Friday, February 8, 2008

The Year of the Rat: Seoul

As many of you may already know, yesterday marked the Lunar New Year, aka Seollal, here in Korea, as in the rest of East Asia. (It's widely known by the more historically accurate, if less politically correct, name of "Chinese New Year" in other parts of the world.) Lunar New Year is a pretty big deal here--other than Chuseok, I'm told it's the most important holiday of the Korean lunar year--marked by family gatherings and travel snafus across the peninsula. (Related: Winter storms have thrown a serious wrench in New Year celebrations in China, which has made headlines in US papers over the last couple of weeks.) Having no Korean relatives with whom we could celebrate, Nana and I did the next best thing: we trekked downtown to a special New Year exhibition at Namsangol Hanok Village that featured some traditional Korean food, fun, and games.

Namsangol Hanok Village is a complex of five restored traditional houses, or hanok (literally, "Korean house"). The houses themselves weren't terribly impressive--we'd gotten a closer and less-crowded look at hanok architecture on our visit to Queen Min's birthplace--but the place was jumping: families, food samples, and even a crazy gymnastics performance!

First stop was a station for traditional Korean games, one of which seems to involve launching stony-faced middle-aged women three feet into the air. Behold, the ajumma toss (by the way, don't ask me why the video is sideways; my camera does this from time to time):

After declining to partake in this dangerous pastime, we wandered further into the complex, where we found what seemed to be some kind of wish-tree--people were writing stuff on little bits of colored paper and tying them to long lines of string. Very pretty, but I couldn't find any information that wasn't in Korean--any readers have any idea what this is?We also stumbled upon a display on the traditional hanbok, worn on important holidays like News Years. There were a bunch of kids, and a few adults, in hanbok, but I was reluctant to take any pictures, since I didn't want folks to feel like they were on display.Near the hanbok display was a booth selling traditional New Years goodies. Out front was this guy whacking rice cake dough with a hammer--to delicious effect, I might add, and I didn't even really like rice cakes before! He would also stand aside to let guests take a few whacks of their own. More than once, I had to duck a gob of goo sent flying through the air while I filmed, but unfortunately you'll have to content yourself with a photo, since the videos didn't turn out.

In addition to the rice cakes, the peanut thingamajiggers were also delicious, as Nana can attest.

Namsangol is right at the foot of Namsan, a high and largely unpopulated hill that juts up in the middle of Seoul, and the wind there makes it great for flying New Years kites, many of which we saw in action in a plaza further up the hill. Below you'll find a shot of kites with Namsan and N'Seoul Tower in the background, and further below a simple shot of kites against the blue.
The upper portion of the park also featured a very imposing time capsule, to be opened in about 400 years to celebrate the anniversary of Seoul's millenial. Cool fact: Nana could read half of the dedications from Seoul's sister cities (English, Spanish, and Chinese).Last but not least: a crazy gymnastics/circus stunt exhibition at the bottom of the hill, featuring a Korean tightrope walker and a troupe of girls who could ride eight on a bike, roller skate, and sit on their heads while hanging from their teeth. (You'll have to take my word from it--we were too far away for me to get a good pic.) Here's a clip of the tightrope walker, who apparently has a crotch of steel (guys, prepare to gape in horror):

Well, that about sums up our New Years. Next up: a trip to Daejeon to foster a puppy! Here's hoping everything goes off without a hitch . . .

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Justin Eats Weird Stuff For Your Pleasure: Ski Snacks

Yes, that is a waffle. What you can't see is that it's oozing with apple butter. I didn't know they even HAD apple butter in Korea! What a totally awesome idea for a slopeside snack.

Nana, for her part, stuck with the more traditional churro, favorite of stoned shredders everywhere:

Cell Phone: Fourth Time is NOT the Charm

Yes, another day, another trek out to Nowon to put minutes on the cellphone--and another round rejection by SK Telecom, which seems NEVER to be open. Honestly--how does a business even survive if it's so darned hard to buy its services? I mean, we've been trying for months now to add a few thousand won to their revenue stream. What does a guy have to do?

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Elevator Discovery!

Yes, Nana and I are back safely from another successful weekend, but more importantly: Did you know that you can cancel calls on Korean elevators by pressing the floor button again? For example: You stumble into an elevator weak from a day of skiing, inadvertently brushing every darned button in the place. Normally, this would mean stopping at every single floor and staring stupidly at an empty hall for ten seconds. In Korea, though, all you have to do is press (for a second time) the floors you don't want! Of course, the technology, however mind-boggling, is a double-edged sword: you could just as easily brush the button for your desired floor and wind up on Mars or something. But on the whole, I wish I could say the same for elevators in the States.

Time permitting, look for two new installments of Justin Eats Weird Stuff For Your Pleasure this week!