Sunday, April 29, 2012

Cultural Differences: What's For Dinner?

(Apologies to those of you who already read the abbreviated version of this incident on FaceBook, but this was such a great illustration of the type of life I live these days that I just couldn't help blogging about it.)

Regular readers know that I teach English a few days a week to kindergarteners at an international school here in Seoul.  My students, for the most part, are a highly-sophisticated, well-traveled group from many nationalities and ethnicities, most of whom are bi- or trilingual in languages that include German, Korean, English, Chinese, French, and a number of other Western and Asian languages.

While kids are just kids, no matter what their cultures, one of the things I've found fascinating is what they like to eat.  (I've posted before about the popularity of gim -thin seasoned sheets of pressed seaweed- with the kindergarten set in Korea.)  At our particular school, the children bring breakfast with them and sit around the table in the morning munching on whatever their Mamas have packed for them.  On any given day, you may find any of the following being eaten:  soft pretzel with cheese; fresh fruit and yogurt; a sandwich of rye bread and cold cuts; or raw cabbage and cucumbers.  This last entree is most fascinating to me, especially since I know without a shadow of a doubt that, when my own children were that age, they would have viewed a breakfast of raw cabbage and cucumber as an attempt to poison them - or, at the very least, a cruel and unusual punishment.

I've mentioned before that roasted silkworm pupae are a popular street food here, which may seem inconceivable to Westerners, but, in all fairness - coming, as I do, from the land that gave you the Big Mac and the Twinkie - I am in no position to judge anyone's gustatory preferences. All of this simply to illustrate the (rather obvious fact) that taste in food is whatever you become accustomed to.  In my opinion, if you get nothing else out of living abroad besides that simple concept, you have made enormous strides towards global peace and universal understanding.

It is with this point in mind that I provide you with the following vignette from my daily life, (which is nothing if not occasionally surreal) keeping in mind that English is not necessarily the first language of any of my students.

Scene:  Kindergarten playground:  the sandbox.  Children are scattered variously throughout, busily occupied with building castles, digging enormous holes, flinging sand at each other, and - the favorite game with a certain group of little girls these days - playing at 'restaurant.'  This game consists of filling a bucket with sand and any other items the child can find lying about in the playground, such as leaves, pebbles, grass, or juniper berries.  Once the entree has been concocted, the second stage of the game involves summoning the nearest adult customer to come to the 'restaurant' and 'eat' it.  A little girl I will call 'Anne' has just completed a culinary masterpiece consisting of sand and several pieces of bark scalped off a nearby evergreen tree and is hollering frantically at me to come sample it.  

Anne:  Frau AsiaVu! Frau AsiaVu! Come to my restaurant! I've cooked something for you!

MsCaroline:  (scooping sand and debris out of bucket, waving it in proximity of mouth, and making enthusiastic smacking noises) Mmmmm! This is delicious, Anne! What is it?

Anne:  (smugly):  It's meat.

MsCaroline:  (continuing to pantomime hearty consumption) Meat? Really? What kind?

Anne:  (blankly) What means 'what kind'?

MsCaroline:   I mean, what sort of meat is it ? Is it pork, or is it beef?

Anne:  (the light now dawning, searching for word) Ohhhh...It is horse.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012


The really good bloggers, I hear, have the type of time-management skills that allow them to live full and vibrant lives while also regularly sharing their experiences with their reading public.  But not MsCaroline.  I always thought I was a good multitasker, but it turns out I can either lead an interesting life, or I can write regular blog posts, but - apparently - I can't do both.

In essence, it has been a couple of weeks of...for lack of a better word..... BlogFail.

I take full responsibility for this failure, except that I want to point out that it's not really my fault. I've been preoccupied pulling teeth coordinating parent volunteers (when I'm not planning, buying, transporting, or serving food - or sending e-mails about the same) in the effort to provide approximately 450 meals over the last few weeks for the cast and crew during rehearsals of Son#2's high school musical (not the High School Musical, but a high school musical) mostly without a !@#$%^& car, often using public transport, and (often) in the rain.  The pinnacle of my efforts will take place this Saturday evening at the Cast Party, after which I plan to go home and remain in bed for several months.  (Silver lining:  I'll have ample time for blogging then.)

But let it not be said that MsCaroline is a quitter! No, she is not! So, without further ado - even though at this very moment I should be composing wheedling emails begging people to come help me decorate for the cast party - I give you the condensed version of the last few weeks and just a few of the reasons for my Blogfail:

MrLogical's 49th birthday:  This was celebrated in an English Pub (I know,in Seoul, of all places) with the requisite fish and chips, birthday cake, and lots of beer.   It is still unclear whose idea it was to order a round of  melon shooters at 11pm, and even more unclear why we drank them - an action that I deeply regretted many times during the following day, because MrLogical and I had to be up betimes to drive ourselves and about 2000 kilos of food through the pouring rain to Son#2's school on roughly 5 hours' sleep.   Along with some other dedicated (and significantly more chipper) parents, we made 150 (more or less) tortilla wraps to feed the swarms of hungry teenagers during their all-day rehearsal.  Tortilla wrap construction is not exactly a thrill a minute under the best of circumstances, but, in this particular case, it was even less so.  Once we had fed the swarming hordes, cleaned up, and headed to the car, we then sat in bumper-to-bumper traffic for hours in the driving rain on the way home, listening grimly to the fwump-fwump of the windshield wipers (which did nothing to help the throbbing in our heads) and wishing for quick death.

Son#1 is coming home for the summer after all:  Due to excessive stinginess practial and thrifty money management, it had been decided by MrLogical, the fiscal meanie that Son#1 should stay in Texas after semester ended, find himself a job and an apartment for the summer, and meet us in the U.S. for a family vacation when we returned this July for home leave.  If you are a mother, you will understand that the idea of seeing my eldest child (who had so recently left the nest) for a grand total of only 10 days before next Christmas  was the most awful thing I have ever heard unacceptable.  Fortunately, due to the difficulty (and cost) of Son#1 finding an apartment in town to sublet for the summer, MrLogical finally saw reason determined that it would be just as financially expedient to fly him home to Seoul for 5 or 6 weeks before we all traveled back together.  (Just between you and me, I know MrL is just as delighted as I am at the prospect of Son#1's imminent return. Oh, he talks a tough game, but underneath?  Marshmallow.)

A (surprise) trip to the Seoul Zoo with my friend L:  Like so many things in Seoul, this trip did not turn out quite like we expected, (primarily because we thought we were going to the Botanical Gardens, not the Zoo,) but we are nothing if not intrepid, and it turned out to be fun anyway.  The Seoul Zoo is located in an aesthetically beautiful (yet physically challenging) location on the side of a the foothills of Mt. Gwacheon.   Your uphill climb begins as you exit the subway station, continues on the long avenue approaching the Zoo entrance, and ends - well, it ends when the zoo ends, partway up the mountain.  In fact,  most of our time at the zoo was spent heading slowly and painfully uphill.  It is true that, in order to (presumably) not drive away most of its clientele, the Zoo wisely features a chairlift (yes, just like skiing) which conveys patrons from the entrance up to the northernmost boundary of the Zoo, where sensible people can disembark and wend their leisurely way down the mountainside, which really would have been the pleasant and restful way to do it.  In a stunning display of brilliance and minimal advance planning, however,  L and  hiked our way to the top of the zoo and then rode the skylift down before hiking back up the mountain to see the side of the zoo we had missed.   And then, we just walked down the second time.  Lest you accuse me of exaggeration, behold the road you must travel (in our case, on foot) that leads to the zoo entrance: ( note chairlift on the bottom left before it disappears behind trees.)  
Also note cherry blossoms, which we were lucky to see before the rain ruined them.  Read on.
Searching  for Cherry Blossoms:  This has become something of an obsession of mine, and it turns out that I was justified in obsessing.   I have been looking forward to experiencing the cherry blossoms for a long time now, and- since they are so short-lived - it was of paramount importance that I seize any opportunity to do so.  I am even happier that I got my one gorgeous cherry-blossom shot on that Sunday, because everyone assured me that, although most of the cherry blossoms weren't out yet, they would be guaranteed to be gorgeous the next weekend.  And I'm sure they would have been, except that it started raining late Friday night and then blustered and blew and rained all weekend long, which did nothing for the cherry blossom display except remove it from the trees and relocate them all over pavements and cars.  What now remains is a mere shadow of the grandeur I had been promised.  Maybe next year.

Driving in Seoul and buying a new (to me) car:  Again: so much excitement, so little time.  Driving here is just as terrifying as I thought it would be, but also strangely exhilarating in a death-defying sort of way, like bungee-jumping with a frayed cord, or handling snakes, or sailing solo around Cape Horn in a hurricane.  Seoul traffic being what it is, we decided on a more or less disposable car.  All I cared about was whether it would hold several teenagers and groceries, and that it had air bags.  MrLogical, after carefully combing the used car ads, told me that he had found the perfect vehicle for me - a sort of mash-up of a station wagon and a minivan - which - based on its excellent condition and mileage - appeared to have belonged to a little old ajumma who only drove it to church on Sundays.  We got to the lot where the dealer showed it to me with a flourish.

 "See?"  said MrLogical, "What did I say? It's got you written all over it."

I agreed that it seemed serviceable and functional, the price was right, and that I would be comfortable driving it, although mint green would not have been my first choice.  The deal was struck, and we made the necessary arrangements.

On the way home, though, I just couldn't get rid of the nagging sensation that it looked like something I'd seen before:  short, stumpy, roomy inside with a sort of rounded exterior...tallish for its breadth...and then it came to me:

We had bought me a clown car.

See you around town.

Monday, April 16, 2012

In Search of the Elusive Cherry Blossom

If you've been reading my blog for any time at all, you know that I've suffered loudly and whinily through my first winter in Seoul and am still waiting impatiently for the Spring.

Supposedly*, Spring usually arrives in Seoul at the beginning of April, but (naturally) it's late this year.  In fact, a cherry blossom festival was held the first weekend in April, but I didn't bother to check it out, since even I could see that there was no way there could possibly be enough cherry blossoms to festivate over.  However, last weekend came on the heels of 5 days of relatively warm temperatures, and after hearing from my friend A about the 'Spring Flower Festival' on the Island of Yeouido not far from us in the Han River, we did a little research and learned that Yeouido was the area in Seoul most often listed as having the prettiest views of cherry blossoms. The hot blossom-spotting zone in Yeouido is a 5.7-km stretch called the 'Cherry Blossom Tunnel' ( it's lined on both sides with flowering cherry trees.)

I am all about Cherry Blossom Tunnels, so I put this spot as #1 on our day's agenda and added to it - just in case the blossoms weren't out yet in Yeouido - a stop at Cheonggyeonggung Palace, which was also noted as a good spot for cherry blossom sightings.

And so it was that we* set out to see the cherry blossoms in Yeouido, about a 30-minute subway ride away.

We didn't know exactly where we were going, but (rightly) assumed that, once we got out of the subway, we could simply follow the crowds who would be flocking to see the sights.  (Fact of Life in Seoul:  if there is something worth seeing, you will be seeing it along with at least a million other people.) We climbed out of the subway station and headed down the street with the crowd toward the park and those Spring Blossoms.

Once we got closer to the park, it was clear that there was, indeed, a festival of some sort going on, based on the number of food stands lining the sidewalks.  People were everywhere, munching on roasted silkworm pupae (a popular snack), and waffles (the waffle - oddly enough - is one of the most popular foods in Seoul, both at restaurants and food stands), crowding the sidewalks, riding their bicycles, and stopping to have their photos taken.  Although there were a few blossoming cherry trees here and there, we saw nothing even vaguely resembling a 'tunnel.'  Hoping we'd just not gotten to it yet, we hiked another kilometer or two along the river, but it eventually became apparent that the few trees we'd seen in full or partial bloom were about all we were going to get.  This explained why there were dozens of photograph-takers crowding under and around each of the few blossoming trees we saw.

MrLogical and I were somewhat disappointed, as you can imagine, but even a partially- flowering cherry tree in Korea is still something, so we elbowed our way in amongst all the other tourists grappling around the few  blossoming trees and dutifully recorded the experience.

MsCaroline under partially-blooming cherry tree.  These blooms will be incredible.  Next week.

Having determined that the famed 'tunnel' was not going to happen, we turned around and, undaunted, trekked back to the subway with the intention of heading north, back across the river, to Cherry Blossom Sighting Spot #2 on our agenda:  Changgyeonggung Palace.

We had been to two other palaces in Seoul already, but not Changyeonggung.  Athough all of the palaces are beautifully landscaped, Changgyeonggung boasts extensive parklike grounds, including a man-made lake, and we reasoned that, even if the cherry blossoms weren't out (which was, by that time, looking like a distinct possibility), it would be lovely to see the palace and the other flowering shrubs anyway.

The walk from the subway station to the palace took about 20 minutes through some interesting little shopping areas, one of which featured this statue outside the building:

 The palace itself is located right down the street from the Seoul National Science Museum and is surrounded by an enormous wall, over which you could see the tops of trees and shrubs - some of them flowering.  We were encouraged.

We paid our KRW1000 (about $1 US) and entered the courtyard, where we were greeted by the sight of a few newly-flowering cherry trees planted along a small canal running through the center of the courtyard:

Once again, the only blossoming trees were surrounded by the other optimists who'd all gotten up early and dragged themselves out to see cherry blossoms and -dammit - they were going to get pictures.  As it turned out, this small group of cherry trees was probably the 'bloomiest' group we saw at the palace.  There were a few scattered about the rest of the grounds, but most of the trees were apparently playing it safe after the brutal winter and were going about blooming in a slow and cautious way.  Here and there we found trees - usually in sheltered spots near walls - that were in full bloom, but they were definitely the exception.

A few flowering trees, but...still  mostly waiting.

After hiking all around the palace and parkland, MrL and I - by now, tired and a little discouraged - decided to call it a day and headed home.  At this point, we'd walked several miles and spent hours on crowded subway cars, and we still had grocery shopping waiting for us in the afternoon. We were cheered by the fact that certainly next weekend would be really gorgeous, and at least we now knew exactly where to go (aren't we the optimists?)

We got home, jettisoned cameras, collected the reusable grocery bags, and headed back out - this time in the car - to do our shopping, and got the biggest surprise of the day:

There, on a road leading onto the Yongsan Army Garrison, 5 minutes away from our home, we found what we'd spent the morning looking for all over the city:  cherry trees.  In full bloom.  Dozens of them.

We had spent the morning lugging around the 'good' camera and its lenses.  I took this with my phone.
*Just between us, I have my doubts.
*Just the two of us:  Son#2 had to stay home and work on a science project relating to coronary artery disease but assured us that he would have loved to have gone with us if he'd not been so busy.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Rockets, Schmockets

North Korean Rocket via Source
Most of my readers are probably aware of the fact that things have been a little tense lately between our northern neighbor (North Korea) and, oh, pretty much everyone else in the world.  For those of you who have been living under a rock  too busy to watch or read the news, I will sum up the situation in simple terms:    North Korea is getting ready to launch a rocket into orbit and this is Bad.

According to Pyongyang, this rocket will be carrying a peaceful weather satellite and is part of the development of a peaceful space program.  In the opinion of many other countries (like, all of them), though, this rocket launch is a violation of about a kazillion treaties and nuclear accords, and just so happens to be exactly the same kind of rocket that would also be used to carry a long-range ballistic missile.  Coincidence? MsCaroline would like to think so, but she doubts it.

Virtually all of the governments of the developed world think this rocket-launching thing is a bad idea and have told North Korea not to do it Or Else.  Japan, China, and South Korea have already stated that they'll shoot the rocket down if it enters their airspace (note to readers:  since we live directly under South Korea's airspace, this aspect commands a certain amount of our attention, as you would imagine.)  North Korea's response to this has mostly been (fingers in ears) "Lalalalala, I can't hear you" and also "How silly you are to fear our friendly rockets of peace."  In fact, just to reassure the rest of the world of their peaceful intentions, the traditionally-super-secretive North Korean regime has even invited foreign journalists(!) to be on hand to observe just how peaceful this rocket launch will be, but that doesn't seem to have stemmed the tide of stern rhetoric being issued by Foreign Secretaries across the globe.

And so, here we are in Seoul, less than an hour's drive from the North Korean border, a mere 200 or so kilometers away from Pyeongyang, way too close for comfort to an angry rogue state with a chip on its shoulder and nuclear capability.  As I've said in previous posts, most of the time we don't think about it too much - until a situation like this arises.  Then, all of those scary thoughts that most of us keep locked up in the back of our subconscious basements start hammering at the door and poking their undead hands through the cracks like zombies in a horror film.

With all this talk of  rockets, and nuclear missiles, and potential threats and international sanctions  flying thick and fast through the airwaves, it would be easy to worry, fret, stew, and obsess about all the 'what ifs.' And maybe I will feel that way at some point.

But not today.

Today, I'm hopeful.  Optimistic.  Full of faith that things will unfold in the way they should.



Cherry blossoms.

Signs of Spring: In Which Spring Seems to be Coming to Seoul

"The first day of spring was once the time for taking the young virgins into the fields, there in dalliance to set an example in fertility for nature to follow.  Now we just set the clocks an hour ahead and change the oil in the crankcase."  ~E.B. White

Who knew that E.B. White - of all people! - could write such risque`stuff? Certainly not I.  My whole acquaintaince with White was based on Stuart Little and Charlotte's Web, which contained not a breath of impropriety ( unless you count the fact that Charlotte produced something like a thousand offspring without the benefit of matrimony, which doesn't mean a thing today but - back in the 60s - was still frowned upon. However - as always - I digress.)

The point that White seems to be making here is that Spring used to be a lot more fun (at least for the young virgins) than it is nowadays, and also that no one really uses the word 'crankcase' in conversation anymore.  Also, we do not set our clocks ahead or back in South Korea, which makes calculating the time differences to the U.S. even more complex than it already was.

I had every intention of plastering this post with the roseate hues of cherry blossoms, but, as it turns out, the cherry blossoms still haven't actually gotten around to blooming much yet, so this is all I have:

This is a pink cherry blossom in its pre-blooming stage, and they're everywhere in Seoul.  I've been watching them like a hawk, but mostly, they are staying stubbornly closed.  There are a few trees here and there with  blossoms that have been doing their thing, but I can tell that -as a group - they are just waiting for me to get distracted and stop watching them, at which time all of them will burst into roseate grandeur and then fade away before I see them.  At least that's what I'm afraid of, since I've been very distracted lately.

But let it not be said that MsCaroline neglects her readers, no matter how distracted she may be, and, as such, I will dutifully bring you up to date with what has been going on in my fascinating life:

  • driving in Seoul - yeah, you read that correctly, but it's really a whole post of its own. A mere 10 months after arriving here, I finally got up the nerve to drive.  Suffice it to say that I did not drive far, that I drove slowly and timidly, and no one was hurt.  MrL heroically rode shotgun and did his best to conceal the cold terror that must have been gripping him, for which he receives a gold star on his Husband chart.  
  • volunteering at Son#2's School - long ago, MrL told me that I was not happy unless I was overextended, and that continues to hold true, although I have made token attempts to cut back and Know My Limits over the years.  In this case, Son#2 is in a musical at his school and I innocently agreed to oversee arrangements for feeding the approximately 75 cast, crew, and adults involved in this production at all the weekend and evening rehearsals that are scheduled in the two weeks before Opening Night. Back in January when I agreed to do this, it sounded like a straightforward and fairly easy way to support Son#2 and the Theater Department, but now that I am looking down the barrel of the gun, so to speak, the task has metamorphosed into a giant Monkey On My Back which haunts absorbs all my waking moments.  If you have never done something like this, you cannot possibly appreciate what's involved;  if you have, you are probably shaking your head and wondering why I agreed to do it.  The answer is, "Because I am stupid." Will I learn from this? Probably not.
  • Going to Costco in Seoul - This is another one of those 'a whole post on its own' topics which I don't have time to write.  For those of you who don't know, Costco is one of those enormous warehouse-type stores which sell things (mostly food) in amounts more suited to feeding an entire military batallion rather than a modern nuclear family. It is very popular with American expats, who appreciate the familiar brands, and who also appreciate the fact that you can buy a slice of pizza or a hot dog (I don't eat them, since I know what they're made of, but the point is still valid) for roughly the same price that you can back home.  This was my first trip to Costco in Seoul, and I found it more traumatic than going to Costco in the US which I have always avoided when possible.  Suffice it to say that Costco, which was crowded in the U.S., is even more crowded in Seoul.  By the time I left, I hated all humanity.  
  • Spring Break - The school where I teach is on Spring Break at the moment, which- since Son#2's school is on another schedule and we couldn't travel - means that I am spending all of my time catching up on all the tasks that I have been putting off to do during Spring Break. Needless to say, none of these tasks are particularly interesting or fun, which (logically) is why I had been putting them off.  
  • Spending Election Day Afternoon With MrLogical:  Election day was yesterday in Korea, which means that many people had the day off, although it was an optional holiday for expats.  MrL compromised by working in the morning and spending the afternoon with me.  It was warm enough to walk around without a jacket, and - in one of the most reliable indicators of warmer weather - one could finally sit outside drinking a beer and enjoying the sun again.  In my book, that's almost as good as a cherry blossom.
Note I am outside without a coat. Also note I am squinting.  Squinting=sunshine.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Online Marketing 101: Betcha Won't Eat This Bluebonnet*

Gratuitous use of bluebonnets via Source
(*Disclaimer:  MsCaroline is not a specialist in either marketing or search engine optimization (SEO) and in fact knows very little about either.  I can tell you, however, that there are a lot of people out there Googling the terms 'bluebonnet' and 'p*nis fish,' and have chosen to draw my own conclusions.)

A few days ago, I read this wonderful post over at Circles in the Sand, one of my favorite expat blogs.  Circles was talking about how much fun it can be for bloggers to look at their statistics:  how many people read your blog, where they come from (there's even a map), how many people are reading your posts, and - this is the most fun - the sorts of Google searches they do that lead them to your blog.  Some of these searches are quite predictable:  people Google things like, "blogs about living in Seoul" and  - sometimes - they end up here.

That, I expected.

What I did not anticipate, though, was the popularity of some of the posts (and phrases contained therein) that would prevail, week in and week out, month after month.

Just as an example, one post I wrote last summer, The Kimchi Fridge, has been a constant source of traffic ever since I wrote it.  I had no idea that so many people out there in the world were interested in kimchi fridges.  I can only imagine how disappointed they are when they arrive at my blog in search of useful kimchi- fridge-related information and discover a post about how I find mine useful for storing wine.

I know from the years I freelanced for an internet development company (or, what Son#1 long ago referred to as, the "internet-makers") that online marketing is all about getting people to visit your website.  There are even internet-makers whose job it is to analyze exactly what sorts of words and phrases you should use when naming your blog, your product, or your business, in order to lure the bazillions of eager Googlers out there onto your site, where they will then buy your products and make you a millionaire.

The internet-makers use complex statistics, logarithms and graphs to figure out that, for example, if you are an auto repair business, you are more likely to get internet customers to land on your site if you have a name like "Al's Auto Repair" than "Al's Place."  This is based on the fact that customers who need auto repair are more likely to Google "Auto repair" than "Al's Place." (According to the information that I am about to reveal, however, Al would be most successful if he were to name his business, 'Al's Bluebonnet Auto Repair.')

The reason I mention all this is because a cursory glance over my statistics in the past month has revealed powerful marketing information that - should the internet-makers out there choose to leverage it - could potentially lead to a virtual tsunami of internet traffic, and I am now prepared to share this information with You, dear reader! (Since MsCaroline blogs for the pure joy of the act  and has no intention of using this information in a business of her own, she shares this information freely, and hopes that it prove to be of use to someone, since there is really no reasonable way she can exploit use this information herself.)

My daily hits had started doubling shortly after I posted this piece about how much I missed the bluebonnets in Texas.   A quick glance revealed that the phrases that people were Googling to land on my blog almost all contained the word "bluebonnet."  

Are you listening, internet-makers?  The key to successful search engine optimization is the word "bluebonnet!"  Should you doubt me, you have only to observe the following Google searches that have led to the hundreds - nay, thousands!*- of hits on my blog:

'bluebonnet flower'
'bluebonnet Texas'
'bluebonnet photos'

and so on.

Granted, since the people who land here via the search term 'bluebonnet' are interested in bluebonnets and not the self-absorbed navel-gazing of an expat in Seoul, they all leave my site almost immediately and go to Linda Cox' etsy site to gaze adoringly at her fabulous shot of a Texas Longhorn in a field of bluebonnets, but I am not complaining.  It's just nice to know they stopped by.  And that Longhorn is really tremendous, isn't he?

TX Longhorn in Bluebonnets by Linda Cox, this and her other brilliant work available at her Etsy page  

It's true the term 'bluebonnet' is not really doing anything for me (although I hope Linda's making tons of sales) but the point is, if I were selling something, the word 'bluebonnet' could be the key to getting people here to buy it.

That leads us to the second most popular set of search terms bringing people to my blog, one written (naturally) by MrLogical back in the early days of this blog when he was still pretending it was a joint effort.  This search term is "p*nis fish," closely followed by its cousin, "betcha won't eat this"  (the asterisk is necessary in order for me to avoid not only the creepy internet pervs but also pernicious  spambots that like to fill my comment boxes with Russian internet porn.)  For my newer readers, the post, entitled, "Betcha Won't Eat This," was written by MrLogical after a visit to the Noryangjin Fish Market, where he took a number of photos of a popular - technically known as the 'fat innkeeper worm' but referred to in a much cruder manner by most of the people who see it:

The Fat Innkeeper Worm aka 'The Korean Penis Fish.'

I will spare you the details of the types of phrases that people enter in order to arrive at this post, but suffice it to say that the old adage 'sex sells' appears to be quite accurate.  There also appears to be a subculture of people who enjoy pushing the envelope in the style of Bizarre Foods With Andrew Zimmern, which is where the phrase, 'Betcha won't eat this" comes in.

Since I am on a constant quest for knowledge, and since it has been these two posts that have consistently drawn the most hits, I have -  in a simple experiment to see if my theories are correct - taken their two titles and combined them to create what should prove to be the ultimate title for a blog post.  The possibility does exist that I may attract such a dissolute subculture of individuals to my blog that I will forever regret this action.  On the other hand,  I may just have stumbled across the biggest thing that the search engine optimization community has ever seen.  Only time will tell.

I'll report back later and let you know what happens.  So stay tuned, all you internet-makers.

*This is self-deprecating sarcasm.  What the experts are looking for are hits in the millions.  Or bazillions.  Anyway, more than thousands.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Oh, The Difference a Year Makes: My One-Year Blogiversary

Adorable Korean Birthday greeting  via

"Change is such hard work."  -Billy Crystal

On April 3, 2011, I was sitting in the study of our suburban Texas home, staring at my first-ever blog post and summoning up the courage to press 'publish.'  We'd recently found out that, yes, we were moving to Korea, and had started the paring-down process that morning at our neighborhood's annual garage sale.  I'd been an avid blog reader for years, but had never contemplated writing one of my own, given that nothing of interest ever happened to me.  But a move to Seoul - that was worth writing about! (As it turned out, I have done less writing about Seoul itself and more whining about the weather than I would have anticipated, but we'll chalk that one up to my evolving personality as a blogger, shall we?) In any case, on April 3rd I started blogging, with the intention of providing a way for us to keep in touch with family and friends and - in a small way - try to share a little of our experience.

One year later, I'm 6,000 miles (that's 9 656.064 kilometers/metres for the rest of the world) away on the 14th floor of an apartment building in Seoul, celebrating my first blogiversary (yes, it's a real word, because it's in Urban Dictionary, which is, of course, a legitimate and recognized authority on Modern English.)

Essentially, it's my blog's 1st birthday.

One year.

365 days (give or take, with the time differerence.)
12 months.
122 posts (some of them actually about our expat experience)

But how to celebrate?

Every blogger has a different approach.  Some bloggers don't do anything at all (this appeals to my lazy side, but let no one say that MsCaroline shrinks from the path of duty.) Other bloggers write thoughtful retrospective pieces brimming with insight (right, right, insight's not my strong point) and others provide a list of links to their best posts of the year (far too much work, all that linking:  see 'lazy side' comment above.)

After drinking coffee and looking glumly out the window at the snow some deep thought, it occurred to me that this has been a year of unprecedented change for me.  Not just because we moved to Asia (duh) but in many other significant ways as well, not the least of which include a far deeper appreciation for full-sized ovens, really efficient laundry appliances, and warm winter coats. But seriously: we've changed not just our location and the culture we live in, but our whole lifestyle.  And really, I'm not exaggerating for once.  Besides all of those intangible changes that I've experienced through blogging - more confidence in my own writing, friendships with other bloggers from across the world, a sense of community - there have been numerous measurable, tangible changes in the way we live our lives every day.  I herewith submit as evidence:

2011 - Living in a suburban Texas neighborhood in single-family house with more space and furniture than we needed.  Lawn and garden requiring yard work, performed grudgingly by teenage offspring.
2012 - Living in urban Seoul in compact high-rise apartment;  no lawn or garden, no balcony, minimal furniture (although towel supply is more than adequate.)  Teenager -no longer required to mow - now grudgingly takes recycling down to basement recycling center.

2011- One large, marginally intelligent - yet lovable - dog who sleeps in our bedroom and inserts self into all daily activities of family as well as maintaining constant presence underfoot.  Located in a neighborhood of many medium-to-large  dogs, many of whom are (or could be) hunting or retrieving dogs, often seen drooling out of the back windows of SUVs on their way to the dog park, the lake, or someone's ranch.
2012 - No dog (with the exception of friends' occasional loaner) in an apartment complex featuring primarily mini-dogs dressed in boots, tutus, sequined frocks, goggles, and sweaters, who travel  most often in their owners' bejeweled doggie purses and - presumably - do not hunt or retrieve.

2011 - Primary mode of transport: personal automobile, mainly operated by me with confidence and aplomb. Three cars in the family (MrLogical's, mine, and Son#1's).
2012 - Primary modes of transport:  subway, bus, or walking.  One car in the family, operated exclusively by MrL, which I ride in, on average, perhaps once a week, although I am pleased to say I no longer clutch convulsively at the door handle every time we are passed by a taxi with only millimeters of clearance.

2011- Teacher of high school students who look quizzically at me when I speak German to them and respond to me in English.
2012 - Teacher of kindergarten students who look quizzically at me when I speak English to them and respond to me in German.

2011 - No winter coats.  A few dusty umbrellas somewhere on the floor of the hall closet which are frantically unearthed on the rare occasions when it rains.  Shorts are worn nearly year round.
2012 - 3 winter coats, 8 new scarves, 5 hats, 1 pair of earmuffs, 4 pairs of gloves, 2 pairs of boots.  Purchase new umbrella every time I think of it.  Shorts (along with sandals, flip-flops, capri pants, and all other things cool and comfortable) packed into vacuum bags and stuffed into deepest recesses under bed, to be unearthed sometime in June.

2011- I have never eaten roasted silkworm larvae, cow intestines, or stir-fried baby octopi.
2012 - I have.

2011 - No really cold winters since we moved to Arizona in 2000.
2012 - Snow in December. Snow in January.  Snow in February.  Snow in March.  Snow in April.

2011 - walking the dog through the greenbelt in my suburban Texas neighborhood.  Scenery comprised of Live Oak trees, prickly pear cactus, occasional deer sightings, and lots of other walkers, dogs, and joggers.
2012 - walking alone (or with a friend) through the grounds of the National Museum of Korea.  Scenery comprised of pagodas, Buddhas, cherry, pine and azaleas, occasional rabbit sightings, lots of mask-wearing Korean exercisers, 1 lake, one waterfall.  Practically no dogs.

2011 - Going home:  drive into driveway, press garage-door remote, drive into garage, enter house.
2012 - Going home:  scan entry code card at scan machine in vestibule;  enter building;  bow and anyonghaseyeo to the lobby attendant. Press elevator button.  Enter elevator.  Scan entry code card;  press floor button.  Exit elevator:  approach apartment door;  press lock code on automated door lock;  enter apartment.

2011 - Two teenage boys in the house, both in school:  family of four.
2012 - One teenage boy in the house, the other one at University in another country. Family of three. sigh.

So, yeah.  This has been A Year of Change for me, and this blog has been a way for me to record it.  Some of the changes have been incredible, eye-opening, and humbling:  so unbelievable that sometimes I have to remind myself that this really is my life now, and not just some lengthy vacation.  Others have been difficult, painful, stressful and, yes, frightening.  We still miss our families and friends terribly, still yearn to be there for those once-in-a-lifetime events (good and bad), still have days where we want to bang our heads against the wall in frustration because we can't make ourselves understood.  Along the way, I've gotten a lot of comfort out of blogging.  Sometimes, when I'm writing about some unique or interesting aspect of Korean culture, I realize all over again how lucky I am to have this experience.  At other times (especially when I'm complaining about this or that aspect of life as an expat) I hear from other people sharing their own experiences, or simply offering a little sympathy and a cyber-hug.

The question:  would I go back and do it all over again?


Happy Blogiversary to you all, and thanks for taking the trip with me.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Silent Sunday

What is Silent Sunday?

For the last few years, several of the blogs I read have followed the 'Silent Sunday' meme, posting a single photo with no accompanying description. I've been blogging for almost a year now, and have finally decided to jump onto the bandwagon.  Since I like to give credit where credit is due, I tried to find the original source of the meme, eventually landing on this post by Mocha Beanie Mummy, where I found the rules:

  • Post one photo
  • It must have been taken by you
  • It must have been taken in the week leading up to your post
  • There must be no words in the post or the title - hence, Silent Sunday (I know, hard to believe I signed on for anything involving silence)
(Note:  It's technically Monday now here in Korea, but - as always - I'm a bit behind the power curve.  And I did start the post yesterday, but got sidetracked trying to find the source of the meme. I'm comforting myself with the fact that a good number of you will still be having Sunday when you finally read this, so it still counts.  Sort of.)

Signs of Spring: Late March in Seoul

Early cherry blossoms
Yes, it's April 1st, and I'm going to go out on a limb and say that I think it is finally really getting to be Spring.  The fact that it has taken until (nearly) April 1st still amazes me, because I have never lived anywhere where it took so long for the world to warm up and get moving as it has here.  Up until 2 weeks ago, there were practically no signs visible to the naked eye that there ever would be Spring, let alone in two weeks.  However, in the last 2 weeks, apparently all growing things have decided to get serious, and most of the plants you see are covered with signs of imminent activity, if they're not already beginning to bloom, although we still have quite a way to go.

According to those people in the know, Spring is the most beautiful time of the year in Seoul, especially when the cherry blossoms are out.  The down side of this (or so I've heard) is that the period of bloom is quite brief, so you have to get out and enjoy them before they fade.  This should be no problem for me, since I've been minutely examining nearly every branch or twig that I pass for the last month or so, looking for signs of life.  It's highly unlikely that 2 weeks' worth of blooming cherry trees will be able to escape my notice.  

On a side note, this is the first time in 22 (23?) years that I have lived in a dwelling that did not have its own patch of land - garden, yard, border, whatever - and it's been extremely strange for me to watch Spring arrive in parks and on city sidewalks instead of my own bit of earth.  When we were first married and living in the Midwest, I spent the darkest parts of winter drooling over seed and plant catalogues, which I kept in piles on my nightstand.  Around the first of February, it was not unusual to find me on my hands and knees, scrabbling in the snow behind an old stone bench on the east side of the house where I knew the bright sun and the sheltered aspect provided a perfect environment for the earliest crocus.  Once I saw those first bright-green blades, I knew it was just a matter of time.  

Of course, now that I have no plants and trees of my own, I've transferred all of my interest to my favorite greenspace:  the grounds of the National Museum of Korea and the adjacent Yongsan Family Park, which really deserve an entire post of their own, but which will have to wait.  Suffice it to say that there are enough plants and trees to satisfy even me, and that watching them come to life this spring has almost (but not quite) made it worth slogging through the long winter.  

Accordingly, when I woke up on Saturday and noted that it was:  a) not raining and:  b) above 9C/48F, I knew it was a perfect day for a walk, and convinced MrLogical to come with me.  This was not too difficult, since he'd just gotten a new 50mm lens for our camera and was eager to try it out, although - as he pointed out - he really needed another lens to take really good close-ups of the blossoms.  Despite this handicap, he managed to get several good shots, which is how he entertained himself while I mooned around in the underbrush, fondling branches and exclaiming over tiny new leaves.  

It was an encouraging walk:  the trees with the bright yellow Dr. Seuss-like blooms are all flowering, and all of the azalea bushes are covered with buds, many of them still tight and green:

but many showing signs of promise:

Here and there, in a sheltered spot like this one, we saw a whole bush in bloom, but that was definitely the exception rather than the rule, as you can see from the bare branches in the background:

Tucked in among the azaleas, otherwise bare twigs were dotted with these tiny, so-pale-pink-they-were-nearly-white blossoms:

We saw some hyacinth-y looking things in beds:

The buds of spirea, looking like emerald beads on a brown cord:

We even stumbled across one of the wild rabbits that live in the park, which - with their brilliant white coats and dramatic black eyes and ears - look all the world like an exotic pet and nothing like the slender, scrappy light-brown wild variety that we have in the U.S. 

The first time I saw one of these little guys on the grounds outside of my apartment building, I was convinced that he was a pet who'd escaped.  In fact, there are a number of these rabbits living in and around the park, where they apparently live quite comfortably with few natural predators and a nearly constant stream of doting humans galumphing through their territory.  This particular fellow, after alertly examining us,satisfied himself that we were not a threat to his well-being, and went back to grazing on the new grass while MrLogical stood about a foot away and snapped a few photos.

After an hour or so, the wind started (of course) to get cold again, so we headed back towards home, stumbling across a wonderful surprise as we walked:

Tucked away in a picnic area directly behind the museum, sheltered from the wind, and warmed by the heat of the sun reflecting off the concrete, a single cherry tree had already begun to bloom while most of the others hadn't even started.  I looked at all the other bare trees around me and tried to imagine them all blooming like this one, and I could almost - but not quite - picture it.

So I'll be back. Soon.