Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Contemporary Korean Art - some artists to watch!

I heard Korea had an interesting contemporary art scene, and as I started to check it out, I found it to be a very interesting mix of deep-seated traditional restraint with modern aesthetics.

The output of Korean art was disrupted a great deal by the Korean War, however the ensuing economic development lead to a burgeoning of creativity amongst young Korean artists.  Many traveled to the west to  study, and then returned to Korea to reconcile their deep seated traditionalism with modern innovation. These artists often speak about issues of globalization, alienation, materialization, loss or hybridization of identity, and other such modern concepts.

Here are a few contemporary artists I have learned about recently:

Gwon Osang

Gwon Osang creates life-size sculptures using photographic images. The result is both literally photo-realistic, and also a bit surreal.  His creations become most human when their expressions and gestures are examined.

Choi Jeonghwa

While referencing pop culture, Choi Jeonghwa uses a variety of media, included molded plastic and inflatable sculptures.  Choi's work often features mass-produced objects, commenting on South Korea's involvement as a point of origin for many disposable consumer goods. 

Do-ho Suh


Do-ho Suh's work features depictions of the literal and figurative "little people." Defying conventional understanding of scale, Suh's works frequently engage visitors and are designed with site-specificity in mind, drawing the viewer's attention to their own interaction with the pieces. 

In Floor, thousands of plastic miniature human figurines support a thick glass floor, creating an anonymous, faceless mass.


Some/one (detail)
 Some/one is a traditional Korean garment fashioned out of thousands of nickel-plated dogtags, commenting on the relationship of individual soldiers to the larger organization of the South Korean military. This piece blends traditional fashion and dress with associations to Korean military service, which is particularly notable when considering the conscription policy which requires all Korean men (including this artist) to serve two years in the armed forces.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Interview with Seungji!

In earlier posts I've mentioned my super quick layover in Seoul with the best tour guides ever - Seungji and Hyein. They took my cousin and I on the best whirlwind tour to a palace (Gyeongbokgung Palace, I think...), and on a little walk through the city to a super cute shopping area that was bustling with people. We even managed to run into a traditional Korean wedding ceremony taking place outside. Seungji and Hyein treated us to a delicious meal, where Shannon discovered one of her favorite dishes ever -  naengmyeon - cold noodles in an iced broth. She just kept saying "It tastes like summer!!!!"

Anyways, Seungji has been super helpful this month in answering my questions about Korea, and she even agreed to do a little online interview with me for my blog.  Seungji spent a few months here in San Diego, studying English and living with my friends Gary and Heather, so she has both Korean perspective and experience with American culture.

Sweet Seungji:)

Can you tell us about where you live?

I live in Suwon. Suwon is the provincial capital of Gyeonggi-do. (It's like the Sacramento of California).  It is located 20 miles south of Seoul and surrounded by mountain.  It is traditionally known as "The City of Filial Piety".  Suwon is home of the UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Gwaseong Fortress (built in 1796).  It is the only remaining completely walled city in South Korea.  As such, the city walls are one of the more popular tourist destinations.  As an industrial centre, Suwon houses a large Samsung Electronics factory.  Suwon is famous for Korean barbecue (we call 'Galbi).

What is your favorite Korean meal?
Korean barbecue!  Actually I can't pick just one:(

What surprised you most about America when you studied here?
  • A mature sense of citizenship. - When I was waiting a bus in America, ambulance sirens sounded suddenly.  Every cars stopped and turned aside to give a way.  And while a bus was running, a girl stood up from her seat and fell forward (not badly).  She is ok but it was her fault.  The bus stopped.  A driver called someone to explain what happened and asked passengers to make a statement about what we saw about the situation.  I was shocked because I had never seen the situation before.
  • Consideration for the disabled, women, children, the aged. - Everywhere is equipped with convenience for the disabled. (especially bus!!!!)
  • Everything is big. size of pizza, hamburger, coke,!!!!! everything!!!!!

    What are the seasons like in Korea?

    Korea has clear four seasons.  In spring, the cherry trees are in bloom and people go cherry blossom viewing.  There are a lot of mountains for climbing close at hand in Korea.  Climbing is popular.  In summer, the humidity is very high and rainy season.  In fall, it is beautiful to turn red, yellow, and people go on a trip to enjoy the autumn colors.  In winter, it's much colder than San Diego and people like to go to ski resort. 
    What makes you proud to be Korean?
    We are the same ethnic.  We have strong belief 'we are the one'.  For example, Gold-collection movement during the 1997 IMF Financial Crisis.  We sought for solution to overcome the economic crisis and it was a good decision.  This movement was the very spiritual base on which the whole Korean people could be united again in the form of Gold-collection movement in 1997.  

    Also there is another example "red devils".

    Nikki's note:  After the IMF Financial Crisis there was a widespread interest in capitalizing on Korea's cultural industry, sparking the "Korean Wave."

    Are Koreans more influenced by Japanese or Chinese trends and fashion?

    I think Korean influenced by Japanese trends and fashion in the past but the Korean Wave has sparked a fad for Korean movies, dramas, and pop music nowadays.  Many young people in Asia like to follow Korean singers' songs and fashion.
    What do you miss from your time here in America?
    I miss a lot of things.  People, Heather's food, beach, Christmas, weather in SD, board games with heather and gary, shopping, trip, Point Loma Nazarene University, end....!!!!! Maybe I miss the time with heather & gary most.  I learned your culture from them and experienced everything with them.  I am sure that most of people who go abroad to study don't learn and experience your culture more than me.  The life in San Diego was the best and I miss everything.

    Huge thanks to Seungji for agreeing to this interview, and to Gary and Heather for opening their house to her! We hope you come back soon, Seungji!

    Sunday, March 27, 2011


    Today was supposed to be Korean cooking day, but my friend who was going to teach me some recipes got strep throat so we are postponing (get well soon, Erica!!!!).  But, undeterred, Shannon and I went out to   the Do Re Mi House (best name ever), and had a delicious Korean feast!

    Do Re Mi House is located near Convoy Street, the part of San Diego most associated with good Asian restaurants, and lives up to the neighborhood's reputation.  It's not much to look at outside - a typical storefront in strip mall, and the decor was nice, but not especially notable (however, we very much enjoyed watching a Korean tv talent show). The waitresses were super sweet and helpful, and oh man, the food was delicious!

    Korean meals often include lots of little side dishes called banchan, which are brought out prior to the main dishes.  The first thing our waitress brought over had a texture that REALLY surprised us - does anybody know what this is called? The noodles kinda popped....I liked the flavor - super light and fresh!

    mystery banchan!!!!
    They brought so many little banchan out - it was a really interesting component of the meal and gave us a great opportunity to try out a bunch of Korean flavors! Some of them were very tasty - beansprouts with sesame oil,  spinach with yummy seasoning, broccoli with a spicy sauce, and thinly sliced mushrooms. Others weren't quite our cup of tea, but it was fun trying them all - definitely had some surprises!

    assorted banchan
    We both ordered Dolsot Bibimbap, which is warm white rice with sauteed and seasoned vegetables,  often topped with thinly sliced meat and/or a raw egg, served in a sizzling clay pot.  We mixed it all up to cook the egg and to add in chili pepper paste. The bottom of the clay pot is coated with sesame oil, so the rice browns and gets crispy - yum-o!

    Dolsot Bibimbap

    Here is a video of our dinner table, starting with egg dish (gyeran jjim) which was at such a high temperature in its little hotpot that it was bubbling! You can also hear my bibimbap sizzling...mmmmmm! 

    Altogether delicious! I will definitely be going back at some point! And, I plan on rescheduling Korean cooking day, and will hopefully have a post up soon with more Korean culinary adventures!

    Monday, March 21, 2011

    The Korean War: one soldier's experience

    When cousin Shannon and I set foot in Seoul during a layover on our trip to Thailand, we were not the first members of our shared lineage on our moms' side had been in Korea.  My grandfather, Harold Bateson Waddington, served in the army from June 1951 - June 1954, and was stationed in Korea for about 15 months towards the end of his service.

    Harold Bateson Waddington
    I never asked Grandad about his time in Korea or in the service - it's thanks to my mom that I have any info or pix at all! I'm glad that writing this post today is giving me a chance not only to learn about a time of Korean/American shared history, but also to connect a bit more with the memory of my grandfather.

    Grandad in Korea

    You may remember from one of my earlier posts that Korea was occupied by Japan for much of the first half of the 20th century, and that the Korean peninsula was divided into north and south in the aftermath of WWII and the surrender of Japan, with U.S. troops administering the southern region and Soviet troops in the north.  There were attempts to create free elections, however the division along the 38th parallel deepened, and open warfare erupted when northern forces invaded South Korea on June 25, 1950, which is considered by many to be the first armed conflict of the Cold War.

    U.S. forces came to the aid of South Korea, and China supported North Korea.  Although swift infantry attacks and air bombing raids were strategies employed in the beginning of the war, the end was marked by pre-WWI methods such as trench warfare.  A ceasefire was signed on July 27, 1953, and the DMZ was established, however the two nations technically remain at warfare. In a previous blog post,  I briefly discussed a recent North Korean attack on a small South Korean island that has heightened tension and inspired emergency preparedness drills. 

    My mom has been really helpful in finding some old pictures of Grandad and sharing some of the details of his military service with me. He spent a little more than half of his 3 year stint with the army stateside, mostly in the San Francisco area, particularly at the Presidio and Camp Irwin, Fort Baker and Fort Cronkhite.

    It's so weird to see Grandad holding a gun!!!!

    Grandad spent 15 months in Korea in 1953 and 1954, corresponding with some of the final months of the conflict and the eventual armistace.  He served in the Battery C 9th AAA Gun Battalion, receiving the Korean Service Medal, the United Nations Service Medal,  and the National Defense Service Medal.

    Grandad is on the left in this photograph

    Grandad is on the right - he looks so young in this picture!!!

    When I was a kid, Grandad would flip his hat to the side and ask if he looked like the cool kids....I thought it was in reference to kids he saw walking around his neighborhood with their hats like that, but with his off-kilter hat in this pic, maybe he originated the style:)

    About a year after Grandad returned from the war he married my grandmother, Lorraine Shockley, and shortly after they had my mom and Aunt Sue.  Mom remembers that at some point early in my grandparents' marriage, Grandad had a nightmare referencing his time in the service and he woke up thrashing and bolted out of bed. That was enough to freak grandmom out, and from that point on, every evening when she went to bed after grandad she would wake him from his slumber to let him know she was coming to bed so she wouldn't startle him and trigger any old war memories. Poor grandad....he was woken up after just falling asleep almost every night because grandmom was so nervous!!!

    Here's an old photo of Grandad with mom (left) and Aunt Sue (right) on the sidewalk in front of the house Grandmom and Grandad lived in for almost 50 years in Orange, CA.

    Whenever I visited Grandad when I was a kid, I would inevitably end up in his den at some point, looking through books about U.S. history. Grandad was really proud of his service and had army memorobilia displayed proudly in his study. I'm glad I've been able to honor his memory by writing this entry!

    Wednesday, March 16, 2011

    Preparing for everything: Korean response to recent events

    Lately, I've been pretty riveted to the news of revolutions in the Middle East, however with the the earthquake in Japan and threat of nuclear disaster, my attention has been divided. Understandably, South Koreans including President Lee Myung-Bak have also been closely monitoring the unfolding events in their neighboring country.

    Japan and South Korea's borders lie about 120 miles apart, with the Korea Straight dividing them.  As such,  South Korea has been an early responder in providing aid in the midst of the recent crisis in Japan, redirecting incoming shipments of liquified natural gas to address potential energy shortages, and providing Boron to stabilize nuclear reactors, and sending rescue teams.  They are also in talks to begin sending water and relief supplies. 

    The Korean peninsula also faces the threat of quakes and tsunamis, and as such, President Lee said that it is necessary for Koreans to be thoroughly trained for evacuations in time of emergencies.  The nuclear crisis at Japan's Fukushima Daichi nuclear plant is a result of the recent earthquake and is drawing Korean attention to the need to be prepared for evacuation related to nuclear threats as well.  South Korea operates 20 nuclear reactors which generate about 35% of their electricity, and plans are on the table to build an additional 12 reactors in the next 14 years.

    Pedestrians ducked into subway stations, office basements and dedicated air-raid shelters for yesterday’s emergency drill.

    President Lee commented on Japanese emergency preparedness, stating 'It is impressive that Japanese people are responding to the disaster in a calm manner.''   On Tuesday afternoon President Lee called for a nationwide afternoon drill to practice evacuation measures not only for natural and nuclear crises, but also for the potential threat of attacks from North Korea, with whom they have technically remained at war since the Korean war 60 years ago.  Tension between the two countries has risen since the bombardment of Yeonpyeong, a Korean border island, in November of 2010, which resulted in 4 casualties.

    Smoke rises from South Korea's Yeonpyeong Island after it was hit by artillery shells from North Korea on Nov. 23, 2010

    During the drill, traffic was halted in central Seoul, with sirens signaling pedestrians to find designated shelters.  Over 25,700 state-designated shelters were renovated after the conflict last year. 

    Tuesday, March 15, 2011

    Korean grocery adventure

    So far, each month I have visited a specialty market that has foods from the part of the world on which I am focusing - a small African market and a Latin American bodega.  These shops have been pretty small, with a limited selection, but have helped me locate some great things - I'll be going back to the Latin American market A LOT for Lizano sauce:)

    This month, I went to a Korean grocery store my student worker, Erica (who's family is Korean) recommended, and it was a completely different experience from my other grocery forays so far.  Zion Market is a chain of 7 markets located in Southern California and specializing in Korean food. The one I went to had a bakery, food court, a few smaller stores selling housewares, jewelry, etc, and a large grocery area. I'm glad I asked Erica what to look for before I went because I would have been totally overwhelmed otherwise.....not that I really knew what I was looking at, but at least I knew to expect it to be big!

    I went looking for a few snack items, and to mostly just to get a better sense of what Korean food is all about (I watched an Anthony Bourdain special that spooked me a bit - he ate tiny tentacles just cut off a squid that were still moving!!!! I needed to see some non-extreme cuisine). Kevin came along with me and we were in sensory overload - rows and rows of bright colored bags of unidentifiable snacks with cartoon characters and indecipherable writing, live fish and lobsters,  baked goods with unrecognizable fillings, and all sorts of prepared foods. I went looking for a type of kimchi Erica recommended (cucumber), but couldn't find it in the midst of a million kimchis:

    Kevin and I did manage to find a few treats to try though - a mystery baked good, some grape jelly crackers, corn chips, mochi, soju, vegetable buns, and "xylish" gum - ginger ale &lime flavor:

    All in all, a successful trip!!!!

    Saturday, March 12, 2011

    Cheering with the Korean Red Devils

    My Korean friend, Seungji, recommended I check out the Korean Red Devils - people who cheer for the Korean National Football Team during games. I had NO idea what to expect, and have been blown away by the pictures and videos I found. Supporters come out by the thousands during games to congregate in public plazas to watch games on jumbotron screens and cheer together. This should give you some idea of the scale of these gatherings:

    Red Devils in Seoul Plaza during the 2002 World Cup

    The "Red Devils" are such huge supporters of the national team that they have often been called the "12th member" of the team. Here's some video footage of the passionate fans!

    I'm not very into sports but I think I would HAVE to go be a part of this if I had the opportunity at  some point. It looks like a lot of fun, and has such cameraderie involved! I love that they even clean up as a group afterwards:) 

    Monday, March 7, 2011

    Ready for some Korean pop?????

    I gotta admit, I really like this song:)

    Korea: an overview

    In thinking over my posts about the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Costa Rica,  I realized I didn't really spend much time conveying some of the general information about those countries, and that there might be some merit to sharing some of that info with you guys to provide contextual background. So, here we go!

    Korea is pretty unique in that its people are predominantly of the same ethnic background and almost all speak the same language.  The country is roughly the size of Indiana, however, there are a whopping 48.6 million people living there, which is more than seven times the population of Indiana!

    China is South Korea's western neighbor, with Japan its neighbor to the east.  Korea was occupied by Japan for almost the entire first half of the 20th century, ending with Japan's defeat in WWII.  Shortly after, Korea was divided along the 38th parallel according to a United Nations agreement, to be administrated by the Soviet Union in the north, and the United States in the South.  A 160-mile buffer zone, often referred to as the DMZ, divides the two nations, and is the most heavily militarized border in the world.

    Guard station at the DMZ

    I was watching an episode of Anthony Bourdain's travel and food show No Reservations today and saw an episode where Korea was featured. He spoke to an old man who had fled from the north to the south  as a young man in the hopes of providing a better life for his family. He seemed to still believe in his decision, however he spoke emphatically about how his thoughts never drifted far from his roots in North Korea, how he thought every day of the village and loved ones he left behind, and how his greatest hope was to see his homeland once more before his death.

    Traditional Korean village

    Korean life traditionally centers around large, tight knit families, as do all agricultural societies.  Traditional villages were also very community minded - often joining together in times of need or celebration. However, today most people live in condominiums in cities. A 1995 census found that 88% of Koreans lived in urban areas!

    Bukchon - a neighborhood in Northern Seoul, traditionally housed many palace officials and is known for its high concentration of traditional homes called "hanok," which feature curved tile roofs. 

    Oh man, there is so much more to write about, but I hafta go to bed! I recommend checking out the Lonely Planet write up on South Korea - they paint an especially vivid picture of what it is like to visit - which I am still absolutely determined to do one day:)

    Keep an eye on upcoming posts about Korean pop music, Jeju Island, urban life, and, of course, lots about food!!!!

    Thursday, March 3, 2011

    Korean fashion - couple tees!

    When I started this blog, my intention was to profile countries I have not yet had the pleasure of visiting. So, in the spirit of full disclosure, I feel I must state that I have been to Korea for a super quick layover.  I was only there 8 hours, 4 of which were spent in the airport or on a bus - however, I enjoyed my time there so much that I promised myself I'd get back one day!

    One of the first things Shannon (cousin/roomate/fellow traveler) and I noticed about Korean people was a fashion trend we couldn't help but noticing in the Bangkok Airport as we waited to board our flight to Seoul - people dressed like this:

     and this:

    Shannon and I kept staring and trying to figure out why all the couples on our flight were dressed similarly, and we tried, ever so sneakily, to take pictures to document who we saw, however we knew it would be too obvious to flat out take a picture, so Shannon would pretend she was taking a picture of me and then would quick whip the camera to the side to catch the couple - which lead to a bunch of blurry pictures like this one:

    We got off the plane and met up with our amazing tour guides (Seungji and Hyein - former host students of my friend Heather) and when we asked them about the outfits we noticed, they told us that they are called "couple tees" and are super popular in Korea.  Here's some examples:

    I like how sometimes the design connects from one person to the other, however sometime it can lead to awkward situations of standing on the wrong side...AHHHHH!

    Shannon and I kept pestering our new friends to learn more about the trend and when we asked what happened when people broke up and had extensive collections of couple tees, we found out that some people burn them when relationships end! Yikes!!!!

    Has anyone seen this trend in other countries? I don't think I've noticed it here in the U.S. at all, but I'm definitely keeping my eyes open! 

    Tuesday, March 1, 2011

    Costa Rica Wrap-Up & Plans For March!

    February was so short!!!! Well....since I gave up coffee for the month, the mornings of February did tend to ddrrrrraaaaaagggggggg, but overall, it went by so fast!

    I enjoyed my pleasant day-dream vacation in Costa Rica this month. I can honestly say I've thought about living in a treehouse every day since my blog about Finca Bellevista, and even the crazy bright colored bugs have grown on me as I've looked at more and more pictures. Costa Rica's "pura vida" lifestyle is pretty enticing and I very much hope to visit one day.  I definitely want to take a zip-line tour over the canopy of one of the cloud forests, and I'd love to see how my attempt at gallo pinto stacks up...and maybe to take a cooking class:)

    Studying Costa Rica was definitely a departure from my time with the Congo, and I must admit I had a form of culture shock switching out of thinking about some of the heavier subject matters discussed in my January blogs.  Life in the Congo is so different from my lifestyle, which made studying their customs and way of life fascinating. At the same time, I felt a lot of sadness for the unfortunate and, at times, unconscionable situations that many Congolese people face. To switch from reading current news stories about rape being used as a weapon of war in the Congo to seeing headlines about Costa Rica as a leader in environmental policy and being a top tourist destination was about as drastic a change as possible.

    It was really heartening to learn about the "Switzerland of Central America" (they abolished their military in 1949!) and to marvel at the beauty of their well-preserved ecosystems.  I felt inspired to take a second look at the land on which I live - I've tried to more appreciate the plants and creatures around me (even the darn green parrots that hang out in a tree on my street and squawk up a storm).  I also really really loved the gallo pinto I made on feast night and the Lizano sauce I bought - I will absolutely continue enjoying Costa Rican food!!!!

    All in all - I had a great month immersing myself in Costa Rica!

    Soooooo, are you ready to hear where I'm armchair traveling to this month????.........Korea!!!!!!!