Archives for the month of: June, 2014
Early morning ferry to Daebudo.

Early morning ferry to Daebudo.

Koreans feeding shrimp flavored cheetos to seagulls.  This is a thing here, apparently.

Koreans feeding shrimp flavored cheetos to seagulls. This is a thing here, apparently.

Seagulls chasing the ferry, hoping for more shrimp flavored cheetos.

Seagulls chasing the ferry, hoping for more shrimp flavored cheetos.

Finally made it to the beach in Korea and it happened to be on a deserted island.

Finally made it to the beach in Korea and it happened to be on a deserted island.

What the inside of a Korean ferry looks like. Where's the furniture?

What the inside of a Korean ferry looks like. Where’s the furniture?

Yookguri Market in Cheongju.

Yookguri Market in Cheongju.

Hanging fish out to dry.

Hanging fish out to dry.

Interesting sculpture in Seoul Forest.

Interesting sculpture in Seoul Forest.

I rented a bike and cruised along the Han River in Seoul. It was such a beautiful day!

I rented a bike and cruised along the Han River in Seoul. It was such a beautiful day!

Koreans like to pitch tents for their picnics in the park. I suppose it makes sense.

Koreans like to pitch tents for their picnics in the park. I suppose it makes sense.

Watching windsurfing lessons on the Han River in Seoul.

Watching windsurfing lessons on the Han River in Seoul.

Chinese Shabu Shabu in Seoul. It was delicious!

Chinese Shabu Shabu in Seoul. It was delicious!

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One of the questions I’m most frequently asked in Korea is, “How old are you?”  Korea has very strong roots in Confucianism, therefore seniority based on age is very prevalent not in just people’s relations with one another but also in companies, schools and sports teams.  Even if the age difference is only one year, the younger person is expected to respect to their elder through speech, body language and gestures, no matter what.  I still find myself in a state of shock when Ahjummas (older Korean women) literally push, shove, and elbow their way through a crowd or step in front of you not just in line, but when you are actually at a ticketing window, despite the fact that you might be midway through a transaction.  When taking a look around after witnessing this, however, no one bats an eyelash at how rude those actions may be.  It’s just the way it is.  You’ll see younger people bowing to their elders and addressing them with certain titles and formal language to distinguish rank.  It is also customary to pour drinks for those older than you and to let them eat, sit and stand before you as well.  Unfortunately (at least that’s they way I see it) this ranking system plays a very large role in the business world as well–positions, pay and ranking almost always go hand in hand with age, regardless of experience.

Adding to the complexity of Korea’s hierarchical system is the difference between Korean age and Western age.  Koreans believe you are born at age one (that’s a really long pregnancy…) and they do not use their birth date to determine when they turn a year older.  Instead, everyone turns one year older the first day of the new year, January 1.  I have not been in Korea to ring in the new year yet, but I wonder if it feels like one giant birthday party?

I turned 30  not long after arriving in Korea, which means I was actually already 30 in Korean age when I got here and am now 31…I think I’ll stick with Western age.  However, I usually get a surprised response when I reveal my age, which I’ll take as a good thing.  Upon meeting my co-teacher for the first time after she asked how old I was, she responded, “Oh, wow.  Westerners usually look old, but you don’t.  You must eat a lot of vegetables.”  Yes, I do.  And I think the kimchi is now helping out as well.

Some friends surprised me with a cake topped with sparklers for my 30th birthday in Korea.

Some friends surprised me with a cake topped with sparklers for my 30th birthday in Korea.

Poppies are everywhere in Eumseong!

Poppies are everywhere in Eumseong!

The trail that runs through Eumseong.

The trail that runs through Eumseong.

A beautiful wall at a restaurant in Jeonju, a city known for bibimbap and paper crafts.

A beautiful wall at a restaurant in Jeonju, a city known for bibimbap and paper crafts.

Making paper in Jeonju.

Making paper in Jeonju.

Sungnyemun Gate in Seoul

Sungnyemun Gate in Seoul

View of Gyeongbok Palace from a coffee shop in Bukchon Hanok Village which is located in Seoul.

View of Gyeongbok Palace from a coffee shop in Bukchon Hanok Village which is located in Seoul.

Ceiling at Gyeongbok Palace in Seoul.

Ceiling at Gyeongbok Palace in Seoul.

View from Munjangdae in Songnisan National Park.

View from Munjangdae in Songnisan National Park in April.

Lanterns at Beopjusa, a temple in Songnisan National Park.

Lanterns at Beopjusa, a temple in Songnisan National Park.

Chungju Lake

Chungju Lake

Chungju Lake

Chungju Lake

This giant Buddha is in the middle of nowhere about 15 minutes from where I live.

This giant Buddha is in the middle of nowhere about 15 minutes from where I live.

View from my apartment in Eumseong.

View from my apartment in Eumseong.

Cherry blossoms in Eumseong.

April Cherry blossoms in Eumseong.

My very first visit to Seoul included a stop at the newly constructed branch of the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Korea.  I heard there was an installation by Do Ho Suh that would only be up for a few more months, and I could not wait to see it.  I was already familiar with his pieces from working at the Seattle Art Museum, which held his first retrospective in 2002.  While I did not work there in 2002, I did get to witness the installation he created for SAM in 2011 titled Gate, a multimedia piece based on the gate outside his parent’s home in Seoul and a few pieces in SAM’s beautiful Asian art collection.  It blew me away, as I’d never seen anything quite like it before.  I was equally blown away by the installation in Seoul called Home within Home within Home within Home within Home, a life-size fabric reproduction of his first residence in the United States and his family’s traditional Korean house hanging in the middle.

Do Ho Suh, Home Within Home at the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Seoul.

Do Ho Suh’s Home Within Home Within Home Within Home Within Home at the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Seoul.

Do Ho Suh (서도호) is a Korean artist, mostly known for his sculptures, who now splits his time between New York, Seoul and London.  Most of his work  is site-specific (or at least context-specific) and often focuses on the idea of personal space and identity.  I am most impressed with his architectural pieces in which he uses fabric, creating a delicate space that can be occupied by the viewer.  Home within Home within Home within Home within Home is one of them where he beautifully demonstrates time and space and the memory of home with a ghost-like quality.  The shear fabric in a calming blue color reveals the past and the present in such a surreal manner, and the transparency forces you to look at the relationship between individuals and the notion of private versus public.

Do Ho Suh, Home within Home within Home within Home within Home

Do Ho Suh, Home within Home within Home within Home within Home

Do Ho Suh, Home within Home within Home within Home within Home

Home within Home within Home within Home within Home: traditional Korean house within Western-style house; Western-style house with Seoul Box; Seoul Box within the Seoul branch; the Seoul branch within Seoul.

The detail is incredible.

The detail is incredible.

The front door of the house where Do Ho  first lived when he got to the United States in Providence, Rhode Island.

The front door of the house where Do Ho first lived when he got to the United States in Providence, Rhode Island.

You can even see Do Ho's name on the building directory.

The photo is a bit blurry, but you can even see Do Ho’s name on what would have been the building directory.

Do Ho's family's traditional Korean home hangs within the Western style home.

Do Ho’s family’s traditional Korean home hangs within the Western style home.

Looking up at Do Ho's traditional Korean home, I am

Looking up at Do Ho’s traditional Korean house hanging within his first home in the United States, I felt especially connected to this exploration of identity, space and presence of culture shock as I adjust to life in a foreign country that is very far from what I call home.

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Beautiful detail by Do Ho Suh in Home Within Home Within Home Within Home Within Home at the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art in Seoul.

If you ever have a chance to see anything by Do Ho Suh, I strongly encourage you to do so.  There are elements of sentimentality to his work that are very thought-provoking and I’m not very good at describing them.  I think you will be impressed.

 

 

I love cats, and I miss mine dearly (had to leave him behind when I came to Korea), so when I heard there were places called cat cafes in Korea I just had to check it out.  You won’t find them in small towns like the one I live in, but nearly all the larger cities have them.  I went to one in Myeongdong in Seoul and even though I’d never heard of the concept until I got here, it was pretty close to how I imagined it would be–a coffee shop with cats roaming, playing and napping all over the place. It was awesome.

Just hanging out at a cat cafe in Seoul.

Just hanging out at a cat cafe in Seoul.

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Teasing cats with straws is not allowed.

After taking my shoes off at the door, I paid 8,000 won to enter (just under $7) which included one free coffee drink or tea.  Then I sat down and enjoyed my green tea latte while admiring the 22 different cats in the cafe.

The cat cafe rules.

The cat cafe rules: do not hug the cats (especially if you look like an alien), do not disturb sleeping cats, no pulling cat tails, turn off your camera flash, do not touch the cats while they eat, don’t pat the cat’s bottom, don’t feed the cats anything except cat treats, and don’t tease the cats with straws.

Pondering.

Pondering.

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The gray and white Scottish Fold was my favorite. Those ears, so cute!

Remember, no hugging the cats!

Remember, no hugging the cats!

I think this lady is the cat whisperer. At one point she had three cats sleeping in her lap.

I think this lady is the cat whisperer. At one point she had three cats sleeping in her lap.

Names and descriptions of all the cats in the cafe. I wonder what goes on after closing time...

Names and descriptions of all the cats in the cafe. I wonder what goes on after closing time…