Friday, March 27, 2015

Harbingers of Spring

How do we know it's Spring?

1) First, of course, is the weather. Although if I'm honest, you couldn't tell it's here from the temperatures we've been experiencing. The equinox was a week ago, but the morning temperature has been below freezing every day since then.

2) The first blossoms. The first shot is of a sansuyu 산수유 outside the door of my school.The next two are the kenari or Japanese cornel dogwoods that line a sidewalk on my morning walk to work. They're also called "golden bell".

3) Baseball's Opening Day is this Saturday. And I have tickets. Nexen Heroes vs Hanhwa Eagles at Mok-dong Stadium at 2 PM.

4) The most definitive sign that Spring is really here is when restaurants drag tables and chairs out onto the sidewalk so patrons can enjoy the al fresco dining experience. I actually did this wednesday--at least for a while. The temperature kept dropping though and we had to move inside.
Just for the fun of it, you can see my first ever post on the spring flowers in Korea here. Frankly, a much better post than this one.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Krabi, Thailand: Too Brief Visit

At six days, my visit to Krabi, on the Andaman coast, was too brief: time I could have spent was used up on train journeys, bus rides and other "transfers", as they are called. I made the arrangements with a travel agent in Bangkok's Khaosan Road for a secluded spot with a pristine swimming beach, and I wasn't disappointed.

The resort is called J2B's, and while it got mixed reviews on TripAdvisor, most of them were from people unhappy with the previous management, turned off by the availability of of mainly Thai food in the one restaurant or dissatisfied with the fact that there was only electricity from 6 PM to 6 AM--even though this was clearly communicated in all the literature I saw about the place. I found it to be charming in every way, including the staff and the food.

The resort is situated on a tremendous stretch of private white sand, reached by boat or by a bumpy ride through the mangrove jungle. It is called Napparatthara Beach. The bungalows are set in a coconut palm grove arranged around the pavilion that houses reception and the restaurant.

Other guests came in and out all week, mostly staying for a few days before going off to explore the islands. I was content to lay on the beach, in my own lounger and read, occasionally dipping in for a refreshing swim. Krabi is one of three places in the world where the "karst towers" extend from land into the sea (the others being Halong Bay and the Dalmatian coast of Croatia). I think it was the most beautiful place I've place I've been to.

I did have to spend the night in Krabi Town, as all the bungalows were previously booked (my fault for being tentative in my initial booking). Where J2B was 900 Bt per night, the Apo Hotel located right by Chao Fa Pier was rather more (1400 Bt), but did have A/C, hot water and etc. Not really a lot to see and do, though it is quite a pretty area.

The place to have dinner in Krabi Town is the night market at the pier, where as I usually do, I had some red snapper, beautifully grilled.

Sadly, too soon it was time to head back north to Bangkok, to Suvarnabhumi Airport, and thence to the icy climes of Seoul, where now, over two weeks later, in mid-March, it's still too cold!

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Thailand, Bangkok: A Brief Visit

My "Spring" vacation this year, as has often been the case before, was a trip to tropical Thailand, a welcome break from the bitter cold of February in Seoul. I spent my first few days in Bangkok, as well as my last day awaiting the flight back.

Frequent visitors to the Seoul Patch may recall the last few trips I have flown in directly to my favorite island haunt of Koh Samui, but this year I wanted to do it differently: visit a new little bit of quiet beach heaven, and also revisit the night train trip south, for which I had such fond memories in years past.

In addition to relaxing by the waves, one of my favorite things is Thai food--curries, exotic fruits, of course, but also super-fresh fish, particularly red snapper. Fish is popular in Korea, but the red snapper a rarity--Thailand is awash in it. To wit:

This little beauty was 400 Bt at a quirky restaurant of Susie Street, a block away from Khaosan Road. In addition to the massive grill laden with seafood,

the place was decorated with some interesting statuary. That last one is actually not a statue.

I also wanted to do some touristy things I had foregone in previous trips. For example, I took a dinner cruise on the Chaophraya a few years ago, but that was obviously at night. So I took one in the daytime. It was called "Rice Barge Cruise", and here's what I have in my journal:
I've tried numerous times to describe the riverboat cruise yesterday, and the madcap tuk-tuk ride that preceded it, but the iPad keeps crashing. It's now a little after noon on Wednesday and I'll be taking the train south to Surat Thani and ultimately Krabi this evening.
So the boat tour was fine, but I don't think it was worth all of $28. The first hour and 20 min was on a sightseeing boat, and included a chance--gasp!--to feed River catfish for 20 Bt in bread pieces. We then transferred to a rice barge for the remainder of the trip, which included a snack table bearing seven different fruits, sticky rice and some pandan custard. Also free drinks, any kind you want, as long as what you want involves some combination of rum, vodka your Thai whiskey, and orange juice or maitai mix.
The tuk-tuk ride was thirty minutes of excitement as we raced down every tiny alley in the region between starting point and destination. This was the second driver, of three, I noticed to have a cough; I suspect that being constantly at exhaust pipe level is an occupational hazard.
My photos mostly didn't turn out as I sat on the wrong side of the boat, except a couple great shots of the palace complex on the way back in.

Another thing I wanted to do was visit the Chatuchak Market, open Saturdays and Sundays, according to some sources the world's largest open-air market. Again from my journal notes:
Well, the Chatuchak Weekend Market is entirely a tourist trap--the only thing that's authentic is the food, and quite a lot of even that is crap. In two hours, I saw most of it, and ate some pig's head and feet, then hobbled out to find a taxi (200 Bt), because my big toe is throbbing.
My toe was throbbing due to a flare-up of "metabolic arthritis", aka gout, which hasn't bothered me in years. I found a druggist who had some over=the-counter anti-inflammatory that worked within two days (I got some more to bring back with me just in case). Anyway, the market was a vast disappointment. I remember it very differently from my childhood: the smell of mosquito coil smoke, dried fish and durian. This place had designer boutiques!

All in all, my Bangkok time felt less-than-amazing, but fear not! Things definitely take a turn for the more amazing when I venture south to Krabi Town. Stay tuned!

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Tuttle Goes to the Theatre

I went to see my friend Mi-hyun in this play today. I was supposed t be joined by The Stumbler, but he stumbled and fell ill, so I went alone. The theatre was easy to find, near Exit 4 of Hyehwa station, in the basement of this building:

A small space, capacity around 100 or a bit more, it was 90% full. To see The Canterbury Tales presented in English. Of course, not all of them, since there's 20 or so, which would make for about a six or seven hour evening. They chose three of the more famous ones. I would really have liked to see two more, since they were quite enjoyable.

In The Wife of Bath's Tale, a knight rapes a woman and faces death for his crime. The Queen gives him a second chance--if he can learn what women really want he will be spared. Finally, an old hag tells him what women want on condition he marry her--they desire most to have sovereignty over their husbands.

The second tale was that of The Pardoner, who tells of three "riotous" friends who find a treasure and attempt to double-cross each other in their greed. The last pic is Mi-hyun (face obscured in the first shot, sorry) being stabbed before his partners in crime unknowingly drink the poison he obtained from the apothecary.

Last was The Merchant's Tale, in which an elderly knight takes a very young wife, who is secretly loved by his attendant. The old man's sight fails him, and May meets Damian the page in the garden for some hanky-panky. One of the garden's faeries is not happy with this turn of events and restores the old man's sight. All ends well for May, as she convinces her husband that his renewed sight was faulty at first, and he didn't see what he thought he saw.

Little-known fact: Tuttle has a BFA in Theatre Acting/Directing. So you can have a little bit of faith in my opinions on this topic. This was a solid production. Some of the actors had occasional difficulty with pronunciation or articulation, and annoyingly (if understandably), this was most prone to happen during key moments. However, they showed a strong grasp of meaning and communicated it well to the audience. All the performers played with gusto.

All the actors developed their characters, found good traits to demonstrate them, and even had nuanced performances to the extent broad comedy like Chaucer permits. It was played for laughs, and got them from their appreciative audience. Not to brag on my friend, but Mi-hyun was definitely the stand-out performer!

They were helped by adroit lighting, staging and direction. With a one-level unit set, you make use of a few bits of furniture and some set dressing: a table, some mugs and a barmaid make it a pub, a couple of small trees make it a garden. The staging was done effectively, particularly in dealing with the problem of levels. Audience interest is heightened by visuals that are high and low, so the director never missed a chance to have someone standing, someone seated, someone kneeling or lying prone--and always well-motivated.

My main complaint, mentioned earlier, is that with three tales coming in at just over one hour, it was too short--I could definitely have sat through two or three more tales. Some of the bawdier ones were chosen, and done well, but The Miller's Tale would have made an excellent fourth piece.

I'm not sure exactly who the sponsoring organization was for this production, but I would encourage them to do more. Sorry if you missed it, the final performance was at 6 PM tonight.