. Kimchi was created about 3,000 years ago to stave off hunger during the poor winter months. Since most of my friends have grimaced with my extreme taste for spicy foods, I naturally became a huge fan of kimchi, (though in my is relatively mild) even before I set foot in Korea, having explored a number of hidden Korean restaurants in of all places...Montgomery, Alabama. I had to laugh because in my seven years in Miami-Dade...I couldn't find a single place.

Though kimchi could have faded away with the passage of time, it has become a part of the culture where traditional methods of preparing kimchi are still in use is living archeology. The types of kimchi that is available is dependent on the region of Korea you are in, due to the variations of temperatures; or the season it is produced. Not meaning to turn this into a history lesson, ah, but indulge me. The earliest form of kimchi was salted water and cabbage, after all necessity is often the mother of invention.
The best thing I can tell you about kimchi is it is extremely healthy for you once you get past the pickled smell. It is very low in calories, high in fiber, rich in B vitamins, calcium and you almost get a full days worth of vitamin C and carotene just from one serving. The other benefit from most forms of's cancer retarding properties. It's obvious why there isn't an obesity problem here in South Korea. Though there are Western influences here, not all have taken hold. There are no 'super-sized' menus and the only thing I have seen Koreans buy in bulk are Laver leaves and toilet paper.

Monday, February 16, 2009

How to Sleep in Style in South Korea

Before I get too jaded, I thought I had better write about the new affluence that has hit South Korea. Traditionally, most families had either slept together on the floor or a traditional platform bed. But as things change and get more about having more...this has extended of course to how one sleeps when you have money.

In Korea, winters can be bitterly cold, so to combat the chill, most places are constructed with incredibly think walls and heated one could sleep on the floor. The way these beds are constructed, made often of marble or jade with heating elements built in to go right though your mattress. My platform bed conducts the heat from generated from the floor up through the posts underneath the bed...and surprisingly I sleep remarkably well.

Typically the full retail price on these beds are about 2.5 million won and I don't believe that includes the delivery charges.

Now if they would only reconstruct their bathrooms and start making full size towels here!

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Clubs, Soju, and Shiny Things

It's no secret that drinking is very much apart of South Korean society. As far as the acceptable hour to drink, it seems to be reserved to late in the evening and very much reserved for the weekends. On some places you will see a list of upcoming events (or in this case past) with entry fees, dress codes, and who isn't allowed in the establishment (also in this case, military members).
The servers here are young, fresh-faced, and love the night life, which extends until 5 in the morning for most establishments. However, as I began to look around at the MANY places to go I realized the competition for business can be fierce in this city of neon lights. Most people are attracted to shiny things...and in Daegu...there are a lot of shiny things. With all of that sensory input, I started to look for a few oddities.
Now I know I can be just a bit of a 'semantics queen'. Club organ...with its techno house music had a couple of seemingly unrelated themes for me. First of which was the name. Organ...organ...organ...hmmm. I looked at the washing machine and over thought that as well. Was this a laundromat? Was it to imply brain washing? Was it just simply what the designer produced? I should have gone inside to check it out...but what threw me was the bizarre question about androids? I think I sleep and dream while I am sleeping...but there I go again...thinking.
Then you will find places that have a staunch, more adult feel to it, as to say...'no children allowed.' I smiled.
And then I ran into this place, which I will never go into, because to me...nothing spells depressing more than advertising that you are desperate. Perhaps they tried too hard to capture the Beatles sentiment...but it just doesn't work.

Yes. It is unfair. We judge by appearances. No matter how small the detail, we discern by what we are in the mood for. And since I personally don't care for Soju, I kept on walking.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

The peaceful grounds of the Donghwasa Temple

As I continue my exploration of Donghwasa Temple, I finally observed my first priest walking along the Temple living area while the tourists are invading this quiet and serene place. They seemed to be in hiding while the afternoon was filled with the curiosity seekers (such as myself) were there to appreciate the scenes. The support of this temple comes largely through tourism. I have to admit, that I did feel a sense of incredible peace while walking these grounds. I had to laugh when my friend, Monica asked me if I believed in 'myths'. It was her choice of words for the term of 'religion' that I found telling. I couldn't help but laugh, because really religion is to me a series of mythologies that different cultures embrace to keep their societies in tact, that provide a sense of order.
Yet, this is not like a lot of churches, this is a living breathing society that shuts out the rest of the world...though through need, they have opened their doors to allow the intrusion of tourism on their grounds.
I found the living quarters had special significance, where some were based on status (which is highly regarded), others were dedicated for special purposes or needs. One set of quarters where dedicated for women who were seeking to enhance their fertility. Others, for other maladies or conditions to seek remedies for through prayer and meditation.

Yet, the schedule of a temple stay is not for those who just simply want to find a place to sleep and wander around. The day starts at 3am, with of course prayer and meditation with the priests. However, if you are not into the religious aspect, it is still just a nice place to come and simply be an observer of their culture.

After all, when you are in a city with the population in the is just nice to escape from the madness at times.