Monday, 31 October 2016

Green Umbrellas @ Cheonggye Stream

With the autumn skies turning blue, the umbrellas at the Cheonggye Stream!

There must have been hundreds of them hanging above the stream, some even in yellow-green attracting tourists and passers-by. Although I didn't know the actual campaign that brought about these umbrellas, it must have been something about the environment.

I wonder what the organizers would do with the umbrellas after, but I noticed names attached to each of them. The names must have been the donors who paid for each one.

So, did you stand under the green umbrella...ella...ella...?

Sunday, 30 October 2016

A Pinoy @ The Movies: Doctor Strange

          (Doctor Strange movie poster)

This movie made it worth my getting out of bed early on a Sunday morning! Tickets to early morning screenings (before 12 noon) are discounted; and if I could just wake up early, I could save KRW5,000. And I did!

And who doesn't like Benedict Cumberbatch and his acting?

 In Star Trek Into Darkness, he was Khan, an emotionless superhuman. Here, in Doctor Strange, he's a surgeon who became a sorcerer.

Doctor Strange is probably the best Marvel movie in years. Unlike the Avengers series where there are too many characters and too many fighting scenes in too many cities making you forget who's really fighting whom, Doctor Strange offers just one mesmerizing lead character played by one mesmerizing actor.

Doctor Strange reminds me of Inception (where buildings and streets turn upside-down), House M.D. (about an arrogant doctor who's always full of himself), and Harry Potter (where you get your own weapons and a special cloak). 

But it's the movie's comic book style of storytelling that makes it a good movie: slow, clear, great special effects and funny! The action scenes didn't have to be Avenger-ish to impress. Even if the buildings and streets turned 360-degrees during chases, it was superbly done with no one getting dizzy inside the cinema. 

I wasn't surprised Tilda Swinton was cast as the Ancient One, the hairless, lead sorcerer who taught the Cumberbatch find his powers. Tilda was always effective as a fantasy character in costumes like she was as the White Witch in Narnia. She was funny in Grand Budapest Hotel with Ralph Fiennes and impeccable in an American accent in Michael Clayton, where she won an Oscar.

Early this year, I watched Benedict Cumberbatch play Hamlet with all his British-ness at the National Theater of Korea. But this morning, I walked for 15 minutes from my apartment, braving the 3'C temperature to watch him speak in an American accent in one of the best superhero movies in years.

    (Pinoy lunch of dinuguan, kare-kare 
        and pancit after Doctor Strange)

Inside the theater were mostly kids with parents who probably also woke up early for the screening. As the movie was over by noon, I headed to the pinoy market at Hyewha-dong for a Filipino lunch. Sadly, the restaurant run by 'Ed' always didn't have 'bago-ong' for their 'kare-kare'. 

Early morning screening or not, I highly recommend Doctor Strange, and don't leave the theater once the closing credits show up as there are a couple of post-credit scenes. You don't want to miss Thor with a mug of beer as well as the last quote of the movie:

"Because I see it now what's wrong with the world. Too many sorcerers." 

Friday, 28 October 2016

Fashionistas @ Dongdaemun Design Plaza

I was passing by the Dongdaemun Design Plaza (DDP) last weekend and saw a gathering of people who I thought really made an effort to dress up that day.

When I got closer, I saw a huge sign that it was Seoul Fashion Week at the DDP and there were crowds at the entrance with a few posing for photos. Fashionistas, I thought.

Those photographers would approach someone in the crowd and asked to pose. Some actually dressed up, looking like they were going to a party, or some special occasion. Others looked ordinary, while a few non-Koreans looked like they were testing a Halloween look.

So, if you went to the Seoul Fashion Week last weekend and pulled off a good look, I hope some photographer asked you to pose as well. 

I wonder if a photographer would ask me to pose if I came in my pajamas. Ha-ha-ha!
       (Crowds at a fashion week event)

Thursday, 27 October 2016

A Seoul Room With A View!

Yes, this view greets me every time I look out the window.

On my first look-see at the apartment months ago, I immediately told the real estate agent that I wanted the unit when I saw the view. "I'll take it." The words I'd usually hear in films.

When my friends in Seoul tell me they're moving to another apartment, my first question is always 'what's your view?'. 

So, what's my view?

The Lotte World Tower to my left, the Yongdu-dong neighborhood below, the Dongdaemun shopping area to my right and my former neighborhood: Namsan (Mt. Nam) and NSeoul Tower!

          (Lotte World Tower, the tallest 
               building in South Korea)

I didn't even know that the Cheonggye Stream Museum was just a few minutes away! I first set foot in the Museum when it opened in 2005, and one bright morning, I noticed a building with an unusual architecture. So, when I had the chance to visit it during a morning walk, I went closer and found out that it was the Cheonggye Stream Museum! I was transported back to the Museum after 11 years!
(That's the Cheonggye Stream Museum)

            (Early evening rush hour)

In the morning, the frenzy of the hectic Seoul life is animated by the buzzing of cars, vans and buses on the highway below. 

At night, the neighborhood gets quiet and finally gets to rest, and although most of the neighborhood lights dim, the colorful, twinkling lights of the Dongdaemun shopping area remain bright and awake! 

And from afar and in a moonless night, the NSeoul Tower stands in a silhouette that's still recognizable from any corner of the city and finally dims its lights as if to bid a former neighbor good-night.  

       ( neighorhood is asleep.)

Tuesday, 25 October 2016

The Lady With The Red Handkerchieves

I was walking home from a quick walk around the huge Cheongyangni market in my neighborhood when the skies turned gloomy. It looked it was about to drizzle.

On Sunday mornings, the neighborhood is usually quiet with most of the shops closed, and the customers scarce. A few pedestrians were walking through the sidewalks while a few blue buses were still trying to pick up passengers at the bus stop nearby.

But upon turning to cross a small alley, I was surprised to see a Korean lady of grandma-age sitting on her wide yellow blanket and laying out ladies' handkerchieves to sell. The sight of a singular vendor brave enough to defy the weather and the scarcity of prospective customers surprised me. What an optimistic attitude! I thought.

And as I was walking right next to her display, the red hankies with their flowery designs caught my eye. My mom would love this!

I immediately greeted her and asked how much were her flimsy articles of attractive merchandise. She mentioned an amount and I immediately picked one, then another, and then another.

Although my proficiency of the Korean language is probably the poorest in the whole neighborhood, I understood that, for KRW10,000, she'd surrender to me five of her merchandise. 

If you are a tourist traveling around Seoul, you'd probably see a lot of old Korean women working, cooking or selling delicacies and everything else from morning until late evening. 

I always thought that, at their age, they should be now enjoying life, instead of still working to make a living.

So, the moment I realized what the scene before me was all about, the thought of buying ladies' handkerchieves from her immediately came to mind. 

Here she was, sitting on the cold pavement under gloomy skies, laying out the hankies one by one, presenting them to passers-by that were few and far between, and hoping to get lucky on this day when most people stay home to rest.

For a few weeks since I settled in, I already walked around my new Dongdaemun neighborhood to get to know it well. This lady, trying to make a living on a Sunday morning, was also a neighbor. And buying a few hankies from her would make it worth her while. 

Before we parted, she kept on talking in Korean and I was able to catch a few words and something about 'a man'. I thought she said that she was surprised that her early customer was 'a man', someone she probably never expected.

Well, she didn't know I wasn't just a random pedestrian passing by; 'the man' was a neighbor.

(The Korean lady preparing to pack the red hankies I selected for my mom)

Who Are The People In Your (Dongdaemun) Neighborhood?

A couple of years ago, I discovered the fun of walking through the busy sidewalks next to Dongdaemun Station, where I bought some breakfast goodies after my early morning tennis. 
          (We have our own version of 
         Shibuya Crossing! Ha-ha-ha!)

I made it a weekend routine even though my legs were not happy to walk a few hundred meters more after having run around the tennis courts for two hours on early Saturday mornings. My legs were unhappy but my tummy was ecstatic!

     (I was overwhelmed with all the fruits 
      the first time I went to the market!)

I found the neighborhood so interesting with its mom-and-pop stores selling fruits and different kinds of breads and goodies. I have always preferred these small stores than the big supermarkets and franchises. 

I didn't know then that I would someday be moving a few bus stops from this area!

Well, I have finally moved into the Dongdaemun neighborhood! 

And just what I used to do during my years living in Hannam-dong in the Yongsan District, I walked around my Dongdaemun neighborhood to explore its uniqueness.

From the huge fruit and vegetable market that sells the cheapest fruits in season, to the yummiest potato and meat soup restaurant, and not to mention a quieter version of the Cheonggye Stream just right next to my apartment, I couldn't believe that, not only I made the right decision to move to the Dongdaemun District, there's this apartment building that has a view my other Korean friends envy! 

          (A swan frolicking at the stream 
               next to my apartment)

Although this neighborhood doesn't match the number of cafés within 200 meters of my old Hannam-dong apartment (it has 3 compared to 12 in Hannam-dong), I was able to find one that allows me to stay beyond 12 midnight! But it's about two-and-a-half blocks away!

But I'm not complaining since there's one on the next building that sells iced cafe mocha for only W3,500! But sadly, it closes at 10PM.

But aside from cafés, what I love about this neighborhood is that it's a real neighborhood! 
               (Students painting the 
               neighborhood houses)

A lot of mom-and-pop stores, vendors selling the freshest fruits, veggies and freshest fish (although I don't cook!), the sellers at the biggest flea market, the staff at a three-storey public library, the staff keeping clean the Jeongneung stream that's alive with storks, ducks and fish, and features a cycling and running path are just a few of the people in my new neighborhood.

I should include ajussis running the subway station that's just ten steps from my apartment building, the baristas in the neighborhood cafés, and the ajummas of the 24-hour kimbap restaurant downstairs!

And perhaps, I should include the staff of the Lotte Cinema that's just 15 minutes away by foot! I can watch late movies and just walk home!
      (Sitting at a neighborhood cafe)

I may still have to discover other interesting shops and corners, but I think I have met most of the people that matter in my neighborhood.

Wednesday, 19 October 2016

My Theology Teacher And The Masskara Festival

I remember our Theology teacher at La Salle in Bacolod City, Negros Occidental, Philippines, the home of the Masskara Festival, telling her class that she didn't like the idea of the Masskara Festival.

She thought it connotes that everyone in Bacolod City was wearing a mask. 

Well, she was, in a way, right. All of us in this world actually wear a mask, the mask behind which we hide our true emotions, our true intentions, our true self.

But the idea of the Festival's original organizers was about 'a crowd of smiling faces' from their portmanteau 'mass-kara', a combination of the word mass (crowds) and 'cara', the Spanish word for 'face', because if you're attending the Festival, it will be a crowd of smiling faces, both of the participants and the revelers, that you'll see at the streets during the Festival.

And capitalizing on Bacolod City's reputation as the 'City of Smiles', the Masskara Festival tries to bring fun to the city and probably reminds my Theology teacher every year that, with or without a mask, we all should enjoy, have fun, and wear a smile!
    (Masskara Festival masks on display in 
           a showroom in Bacolod City)

Monday, 17 October 2016

Catholic Pilgrimage in Seoul: The Danggogae Martyrs' Shrine

There's a beautiful, small hill in the Yongsan District  in Seoul surrounded by tall apartment buildings. In all my years of living in Yongsan, I only heard of it a couple of times, and when I finally tried to look for it, I was surprised I could actually see its gate from my office building! 

Surprisingly, this hill became even more popular when the last martyr was beatified by Pope Francis in August 2014 in Seoul. 

This hill is the Danggogae Martyrs Shrine, where, on December 27 and 28, 1839, ten Korean Catholics were martyred. Over those two dark winter days, they gave up their lives for their faith.

Of the ten, nine are now saints, while the last one, Blessed Mary Yi-Seong-rye was just beatified. She was the mother of Father Thomas Choe Yang-up, the second ever Korean priest.

While I was reading the history of the hill, I remember I played tennis with a certain Father Thomas, who, I was told, was in his 90's. I first thought that the Korean priest mentioned in the Danggogae Shrine's history pamphlet was the Father Thomas I met at Sogang University's tennis court. But when I did the math, it didn't add up; and the Father Thomas in the pamphlet died young. Sogang University, by the way, is run by Jesuit priests, and when Pope Francis was here, he made a surprise visit to this university.

Father Thomas Choe Yang-up's father is also a saint, Saint Francis Choe Kyeong-hwan, and as I mentioned, his mother is a blessed. And when she was about to be executed that winter day in 1839, her children asked the executioner that, in order for her "to go to heaven without suffering long, that he cut their mother's head with one stroke"

You can just imagine the pain, the trauma and the suffering her own children had to go through by watching their mother's public execution. She was just 39. Father Thomas was not in Korea when his mother died for her faith. He was in Macao studying, and that year, Father Thomas left for Manila due to certain disturbances in Macao. 

     (A replica of the Shrine's statue was 
presented to Pope John Paul II)

The story of the second ever Korean priest setting foot in the Philippines in 1839 was a bit surprising. He must have sought refuge and continued his religious studies there in the Philippines, being the only Catholic country in the East.

But in 1861, with Catholics being hunted down and persecuted in Korea, Father Thomas succumbed to typhoid fever. He was only 40. It is said that at his death bed where he received the Last Sacraments, he could barely speak but the last words he uttered were the holy names of Jesus and Mary.

That is why this hill is special. 

In the early years of Catholicism in Korea, the nine saints and one blessed died for their faith on this hill, a place that is now a part of Catholic pilgrimage in Korea.

             (The round stone with a 
             Madonna and Child icon)

The Shrine is serene and has a chapel and museum. On the garden above, there is a Way of the Cross which gathers the faithful during the Holy Week.

The Danggogae Martyrs' Shrine has every day Masses at 11AM, but they are in Korean. 

                   *   *   *   *   *

The Shrine's official website in Korean:

How to get to the Shrine:

1. From Sinyongsan Station (Line 4), exit at Exit 5.

2. Walk straight out until you see a tunnel ahead.

3. Go through the tunnel.

4. At the other side, continue until you reach the main street.

5. Cross the pedestrian lane at the main street and turn right upon reaching the other side.

6. Watch out for the sign at the end of the building. That's the marker for the Shrine.
         (My friend Therese pointing to 
     the marker that you shouldn't miss)

7. Turn left and walk down the road. That road will take you to the Shrine.

8. You can walk your way back, or you can take the Green Bus 03 going back to the Sinyongsan Station. 

The bus stop is on the road to your right before you entered the gate of the Shrine.

   (Therese at the stop for Green Bus 03)