Monday, September 22, 2008

We actually did some Korea things this weekend.

I am a fool and did not take my camera anywhere we went this weekend, but I'll give you a brief update sans photos. On Saturday, we went to a Korean tea house on Art Street. I knew about art street, but wasn't sure where exactly it was. I had been looking for it and thought I'd found it before and was disappointed at its lack of artiness. It lacked artiness because it wasn't Art Street at all. However, the real Art Street is exactly as it was described- full of galleries and art supply shops. There are many shops with reams and reams of beautiful Korean rice paper. I didn't buy any on Saturday because I didn't want to carry it with me all day. Maybe I can do some embroidery on it. 

Kent, a friend of ours, has befriended some Korean college girls with very very good English. They guided us to this tea place. It sells all kinds of tea pots and accessories in the front and serves tea in the back. For only $3 per person we sample, sipped, and enjoyed three different kinds of tea. A green tea called "jaksul", which means "sparrow's tongue" because the leaves are so tiny when they are picked. We had  matcha, a powdered green tea mixed into hot water with a bamboo whisk, and what was described to us as a "yellow tea", but I'd never heard of that before. I was able to spout a bit of my tea knowledge and impress  those who hadn't worked in a tea shop before. It was really cool and there are a few other tea places I'd like to try on Art Street.

On Sunday we went to the Gwangju Biennale. A biennale is a large international contemporary art show that happens every two years. The most famous of these exhibitions is in Venice, but our Gwangju holds its own. This exhibition is huge and takes place in several locations throughout the city. We bought season passes because it was way too much to take in on one day. Out five very large galleries in the main exhibition building, we looked at one and half on Sunday. Good thing it runs into November! We saw some cool stuff and I plan to go back one of my mornings before work when it won't be full of Korean children and tour groups. Koreans in a gallery setting are borderline awful according to what I'm used to in America. When we are in galleries or museums at home, we are respectful, quiet, and give space to others also viewing a piece or reading the plaque next to it.  Koreans are all things that are not the qualities or behaviors I just mentioned. They are loud, stand right next to you, in front of you, in the doorway, let their children run rampant, yelling through the gallery, and are generally unwilling to take a step aside so that you may walk by or also enjoy what they are looking at. All of these things happen everywhere else in Korea, but in a major international art exhibit?!? I'm foolish to expect anything different, I know. 

Aiigh, but it is a really cool thing to have in Gwangju, just a medium sized city in a tiny country. Jim Sanborn, the sculptor I worked for during senior year and the summer after graduation, was in the Gwangju Bienniale a few years ago. When I told him I was thinking about coming to Korea  he recommended Gwangju to me. He says that Gwangju has this event because there is a lot of cultural guilt surrounding the May 18th Gwangju Democratic Uprising in 1980. Over 150 were killed in a protest against military rule. A lot of cultural importance is put on Gwangju in an effort to outshine the democratic uprising and massacre. 
Strange fate twist- student uprising ending in massacre causes cultural guilt causes cultural importance in Gwangju causes Gwangju Biennale causes Jim Sanborn to come here causes him to recommend the city to me when I ask about Korea causes us to be here teaching English. Well.... maybe that's stretch,  but not too far. Ok, this post began as a description of our weekend and ended as the history of how we got to Gwangju. 

Next weekend, I'll take some pictures.....

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Kyoto, Japan

Over Chuseok (Korean Thanksgiving), Matt and I bussed, ferried, and trained to Kyoto. It was kind of a long trip for a four day weekend, but we only had the time that we had. Our first day of travel and hotel booking was expensive and trying, but the trip was definitely worth it. 
Our journey started on Thursday night. Our ferry left Busan on Friday morning, so we had to take the midnight bus after work to Busan. We got to Busan around 3am and had to hang out in the bus station until the subway opened at 5am. This was probably the most painful part of the journey. Those late night- early morning hours are rough in a bus station with no where to lie down. Busan's bus station is also strangely located far away from everything, so there wasn't anything to do but wait. We eventually got on the subway and found the international ferry terminal. We took a high speed ferry (3 hrs across the Sea of Japan - or as Korea calls it, the East Sea, they don't like to acknowledge that anything is Japan's). The boat was a hydrofoil, which means that something like a wing comes out of the bottom of the boat and the boat moves above the water, which is pretty ridiculous. Three hours later, we landed in Fukuoka, Japan. 
We got through immigration and made it to the train station only to find out that our train tickets were almost twice as much as we thought they would be. We hadn't brought enough cash to even cover our train tickets, but luckily, I brought my credit card for such a situation. I signed up for a credit card before I left and hadn't used it yet, but it worked. We boarded the Shinkansen, Japan's super high speed train/spaceship on train tracks, and sped away to Kyoto. 
We arrived in Kyoto only to find out that it was a holiday weekend in Japan as well and most hotel were full. The budget hotels were definitely full. We were lucky to find a room even though it was more than we were planning on spending. We ran into some other travelers stuck without a room. I don't think there was a single vacant room in Kyoto on Saturday night. Finally, by Saturday morning all of our hotel and travel arrangements were all taken care of and we could finally start enjoying Kyoto! 
Kyoto used to be Japan's capital city before Tokyo and is a huge center of culture. Only Rome has more UNESCO World Heritage site than Kyoto. The Kyoto map is peppered with them.  The United States only has 8 cultural heritage sites and we saw 6 in Kyoto last weekend and hardly put a dent in the Kyoto list. What I'm saying is that Kyoto is full of old, beautiful, important cultural sites. We started at Kinkakuji, the Golden Pavilion. 
It was really spectacular, set in a reflecting pond. This was the residence of a shogun in the late 14th century. When he died, he requested that it was turned into a zen temple. Not a shabby pad, huh?

Then we walked down the street to Ryoanji, a famous zen rock garden. Intro to Art History professors use this slide as an example of a zen garden. It's pretty famous, pretty zen, pretty sweet. 
People in traditional clothes walking into Ryoanji. 

Kyoto (and Japan) is bicycles town! Everyone rides a bike around- business men, kids, grandma, hip young people. They are all on sweet cruising style bike with plenty of basket space for carrying groceries or your cute Japanese baby. (PS- someone tell Kate that I saw a little Japanese girl wearing a t-shirt that said "Harrisburg, Pennsylvania", but I was to shy to ask her mother for a picture).  There are more bike parking garages than car garages. It's so cool. 

This is us outside of Nijo-jo Castle in the center of Kyoto. I wasn't really allowed to take pictures inside the castle, but here is the giant stone wall and moat. Matt is really into dry stone wall construction as they are ubiquitous in Pound Ridge, though not quite as impressive as this one. One really cool thing about Nijo Castle was that the floors chirp when you walk on them. They're called Nightingale Floors and have little wood parts pressed into the floor boards that chirp when you step on them. They were so that no one could sneak around or into the castle. There were all kinds of security devices here. This shogun must not have been popular. 
Saturday night, we set out for Gion, a neighborhood that supposedly Geishas frequent. We didn't see any, but we did find Yasaka Shrine, which was lighted and open at night. Most temples close before sunset. These are paper lanterns surrounding a pavillion in the center of the temple.
This is a shot from within the temple complex through the gate out onto Gion, the major entertaining district in Kyoto. 

On Sunday morning, we woke up early, hopped on a train for a short ride to Inari. We went to Fushimi Inari temple. It's a fox temple most well known for its trails and trails of orange tori gates. You may recognize these gates from a scene in Memoirs of a Geisha, where the young girls runs through these gates. They were incredibly beautiful and quite an experience to walk through. We went through about 30 minutes of walking through them and that was only about half-way. This was my favorite part of the trip. 

After Inari, we took another short train to the west side of town to an area called Arashiyama. It's further out and less developed than central Kyoto. Arashiyama backs up to a foot of a mountain and has several temples that you can walk to. We had a walking tour map and set out.
We first went to Tenryuji. While Ryoanji is famous for its dry zen garden, Tenryuji is known for its wet zen garden. The building was burned at some point, but the garden remains in its original state. Then we walked through a bamboo forest.

We went to several temples, all nestled away from one another  in the woods or in the hills. This is Jojakkoji, which was set up on a hill and another one of our favorite spots.

Late Sunday afternoon, we headed to Kiyomizu. It's on top of a hill and you have to walk up these tiny streets to get to it. 
This was by far the most crowded temple we visited on the trip, but it was cool nonetheless. It peaks out above the tree line. Maybe the end of day/ sunset is the most popular time to go. 

Though brief, this was a pretty awesome trip. I wish we had more time, but I guess it's never enough time. I would definitely go back and hope I can someday. 

Monday, September 8, 2008

It's like we live here now.

So we've been here nearly four months now and have finally got some homely touches in our apartment! Below is our window box garden. We wired a few plastic window boxes to the railing outside of our kitchen window. Last month we tried to start some seeds in them, but nothing ever grew. I think they were duds. So, we went to one of the many local small plant vendors in our neighborhood. We bought the ones on the end because they looked like little evergreens and we hope will live during the winter. The middle plant is one that I have no idea what it's called. It has very cute button-like pink flowers. I also have one of these plants inside the apartment and on my desk at work. The plant closest to us is Matt's cactus, which he meticulously moves outside every morning so that it can get sun. 
Here is another one of the cute pink button flower plants, but it is currently in a no-flower phase, but I think it will bud again soon. 

And here is my good junk find! Last Saturday I went walking near my apartment building looking for a cinderblock to lock our bikes to, but I found this little dresser table instead! It sure beats the cardboard box draped with a cloth that were using before in our bedroom. 
It was a sweet shell inlay. 

Things I'm already sad about leaving behind in Korea next year:
-This dresser
-My bike- a.k.a. the cooolest bike in Korea
-Yukechang (spicy beef stew)
-Korean BBQ
-cheap, efficient local and long distance public transportation