Saturday, January 31, 2009

Seoul journey....

I was off to Seoul alone, by the incredible means of communicating through prepared notes, symbols, and gestures. Somehow, someway...I happen to make it to Seoul and back in one piece. This was a lot more challenging than I had thought it was going to be. When you think about it, more than not knowing a language, or the symbols they use for their writing to at least make an educated guess about a destination or instruction, you have to use your wits to plan out things with far more precision and a lot less whimsy.

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The first hurdle, may have seemed simple on the surface. Hail a taxi from Chilgok to get to the train station on time. Problem, I woke up, late...already the self-sabotage had begun, I had less than an hour to make it. Not a problem, I was dressed and out the door within five minutes. Where to get a taxi...hmm...just walked a bit and happened to see a taxi going the opposite direction and waived the car down. He must have been hungry for a fare because normally they will blow on by. I would like to think I didn't look absolutely pathetic with my rolling suitcase on the side of the road...but it was morning rush hour and I was damn lucky. I didn't say a word. I showed my train ticket...and pointed at the departure time...and closed my eyes while he did the driving...and made the train.

A little about this marvelous train for you Westerners...

The KTX travels at an incredible rate of excess of 300 Kilometers an hour. I left at 9:05 in the morning and arrived in Seoul before 11 am...this gave me about two hours to figure out how to get to my next destination...which I admit was a little more challenging...

Ah...but then I saw something that stopped me cold. Something I absolutely did not think I would find in Korea...
In of all places...a French a train station...there they were...pain au chocolat...damn to hell the schedule...this was on my list for my personal scavenger hunt. I procured one...and then was on my way.

I went through my trusty notes to continue my journey, but to my dismay...something wasn't quite right. So I found myself making a few calls (thank God I actually got a cell phone) and sorting out the details...was able to get to where I needed to go...with an hour to spare.
Ah...finally I am starting to see some art...and actually in Seoul there is quite a bit of it...but this time, TIME was not my friend...
...and did I mention Jazz??? Ah, but this was a tease...this really was a restaurant...but as I found out when I checked into my hotel....

some things never change. In a city with 22 million people...I would love to see a place that had a private bath. Damn, I will have to go back...for a real exploration when the weather is grand and I have the luxury of time.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

signs of Americana...capitalism in the east

Before I leave for Seoul, I wanted to post some odds and end I found, and I am sure I am going to find some more while I am here. There are some things that make you wonder why. Like naming a Pharmacy "Greenpeace Pharmacy". Trust me, I don't think they are protesting anything here, if anything, they will medicate you for that urge.However, there is a lot of shameless name borrowing that would definitely raise a few eyebrows when it comes to copyrights or trademarks. I have found places, like the "Restaurant Oprah" that has absolutely nothing with Oprah Winfrey. After all, they only used her first name...then again how many Oprahs do you know?
The Beatles, is another place that made me wonder if it absolutely anything to do with the Fab - 4...of course it doesn't! Every time I have gone by...the windows have remained darkened...I think the ghost of John Lennon has scared all of the patrons away.
However, there are the standby cult classics of Americana (besides McDonald's) I have found.
My first audible gasp was when I saw 7-Eleven. In the States, most are run down or closed down. This is just a straight up store chain, without pumping a drop of gas here in Daegu. I guess this is the major competition of GS 25. Don't laugh, I have even seen some swanky 7-eleven outdoor cafes...complete with an outdoor deck...however, not a garcon in sight.

However, I have to say that when I saw Dunkin' jaw dropped. I swore there wouldn't be a single one in South wrong I was. Call me crazy, but when it just comes to plain American coffee...this would be the place I would go...and still can. Except...and I mean a huge exception...these Dunkin' Donut chains...are not what you would expect. You will not find one hard plastic bench or fast food type of seating arrangement. When you enter here you will find...ah...dare I say a Starbuck's type of atmosphere. It is like being in another dimension...but the still the same...with a few other coffee house selections.
I just wonder what awaits me in Seoul...this should be interesting (I hope).

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

somebody is always watching

You don't have to look very hard for one of these CCTV cameras in Korea. They are all over the place. I had heard that London was one of the most surveilled city in the world, and I am beginning to have my doubts about that. I had wondered how the police force could patrol the populations as concentrated as they are. As a Westerner, it simply stumped me. There are no guns held by private citizens, nor are the police armed. The last siren I heard was for an ambulance rushing to a medical emergency. Don't think for a moment I am complaining, I just want to ensure I am not living in a place called Stepford.

Then I looked up and saw a CCTV camera, waived and took the picture. No one complains, for it has become a way of life for all of us. The citizens here view it as a protective measure; to be watched over. I am not saying there is no crime, but crime is extremely low with a high confession rate.

You can walk around a midnight and not flinch.

Of course, that is my experience here in Daegu. Later this week, I will be travelling up to Seoul and with the demonstrations, there have been some casualties with people caught in the cross-fire. With six reportedly dying in protests that were held this month. Some of the protests have been simple candlelight vigils, with over 100,000 people participating against recent legislation that has been perceived as anti-democratic. Others not so peaceful, such as the heated protest over a dispute over displaced tenants at the capital building with Molotov cocktails and bricks in their arsenal.

I am mindful that I am the outsider looking in, having the awareness that no matter where a person travels to, someone is watching...always.

Monday, January 26, 2009

NO...I don't live in a third world country...but....

A friend of mine wrote me today...his yesterday...or more correctly my yesterday from the states asking me about my accommodations. I thought that was an odd question to ask, after all it isn't like South Korea is a third world country. There are all the modern things such as gas, electricity and running water. They are producers of all kinds of technology and my cell phone can do things that I haven't figured out yet to include giving me a wake up call in the morning (and if you have a snooze problem...this phone will call you back up to 20 times in one - five minute intervals...hmmm I wonder how many of these cell phones would be thrown at a wall).

Anyway, I digress. As I was describing my minimalistic apartment with the low platform bed, my routine appliances, it hit me. I had the bathroom of well...absent of a bathtub. Bathtubs are extremely rare in Korea. I don't even have a shower per be more precise this wonderful invention is called a shower sink. A hose that is connected to the facet. The bathroom is a shower room, completed with a toilet and drain in the floor. What I am grateful for is the water is always hot and that I live alone.

Ah, but don't feel sorry for me. Out of this great lack Korea has created a wonderful place called the Jjimjilbang, which are gender segregated bath houses that provide saunas, massages, and yes...a place for me to take a bath. That is an entry for another day. I think then I will be able to answer my friend's other question, what is it like to be a minority here in South Korea...more telling in a bath house.

up on the rooftop

A nasty cold has kept me indoors at a time when I really wanted to get out and explore more. In between the cold remedies, green tea, and loads of warm soup, I finally decided I had had enough of being inside and stepped out into the cold air. To my surprise, snow flurries. Light and airy for this Lunar New Year. So I made my market rounds with my hat and sunglasses on, still feeling like death warmed over, but nonetheless a smile on my face.

I wanted to snap a shot of the snow, but already the flurries had gone, instead I caught a shot of the families out on the ice. It made me realize how fearless children can be, not worrying about the ice being too thin. Their goal - to play, to have short to enjoy life.

Though I wish there was a blanket of fresh snow to cover the slumber of brown shores of this frozen over river, the scene was a perfect reminder of how we all need to play in our lives. A scene perhaps I would have missed if I would have been well enough to venture downtown.

Ah, back to my green tea, my remedies...tomorrow is another day for me to go out to play.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

free hugs

You never know what kind of response you will get as these two students walk around Daegu with signs offering free hugs found out. Upsetting the social applecart is always fun. Ah, hopefully I feel well enough to venture out tomorrow and the cold spell snaps here soon.

Free hugs from Daegu for all of you.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

the restaurant at the back of the van...

Do you ever notice how during the day, things seem to look ordinary and the scenery never seems to change? Contrast this to what you discover at night. This business is possibly what we would call in the states "a roach coach" however, parked on a street corner with lanterns adorning the tailgate was a mobile restaurant serving assorted pork fair...
I have to give two snaps for the eye catching micro for the really isn't fair to comment since I tend to eat only in a place I can have a seat in and I wasn't sure that I wanted to get in on the passenger side of this conveyance.

in search of a baguette and pain au chocolat....

There are things that one searches for because it simply is a comfort. It brings a smile to your face because it reminds you of a special place. In Paris, it was like a ritual for me to frequent the bakeries and pick up a baguette or perhaps pain au chocolate and watch the patrons go in and out and practice my French. So I had to give The name sake, "Paris Baguette" another chance...and so in my earlier attempt I was grossly disappointed. They did not know what a baguette was, nor were any of the pasteries remotely close to anything served in a French bakery. So, I went to another franchise....and was pleasantly surprised.
This perhaps is not pain au is more evil...this pastery is made with the cocoa pastery is chocolate flavored and filled with chocolate. It is also about half the price of what your would pay for pain au chocolate in Paris.
These chocolate dipped horns are filled with an airy type of filling and splashed with powdered sugar...not a favorite...but loved the presentation.

And last but not least...a solitary baguette...just waiting for me to claim it...which I happily did. Sometimes it just takes that extra step to get what you want...but there is no substitute for the smell of the bakeries in the morning at first light.

The New Footwear Trend in South Korea

I personally think these fall into the "ugly as sin" category of footwear. These
'rocker style' (and I don't mean rock star) style shoes are more like orthapedic shoes that are designed to rock your feet while you are out and about walking...or in this case rocking.

I had to laugh because like when the "crocs" came out I could not even comprehend trying them no matter how comfortable everyone said they were. I guess I am not sensible when it comes to shoes, but who wants to be sensible if they don't look good as well? Are the MS-Zones taking off? is hard to say since most of the women I saw walking around where in killer heel boots and shoes...and well, I admit, today I had my trainer's on. Damn, I guess I was being sensible after all. Perhaps I ought to try rocking around the streets of Daegu, I might like it after all, but you won't catch me trying to ride a bike with a pair of these!

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Obama's Victory Speech in Chicago, Illinois

Today we see the fulfillment of Dr. King's dream. Today we witness history. We have a long way to go to restore ourselves in the international community, to restore all that has been lost to find a better way. I am proud of how far the United States has come. Still, we have to have more than the desire, we have to take action and realize it will not just be handed to us.

On this day, we finally see what it means to believe again. Change will not be easy, it will be a reaching out to each other for what really does matter is the value of each other. This is a new era, an era that isn't about the material...but an era that wakes us up to the hope that we see when we look at each other with new eyes.

People matter. And though I am here in South Korea, I could not be happier with the direction I see my home country taking. Let there be peace. Let there be hope. Let there be a new beginning.

Friday, January 16, 2009

the couch at the end of the stairs

While out on my initial explorations I crossed an abandoned couch, while I am not in the habit of photographing abandoned furniture, I thought about the placement. You have come from a long hike and here is this couch just sitting there in the middle of Unam park...not on a sidestreet for the refuse collectors to gather, but in the middle of a park...set against the backdrop of beautiful mountains.

It could be someone wanted to avoid having to pay for their trash collection, or perhaps that there might be some use of it here. People are not prone to littering here so it was a little against type. Trash is separated as a way of life, which food waste is separated from the rest. Ah, in the states, such a long way to go with respect to our environment.

Well rather than get wrapped up with the idea of how the couch wound up in the middle of the park, I snapped the picture and kept on up the stairs. I highly doubt that anyone will be using it anytime soon....

Thursday, January 15, 2009

The Table is Set

This is not my first time eating Korean cusine, but I will say that everytime I am overwhelmed by everything that comes at you when you have a traditional Korean meal. I had to laugh because when I was ready to get to the business of cooking, the instant look of, "Oh my's a foreigner" made them ensure that I would not make a mistake, so the owner set about the business of cutting and preparing my meal. The hot coals put into the table, the scissors and tongs came out and away he went. It took some work to order my meal, with my horrific Korean, but it was still kind of priceless being the only foreigner in the place. A family was having their meal, and their young daughter came over to me, greeted me and bowed.

You definitely do not see that kind of behaviour in the states. For the most part, I do avoid all meat, but tonight I made an exception, since what was planned to be a usual haunt was closed and the planned gathering kind of dispersed with the wind. Possibly this was a best case scenario since I was not wanting to be out until all hours, and I have plans to be at my local Jjimjilbang tomorrow night. The things one must do to procure a bath.

Gloves, Scarfs and a Stylish Hat

For those of you who are enduring the frigid weather in the states, I know you do not have any sympathy for me. This was the official first snow in Taegu, a dusting that was gone by the evening. Though temperatures have been cold, a mere minus 10 degrees Celsius...nothing really to complain about....ahhhh but at least I can prove it did in fact snow.

I have to say that I notice little things, like the fact that most women here refuse to wear hats no matter how cold it is. They will wear scarfs but the absence of hats makes me laugh. I think I feel naked without one, no matter what my hairstyle. Not exactly a deep thought, but it made me remember my observations around Paris. Most people would not wear gloves and they walked around with pink sausages for fingers, and yet I rarely see naked hands here and the infamous surgical masks that now are sold with all sorts of colors and logos, such as Hello Kitty.

At least I have warm hands and a warm head to keep my wits about me...and a smile under my scarf.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

The City of Hope - Daegu

It has been an adventure just getting here to South Korea from Florida. I have to admit, when I first saw my itinerary I was overwhelmed with the prospect of having so much time in-flight. The respite I did get was the lay-over in Japan in the outskirts of Toyko. Bleary-eyed and aching just to be stretched out for a moment I tried to be excited, but it was difficult fighting the clear fatigue that had been raging within me. Such as my human form was, I dragged myself through security checkpoints and continued on for the final leg of my journey to Seoul. It is amazing how normal alerts stop when your body wants to shut off the reality around you. When we boarded our flight on time, I was just aching for my seat, to close my eyes on one more flight that would normally take about two hours. Instead, an hour passed, and we finally taxied out, only to be called back to the gate. Apparently there wasn't enough fuel...thank God for checklists....but I wasn't even worried. I fluttered my eyelids and begged for a nap. I have to say, under any other state I might have been agitated, but that is the control freak part of me that my fatigue had placed under submission.

I kind of just realized I just felt I was required to make this journey, a predestined destination to bring me closer to whatever the fates had in store for me. My journey was far from over after landing in Seoul, being met by my agent, whisked to a conveyance, then to a bus, since the last train out of Seoul had already departed....four more hours...another day had passed and I longed for the examination of my eyelids.

I think often it is strange what can seem like a lifetime ago, and what can seem as freshly imprinted as if it was a day ago. I like to think that we choose to forget those ordinary moments where we are captive audiences told how to put on our oxygen masks our seat cushions can be used as floatation devices...and yet we ignore these obligatory pacifications of our attendents. The reality is we would be screaming for our bloody lives if something tragic were to happen...the panic of realizing that our chips might be called at that moment...and in those moments we think about our unfinished business in our lives.

I asked the question of myself a few years ago about my own life. Not so much about being given a death sentence or the like, but the serious question about what I had not done with my life that I wished to do. I began to make an internal list. I didn't have to write it down, because I had been writing this list my entire life. I realized, gladly, that most of what I had wanted to do, or had said I would do I had indeed done. However, there were things still on my list I had not done and I knew that I had to act now or live with the regrets of never acting on my internal desires. That is a luxury few people have. I didn't realize how many people are unable to go after their dreams, most are riddled with assorted prisons and cages, keys, locks, and chains. Some are gladly held because their dreams had changed, mine, the constant search for my various quests.

This quest is quite different for me. This isn't so much about enlightenment, but how to be at peace with myself. The facing of internal demons, and yet the love I simply have for people is overwhelming. Most people hate people. They hate putting themselves out there. They think it is a waste of time, and they tire easily of the company of others. I equate this to being lazy. Though I am a loner for the most part, I am because I am an observer of life. It is strange because I am not a wallflower, engaging easily in conversation, but I see myself like a stream never really forming attachments. I am the comfortable stranger, often taking confessions, and realizing that these things I am told are just to release someone of a burden of the heart.

Often, after the unbearing of a soul, they move on to a deeper truth, and have left me with something to learn. They tell their truths to a strange woman and then keep their public display of lies for others. Perhaps because they act as if it was a kindness to not reveal their real self to others, or to even share to those that are close to them about their wounds.

But, here, in Daegu, I am not taking confession as I have throughout the world. I am in a city of hope where I have to search for the Lotus own enlightenment in a world right now distorted with fear and wars...I have come to a place of peace. I find it ironic and yet I plan to share much with you. These are my adventures of more to come. This isn't about changing the world....this is about living.