Sunday, April 26, 2009

Here's another funny label, this one from a container that I bought to store rice in. My favorite is "Securing the space by module way." What a quirky definition of a container!


In case you couldn't tell from the lack of blog posts, life has gotten pretty busy here in Korea. Keegan's been working like a dog, and I've been quite busy too with friends and with my English and Korean lessons. Here are a few things that are on our minds these days:

Sadly, our good friends Glenda and John are leaving to move back to the U.S. next week. It was a bit of an unexpected move for all of us, so it's taken some rapid preparations and a lot of getting used to. I know that Keegan will miss John at work, since John has been by all accounts and excellent manager at the office. And I will miss Glenda a lot, too. Honestly, I don't know how I would ever have adjusted to life here so well without her continual suggestions and encouragement. She's been so kind and generous and introduced me to so many wonderful people. Thank goodness that we'll still be in touch by e-mail. I can't wait to hear about their new home and new adventures in Wisconsin.

As you may have seen on Flickr, one of the results of John and Glenda's impending move is that I now have a roof garden and a basket full of seeds. I inherited Glenda's peas, carrots, and parsley, and in addition, we planted peppers, lettuce, spinach, beets, cucumbers, basil, oregano, leeks, and tomatoes. Everything has sprouted beautifully, and we've actually started to get some regular rain here, which has turned the garden into a profusion of green seedlings. I hope that everything will continue to grow and won't fall prey to the problems we had in Norfolk, where nothing got past this stage.

Another item we inherited from Glenda is a small juicer. We've been having a blast with it, making all kinds of unusual combinations. So far, our favorites have been carrot/orange and apple/banana. This morning I got really daring and made kiwi/banana/pear/strawberry, but I think Keegan's grape/pear/strawberry was better. We are continually reminded of a very dated cookbook that Keegan's parents have, which is entitled "Juicing for Your Health" and features two totally groovy seventies types on the cover.

I've been enjoying my Korean class and feel like I'm really making progress with my Korean skills. Last Friday I stopped at a small fruit stand to buy some bananas and strawberries, and I was able to ask how much things cost and understand the answers. When the exchange started moving too fast for me, though, I unconsciously switched into Polish. I guess my foreign language mode has yet to be reset. But I'll get there. I think having lessons three times a week has really improved my retention of vocabulary, and repeating a lot of what I had studied in the first class I took is helping me to understand things much better. I think I'm finally getting a feel for some of the many pronunciation rules that bedevil beginning students like myself.

Those are just a few things that are keeping us busy these days. What's new with you?

Monday, April 20, 2009

Versatile Basket

I reorganized my baking goods cabinet last week, and the small plastic bins I bought to help me had an amusing label inside:

My cabinet definitely meets clean eyesight now, but I'm not sure if it's because of the baskets or because I got rid of a bug infestation.  

On second thought, it must be the baskets.  They were designed and developed!

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

What Could be Worse than the Jinhae Cherry Blossom Festival?

Last weekend, we went to the cherry blossom festival in Jinhae. It is a short ride away by ferry, but we hadn't made a reservation for our car, so we decided to drive there. The drive was mildly unpleasant, mostly due to my complete inability to navigate in Korea. The maps are easy to read, but matching your actual location with the map is much more difficult, given that there are no street names and given that it is still difficult to read Korean signs as they flash by the car. We ended up driving through the narrow, trafficky streets of Masan for much longer than we should have. But finally we made it to Jinhae.

Keegan was eager to get out of the car, so we parked quickly and started walking around to get our bearings. The first place we found was near the train station. Cherry trees were planted all along the tracks, and the tracks themselves were mobbed with Korean festival-goers, walking on the rails and down the rail bed. The cherry blossoms had not fully opened yet, but that didn't stop anyone from taking a ton of pictures. I think the novelty of walking around unabashedly on the tracks was almost as much of a draw as the blossoms. People were posing sitting on the tracks, balancing on the tracks, making goo-goo eyes at the tracks, etc. There were two men stationed nearby with walkie-talkies, and we surmised that they were lookouts who would clear the tracks if they spotted a train approaching.

Festival-goers on the train tracks.

Our next step was a long, long, fruitless walk that took us through ugly streets clogged with traffic. We were looking for some other places marked on the map as places to see during the cherry blossom festival, but, as usual, things were much further away than they appeared. Keegan and I were both crabby after our long trip in the car and the total lack of worthwhile scenery, so we amused ourselves by playing the "What would be worse than going to the Jinhae Cherry Blossom Festival?" game. We decided that it would be worse to visit the Cherry Blossom Festival with a group of 30 unruly schoolchildren in our care, or that it would be worse to visit Jinhae when it was NOT the cherry blossom festival. So that made us feel better.

Finally, after several kilometers of walking, we reached a promising spot. There was a sculpture park filled with odd sculptures, beautiful cherry blossoms, and picnicking families. We bought some delicious waffles from a tiny stand and enjoyed the shaded paths. Our enjoyment was jarred a bit by a terribly graphic display put on by a Falun Gong group protesting against labor camps in China. A row of posters depicting naked bodies covered in torture wounds is not what you expect to find in the middle of a park in springtime, surrounded by picnickers and refreshment stands. But we persevered.

Up the mountain from the sculpture park, we visited a little Buddhist temple. At first it looked like any other temple we've seen in Korea, with lots of stairs, a main gate with angry looking guardians, and a colorfully painted shrine. But behind the shrine was an entire hillside filled with hundreds of Buddha statues. They were not fine art - they looked like something you could buy at your local garden store for your Asian-themed garden. But the effect of the multitude of statues was quite striking.

Buddha statues at Sammilsa Temple

We noticed that there was a metal rail running up the hill among the statues, and down below there was a sled attached to the rail. So we could now understand how they managed to hoist all of those heavy statues up the steep, steep mountain. We took roughly one million photos and headed back down the hill a bit towards the Mountain Road, feeling quite satisfied with our discovery.

We took the Mountain Road back towards Jinhae proper. It was a wide, gravel road, very sunny and warm, and we had wonderful views of the city and the water. I was excited because the trail had signs alongside labeled in Korean that allowed me to use all of my prowess gained from months of Korean study. They said "To the Anmin Road (our goal), 2000m." Yes, I am making fine progress in my studies.

Anmin Road was the main event for the cherry blossom festival. It is a road that snakes up the side of a mountain above Jinhae. Along the side of the road are hundreds of cherry trees about six feet apart and a boardwalk so pedestrians can enjoy the blossoms. We did. The late afternoon light illuminated the clouds of white blossoms perfectly. It was a pleasant stroll downhill beneath the glowing branches.

Glowing cherry blossoms on Anmin Road

Some of the blossoms were still closed, and we thought that perhaps the following weekend would have been better, but since Keegan had to work all weekend this week, we're glad we went when we did. Many of the trees looked fully covered with blossoms, too, so we were satisfied.

Finally back to the car and able to rest our tired feet, we decided to head over to the car ferry terminal to see whether we could get tickets even without a reservation. We were lucky. We went to a bizarre western style restaurant near the ferry terminal for dinner. It had a nice view over the water, but the food was really terrible. We had a truly strange dim sum platter, which included spring rolls stuffed with bean paste and glue-y rice dumplings, and a pizza which tasted like a cheap microwave pizza with hot sauce instead of tomato sauce. The highlight of the meal was the fresh fruit on the dim sum platter. I guess that's what we get for seeking out a Western style place - the hole in the wall fish places we passed to get there probably would have been better.

On the way home on the ferry we watched South Korea play Iraq in a World Cup qualifying match. Needless to say, there were some very excited fans aboard. I was so tired that I couldn't pay close attention, though. Instead, I reflected with pleasure on the day's adventure and thought that there would have been quite a few things worse than the Jinhae Cherry Blossom Festival.