Monday, February 14, 2011

I have arrived!

"I shall return" (MacArthur) to blogging more about Korea when I get a moment. King Lee, as they dressed me in the airport "only for foreigners" cultural area, loved that country.

The Lee Dynasty lasted a New York minute. I had a choice of wedding clothes, ancient sporting clothes, and common clothes. I chose the king get-up.

For now, though, I have arrived in China and I want to write about this place that I will call home for a year. My provided apartment is palatial (no sarcasm) and I feel a bit sheepish about it in a nation where people reputedly live four or five people to a room with some regularity.

I spent 300 yuan ($45) at the grocery store, which has more vegetables and meats, more tea and more varieties of household goods than you can imagine in its three stories. For that, I purchased a Thermos (necessary because it is -11F here at 5:40AM); some fermented duck eggs (which I thought were uncooked from the packaging and smell fowl [sic(k)]); a big bag of oatmeal packets to last me a month, which unfortunately have wheat in them because I bought the cheap kind instead of the "dear" kind (clearly the one clerk in the store who could speak the King's English learned it from an Irishman or a UK native); a really big orange (aside: if you ever get to Korea, try a Jeju orange. They are delicious and the Koreans like when you use that word to describe their food); some toilet paper (because there was none in the apartment when I got here, but I am saving up material for a potty post later. Don't hold your nose!); three onions (wrapped together with a bar code so that I did not need a translator); two peppers (ditto); half a pumpkin (ditto); mushrooms (ditto); a lemon; some Tupperware; a liter of Tropicana; five to seven pounds of rice (I dunno how much because it is all Greek to me); and some raisins. I tried to buy a head of garlic and some potatoes, but I had not been aware that I needed to bring them to a clerk before checkout and have them weighed, bagged and tagged. They set them aside. No pictures allowed in the grocery store.

Here is a picture of my kitchen with the egg half unwrapped on my cutting board:

You might be interested in a different Alex's take on the century egg. I am hoping to find somebody who would like five of them, frankly.

What is difficult to tell about this is that the tops of the counters are at about crotch height...which is standard here.

Yesterday, just like today, I also awoke around 5:30 AM to the sound of somebody hocking a lugee in the street outside my window. I watched a copy of Welcome to Dongmakgol (2005) first thing and then went out to buy a 30-foot Ethernet cable at the store so that I could Skype, blog, Facebook, read the news and email, etc. The streets look intermittently like somebody died on them or threw up in them from the red goo and shredded yellowish trash that the fireworks leave behind. This substance has frozen into the narrow, unsanded/unsalted sidewalks and alleys. Sidewalk is slang for parking space and you truly take your life into your own hands every time you step off the curb. Evening before last, I nearly got hit by a man  who had no front light on his moped. I was standing right near three ceremonial howitzers that they shoot off for special occasions--like the opening of a new store. The fireworks will continue for three more days and end in a raging firefight on the night of the 17th.

It is Monday morning, but as David P. (the Director of Studies) told a gathering of the new and returning faculty at a company supper last night, every day here is the same in terms of commerce. "There are no blue laws." Ha. Right. One would not expect that a Sabbath would be offered in a nation whose Constitution says:

Article 36. Citizens of the People's Republic of China enjoy freedom of religious belief. No state organ, public organization or individual may compel citizens to believe in, or not to believe in, any religion; nor may they discriminate against citizens who believe in, or do not believe in, any religion. The state protects normal religious activities. No one may make use of religion to engage in activities that disrupt public order, impair the health of citizens or interfere with the educational system of the state. Religious bodies and religious affairs are not subject to any foreign domination.
It does leave one wondering if there is any rest. I have seen only one man with no legs and a tin cup. It is unusual to be unemployed and the hustle 'n bustle of this neighborhood are evidence that I could find everything I need in a four block radius, including a street of car washes and a full block of wedding planning and wedding photo places. If the growing list of places I want to see in this amazingly diverse nation did not exist, I would be content to walk between the three schools where I will teach and to the restaurants, massage parlors, acupuncturists, and shops that all lie a stone's throw from my window.

Here is some footage as I flew into Changchun airport.

Truly the worst meal that I have had since I hit the road was at Mr. Lee's (pictured below), which is a sort of fast-food place directly across the main avenue from our school. I say "sort of" because they come and take your order, but it is quick service which is evidence that they start preparing your meal hours before you arrive. The pork, which Andrew of St. Louis (MO) and I both ordered, was like mush. Andrew and I had an afternoon of setting up his computer and playing Scrabble.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

A Bit of History

From the New York Times in 1911:
There were immense bonfires to-day [Feb. 9] at Changchun, where 800 corpses were being burned. This is last week’s accumulation of plague victims, whose bodies were unburied owing to the fact that all the gravediggers have died from plague. The epidemic is now in its most virulent stage at Changchun. The total of deaths yesterday was 140. The whole of northern Manchuria is apparently in the throes of the epidemic. Russia has declared a military quarantine, inhibiting the Chinese from entering the Maritime Province, and Japan has establish military quarantines along the whole accessible portion of the Corean [sic] border.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

P.S. I just did jimjilbang and there are no pictures

Good night. ;)

How I spent 27,500 on lunch without going broke...

I am in Seoul for two more days. This is the land of the red bean and every fish including cod, where the Lees speak only to Kims, and the Kims speak only to God.

My tour to the DMZ tomorrow was shortened because the North and South Koreans will be there having negotiations so I have put it off until Thursday.

Today I climbed Namsam to the N Seoul Tower. Lunch was amazing and I know that lots of you wanted me to take lots of food pictures. It does really make you wonder why Chinese and Japanese food have caught on, but Korean food is still a rarity in the States.

27,500 Wan ($24.96) was a small fortune for a meal. Most meals have cost around 7,000 Wan.

After a very long lunch looking out across Seoul and the Han River, I decided not to hoof it any more and spent an hour trying to get to the Korea War Memorial by bus and subway, which is really not far from the bottom of the hill.

The very first thing I did at the Korea War Memorial was find my uncle's name. It was easy, because the thousands of names are listed alphabetically by last name and further divided by nation and state/province.

Here is a picture of First Lieutenant George Cabot Lee Jr.'s name and the Massachusetts men who gave their lives more than fifty-nine years ago.

This is really one of the most amazing museums to which I have ever been. It is exciting with great artifacts and great architecture. It is designed well and full of great videos (which you can watch in Traditional Chinese, Simplified Chinese, English or (of course) Korean.

Let's pray for all the cherished memories of the souls of all the defenders of the Republic of Korea.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Yum So Yum: Second to One

Aside from the fact that the old Bill Clinton--the one who loved to come to New Hampshire so he could eat at Dunkin' Donuts not the one who is a virtual vegetarian--would be entirely pleased to find either a DD or Mister Donut on every block, the food here is fantastic.

I had four meals today. If I was not so relatively tall and my hair did not stop so abruptly above my ankles, I could be a hobbit, enjoying breakfast, lunch, tea, supper, and late night snack.

Isaiah cooked potatoes, bacon, and scrambled eggs for me and the other two CouchSurfers, Mathieu and Felix. Mathieu is a Frenchman (boy?) employed in Beijing and Felix is a German, seeking employment in Beijing. They both are here during the Lunar New Year. Isaiah grew up in the tough part of town in Bakersfield, California--also one of the most polluted cities in America. He has hosted about fifty people through and is a true believer in its mission. He works at a Christian church across the street from his palatial flat. We have had some interesting discussions about the death penalty. He likes to debate.

Felix stayed behind, but Mathieu and I hit the road at about 10 AM. We walked to the subway through the Nambu Market and went to Gyeonbokgung Palace. Gyeongbokgung is a royal palace located in northern Seoul. First constructed in 1394 and rebuilt in 1867, it was the main and largest palace of the Five Grand Palaces built by the Joseon Dynasty. The name means "Palace of Shining Happiness." It was impressive for its size and for the backdrop of mountains. The changing of the guard was fun, too.

Here are my pictures of the pomp and circumstance.
The Day Shift includes a wide array of traditional soldiers, drummers, and even a time messenger.

Fourteen flags total during both the day and night shifts.

Member of the royal military band or Chwitagun.

Two regular guards or Gapsa.

After this, Mathieu and I walked South for a while and had wonderful soup and kimchi for lunch with "cider," which was a Sprite-like beverage definitely not derived from apples. We climbed a steep foothill of the big mountain that has the Namsan Tower, where I will go when the sun comes out. We wanted to find the big Catholic Cathedral, but found various other landmarks instead, including Seoul Station.

The old Seoul Station (Hangul: 구서울역사; Hanja: 舊서울驛舍), originally named Keijo (Gyeongseong) Station and designed by Tsukamoto Yasushi of Tokyo Imperial University, was finished on November, 1925. This red brick building, designed in an eclectic style, features a Byzantine-style central dome and a centralized and symmetrical layout. The station was renamed "Seoul Station" in 1947.
I boarded the incredibly efficient subway (line 3 of 6) and headed to Anguk Station. From there I walked to the Second Best Place in Seoul to meet Sonna Moon, an Exeter classmate of mine who grew up here and knew just what to order. I had their specialty soup and some medicinal tea:

At Seoureseo Duljjaero Jalhaneunjip 서울서둘째로잘하는집 – translated “The Second Best in Seoul” – they feature a dessert called 단팥죽 or Danpatjuk, or sweet red bean porridge (단팥죽). This is basically a sweet and hot pudding. The with a consistency of a thick soup. There’s large chunks of soft chestnuts to compliment the heavy taste of the red bean pastey gruel. It is sweet and dark red in color-- a great afternoon tea treat. (Source: The Thirsty Pig)

After this late afternoon snack, I proceeded to dinner with Paul Lim and his son. Paul took us by car to his son's favorite Korean restaurant south of the city. It was delicious--two kinds of fish. The food just kept coming. It was mostly side dishes of egg white and egg yolk, bean sprouts that would make an artist's palette salivate, and a meat substance that was nearly identical to pemmican.
Alexander Lee and Paul Lim, who sells clothespins. In the background, that is the frozen issue of a spring in the garden of the suburban restaurant where we ate.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

The Escapee Visits Alcatraz

The flora of Alcatraz was spectacular. No wonder the American Indian Movement wanted to reclaim it.

Happy Valentine's Day!

Jakob is a student at Berkeley, who is taking classes with George Lakoff and reading Cialdini. I joined him and his friend visiting from Denmark, their native land, for the guided tour of America's most infamous prison. Historically, it was unusual to wear earphones in solitary confinement at Alcatraz!

Members of the National Park Service were preparing the sail on this junk to welcome the Year of the Rabbit.
My moment in solitary confinement was a lot more fun for me than it sounds like Bradley Manning's stay has been.

Two ordinary cells at Alcatraz.

Hyde Street Pier

The control room at Alcatraz to which all staff reported if there was a suspected escapee.

My favorite window at Alcatraz.

Play time. This is the yard behind me where inmates would play and gamble and devise their plans to hide spoons in cans of cement paint.
The junk had a large seal swimming about behind it, not visible in this picture.

A picture is worth 1,000 words.

I am a proud Charter Member of the National Museum of the American Indian (Smithsonian). It was wonderful to visit this important spot and you could feel the energy of the Oakes and Banks families much more than the energy of the Al Capones, who also "lived" here for a period.

Is there a city with more breathtaking skylines and bridges? No, New York, you hold no candle.