Wednesday, December 27, 2006

DIY Haircut

Actually, I handed the razor over to Alex and let him clip my hair to about 4 centimeters. It was a bit shocking to see the hair fall, but my life is a lot easier without the tangled, damaged mess I called hair before. Fresh start.

click on the pic for the results

Friday, December 22, 2006

eyes ahead

In the time since Mom & Dad M.'s visit, nothing much has changed. Well the weather's changed a bit, but we've not been buried in snow like we were this time last year. It's a shame, because the temples look their most serene under thick white blankets as the monks wander the grounds in their warmest hanboks.

As we approach our last two months here, it's dawned on me that
1. we're approaching our last two months here and
2. we've a lot of things to think about and do in the next two months.

I had sort of forgotten the chore of relocating overseas; deciding what to send home, taking the time to properly thank and visit with friends and those who have become like family, to see and do the things we still want to and revisit the things we enjoy. Regardless of the fact that I cannot wait to see my family, Korea has become a part of me and I will miss it greatly. Even in the most trying of times, this country has still offered enough kindness, curiosity, and exuberance to make staying an amazing adventure. I didn't mention the food, but that's a given by this point, right?

While trying to come to terms with all the tasks that already lay before us, our eyes shift westward. That's right, westward and south. Vietnam. The country I've wanted to visit since 11 years old, and now the tickets are bought. It's like a dream. From March 15 to April 11, we'll be on the trails and rails of the "Land of Ascending Dragon". Needless to say, it's been hard to manage my daydreaming lately. I'm so easily distracted by travel books and planning.

That's about it for now. Please be sure to check out our Flickr photos, past and present.

Happy Holidays & much love from a2-in-gwangju!

Thursday, November 30, 2006

No Chairs

As most of you probably know, Mom & Dad M. were in Korea last week. It was an amazing week filled with walking, hiking and card playing. The first day they were here was the second to last day of the Gwangju Kimchi festival, which could not be missed for a visitor to Korea. So that first day they got an overload of the national dish. Something that Koreans believe is not palatable to Westerners, but the parents really enjoyed it. However, the festival was a bit more Kimchi than they were ready to handle. That day was also an introduction to Koreans and their desire to make sure one understands even if they cannot fully explain it. While I cannot speak Korean to communicate the vastness of Kimchi experience, I am able to read quite well and translate the main points. However, despite all my assurances to the volunteers, we were followed by no less than three volunteers who wanted to make sure that we got the full experience. They were very kind though and our parents enjoyed the conversation, even though it was light on the Kimchi translation. That first night was also a new experience for us; we attended the Sang Mu Catholic Church for evening service. After that we went out to a fine restaurant for some marinated pork ribs and Korean wine. The experience was out of the ordinary for sure in that most-all fine restaurants in Korea that serve traditional food have no chairs. Our parents were surprised, but game to try it all. By the end of the week I think they were really looking forward to some good chair sitting; I believe the most time we spent in chairs was on the bus. After their first night sleeping on the floor they also decided we needed a softer bed, and so they got an extra pad which makes mornings here that much more lazy.

They next days followed a similar pattern. Often we would get up around eight or nine, the parents probably at six or seven but out of consideration let us sleep in a bit. Korea is a late country, the bakery opens at ten and closes at three or four in the morning, bars serve until six or seven, and we have adjusted accordingly often going to bed after two and getting up between nine and ten. So for some time we felt almost jetlagged with the change of schedule. We would drink coffee and eat a little breakfast and decide what to do that day. More often than not, it included a long walk, which for us is they way we get around. The convenience of Korea makes walking the best option, and so this vacation was perhaps one of the healthiest they have taken, especially because Korean food is heavy on the vegetables and light on the meat. We spent our time in temples and parks, two of the most beautiful aspects of Korea, and with the fall colors they were made even more so. In the evening we would come back to the apartment to recuperate (nap), and get ready for more culinary adventures. And while not as adventurous as Justin they were certainly willing to try most anything and I believe they enjoyed it all. The highlight being a dinner on Mount Mu-deung that consisted of barely rice and mountain vegetables washed done with a mulled rice wine (Justin’s favorite if you read his blog.) It was also a first for us, eating on the mountain, and we are upset that it took so long because it was delicious. The night always ended with a round of card playing, Hearts being the game of choice.

As for other happenings, they are best talked about over a couple beers and seated in some comfortable chairs or even a sofa, forgive us if we take a seat on the floor out of habit. Also check out the pictures on flickr , especially for the colors.

Mom & Dad on the trail

It was great to be able to show our parents a little bit of our life and experience here. Now that they have gone our apartment seems very lonely, as we settle in for the last long haul until we see everyone else we have missed so much. You know who you are.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

let the culling begin . . .

Over the past week the bird flu came to Korea.

When we first arrived in Korea, the newspapers touted the "kimchi cure", which was essentially to eat kimchi. Some farmers even fed kimchi additives to their chickens/ducks and other livestock, companies began developing air conditioners that would emit an enzyme found in kimchi, and the new-age movement (called "Well-being" here) began supplying the masses with material meant to increase the purchase power of their "well-being" kimchi products.

At least kimchi's still delicious.

Tuesday, November 7, 2006

I'm the Devil!!!

It’s like a neon light that works only when electricity flows correctly. It sits collecting dust until the night grows dark enough then quite suddenly it flickers to life. Its message is unmistakable, its clarity illuminating the darkest excuses with certainty. Because everyone wants an answer, and when it's too tedious to seek the knowledge solo, the light gives you a direction and cause. The sign says, “America and Americans Sucks”.

Last weekend while wading through questionable art and thinly veiled anti-American sentiment at the Gwangju Art Biennale, we came face to face with such a neon. This time it said more than “America Sucks” it said “The U.S.’s Imperial War”. Though it resided in the 5th gallery, and wasn’t traversed by too many art-seekers, the curious and angry entered.

I am and always will be a proponent of free speech. It is a right protected by my country’s constitution, and one that I take full advantage of in my own critiques on American politics and society (of which I’ve had aplenty - See the cautious patriot).

This particular exhibit was created and efforts spear-headed by an American from San Francisco. He aligned his political philosophies with communist China and guerrilla soldiers in Venezuela. He touted the failures of a democratic system while supporting China’s communist hero, Mao Zedong. Nevermind that an earlier exhibit showcased China's doctoring of photos to paint communism in a favorable light or that in a communist society his rights are not so protected or that he, in fact, lives in America, his criticism stood.

He claimed that Cuba was a slap in the face to American democracy because of its resoluteness and success. Alex wondered why then did so many Cubans jump on anything that would float and try to make their way to Florida? I wondered why communist North Korea was to be lauded when millions of its citizens die as The Great Leader uses monetary aid to import luxuries like alcohol and movies and explore nuclear arms. Why in communist Vietnam, the Vietnamese proudly take advantage of capitalism, and why censorship in communist China had not been addressed?

As I said, this man is free to think and say as he pleases, BUT I found the exhibit irresponsible in the way it depicted communism as the cure-all. It also demonized all Americans despite the fact that we are not all towing the “imperialist” line.

Anti-American sentiment continues to grow in S. Korea. It is seen in all forms. Some businesses reserve the right not to serve Americans, there are protests, and there are petitions to have us all removed from the country. While I’ve been assured that this is only a small slice of the Korean people, these days the attitude appears to be gaining momentum. I’ve been told by a friend that she would hate Americans if she hadn’t of met us, and I sometimes sense our friends testing the water to find out what kind of Americans we are by engaging us in questions about American policy. At least they ask, there are many that take a pro-communist exhibit as an excuse to hate us all.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Justin Was Here & Now . . .

Well, it’s been quite some time since I last made an effort at this blog. It’s not because I haven’t wanted to, there are plenty of irons in the fire.

Justin’s visit was excellent. You can read his take on it at his homepage Justin’s Web. For Alex and I, it was a revitalizing experience being able to introduce someone to how our lives had changed so much in the past 1.5+ years. Alas, one week isn’t adequate time to do everything we wanted, but we made the best of it. a2’s favorite aspect of his stay was the culinary adventures that he was none to shy about. He ate everything we put in front of him, and we were able to experience some dishes we hadn’t. Sadly, he didn’t enjoy the silkworm larvae that I have become so fond of, but we both agreed whole-heartedly on the deep fried baby crabs. Delicious, shells and all.

Besides Korean cuisine, we dipped our toes into the insanity that is the drinking culture where Justin discovered the time-honored toast of “Bottom’s up!”, and a trip to a Noraebang (singing room). While he didn't choose to sing, I'm sure the entertainment of watching others was quite enough.

His vacation wound to a close on a rainy day, and a hasty trip to the airport. While in Seoul we managed to visit the touristy landmark of N Seoul Tower for views of the city at night as well as a traditional Irish pub called O’Kim’s where we were entertained by a lounge due from Bulgaria called “Vixen’s Duo”.

click on Justin for more pics

It was so nice to see a familiar and family face. The week afterward was quite an adjustment that has now found us counting the days until we see Alex's parents (16 days, 19 hours, 50 minutes).

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

i'll make this brief

Justin's here.

South Korea has always had air raid drills.

North Korea has not, and probably will not, attack.

I do not have a hyperthyroid.

I will blog more after our visit to Seoul this weekend.

Check our Flickr page for the most recent pictures.

Bye now.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Jeju-do Pictures

As some of you know, we recently took a trip to Korea's Emerald Isle, Jeju-do. We were hoping for some R & R on the beautiful beaches, and maybe some hiking on the volcano Hallasan, BUT the weather conspired against us.

We flew onto Jeju-do as a large typhoon was beginning to churn through the straits of Japan and Korea, so we didn't need suntan lotion or bathing suits. We were still able to see the island's most famous waterfall, Jeongbang, and enjoyed the sound of an angry sea on lava boulders. Click the link below for pictures.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

For My Mom

. . . and this time i didn't dye the bathroom any strange colors!

Thursday, September 7, 2006

Love is . . .

    "More marriages might survive if the partners realized that sometimes the better comes after the worse."*

It was the ultimate convergence of being ill-equipped and ill-prepared that led to this moment. Sore muscles and joints creaking to a halt where we could only assume was not anywhere near the end of our trail, my parents’ voices in my head rattling off the checklist of a successful, or at least smart, adventurer. Yet here we were, in the pitch black of a forested mountainside on an unfamiliar trail with one working flashlight (one busted flashlight) and an uncertain number of miles left to go.

The courses on the northwestern face of Mt. Mudeung (무등산) are among the most beautiful but least traversed on the mountain. The early climb is a steep, wide, well-marked affair “paved” with large rocks and tree roots for footholds. The later paths, however, are not for the weak of heart or body. Rarely marked trails wind over jagged ravines of boulders, narrow ledges coupled with a termite-infested bridge, an overflowing spring muds the ground making footing hard-won on slippery moss, and bats fly out of the ground in sudden bursts that in absolute darkness should startle all but the dead.

As we ascended the first quarter of the trail by the sun’s dwindling influence, our bodies were already suffering from the initial endeavors of the day, which included not only our bicycling to Gwangju’s airport, but also the 12 miles through mountainous road to the trail’s head at Wonhyo-sa (원효사). Looming before us was another 6 miles of hiking, most to be untaken by flashlight. One flashlight.

There were so many moments we could’ve turned back, and spent all night in the warm comfort of a restaurant drinking soju and laughing at our ridiculous planning. We could’ve slept under the ivy canopies near the trailhead, or in the clearing marked with monk’s graves. We just kept moving, sometimes because of my stupid pride & other times from Alex's inability to stop. Whatever it may be, we're simply unyielding in the face of challenge.

We had been in the thick of it for nearly two hours with no ridgeline in sight. We had navigated a peaceful barley field by the light of moon then been re-submersed into the deep dark of the forest. Boulder mantles that resembled less the trail than an advertisement for Tylenol- where the weary climber would stop to take in the view while popping pain-killers and smiling at a hard-earned reward- had slowed us considerably. Trouble was, we weren’t at the end, and though there was certainly a view as well as jagged edges great for bone grinding below, there was not enough light to see either. I guess it’s best here to note the fact that Koreans leave it up to the individual to decide if you’re going to fall to your death from the many places the trail makes this possible. There are never rails, rarely guide ropes, and a great respect for Darwin. So with that comforting thought, and a moment to reassure one another, Alex and I were back on the trail.

It took us a bit over 3 hours, but when we hit the ridgeline clearing I thought I might cry. Gwangju City below us ablaze with neon, a sky of stars above, and not a sound but the wind and the crickets. We opened our bottle of Cabernet and laughed through the pain, waiting for the sunrise and glad to have each other to share it with.

*Doug Larson

Monday, September 4, 2006

Land of the Morning Calm

for photographs of our most recent expedition, sunrise atop Mt. Mudeung, click above.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Busan: Part Two

We arrived in Seomyeon and walked toward the Lotte Department Store. We saw a sign for a yeogwan and walked up. The décor was nice, the wood was dark and there were plants on the stairs, completely different from the last. The room was sumptuous and cool; it even had a water cooler with both hot and cold water available. We paid a much more reasonable price and got two nights, took showers and got ready for our next vacation.

Audrey had planned to get her hair cut at a salon in Busan and maybe even prepped for coloring, so I being the anal traveler that I am decided we should reconnoiter the area so as to make Monday’s trip as painless as possible. Also we wanted to see the Foreigners’ Street as our guidebook said it was an interesting sight. We decided to do that first and set off for the train. The walk to the train also included a practice run of the shopping we would do Monday, or I should say Audrey would do, in the underground arcade.

We got off the train and immediately the station told us something about what to expect. It was dark and quiet with a few stumbling drunk men wandering the dried blood colored brick halls. Outside the light was fading and the area was quiet. We saw a few South Asians walking out of a street, carrying bags of electronics equipment and figured that was the street. It was. I must say that I have been stared at long and hard in Korea before, but I have never felt those stares were anything more than curiosity. On this street I was the most out of place that I have been in Korea and that is saying a lot.

The heat of the day still lingered and prostitutes looked out from dim tearooms lazily fanning themselves, the odd Madam or skinny Russian man sat outside smoking. Few other people were on the street and those that were had the look of people who knew what they wanted and where to get it. We fit neither. Luckily, the street is short, but oddly, it abuts Busan’s Chinatown which while not ‘family-friendly’ is visited by families. And so, immediately upon passing the ill-disguised brothels, we found ourselves surrounded by playing kids. Over all it was an experience on which we felt it was not necessary to linger, and so continued on to the newer, more hip night spot in which Audrey’s hair salon was located.

Our trip to Busan was marked by opposites and Changsun Dong was another complete change from our most recent location. The subway station was crowded and there was music drifting down from the street. The sidewalks were crowded with people of all ages and in all styles of dress; our way was lit by the multi-hued glow of neon. We wandered about this maze for the rest of the evening, scouting the salon and window shopping, drinking coffee and engaging in a culinary event some foreigners had erroneously expressed as quintessentially Korean, shabu shabu, in fact it is a recent import of unclear origins most likely Vietnam by way of Japan. It must here be noted that Korean tastes, as through much of the world, run in fads with the difference from the West being the speed of saturation. Within a few months of a fad taking hold one can see it everywhere, and so shabu shabu can be seen on menus in restaurants specializing in such diverse foods as raw fish, pork ribs, intestines and even vegetarian dishes.

The next day we went back to Changsun Dong to get Audrey’s hair cut, they were not too keen on just bleaching her hair because it was difficult to convey to them the fact that she wanted to dye it herself at home. Audrey has since decided to get another haircut next month and bleach it at home, after which she will become a redhead. Anyway, she got the cut, which makes her look quite sexy as you can see in the recent pictures. My hair on the other hand is long and unkempt, downright shaggy.
After the cut we went shopping, Audrey found a couple of pieces she really enjoyed and bemoaned the lack of adequate shopping in our city. I had expressed an interest the night before in a glass of red wine and some pasta, we therefore set out to discover an Italian restaurant. We quickly happened upon two, the first was fine dining in an Italian Renaissance décor for which we felt underdressed; the second was more rustic Italian, at least from the outside. Inside it was less Tuscan Garden and more Olive Garden, served almost no true Italian dishes and had only wine spritzers. Very unsatisfying. We stopped by another of Korea’s newest fads: Japanese Fusion restaurants. We drank some Sake in wonderfully presentational bowls of crushed ice, and decided the Seomyeon district is where we will stay if we return to Busan. The rest of the trip passed uneventfully, and we returned home in time for our customary weekend meal of Sam Kyup Sal.

Busan: A Vacation in Two Parts

To start with, it is ill advised to begin a trip with a Martin without a hearty breakfast or a good night’s sleep. I suppose the trip started with some bad omens. They continued at the bus station where the nine o’clock bus was sold out and we had to get on the ten twenty, seated separately, luckily the seats were individual so we sat alone. The bus trip also took a little longer than expected because of all the summer weekenders going to the beach, but we got in at a relatively good hour, hot, hungry and tired, and in Audrey’s case developing a stomachache. Also, our guidebook put us closer to the city than we actually arrived, so it took some time to get on the right track (Literally, as we almost got on the wrong train). My sense of direction while traveling is always wrong, but luckily it is consistently 180 degrees off, so Audrey just has to say, “Let’s go the opposite way.” And we usually end up in the right place.

We took a long and uncomfortable ride on three trains to get to our first destination: Haeundae Beach. It was about 3pm when we got to the neighborhood of the beach stepping into the boiling sun, even hotter, hungrier and more tired as well as doubled over with stomach pain. Not a good condition in which to search for a hotel. We wandered around and eventually settled on the place we first saw upon coming out of the subway stop. Audrey had said, “Let’s cut through this parking lot.” I on the other hand thought it would be better to walk around the corner. While it was possible to get to both ways, the alleyway that led to the access was hard to miss if we had gone her way, and since we went mine, we missed it entirely. The hotel was lacking in air conditioning, though it had a machine for it, dirty, small and too expensive. We decided on one night in the place, and tomorrow we would continue looking. The rest of the day passed uneventfully if a little testily.

In the evening we decided to try and have some fun at a familiar chain of bars: WA Bar. We drank a number of tall drafts and headed home deciding on a day at the beach and a new hotel the next day. The hour we decided on waking was 8:15.

While I believe we had set an alarm, I remember it was not necessary for me. The lack of air-conditioning and the foolishness of not drinking much water the day before resulted in a very poor night’s sleep and a wicked hangover in the morning. I was up at about eight and started getting ready. I filled a bottle with water from the sink and took a sip before noticing the sign recommending against such practices. I used my finger to brush my teeth, as we had neglected to bring toothbrushes seeing as most places provide them, and splashed some water on my face.

Audrey too was suffering and even though she was not altogether immobile it was tough to get her up (It seems we have a track record of bad hangovers on vacation, see Wando in August 2005). We changed into our swimsuits determined to spend a day at the beach despite everything. In the process of getting ready, the bathing suit Audrey brought broke; Korean women don’t generally have lats or much muscle of which to speak. It did not bode well for our day at the beach.

The Korean beach experience is vastly different from the American one, mainly in the fact that they do not generally prepare anything for the trip; sun umbrellas, beach blankets, food, inner tubes, anything that you need is available, especially fried chicken and beer, draught beer no less carried by delivery men and women up and down the beach all day. We ignored the stares and set up our own sun umbrella, unfolded our beach blanket and promptly fell asleep. The other anomaly in Korean beach going is the lack of swimsuits and towels. Either one wears a Speedo and has a 1x2 ft. sport towel, or one goes in the quick dry shorts and t-shirt that are the standard summer attire. Beaches here are set-up to be visited on the spur of the moment. It is very convenient, but we still like to do it our way. I swam in the ocean for about five minutes and by two we felt rested enough and hot enough to leave the beach. The night before we had gone out for dinner in the Seomyeon district, which seemed like a pretty good place to stay, so we got on the train, covered in sand and looking greasy. Thus ended our first vacation.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

About Town

A family musical. Fun for the whole family . . . "Who Shit On My Head?"

Thursday, July 20, 2006

no limes

Brains Snapshots:

1. When i think that paying $2.00 for three lemons is a reasonable price, does that mean i'm almost fully acclimated to S.K., or that i've lost my mind???

2. Limes do not exist here. i've shopped everywhere. i'm beginning to believe they never existed. When a recipe calls for lime juice, can i substitute it with lemon?

3. Avocados are $2.50/each. i don't care. i want an avocado.

4. How can i convince the bakeries not to sugar garlic bread?

5. Dill and deviled eggs. Either one makes me a master chef in Gwangju.

6. Lotte corrected its wine error. No more chilled reds. Small miracle.

7. Korean men are all or nothing. When we meet, they know i'm married. That doesn't stop the uncomfortable flirting and innuendo. Apparently, i'm an immoral, sex machine. Thanks reality television . . . thanks for putting whitetrash whores over the airwaves so that i may be catagorized with them. By "whitetrash whore" i mean Paris Hilton et al.

8. The mechanic across the street cannot fix cars. Unless fixing cars consists of revving the engine then hitting it with a hammer.

9. "Never cry, 'WOLF!'" is not a universal sentiment. At any given point in our neighborhood it sounds like a child is dying. Then they laugh, and i stop looking for carnage.

10. Koreans find my small conservation efforts humorous or exciting.
10A. "Silly, white girl brings her own grocery bags to the store. Doesn't she know we have plenty of plastic ones she could just throw away?"
10B. "She may be a silly, white girl, but she saves me money on plastic bags."

Thursday, July 13, 2006


Alex is off crutches now. If this sentence alarms anyone, please comment and I'll allow my clutz of a husband to explain.

Hot. Wine. Cheese.

I did not go outside today until 6:30 PM. By 9:00 AM it was eclipsing the 85 degree mark, and the projected high had been 85. I wanted nothing more than to stretch out on the cold, cold floor and nap . . . all day. However, because I do not even rest at night, this was an unlikely scenario. Instead I drank water and read a book whose pages had become soggy from the humidity. At noon I cooked, and it was painful. I imagined the sun a broiler set to high, and those unfortunate enough to be outside, were walking on the oven rack that was set too close. Then I pretended to read more, but all the while was being distracted by a thermometer that tells me "it all looks better in Celcius". It used to look better in Celcius, but now I'm beginning to really understand how that works, so 35 degrees doesn't fair so well psychologically anymore.

When I did leave it was, as i mentioned 6:30 PM, and I passed by some flowers that had just begun to bloom. They were now wilted and passing to a quick demise. I've learned to walk slower, because if I walk at a Chicago pace, I sweat profusely and it looks like I've completed a marathon only moments before. I can't do much about stares because of my foreignness, but I'd rather not give the starers something to linger about.

Lotte Mart now has all kinds of cheese. I almost cried. I haven't seen Feta in a year and a half. Oh, they also had swiss, havarti, white chedder . . . that's when I stopped looking, because again, do not give starers a reason to linger. Though those that know me understand my emotional relief at the sight of these cheeses, to an outsider I look vaguely disturbed. I realized this while petting the havarti.

Lotte now also offers a decent selection of wine. This is also comforting, yet perplexing for two reasons. Since they expanded the section through rennovations, a wine refridgerator was added. The subtlety of wine is lost on most Koreans, as they cannot seem to grasp foreign influences without Koreanizing them. It's true of food, fashion, entertainment, and beverage, at least here in Gwangju. Therefore, because all alchoholic beverages are preferred ice cold, red wine is chilled. I was given a nice bottle of chilled-to-near-freezing red wine for my birthday. After it thawed, it was delicious. If that is not interesting enough, ask me about the cognac.

The second reason for the perplexity is the cheese they have chosen to sell alongside the wine. While I fully agree with the choices of Camembert and Brie, I cannot understand the "Jalapeno Balls". The product is a large plastic bag filled with smaller plastic bags, each bag containing varied amounts of said balls that resemble rabbit turds in every way but color. I cannot, for the life of me, imagine eating this cheese with the suggested bottle of $45 wine. It seems more suited to a fraternity house, and even there the little turds would end up being flung like gunless bb's instead of consumed.

That is my day. Hot. Wine. Cheese.

Friday, June 23, 2006

the good news is. . .

my leg/ankle is not broken, and in this wonderful country (aka South Korea), i saw an orthopedic surgeon and got x-rays for 10USD. if the meds don't help, i'll have to have a $10 MRI on Tuesday. no insurance necessary.

America's healthcare system blows.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

bless the rain

The rainy season (Jangma) seems to have commenced early this year, but it is welcome because summer came fast and hard, too. The sky was light at 5am, and as I sat trying to coax myself to sleep, shadows blotted out the apathetic sun. To my bleary eyes the change was sudden, and I moved to the window to witness the last of the light disappear.

In the early morning hours Gwangju begins its hustle, so if sleep has not come by five, i'm usually left without. In the light, the drunks are returning home with loud choruses of "Tae Han Min Guk" (damn the world cup), couples on every side begin their morning quarrels, babies sputter, old men hack and talk loudly on the streets and in stairwells, and I sit enveloped in their waking life.

But today, with the clouds, everything changes.

Gwangju's hustle becomes a hush. For reasons unbeknownst to me the rain is welcome, but not enjoyed. No longer can the brash symphony of dawn be heard, it is quiet as though the city cannot breath. The first stray drops became a constant trickle, I lay down with a grin. Bless the rain and the sleep in affords me.

Monday, June 5, 2006

Nagan Eupseong and Seonam Temple

Nagan Eupseong’s (낙안읍성) location leaves little wonder as to why Korea was so difficult to unify. Situated in a low valley, Nagan Eupseong’s initial fortifications are the mountains that surround it. Steep, rock-faced and densely forested cones rise on all sides, and even in these modern times, the well-paved roads feel treacherous. Sharp turns and blind corners twist up and down the mountains’ sides, cleared only as far as the road needs to be wide, so upon entering the valley the expanse is awe-inspiring.

The valley’s floor is a patchwork of rice paddies, barley fields and hay that stretch from mountain to mountain. Farmers dot the landscape irrigating or walking on the narrow, earthen ridges between fields. The long road is straight, dividing the valley almost in half, until it turns into a small smash of restaurants, markets and specialty shops. You know, the place where tourists go.

Nagan Folk Village (as the tourism board calls it) is one of only a few remaining walled villages on the peninsula, and is designated a Historical Site by the Korean government. Originally an earthen-wall fortress built in 1393 (they actually used the term “adobe” which I’m certain isn’t a direct translation), it was reconstructed with stones in 1634 under the command of General Eem Gyeong-eup (임경읍). To this day, villagers hold festivals and ceremonies in his honor as he is Nagan’s protective spirit.

The wall rounds the village at a length of 1.5 kilometers, and is a great walk encompassing views of both the surrounding farmlands and the thatched roofs of the town. The crenations that authoritatively sit atop the gates still protect the enclave from the intrusion of modernization. Inside the wall are small alleys, traditional restaurants, historic buildings, ponds, gardens, and even games from centuries past. Alex and I both tried our feet at Neolddwigi, a seesaw game played mostly at the Lunar New Year. Women of the noble class would use Neoldwigi to peek over the walls of their homes since they were rarely allowed to leave.

After walking a portion of the village we made our out of the valley to Jogye-san (조계산), a picturesque mountain that is home to one of the oldest temples in our region. Seonam Temple (선암사) was founded in 529, and like much else in the country, has been destroyed and rebuilt numerous times over its 1500-year life. It is regarded as the birthplace of the meditative and doctrinal sects of Korean Buddhism, and now is headquarters for the Daego sect. Fun fact: This sect of Buddhism allows monks to marry.

The walk to the temple is a gorgeous one lined with large trees, bridges, totems, carvings in the mountain face, and the sound of a rushing stream. The entire grounds lack a lot of the ornate and colorful architecture found in most temples around the country, but is no less beautiful. There are many gated doors, ponds, fountains, and flower gardens. The mountain itself is quiet, too, so it makes for a peaceful respite from the rush of city life.

click here to view more from Nagan & Seonam-sa

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Seoul: Day 3

It was a relatively slow start for us on Sunday. We’d been up by 6:00 AM the two previous days, and felt that an additional three hours were a luxury we’d take advantage of. After rolling ourselves out of bed, a quick shower, and cup of coffee, we were on the streets of Seoul once again.

Our first stop of the day was Gyeongdong Market, which is a labyrinth of a street market where vendors specialize in fruit, spices, roots, and medicinal herbs. It was a extraordinarily colorful walk through stalls of flowers, dried fruit and cooking essentials. The strong scent of licorice dominated the herb stalls, and a whole side alley was dedicated to garlic. Old women were lined up under little shelters peeling away, a gathering hill of garlic at their feet. It was beautiful sight. After a few purchases, we wandered a bit, Alex carefully escorting me past the sidewalks lined with dog meat sales. Very obvious carcasses sprawled out on tables. This area of the market was draped in tarps to avoid the controversy.

Like most of our trips, we decided an unnecessarily long walk was in order, so we made our way to the Nam-san. Nam-san is the famous local mountain that historically was the southern border of the city. Well, the city’s grown a bit, so now Nam-san squats in the center offering views of the ever-expanding landscape. Apparently, due to the clear skies, Nam-san was on everyone’s to do list. The crowds grew thicker as we made our way toward the mountain’s main attraction, a cable car ride to Seoul Tower. After Alex assessed our wait, we decided to move on because views are nice, but not 3-hours-nice. We could see plenty where we stood, and it looked like a city.

The rest of the day was spent enjoying the weather, and trying to shake my shopping bug. Alex survived 2 markets and a mall, and I only managed one purchase. By the time the day was finished we were tired of walking, tired of crowds, tired of Seoul . . . it was time to go home.

Seoul Weekend

Seoul: Saturday Night

@ Geckos
Flickr Meet!
click on photo for larger view

I met Stephen, far left, through - the website where you view a2's pics. He's lived in Seoul for 3 years, and we met on Saturday night to spin yarns over our experiences living in Korea. He also introduced us to Lucy, and Neal and Jenny (middle). We enjoyed the luxury of an evening with cocktails, easy conversation (no translation required), and were none too surprised to discover how different our experiences are from those of Seoulites. It was a nice night under a clearning sky with a manhattan in hand.

Thursday, May 11, 2006


Torrential yet shy of monsoon, that’s where I’d place the rain we awoke to. If it were a Saturday morning in Gwangju, we could laze in bed with books and hot coffee. Alas, we had plans, and those plans required us to be up at 6:00 AM regardless of foreseeable misery.

The drinks we’d enjoyed the previous night at Woodstock were reminding us that we had enjoyed drinks the previous night at Woodstock, so Alex went off in search of water and carbs to kick start our day while I poured (no pun intended) over maps and guidebooks. Our tour company picked us up from the hotel, and by 8:00 we began our bouncy journey into the countryside cradling the 38th parallel.

DMZ- No Road, No TrackThe first stop on the tour is the farthest north one can travel in the western corridor before requiring military permission, Imjin-gak Park. The Imjin River, which borders North Korea a few miles to the west, winds peacefully around the small park though draped with nets to discourage underwater infiltrations by spies and assassins. The pain of separation is palpable here in the family graffiti that climbs a barbed-wire fence at the end of the Freedom Bridge. Remnants of war linger beside present efforts for reunification. Next to a newly built train bridge, which abruptly ends at the opposite shore, stand the cement support pillars of a vehicular bridge bombed during the conflict. The barbed wire and netting, the bridge’s end and bridges bombed, and the young soldiers standing post with their K1 rifles were hefty reminders that all is not said and done here. Not by a long shot.

After clearing a checkpoint where an armed soldier enters the bus to check every passport, the bus driver had his skills tested on a bridge scattered with roadblocks. As the bus wove back and forth the vegetation grew taller and taller, and it was here we learned that no one enters the brush. Hundreds of thousands of landmines were scattered by aircraft through the entire area as a protective provision, and now undisturbed they occasionally kill ormaim a passing deer while in the past farmers had died. We saw explosives arches built over roads to be detonated should a Northern advance commence, and it was here, under the thick bamboo growth that national pain and pride coexist in the beaded sweat of South Korean military police. Many of the enlisted consider it a great honor to serve in the DMZ, some even moved to tears. While the world at the mention of North Korea has visions of oppression and evil, the South sees the suffering of countrymen and families. The dividing lines are not simply an ideology they are an actuality that keep mothers from their children, brothers from brothers, husbands from wives.

In the same sense, however, the threat is real and the south under no circumstance will allow for reunification under dictatorship. South Korean understanding, appreciation and use of democracy has been a re-education for this American girl, I can tell you that. Based on my experiences, observations, and study here, I can tell you that should war come to this peninsula, again, that the seas on all sides will run red. It would be like nothing the world has ever seen, and I would be proud to fight alongside them.

The third infiltration tunnel was discovered in 1974 as it entered the southern half of the DMZ. Should the tunnel have reached completion, a point just north of Seoul, an estimated 30,000 armed men per hour could have made their way into the capitol. As we descended the 73 meters below ground, the air became dank and musty. The faint sound of trickling water echoed off the encroaching walls, and our hardhats scraped the ceiling’s jagged rocks. On all sides, controlled blasts had inched the tunnel forward, and those points were now outlined in yellow spray paint. About a third of a mile into the tunnel a military guardpost ends your excursion because you are now standing almost directly below the actual demarcation line.

There are many interesting details about the tunnel from the angle it was dug at, to the painted walls and the north’s insistence that it was dug by the south. If these details are of interest, leave me a comment and I’ll elaborate further.

After the tunnel we were taken to the Dora Observation Post, where you can view North Korea and snaps some photos if you like (from one step behind a specified line, of course, this is a military installation). Our final stop was the Dorasan Train Station, where one day the south hopes to extend it’s tracks through the north and become a transcontinental railway. It’s an interesting yet touristy stop, but Alex and I did get our passports stamped to prove we’d come so far.

Maybe one day we’ll return and take that train to Pyeongyang, but for now I'd settle for some dry socks and a little peace.


photographs of tunnel and soldier staredown courtesy of Korean tourism pages.

Seoul: Day 1

We couldn’t have asked for shittier weather, the clouds gathering overhead as our bus pulled into the terminal. Initially, we hadn’t noticed the disappearing sun as we were still in shock after seeing a Walmart. We hadn’t slept too much the night before, and were doped up on caffeine, but if I was going to hallucinate I’d hope it to be more imaginative than a Walmart. Because while I respect bargain-shopping, I cannot respect an institution that will sell guns, but allows its pharmacists to refuse birth control prescriptions (both presumably based on religious beliefs). Anyway, that’s a tangent for another time.

Meanwhile, back in Seoul . . . a2 had rediscovered that some subways still have more than one track, and navigated to our first stop. Our hotel was pretty disappointing on first glance, not that hotels in Korea are prized for appearance. You’ll be consistently disappointed if looking for a shiny, welcoming exterior. Generally, however, we don’t see mold on the ceilings, and lobbies lack that special smell that comes from an attendant not showering for a few days. Beggars can’t be choosers, though. A lesson I was taught early in life, so for the price it was tolerable.

We had limited sunshine, and one thing on our agenda. Well, two things if you count the rumble in our bellies. Off we went onto the sidewalks of Seoul in search of grub. One thing that you never have to search for in the city of Gwangju is a restaurant. The state of Jeollanamdo, in fact, is known for its food and love of. We often joke that no one here has heard of a business plan (ahem, nerdy joke), because the same restaurants open next to one another, sometimes in stretches of 4 or more. If you want samgyopsal, one block will have at least three options. We’ve been known to stand out front to “eenie-meenie-minie-moe”. Not kidding.

In Seoul we hadn’t seen a kimbap house for blocks, and were beginning to get nervous. In a city of how many million? you’d think there’d be one every 5 feet. We finally found a nice little Guk-Su place, and filled our bellies with fish, kimchi, and noodles. Now for some culture.

A few blocks walk more and a wall enclosing some of the largest trees we’ve seen in Korea loomed before us. This must be the place, Changgyeong-gung (“Palace of Bright Rejoicing”). Built in 1104 during the Goryeo Dynasty, Changgyeong-gung was a summer palace. That’s right screw your summer home. Korean Kings, specifically Sukjong, knew how to live. The more unique attributes of my summer palace include Ockcheon-gyo (“Jade Stream Bridge”), which is a stone bridge built in 1483. It’s twin-supports and beast carvings are interesting enough, but it’s also the oldest bridge of this type in the city. The palace is also aligned east-west which is the orientation of the Goryeo Dynasty, while all other palaces in Seoul favor the Joseon orientation of north-south. Too much info???

Folk Music & Dancea2 made the rounds to see the one of the thrones used by the last King of Korea, and to enjoy the vast (and I do mean vast) gardens enclosed within the walls. Peaceful by today’s standards, it was undoubtedly a paradise during the height of its use. A wonderful escape from the haste of modern Korea, we were also treated to traditional performances including court dances and folk drumming/dancing. It was a great afternoon, and we succeeded in staving off the rain for the time being.

We capped off our first day in Seoul with meal of hummus, falafel, tabbouleh, and a bottle of wine. Oh the things we’d taken for granted. Hummus never tasted so good! Afterwards we ventured into a bar named “Woodstock” which wore a pretty convincing 60’s face, and entertained with live musicians doing their best blues impressions. Ross would love this joint. After a few cocktails, we made our way back to the hotel just as the rain began to moisten the pavement.

Changgyeong-gung Photographs

Thursday, May 4, 2006

weekend recap . . . weekend preview

Being landlocked is a challenge. I think, speaking as a Michigander, there is truly something in the water. My family rarely travels where open expanses of water cannot be seen. It has an unshakeable need to be near water and to feel the weather coming off the waves; it’s an unfathomable connection with the nature of water. I know I’m a child of the Pecott/Neumann families, but I am also part Lake Michigan. As I was saying, Gwangju has been difficult.

drying eels Last weekend, Alex and I took a two hour bus to the coastal fishing city of Mokpo (목포). Mt. Yudal (유달산) rises humbly to the west of the old city. The old section still bustles with the fishing trade, creatures of all variety hung like angels from fences and wooden blanks, or laid flat on fishing nets to be preserved by the sun and salt. If they can catch it, they can dry it, or cut it fresh for your immediate consumption. What’s your pleasure? The main market is a crowd of purveyors and buyers, the only immediate difference being the wading boots. While outside of the markets, the harborside street is a wash of drying carcasses, fishing nets, boots, gloves, and stern, weathered faces. It isn’t glamorous, but it's certainly alive (except for the fish).

Gatbawi Rocks Further to the east a new city is cropping up beside its own humble Mt. Ibansan (이반산). It’s still Mokpo, but the more modern and touristy side, complete with a boardwalk, it’s own shopping centers, and special parks to accomadate the flood of families moving into recently built apartments. Close to many attractions, including its cultural area of museums and the famed Gatbawi Rocks, it’s a cleaner version of the hard life lived in the markets only a few miles away. The boardwalk was beautiful and the streets wide, yet it lacked the character of the old city.

Alex and I stayed our night in a hotel near the international ferry terminals and dried fish markets. We spent our first day taking in the Maritime Museum, and walking the town. The following day we managed to hike a great deal of Mt. Yudal to catch the horizon full of cargo ships and Admiral Yi’s munitions island. It was a short trip, but the part of me that is Lake Michigan felt revived.

Highlight: Drinking a Budweiser in a bar called the Texas Moon while subjecting the Koreans to Flogging Molly’s “Drunken Lullabies”. The Budweiser was for Ross. The music was for Justin.
Midlight: Realizing that our minute Korean skills are actually making it easier to travel.
Lowlight: Deciding to take the train instead of the bus home. Saying it sucked is an understatement.

This coming weekend, we leave for our first visit to Seoul. On the agenda: Changdeok-gung (창덕궁 "Palace of Illustrious Virtue"), built from 1405-1412 then burned to the ground by the Japanese only to be reconstructed to its former glory by 1610. The last Korean royal family member died here in 1989. It’s extremely private and includes a 78-acre woodland on its grounds. We will also visit Gyeongbok-gung (경복궁 "Palace of Shining Happiness") which shares a similar history with Changdeok-gung (built, burned, rebuilt). Most structures on these grounds, which sit next to Korea’s Blue House, are relatively new and not nearly as beguiling as those of Changdeok-gung. Still, we’re told, it’s worth the visit.

Saturday (Alex’s Birthday!!!) we will be touring the DMZ, 3rd infiltration tunnel, and other war-related places along the 38th parallel. We’ll possibly spend some time at the War Memorial Museum, as well. Beyond these certainities, we have kept our schedule open to meet with friends, and choose our own adventure.

click on the scary scarecrow for more Mokpo pics

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

weekend recap . . . weekend preview

We may have been dancing monkeys, but we were good dancing monkeys. As members of the Sangmu Kumdo Academy's Demonstration Team, we are most often called on to demonstrate combat situations wherein showing the practicality of what we're taught. Of course there are embellishments, like the unnecessary kicks, spins, and cartwheels, and honestly it’s sometimes like feeding children creamed-corn, but when the masses demand the “airplane approach”, it’s what’s done. In the end we were applauded and “whooped”, receiving rave reviews from young and old alike. Master Lee was quite pleased, and we were pleased it was over (if only to get our lives back).

Ah yes, living. It’s what we’ve promised ourselves to do this year. Since Alex was shackled to his former job, we could not escape the limits of Gwangju as often as we would have liked. This year is shaping up quite differently.

This weekend is the beginning of our quest to see the wonders of the Korean peninsula. On the agenda Mokpo (목포), this state’s major port city, and a historic strategic hold during warring times (most notably, the Imjin Wars 1592 & 1597). Unimaginably devastating wars where Japan’s main objective was to plunder, in the end were won thanks to Korea’s most revered Naval Commander, Admiral Yi. The country honors him for outmaneuvering and out-thinking the invaders with several monuments and statues scattered around the country, but there are reminders of him & the wars throughout most of Mokpo and it’s outlaying islands. I’m obviously my father’s daughter, as I can’t wait to learn more about the wars and Admiral Yi Sun-shin.

Also on our agenda is a visit to Hong-do (홍도,"Red Island",), National Maritime Museum, Yudal-san Park, and a Czech Beer Bar. Yes, beer is on the agenda.

Article: Imjin War diaries Are Memorial of Invasions For Koreans

Article: Admiral Yi Sun-Shin and the Turtle Boat

Mokpo City Homepage

Monday, April 17, 2006

The Foreigner Problem: Part I

I woke up today wondering why we’re still here. My mind raced with people, places, commitments, and most of all, time. The ever-elusive time, those spare days that Alex and I had hoped to save for travel around the peninsula. The hours in the weekend we wanted to explore Gwangju, or maybe, see a movie. The afternoons I wished to be out with my camera, but instead I’m shoulder deep in dictionaries and Korean newspapers in my continuing quest for the language. The late nights of martial arts that, once in awhile, we would prefer to spend over a quiet dinner. “Why are we still here?”, is the question that nagged me this morning as we woke up to bike to the immigration office.

Riding a bike is a meditative thing, especially in Gwangju. Small streets wind out onto the modern city routes between squat, square buildings. These small structures conceal cars from pedestrians, and vice-versa making for close calls, or calls you don’t want to get. Sidewalks are small if they exist at all, and when they do, are littered with young and old alike unaware of others around them. The old woman who is permanently bent at the waist from years of laboring under Japanese oppression and the rebuilding afterwards, I can forgive. The young kids jockeying for a better glimpse of their reflection to coif their hair, I cannot. I will ring my tiny bell, slow a bit, but then I leave it in the hands of the Gods of Pedestrian Warfare. Are there such Gods? I no longer doubt. As I was saying, biking is quite meditative. You're safety depends on you thinking of nothing else. All your focus pours into gear changes, traffic, and those damn hills.

Sweat beads on my forehead as we turn into Immigration’s parking lot. Two men twist around out of curiosity as we slow to a stop. They smoke, their eyes following us to the doors of office before they resume their conversation. When we return so does their curiosity, and they carefully pace towards us as we unlock our bikes. I liken it to an inquisitiveness one has when investigating an unusual object they randomly spot on the ground. No real emotion, just a need to place what one's seeing. Hopping on our bikes and heading out, the men pace back to the sidewalk they were previously holding down. Maybe with curiosity fulfilled, maybe not.

The reason for mentally noting all of their interest is not just because I’m a freak, it’s because I need to understand. The stares, the assumptions, the overwhelming curiosity that leads old men to stand with their faces 5 inches from mine. I’d like to know why the grocery ladies giggle a bit, and why some now, smile affectionately. Or why old women with a twinkle in their eye sometimes pat my arm and give a hefty laugh, while young women walk wide around me like I’m a pitbull foaming at the mouth . . . . .

Puffing my way up the large hill to “Gold Countryville”, the pieces of what once seemed a complex puzzle started to nestle together. I am now faced with “The Foreigner Problem”, and how we'd changed so much by not being a part of it.


Thursday, April 13, 2006

One Year On

So one year has come and gone and here we are still in Korea. This past year has been tumultuous, to say the least. Underwater trees, busted eardrums, vomiting in the park from food sickness or too much sun, or let’s just say it: alcohol. And that was only one trip. I suppose this retrospective should be something along the lines of “Things I’ve Learned” or maybe “What to Do and What not to Do in Korea” or some equally inane clichéd thing, no offense to those who enjoy those kinds of lists, I’m just not that way, generally, I hope. So then what is this going to be? Really short.

When I came to Korea I expected the language to come rather easy, I suppose if I had studied as hard the first five months as I did from August, I would have a much better handle on it. I know enough to get around, but there is a lot more, as if that isn’t obvious. My time at the place where I was employed was as turbulent as this year, and in some way could have been the cause of all the chaos. But that is hopefully water under the bridge.

We have certainly been grateful for all the assistance we have received in the past year and all the kindness, though some assistance was less appreciated, such as showing us how to have a night out in Korea. For my part I have really enjoyed the trips we have taken away from the city, especially to Damyang, and we plan on taking many more this year, as our taste for travel was piqued by the trip to Japan. Top on the list is Seoul, hopefully at the beginning of next month.

Other things that have been invaluable are Kumdo and Sam Kyeop Sal. It is amazing how easily a meal can relax us these days. Though Kumdo has been a wonderful experience over the past year, it has become somewhat of a drain on our time and energy. I guess I’m not as young as I used to be and five to seven days a week has become just too much. This new time will give us the opportunity to really see this country.

Well this year has been a lesson learned and hopefully will not be repeated. Here’s to a new year and a new view of Korea.

Friday, March 31, 2006

on current American affairs . . .

Please see the cautious patriot for more information.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Fukuoka's Marine World Aquarium

click here for more photos.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Back By Popular Demand . . .

I've had several email requests for more Korean recipes, so here you go . . .

The following is a tasty fish marinade that was written with albacore tuna in mind, but I've had great success applying it to pollock which is the most widely available fish in Korea. Based on the tastiness of the outcome (장말 맛있었어요! Chongmal mashissossoyo! It was delicious!), I think this would marinate any whitefish adequately.

4 (4 ounce) albacore tuna steaks
6 tablespoons sugar, divided
2 tablespoons sesame seeds
1 green onion, sliced
1 clove garlic, minced
1 teaspoon chopped fresh ginger root
1/2 cup soy sauce
2 tablespoons sesame oil
salt and pepper to taste

1. Rub the albacore steaks with 4 tablespoons sugar. Allow to sit 30 minutes in the refrigerator.
2. In a skillet over medium heat, toast the sesame seeds 5 minutes, or until lightly browned.
3. In a shallow bowl, mix the remaining sugar, toasted sesame seeds, green onion, garlic, ginger, soy sauce, sesame oil,
salt, and pepper. Place the albacore steaks in the mixture, and marinate 2 hours in the refrigerator.
4. Preheat the oven broiler.
5. Discard marinade, and place the albacore steaks on a baking sheet. Broil to desired doneness in the preheated oven.

This is a seriously tasty dish. With pollack it ends up tasting almost like smoked fish (like we used to get on Beaver Island). Wow! Enjoy.

Tuesday, March 7, 2006

Turning Korean

taken with our phone
Korean girl haircut (taken with our cellphone)

Monday, February 27, 2006

To The 2nd Degree

Waking up at 6:00 AM is not on my list of things to do on a regular basis. Call it "lazy"- call it the well-thought out reasoning of a rational mind- but 6:00 AM is way too early. Regardless of my wants, the alarm rolled me out of bed at the buttcrack of dawn to tackle the tasks of (A) waking my sleeps-like-the-dead husband, and (B) prepare for what was certain to be a mentally draining day.

warming up (not at test)

One of the most difficult aspects of testing in Kumdo in Korea, is that we often have absolutely no clue as to what's going on. While the other students know the drill, not to mention speak the language, we are tossed to the wind and forced to trust our wits, our minor grasp of the language, and powers of improvisation/observation. Ice that cake with our being spectacles simply by being a minority, and you too, can feel the eyes canvassing your every step.

As we entered the vast auditorium, we became undeniably visible as the tallest, whitest people. While the students at our school are accustomed to our presence and appearance, most of the rest of Gwangju is not. Even the cashiers at Emart, who have seen me for a year now, still gape, whisper to one another, and stare into my shopping cart. It is to be expected that there will be double-takes and pointing. Trying our best to blend in, we kept our eyes open for points of interest that would help us through the test. Lucky for us, age was one our side placing us in the last group to take the 2nd degree tests.

After sitting patiently, able to observe the etiquette and method of the test, we were finally ushered to the line for the review of our forms. The table judges, the ones actually scoring us, asked that I be placed in the center between Alex and another student on the floor. One of these judges kept looking to me and motioning me to the center, while the line judge kept pushing me back behind Alex. After a bit of this, I completed my first form hidden behind Alex. The table judge again motioned for me to move to the center. As I moved, the line judge grabbed my sleeve and started to pull be back to my previous position behind Alex. A whole test this way may become unbearable, so I motioned for the line judge to look up which he did not. After he repositioned me behind Alex, I followed the table judges' instruction to move center. Before my position could be changed, yet again, the next form had begun. I finished out my forms in the center position after some words were finally exchanged between the judges.

The rest of the test went quite similarly to this, the line judges not communicating with the table judges about what they wanted from us. Alex and I were the only source of contention among the judges, and their indecision was undoubtedly blamed on us being foreigners. We simply can't resist being a freakshow. Regardless of the minor disruptions, the test moved on with the both of us doing extremely well. We received a very animated thumbs up from Jae-Oong on several occasions. Alex will complain about mistakes in his forms, and I'll lament about my horrible first attempt at cutting, but we both passed and with a whole lot more energy and enthusiasm than many of the other students.

Our competitiveness makes us a force to be reckoned with, and Master Lee's faith in us is a constant source of motivation. I will never forget the bamboo cutting portion of my test. I botched the first cut horribly. As a woman I had only to cut once, but as they brought out a second limb of bamboo Master Lee said, "Make her cut twice." He knew I could do it, and so I did. It's these small moments that will always stay with me. Even moreso than hearing my name, "OH-DU-RI", called to accept an award for highest scored test.

Forms reviewed during test: 5
Push-ups required: 30
Bamboo cuts completed/attempted: 4/5
Glaze of confusion in announcer's eyes after calling a western WOMAN for an award: Priceless

최우수상 (The Highest Award)
최우수상 (The Highest Award)

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Kumdo Mafia

kinda smiles
L-R: Dong-Gyun, Moon-Suk, Master Lee, Alex, Audrey, Min-Ho
click on picture to see larger.

MORE pictures from our day in Damyang

Bamboo Killahs: Video #2

Alex 대나무 배기

i apologize for the poor quality, but this video was taken using a digital still camera. we really don't look like melting blobs in person..

Bamboo Killahs: Video #1

Audrey 대나무 베기

if you have problems viewing these videos, please post a comment or use the email links to the right to let us know. thanks for watching!

Saturday, February 11, 2006

eeny, meeny, miney, moe . . .

which chingums to Damyang go?

This photo was taken this morning while we prepared for our trip to Damyang to cut bamboo. Master Lee, in the blue hat, is determining which chingums (swords) will best suit each student. Next Sunday will be our third trip, and will hopefully yield some "action shots".

Sunday, February 5, 2006

Spacious Living

Yesterday a2 began our search for a new apartment to go with the new job and our new year in Korea. Today we began moving in. That's right, the highly efficient Koreans leave the bullshit for those with the time, and get business taken care of. Needless to say, with only two weeks until we HAVE to move out, this fast find is a relief.

click poopy-cute for a glimpse @ a2's new digs

We want to give a shout-out to our friend Na-Yeong who acted as our translator. Without her help, apartment hunting would've been excruciating!

Sunday, January 29, 2006


Happy *Lunar* New Year!

Monday, January 23, 2006

perfect day

The late afternoon sun stretches its warm hands over the small city of Damyang, 22km north of Gwangju. On the outskirts of this, the Bamboo Capitol" of South Korea, in the midst of a bamboo harvesting yard stand KumDo students poised to begin the task of cutting newly lumbered bamboo. Eloquently capturing the day's sentiment, Alex says, "This is why I came to Korea".

The afternoon passes with Master Lee's guidance and our practice. The sun changing the washed out hues of wintered fields to golden orange, pushing shadows long between the mountains. The hush of light wind is broken by the random sound of sword on bamboo, and as we finish our day in the fields of Damyang, we can only hope it will not be the last.

Before returning to Gwangju, Master Lee takes his students and family to one of Damyang's famous hideaways for a meal of Guk-Su (fresh noodles in broth). Full and happy, we watch the sun dip behind the mountains and cannot imagine being anywhere else in the world.

Welcome to Damyang

Sunday, January 22, 2006

I'm an ass.

frozen day's photographs

alex and i hiked to the "almost top" of Mudeungsan to wish my parents a wonderful belated anniversary. I forgot to write/call/be a good daughter on January 12. i hope that my frozen hands are a clear expression of my guilt.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

dull day

an overcast day's photography

Tuesday, January 17, 2006


Our Tetra, Spam, couldn't take the pressure of small apartment living anymore. Last week he jumped from the tank to his death, causing feelings of guilt and depression among his Tetra brethran. The remaining pod, Scurvy and Tripod, were fine after ten seconds elapsed and I fed them. Spam was flushed in a small service attended by me.

Monday, January 9, 2006


Today I started my first Korean language class. Looks like we'll have to stay another year now.

The class consists of 3 Americans, 2 Australians, 1 Canadian, 1 Scotsman, and 1 Russian. The first class was a unique experience. Our teacher is bilingual in, not English/Korean, but Chinese/Korean. She would get confused and start speaking Chinese which I found thoroughly interesting, but many did not.

I knew all of the material being covered today, so I helped some other students make sense of the alphabet. I was glad to be able to help, but was still reserved as there is always an undercurrent of anti-American sentiment among other foreigners.

Watch out Korea! I'm gaining the momentum of knowledge.

Monday, January 2, 2006

West Coast

West Coast is the name of the bar where A2 rang in 2006. Written in Hangul it looks like this "웨코" and is pronounced like this "Weh-Koh". As in Waco (TX), a religious cult, and a crazy man named Koresh.

I hope this is not an omen.