Wednesday, April 29, 2015

A Few More Flowers

I can't help it--my favorite thing may be springtime. I like flowers. I enjoyed tinkering with the handful of rose bushes along the side of my house, back in the day. I don't have those roses anymore--hell, i don't even have that house.

When I came to Seoul, I was worried that flowers would not be much a part of my life. Especially after someone at orientation told me that there was just no green space in Seoul. Fortunately, that's not so. The cityscape is bestrewn with postage stamp parks, larger ones, and several really big ones. But i have posted many flower photos from them before.

Today, I'm going to turn my camera on the flowers I pass on my walk to school. Actually, it was Friday, and my iPhone camera. Probably the last of the blossom pics for the season. Obviously, I didn't shoot them all, just one of each type (counting the red azaleas and orange azaleas as different ...)


Mok-dong probably has the highest concentration of matchbox apartments in the city, mostly built in the '80s and '90s. As a result, I pass by some more mature trees, too, such as this nice lavender:


These last ones are all part of the landscaping at my school:


Tomorrow is Sports Day at school, and tomorrow afternoon I'm taking advantage of the Labor/Children's Day holiday (not that kind of labor) to visit Hokkaido, the northernmost main island of Japan.

Monday, April 20, 2015

양천구청역 , or My Local Subway Station

양천구청역, Yangcheon gu cheong yeok literally means Western stream district office station. It is the middle of five stations on the "Kkachisan spur" of line 2, the circle line in Seoul's awesome Metro system.

I've been meaning to do a pictorial on this station for a while, not really because it's "my" station, but because it is a really attractive subway station. Especially in Spring, when it is draped in jindalae or azaleas. Below are some shots of my entrance:


It looks pretty good from the other side, too. Most subway stations in Seoul have a number of exits--commonly eight, and those that are transfers often have twelve or more--but Yangcheon-gu cheong has only two.


You see those glass pyramids at left? They are among the most interesting features of the station. There's no trick to getting natural light to an above-ground station, but Yangcheon-gu cheong yeok has an underground platform ... fed sunshine through these skylights!


It is the only station I have been in (there may be others) which has a "viewing deck" on the ticket mezzanine where you can actually overlook the tracks!


So now we know what a subway train looks like from on top.

The architecture is stylish: rather reminiscent of Art Deco with rounded corners, tile wall covering, chrome-and-glass fixtures. It's not, of course, having been built in 1992, but I applaud the effort.


And of course it has all the features you want and need in a station, from the station office (above) to maps, a convenience store and a Dunkin Donuts (not shown--it's too tempting!)


The Metro mascot even puts in a flighty appearance:


This post was mainly to celebrate this subway station, but I can't deny the timing served two other purposes: 1) another chance to get some photos of flowers in Seoul, now spring has sprung, and 2) to commemorate what is blog post number 900 here at The Seoul Patch. So, finally, a bit of rhododendron porn:


Sunday, April 12, 2015

Yeouido Cherry Blossom Festival 2015


This marked my appearance at the seventh consecutive 영등포 여의도 봄꽃축제. Hundreds of mature cherry trees line Yunjungno, a "gift" from the government of Japan, around the same time they gifted the US with the ones that populate the Tidal Basin in Washington, DC. I put gift in quotes there because Japan had invaded and occupied Korea at that time. Anyway, they are a lovely sight:


In addition to the flowers, there are a number of other sights, from Buddhist monks to waygookin musicians:


I go along mainly for the photo ops with the teeming mascots:


There were loads of Lego characters, such as the Lego lizard above, but I think I took advantage of them, because this guy finally had enough:


Anyway, the star of the show is the cherry blossoms, so here are some more nice shots (remember, you can click to see much larger versions):


We have seen that the street of interest is lined with cherry trees, but the streets leading here are lined as well--with vendors. They mostly sell street food and cold beverages, which I'm frankly less than interested in, considering my follow-up visit to VIPs Steakhouse. But this caught my eye, the delicious 전주 초코파이, or Jeonju-style choco pie:


I picked up a whole box, but don't bother to ask, they're mainly for my co-teachers, office lady, VP and my ping-pong comrades, including the principal. Re-contracting time is coming up soon...

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Cheese Back Ribs, 치즈등갈비


According to The Stumbler's friend Jong-il (Kim Jong-il, but not that one), this is the best 치즈등갈비 joint in Seoul, located in Hongdae (Hongik University Sta., Line 2, exit 8. A recent fusion fad, Chris went over the moon for it, and i was more than impressed myself.

What is it? You take some grilled and well-spiced baby back ribs, heat them with cheese and condiments over the grill, cut them up...


... and wrap some of the cheese onto them before eating. With your hands It is quite messy, and plastic gloves are provided. The ribs are the most popular way to the enjoy the new cheese-meat combo, but this restaurant also offered chicken, chicken feet, pig offal (곱창), and more.


We stuck with the ribs, and even went in for seconds. We'll be adding this to our dinner rounds, at least occasionally. It would be nice, though, to find a place with higher quality cheese.

Off-topic, but inside the restaurant, was this, which perhaps evinces a failure in understanding anatomy:


While we were in Hongdae, I spied a couple of nice photo ops. The first was outside a place called "Welcome to Seoul 1960", a retro restaurant:


And then there was a guy on top of a truck playing a cello:


Monday, April 6, 2015

In Which Tuttle Goes Shopping--for a Table Tennis Bat?

Not too much happening around the Seoul Patch, except the mundane. I'm in the midst of reading a book called Queuing for Beginners by a Brit social scientist named Joe Morgan, which reminds us that the whole history and relevance of our culture is tied up in the very acts we consider mundane. So I thought I'd try posting now and then about what they are calling social history.

If you're bored, blame Joe Morgan--but keep reading.

The need to go to the shops has been building, as I have needed a new wallet for a while--please, no jokes about how much money I have and how it's making my wallet burst at the seams...because that's what's really happening. Or, I've had this wallet for nearly seven years, which I think is a good long lifespan for one, and it's falling apart.

I remember I bought it in E-Mart within a few weeks of coming to Korea, because my American one had a little difficulty accepting the slightly larger Korean notes (and this was before the introduction of the 50,000 W note). Anyway, I chose well, because a few of its features became absolute requirements as I searched for a replacement. And I searched in every conceivable market during my last few trips abroad--Japan, Vietnam and Thailand.

The features? 1-an exterior pocket for holding the T-Money (Metro) card; 2-a double-sided ID flap that could hold both my Korean and US ID card; and 3-a fiddly interior compartment to hold "emergency" notes, not to thwart thieves, who could dismantle the thing at will, but to thwart me and keep my appetites in check if I was running low on my "official" funds. It also had a little tab, a quarter inch square of leather on the "top" edge, so you know how to orient it in your pocket. It was a really well-designed thing.

So, in E-Mart, they don't have this model any more (it was a brand called Urban8) or anything with even two of the features together. This weekend, I searched the two floors of Sindorim TechnoMart that have leather goods, and finally found a replacement. The clerk was sleeping, so I took my time, went away, and then came back, looking vaguely uninterested. there were three or four iterations, all of them with leatherwork, so I had to pick the one with something like a world map on it. When I woke the dude up, he wanted, first, 29,000 W, then 19,000 W. With cash discount, I paid 15.


If you found that tedious, blame Joe Morgan. I know this is usually a travel and food blog with occasional school or classroom stuff and sports thrown in, but from now on, get used to "social history"!

Moving on. The imperative reason I went to Technomart was because my mustache was getting all long and straggly. I generally use an electric shaver, which has a little flip-up mustache trimmer thing. Well, that feature ceased to function a couple weeks ago, despite my ability to fix it in the past. Finally, this weekend, I had to get a replacement.

Technomart has hundreds of stalls, quite a lot of them carrying computer and computer related items, cameras, DVD players, gaming systems, and the like. However, there are also appliance stores--fridges, rice cookers, telephones, blow dryers, wet trash receptacles, washing machines ...

There is a corner of the second floor where a couple of guys have shavers. Face, nose hair, and mustache. You have to play them against each other, but I still ended up paying more than I really wanted to, 35,000 W for this item--even if it works amazingly well:


I was pleased to find when I got home that my price was ten to twenty percent less than what I saw with a quick online search, except in Latvia.

The final item I wanted to buy was a table tennis bat--what most folks call a ping-pong paddle. They have those in E-Mart, with prices from 35,000 down to about 9,000. I know what you're wondering: why would Tuttle want a bat, or a paddle?

Here's what happened. Last week, I came back from lunch to find the school principal camped out in my classroom. He wanted to talk to me. I've never worried about this before, because no one at my school speaks English, except perhaps the English teachers, and they are always too busy to play translator.

As a result, this guy has pretty much ignored me for the year and a half he's been at the school, which suited me just fine. And I thought we were on the same page. Well, he changed. And cleverer than he looks, he found a solution to the translator thing, and got this one fourth grade girl, whose English is as good as yours, to come with him and ambush me before I can even brush my teeth.

He is quite insistent that I become a member of the new ping-pong club he's arranging, which will meet on Tuesdays at 2:30. Play for an hour. AND, he wants to spend some time with me, just chatting, with our translator girl and a few of her friends, during this post-eating lunch time once a week.

I'm flabbergasted by this turn of events. But I really don't have a lot of wiggle room, as I am absolutely "free" after lunch on Tuesdays. Now, I have no idea if or what the principal knows about me and ping-pong, but back in the day, I was pretty awesome. We had a PE teacher for a while at my old school who thought she was something, and I crushed her. We also had a student who was top 10 in the country for his age group (about 14-15) who I kept up with pretty well, and even beat a couple times on his bad days.

But that was umpteen years ago.

So, last Tuesday comes along. Mr Principal and our young translators show up and we chat for a while. He gives me a baked sweet potato and I make a show of enjoying it. At 2:30, some other students come along to tell me it's time for ping-pong. The first ten minutes, I'm awful. Not a single ball hits the table. We're playing doubles, which I've never done before, so I get in the way of my partner, or, knee-jerk reaction, hit their ball. I wise up. My serve starts to fall in. By the third game, I have two different serves. (Back in the day, I had about five regular--hand-shake--serves, and three pen-hold serves.) We played five games in an hour, and me and my partner lost four, and won the last one.

At the school, they have six bats, two of them "hand-shake" style, the others pen-hold. All things considered, if I'm going to do this, I want to do it right, so I decide to pick up a quality bat that suits me--terry grip, etc. So I went to E-Mart. They have one "hand-shake" grip, and it's the 9,000 W model. Won't do.

So, I will need to go shopping again for a better quality bat, pips-in, of course, and a terry grip (or probably some other higher-tech material, as, like I said, it's been about twenty years). Meanwhile, I have to take my warm-ups and sneakers since freedom of movement is key. Before you point out that I'm being ridiculous, Mr Principal is wearing his warm-ups! why shouldn't I?

Come to think of it, perhaps I should go shopping for some new, more stylish ones...

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Opening Day 2015

The 2015 KBO baseball season got underway yesterday, and I was there. In fact, I have attended Opening Day every year since I have been in Korea, so this was my seventh. I went to Mok-dong Stadium to support my team, the Nexen Heroes. The Heroes mascot is the best in the league, in my opinion, Mr. Stone Jaw, 턱돌이:


There are 10 teams in the league this year, which has sparked some changes in the rules, as well as an increase in the schedule to 144 games. You can read a pretty decent pre-season round-up at the JoongAng Daily.

One "new thing" I noticed was a concern about "safety" in the stadium, which seemed mainly to be expressed by these stickers put up all over everywhere:


However, at Mok-dong, at least, they still have the Smoking Area:


Baseball is, of course, an American invention, and food favorites at the ballpark include such traditional American fare as hot dogs and fried chicken. This is the case in Korea, too. But other favorites include dried squid, mandu (Korean filled dumplings), kimbap, and new to the stadium this year, "Ciao Chips". "From Italy!"


No visit to the ballpark is complete, at least for the adults, without a beer or two. And Koreans do enjoy themselves some beer. Within a few steps of my gate to the seats were three places to get beer:


There are two new rules this year regarding alcohol, at least theoretically. First, no bottles or cans allowed in the stadium, so the lines are substantially longer as the clerks have to pour the beer into plastic cups (a FIFA rule for ages):


Second is a rule prohibiting its sale after the seventh inning. This was certainly not the case at Mok-dong on Opening Day.as i bought a beer in the tenth inning.

Okay, fans, we have our food, we have our beer. Just one more stop before we go to our seats: we need to fill up our noisemaker things with air. There are several air pumps on the mezzanine with free air:


Time to find our seats. Well, actually, I had general admission tickets, 13,000 W (an Opening Day discount of 4,000 W) so I staked my claim with plastic bags slid over the back of the seats before I went out and took the photos above. Andy van Hekken throws the first pitch at 2:01, a swing and a miss, for the first strike of the season:


The game itself was very exciting. The Heroes, second place last year in both the regular season and in the post-seasonm fell behind the Eagles (perennial bottom-dwellers) 2 - 1 by the bottom of the third, and gave up two more runs by the sixth. But through it all, the fans kept up their high level of cheering, led by cheerleaders and cheer-dudes.


In addition to general team cheers, each batter has his own cheer or song, which the fans know off by heart. Some of them are chants, but others are tunes from pop culture sources, including this year, ABBA--"Waterloo" for, if I remember, 이택근, Ee Taek-geun. But Waterloo has three syllables, so you could use it for virtually any Korean.

Anyway, the Heroes fought their way back into the game with two in the bottom of No. 7, and the leveler in the eighth. They have always had strong offense, but quality defense was a long time coming. They still slip back into those patterns, as, for example, what would have been a nice sliding catch by the left fielder popped out of his glove. A couple innings later, SS and 3B performed a textbook Alphonse and Gaston, wherein they collided over a pop fly, the short stop knocking the ball from the third baseman's glove. Both were costly errors, though typically, neither was counted as such by the official scorer.

The game went to extra innings, and the supporters kept up their constant singing/chanting/cheering.


This was the first extra-inning game of the season, ad it went the distance, as twelve innings is the max in KBO rules. Finally, with one out in the bottom, Seo Geon-chang 서건창 soloed a walk-off homer. He is Nexen's lead-off hitter and was last year's KBO MVP, the first player to break the 200-hit barrier, with 201.

Here is my hero, 턱돌이, cheating on me with some other fans in celebrating the 5 - 4 win!


And finally, a shot of the scoreboard: