Sunday, 28 November 2010

And Hannam-dong Turned Yellow....

And the leaves finally fell....

As I crossed the pedestrian lane every morning last week en route to my work, the yellow leaves of the Gingko trees along Hannam-dong's main road fell one by one, branch by branch until one morning, the trees were finally reduced to leaf-less twigs. 

With winter finally in the peninsula, the strong breezes caressing the trees brought all the yellow leaves down, turning the sidewalks into a yellow carpet of Gingko leaves.

It would have been a pretty scenery had the leaves stayed on the trees in their unique yellow color for weeks, where pedestrians and motorists passing through the main road would enjoy looking at, as I did.

But while they were, the Gingko trees and their colors were a sight to enjoy indeed.

(These the photos from the last fall by the way. The trees did not turn yellow at the same time this year. Global warming has reached Hannam-dong.)

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

What War? I'm Going On A Pasalubong Shopping!

I was quietly sipping my Cafe Mocha from the Starbucks closest to my office when the news broke out. Bang! Bang!

What?! The northern neighbors are at it again?!

Late yesterday afternoon, the hapless people at that northern island of Yeongpyeong, near the border between the two Koreas, were surprised and shocked at the artillery fire from the North that landed on their town, destroying their homes and setting their livelihood on fire. It wasn't only the sleepy island that got awakened, it was the whole news world! And as I expected, it was only minutes till news about the incident would reach home.

And I was right!

And up until the early evening, when I was doing my grocery, text messages were still coming in from friends and family from home asking how I was as they thought there was a real threat of war here in Seoul. They must have thought I was on foot fleeing and frantically running away from the artillery fire!

Not wanting them to worry, I told them I was actually at the supermarket shopping, and was at the aisle between the shelves carrying cereals and infant powdered milk. Ha-ha-ha!

And that sort of appeased their worries, especially for my mom, who, after knowing I was okay and learning I was just shopping, threw in a few more messages about what she wants me to get for her as 'pasalubong' (presents in English).

So, instead of worrying about the escalation of tension, I was rather worried about my pasalubong list, which becomes longer and longer as my flight back home draws near.

And today at lunch break, the day after the exchange of artillery fire at the northern part of South Korea, I hurried off to the duty-free shop in Myeongdong, where I saw Seoulites and tourists get on with their hectic lives (and their shopping), oblivious to the big news of yesterday.

I guess life still goes on in Seoul even with the bad news. The City has been through worst of times before, and that exchange of artillery fire would make the afternoon news, but not change the menu for dinner.

For me? It just changed my 'pasalubong' list.

So, what war? I'm going on a 'pasalubong' shopping!

Monday, 22 November 2010

The Lanterns of the Cheonggye Stream

I think this post is better told with photographs alone, and not words. Why? Because its difficult to actually describe all those lanterns at the Cheonggye Stream!

As part of the G20 Summit attraction, the lantern festival at  the Cheonggye-cheon (or Cheonggye Stream) was set up about two weeks ago and now has attracted about a million visitors to the area, who have all enjoyed looking at and posing with the lanterns especially at night.

And I, along with the eager who braved the cold nights, have set out to capture and enjoy the lights, colors and shapes of the lanterns.

Enjoy the photos!

Friday, 19 November 2010

Rach 3 Rocks at Sejong!

This is one of the nice things living in Seoul.  Accomplished and famous musicians are always visiting the city to let the locals hear their music. (And I'm not talking about Whitney Houston, who had a concert here last year where she left people disappointed and clamoring for refunds! She wasn't able to sing; I heard she just rapped her songs.)

Going back to the real musicians. 

I was talking, of course, about the real musicians such as Placido Domingo, Andrea Bocelli, and of course, Mariah Carey. Ha-ha-ha!  Linkin Park and Beyonce, too! 

And last weekend, I was lucky to get the last remaining affordable seats to the concert of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra under the baton of Zubin Mehta at the Sejong Arts Center.  Affordable, as in 70,000 Korean won! Because the next ticket price up was.... 280,000 won!  

Anyways, the headlined concert interested me because I was so interested to watch somebody play Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto No. 3 (popularly known as Rach 3), one of the most difficult piano pieces, to be played by Professor Paik Kun-Woo, a very accomplished, prize-winning Korean concert pianist.

And the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, Mr. Mehta and Professor Paik's mastery of the ivory keys did not disappoint. He breezed through the difficult piece, tinkering with the grand piano's last keys at both ends while his shoulders moved with the tempo of the piece as if he was being one with the music itself.

I was totally blown away. Figuratively speaking, of course. Blown away from my 70,000 Korean won affordable seat. Ha-ha-ha!  Perhaps along with hundreds of listeners inside the Sejong Arts Center who applauded,whistled and screamed to praise Professor Paik, Korea's very own, after he struck the final 'very fortissimo' of chords of the concerto. He rocked the whole house with Rach 3!

'Rach 3' was the first part of the concert, which lasted about 45 minutes, and the second part, a Mahler symphony without the piano this time, lasted less than an hour; a concert totally worth the affordable 70,000 won ticket.

I hope the next concert that comes along would be affordable and worth it...

Friday, 12 November 2010

The G20 Volunteers in Seoul!

As you move around Seoul during the G20 summit this week, you will find these young, university-age volunteers in their white jackets helping tourists, foreigners, and international delegates and journalists who are in Seoul for the G20 Summit.

I was able to talk to three G20 Summit volunteers who were assigned around the Cheonggye Stream. They told me that there are about 5,000 volunteers like them, who are scattered all over Seoul: at subway stations, at around COEX, hotels and places of interest. 

They said that they had to pass a series of interviews (for their English skills) and tests (for their knowledge about G20 and the City).

And so I tried to quiz them!

I asked them where will the next G20 summit be held (France) and what's the name of the French President's wife (Carla Bruni). And they gave me the right answers! 

But before I left them, I congratulated them for their work and wished them luck in the days to come. But of course, they also queried with me  a question I am always asked...

"Where are you from?"

Thursday, 11 November 2010

Peppero Day in Korea!

Who invented the Peppero Day in Korea?

Today, November 11, somebody gave me a box of Peppero, that snack of long, thin ‘pretzel’ sticks dipped in chocolate. On Peppero Day, friends and people in love exchange Peppero treats to signify friendship and love, according to Korean friends.

November 11 looks like four Peppero sticks if written as 11-11.  So, I’m thinking it was the makers of this snack who invented Peppero Day and creatively convinced everyone that if they give Peppero to their friends on November 11, it signifies their love for their friends or something of that sort.

So, if you roam around your neighborhood in Korea and chance upon a grocery or a convenient store, I’m sure you would see their Peppero goodies laid outside with stuff toys and other sweets for friends and lovers to exchange with the people they care about.

And if you received one today, it should remind that you somebody cares for you. Mine reminded me that somebody cared if I went hungry. I had it as morning snack.

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

Welcoming The G20 in Seoul!

Well, well, well...The gang's all here!

It's the week of the G20 in Seoul, where security is tight, police are everywhere, and what you'll hear and see are police sirens and their blinkers.  It's understandable. With the heads of state of the biggest economies in the world gathered in one city block, no one's taking chances.

On Thursday night, the world leaders will be grabbing dinner at the National Museum of Korea, where my Green Bus passes through every day.  I wonder if they would reroute my bus and the traffic? Should I take the subway instead...or perhaps, join them for dinner? Ha-ha-ha! 

And at COEX, where the summit will be held on Friday, the Samseong Subway Station is off limits to everyone as the train won't stop at that station, which means I wouldn't be able to grab my favorite  'dakoyaki' at the Hyundai Department Store's food court on those two days! I'm going to starve! Ha-ha-ha! But it's okay. I can hold my craving for two days.

So, to all the heads of state at the G20, I wish that you are all able to agree on decisions on what to do with the world economy. I wish you success!

And when you're done with your meetings, you are always welcome to visit my neighborhood, where I promise to treat you to some puffy omelette or some pizza as a reward for a job well done! Just let me know a day in advance. The brunch place and the Italian restaurant are always full.


Thursday, 4 November 2010

White Snow and the Seven Snowboarders!

Last weekend, while everyone on the street was all bundled up for the cooler temperatures of autumn, I braved the cool day in shorts!  Why? My body is still in denial. It still thinks it's summer! Ha-ha-ha!
Actually, I think my body has acclimatized to the weather in the Korean peninsula after all these years. So, for me, last weekend's temperatures were not that cold enough.
So I left the house in shorts and sneakers with nary a purpose but to pick up grocery from I-Park Mall.  I took the Green Bus from Hannam-dong which went all the way to Yongsan Station, and when I got off, I was weirdly surprised!
A snowboarding ramp! Right in front of the mall, complete with snow and snow-boarders!
I walked closer and found out that it's a promotion for a snowboard brand, which I guess spent lots of money to buy crushed ice and spread them all over the ramp, slowly melting under the afternoon autumn sun.

And as I stood there, for a moment I thought it was winter if not for the shorts I was wearing! I was dressed for the wrong season! Ha-ha-ha!

As I was momentarily distracted from my primary purpose (grocery!), I walked around the venue taking photos of the snowboarders who must have wished they were in an actual ski slope sliding through real snow. You could tell that their downhill run was not as smooth as compared to riding down through real snow.
Oh well, either white ice, or white 'snow', the marketing of the snowboard brand by bringing it to the mall was one creative idea which I hope would make people buy their snowboard and actually use it on real snow this winter.
Now, where's my grocery list?