Wednesday, December 30, 2009

In which I take a pilgrimmage I have no business taking

A walk, a subway ride, a trip on the Korail, a cab, and a ferry were all that stood between myself and Naminara Island. Made famous by the Korean drama "Winter Sonata", Nami is a hotspot for couples, but I guess when it's not negative a thousand degrees you can ride bikes through their extensive trail system. You and 12 of your homies can even rent a bungalow on the Han River. From the looks of it, Nami does a lot of work with UNICEF, or as Evan quipped, "I think this island was originally settled by children's book authors.". After prancing through idyllic snowy wonderland, we killed some time waiting for our bus by playing sagu (more like suck-gu), the more popular billiards game here, and drinking complimentary strange sugary drinks. Not bad for a Monday.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

TED Talks, I Listen

Not long ago, I took my weekly pilgrimage to Seoul for an independently-organized TED event. 40 spots had been reserved for foreigners and well over 100 Koreans (with close to 150 on the waiting list). Earpieces were provided for simultaneous English translation, which became a little tedious after the 5th lecture, but we enjoyed it...and they even put bon bons in our seat to keep us from fleeing the stuffy theater.

A magician choreographed an entire shadow puppet show to the song “The Circle of Life” which was way more badass than it sounds.

My other favorite was a doctor couple who showed their medical design successes, including stethoscopes hidden inside teddybears and candy tongue depressors.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Balloon Pants Buddhist

My dear friend Ji Yeon’s birthday was a couple of weeks ago and we had a 26-person grilled duck dinner for her in Heywha. There’s no “uhh” sound in Korean and the ‘k’ is more like ‘g’, so I thought for a moment I was finally being made to face the dragon and trying dog meat. Most of the group I’ve been absorbed by in Seoul are part of Toastmasters International (a public speaking group) which I’m thinking about checking out next week. This means they’re all extremely interesting, motivated people who I feel really lucky to have found. The dinner then moved to Comfort Zone, a beautiful and cozy neighborhood bar/restaurant with an unattended piano, which led to traditional Korean ballads and sing-a-longs downstairs. The Arkansas Mafia was in full force and Brahm’s cousin (who lives further away in Korea) brought our total to 6 Diamond Staters…a baffling statistic for our ex-pat friends. Hours later, a birthday tiara disappeared and a bear-shaped cake was somehow consumed sans silverware, unequivocal signs of a successful party. A late night street chicken meal and the Korean Slumdog Millionaire capped off our evening. The next morning we walked back to CZ for brunch and Ji Yeon received a cultural lesson (Jem and the Holograms is an important reference). Full of bacon and/or burritos, the four of us headed to Do도 Sun선 Sa 사 , a Buddhist temple in the mountains of Seoul. It was interesting for me to compare the likenesses of Buddha, etc, to what I saw in India. A local monk’s image was found where in India the Dalai Lama would be. Large Chinese zodiac characters were carved into a hallway with pen and paper for message-writing. There obviously were no prayer flags, but I did see a giant prayer wheel/donation pot combo. A long line of chanters stood waiting to throw papers (wishes? attachments?) in a giant fire while attendant monks rang bells. Meanwhile, we took goofy photos because I’m sure Buddha doesn’t care about a little irreverence. It felt really special to be surrounded by the ceremony, the mountains, and beautiful painted, sculpted, or golden artifacts. As we serenely walked down the mountain toward a taxi, a particularly aggressive ajuma (older woman) in balloon pants knocked into Ji Yeon, wandered away, then came back and whispered something to her. Ji Yeon later translated that the woman had noticed she dragged her heels when she walked and advised she’d be a lot prettier if she didn’t.