Sunday, November 27, 2011
Thursday, November 24, 2011
Wednesday, November 23, 2011
Sunday, November 20, 2011
I'm not normally a fan of museums. I definitely don't like art museums; I'm rather a philistine, and simply cannot understand those folks who can spend hours upon hours in art museums. I love the Hermitage in St. Petersburg... for the architecture of the Winter Palace and the rooms with the Tsarist-era historical exhibits. Historical museums are more my thing, although I tend to prefer period locations (houses, castles, etc) filled with period items to sterile rooms filled with sterile objects, ripped from their original locations and placed safely behind glass. I also dig Cold War era propaganda.
My favorite museum in the world is the Тарых Мамлекеттик Музей - the State History Museum in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. Not only is it filled with an insane collection of communist propaganda (including Ronald Reagan in a death's head mask, Dr. Strangelovin' it on on a nuke), but it has an entire floor of Soviet sculptures which one can play on and in and with, and which one can photograph (for a nominal fee, of course). Now that I have a much better camera than I had in 2008, I really must go back to Bishkek and spend some quality time in the museum.
Тарых Мамлекеттик Музей (State History Museum), Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, 9/2008
But enough with the reminiscing. Yesterday two of my coworkers decided to take me to the National Museum of Korea, located next to the US Army garrison at Yongsan (near Itaewon). We met up at lunchtime, and had Mexican food at Toma Tillo. It wasn't Taquería Pancho Villa (my favorite Mexican restaurant back home), but it was still quite tasty - and VERY cheesy. Cheese is something I don't get nearly enough of over here.
After lunch I was interviewed by some folks from EBS, who were apparently looking for a foreigner who was willing to say that internet in Korea was crap. I totally disappointed them. Internet speed? Korea knocks it out of the park. Websites all in Korean? I just don't use them. Smartphone service? Yes, it's excellent. I do have some problems with many Korean websites (lack of sensible English translations, overuse of ActiveX, sites that only work on MSIE, etc), but I know better than to badmouth anything Korean in front of a camera!
We then took a taxi to the National Museum. It's located right next to Yongsan Garrison, on land that actually used to belong to the US base. (I remember seeing the building from the base when I was working there in '04; back then, it was still under construction.) It's quite an impressive building, with pleasant grounds on the Yongsan Family Park. For those who like museums filled with small things in glass cases, the place is incredibly impressive. While it obviously wasn't really my thing, it was still a quality museum (and surprisingly NOT crowded, unlike everywhere else in Seoul on a Saturday). My favorite exhibit was the collection of gigantic Buddhist statues. I was thoroughly disappointed by the sparse collection in the Central Asian exhibit. Anyway, photos:
After having seen all I wanted to see of the museum (my coworkers were still wandering about the exhibits), I decided to explore the Yongsan Family Park. It was pretty small, the bulk of it having been turned into the museum. I did, however, come across some bizarre statuary and some creepy playground equipment - including a thoroughly distressing six-legged (!) spider for children to play under.
I also stumbled upon a performance by the Kookmin University traditional Korean drum club. I didn't stay for all of it - as by that point my coworkers had wandered out of the museum and were ready to head out. I recorded this on my smartphone; the sound isn't very good, but I blame the phone, not the performers.
Saturday, November 19, 2011
The Chevy Spark - formerly the Daewoo Matiz - will finally go on sale in the US in Fall 2012. I've been in love with the cute little car since I first spotted it on the Korean streets back in 2004. Now, I know that it's got a weak little engine, and I've never driven one, so for all I know I might actually hate it. Still, I really have wanted a green Matiz for years.
Me, with a Daewoo Matiz in Osh, Kyrgyzstan, 2008
Me again, this past August... Dnepropetrovsk, Ukraine. May have been a few sheets to the wind at this point. Apparently, so was my photographer, B, as I don't even have to blur my face in this photo; he did it for me.
My friend G in Daegu, South Korea drove a Matiz for several years... yet somehow the only photo I have of it is this blurry one, with her husband doing god-knows-what to it. Spring 2007.
Note the Daewoo symbol on the front grill.
Yes, they come in colors other than green.
Taken yesterday, here in Seoul.
Taken in December 2008, several months before it ran afoul of a Ford Explorer and developed an unsightly dent in its driver's side door and front corner panel. Sigh. My fault.
Saturday, November 12, 2011
...I became homesick.
This is a new experience for me. Prior to the past few weeks, whenever I've used the word 'homesick' it's been followed by words such as 'for Kyrgyzstan.' (And I would totally return to Kyrgyzstan in a heartbeat if I could find a way to make it financially viable. Plane tickets are just too cost-prohibitive to make popping over to Central Asia an option whenever I feel the need for some mountains and a yurt.) The thing is, I've spent a lot of time living overseas, and I've never felt homesick. I've been in situations before where I've wanted to leave - but not because I wanted to return home. In fact, when I left the US in the summer of 2010, I was completely convinced that I'd never return.
And yet now I'm homesick.
Part of it is that I am not satisfied with my job. It's not a bad job (and the salary is excellent), but I have discovered that I am simply not cut out for corporate life. Chasing the almighty dollar (or won in this case) really just isn't enough to motivate me. I miss having a job that I can feel passionate about... and I really, really miss teaching. As such, I've decided to apply to graduate school programs for TESOL, and will be leaving Korea at the end of my six month trial contract. It's up at the beginning of March, and I've already told my employers that I won't be seeking to extend it. (They've been very nice and understanding about it.) My last day of work is March 5, 2012... but right now, that feels like an eternity away.
Still, I'm homesick. I miss my family and friends, my cats, dogs, and horses. I want to be working on the old house. I want to be straightening everything out with the cat rescue. Essentially, I want to do everything that I'd intended to do when I returned to the US in 2008. And being older and wiser, well, let's just say that I will never, EVER be manipulated into the kind of abhorrent situations I found myself in back in 2009.
Homesickness is a new and strange feeling for me. I know that it would be best dealt with by going out and getting involved in life here in Seoul... but after a full day's work in Corporate Korea, I don't feel like doing much other than crawling under the sheets with my Kindle. That's certainly how I've spent this weekend. That and working on grad school applications...
Thursday, November 10, 2011
We at Desolation Travel are working on putting together another calendar. Okay, so you might be a bit calendared out, but this is easy! And fun! And you get to look at cool photos! See those pictures below? They're just a fraction of the photographs we're trying to choose from. Just click here or on the pictures below to see the complete album. Comment on (or "like") the photos you think should go in the 2012 Desolation Travel calendar. And as we need to choose 12, feel free to vote for 12!
Sunday, November 6, 2011
I spent the daytime hours yesterday running various errands - including a very successful if somewhat pricey trip to the International Clinic in Itaewon, and shopping for cat litter and kitty toys. Knowing that today (Sunday) was going to be wet and miserable, I knew that I'd need to get out and take some pictures if I wanted to get any shooting in this weekend, so I decided to go to the Seoul Lantern Festival, running November 4 - November 20, and held along the Cheonggyecheon - a reclaimed stream/park in downtown Seoul. I knew it would be crowded, but OMFG. I was so unprepared for the insane crush of people.
For starters, I emerged from the City Hall subway station into the middle of a huge anti-FTA /slash/ Occupy Seoul protest being held in front of City Hall and the Deoksu Palace gates, and surrounded by tons of riot police. While this is the sort of thing I might have actually gone to had I known about it (despite warnings against doing so from friends and coworkers; I am a contrary sort), it was thoroughly disconcerting to emerge from the subway into a crowd of chanting (but peaceful) protesters and riot police. I also didn't know what they were protesting, and it took a few minutes of wading through the crowd before I saw some signs that said FTA. I had no idea it was in any way affiliated with the Occupy movement until I read about it this morning on the internet.
Some articles about the protest are here:
And a photo not taken by me, which does not at all show the crazy huge crowd that I waded through can be seen here.
I only took one photo, after I'd finally cleared the protest zone, of the back end of the last row of riot police. I was trying to do it surreptitiously with my phone, so it's not the best:
I finally made it out of the protest crowd and began making my way to the Cheonggyecheon. And the crowd grew exponentially. I swear at least half of Seoul (which I realize amounts to a good 9 million folks) had turned out to attend the festival's second night. I almost turned around and went home when I discovered that I and several million of Seoul's residents were to be crowded into a tight, winding maze - like we were in line for a ride at Disney, but worse - where I stood, edging slowly forward for a good hour, if not more, before I actually made it to the stream and the lanterns. If you go to this festival, either bring good friends with whom you can have interesting conversation, or bring headphones. Zoning out to my best of Amanda Palmer playlist was the only thing that kept me sane. (And I tried very hard not to think about what would happen if the protest only a couple blocks away got out of hand while I was trapped in this sea of people... Luckily, that didn't happen.) The lanterns - once I finally got to see them - did make for some fun photos, although I'm not sure I would have gone had I known how crowded it would be. Anyway, here are my photos:
Not really the best of photos, but I'm posting it so you can see the crowds packing both sides of the stream, and lining the railing above.
This ginormous peacock was animatronic - it flapped its wings and breathed fire. Check out the video below.