Sunday, December 26, 2010

Blog 35 - 26th December

Travelling back to Australia from snowy Seoul after a four hour delay due to fog, we spent some time in Singapore in transit visiting with our friends Pat and Rick. Thanks to you both for a delicious home cooked meal in your newly renovated kitchen. It was so wonderful to catch up after many years of emails and phone calls. We look forward to catching up again before too long.

One of the traditions of Adelaide Christmas is the central market shopping on Christmas Eve. We collected our son Jacob from the airport and met our friend Monika, a previous guest editor and visitor to Seoul, for breakfast including wonderful coffee at Zuma. Cherries were in abundant supply however prices slightly up due to recent rains. Here is the link for those planing a visit to Adelaide.

Our friends, Cathy (pictured here with Monika) and Peter, invited us to Christmas drinks the day after our return. Here we are on their patio with long lost and dear friends. Another special night together - thanks to you both for yet more generous hospitality.

Family get togethers are quite large for us - 24 in my sister Anne's garden for Christmas lunch - so with the direction of Richard, the engineering feet of constructing a bamboo outdoor shelter on Christmas Eve was easy. Photos of construction workers follow - Alex, Anne, Christian, Sophie, Jacob and Paula.

Step 1 - measure and cut bamboo to lengths so they are the same.

Step 2 - stand and discuss the best way to go!

Step 3 - work out how to attach the sheeting to the poles

Step 4 - set the table and wait for the party!

Step 5 - Party!

Step 6 - Christmas re gifting - Joe hit the jackpot!

Step 7 - more eating and drinking

Step 8 - the end

Our neighboring street is famous for the house lights at Christmas. Here is a selection of one.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Blog 34 - 12th December

Guest editors of this week's blog are Dominic and Maddy, who have been visiting for the last week, in the middle of a two months long trip spanning Japan, Korea, and China.

Although this photo was taken before we actually arrived here in Seoul, we've heard so much about these three grey-haired professors and this night that we felt like it ought to be included. This is, from left to right, Mark, Bob and Damien, sitting in the "priority seating" area of the Seoul subway on their way to dinner celebrating their respective birthdays. The dinner that night was so good, the restaurant makes a second appearance below.

As you would know, Korea gets cold, so in the evenings there's little else to do but turn the underfloor heating to high and get a'puzzling. This 500 piece puzzle that Dad got from the National Museum of a battle scene was completed with Maddy's help shortly after arrival.

Just in case we hadn't got the idea yet, so as to reinforce the point, Korea showed us its whiter side. At first snow is pretty, fluffy, and embodies everything that's pure, then you get caught in it and you get cold, wet and hate the stuff. This is the view out of the apartment of the first snow of winter.

Another popular way to keep warm is the local coffee house. It’s all very cultural, I assure you. Due to the popularity, and the various sleeping students (it’s exam time) we squashed into this corner for our boiling hot lattes.

We’ve found that occasionally, in the battle between trying to look good, and keeping warm, this desire for comfort often wins out.

But not on this occasion.

Too busy to look at the camera, Dad and Maddy enjoy one of what seemed like 100 courses of the set dinner at Chaegundaam. They don’t have a website, but if you’re ever in Seoul, I highly recommend it.

On Sunday, Susan and I (Maddy) visited The House of Sharing, the residence and museum for survivors of sexual slavery during the Asia-Pacific War. The issue of ‘comfort women’ has only been in the spotlight since 1991 but the nine Halmoni that live there have been fighting for the human rights violations and past injustices against them to be recognized by the Japanese Government constantly since. Even though they are all quite old they are still active in protests, visits and sharing testimonials. It was a horrifying but inspiring day and I’d strongly urge everyone to go, especially to meet the Halmoni while they are still alive.

We have loved Korea and think everyone should visit Seoul while Susan and Damien are here. They are excellent hosts and guides!!

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Blog 33 - 28th November

Monday 22nd November is Lebanese Independence Day. Independence from whom you may ask? Actually it was from the French in 1946. This photo is of an ice cedar tree, as you know the national symbol and featured on the flag. Can you see the Lebanese and Korean flags in the background?

The wife of the Lebanese Ambassador, Majida Mustafa, invited me along with about a hundred others to celebrate at the J W Marriott. Majida is pictured below dressed in traditional costume and dancing the dubke, Lebanon's national dance . The food was fantastic and the first time I have seen authentic Lebanese food here in Korea.

I do love to dance, however resisted the temptation on this occasion. Thank you to my friend Catharine for the photos. Check out her wonderful blog at

The following evening I returned to the same ballroom at the J W Marriott for the Korean Australian Alumni Gala event. Damien also came this time and wore his red Korean time to mark the occasion. Can you see him on the left towards the front? This was the evening of the North Korean bombing, however apart from the Australian Ambassador,who was busy briefing Canberra, everything seemed to be 'business as usual' and the 260 invitees were able to ignore the troubles and have fun. I even won a big box of Australian beef. Quite a luxury here. Bad luck I am a vegetarian!

My Korean teacher Romy invited me and two friends, Sandra from the US and Kartrina from Sweden, to Yongmunsa, a Buddhist temple and the site of the oldest ginkgo tree in Asia. Here is the link if you are interested

It is snowing here tonight as we returned from a birthday dinner for Damien. Watch for some snow photos next time. Also stay posted for some photos of Dominic our son, and Madelaine, my niece, who will be visiting soon. Hooray!

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Blog 32 - 15th November

Autumn is truly beautiful with clear blue skies and crisp cold days. Here are some photos of the campus. In the background are forested mountains: SNU campus is in a valley, surrounded by mountains, which just now are in gloriously varied autumn colours. Ginko trees abound on Seoul National University (SNU) campus, so these days it's a carpet of golden leaves. The Ginko is sometimes called the maidenhair tree, for its leaves are shaped like those of the maidenhair fern. Damien is the guest editor this time so get ready for a botanical tour.

The small shrine (above) is just opposite Damien's department terrace garden, on the 9th floor. Just shout out a few Buddhist prayers: Without a mountain, there is no river. But no shoutingBuddhists always speak quietly.

Because the campus has some 30,000 students, the main circulation loop road (which totals 7 km in length) can be rather too busy, but somehow the trees make is seem altogether a most beautiful place.
At our apartment, the forested hill we see from the living room is similarly ablaze in autumn colours. Being on the third level, we look straight into the tree tops.

This one (above) is taken from our balcony window.

Damien had a nostalgic trip out to the old Suwon campus, where he lived for the first two years in Korea. It's mostly abandoned now, awaiting a new purpose, and most of the mature planting has gone wild, but there are still some magnificent trees including this Ginko.

This is a main circulation stair on campus (the site is very hilly) which runs from the main amenities building (cafeteria, bookshop, 7/11, etc) up to the main library, so it's a busy link.

Another revered spot on campus is a small pond (Jahayeon) which reflects the tree colours throughout autumn.

We recently returned to the Museum of Contemporary Art, which is located in Seoul Grand Park to the south of Seoul, and took these photos in the gardens. Here is Damien coming to grips with a carefully composed assemblage of rusty iron, not to be confused with a pile of building rubble.

Here am I in what reminds me of Ned Kelly's helmet - complete with tree. And below, under the autumn avenue.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Blog 31 - 1st November

As Seoul prepares for the G20 on 11th and 12th November, these women are not demonstrating but are government sponsored to tell everyone to drive safely for the G20. Now that our car is fixed, we'll be sure to obey!

Our second try to go to the countryside was successful and we found our way to Heyri, an artist's village about one hour to the north of Seoul. We spent a wonderful autumn day wandering around galleries and drinking coffee. Here is the link

Parts of Heyri felt more like Scandinavia or Europe than Korea, apart from the kimchi pots!

We were invited to the ex-President's traditional hanok house for a garden dinner by Societas Koreana. The son of the ex-President was born here and gave a wonderful speech about traditional architecture that was pitched perfectly for laypeople. It looked like a wedding with candles and flowers arranged on our tables.

Here is our local gardening shop! Even though this old woman speaks no English, we manage to be her best customers. She adds everything up and we hand her some money, trusting that she has given us a fair price. This is how we do lots of our shopping here and although it may sound naive, Koreans do not seem to charge foreigners extra. We were most impressed with her cupboard filing system!

Today is the nine month anniversary of this blog that had its beginning on 1st Feb. How time flies when you're having fun!