Saturday, 30 November 2013

The Changing Of Colors At Seoul's Namsan!

If Gyeongbuk Palace has the changing of the guards, Namsan has its changing of colors. 

Every autumn, since I live next to Namsan, I make sure that I pass through this mountain to observe the Gingko trees' annual changing of their colors. In spring and summer, their leaves are green. But when the cooler temperatures of autumn descend upon Seoul, they gradually lighten up to yellow-green, and then to yellow, before they all fall off from the branches before winter.

This year though, I noticed that the changing of the colors was not synchronized. In early autumn, some Gingko trees were already turning yellow, while the ones next to them were still green. Even the Gingko trees in my Hannam-dong neighborhood were also unevenly yellow and green. I found it weird. Something has messed up the carotenoids of these trees. Global warming, perhaps?

It has always been a spectacle to see these trees in their yellow glory when struck by the autumn sun at noon. A couple of years back, I walked through the Gingko road in Namsan and enjoyed an afternoon autumn trek. This year, I wanted to retrace my steps and relive the experience.

The road that traces the southwestern side of Nam-san is perhaps, the highest busiest road in Seoul; that road from the Grand Hyatt Hotel up to the Millenium Seoul Hilton.  I don't know if Namsan is the only mountain in Seoul where, up there, public passenger buses still keep their routes.  If it is, then the these roads, which have the highest elevation in the city, are also the busiest since they allow traffic to go around it. I guess, since Nam-san is the geographical center of Seoul, it was commercially viable, not just to drill tunnels through it, but to also spend a lot of money in chiseling roads around it, so that the mountain doesn't become a hindrance in connecting everyone from around city. 

And thanks to this road, everyone passing and driving through Nam-san's southwestern side is always rewarded with a view of the west and southern Seoul. You can see the tall buildings of Yeouido and even the mountains in the south.

And these views are even more conspicuous when you're up the NSeoul Tower.

And this year, on my annual autumn trek on Nam-san, the Gingko trees and the colors of the mountain didn't disappoint. As you can see from the photos, it was still a delight to see these yellow Gingko trees, especially when the day is cool and the skies over Seoul are clear and blue.

So, who wants to join me next time when I again enjoy Nam-san's changing of colors?

Sunday, 24 November 2013

The Philippine Christmas Tree Lights Up In Seoul!

It is a very cold autumn night. But I am happy to see a Philippine Christmas lighted up among the very colorful lanterns of the Seoul Lantern Festival. For a moment, as I stand here being mesmerized by the lights, I can't help but recall my childhood years when I used to be mesmerized by the lights on the Christmas tree at home. Christmas lights always remind me of the festive atmosphere, of jolly Christmas carols and of course, midnight masses and noche buena!

But this time, I am not the only one being mesmerized by the lights of the Christmas tree. Kids, adults and couples take turns taking their photographs in front of the Christmas tree brought by the Philippine's Department of Tourism to Korea.

The Christmas tree is made of capiz shells from windowpane oysters. The shells of these oysters are popular materials for windows, lamps, coasters and tonight, hexagonal parols or Christmas lanterns.

While everyone around me is enjoying this giant, colorful, Christmas tree, I am thinking of Capiz, a province in the Panay Island in the Philippines, which also suffered devastation from the typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan). And among the damaged homes in Capiz province, I am sure those families will find a way of putting up their own version of a Christmas tree this season, although it may not be as tall and extravagant as this one sitting along the Cheonggyecheon, or the Cheonggye Stream, in the middle of Seoul.

And tonight, I am thinking, South Korea, along with other generous international donors, is sending help to the hardest hit areas of the typhoon. And through this Philippine Christmas tree, we are expressing our gratefulness and sharing the Christmas spirit in return. 

We Will All Get Through This! Babangon Tayo!

It has been two weeks now since Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) swept through the Visayas in the Philippines and changed the lives, landscape and everything else on its path.

The worst is definitely over. And thanks to the help from generous local and international donors, Samar, Leyte and the rest of the worst-hit areas in the Visayas, our kababayans who survived the most powerful typhoon on the planet, are taking it each day at a time in slowly rebuilding their lives and community.

Yes, as I wrote last week, Yolanda (Haiyan) was just a typhoon, while we....are Filipinos. Resilient, strong and not be underestimated.

Thousands are still mourning the dead and the missing, thousands of children must have been orphaned, and unfortunate fathers and mothers are grieving for their children. I cannot even imagine what grief that is to endure. I can only sympathize and pray for them.

Even though the skies over Tacloban and the other islands have cleared and must be sunny these days, let's not forget that the most difficult task ahead is yet to begin: the rebuilding of the lives, livelihood and communities.

And while we, the lucky ones, have been spared to suffer this unspeakable tragedy, let's continue to help, not only this time, but in the months and years to come. You have all seen the devastation. They all need our help.

To my kababayans, we will get through this! Babangon tayo uli! 

Tuesday, 12 November 2013

To Super Typhoon 'Yolanda' (Haiyan): "You're Just A Typhoon, While I...Am A Filipino."

Growing up in the Philippines, I looked at these typhoons as if they were as normal as seeing rainbows in the skies after a rain. I remember I had difficulty getting out of bed during a school day, but on days when school was cancelled due to a typhoon, waking up early was not a problem knowing that the day would not involve opening a text book.

But when the super typhoon Yolanda, (international name Haiyan) swept through my hometown, Victorias, I was wondering if school kids were excited knowing that this wasn't just an ordinary typhoon. This was a super typhoon!

I was also worried like everyone else, considering my home province was also in its direct path. And as Friday went by, the day of the typhoon's expected landfall, and the news, videos and photos from the heaviest hit Samar and Leyte provinces came trickling in through news wires, it was just total devastation, reminiscent of the tsunami that hit Japan a couple of years ago. 

I am used to the howling sound of the very strong winds during a typhoon, but that day and night, alongside that scary, taunting and inescapable noise must have been the sounds of rooftops being peeled off, the ruffling of leaves, branches and tree trunks, the crashing down of electric posts and all weak man-made structures giving in to the strength of winds not yet felt and seen anywhere else 'in recorded human history', according to meteorologists .

And in my hometown, trees and homes were damaged as expected, but thankfully, no lives were lost. The brunt of the super typhoon wasn't centered over the Negros island, sparing the island from much damage of property and lives. And since this was the strongest typhoon ever, compared to Yolanda, the typhoon Ondoy a few years ago was a drizzle

Sadly, the Samar and Leyte islands, which were the first ones to be hit had to bear the worst and most damages, and the conditions as we all see on the news are unimaginable, and we should all do our share.

For us who were lucky to have been spared from such pain of loss of loved ones, loss of livelihood and shelter, we can contribute by donating through organizations and charities we trust can effectively bring help to those who really need it.

As most organizations suggest, cash is easier for them to accept than goods because they can purchase supplies, water and food at wholesale. Most of them I guess already have a system in place and know what kind of help is needed most as well as the most efficient way to deliver them to our brothers and sisters.  For example, donating through the website of the Philippine Red Cross (below) is very convenient.

Modesty aside, as I have earlier sent my own humble help through their website, I found it very easy and secure. 

Although getting help to the people of Leyte, Samar and other areas affected is a challenge, but we all can do this together, especially with the help of other countries and people from everywhere, and for which we are grateful. We are a resilient race, and although Yolanda (or Haiyan) felled trees, destroyed buildings, ruined lives and shattered almost everything around us, there's one thing that no typhoon, earthquake or tragedy can crush, the Filipino spirit.

As most of us are saying now to Yolanda/Haiyan, "Bagyo ka lang. Pilipino ako". (You're just a typhoon, while a Filipino.)

                                    *  *  *  *  *  *

Some photos my sister took when the strong winds of the typhoon had somehow abated over our hometown in Victorias City:

                 (The dark, grey skies. Yolanda came to town!)

                             (Indian mangoes scatter on the road)
                     (The main highway through the city is deserted.)

       (A mango tree gets uprooted and falls over a concrete fence, missing a neighbor's house by a few meters.)

                                       (Fallen indian mango fruits)

(Barangay officials manning the
    barangay hall during the typhoon.)

(Waving for a photo even during a calamity 
is a typical Filipino trait.)
                     (Putting weights on the roof to prevent 
                                 from being blown off)
                            (Looks like the weights worked)

My sister again took more photos a day or two after the super typhoon, which showed some of the very old trees in the city plaza uprooted. Some of these trees must be close to a hundred years old.

                               (Workers cutting off the felled trees)

                       (These trees have been there for ages.)
                                                  (Literally uprooted.)

                                      (A shanty by the roadside)
                               (A roadside eatery's roof all peeled off)

 (City employees gathered in front of the Victorias City Hall)