Tag Archives: Seoul

…sitting in the window

Our house is right next to a park, I have probably mentioned this before. On weekends, the park is packed with people. Today, the first day of a week of holidays called Chuseok, is also the first nice day after a week of rain. The park is more full of people than normal.

On our side of the wall that separates us from the park, butterflies flit in and around the dregs of our summer garden. A field mouse tries to eat the last few tomatoes, leaves are gently falling from the sycamore trees. Outside my window it is quiet.

On the other side of the wall, hundreds of people are chanting as some sporting event occurs, kids are screaming on the slides, and little old adjummas are strolling on rocky paths. Outside my window is a giant party that everyone in Korea is invited too.

When I sit in the window, the sounds of the park turn me into a kid. I get that feeling that I need to go out and join the play, that childhood is so close, that I can just jump into anyone’s playing and find a place for myself.

But, there is no one out playing on our side of the wall. We live in suburban America, where you have to set up play dates and invite people to parties. No one spontaneously hangs out in the front yard with neighbors. We already took a walk today, and saw nearly no one, other than the family getting in their car and the woman jogging with her dog and iPod. If I go to the park, I am too much a stranger to jump into the play of the adults. They play in group games I don’t know or am not a member of the team for.

Luckily, the girls are both asleep, so we can’t go out and enjoy the day right now anyway. It’s too bad that today I feel like an 8 year old myself, and want to play hide-and-seek or something outside with my friends.

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…Car Show

 We spent some time at the Seoul International Car Show at the beginning of the month. Neko starred in a lot of covert cell phone pics. We’re never really sure what people do with those pics of foreigner babies, but it’s sure popular. A few people were brave enough to ask us if they could hold her and take a pic. This was mostly young couples, which was kind of endearing. IMG_1402

We scared this car attendant to death by trying to take a pic of Neko in front of the car. I think it was a “no touch” car, but he made it much more awkward because we’d just have taken the pic and left, but he kept pushing on her, and making her want to stay.

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We also had a little driving lesson, and she used her mad push car horn-beeping skills to try to honk this car’s horn, but, thankfully, she wasn’t strong enough.

Since we were all starting to feel a bit under the weather, this felt like an ‘extreme’ outing, though only Neko fell asleep in the car on the way back.

…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.

…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…. 🙂