Sunday, April 26, 2020

The Post Where the Yeouido Flower Festival Should Be


Sadly, this year's Yeouido Cherry Blossom Festival was cancelled--not just the tents and shows and activities, access to the street was closed down. Frankly, every year looks pretty similar, as you can see by clicking on "cherry blossom festival" in the Label Cloud on the right, but it has been a highlight of springtime in Seoul for me since 2009.

So, instead, I'm going to post up a few pictures of flowers I see every day during my ten minute walk to and from school.

These are literally on the walkway once inside the school grounds.


The hillside that abuts the campus on the sidewalk is ablaze with azaleas:


Here's hoping that next year Seoulites will be able to visit the cherry blossoms around Yeouido, and that I will be among them, to share pictures with you then!

Saturday, March 28, 2020

Spring 2020 is coming!

As the coronavirus pandemic has disrupted virtually every aspect of life here in Korea and around the world, my annual "first blossoms of spring" post serves this year particularly to remind us that, in the larger sense, life goes on. Korean public schools have been postponed for a total of five weeks so far, baseball and soccer seasons will have a late start, the Tokyo Olympics will be rescheduled, but the flowers are blooming on their regular schedule. Gotta love Nature!

As the first photo shows, with the Magnolia campbellii in the foreground, spring has even managed to spruce up my school frontage with a nice splash of color.


On the other corner of the main building at school is a purple variety:


But the first flowering harbinger of spring is always the "kenari", the Golden Bell, scientifically Forsythia koreana, which is the bush that lines both sides of Airport Highway along my walk to school.


Another of our first bloomers on the peninsula is the azalea, member of the rhododendron family:


My recently downloaded plant recognition app (PlantSnap), which is really really cool--take a picture, inside or outside the app, and it does a pretty good job telling what plant you're looking at--insists this is Prunus cerasus, or sour cherry, but I think it's the "Chinese apricot"--maehwa in Korean.


And finally, right next to the school, is this fabulous entry, that I think actually is sour cherry:


Caveat, I am not a botanist, I am just a middle aged guy who likes flowers. Regular visitors to my Seoul patch surely know this, but if you didn't click on "flowers" in the label cloud for 41 other posts that have lots of pics of, um, flowers. From Korea, and from my travels around Asia since I came here in 2008.

Thursday, March 12, 2020

Majang Meat Market


I had heard of this place, and was excited that my buddy Adam organized a dinner trip to the eastern side of Seoul, just past Wangsimni sta. on line 5, the Majang Meat Market.


It was pretty deserted during this outing, since the coronavirus has led many Koreans, quite sensibly, to stay at home. Just an update after my Cambodian vacay, I spent two weeks in "self-quarantine" before coming back to work this week. School has been postponed until (at this writing) March 23rd from the usual opening day of March 2nd, but teachers are expected to periodically come to work for planning.
A covered arcade of three or four streets, mostly retail customers deal with shops like this, which offer high-quality 'hanu' beef at reasonable prices.


It is also a wholesale center, with highly photographable offal like intestines, beef hearts, livers and etc.


We selected two packages of different "modem" or sampler sets, totaling 120,000 W (approx. USD 100) for four guys. They look pretty damn good! There are numerous restaurants, mainly upstairs, where you take your prize to grill up.


We went to Hanu Town, where they charge a 5000 W plate fee per person, which is pretty reasonable, since that's paying for your real wood charcoal and all the banchan--kimchi, samjang, vegetables, etc. And they get the proceeds from all your beer and soju.


We ate and drank and conversed delightfully for a good two hours. Each cut of beef, curated by Adam, was better than the one before. Then we finished up at a foreigner-run pub for a couple drafts from Magpie before finally making the long, full-bellied trek home.


Highly recommended! A great evening out, coronavirus and all!

Sunday, January 26, 2020

Seoul, Uijeongbu Peace Statue, Budae Jjigae Street


Statue of Peace, Peace Park
After arriving at Uijeongbu station on Line 1, a full one and a half hours from Gangseo-gu, I came out of the station (exits 4,5 and 6) expecting, based on the maps, that the Statue of Peace that I had come all this way to see would be obvious. Well, there are two separate parks, and as per usual I picked the wrong one. The one to the right, which is a kids' art zone:


On the left, you will find the Peace Statue, and a variety of other installations relevant to the theme. If you go all the way through the park to the main street, the statue is right on the sidewalk by the bus stop. Here she is, representing a "comfort woman" of WWII, dressed warmly for winter, 2020:


Nearby, an homage to 70 years of Korean independence from Japan:


… and celebrating Uijeongbu's elevation to status of "city":


Following WWII, Korea was split into two parts, and five years later, the Korean War began with Kim Il-sung's attempt by force to reunite the halves under his dictatorial leadership. This became a proxy war, with the US (and allies) fighting on the South's side, and Communist China assisting the North. The movie and TV show MASH are set nearby what was then the village of Uijeongbu. Though the show is fictional, the US military presence in the area was real, and still to be felt to this day--23,500 US servicemen are based in Korea at this writing.

An homage to their efforts for peace, a section of a wall from nearby Camp Falling Water has been put up in the park:


With a theme of peace and reunification, the experience of Germany in 1990 was symbolized here with sections of the Berlin Wall and an interesting series of photographs from the time.


Alas, on this Saturday during Seollal, no one will get to enjoy toast from this pocha ...


… but hang on tight, because food is on order shortly.

Rodeo Drive, which I walked north from the park, after crossing the main road, is a fancy shopping street reminding us of the strong presence of US GIs in the area.


I strolled up Rodeo Drive to make my way to a street specializing in a particular food. Korea has this in spades: yeonnip-bap is from Buyeo, bibimbap and choco-pies are from Jeon-ju, etc. Uijeongbu's specialty is budae jjigae, or army base stew.

Budae jjigae street


This stew (jjigae) is Korean comfort food which dates only from the Korean War era. Those were tough times for the people, so you scrounged food where you could, including the refuse of US army bases (budae). In a MASH episode, Hawkeye and BJ ridicule Frank Burns's attempt to sell off the camp's trash in lots, but he was right: the average Korean could make good use of our cast-offs. Especially popular were SPAM and hot dogs, which together with seasonal veg, tofu (dubu), red pepper paste (gochujang), and beans, cheese or whatever else you could get, were cooked up in stock and served over rice or noodles. It is a hearty and delicious meal (I dedicated a post to it back in 2009).

I have it once or twice a month in my neighborhood, but Budae-jjigae street has grown up to be the place for it. I chose this restaurant, the second busiest one, whose sign means Uijeongbu Specialty Budae Jjigae Main Place (they have an overflow across the street), and was not disappointed:


Here is the ajumma in charge:


The version here is heavy on meat, dubu and kimchi, and I love the contrast of sour kimchi and spicy gochujang. Here's what it looks like cooking over a flame at your table:


Here's what it looks like in a bowl over some rice:


And here's what I look like stuffing my face!


Saturday, January 25, 2020

Seoul, Nat'l Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art

Trying to fit some high culture into my winter vacation/Seollal holiday, I dropped by NMMCA, and spent over two hours there: it is quite large with a about eight galleries, and had several things of interest. Best photo of the day:


One of the first parts of the first gallery is an exhibit of an art group's working area, including just a bunch of stuff in storage:


The next exhibit was a two room mixed media presentation (and the green hallway between them which makes odd whispering sounds) was about the nature of identity in a world of passports and DNA; it was quite interesting, but like much of art today relies heavily on video.


Speaking of video, this artist recording himself building a 1 pyeong (about 3 sq. meter) hut, or trying to, as it kept getting blown over, swept out to sea, etc.


This artist had images representing her fears on the glass cylinders (which were spinning) and projecting their shadows outward; the next one was about the impossibility of capturing the fluid motion of ocean waves in concrete.


In the center of this installation "Barefoot", a mechanical thing which makes squeaking noises representing Siddhartha, already in the state of nirvana, extending his feet toward his beloved disciple Gasupjonja. This is surrounded by "Gathering", a series of animals mourning the death of Siddhartha (incl. details).


A work called Kyon-Woo-JickNyo, which has a model earth suspended between North and South Korea. As sunshine energizes the solar panel, the model moves between the two, inspired by the "Sunshine Policy" of former president Kim Dae-Jung.


A toy tiger in some leaves and model buildings made of giveaway cards.


And finally: