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.