Monthly Archives: May 2015

Globals!

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This one’s dedicated to all the friends and family members who helped my daughter and her team go to their Destination Imagination Global Tournament in Knoxville, Tennessee last week. It was a thoroughly exhausting, thoroughly wonderful week. They had the time of their lives! THANK YOU!

There were so many things my daughter got to try for the first time last week, like the human hamster ball:

Bungee banana basketball…(the expression on her face)!

Organized thuggery:

NASA was there…

I got to play astronaut too!

Buzz Aldrin was the keynote speaker at the Opening Ceremony!

Over 17,000 people from 17 different countries all over the world came to Knoxville for the tournament.

Pin-trading was serious business:

Registering for the Instant Challenge:

The kids were cheered on as they went to do their instant challenge:

I got to hang out with these lovely mamas all week. We waited in the wings for our little teamsters…

They were ready to cut loose after their challenge:

And then it was on to the Duct Tape Ball! My girl only managed to put a few pieces of duct tape on the shirt she was wearing…(UNDER the fleece)!, but her teammates were far more enterprising:

There were some really elaborate duct tape costumes at the ball:

The next day the kids performed their main challenge. They had worked on the “Creature Feature” technical challenge for which they had to build a creature that performed actions, and to present a story featuring the creature as a character.

Once their challenge was done, they could relax!

On our last night in Knoxville, we went to dinner in Market Square, where we saw this statue:

The girls wanted to say thank you…

On Saturday morning before hitting the road for the six hour drive back to Charlottesville, the kids had one more woman to thank – their wonderful, wonderful, out of all whooping DI coach:

What a week! Goodbye, Knoxville! Hope to see you again…

Last Day in Seoul

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On our last day in Seoul, my sister and I took a walk to Gwanghwamun Square. It was overcast and smoggy, but there was plenty to see on our walk toward Gyeongbokgung Palace. The palace and monuments leading up to it are impressively situated with the majestic Bugaksan Mountain as a backdrop.

We walked past the 40th Anniversary Monument of Gojong’s Enthronement. Gojong (1852-1919) was the 26th king of the Joseon Dynasty, and the first emperor of Korea.

For some reason I found myself drawn to these little figures on the gate…

They reminded me of something I couldn’t quite put my finger on…and then I remembered:

Admiral Yi (1545-1598) is one of Korea’s greatest heroes, a naval commander who never lost a single battle. He is famous for his victories over the Japanese navy and for improving upon a warship called the turtle ship or geobukseon:

My dad once told me long ago that we were related to Admiral Yi. Genealogy is a big deal in Korea. Many people have books listing all of their ancestors for generations among their most prized possessions. I know my family has one somewhere. Sure, there are a gazillion Kims, but are you the right kind of Kim? Certain Kim bloodlines have more cachet than others. This information is important when marriages are being considered. You wouldn’t want to marry a Kim from the same ancestral clan, for example. When I was in high school I had to do an oral presentation on our family history. When I asked my dad for some details, he casually told me that we were directly descended not only from the great Admiral Yi, but also from kings and queens of the Silla Dynasty. I was puffed with pride and my classmates were suitably impressed when I wove that fact into my presentation. It was only years later that I realized that EVERY Korean person is somehow related to some king, queen, (or illustrious admiral).

Still, I couldn’t help thinking about the fact that we were related to Admiral Yi as I walked past the exhibits on his life and accomplishments in the museum below street level, underneath his and King Sejong the Great’s statues.

The Admiral was as bad-ass as they come:

He was inventive, resourceful, and creative:

He was a poet…

And look! Great Grandpa Sun-sin loved keeping a diary – it was his most prized possession:

Later that day, with my head full of all the amazing things I had learned about my forebear, I asked my dad to remind me how exactly we were related to Admiral Yi. He told me he was his mother’s great x 17 grandfather. I waited for him to point out all of our ancestor’s excellent traits and qualities and to confirm all the connections I had made myself. Instead he said this would explain why my grandmother was “unusually large and husky” for a Korean woman.

This explains so much! 

You can just start calling me The Admiral from now on.

Just past the statue of Admiral Yi is the statue of King Sejong the Great (1397-1450), which was erected in 2009. King Sejong was an enlightened ruler, who is most famous for creating the simple, phonetic 28 letter Korean alphabet so that everyone could be literate. One of the most interesting features of this alphabet is that the shapes of the letters are meant to depict the shape of the mouth and tongue when making the sounds. Before the creation of Hangul, only the upper classes could read and write, because Korean at the time relied so heavily on the use of Chinese characters. Scholars and noblemen opposed the creation of the alphabet, fearing that it would sour relations with China and go against Confucian principles, but King Sejong persisted in working toward his vision of universal literacy:

The language of our people is different from that of Chinese and hence cannot be expressed properly in Chinese characters. That is why there are many simple-minded people who can not express themselves even if they have things to say. Taking pity on them, I have made twenty eight letters, only hoping that all our people learn them easily and use them comfortably every day.

I can attest to the ease of learning how to read and write Korean – my mother once taught this simple-minded person how to do it in an hour. Now if only I knew what I was reading and writing!

Past the statue of King Sejong is Gyeongbokgung Palace, built in 1395 as the main royal palace of the Joseon Dynasty. It was destroyed by the Japanese in 1592 and after being rebuilt, it was destroyed again by the Japanese in 1915. Restoration to its original form began in 1990 and is ongoing.

On the extensive grounds of the palace are several museums, including the National Folk Museum.

Korean jangseung, or totems like these were often placed at village entrances, often in male and female pairs, to ward off evil spirits, protect against disease, and to ensure a good harvest. The inscriptions are identifiers. The male figure is “Great General Under Heaven” and the female figure is “Great General of the Underworld.” Now that has a certain ring to it, don’t you think?

There was an impressive collection of stone statues of civil servants. Statues such as these are often placed to stand guard at the graves of important people.

One area of the grounds has been designed to recreate a street in the 70s. My family moved to Korea for a couple years when I was a baby in the early 70s. I was too young to remember anything about it, but I thought it might bring back memories for my sister.

She once told me that all the kids had to bring candles to school. They would wax the floors with them on their hands and knees…

The 70s recreation did spark one memory for me…I was very excited to see this poster hanging on a wall. First, check out the Korean version of Audrey Hepburn:

For as long as I can remember, my dad’s been trying to convince me to cut my hair short. He always begins his pitch by talking about how when the movie Roman Holiday came out in Korea, all the women ran out to get their hair cut like Audrey Hepburn’s!

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The next morning we headed to the airport…My mom especially wanted to make sure I got a picture of her with her brother and his hat! I love the fact that even in his seventies, he calls my mom noona, (big sister). He very solicitously made sure she didn’t have to wait in long lines like the rest of us schlubs!

I was touched to see that a whole party of people made the hour and a half drive to the airport to see my parents off:

One of the men told me that he had named his son after my grandfather and that his daughter has my mom’s name. He earned his doctorate in Systematic Theology, because my father first taught it to him. There was a lot of love for my parents in that airport. They may have never won any naval battles or sat on any thrones:

…(well, maybe just once), but they’ve lived their lives with integrity, and they’ve earned the respect and love of people on both sides of the globe. I’m proud to be their daughter.

This trip to Korea was an experience I will treasure for a lifetime, and I’m so grateful to have been able to share it with my parents and my sister.

The Great Admiral of the Underworld is signing off for now…Until next time!

Etc.

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I just got back from Knoxville, Tennessee where my daughter’s Destination Imagination team was competing at the Global Finals. I had meant to finish up my Korea posts while I was there, but limited bandwidth in the dorms we were staying in, a packed schedule, and sheer exhaustion delayed things a bit…Without further ado, here is my penultimate Korea post:

The Scoop on Poop

I didn’t know it was possible to be spoiled by a toilet. It is:

After ten days of sitting on a heated seat in the Westin Chosun, regular toilets seem so cold and primitive!

Sometimes the toilets were so high tech, I couldn’t even figure out how they flushed:

The toilets weren’t always so fancy:

I’m not the only one who couldn’t figure out how the toilets worked…Because of the existence of squatter toilets such as these, you sometimes see signs like this:

On our last day in Seoul, my sister and I walked to the National Folk Museum, which also has a Children’s Museum. This was the featured exhibit:

Food, glorious food

The Spam aisle in the Lotte Department Store Grocery:

The 12th and 13th floors have nothing but restaurants:

I was fascinated by the snacks…Mmmmmm, squid gristle!

Shopping

The 9th floor of Lotte is Duty Free cosmetics. The place was full of people with gigantic suitcases, prepared to drop some serious change on face creams!

Exit through Star Avenue:

These pretty, pretty boys made me feel like a big ugly lumberjack every time I walked past:

Shinsegae Department Store is the grande dame of department stores:

We caught a sweet, temporary installation called Journey in a Dream on the top floor. The Australian installation artist Pip & Pop created depictions of paradise made of colored sugar and figurines she had collected in Korea:

Tomorrow: Last Day in Seoul

 

Cheong Gye Cheon Stream

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The Cheong Gye Cheon Stream traverses central Seoul from West to East for about seven miles. For centuries, people gathered at the Cheong Gye Cheon to wash clothing by hand. From 1900 on shantytowns were erected along the stream. My dad recalls seeing North Korean refugees living in cardboard houses on either side during the Korean War. By 1958 the area had become such an eyesore and health hazard that the stream was covered over with concrete, and an elevated highway was eventually built over it. In 2003, a controversial $900 million, two-year restoration project was begun to remove the highway and concrete to uncover the stream once again. People complained bitterly about the disruption and the displacement of businesses caused by the construction, but today the stream is a treasured and popular landmark in Seoul.

For the month of May, it’s decorated for Buddha’s birthday:

In which Lumpy and Stupid Try Not to Disgrace the Family Name

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When it comes to my parents, the only thing we’ve ever been able to count on for sure, is that we should expect the unexpected.

“Kids, we’re moving to Dallas!”

“We’re moving to Korea.”

“We’re moving to Florida.”

“We’re moving to Pennsylvania.”

“Tell your teachers this is your last week of school. We’re moving to Virginia next week.”

“Thanks for picking us up at the airport, but we’re going to drive to Tennessee now. See you at the end of the week.” (At 11 pm).

Surprise! We decided to come home a few days early!” (At 3 am the next day).

“We’ve decided to move to Korea.”

“We’re moving to California.”

“We changed our minds, we’re not going to stay for dinner. What? A two and a half hour drive is no big deal. We got to see you for a whole fifteen minutes!”

One might assume that after a lifetime of dealing with this kind of erratic behavior, one would give up trying to figure out their next move. Perhaps if one weren’t so lumpy and stupid, one would have given up trying, years ago. But every morning of the week we spent in Korea, my sister and I conferred with our parents in a vain attempt to definitively pin down the particulars of the schedule for the day. Every day my parents would say one thing and then casually drop bombshells left and right as the day wore on.

On Wednesday, we knew we would be attending the annual Founder’s Day Festival at the university (in honor of my grandfather), and that my father would be giving some sort of speech.

That morning my dad said, “Oh, by the way, they’re giving me an honorary degree today. They want you girls to go up on stage and help me with my cap and gown.”

“Ummm, Dad, is that really a good idea? We don’t speak Korean. We’ll have no idea what to do. We’re going to make complete fools of ourselves. We wouldn’t want to embarrass you in front of all those peop-”

“Nah. It’ll be fine. I’m sure they’ll tell you what to do.”

We begged our mom to intercede on our behalf…to explain that we were Lumpy and Stupid and could not be trusted to perform in such a public venue on such an important occasion. Not only did she refuse to help us, she craftily seated herself waaaaaaaay in the back of the auditorium, so as to escape notice herself.

It was not terrible.

My sister was not introduced, as she had been all week long, as a “good eater who as a little girl could eat an entire chicken all by herself, and especially loved the greasy skin which she’d rip off with her bare hands.”

When they introduced me, the lame joke I had once made, that after watching a few Korean dramas, I was now fluent enough in Korean to be the next university president, was not repeated as my mother insisted on doing over and over to my horror and everlasting shame to people, who never once cracked a smile at its retelling, and instead politely nodded their heads as they struggled not to betray their shocked disapproval at the rapacious, grasping, (lumpy and stupid) daughter who had made such an audacious claim.

We did not trip on the stairs on our way to the stage.

We bowed awkwardly, and maybe only looked a little bit like boobs as we did so.

We fumbled with the zipper for only a few seconds.

We placed the cap on our dad’s head more or less the right way.

We hugged our dad when we were ordered to in a stage whisper.

 

We looked only as stiff and awkward as we usually do, AND there was no food stuck between my teeth when we posed for photos.

My mom did not escape with impunity. They managed to hunt her down…

I exacted my revenge by taking photos of the takedown:

Cake-cutting:

The Founder’s Day Festival:

After the ceremony, we celebrated our small victory with dinner:

And just a little more revenge:

Lumpy and Stupid Visit the Country, Part 2

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I remember once long ago asking my father what part of Korea he was from. He told me and then added, “There’s absolutely no reason why you would have ever heard of it.” On Tuesday we drove two and a half hours south of Seoul to Yesan-gun in South Chungcheong Province to visit my father’s last living sibling. As we were driving there I looked it up on wikipedia and found that in 2009, it earned the designation of a “‘slow city,’ one in which traditional cultures and communities are preserved.” Its most famous native son is the resistance fighter Yoon Bong-Gil. In 1932 during the Japanese Occupation, he carried out a bombing in Shanghai which killed a Japanese general and a Chancellor. Left seriously wounded were an army commander, the Japanese Consul-General, and a special envoy. As we got closer, the view out the window was mostly muddy rice paddies and greenhouses. In the midst of this agricultural landscape, it was quite a startling sight to see the monolithic memorial in Yoon Bong-Gil’s honor decorated with what looked like a million Korean flags.

We pulled into a narrow alley and came to a stop here:

This is a newer house that was built in the place of the old hanok, where my father lived as a child. It is now occupied by the widow of one of his older brothers, the second woman to the left:

My father’s brother (furthest to the right) and his wife (furthest to the left) drove the short distance from their own house to meet us there.

I was delighted when my aunt brought out an ancient-looking photo album. We have very few photos of my father, and none of him as a child. I had never seen this photo before:

My dad is not in this photo, but pictured are a lot of my aunts and uncles. My grandmother is in the center, fifth from the left.

Here’s one of just my grandmother. My dad has always said I look like her:

What do you think?

We admired the garden and the cats in the courtyard before heading to lunch. The calico’s name is “Nabi,” or Butterfly – a generic cat name in Korea. I wish I knew what the other kitty’s name is…My mom says it was probably also Nabi!

The county’s other claim to fame is Sudeoksa, a Buddhist temple, which has been designated a National Treasure. We drove there for lunch along with busloads of tourists who had the same idea:

A pama (perm) and a bright colored jacket – the official uniform for tourism.

We took a few photos:

and then went to my uncle’s house:

Unfortunately, I couldn’t get a picture of the whole house, which is perched on supports with the entryway on the second floor.

This is the view from the front entrance:

Inside the house we were thrilled to find:

25 day old poodle puppies!

and a sweet Yorkie.

Both dogs immediately took to my dad, who has always been a dog-lover. Now I’m thinking it’s genetic…

After letting the mother poodle finish up his yogurt…

…my uncle kept hand feeding her and the Yorkie something else. He would crunch something in his own mouth and then spit it into his own hand to feed both of the dogs in turn. I was dying to know what it was. Later my dad told me it was candy.

After hugs and farewells, we headed back to Seoul with a stop for dinner:

…where this:

became this:

Lumpy and Stupid Visit the Country, Part I

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On Monday we drove two hours to the north of Seoul to visit the graves of my mother’s parents and brother. On Tuesday we drove two and a half hours to the south of Seoul to visit my father’s last living sibling – a brother who is three years older than he is.

En route we stopped at a rest area, where I couldn’t resist snapping photos like a hayseed visiting the big city for the first time.

Hmmm…Which side to pick?

WRONG SIDE!

The right side was equipped with this device, as many of the public restrooms are:

In the land of perfect people, with a push of a button, unpleasant bathroom noises can be masked with the pleasing sound of flowing water.

Here’s a good idea:

No Popeye’s Fried Chicken or Sbarros in this rest area:

We tried these cunning little walnut cakes, a specialty of the region:

Alas, like most Korean desserts, they were filled with sweet red bean paste.

More on Lumpy and Stupid’s visit to the country tomorrow.