Sunday, February 28, 2010

Blog 5 - March 1

As we're furnishing our home, Avi, an Israeli music professor and neighbour, donated a coffee table that he and his Russian wife, Sophia, no longer need as its glass top is dangerous for 7 month old Gali who is now crawling. Good to see Avi caring for those pianist hands and Damien doing his bit to take the load! Good luck in the US with your performances Avi and we'll keep an eye on your women here during the next 2 weeks.

A man among giants or a giant among men? The Museum of Contemporary Art , not far from us at Gwanak Gu in Seoul Grand Park, has over 80 garden sculptures including this singing man and the moving lotus flower (video below), not to mention the inside exhibitions. It may sound boring, however it is a wonderful thing to do on a cold winter Sunday.

I thought I was adjusting pretty well until I began Korean language classes this week. After lesson one on Monday evening when we learned all the vowels including complex vowels, I came away feeling completely overwhelmed and stupid! After some homework and lesson two on Wednesday I'm feeling that this language may be possible to learn and I will see it as a challenge. I've realized that may doors remain closed without language. The class of myself and 4 businessmen, includes an Indian, Israeli, French and Japanese and is taught by Young Eun who looks like she's just left school! I will continue to update my progress. This photo was taken at a highway rest stop with all facilities, on our way Jeonju.

I usually avoid organised trips, however this excellent tour to Jeonju, 3 hours south of Seoul, was conducted by the Royal Asiatic Society and led by Dr Dan Adams who has lived in this historic town for over 30 years. He is retiring from his university position as Professor of Theology at Hanil University and this was his last gig. Well worth a visit. Jeonju was Korea's capital for over and home to the Joseon dynasty (1392 – 1910). Joseon was the last royal and later imperial dynasty and was the longest ruling Confucian dynasty ever. Much of modern Korean etiquette, cultural norms, societal attitudes and even the modern Korean language stem from the traditional thought pattern that originated from this period.

On our trip to Jeonju, we made a new friend Maria ,who invited us to Club Italia for lunch. We enjoyed a wonderful meal of spaghetti al vongole, (clams), calamari, both stuffed and fried, eggplant and tomato bake, salad, good bread (a rare treat in Korea) Italian wine ,of course , and gelato. A good chance to brush up on our Italian!

Maria (on the right in blue) is teaching Italian to opera singers and Korean students at three different universities here. Thanks for the introduction to a whole new community.

The best espresso coffee in Seoul is served by Vincenzo at Club Italia. We met Luigi and Anita who have recently arrived from Adelaide (he is a consular attache) and previously lived in Walkerville, an adjoining suburb to us in Adelaide.

In a city of 10 million, it takes about an hour to travel anywhere - I'm getting lots of reading done on the subway. Instructions to Club Italia are to catch the local bus to the subway station, Naksundae, which is on green line, go towards Sadang and change to the blue line until Ichon, then transfer again to the pale blue line to Hannam and then catch a bus 6211 to the Italian Embassy. Go through the car park, to the playground, through the double glass doors on the right and then downstairs to the basement. Quite a journey however well worth it. The transport system works amazingly well and I can use my credit card to swipe for buses, trains and subway and it all is automatically deducted. Here is the link if you're interested in checking out where we are.

The link to cyberstation helps to plan the journey with time and minimum changes included. Sometimes it's as crowded as sardines, at unusual times such as and other times it's quiet. This photo is about normal. People on public transport sleep or do mysterious technical things with phones and electronic devices - music, TV, games, watch the Winter Olympics, favourite soaps...

Speaking of links, our 23 year old son, Liam who is living in Japan, had his first online articles published this week in Design Droplets. This is an online Industrial Design magazine that focuses on the Asia Pacific design community. Check out Liam's writings at and

Among the modernity of life in Seoul, some traditions remain unchanged. Lunch is promptly at 12.00 noon and invariably rice, kim chi and other accompaniments.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Blog 4 - February 22

Lunar New Year is a very big deal here. Below zero temperatures did not deter the thousands of Koreans who visited Gyeongbokgung, which translates to 'Palace Greatly Blessed by Heaven'. Don't ask me how to say it! This is the oldest and largest of five palaces in Seoul and was built in 1394, rebuilt in 1876 and is currently being rebuilt again as it was destroyed by the Japanese in the early 20th century. Did you know Korean drums are only played on the vertical?

The palace was postioned strategically with the mountains surounding it.

It was so cold we spent ages listening to Bob Dylan playing (not live unfortunatley) and paying 5,000 Won (AU$5.00) for weak coffee. Strange that coffee is more than a full meal which is usually 4,000 Won (AU$4.00)

I was the only westerner eating at this cafe in food alley, Namdaemun Market. The name means Great South Gate and was the main southern gate to the old city. It is the largest retail market in Seoul and one of the oldest markets in Korea. Across the road was the exclusive department store Shinsegae where French cakes were 20,000 Won and I found tea for 44,000 Won (AU$44.00). This quest for loose leaf tea has become an obsession and I have found barley, corn, pomegranate, green, jasmine, chamomile and many unrecognisable teas however no Liptons or Lan-choo. I could only take one photo as I was told no photos - perhaps they thought I was going to go home and copy them. In your dreams! Baking is rare here and we are like most Koreans and don't have an oven.

How come Koreans are so skinny when cakes like this are easily available and not always expensive?

This photo was taken outside our front door. Still cold here and we are really enjoying the ice and snow as it is a novelty after temperate Adelaide where even in the middle of winter it is a minimum of 5 or 6 degrees. We are getting used to allowing 10 minutes to add coat, scarf, gloves, hat and layers before venturing out.

Our first mail arrived in the letterbox. What could it be? Do we pay? Who to? How much? Hopefully not the forty million in the top corner! It turned out to be our gas bill and the amount is 29,090 Won ($29.09). Pretty good, however the apartment was empty for most of January apart from our son Liam and his friends who came from Japan for a week. It still seems pretty cheap when you consider our gas comes from the north west shelf of Western Australia.

Koreans love to shop! I went with Seung Hee and her daughter Choi Won to buy a lunch box as she has just begun a new job as a landscape architect. This took most of the afternoon as it was no ordinary lunch box. Koreans eat rice for every meal so this thermal pack has containers for rice and a number of additions that vary every day. Thanks for the gift of plates.

Another of many firsts - our first dinner guests on Saturday night. Thanks for the corkscrew. Lee Farrand was born in Korea, raised in Adelaide and returned here to live and work 4 years ago. Recently married to Heather, he is now a PhD student at Seoul National University so they are neighbours. A funny meal - a rare treat to find Australian wine and cook pasta with real Parmesan, however it was eaten with chopsticks as we have not yet acquired forks, which is a specialist item here. We discovered a western supermarket CostCo on the Lunar Year holiday weekend and bought up big! And yes - they are Tim Tams on the table along with Ging Seng, a Lunar New Year gift. Ginseng is a precious herb that reduces stress, increases libido and assures long life. We can vouch for its effectiveness and have enough to keep us going for years to come!

The roses were a Valentines Day gift from the Australian Chamber of Commerce function we attended at the Ritz Carlton on Friday night. Thanks to Pilar, our new friend who is the Executive Director of AustCham. Yes - we are certainly mixing in lofty places here! It took us 45 minutes to get there at 6.30pm on the subway and over an hour to return by taxi as there were amazing traffic jams at 11.30pm!

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Blog 3 - February 15

The most exciting news this week has been snow. We woke up to this unexpected surprise on Wednesday when Adelaide was sweltering in 37 degrees and here it was minus 3. Have been truly relishing the space and time to explore as my new life unfolds. Other highlights have been an invitation to lunch with Im Seung Bin and Seung He who live in our apartments, a local performance with Choi Sungnam and his family in Friday night snow and peak hour Lunar New Year traffic, running out of petrol and miraculously arriving just on time to see a most wonderful show. I am getting used to having no car and getting fit with no lift and 72 steps - did I mention this already? Having the penthouse suite is pretty good and views of the snow covered mountains are beautiful.

Shopping at the local markets continues to be a fun challenge. I got lost coming home yesterday. Surprise, surprise!! On Tuesday I had my first solo foray on the subway in the rain and dark to see a presentation on Won Buddhism. The audience was about 50/50 locals and expats. Feel very safe walking everywhere, however the snow makes everything slippery and is a bit of a challenge.

Our 5 boxes arrived from Australia in 5 days - amazing!

Special delivery of 3 kilos of oranges as a gift to celebrate Lunar New Year this weekend.

Regular coffee with Kim Gun Woo, Damien's research assistant. So far I've only tried 5 of the 50 cafes on campus!

Seafood floor feast with prawns, mussels, kim chi, (with scissors and tongs provied for cutting)spinach -yum! Total cost of $5.00. Who could afford to eat at home? Everyone takes their shoes off at the door. Only Korean was spoken in this restaurant so we point to our choice. I'm getting very skilled at charades!

I'm now officially a Korean 'alien'! This registration card enables me to open a bank account, get a job, buy a mobile phone, buy a car! Hooray! It took almost all day to achieve this amazing feat - one hour on the subway, another with completion of multiple forms including marriage certificate, another hour home, plus getting lost time!

No secrets around here! Our neighbours having a new fridge delivered.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Blog 2 - February 8

We have packed and posted 5 boxes which hopefully will arrive in Seoul in 10 days. Fingers crossed! Amazingly were just under weight with our luggage.

As we prepare to leave we have had many more dinners, lunches, drinks, text and phone messages, visits and breakfasts. Feeling truly cherished, replete and experiencing farewell fatigue! Thank you to our friends and family and also to people who haveposted comments.
Photo taken on the day of our departure, 4 Feb, regular walking on the River Torrens that is at the back of our home.

Damien, Paula, Dominic and Dad saying goodbye at Adelaide airport. Thanks to Dominic, blog consultant, dog walker and house minder, especially for posting comments helping people to log comments. Also to Paula for the fruit cake that I carried in my computer bag and was much appreciated as our first meal in Seoul. After arriving to minus 3 degrees, the 3 hour trip from Incheon airport in peak hour traffic meant that everything was closed. (This journey usually takes an hour.) As we climbed the 72 stairs to our 5th floor (penthouse!) apartment, the promise of homemade cake kept us going.

Visiting Singapore on our way, it was great to briefly see familiar places and even to catch the MRT again. Thanks to our dear friends Shahnaz and Rassul for a wonderful meal and bed, for the video of their son's recent wedding in Sweden.

The view from my computer as I persist with learning and flying solo. Have already lost everything on this posting once so keen to get this finished. Those who know me well can testify to my amazing technical skills! As I write Damien is cleaning so perhaps it's better to take my time!
Today is sunny and cold, minus 9 degrees however with underfloor heating it's very cosy inside.

Bought a teapot while shopping yesterday. Couch surfing anyone?

View from our back balcony with a forest behind.

View from our front balcony with Gwanak mountain behind. This is one of 5 sacred mountains in and around Seoul. I thought we could aim to climb them all. This one takes about 3 hours so will investigate if it's possible to climb the others. Have some more photos however have already broken my 7 photo rule!

Surprises so far - we live in a very local area and have not seen any westerners yet. This means having photos of food in restaurants is important! Few people speak English. I'm trying to learn a word a day. So far, hello and thank you are my total vocab! Living in a small apartment is wonderful - there is lots of storage and we're trying to keep it looking zen which really means it's pretty bare!

Monday, February 1, 2010

Blog 1 - February 1

This is the first entry of my photo-journal, documenting my transition from Adelaide, South Australia, to Seoul, South Korea. It will be updated every Monday for the next three months.

The front and back garden of our home of over 25 years. I only hope that it is just as 'cup of tea worthy' when we return.

Damien and I have been wining and dining for the past few weeks as we say goodbye.

Lunch last Saturday at Angela and Jeff's with Paula and Richard, my sister and brother in law. Thanks for the plums we picked, I made a delicious cake with them.

Breakfast this Saturday at Joy's across the road with neighbours Brian and Monika.

Last visit to the beach house at Sellicks on Australia Day.

The next few days will be more dinners, packing and goodbyes.

This time next week, the post will come from Korea!