Fire and light

It seems that cyberspace would not let us ease into a brief hiatus on our own terms. A few days before the computer was to be stolen unceremoniously from us by its rightful owners, the modem decided to put on a sparks and light show. Quite a nice display, though we've seen better pyrotechnical flair. We are now reduced to the PC Cafe, home of chainsmoking teenagers on missions to destroy all the aliens in the universe at jet-engine decibel levels. This all comes at a time of general chaos, as we are packing to move apartments next Wednesday. Our new place is much like our old, but cleaner and closer to the riverpath.
Check back occasionally for updates and the inevitable resumption of daily posts.


Downward Dog

Impressively bendy and lithe, this guy's yoga demonstration had the crowd gawking and Lee and I feeling guilty for so often neglecting our post-run stretch.


If Harley made hovercrafts...

If you were the kind of person that even considered chucking a passenger on the back of your motorcycle and ramping off the path into the river below, then you are not likely to be the kind of person to heed a sign reminding you not to entertain such folly. The rough Korean equivalent of the "Caution! Hot beverage" warning on McDonald's coffee cups, and just another way Darwin has been diluted for mass consumption.


Bloggus Interruptus

In the spirit of fessing up and chopping down the cherry tree and all that, we are just plain old bad bloggers. Yesterday morning was a delight - up early to run on a gorgeous spring day, back early to turn on the coffee pot for a few steaming mugs of Sumatran extra bold, noses buried deeply in good books, and the knowledge that we had only eight hours of ABCs before a weekend with no plans besides more of the same. Not once did it occur to us to blog. I blame Jack Burns, the extraordinary protagonist of John Irving's latest doorstop, who has me madly turning pages in a novel full of tattoo addicts and classic Bob Dylan lyrics. Deanna holds "Everything is Illuminated" responsible, finding herself as rapt in the epistolic narrative as in the story itself.

Yesterday served as an unavoidable preview to OOFALWO's summer hiatus. The teacher who left us his laptop to go travelling in southeast Asia is returning to Seoul next week, and will want his Powerbook back. His return sends us to the noise and crowds of internet cafes until we can procure a laptop of our own. We're planning on going a month or two without, meaning very sporadic updates to the blog. Once we are settled in our new apartment (our fourth move in a year) with some new technology, we hope to return to regularly scheduled programming.

As a token of reconciliation and in a desperate attempt to keep our readers from abandoning us before we abandon them, we offer two photos today: first, a lion at Jogyesa temple meant to, yep, you guessed it, keep the bad spirits away; and second, a "Free Hugs" guy in Insadong meant to keep the bad moods away. The Free Hugger folks are always there, and appear to be affiliated with no religious group or have no ulterior motives (I had originally thought them to be a roving band of highly dextrous pickpockets with a penchant for personal space invasion) besides making people smile.


Happy Birthday, Buddha

For Siddhartha, on the 2551st anniversary of his birth, a haiku:
So many candles
to put on chocolate cake -
don't burn your big ears!


Baddest gang this side of the Han River

The Lantern Festival brought Seoulites and huge numbers of the wayward souls who toil daily in the gulags and salt mines of English language acadamies out in droves. It was not uncommon to see ragtag groups like this congregating along the canals around City Hall.


Lots and lots of lotuses

There were booths lining both sides of the street to encourage people to be part of the festival. We could try food and drink, make lotus lanterns, play different drums, watch demonstrations of acupuncture, massage, yoga, and meditation, or paint a lotus flower. Here I am, trying my hand at painting a lotus. In the true reflection of the impermanence of Buddhism, the booth had to close down when I was only partway finished, so I had to leave what would have surely been my magnum opus incomplete.


The light fantastic

In anticipation of Buddha's birthday on Thursday, the Lotus Lantern Festival was in full swing this weekend, culminating in a parade yesterday. Hundreds of thousands of lights, lanterns, floats, and people moved through downtown to Jogyesa Temple. Jogyesa is the largest and most important of Seoul's temples; these lanterns flowed from the temple roof over the main courtyard, providing more colour to a very colourful day.


Putting the tramp in trampoline

No one loves the bouncy castle like I love the bouncy castle - virtual weightlessness, falling with a minimal chance of grievous bodily harm, double-jumping five year olds into walls - oh, the joy! This is my first bouncy pagoda, and while I found no way in this time, I have added this to my already extensive "must-do in Korea" list.


It's gut-check time

With a photo of the world's coolest bouncy castle in the batter's box, the "upload photo" function seems to have dropped the ball. Blogger talks a good game when they step up to the plate and usually comes to play every time they answer the bell, but we have to get on the same page this time, otherwise this will get blown way out of proportion and we'll have to really dig deep and go back to the drawing board.


Sam Gyepsal for President

As much as there are intrinsic rewards and numerous moments of joy guiding young Koreans through the linguistic quagmire of the Queen's English, the veritable highlight of a work week is our Friday night staff dinner. There is a BBQ restaurant across the street from our school, and some weeks we are down the stairs before the students, driven by our zeal for sam gyep sal. Perhaps the greatest of Asian cuisine, sam gyep sal is chunks of pork, generously marbled and surrounded with fat, grilled crispy and golden brown in front of your eyes, like magic. On paper, it's a bit of a heart stopper (the rough equivalent that one teacher could find on the Weightwatchers nutrition guide was non-cured bacon, with 900ish calories and 79g of fat for a 200g serving - 200g and I'm just getting started). Pure deliciousness, and accompanied as always by side dishes ranging from kimchi to assorted vegetables to the puffy egg delight (our translation from the Korean name we don't know anyway).


Raindrops were falling on our heads

We could have used this many umbrellas yesterday, as we were given a preview of what the rainy season will be like.


Fountain for a Day

We walk by this square all the time. The water is never there. It bubbled forth for a day, then disappeared.


Police Protection

Out on a lazy afternoon stroll, we once again encountered large numbers of police officers, preparing themselves to get out on their beat and keep us, the innocent citizens of Seoul, safe and sound. I'm still unsure if they are protecting us from an imminent North Korean invasion not covered by CNN or some disgruntled South Koreans protesting on their own soil. Or maybe they are keeping their eyes open for marauding US soldiers out on the town causing mischief? Either way, loyal readers, feel certain that we are well looked after when wandering the streets of Seoul on sunny Sundays.


The world is too much with us...

This is one example of a series of sculptures found around Seoul. The works portray businessmen (always men) wearing ties and carrying briefcases, laptops, or hand phones, striving to achieve, racing to fulfill the Korean dream.


Happy Mother's Day!

To our wonderful mothers and to all of our readers who have wonderful mothers or are wonderful mothers and even to all the mothers who aren't as wonderful as ours, have a wonderful Mother's Day.



A typical market food stall features a veritable smorgasbord of goodies, some recognizable and some barely so. This woman in Namdaemun is of the Omnivore School of Cuisine, with products ranging from sea cucumber to chicken on a stick, from blood sausage to buckwheat noodles, and a full range of condiments (ketchup, mayo, mustard, hot sauce, soya sauce, relish, weird purple sauce) in squeeze bottles. Sadly, our Korean is not yet refined enough to inquire of the chef the proper garnish for abalone.


The Massive Marionette

Watch out, Ronnie Burkett - there's a new puppet in town! He requires a crane to get into a standing position and it takes one person to maneuver each string, three or four per limb. What he lacks in dexterity he makes up for in size, towering over people and making us feel positively Lilliputian.


How do you say labyrinth in Korean?

Namdaemun is Seoul's most famous and largest market, stretching over a few square blocks in a web-like maze. Groceries, fake designer handbags, clothes, spectacles, housewares...virtually every conceivable consumer good can be found here.


For big-boned babies

Does your toddler have a healthy appetite? Do your young 'uns really love their pablum? Having a hard time finding onesies in XXXL? Come shop in Namdaemun Market, where chunky progeny meet sartorial splendour.


Buddha-nature and the paintbrush

Around 1500 years ago, an Indian monk named Bodhidharma journeyed eastward into China to search for a way to live his understanding of Buddha's teachings. Accomplishments by the "Blue-eyed Barbarian" include founding the martial Shaolin monastery, sitting in front of a wall and meditating for nine years (cutting his own eyelids off in anger after falling asleep, seven years into his intense inward exploration), developing the school of thought now known most famously by its Japanese name of Zen (Ch'an in Chinese, Seon in Korean), and inspiring this monk in present-day Seoul to wield bold and calligraphic brushstrokes in portraiture.


The mandolin mandarin

If this guy was my mandolin teacher, I may have to take things more seriously than I did with Ms. Bonk and her endless repetitions of 'Three Blind Mice' on the recorder in Grade Seven music class.



In anticipation of Buddha's birthday later this month, most temples have begun to hang colourful lanterns, making for some well-lit mountain vistas.


The destination

A picturesque cascade at the end of a scenic trail in a stunning part of an amazing country.


Lofty Ambition

If you have no skills at rock climbing, how do you get to the top of a seemingly sheer rock face? Why, you take the stairs, of course. The staircase you can see here has a series of switchbacks of moderate steepness, then becomes much more ladder-like for the long ascent to the top. In fact, the higher staircase bore a striking resemblance to the ladder to the loft (in the cabin at Waskesiu), so the descent was made simpler by my years of experience at the forward-facing downward climb. A tough slog was given humble perspective by the man at the summit who serves tea and obviously climbs the mountain as a part of his workday routine.


Welcome to The Rock

Though not as clearly defined as its American counterpart, Seoraksan is known locally as Rushmore East, as one can discern the faces of the Silla and Joseon dynasty emperors in the rocky contours. Well, maybe not, but we were so oxygen deprived from climbing this behemoth that we were seeing many things that weren't there.



Seoraksan, Snowy Crag Mountain, was craggy but not snowy. We had perfect weather for two days of mildly to moderately challenging hiking. We came across some waterfalls, saw some scary looking millipedes, and spent some time languishing in an extremely hot mineral spa. We were also in great company, joined by Mike, Angie, Matthew, and Moon Yea, and found much time to sun ourselves on the rocks.


Buddhist Ablutions

Though we can't think of any imminent death or danger facing those using the facilities at a mountain temple, the cartoon-themed signposts continue, making it absolutely clear what this little building is even if one can't read the four languages.