Monday, September 19, 2011

So, what have you been up to?

After several weeks of diligently blogging about my various sightseeing activities in Seoul, I've decided to take a break from photojournalism and travel blogging - which I think we can all agree I suck at are not really my strong points - and return to my first love, which, as you all know, is whining providing witty and incisive commentary about minutiae. This decision has been supported by the fact that, when, for example, the man standing next to me in the subway is wearing a diaphanous skirt,  friends turn and say, 'that's going in your blog, isn't it?' It would be nice to be known for breathtaking photographs or insightful socio-cultural commentary, but I guess we all have our niches in blogging, and mine seems to be The Bizarre.  With this in mind, I spent a considerable amount of time this morning trying to come up with a cohesive, witty, and catchy title for this post, but I failed miserably, so you're stuck with this one, which gives me carte blanche to talk about smelly shoes, octopi, very tiny dogs, and hiking, under the pretense of answering the question, 'So, what have you been up to?"

Well, (since you asked), I have been.....


Someone's dinner (not mine)

going to the fish market at Noryangjin:  This is a time-honored tourist destination in Seoul:  a huge open warehouse full of every possible kind of seafood you could imagine, as well as a number of kinds that you would never imagine, not even in a nightmare  were not aware of.  It was basically  acres of fish vendors, each with their own stands and their own specialties, from squid to flounder and everything in between.  It smelled exactly like you would expect an enormous fish market to smell in Seoul in the late summer, and when I got home, I discovered that - just from having walked through it - all of my clothes smelled just like a fish market in the late summer, too.   The worst for me was looking at the tanks and bowls of live fish, baby octopi, and eels, which I privately thought of as 'the condemned' and which it appeared everyone else just thought of as 'dinner.'
The Condemned



 The highlight (using the term loosely) of this trip was the choice on the parts of both of our sons to wear highly-absorbent canvas shoes to muck around the fish market and all of its accompanying effluvia, which they later dropped on the threshold of the apartment without a second thought.  It took me several days of frantic cleaning and sleuthing before I was able to locate the source of the odor and  dispense justice.

Attending an Oktoberfest in Seoul:  This was hosted on the American army base here in Seoul and involved the requisite beer tent, oompah band, lederhosen, and comely maidens in dirndls, as well as lots of sodden rocking side-to-side with beer glasses raised, whilst tunelessly belting out "Ein Prosit der Gem├╝tlicheit."  The fact that this was taking place on a horribly hot and humid September evening within sight of Namsan tower in the middle of Seoul, and that the various musicians, food servers, and comely maidens were mostly Korean, added a certain surreal touch to the occasion - although, after a few beers, this was no longer noticeable.

"The Slipper"
Dog-sitting for friends who were out of town during Chuseok (Korean Thanksgiving):  Son #2 was offered the job of feeding and walking a neighbor's dog while the family was in Japan during Chuseok, which he readily agreed to do.  The dog was brought to our apartment and installed as a temporary visitor for the duration, which turned out to be an excellent arrangement for not only our now canine-less  family, but also for the dog, who was highly sociable although extremely small, and would probably have been quite lonely alone in her own apartment.... at least that's what we told ourselves.  Having never had a dog that weighed less than 80 pounds, we were initially nervous about accidentally stepping on her, but she turned out to have an excellent sense of self-preservation and alertly leaped out of the way any time she saw feet moving in her direction. This dog is an apartment-sized breed called - with a straight face, no less - a "Yorkie-poo" (combination of poodle and Yorkshire Terrier) and was clearly bred to deliver the maximum amount of dogness in the smallest possible package. She weighed less than 5 pounds, was the size of Mr. Logical's foot, and blended seamlessly with the texture of the flokati rug in our living room.  For this reason, we christened her 'the Slipper.'  Despite her amazing (to us) teeniness, she competently exhibited all of the classically desirable doggy behaviors which we had missed so much, and which we somehow had not expected in an animal roughly the size of a cantaloupe.  We returned her at the end of Chuseok with great reluctance.

Going to Open House Night at Son #2's School:  This involved Mr. Logical and myself driving to school in the evening through Seoul rush hour traffic - an activity which does nothing to enhance marital harmony, by the way - in order to  follow Son #2's schedule, meet his teachers, and find out what Son #2 would be doing this year in each of his courses.  This was not particularly different from what we would have done in the US, except there was an interesting debate going on among the parents regarding amounts of homework, and opinions seemed to fall along cultural lines.  The Western parents all felt the load was way too much adequate, if a bit heavy, whereas the Asian parents felt that it was not nearly enough and their children would never get into university at this rate could stand to be increased.

part of the old wall on Bukhansan

Hiking up mountains in Seoul:  There is a good reason you rarely see fat Seoulites, and that is because the city is built in and around a series of mountains, which means that, if you plan ahead, just going to the grocery store can be the day's cardio workout.  In fact, both my friends B and K live at the top of brutal inclines, which is why I tend to meet them  for coffee as opposed to just stopping by (this should also go a long way toward explaining why I have not lost any weight since arriving in Seoul.)  But have no fear! - if the naturally hilly terrain of the city streets is not enough for you, you can take your choice of any number of hiking trails located on mountains all over Seoul, which provide lovely landscaping and gorgeous scenic vistas, not to mention painful excellent workouts.  Namsan and Bukhansan mountains also both contain segments of the old city walls of Seoul, some of which date back to the 1300s, which appeals to my inner history geek.

Part of the old wall on Namsan



  Of course, hiking up any of these mountains is a serious cardiovascular enterprise, which means that, once you get to the top, you - or, in this case, I -  will be sweaty, disheveled, out of breath, and looking your absolute worst for all of those 'top of the mountain' scenic vista photos you were looking forward to posting on your blog but which, on closer inspection, are clearly out of the question if you are to retain any readership whatsoever.  There is actually a cable car that will ferry you up or down the mountain for a fee, but in Mr. Logical's book, taking a mechanized vehicle up a mountain  is only acceptable providing you are a member of AARP or you do not have the full use of your limbs, which - at least for a few more years - means the Asia Vu family gets to the top under their own steam, looking like they should have the caption  survivors of the death march underneath their photo.

 Of course, if you don't want to take the cable car, there are also about a gazillion tour companies which provide bus service to the summit - also on Mr. Logical's 'wuss list' - for a nominal fee.   This explains why I observed so many fresh-faced, immaculately coiffed women in miniskirts and 5-inch heels tottering around the summit of Namsan, eating squid-on-a-stick and posing for glamour shots in front of the picturesque gazebo.  Meanwhile, I was using the edge of Mr.Logical's t-shirt to wipe the streaming sweat out of my eyes and trying to stretch my hamstrings out of what felt like a permanent squat.  Now, in all fairness, plenty of others  also did not ride to the top of the mountain in air-conditioned comfort;   in fact, we passed quite a number of serious, professional-looking hikers as we made our way up and down the mountain, and the one thing I learned from observing them is that I will never make the 'best-dressed hiker' list in Seoul.   Apparently, there is a very specific dress code for serious hikers in Seoul, which is slightly different from the MsCaroline standard.  For example, I consider an appropriate hiking costume to be my oldest hiking shoes, a pair of disreputable shorts, and the t-shirt that I wore to paint my great room in the house in Arizona;  my logic being that the whole ensemble is just going to get dirty and sweaty anyway.  Seoulites, however, think differently:  if you are participating in an outdoor event, you must:   a) own the proper gear and b) wear all the proper gear you own.  This should be immediately observable from your SPF30 gore-tex sun hat/ visor to your jaunty neckerchief to your ultra-wicking polypropylene hiking shirt (with vents), to your expandable aluminium pistol-grip stabilizing poles, to your expedition-weight mountaineering boots.  This unwritten dress code is either an excellent reason for me to a) go shopping or b) quit hiking altogether, but I haven't figured out which one.  And so, while I'm sorting that one out....what have you been up to?



4 comments:

Trish @ Mum's Gone To ... said...

You've been up to A LOT! This would make about half a dozen of my posts. Very funny observations and, even though I'm not a diggy person, I think I'm in love with a Yorkie-Poo.

I see you're still talking about fish and feet though ;-)

MsCaroline said...

Trish, it really should have made half a dozen posts, but I had such a backlog I decided to make a clean sweep. But you're right...fish and feet seem to be a recurring leitmotif in my writing...I don't want to know what this says about me....

Karen said...

First of all...quit hiking. Shopping is NEVER my answer to a problem. Went "Homecoming" dress shopping with Leah this weekend and she aptly summed up an experience that I have been trying to define for many years. As we gazed helplessly at the racks of dresses in our local Macys she claimed that she felt "judged." Now, I honestly don't care what the shoppers in Macys think of me but every time I enter a mall to shop (thankfully about once every 3 years) I, in fact, feel judged. In other words...inadequate. However, we prevailed and dug in...wait 'til you see the pictures! She is a senior and this is her very first high school dance...she is not "into" high school. She is going to take them by storm, I promise you. Hmm...what have I been up to? Sheer madness is a good description. I arrived at work to find that a teacher had quit and the powers that be had decided not to replace her. Meaning that I would have a class of 10 students and the other 2 teachers would have 10 and 13 respectively. This is possible because the State of RI and Providence Plantations in it's infinite wisdom did not place limits on classroom sizes for kids with severe/profound disabilities. What has ensued has been 2 weeks of sheer madness. After 2 weeks a contingent was dispatched to the powers that be...begging them to open another classroom. We started out willing to try, but it just was impossible...not fair to the kids and certainly not fair to us. Thankfully, our request was met favorably and we are now involved in the madness of redistributing the kids and totally revamping our classrooms. We complain but it has to be done and all will be better when it is done! And now....I must go make lists and try to figure out what needs to be done to redo my entire classroom while moving students and paraphernalia and running a classroom schedule all at the same time. Seriously, though, all is well, or will be soon!

MsCaroline said...

Karen, I have always hated shopping for that sort of dress, mostly because I am not built (starting with 5'2 height and moving on to not being stick-thin) to fit in anything. Never thought of it as being 'judged' but now that I think of it, that's exactly what's happening: either it fits, and you fit, or it doesn't, and you don't. I bet Leah will be gorgeous and I can't wait to see photos! School situation sounds unbelievable, thank God they are opening the new class! Chin up, this too shall pass!