Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Technical difficulties

WARNING: blog post to have many errors due to typing with French computer that has the keys in different places.My computer has not been working with the WiFi in the house we are staying.

Paris has been magnificent so far. The trip started off with a very French incident shortly after we landed. My mom and I boarded the Air France bus from the airport to the Montparnasse station where we would meet my friends. About 10 minutes after leaving the airport,the bus pulled into a gas station. I joked to my mom that the driver needed more cigarettes. Well it turned out there was a problem with the bus. One passenger translated it to the toilet waters needed to be emptied, but there was no toilet. so we waited next to the bus for about 20 minutes for a new bus to come. We stood next to horses in the grass with our luggqge. The French passengers were kind to us non-French. So many of the French passengers were taking pictures with their phones of the license plates and the foreginers were taking pictures with the bus (like me). One woman even suggested we strike! The scene was very French. We did make it to Paris successfully.

So far we have found the Parisians to be friendly, the streets clean and the drivers not rude - all opposite of the stereotype.

One thing that is true to stereotype is the desire of the French to strike. Today there was a transportaion strike and the metro and bus were mostly shut down. So we walked to the Eiffel Tower from the house we are staying at. The Eiffel Tower is a magnificent sight, but I prefer to look at if from a distance as it is viewed peeking above a building or its lights shining at night.

So far we have seen the Eiffel Tower, the Arc de Triomphe, Place du Concord, the Champs-Elysees, and took a boat tour on the Seine. Tomorrow, we go to Notre Dame, Musee D Orsay and some gardens.

I hope to write another post on the food I have been enjoying. I never realized how my fingers are programmed to type on an English computer!

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Bon Voyage

I woke up early this morning not so much because I am excited for this trip, but because the long work week left me with many odds and ends I need to wrap up before leaving. The whole trip and its destination of Paris seem surreal to me. It's this iconic place that I have seen on so many cards, posters, T-shirts and have studied. I used to collect little Eiffel Towers and old Parisian postcards, too. In all honestly the city dropped down in my list of places to visit after I went to South Korea, but now that I am going to the City of Lights my love and excitement for it has been renewed.

I am happy that we are going to Paris in October. I think the lighting will be beautiful and will make for some very lovely photos of the old streetlamps, stone buildings, diffused light along the Seine ...

As I prepare the final details early this Saturday morning, I am thinking about some of the movie and TV characters I've watched travel to Paris. Carrie's trip to Paris in "Sex and the City" was a bit rough because her Russian artist boyfriend spent more time on his art show than with her, leaving Carrie homesick and wandering the streets of Paris alone. In the end, her Mr. Right, "Mr. Big" found her.

In "Sabrina," Sabrina talks to Linus about Paris.

Sabrina Fairchild: Maybe you should go to Paris, Linus. It helped me. Have you ever been there?
Linus Larrabee: [thinks] Oh yes. Once. For thirty-five minutes.
Sabrina Fairchild: Thirty-five *minutes*?
Linus Larrabee: Changing planes. I was on my way to Iraq on an oil deal.
Sabrina Fairchild: Oh, but Paris isn't for changing planes, it's for changing your outlook! For throwing open the windows and letting in... letting in la vie en rose.
Linus Larrabee: [sadly] Paris is for lovers. Maybe that's why I stayed only thirty-five minutes.

I'm not looking for traditional romance while in Paris. But I am looking for a more artistic, literay romance. A romance of delicious, hot coffee, decadent pastries, glorious and humble architecture and the sense of being somewhere full of history that has drawn the great minds of the world to create.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Terrorist threat in Europe

---Photo by The Associated Press

A few more days and my mom and I will be on a plane to Paris after years of studying the French language and culture. It's very appropriate that I should be taking this voyage with my mom because she is the one who first encouraged me to learn the language by teaching me numbers and basic phrases. Mom has done a lot of research for the trip and we've both become quite excited to explore this city that we've read so much about. I have my bags mostly packed and my friends notified about the travel details.

There is one issue that may become more problematic than the weak dollar and that's this terrorism threat in Europe that appears to be growing by the day. Being connected to the Associated Press wire feed all day, I have access to all of the updates on the European threat. So far I have mostly summed it up to potential hassles and delays at the airports and tourist sites. However, the scare/threat has spread from the Eiffel Tower to Notre Dame and seems to be having a great impact on security measures abroad. Hopefully there will be no actual violence and the tensions will lesson. The way I look at it is I lived in South Korea when North Korea tested its nuclear weapon in the China Sea and there was hardly a ripple effect. If anything, maybe it would be an opportunity to finally send newspaper dispatches from abroad.

In all honestly, I am hoping for a relaxing and enjoyable trip. I have enough stress and frustrations to deal with daily. I keep picturing myself relaxing at a cafe with a book, a coffee and a pastry watching the French world pass by.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

The final days, minutes

I am sitting here in my room with loaded luggage hoping that I am not overweight and I am not forgetting anything. My trip in Korea is rapidly finishing, although I have a long trip ahead traveling from Incheon to Milwaukee.

Since the weather got nice on Wednesday, I have been filling my days with traveling around Seoul and meeting people. Friday and Saturday were especially enjoyable because they were relaxing and I got to see some particularly beautiful places, including Jogyesa Temple and Bukhan Mountain.

I have mixed feelings about leaving as expected. I am looking forward to returning home to my prairie dog, Calypso, my own bed and some more home cooked meals. Plus, Wisconsin is so lovely this time of year. But, I am sad to leave my friends, the excitement of Seoul and to simply know that this huge trip is done. I have had a strange feeling the whole time I have been here--torn between feeling like a resident and a visitor. Being in so many of the same areas and seeing many of my Korean friends, I felt almost like I live here, but then I had no routine. That is one of the reasons that on my final day in Korea I wanted to do something that I had never done before. So Suki and I went to Bukhan Mountain in the northern part of Seoul. I didn't expect much, but it was gorgeous. When you get on the outskirts of Seoul, you realize that the city is surrounded by large, rocky mountains. It took Suki and me about two hours to get to the mountain by subway and bus. The paths were surprisingly steep and difficult. Along the path, there was a gorgeous mountain stream (very tiny, but pure). At the base of the side of the mountain we arrived at was a very large Buddhist temple. It was hard to capture the image of this colorful temple with monks chanting and followers praying in front of massive mountain.

The last big thing I did Saturday was to go to Suki's family's home near my motel for dinner.I helped her mother make Korean dumplings called mandu. It was a delicious dinner of mandu soup and many homemade kimchi side dishes. Everything is home made by Suki's mother, even the soy sauce. Suki's brother, sister, niece and nephew were also there. Although they did not speak any English, it was a great experience getting to eat a homemade meal of traditional food.

Now I should finish getting ready for my 19 hours on planes and layovers and about a total of 27 hours of traveling. I will take with me from this place many more memories to share and many more photos. However, the memories to me feel like ordinary life.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Yesterday in photos

It's been a very busy few days with little time to write or upload pictures. The weather has finally gotten warmer and sunnier. On Wednesday, Suki and I hung out indoor shopping areas because the weather again was cold and rainy. We had a couple of great meals of doughy dumplings for lunch and seafood barbecue for dinner. The seafood barbecue was more of cooking clams on a half shell with seasoning and toppings.

When the weather finally turned really nice on Thursday, we went into Seoul to some very nice areas, including Insadong, the river and Hongdae. Insadong is a touristy area, but still is pretty and has a great traditional park next to it. The river is a newly created pathway. And Hongdae is a fashionable area near a university.

I have been having a great time and am so happy that the weather has improved. I can't believe that I have only one-and-a-half days left. I am waiting in my room right now to figure out some final details for a dinner tonight. I will soon head out to a traditional Korean Buddhist temple in Seoul called Jogyesa. Then I am meeting a former Canadian co-worker and a bunch of my Korean friends for a galbi dinner tonight.

There is so much else I'd like to share with you about my experiences I have been having this week, but I want to be enjoying my short time remaining in Korea. I will write more later. For now, here are some photos:

Making doughnuts in Insadong:

Park in Insadong:

Suki and her new best friend in Hongdae:

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Another great day, another early morning

I just can't seem to get on Korea time as I wake up early every morning. I had the best day of my trip so far yesterday and it went very late-to about 1:30 a.m. However, despite riding the subway around Seoul, shopping and hitting up some bars and restaurants late at night, I manged only to sleep until 5 a.m.

Yesterday will definitely be a day that stands out in my memory. I met with my former student Suki who has been living in Australia for three years but just arrived home for a visit this week. Then she will be moving to Paris to be with her French husband who she met Down Under. We had such a wonderful day catching up and shopping. We had two great meals and a snack together. (I'd post pictures, but I am unable to at the moment.)

At night we met Bruce for a seafood barbecue and beer. I was so extremely happy to see them both as they are some of the best friends I have ever met.

Today will be more shopping indoors in the morning and then hopefully sight seeing around Seoul in the afternoon and evening with Suki. We will again meet Bruce near his work for dinner. Unfortunately it has rained all day for the first three days of my trip. The rain has really hindered what I have been able to do. It's especially difficult because not only has it been rainy and at times very windy, it has also been only about upper 40s or 50 during the day. I did not pack enough warm clothes for this trip and will probably have to pick up a few more today. The sun is supposed to make a showing starting today. I really hope it does so I can see more of this country before I leave and can take more pictures to show you all back home.

There are so many great and silly things to take pictures of. Last night, Suki and I went to dinner at the "Miller" bar. The whole decor was Miller beer and Milwaukee's best. They did have Miller on tap, which was rather impressive for a country that has only three or four poor-quality beers. The bar was also across the street from a restaurant called the Sea Bank and it had the colors and similar logo to Citi Bank.

I realize now that it was foolish to feel so nervous about my visit to Korea because I have been having a wonderful time and feel like I am really getting immersed in the culture again. I fear that I am going to be bored when I return to Waukesha. At least it will be summer when there is so much to do and see, but even that pales in comparison to the constant throng of people to watch, the thousands of businesses crammed into a small area and huge subway system connecting a massive city of many neighborhoods. I can certainly hope that next time my separation from South Korea will not be as long as 3.5 years.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Culture learning curve

I know that no matter how hard I would try I would never completely fit in in Korea. I think there are many values that I share with the Korean people, but the way their society works is so different from what I am used in the U.S.A. It's hard for me to explain in a short blog entry. A good place to witness those differences is on the subway. I went into Seoul for the first time on this trip today. I took the subway to meet a friend and then to go to a movie. To get a good sampling of Korean society, riding the subway is an excellent way to do that. It can also be a very frustrating experience as people push to get to the train or are completely oblivious to you, your umbrella or bags. The train is often full of young lovebirds who are constantly preening each other. Tonight on my short ride, I saw them fixing each other's clothes, playing with each other's hair and staring at each other's reflection. Sometimes, like tonight, it takes a lot of patience to ride the subway.

However, when you get to know Koreans they are very wonderful friends. Some of the best that I have ever had. They make me feel so special because they are always happy to see me, are caring, generous and kind.

I was able to meet with several former students today, including some from my "housewives" class. We went out for a really nice lunch and had a good conversation about USA, Korea, our lives and so forth. When the group of six started to speak Korea, I just leaned back and listened. It's fun to listen to Koreans talk because they will throw in a random English word. Some of the random English words today in a stream of Korean were credit card, music video and scientific.

Unfortunately, it is really hard to capture Koreans for what they are, but I did take some pictures of office workers playing basketball terribly today in their shiny gray suits (Korean men appear to love very shiny gray suits).

I am also trying to get back in the habit of using my few Korean words to communicate thanks and hello. The harder thing to remember is to hand things to people in the polite, proper Korean way, which is with one hand on the other arm's upper portion. The same goes for handshaking and pouring beverages.

I have not been able to take as many pictures as I would like to so far because of the horrible weather. It rained rather heavily for most of yesterday.Today, it was sunny in the late morning for about an hour and was rainy, cold and really windy the rest of the day. As I was looking for an office tower in the financial district where my friend works, my umbrella flipped inside out four times! Not exactly photo-taking weather.

Starting Thursday, the weather is supposed to get warmer and sunnier. I can't wait because I am anxious to take more photos and not to have my options limited so much by the weather.

(Silly thing. I am keeping track of how many white people I see. So far I have seen three of us in two days.)