Monthly Archives: March 2013

…Busan

Busan is on the southern tip of the Korean penninsula, so it was considerably warmer there than here in Seoul when we visited last weekend. We were even walking around in short sleeves! My cousin’s been working down there as an English teacher and we took the opportunity to visit him and cash in on some of those hotel points from Hyatt that we’d accrued in 2012. They just opened a new Park Hyatt there, and it was experiencing some growing pains and wasn’t fully 5 star yet, but the minor troubles we experienced garnered us a free upgrade to a suite (which is always nice with Neko, as we all sleep better when we’re not sharing a room), and a free bowl of fruit (most of which we gave to my cousin, as it was a LOT of fruit for one day!). Our room had a great view of the marina and these great wooden floors which lent it an old world aesthetic even in its extreme newness.

At Haedong Yonggungsa Temple just Northeast of Busan, getting ready for the lantern festival to celebrate Buddha's birthday.
At Haedong Yonggungsa Temple just Northeast of Busan, getting ready for the lantern festival to celebrate Buddha’s birthday.
All over the grounds of the Haedong Yonggungsa Temple, there were little buddha statues.
All over the grounds of the Haedong Yonggungsa Temple, there were little buddha statues.
And mini stupas.
And mini stupas.
One big Buddha (the scaffolding is to hang the lanterns for the festival).
One big Buddha (the scaffolding is to hang the lanterns for the festival).
...and more mini-buddhas
…and more mini-buddhas
The temple overlooks the ocean, and several groups of people were holding services on the rocks below.
The temple overlooks the ocean, and several groups of people were holding services on the rocks below.
Slightly more traditional statues, these are behind the massive statue of the Queen of Heaven
Slightly more traditional statues, these are behind the massive statue of the Queen of Heaven
Two Golden Pigs... are they the biggest piggy banks ever?
Two Golden Pigs… are they the biggest piggy banks ever?
Mr. Adventure and Neko have no idea what's lurking in the bamboo behind them...
Mr. Adventure and Neko have no idea what’s lurking in the bamboo behind them…
...a ravenous tiger.
…a ravenous tiger.
One of several statues of the Queen of Heaven
One of several statues of the Queen of Heaven
Later that night, we visited another temple.
Later that night, we visited another temple.
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…Lunar New Year at the Gyeongbokgung (Gyeongbok Palace)

Admission to the Gyeongbok Palace was free on Lunar New Years, and we’d heard that many of the locals will dress up in traditional clothing to celebrate the holiday. While it seemed way too cold for many of them to celebrate that way, a few brave souls did venture out in the silk Hanbok dresses, complete with wolly undergarments and quilted coats. The palace itself was rebuilt after the wars, so it feels a little manufactured rather than historic, and the gardens weren’t all that exciting in early February, but we did wander into the neighboring museum grounds and were surprised by a festival, complete with drumming, kites and food samples (which we missed by a hair).

Gyeongbok Palace, Seoul
Gyeongbok Palace, Seoul
Gyeongbok Palace, Seoul
Gyeongbok Palace, Seoul
The pine trees in Asia look just like they do in Chinese calligraphic art. I thought it was just a stylization until I moved here, but they really are wispy and slanty. And, this photo shows how not exciting the gardens are in February.
The pine trees in Asia look just like they do in Chinese calligraphic art. I thought it was just a stylization until I moved here, but they really are wispy and slanty. And, this photo shows how not exciting the gardens are in February.
The slightly prettier inner gardens near the King's quarters and the concubine's rooms.
The slightly prettier inner gardens near the King’s quarters and the concubine’s rooms.
Traditional Drumming performance. I took this photo by reaching over the heads of the crowd.
Traditional Drumming performance. I took this photo by reaching over the heads of the crowd.
My actual view of the drumming performance.
My actual view of the drumming performance.
The changing of the guard at the Gyeongbok Palace.
The changing of the guard at the Gyeongbok Palace.
They do things more colorfully here than at Buckingham Palace.
They do things more colorfully here than at Buckingham Palace.

…Tokyo

In January, we took a weekend trip to Tokyo, and stayed in a fabulous suite at the Park Hyatt near the City Hall thanks to a free Hyatt upgrade. The weather was a nice respite from Seoul’s supposedly record-breaking winter, and we took several long walks to enjoy the sunshine.

Old Tokyo train station
Old Tokyo train station
The Imperial Palace grounds
The Imperial Palace grounds
Mr. Adventure playing with his new camera, all bundled up, but we felt it was warm compared to Seoul!
Mr. Adventure playing with his new camera, all bundled up, but we felt it was warm compared to Seoul!
Leaving the Imperial Palace's Garden
Leaving the Imperial Palace’s Garden
Sensoji Temple, Asakusa, Tokyo
Sensoji Temple, Asakusa, Tokyo
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On the walk to the Meiji Shrine, Tokyo
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Entrance gate to Meiji Shrine
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Meiji Shrine fountain
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A bride leaving the wedding pavillion at Meiji Shrine

…the Annual Foreign Service Swap

I missed last years swap, as I was transiting between Florida and Dhaka, but I signed up for this one after my great experience meeting Becky a couple of years ago. This time I was matched with the Red Menace Abroad and she sent me a box I’ll dub “A Taste of Nicaragua.”

Panda baby will wear the little red dress because some aggressive laundering shrank it a bit, and we’ll try a punch mix tonight with our taco dinner, but I have no idea how we’ll use the cigars. Perhaps we’ll hand them out to strangers in the hospital after Panda’s birth, like a 1950’s movie dad.

Very fun again, I hope next year’s swap is just as entertaining!

( The previous swap box I got: https://adventuresin.wordpress.com/2011/02/24/swap-boxes/ )
– Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

…Second Impressions of Life in Seoul

Some vignettes:

Tea here is exceedingly expensive. When you sit down to a meal and look at the drink menu, nearly everything starts at around $5, and there are no free refills. There are coffee and tea shops on every corner, midway through every block, and even more often than that, however, they’re also really expensive. Even Starbucks’ cheapest option is $3, and that’s for one tea bag in the smallest cup possible. Since I go there occasionally to work on writing, I try to look at that $3 as a chair rental fee. The cost is still a bit harsh after the $1 cups of tea I used to nurse all day with free water refills at the coffee shops where I wrote my dissertation in the Berkeley/Oakland area.

Now that the winter is over (more or less), I feel a lot more optomistic about life here. Still rather lonely and having a hard time meeting people on a more than superficial cocktail party conversation level (as is a complaint of nearly every ‘trailing spouse’ at some time or another, if not always), but at least going outside isn’t a battle with death. Neko and I have been on a few walks in the neighborhood, and visted some playgrounds, all of which are way too big for her to enjoy without active participation from me. That, of course, is getting increasingly difficult as the arrival of Panda-baby comes ever closer. Luckily, Neko enjoys the novelty of just being outside in our yard and poking at the mud. The psuedo-American neighborhood is nice for that kind of thing, even if you feel very isolated from the rest of the city.

Most of our adventuring happens on the weekends, when Mr. Adventure can come along. We hit a big palace over Lunar New Years, an aquarium in an underground mall, a nearby street full of foreign foods and sock vendors, and spent an entire day wandering through Gangnam (of Gangnam-Style fame) in search of a particular camera store. Mr. Adventure’s starting a photography class this weekend, so I am guessing he’ll get some assignments that will take us out and about in new places, but we’ve been saving some of the more interesting sights for the wave of potential visitors that might come our way (and yes, there’s room for you!).

The house is coming together, but the lack of useful storage has hampered the process a bit. The closet floors are all sloped at a 45 degree angle, to keep your shoes neatly displayed, it would seem, but that just means you can’t store anything other than shoes in the closet. So, even though we have great closets, we just don’t have enough hanging items to fill them, and everything else we put in there comes tumbling out when the doors open. In the kitchen there is only one bank of three drawers, all of them are 8″ deep. So, we put our utensils in one, our cooking tools in another, and our towels in the bottom. But, for everything else that might be drawer-worthy, we haven’t found a good solution. Shelves are wasted on ziploc bag boxes or cookie cutters, for example. We’re still puzzling it out. Neko’s penchant for unloading things has also meant that the bottom drawer is perpetually in disarray, or dumped on the floor, and that all our trash bins have to be displayed on tables or other furniture. It’s not very aesthetically pleasing. Once we finish hanging the remaining artwork, however, we’ll take some photos to show it all off.

Most recently, I wrote a chapter for an upcoming book on “how tos” related to foreign service life. I think it will be out this summer, and I’ll link you to it then. It was a fun little project, and I’d enjoy doing more things like that. I’ve also been tutoring and odd-jobbing it, as I was the first year in Dhaka. I’m going to be a stuffed animal doctor this weekend, for example, gotta use those mad sewing skills. I wonder if that would be a more steady source of clients than editing is…. 🙂