Soundtrack time: hit play and start reading.
Mr. Grieves - A Capella cover of the Pixies song, by TV On The Radio
or, for fun, you can watch this goofball dance. It's kind of fun.
See, it's spring over here, and April and October in Korea are the country at its absolute best. In fact, it's a travesty that I'm in my apartment writing this post instead of lolling about in a park somewhere. It just goes to show how much I love you, my dear readers.
I've been taking bajillions of pictures on my junky little cellphone camera, running up my phone-bill by sending them to my e-mail address, and even beginning to sigh in dismay at their poor quality -- it's reaching the point where the things I see make me happy enough that I wish I had a better instrument for catching their visual gunchiness.
So anyway, somewhere in the last couple of weeks, Spring came! My buddy Chris planned a wine and cheese party in Olympic Park (near my old house) so I headed over, because Olympic Park is a wonderful place.
Lots of people were out lounging around on the grassy fields.
This is one of my favourite trees in all of Korea.
And the one behind it is another. It's hard to see with my low resolution camera, but it's all twisty.
Tons of people came out: it might have been the first real, outdoor-friendly day this spring.
My bud Chris was there sipping wine and eating cheese. I joined him and we just shot the breeze for a couple of hours. It was great -- one of those "I love Korea" or maybe just "I love life" days that I need to remember to write about, to balance out high horses, grinding axes, critical analyses, and rants, from time to time.
Also in Olympic Park, there was a photo shoot (the magnolia trees were blossoming, see?), and it was kind of funny to notice this trumped up model looking away from the cameras with this disinterested look, meanwhile playing to them with her body language at the same time.
All around her, clustered, were mostly unattractive, mostly approaching or middle-aged men with big cameras, huddling around her and taking a picture a second.
Honestly, watching the men fawn over this made-up little symbol of the beauty ideal was more fun than checking out the model -- her hip, disinterested face kind of turned me off.
However, I did get a picture I liked of the way she's ogled and idealized by the photographers: it makes me think of a musical. Compare the above, with this:
Pictures from http://godusesbrokenvessels.blogspot.com/2007/05/bigfork-montana.html
And the most appropriate match:
Honestly, the guy below made me smile more than the model -- the photographers' fawning was more interesting to me than her posing, too -- I see people pose all the time (every time a camera comes out) but how often do you get to see some genuine fawning?
This guy, on the other hand, didn't CARE who was lookin'. He just parked himself on a bench overlooking a trail, and started singing to himself. He gave me a big old smile and a wave when he noticed me looking at him, and maybe if I'd known the song, I'd have sat next to him and sung along for a while. Got a kick out of him -- he was actually enjoying his time and showing it, instead of making a pouty face and pooching out his belly to emphasize his "S line" (S line is what Korean women call the idealized figure -- if you imagine a view of a woman from the side, the curves are supposed to form the shape of an "S")
So that was Saturday. Then on Monday, I met with Girlfriendoseyo, (who's way cooler than a model, because her heart, her intelligence, and her humour make me want to, you know, spend time with her, instead of just looking at her), in Samchungdong. Girlfriendoseyo's best friend Jueun joined us, too. I really like Jueun. She's funny, vivacious, smart, and just goofy enough. When I see her and Girlfriendoseyo together, I feel at peace, just by osmosis, because those two are so deeply happy to be around each other. Girlfriendoseyo has a special flavour of happiness and contentment that only comes out when Jueun is nearby, so I love seeing those two together. Fortunately, Jueun likes me, too. We ate some great lunch together:
And walked all over Samchungdong, Gyungbok Palace, and the street in front of Cheongwadae (the Blue House, where Korea's president lives).
The tree below is also twisty, and it has some magpie nests.
The Cherry blossoms were in full bloom in Gyungbok Palace, though the ones in front of Cheongwadae hadn't quite sprouted, yet.
There's Girlfriendoseyo averting her eyes. I still like her more than the Olympic Park model.
By some mysterious coincidence, every cherry and magnolia tree in downtown Seoul that I spotted had a pale background around it, so that there wasn't any contrast to highlight the colours of the flowers.
Really, to see some actually excellent cherry blossom pictures, go here -- the Marmot has a nice camera instead of a 400 pixel junker like mine.
I think these flowers are called Jindalae-ggott in Korean, or maybe those are only the darker purple ones, not the pink ones; I have no idea what they are in Canadese. (I really ought to learn tree and flower species names; it's embarrassing sometimes. I know almost as many different kinds of flower names in Korean as I do in English.)
This ain't a cherry blossom, but I don't know what it IS called. Go find out yourself. I'm not a journalist, I'm just a lazy-butt blogger. Leave a comment if you know, if you like.
There's girlfriendoseyo and bestfriend again. They were great together.
Tulips in Samchungdong. My friend Mel went to a tulip festival near her hometown in Canada and got some pretty good pics there.
Stolen from my bud Tom's facebook page: night, plus flash, equals the contrast I couldn't find all day Monday: These are from Yeouido, the island where Korea's national parliament buildings are found.
soundtrack part 2: hit play and keep reading.
"We Are Gonna Be Friends" by White Stripes
Once again, with the no-contrast-backgrounds for this nice Magnolia tree near Anguk station.
And this one near Namdaemun Market.
In Samchungdong, there's this awesome little coffee shop that has an awesome selection of herbal teas (it's where I discovered the joys of rosemary tea), and roasts its own beans (YEAH!), and plays cool jazz from its big vinyl records collection. I love it.
Well right next door to it, a new shop opened.
Yep. Coffee Bean, one of the biggest chains in Seoul, has decided to horn in right next door from the hip, cool little independent nonamer. This disappoints me, not because the franchise doesn't have the right to make money where money's to be made, but because I have a feeling a lot of people would choose the more familiar logo by default (in my experience, most humans are creatures of comfort, hardwired toward familiarity), and crowd out a really nifty little coffee shop.
Maybe I'm wrong, and if the little indie place pulls through, I'll be glad to admit I was, but I guess I don't have enough faith in human nature to go for the unique option instead of the familiar, safe one.
Again from my bud Tom's facebook page: Han River is gorgeous at night. Tom makes me want to buy a proper camera, too.
Cherry blossoms near girlfriendoseyo's house.A magnolia tree near girlfriendoseyo's house. The first one I saw this year. See what I mean about backgrounds with bad contrast?
For some other nice pictures of spring in Korea, check out this guy's post from last year, out in Bucheon (a suburb of Seoul).
April 9th was election day in Korea. I did a little coaching to make sure my students said "Election Day" instead of "Erection Day", but other than that, Girlfriendoseyo and I both had a day off, so we went to her old alma mater, Seoul National University, and she walked me around campus. Other than a break to buy an umbrella (and, you know, rain), it was a really nice walkabout.
Except, Seoul National was built during the Park Chung-hee days of Korea's history. President Park valued results over methods, economic growth over individual or press freedom, and function over beauty. To wit, SNU's Library building:
Their administrative building:Is ugly, too.
There is a possibly apocryphal story that the Korean government hired a world-famous architect to design SNU's buildings, but he basically took the money, designed a single building, and split. In response, rather than spend the money to find another world-famous architect to do the other buildings, Korea just photocopied the blueprints and build the exact same building repeatedly, until they had enough classroom space to fit their needs.
Explains a bit, and also reveals a bit about that government's opinion toward aesthetics. You can see a legacy of that attitude that places function over form in any apartment block in Seoul.
Another way to get around the unattractive architecture: hide it behind pretty trees (a common practice in the above-type apartment blocks, too). Or build ponds. This one was by the humanities building.
This is the best cherry tree I found all week -- it was huge!
"I'm Roboseyo, and I endorse this tree."
From another angle, you can see how big it is -- that's all one tree. . . and finally, one with a dark-coloured building behind it, so you can see the pinky pink properly!More cherry blossom lanes.
The view from the terrace where we had lunch:
Some, uh, purple and, uh, yellow flowers. In bushes.
That tree again. (just humour me; I'm almost done)
Now I've said it before and I'll say it again. The two best times to come to Korea are April and October. Spring and fall are paradise in this country, and should be enjoyed. In fact, I'm mad at myself now for staying in to write this post, instead of going out to enjoy the jaw-dropping day outdoors.
I have some other news, but I'll save it for another post, when I haven't exhausted you all with so many pictures.
Take care, wonderful people! Stay tuned, because there's more where this came from!