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Sunday, May 31, 2009

Funny how sudden death can turn a mortal into a god

Koreans collectively mourned this week as former President Roh Moo-hyun was cremated following his suicide last Saturday. Even after his funeral on Friday, memorials are still set up around the city to honor the popular ex-leader. 

Walking toward Deoksu Palace today, I noticed a line of police vans and officers queuing around the block. It's a fairly common sight, especially during the weekends when people protest everything from Lee Myung-bak's administration to relations with China. 

I soon realized that the police were there to observe, if not regulate, a Roh memorial. A line of around two dozen people stretched back from the tent and a security guard carefully monitored who approached the altar, adorned with offerings of fruit and flowers. (It was nothing like the several-hundred people gatherings I've been reading about in the newspaper.)

As a group of young girls approached, they first stood silently (praying, maybe?) and then, in unison, got on their hands and knees to bow. Then they rose and backed slowly away, not turning their backs on the altar until they had retreated a significant distance. 

It was interesting and yet bizarre. Certainly public mourning is expected when a president dies and Roh was popular as a pro-democracy leader, yet to deify him seems to take it a step too far. 

The police presence also fascinates me. There have been several clashes between police and mourners this week, with many mourners arguing that the increased police presence is a power play by increasingly-unpopular President Lee.

I don't know what the truth is but the president can't be happy to read reports that many Koreans believe political pressure from Lee's administration led to Roh's suicide. And now to see such a public outcry at his death -- Roh has been turned into a martyr in the eyes of some Koreans -- does nothing to improve Lee's standing with his citizens. 

The memorial would have been touching was it not for the overwhelming media presence. Although very quiet and respectful, there were numerous camera crews and photographers there to document every person who approached the altar. The photographers in particular moved in barely a foot from the mourners, giving them no personal space, and really ruining what would otherwise have been a serene moment. (And yes, I realize that whipping out my camera didn't help but I figured if these men with huge, high-powered lenses could stand around taking hundreds of shot, I could take one or two pictures with my point-and-click.)

Saturday, May 30, 2009

How far would you go to help your family?

The foreign guy-young Asian female pairing is incredibly common here. When you see a couple that includes a foreigner, the odds are good that the female half will be Asian. This phenomena is interesting to me because often (although not always) the man is older and somewhat unattractive, while the woman is 20-something and stunning. 

Talking to my Korean friends about this, they say that marrying a foreigner is a ticket to a better life. There's a stereotype that American men have a lot of money, even military men, so it's a way to provide for your family and possibly relocate everyone to the USA or Canada.

There have been a couple recent encounters with these pairings that have left me feeling uncomfortable.

I was in Itaewon recently, sitting outside at a coffee shop to enjoy my book and iced coffee in the sunshine. Five US military men were standing on the sidewalk talking and laughing together. At first I couldn't hear their conversation but then one said loudly, "I can introduce you to some Filipino girls if you want."

It's common knowledge that a lot of Filipino women -- who call themselves "juicy girls" -- hang out in front of the US bases and try to score dates with the soldiers. They're not prostitutes per se because they are hoping for marriage, but many of them will do whatever is necessary to get a man's attention. 

There are even "juicy bars" where men can go and secure a date for the night for around 100,000 won. It's a big business. And one the US military is trying to crack down on, forbidding soldiers from visiting bars and clubs known to encourage prostitution.

Later that day, still in Itaewon, I heard an American man talking loudly behind me. I couldn't see him but his booming voice guaranteed I overheard his entire conversation, which was about money. He made $55,000 in 2008 and none of it was taxable. He also had $4500 in income from a US job and with the exchange rate..... 

The guy kept going on and on about his finances and I wondered who he was talking to since I never heard anyone reply. Was he on his cell phone talking with his accountant?

Finally I got up to leave and saw the man sitting directly behind me, and at the same table as a young Filipino girl. He was still rambling on about his job and she just sat there, not smiling or saying anything, but staring straight ahead. He seemed completely oblivious to her obvious disinterest. 

What motivates these women? Maybe I'd feel differently if I could identify with their situations -- immigrants, living in poor conditions, eager to provide for their families. But I see these couples almost daily and it just makes me sad to think that they might get money but will probably never find happiness.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

ice cream for dinner!

To start on a completely random note, I've seen three teenage girls in the past month or so wearing this shirt. Breaks my little bleeding-heart-liberal heart.:

Tomorrow begin the mandatory daily health checks. There's some sort of virus going around campus so a lot of us show swine flu symptoms -- aches, congestion, cough, sore throat, fatigue. Makes me wonder how they're going to determine who needs to be tested and who just has the common cold. 

Or maybe we all have swine flu!

I know I'm truly sick when I have absolutely zero appetite. That's a once-in-a-lifetime occurrence. Dinner was ice cream from 7-11 and that helped my throat a little, but since I can't taste anything it wasn't too exciting.

Interesting: if a foreign teacher leaves the country, she isn't allowed to have contact with students until one week after her return. Melissa gets back from China on Sunday and has to work in the office for a week, a semi-quarantine. I'm not sure if these regulations will still be in place next month when I get back from Australia.

Eagerly awaiting a care package from my Mom filled with contacts and allergy meds. It's the little things that make a day better when your week has been as crap as this past one. Ex-President suicide, North Korean nukes, swine flu -- and there are still two days left!

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

How do you avoid "crowded places" when you live in Seoul?

UPDATE: North Korea has officially threatened military action against the South, claiming to no longer be bound by the 1953 truce: "The Korean Peninsula is bound to immediately return to a state of war from a legal point of view, and so our revolutionary armed forces will go over to corresponding military actions," North Korea said through its news agency." 

Between swine flu and North Korean nukes, living in Seoul is going to kill me. 

Even as the North continues to fire rockets, people here are relatively unconcerned. Koreans have lived with constant threats from Pyongyang for 50 years now. Until bombs start falling on Korean soil, no ons sees any reason to panic. So thank you all for your thoughtful notes and emails but seriously, no need to worry. I'm perfectly safe -- and just in case, the State Department has my contact info and will be happy to evacuate me from the country, for the minor price of a same-day plane ticket. Ah, bureaucracy. 

If you're living in Korea (or another potentially volatile country -- I'm looking at you, Alia) and not registered, do it now. It just takes a minute and is the only way the US government will know you're in the country. If they don't know you're here, they can't help you.  

What people are taking much more seriously here is the threat of swine flu. There have been a rise in cases among foreign English teachers, leading my school to take precautionary measures. Students have been canceling and some local schools are even temporarily closed for fear of swine flu (must admit, I wouldn't mind a few days of mandatory vacation!). 

Among the new regulations:

- Have each teacher's temperature checked by the nurse every day
- Installation of new hand sanitization machines and germicide soaps.

And, my personal favorite:

- Try not to go to crowded places where you could contract swine flu.

Um... we live in SEOUL, one of the largest cities in the world. There aren't any uncrowded places here. Even mountaintops are jammed with people and it's not unusual to encounter a backup as you wind up the trails.

So unless we all plan on sitting in our apartments until the whole thing blows over, that last piece of advice might be a little difficult to follow.

(I do have this nagging fear in the back of my mind that my allergies, which are KILLER this week, might present as swine flu symptoms to the school nurse and lead to my quarantine. The symptoms are virtually identical!)

Monday, May 25, 2009

Rocket Watch 2009 continues...

It's still not clear how South Korea, the United States and Japan will respond to North Korea's successful nuclear test today, but one thing's for sure: there's never a shortage of crazy news from this peninsula. 

After all, The Washington Post reports that the U.S. has confirmed North Korea has "enough weapons-grade plutonium to make six to eight bombs." 

So... that's exciting. 

In other Korean news (albeit infinitely less important than imminent death -slash- possible radiation poisoning):

- Koreans use cell phones for everything. 

- Milan, Paris, New York, Seoul

- Smart people doing a smart thing to save the environment. 

- You can get anything delivered here, any time of the day or night. 

- Busan now boasts the largest department store in the world. 

- Any country that has brawling politicians is worth living in, or at least visiting. 

- Old Boy was seriously disturbing but brilliant. If Thirst is half as good, it's worth watching. 

Sunday, May 24, 2009

COEX and Coraline

After having a kind of rough week, complete with the early symptoms of a cold/flu and intense knee pain -- overuse, I guess, but going up stairs is murder -- I was ready for a day off. And what better way to fill that day than with food and a good movie!

I felt horrible last night and didn't sleep much, so I skipped church this morning to get a little more rest. You know that feeling where all your bones ache for no apparent reason? That's what my entire night was like. Terrible. 

I met Karen a couple of hours later and we headed to COEX for lunch and window-shopping. COEX is the largest shopping center in Seoul and boasts everything from an aquarium to a convention center, plus tons of amazing shops and restaurants. It's crazy how similar malls are around the world -- seriously, a mall in Korea has the same feel as one in England, the USA or the Philippines. There were even Taylor Swift posters plastered all over the walls of one music store. 

We went to my favorite Mexican place for lunch (it's hidden in Hyundai Department Store, for anyone searching for the Gangnam location). Much smaller than its Jonggak branch, Tomatillo was still dishing out fresh and yummy food. Burritos > anything. I ate way too much but ah well, it's the weekend! One day of eating a massive amount of food won't kill anyone. 

The next couple of hours we just walked around COEX and later moved on to Apgujeong, the so-called "Beverly Hills of Seoul." Lots of fancy shops, fancy cars and fancy restaurants. But we weren't in Apgujeong to shop -- instead, we wanted to see Coraline, which was just released in Korea this week. 

It's only showing at handful of theatres in Seoul and most are showing a dubbed version. I've never understood the point of dubbing movies. It distracts so much from the acting and plot in general; at least subtitles are relatively unobtrusive. After the first few minutes of any movie, you forget you're reading subtitles and just settle in to enjoy the movie. (Of course, there the English-language movies annoyingly subtitled in the USA -- case in point, the beautiful Israeli film The Band's Visit, which had small parts in Arabic and Hebrew but was largely English.)

Anyway, the CGV in Apgujeong was one of the few showing Coraline in English and 3-D, so we headed there for a mid-afternoon showing. I've wanted to see this since it opened in the USA -- Neil Gaiman is such an artistic and literary genius, and the entire process of stop-motion animation fascinates me. Henry Selick, who also directed the classic The Nightmare Before Christmas, did a stunning job on this film. 

Quite scary for a children's movie, much more so than I expected, but an absolutely compelling 100 minutes. Plus, any movie featuring Dawn French and Jennifer Saunders in starring roles is the kind of movie I want to see (Neil Gaiman said his only input in casting was to demand that French and Saunders voice Forcible and Spink).

Ooh, I almost forgot -- Auntie Anne's pretzels -- you know, "mall pretzels" -- exist in Korea! There's a location in Hyundai Department Store, conveniently near Tomatillo, so Karen and I each snuck a pretzel into the movie. So delicious!

(Food for thought: one original pretzel from Auntie Anne's packs a whopping 370 calories. Just something to think about next time you're cruising around Montgomery Mall and feeling a little peckish.)

Back to work tomorrow and guess who's returning? Orphans....

Saturday, May 23, 2009


Big news today from the peninsula, as former S. Korean President Roh commits suicide:

Former South Korean President Roh Moo-Hyun committed suicide by leaping to his death from a hill behind his house, the state-run Yonhap news agency reported Saturday.

Yonhap cited a former presidential aide, acting as the family's lawyer, who said Roh left a suicide note for his family.

Roh, 62, had gone hiking near his home with an aide around 6:30 a.m. Saturday, Yonhap said.

He was found later with head injuries, and died after being taken to a hospital in Busan, police said. A hospital spokesman declined to comment.

Yonhap said Roh's death came amid an investigation into a bribery scandal that has tarnished his reputation.

Roh, who served as president from 2003 to 2008, and his family had allegedly received $6 million in bribes from a businessman, Yonhap said.

Roh said he learned about the payments only after he left office and that some of them were legitimate investments, Yonhap reported.


Public reaction to Roh's death varies. I'm especially intrigued by the person who believed "death was the best choice for him." Interesting considering how taboo suicide is in this culture.:

"I'm heartbroken. I can't imagine how much pain he was in," Park Kyung-hee said. "I think death was the best choice for him so that those close to him didn't have to suffer."

Jang Soo-Dong, an engineer, said the media, "and prosecutors and others who fed them with unconfirmed allegations" should be held partly responsible.

But businessman Park Hae-Heon said Mr Roh should have "resorted to the legal system to prove what was right and wrong".


Also in the news, South Korea has confirmed its fifth case of swine flu, this time from an American English instructor who recently arrived in the country. Doesn't make me feel too good about my current sore throat/achy bones situation. 

Even a little swine flu can't bring me down right now. Tomorrow is finally a day off and will be jam-packed with fun activities. Can't wait. 

Friday, May 22, 2009

Being a celebrity, kind people and pee

Walking to Homeplus (think Target) this afternoon, I ran into about 100 Boy and Girl Scouts. Thinking nothing of it, I continued listening to the latest "This American Life" podcast on my iPod when suddenly...

"Erin teacher! Erin teacher!"

Apparently these kids were at my school at some point, although I naturally didn't remember them. A few faces looked familiar but considering that we get hundreds of different students every week, there's no way to recognize each and every one. 

Some of them had hilarious reactions, as if they wondered what I was doing out of school and in the "real world." It's like the letter I got from a student asking, "What are you doing now? I know, you're making cupcakes." I guess when I was young I also thought my teachers' entire lives revolved around the classroom.

It's funny how they all say the same thing: "Hello! How are you?" If you ask most kids anything beyond "how are you?" they're suddenly stunned into silence. 

Even kids I haven't taught constantly stop me to say "hello," or shout it out from across the street. The funniest are the ones who come running up to say hi, tell me their English name, then run away when I say anything. It's a game to them.

(Interesting fact from Wikipedia: North Korea is one of only six of the world's independent countries that does not have a Scout program.)


Homeplus > E-Mart. Maybe it's the Tesco connection. As if it wasn't evident enough when I realized today that they sell a bunch of essential foods that E-Mart neglects -- almonds at a reasonable price, a couple kinds of beans, nicer produce -- one salesgirl made the final decision.

As I stood staring at the bananas, trying to scope out which were the best and why some were exponentially more expensive than others, a girl about my age walked over from her spot hawking watermelon.

In perfect, almost-unaccented English, she said, "These bananas are too expensive. Look over here." She pointed around the corner where, sure enough, there were more bananas at about half the price of the ones on display. 

I can't imagine that happening at a store in the US, to have an employee point you in the direction of a bargain without a special request. It was almost like Kris Kringle sending parents to Gimbels but, you know, with bananas.

Or maybe I just look poor and she decided to cut me a break. Either way, thank you anonymous shopgirl.


There are a few warning signs a student is too young to attend an all-day English camp outside of her normal environment:

- Not being able to climb the stairs or get into a chair without teacher assistance. 

- Looking vaguely frightened of the English teacher and choosing instead to sit on the Korean teacher's lap. 

- Peeing on the floor in the middle of class. And then just standing calmly in a puddle of her own urine.

- Walking through said pee puddle. And not just one student. Multiple. 

Guess which one happened to me today? If you say "all of the above," you'd be correct. 

Ah, kindies. Why are you so cute and yet so difficult to teach? 


You know those days when it seems like the world is stacked against you and nothing can be accomplished? 

Read this. It shows that anything is possible with a little hard work and a lot of self-motivation.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Is it wrong to tell a student to "deal with it"?

Today among my four successive Cooking classes, there were three criers. All boys, all crying because someone said something mean to them in Korean. With none of them did I ever figure out the whole story or even learn who made the bad comment -- it was just a mess of blubbering tears and, at one point, a heated fistfight ending with me physically restraining a boy in a corner for 5 minutes. 

Which leads me to my quandary of the day: how do you (nicely) tell a child to get over it? I don't know if American kids are this emotional, but so many of my students here get upset about the slightest thing. 

Don't let him sit next to his friend in class? Sobbing.

Tell a girl she needs to wait in line to get stamps and not cut in front of everyone? Hysterics. 

Refuse to allow a student to run to the water fountain minutes into the period, after he just had a 15-minute break before class? Temper tantrum. 

And then there's the always-popular, "He said .... !" Well, I'm sorry if he was mean, truly I am, but one comment constantly reduces students to tears. Meanwhile I'm trying to run the rest of the class, and it's a struggle consoling one kid while simultaneously teaching a lesson to the other 14 students. It's just not possible. 

It's come to the point where we teachers can identify real tears -- when a student is genuinely upset about something -- versus those put on more for show than anything. I hope I don't sound like a terrible teacher to say that sometimes, when I can tell that it's more about presentation than actual emotion, I ignore the crier. He gets a pat on the back, a quick "Are you okay?" and then it's back to the lesson. 

What is it with children? I'd hate it if my kids acted this way, always whining and bursting into tears. Have students not learned to deal with emotion any other way? You try to tell a kid to walk away -- if someone is being mean, why are you still standing next to that person? -- but they'd rather sit on their chair and sulk. 

It gets frustrating. By last period today, I was so ready to run out of the classroom and dump these kids off at dinner. I don't know what it will take to toughen these students up but I hope it happens soon. There's enough to deal with just controlling 15 students for 45 minutes and hoping they learn something. I don't want to also be mopping up puddles of tears. 


My day wasn't helped by the plethora of spoiled, hyperactive boys that are dominating classes this week. I told one boy three times, "Stand up and sit over there," trying to even out the tables. 

He looked me right in the eyes and said, "No." Three times. 

Our students this week are from a wealthy school in Gangnam (south of the Han River) which explains why some of them have an entitled attitude. I just can't believe the nerve of a student to flat-out refuse to do what a teacher says.


Tomorrow is Friday and this group goes home, then I'm working Saturday but with different students. Weekend, come quickly!

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Arab Cultural Festival: The Day the Hummus Died

The minute I got a message from my friend Ruth about Seoul's Arab Cultural Festival, I immediately replied YES. I'm not Arab (someone asked me that when I mentioned attending the festival) but I love Middle Eastern food so naturally, anywhere there might be hummus or falafel, you're going to find me.

When the organizers advertised a souk, I pictured tents filled with goodies to bring back to my apartment -- interesting crafts, maybe some silk scarves and, of course, lots of yummy food and spices.

Ruth, Karen and I arrived at the National Theater of Korea at 6:00, two hours after the market opened but also two hours before it was due to close. We found a long line stretching to the food tent, which advertised free Lebanese snacks, and settled in to wait. Less than 10 minutes later, we were at the head of the line only to be told that they were out of food. Sorry, better luck next time.

To say we were disappointed doesn't begin to cover it. Even as we walked from the subway to the theatre, we imagined carting home tubs of tabbouleh, sacks of spices and packages of pita. Nothing. Nada. Zip.

Well, there was a postage stamp-sized square of baklava. Better than nothing.

It still cracks me up to see people eating non-Asian food with chopsticks.

The festival consisted of five tents arranged in a semi-circle in the theatre parking lot. One tent had food (or, advertised having food), another gave away copies of the Arabic-Korean Koran; you could buy some interesting crafts in one tent; the other two were full of do-it-yourself calligraphy and henna.

Dancers performed in the center of it all and many of the major Arab countries were represented by people in traditional dress -- Saudi Arabia, Morrocco, Lebanon, Qatar, U.A.E., Oman, Sudan....

The highlight of the night was a traditional display of song and dance in a space-age open-air ampitheatre by a Qatari performance group. Their songs ranged from pearl diving chants (during which they showed incredible video footage of men diving for pearls sans scuba gear) to songs accompanying a bride's move to her new husband's home.

Each song had a different meaning and tone, yet there was a strong common thread among them all. It was fascinating to see how well Qataris have mantained their sense of tradition and history. The entire show was simply done with basic instruments and powerful Arabic chanting.

While the night didn't quite live up to its potential, it nevertheless a fun outing and a chance to learn about new cultures. Talking to the man next to me, who was from Beiruit, struck up a strong desire to visit that part of the world. It's somewhere that has always intimidated me (let's face it, you don't hear much positive news from the Middle East these days) but has also been the subject of so many travel daydreams.

I don't know when I'll get there -- maybe a couple of years, at best -- but Lebanon has quickly moved to near the top of my must-visit list. Anyone else?

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

4-19 Cemetery

My new favorite neighborhood hangout is a cemetery.

Let me explain.

On all of the road signs near my house, one of the local landmarks is the 4-19 Cemetery. For the past seven months, I've assumed it was a military cemetery to honor soldiers who died in some kind of April 14 attack. But last week, one of my coworkers said that he visited the cemetery and discovered that it's also a park filled with trees, picnicking families and benches to sit on and relax.

You have no idea how novel benches, much less full-scale parks, are here. Seoul doesn't do parks, with the notable exception of Olympic Park, so there are very few places to sit outside that don't cost money. Most cafés and coffee shops don't even have outdoor seating so really if you want to sit outside on a beautiful spring day, you're pretty much out of luck.

These men were hilarious to listen to -- they sat talking for at least two hours (the entire time I was there) and I ended up sitting on a bench behind them. I couldn't understand their conversation but they kept laughing and gesticulating wildly to make a point. Very sweet.

But the 4-19 Cemetery is full of places to sit and people-watch. No walking or sitting on the grass, which seems to be a Korean taboo since it's banned pretty much everywhere, but I'm willing to accept that.

An amazing place for people-watching -- notice the classic Ajumma visors here.

The cemetery and memorial honor 224 protesters killed during the April Revolution, a dark period in Korea's history. The 1960s were a time of tumult and social unrest in Korea, as in the rest of the world; as African-Americans marched for civil rights in the United States and students went on strike in France, just a few years earlier Koreans were calling for a democratic government.

University students held a large pro-democracy rally on April 19, 1960, calling for the resignation of the president (who they believed rigged the election in his favor). Soldiers, seeing the large number of students, fired on the unarmed crowd.

I couldn't capture the scale here but picture this many graves times two (this is just one half of the graveyard) and you'll get an idea of how many protesters were killed that day.

The problems didn't stop in Korea after this tragedy -- a decade later, the head of the Korean Central Intelligence Agency assassinated then-President Park Chung-hee, claiming to do it "for the democracy of this country. Nothing more, nothing less."

Despite its sad purpose, the cemetery is now part of a beautiful park. There were a few visiting school groups and the contrast in my mind between the always-somber Arlington National Cemetery was startling. The actual graves are set back a bit from the park itself but there were lots of noisy students running around laughing and shouting, with no one seeming to request respect for the graves or even trying to control the kids.


It's strange to say that I look forward to going back to the cemetery but graves aside, it's really a lovely place to spend an hour or two. A short 15-minute walk from my house is a quiet oasis. How can I not return?

I plan to spend many more sunny days doing exactly this.

Memorial pavilion


Family grave

The full 4-19 memorial

Monday, May 18, 2009

Monday Musings

- The lost art of reading aloud

Reading aloud recaptures the physicality of words. To read with your lungs and diaphragm, with your tongue and lips, is very different than reading with your eyes alone. The language becomes a part of the body, which is why there is always a curious tenderness, almost an erotic quality, in those 18th- and 19th-century literary scenes where a book is being read aloud in mixed company. The words are not mere words. They are the breath and mind, perhaps even the soul, of the person who is reading.

- Maybe Lauren and I should rethink our dream of moving to Seattle and opening a bakery-bookshop.

- This must be the most challenging athletic event in the world.

- Let's all embrace the "weisure" lifestyle.

- Which leads into this story about the future of the American workplace

- I don't know how I missed this fantastic Maureen Dowd column on the extinction of the American newspaper: 

'For people who still love print, who like to hold it, feel it, rustle it, tear stuff out, do their I. F. Stone thing, it’s important to remember that people are living longer,' he said. 'That’s the most hopeful thing you can say about print journalism, that old people are living longer.'

- TIME Magazine asks if zombies exist and concludes that yes, yes they do.

- Eurovision is absolutely fascinating, definitely worth moving to Europe for. 

- A terrible paradox: sometimes the poorer you are, the more things cost

- What to do with South Korea's "ghost" airport.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

The Omnivore's Dilemma; or, Erin's Dilemma

I was hesitant to even put this in my blog because generally declaring something to a public forum means I have to stick with it and can't meaninglessly throw the idea away when I get bored. But maybe being accountable to my millions of readers -- by which I mean mostly Lauren, Joyce and possibly one of my parents -- I'll be forced to commit to a decision for more than five seconds.

I'm going to try vegetarianism. There hasn't been one incident I can point too that sent me in this direction but more a combination of factors. I went more than a decade happily eating only fish, turkey and chicken but could never make the full switch. Living in Korea, a country where everyone seems to love that disgusting meat on a stick, this could be a crazy decision but it also seems like the safest bet to a) actually know what I'm eating and b) keep eating semi-healthfully.

Reading books like The Omnivore's Dilemma and Animal, Vegetable, Miracle completely opened my eyes about the food industry and the more I read about how animals are raised and slaughtered, the more I'm turned off. Add to that the way I see meat treated here in Korea, with uncooked meat sometimes kept out in the hot sun for hours or sitting in a pile on the sidewalk. That can't be sanitary. 

This isn't something I'm going to be incredibly strict about, especially once I move back to the US. If there's no other option than sure, I'll eat some chicken, and I definitely want a piece of turkey at Thanksgiving (my God, I've missed Thanksgiving two years in a row, there's no way I'm passing up on the next one!). But at least for now, this seems like a good move for me.

(EDIT: More accurately, I'm going to be a flexitarian -- "a vegetarian who occasionally eats meat.")

So, yea, that's pretty much the news from my corner of the world. This could be a disastrous, short-lived decision in a country that doesn't seem to have a lot of non-meat protein. I found a recipe to make hummus substituting peanut butter for tahini so I bought a can of outrageously-priced chickpeas at the foreign grocery store, but eggs are probably my new, protein-rich best friend. 

Let's see how long this phase lasts before a massive chicken craving hits.

Tomorrow's a day off to compensate for working Saturday -- hopefully the weather clears up enough to get outside for awhile  (it poured all day yesterday and today was chilly and overcast). There's an interesting cemetery near my house that apparently has nice park, so I'm curious to explore that.

**Anyone have good and protein-full veggie recipes? Remember that I live in a country where it's hard/expensive to find a lot of foreign goods so the fewer ingredients, the better. There aren't even beans!

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Falling slowly, sing your melody, I'll sing along

Marketa Irglova and Glen Hansard

If you haven't seen the beautiful Irish movie-musical Once, stop reading and immediately head to Blockbuster/Netflix/Surf the Channel and watch it. I saw the movie at Bethesda Row when it opened a few years ago and was immediately captivated by the soulful, heart-wrenching music. Once isn't just a movie or just a musical; there are long segments simply of the band playing and recording its album.

Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova deservedly won the Oscar for Best Original Song for "Falling Slowly," my favorite song from the film. (Point to note: Irglova is the first female Czech Oscar winner.)

Hansard and Irglova, along with Hansard's band The Frames -- the entire group is called The Swell Season -- first came to Seoul back in January but tickets sold out quickly. Apparently Once was a huge hit in Korea because, as my Korean friend Monica explained, audiences here enjoy emotional love stories.

The Swell Season did so well that they returned this weekend as part of the Seoul Jazz Festival, a weekend-long event featuring performers from all over the world. It was truly a 2-and-a-half hour music extravaganza.

Liam Ó Maonlaí opened the show and completely blew me away -- I'd never heard of him before but I'm definitely a fan now. This incredible Irish musician played a variety of instruments, from Irish standards like a tin whistle and bodhrán, to a traditional Malian percussion instrument. It set a fantastic standard for the show to come.

Our barefoot opening act -- extraordinary.

Besides singing a number of songs from Once, The Swell Season also did some numbers from its upcoming album. Hearing these songs live was a million times better than the movie. The sheer musical talent required absolutely blew me away. Hansard is an even better guitar player than comes across on film. He went on some incredible guitar riffs that really energized the audience -- it's now obvious why his guitar is so torn to pieces.

Sorry for the crappy quality of some of the photos -- we weren't allowed to take pictures so I quickly snuck a few.

The highlight of the show were the times everyone unplugged their instruments, walked to the front of the stage, and sang and played without any microphones or electronics. Just a couple of guitars, a fiddle and the power of their voices. It was hauntingly beautiful and good fun.

The Swell Season

The mostly-Korean audience (I expected there to be a lot more foreigners but my estimates say about 95% of the audience was Korean) loved everytime Hansard spoke Korean, even just to say "thank you." The show also included some local talent, including a young guitarist the band saw on YouTube and invited to appear at the show, and some other Korean musicians.

What a fantastic night! I never would have expected to see The Swell Season in Korea and as my first live performance in almost eight months (bar The Nutcracker back in December) it was an amazing night. I love live music!

Monica, Heather and me

Cool mirrored ceiling inside the theatre lobby.

Free wine