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!

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Time Flies When You're Having Fun -- I Guess...

My goodness but it's been ages since my last post -- at least it seems so to me. Every day I say to myself -- I really do want to blog today for sure and then I don't get down to it. Sometimes I don't even open the laptop -- even just checking e-mail on my phone.

On June 2nd my son Rob and his girlfriend, Catrin (Cat) arrived back in England after a two year sojourn in Vancouver, BC. No blogging for me that day! And then the following weekend it was the annual Art Exhibit, which is a job I love doing, but no time for blogging that's for sure. The following week was busy getting used to a full house again -- Rob and Cat will be with us for the foreseeable future while they decide where they want to live and work.

Saturday night we had guests for dinner and after much hemming and hawing about whether or not it would be warm enough, we elected to barbecue. The Man did an excellent job with chicken and sausages. I was up early to prepare the 'fixins' all the time wondering why it was that some people can start their preparations at the last minute and have everything ready and piping hot on time and also look like a million dollars. We decided to serve the first course outside and then go in for the remainder of the dinner. However, to our amazement, the temperature stayed mild right through dessert and we didn't go inside until after 10 o'clock!

And then on Sunday, Father's Day it was my birthday and a great day it was, too! Robert is a very good cook and together the two of them presented us with very fine food -- and my favourite wine! At church earlier in the day, the Vicar even dedicated his sermon to me, for reasons that are difficult to explain, but which made me laugh. But it was a very good sermon about what is 'bad religion' and what is 'good religion'.

What I particularly liked was a story he told about present day 'good religion'. When he was a very young man he had a job with a packing company and for a time was sending packages to Sierra Leone. As a result he became very familiar with the towns and cities of that country, with the result that the place became of interest to him. He explained that the President of that country, that is 70% Muslim, is Christian and that the Vice President is Muslim. The intriguing thing is that while 70% attend the Mosque for traditional Islamic worship, these same people attend the Christian churches on Sunday as well...

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Here and Abroad

Whenever I travel to and from the USA there is a kind of 'disconnect' that happens to me as I acclimatize myself to the foreign/familiar surroundings!. I have now lived almost as long in Europe as I lived in the States. I no longer can differentiate what 'back home' means. I am just as likely to say it meaning 'there' as well as 'here'! No matter which country claims you as an 'expat' you rarely ever return to your native land as a 'tourist'. On the other hand life is not going on as normal either. Usually I try to coincide my visit with an event such as Thanksgiving or Christmas or in this case, my mother's birthday. So there were friends and relatives to greet and often they make a point of visiting because I'm in town -- therefore, becoming a special event. My visits are always centered around 'people'.

In the case my mother, there is a lot of television. She likes to watch news programs and in particular every night like clockwork, Jeopardy and Wheel of Fortune! Then it's on to MSNBC's political programs which are rather to the left of Center! Being a political junkie this is agreeable for me!

The big story while I was back was all about Cliven Bundy and the showdown with the Bureau of Land Management. He owes the Federal Government around a million dollars for grazing his cattle on Federal land. But he refuses to pay because he doesn't recognize the Federal government! It became a cause celebre for the right wing media star Sean Hannity who promoted Bundy's ideas and helped to encourage men with guns to come and rally around the ranch threatening to shoot the government agents who came to take away his cattle. Wisdom prevailed and the law enforcement agents sent by the Bureau of Land Management withdrew from armed confrontation, much to the joy of a certain segment of the population. Republican politicians rallied around in their support and when Senate Leader Harry Reid called Bundy and his supporters 'domestic terrorists' it became evident there would soon be hell to pay!

Unfortunately, for Cliven Bundy, he couldn't keep  his mouth shut and drunk with the publicity he was receiving went on to talk about some of his other ideas. When he said talking black people on welfare:

"Because they were basically on government subsidy, so now what do they do?" he added in comments first reported by The New York Times and later seen on video. "They abort their young children, they put their young men in jail, because they never learned how to pick cotton. "And I've often wondered, are they better off as slaves, picking cotton and having a family life and doing things, or are they better off under government subsidy? They didn't get no more freedom. They got less freedom."
Suddenly, much to the joy of the left wing media, the right wing media and the Republican Party in great part fell over themselves trying to backtrack and wipe the muck of their faces!  It didn't shut up Cliven Bundy -- he kept trying to explain himself and kept making it worse. But the situation at the Bundy Ranch and the State of Nevada continues ...

Not that Britain has not had it's fair share of idiocy -- though mild in comparison. After all, no one here is hoping to take up arms against the government! In the meantime, here in Britain, Jeremy Clarkson of 'Top Gear' fame, was thrown on the coals over an old video clip -- never aired -- using the rhyme 'eeny meeny, miney moe, catch a 'n-word' by the toe... Profuse apologies by Clarkson followed. A 32 year veteran DJ on a 10.30 pm program got fired by the BBC because he played the original recording of a 1930's song, The Sun Has Got His Hat On -- the second verse of which contained the 'n' word. The fact that he did not know this mattered not -- one  person complained! Quite a rumpus ensued and the BBC relented and tried to give the man his job back -- but  to no avail...

In Britain there is a lot of discontent over the issue of immigration and I get the sense there may be trouble brewing for the future. The issue of racism and how we feel has become a 'no-go' area in the media, but it's all over the place in our lives and communities. Mr. Bundy's views are appalling but there are many many people who agree with him and to pretend otherwise is a big lie. After all we must not use the 'race card' even when it's obvious that racism is alive and very well, indeed.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Ups and Down

Old age is so tricky! My mother has been living here for almost 10 years now and in that time I have seen how the passage of time has affect many of the residents. Both my parents came here -- mostly because of my father's failing health -- he died the following year in 2005.

Until two years ago Mom was still doing her monthly accounts and organizing her medication. It seemed rather sudden that she was no longer able to accomplish these tasks and my two sisters shared the responsibility. And as I look around the dining room I see similar changes in other residents. It is not very uplifting.

Since I have been here Mom has become more and more dependent on my presence and becomes seriously distressed if I leave her for just a few hours -- no matter how many times I explain where I am going and when I will be back. I even told the front desk so that if she called they could reassure her. Unfortunately, there was a personnel change and the information did not get passed on... I returned to a very confused mother and my own feelings of frustration and irritation!

Needless to say,  I am a bit worried about leaving on Saturday.