Friday, May 28, 2010

Campaign Season

Apparently, there will be local elections in Korea on June 2. I think the elections are mostly for city and province-level officials. There has been a growing amount of campaign activity on Geoje for the past few weeks. It started with banners and posters around town featuring the faces of the local candidates, but it's escalated into antics that are much more interesting. For one thing, there are campaign trucks everywhere with huge loudspeakers on them, blasting campaign songs. The songs are pretty catchy, in what I like to call the "Korean polka" genre. Sometimes they feature the name of the candidate, although of course it's hard for me to understand what else they're singing about. The trucks often sit at major intersections in the towns on the island, but they also drive around into the smaller villages like ours. Sometimes, they arrive blaring music at uncivilized hours of the morning. I can't understand how this tactic is supposed to make people think favorably about the candidate in question. My Korean teacher told me that many people call the police to complain that the trucks are disturbing their studying or their babies' sleeping.

Another campaign tactic involves campaign representatives lining up along the roads, again usually at major intersections, wearing sashes and matching t-shirts and dancing or chanting slogans. One particularly memorable display involved a campaign rep wearing a Superman costume, complete with fake muscles and a mask that was a cut-out of the candidate's face. He was posing and flexing his fake muscles for all the stopped cars at the intersection to admire.

I have also seen a few campaign reps out in our neck of the woods with a garbage bag and some metal tongs, apparently out to collect garbage from along the road. Now this is a campaign tactic I could really get behind! There is such a garbage problem here because there are no public trash cans in areas like beaches or parks. If one of the candidates had a plan to improve that situation, I would find that much more convincing than catchy campaign tunes or Superman costumes. Not that I can vote, or evaluate campaign platforms in Korean. But that's my two cents, Geoje candidates!

Sunday, May 16, 2010

May Is a Glorious Month!

The weather here in Geoje has finally begun to warm a little, which is a welcome change. This past week on one of my walks, I saw that the local farmers have begun to plant the rice paddies. I love the orderly rows of bright green sprouts and look forward to the summer months when the rice plants get a bit bigger and everything looks so much prettier. The trees all have their leaves now, and azaleas are in full bloom everywhere. Now that things are nicer outside, more and more of our neighbors can be found out in the grassy area in front of our building, playing with their kids or grilling out with friends. It makes a big difference to me to see the neighbors around and have a chance to chat - it feels much less lonely here. The grill parties are bound to pick up this summer now that Keegan and several of his co-workers have contributed a new grill, fashioned from a 55-gallon oil drum. We tried it out last night, and it was quite a success!

Our friends Mark and Chang Mi show off the result of the grill project. It looks much nicer now with a new coat of black paint, a smokestack, and a handle for the lid, but I don't have an updated picture.

Keegan and I had a really nice weekend together last weekend in Gyeongju, the first capital of a united Korea during the Silla dynasty. It was a cool place. Apparently, they have some kind of crazy architectural code in the area that requires all of the gas stations to be built in the style of traditional houses, with fancy tile roofs. There are tons of temples and historical sites to see, including some large grassy mounds that cover the tombs of kings from the Silla dynasty. There were glorious azaleas everywhere and lots of lanterns at the temples in preparation for Buddha's birthday later this month.

Keegan rings the temple bell at Seogeuram Grotto in Gyeongju.

We had a chance to take lots of pictures, eat some new and different Korean dishes (and some old favorites), and just relax. We stopped at Costco in Busan on the way home and bought two beach chairs to take to the beach this summer. You have no idea how hard such chairs are to find around here and how happy I am to have somewhere to sit at the beach.

I continue to grow bigger and bigger, and so does Baby.

Ellen and the belly at 33 weeks

This week we had another doctor's appointment, and all is well. The baby is estimated to be about 2.2 kilograms (4.85 pounds) now, so she is growing quite a bit. I can feel her all the time and see her little feet pressing out against my belly. I've been doing prenatal yoga at the maternity clinic and have met a whole classful of Korean pregnant women, some of whom are due only a few weeks after me in July. I also have gotten to know a Korean woman who lives in our apartment building and is married to one of Keegan's co-workers. She has been riding to the class with me and sharing her pregnancy stories. She is about 20 weeks along now, and she is also having a girl. It's nice to know some more people who are having babies here.

Keegan is unfortunately in Houston this week for training for work. I drove him to the airport yesterday morning, and this morning he checked in on Skype to let me know that he had arrived safe and sound. He has a whole list of little things to pick up in the U.S. and plans to meet up with a high school friend of his, so I hope he will enjoy his time there. Everyone here has been so sympathetic that he is out of town while I am so pregnant, so I am enjoying the recognition of my plight. Seriously, though, I am doing quite well and looking forward to several evenings of Gray's Anatomy and extra time to work on some projects before the baby comes. The week will go by fast, and I'll be on my way back to Busan to pick Keegan up in no time.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

First Birthday Party

Keegan and I had a new Korean cultural experience today when we went to a first birthday party for the daughter of one of Keegan's co-workers at the shipyard. We were the only foreigners there, so we tried to be on our best behavior and fit in, although of course we didn't. We were the only ones to bring a gift, and we brought a really cute blue sweatsuit because Keegan had thought that the child was a boy. Oops. Fortunately, I don't think blue and pink are so rigidly defined as boy and girl colors in Korea, so maybe we can play that one off.

When we arrived at the banquet hall, they had a table set up outside the door with some adorable photo studio pictures of the little girl, mostly wearing silly hats with ears on them. We are so going to subject our daughter to this type of photography because it will help her to have a connection to her birth country someday when she looks at the embarrassing photos we took of her. Also on the table were a number of little glass cups, each labeled with a different object, such as "pencil," "money," "string," or "golf ball." These cups had to do with a ceremony that is typical at Korean first birthday parties called doljabi. During the ceremony, the baby is given a choice of several different objects, and the one that she picks determines what her future will be. For example, if she picks up the pencil, she will be a scholar. If she chooses the money, she will be wealthy. If she chooses the string, she will have a long life. The cups on the table were chances for the guests to bet on what the baby would pick. Each guest got a ticket and then put his or her numbered ticket stub into the cup labeled with the object he or she wanted to bet on. I chose the pencil, and Keegan bet on the microphone.

Inside the banquet room, there was an elaborate display set up in front of all the tables, featuring a three-layered cake with a swordlike knife hanging over it, huge pink dolphin balloons, and lots of flowers and candles. Each table had a small grill on it, and all the guests helped themselves to the buffet, where we could pick from several kinds of raw meat and seafood to cook on our grills, as well as a lot of side dishes and fruit and salad.

After lunch, an announcer came to the front of the room and introduced Mr. Kim and his wife and little girl. The little girl was adorable and was wearing a really flashy long white dress with all kinds of gold trim on it. The stood at the front of the room and lit a big candle on top of the cake. The candle was shaped like a lotus flower and blazed with quite a large flame. We all sang "Happy Birthday" (in Korean), and then Mr. Kim blew out the candle. Afterwards, Mom and Dad cut the cake together with the huge, swordlike knife, and then the emcee asked someone to get up and give a toast. Well, it turned out that Keegan was the one everyone wanted to say a few words. Talk about a surprise! Fortunately, Keegan handled the situation with his typical grace and charm, and he received a gift of two scented candles for his effort. After a few more toasts, the emcee led the guests in some other little games, which were lost on us, although I think one may have involved guessing the number of teeth the baby had (can one-year-olds have eight teeth already?). Finally it was time for the doljabi ceremony.

The emcee brought out a tray with several objects laid out on it, and guests were invited to contribute some money to lay out for the baby as well. All during the build up to the ceremony the little girl was reaching towards the tray for the objects, and when the big moment came, she picked up the pencil! Afterwards, they asked her to pick a second object (for daddy, I guess), and she chose the golf ball. Since these were precisely the objects her parents had wanted her to pick, Keegan and I suspected that some "training" had gone on before the big day. The whole ceremony was really cute.

As soon as the festivities were over, everyone headed out with characteristic Korean efficiency. We all received a small party favor, which consisted of a pretty glass plate and a pair of chopsticks. I thought it was a very nice party, and I enjoyed seeing a new Korean tradition.