Monday, November 24, 2014

About the Feast on Thursday...

On Thursday, we are doing Thanksgiving in the UK this year. I haven't done it for a while and hadn't planned to do it this year. Instead I thought I would attend the Restoration Dinner at church on Saturday. They have what practically amounts to a traditional American Thanksgiving day menu and it would be fun, I thought.

But my son and his girlfriend announced with great excitement that she had managed to get the day off work so that she could celebrate Thanksgiving with us! It would have been churlish to say 'no', wouldn't it?  So I've been digging out favourite recipes and deciding who to invite to join us for the occasion. It is now all in hand -- the turkey is de-frosting in the kitchen and the pies are ready to be baked.

In the past, before retirement, we would celebrate on the Saturday following the actually holiday -- which is always the 4th Thursday in November. Now we are free to celebrate on the day and for me I much prefer this. Robert's girlfriend, Cat will be arriving Wednesday night so it will be nice to have company and help during the day. Thanksgiving is a holiday that it is difficult to imagine if you are not American. Many of my British friends have likened it to the way the British celebrate Christmas. But, in fact, it really is not like Christmas at all -- even if the food is similar.

First of all, Thanksgiving is all about the food and friends and family. My tradition is that of  New England -- the weather is always frosty and the sky almost always leaden. The sound in the morning is the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade and later American football. My mother usually served dinner at 2,00 p.m. Dress was very casual. Guests always brought a dish of some speciality of their own. Besides Turkey and stuffing, there would mashed potato, sweet potato with marshmallows (big yuck from me!), cranberry sauce (two kinds) cranberry relish, creamed onions, and various other vegetables which changed from year to year. My mother always made four pies: pumpkin, apple, apple crumb, and mince. No one ever went home hungry or without 'care' bags of makings for turkey sandwiches made with stuffing and cranberry sauce!

Meanwhile at about 7.00 pm family members could be seen around the bird's carcass going for the makings of their own sandwiches -- and which I enjoyed more than the actual dinner itself! The next day was Black Friday, which in my day was just the Friday after Thanksgiving, and preparations for Christmas would begin. Thanksgiving weekend was the worst weekend for traffic jams. From the air the jam on Wednesday evening could be seen from Washington, D.C., where I lived, to New York City. The New Jersey Turnpike was unbelievable. Sunday night trying to get back to Washington was equally abominable. The last time I was in Connecticut for Thanksgiving I flew in from the UK a week earlier and left a week after. I did not venture out for Black Friday. Most sane individuals say well clear now as it's more of a shopping nightmare...

I see that Britain is advertising Black Friday sales. Somehow, I don't think it will ever be the same -- at least I hope not -- though I wouldn't mind if they adopted the Traditional American Thanksgiving Holiday every year on the 4th Thursday in November!

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Freaking Out!

Christmas is Everywhere ... !

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Golf, Gardening, and Entertainment -- Just Another Day in School!

Well, I've been back in the UK since late last Wednesday, the 5th. All in all it was a very satisfying trip, with lots to take in and think about. I would have liked to have stayed a few weeks longer, so probably I left South Korea at the right time!

The last few days were particularly memorable and enjoyable. Chris and Heejung, left the children behind and we enjoyed the few days without having to give the attention that they, quite fairly, demand! We did, however, go to see the younger boys' school and that turned out to be a very enjoyable and surprising occasion.

We walked around the grounds and Chris pointed out to me the golf driving range in the corner of the playground. In the far distance we could see a large area for the children to plant vegetable and flower gardens.

Driving range target. Golf balls are caught in the net!

The school's garden has both vegetables and flowers...

As we went to venture toward the rear of the school we met the principal, a very welcoming woman. The state run school is a very special place with no more than 10 to 12 students in a class. The principal asked if we would like to visit the boys' classes and, of course, we said 'yes'!

In a few days time, the children were to have an open  house and they had been rehearsing a program to present to parents and visitors. Because I would not be able to attend the children in Louis' class gave us a preview! Louis is the child in front on the far right.


Unfortunately, South Korea has many problems after the children attend primary school. It leads the world in the adolescent suicide rate -- many if not most children attend school from 8.00 a.m. to 4.00 p.m. and then attend another school for private lessons, not getting home until 10.00 or 11.00 p.m. My son teaches in one of those schools which specializes in English. 

Teachers in Korea do not stay with any school more than two years. After that time they will be assigned to another school -- by the education department. While I can see the disadvantage to the individual teachers and also the headmasters/mistresses or principals -- it does seem a way of ensuring that the quality of education throughout the country is equalized. Somehow, it seems entirely unlikely that this is a policy that would or could be adopted in the West!

Friday, October 31, 2014

A Little Bit of History Never Hurt Anyone!

Those of us of a certain age will probably remember the television show MASH with a great deal of fondness. To this day I enjoy watching the reruns and laugh all over again. However, the historical details of the Korean War never really made an impact on  my psyche. The only city I remembered was Seoul.

En route to Daegu, which is where my son lives, we stopped about 45 minutes away in Waegwan. My daughter-in-law was born and lived there until she was married. Waegwan is on the Nakdong River, the longest in Korea. Historical the river at Waigwan was as far as Japanese tradesman were allowed to go in order to sell their wares at the market. In fact Waigwan means "Japanese Dwelling". During the Korean conflict part of the strategy was to destroy the bridge at Waegwan, including several hundred refugees trying to escape the North Koreans. The Americans believed they were North Korean soldiers in disguise.

Nakdong River at Waigwan
 In 1950 the North Korean Army threatened to overtake the Korean peninsula from the mountain
overlooking the town. From this vantage point, they would have been able to fire mortor on Daegu at the northern point of the Busan Perimeter and from this position cement their possession of the whole country. But for the UN troops entering the fray, the South Korean army would have been defeated. My daughter-in-law's father, a North Korean soldier, was wounded in the battle for Waigwan and may have been treated by an American MASH unit. He never returned to North Korea.

The American army under General MacArthur were able to turn back the North Koreans in Waigwan. all the way to the Chinese border. It was then that the Chinese army, with Russian help, were able to force back the UN forces to what is the present line of demarcation -- back and forth in what was really a war of attrition until 1953 when the demilitarized buffer zone was established -- and which remains to this day. The following link shows the above situation quite effectively ...

"Korean war 1950-1953" by Roke - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

From Fireworks to Silk Worms...

I have now traveled most of the length of South Korea -- from the airport on Incheon Island near Seoul to the second city of the country, Busan (pronounced Pusan). And in between I have visited two Buddhist temples. Today I visited a huge, but typical local market and took many wonderful pictures of the various wares on display. We were there looking for a round pumpkin for my son, who wishes to make a jack-o-lantern. Round pumpkins are more difficult to find -- most of the pumpkins are round and flat.

Once home, I was anxious to have a look at the pictures I had taken, only to find that my memory card was still in the computer and, therefore,  I had nothing to show for my constant snapping away!

Below is Busan waterfront. We were there last Saturday for the International Asian Fireworks Competition -- beautiful setting and hundreds of thousands of people. Unbelievably we were able to find a very good parking place not too far away and in a reasonable position to escape without to much difficulty. The streets immediately beyond our parking went through the market place and our drive was slow enough for me to be able to take more pictures.

The bridge above was the backdrop for the firework display. Underneath the bridge in the background are the lights of cruise ships that have come from Japan to witness the display.

The picture on the left is of a large indoor market and on the right Korean dumplings are bubbling away in huge pots. Korean people love these places and there are multitudes of fast food places offering enticing and not-so-enticing delights. I was completely turned off at the sight of one particular delicacy: silk worms -- piles of them waiting for the frying pan -- and the frying pan sizzling away -- silk worms a-plenty in a spicy sauce! 

Much more appetizing and delicious were the tempura shrimp I had in the market today -- The photos that never were!!

Monday, October 20, 2014

The Mystery of Ignorance

This is the first time in my life I have been in a place which is in every way unintelligible. The language is impossible to read, except for the occasional road sign in English. My sense of direction is non-existent and I have no idea how to communicate enough to even go into a store to buy something. It is very frustrating -- especially as there is so much exploring  I would love to be doing.

There is a great bakery called 'Paris Baguette' where I could get a coffee and pastry and probably manage to get what I want with sign language and pointing. And by taking out some money manage to pay -- but I don't think I could get home again even though home is but a short distance away.

I must admit I have a much greater appreciation of how over-whelming it must have been for Asian immigrants when they arrive for the first time in the West. I  have met several of Heejung's friends and relatives and have been very touched my how welcoming they have been -- even though perhaps no word of English is spoken. Yesterday, an old school friend of Heejung, who is the owner of a nearby Baskin Robbins franchise, gave me a large box of freshly packed ice cream -- with my choice of flavours! He didn't speak a word of English. We bowed to each other and when we shook hands he put his left hand on his arm -- which is a mark of respect when meeting someone who is older than you.

Tomorrow Heejung is going to walk me over to the bakery with Sam -- after that, there will be no stopping us!

In the meantime I have visited a Benedictine monastery and Buddhist temple complex. The monastery gift shop had the most bizarre crucifixes I have ever seen. Most bizarrely of all, is that the photographs I took of them were blank!  This has never happened before and all the pictures I have taken since, with the exception of the one which included a monk,were also blank ...

Tonight we are having Korean pancakes -- oh yum!

Wednesday, October 15, 2014


Mother, Sons and Brothers...
Tomorrow it will be a week since I left -- whatever 'time' means! The time difference between New York and South Korea is 11 hours and between here and London it's 7. We arrived in Incheon Airport on time at noon on Thursday the 9th of October -- having left from Manchester, England Wednesday, 9.05 a.m. It was 1 am my time when our final plane finally touched down.

One of the last through immigration, which did not take very long, I was surprised to discover the luggage was waiting for us and the carousel emptied! Impressive... Soon we were through and being greeted, hugged, and kissed and maybe even a tear or two!

Soon we were on our way -- 5 hours to our final destination: Daegu, South Korea -- a long way from home!
Leaving Incheon Island for the mainland and south...

On our way I discovered the rice fields were golden and ready for harvesting. And these golden fields were surrounded by mountains, very similar to the Appalachians -- old and worn, but tree covered. And all the towns we traveled by have tall white tower blocks of apartment buildings -- dozens of them towering into the skyline with mountainous backdrops. The Korean people prefer to live in these towers to having their own house. In fact there are very few private houses anywhere around.
Typical apartment towers. From my son's rooftop...

But first we stopped in Waegwan for Sam's brothers, Galen and Louis, who bounded out of the apartment building within seconds of our arrival! The picture above was taken about two minutes later. My abiding memory will be one of lots and lots of NOISE for the next several hours!

Below: Sam is over the moon to now be taller than his 4'10" Mom!

Monday, September 29, 2014

Eastward, Ho!

Earlier this year, after much thought and discussion, The Man and I decided that I would return Sam to his parents in South Korea come autumn. Being responsible for a budding teenager and the fact that we are not getting any younger are the most important reasons for this decision. This is a time when a young man really needs the strength and vigour of his parents and two years away from them and his two brothers are quite long enough.

So a few days ago, I booked our flights and we will be eastward bound on the eighth of October. Yikes! That's next week! I must admit, never having been to Asia, I am quite excited. My son and his wife live about 300 miles south of Seoul, near Taegu and I will be staying with them for 4 weeks.

I actually arrive on the 9th of October, which is a very interesting holiday in South Korea. This holiday is called, Hangul and celebrates the creation of the Korean alphabet:
It was created in the 1440s by a committee of scholars commissioned by King Sejong. King Sejong, also known as Sejong the Great, was a fervent supporter of literature, science, and technology in his day. Some 200 years before the founding of the first scientific academy of the enlightenment, Sejong convened a group of handpicked scholars for his “Hall of Worthies.” One of their major assignments was to come up with a writing system to represent the Korean language. 
At that time, Korean was written with Chinese characters. Learning to use Chinese characters, along with the adjustments required in adapting them to the Korean language, was an arduous process, requiring years of education and training. This meant that literacy was only available to a tiny elite. Sejong wanted to open literacy to the general population, but that would require a system that was easier to learn.
I will most definitely be on a learning curve!  My son confidently told me I could learn this alphabet in 30 minutes! But I know someone a lot smarter than I, an American, who said it took him 3 years! I'll be reporting back on that...

In the meantime, there is a lot to do and dinner to cook.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Just over Two Months

Despite all my careful planning in the end T-Mobile/Orange/EE let me down with their Travel Boosters in France. No problems at all for the first day.  I suspect the cell phone companies are really pissed off  at the EU ruling that roaming charges in the member countries must be reduced and then end next year. Which is why my cell phone provider drastically changed its costs this year -- last year I was able to buy data for up to a month -- this year all the charges were on a daily basis. But having no choice but to rely on their travel boosters if I was to have any Internet access at our little house in rural France, I was willing  to pay the fees.

However, on day two of my sojourn, when I attempted to buy my daily 'hit' I received a text back saying: "We are sorry, but there's been a technical error and we couldn't add the Internet Trave Booster to your account. You haven't been charged. Please try again later."

I continued to get this message several times over the next 3 or 4 days before I succumbed to calling the 'Help line'. Absolutely no 'help', but assurances that the problem was being looked into and would be fixed as soon as possible. Despite three more calls to the 'Help line' the problem was never solved over the 6 weeks I was in France! I was able to connect to the Internet periodically, when visiting friends with an Internet connection and on days when we passed through the local towns and were able to connect to the free service provided by local tourist offices -- fortunately as my online mailbox was bulging and needed to be cleared.

Needless to say, blogging was off the agenda. Just before I left for France, I received word from my sisters that my mother was very seriously ill and in the hospital. She was not expected to make it. After much consideration, we decided that I would still go to France, as people would be able to contact me on the Internet! The best laid plans, as they say...

I won't even mention the cell phone bill for 112 pounds which included 8 international phone calls that I never made! That is now being investigated with said provider!!!

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

The Summer is Good!

June and July have been busy and in addition the sun has been shining most of the time! Wonder of wonders...

Early in June, much to my surprise, a local printer contacted me to ask if I would be interested in doing some work for him! It's been a while since anyone actually wanted to pay me for my labours! He knew I had done work for the church that involved desk-top publishing and he had a job that required someone who know how to use Microsoft Publisher.

Then he asked me what I charged! I've been out of the job market for quite a long time and had absolutely no idea! Fortunately, my son and his girlfriend are living here for a while and she is self-employed and has an idea of what ongoing rates for this kind of work are! I came up with a 'negotiable' fee and we worked from there. The work is now finished and in a little while my employer will be coming by to check out final touches for the finished product!

In the meantime, The Man has gone to France and I have been having a lovely relaxed time with the rest of the family. The best thing is we share the cooking! We are also indulging in having food that The Man doesn't like, but the rest of us do! Never let it be said that some apartness is a good thing! Even if I do have to fly RyanAir in order to join him in France! In the meantime all the spider webs have been cleared away and the place opened up and the garden cleared. He also got the television slightly re-tuned so we once again able to indulge in what British television may or may not have to offer.

One of my projects while on my own has been to watch once again the English version of House of Cards. My sister-in-law recommended the American version so highly and so insistently that I immediately ordered the first series and sent it down to France with The Man. Last night I finished the last two instalments of the third series, The Final Cut. Even though it is somewhat dated, nevertheless, it was well worth watching and very much enjoyed. Ian Richardson was fabulous as Francis Urquhart --- referred to throughout as F U!! Now I am ready to see the translation to Washington, D.C.

As for reading material -- my absolute favourite birthday present this year was the 4th volume of Robert Caro's autobiography of Lyndon Johnson. It was all I could do not to pick it up again after my quick perusal of its contents left me hungry for more! All this and vin de Provence, Brie, and French bread, coming up soon!