Independence Day and Comfort Women

Hello all!  I know it’s been a while since my last post, but that’s because I’m back in the U.S. now.  My fun days of living abroad are over and now I’m back home in Indianapolis.  Although I miss Korea a ton, it’s good to be back home and getting ‘back on track’ with work and stuff.  I still plan on updating this blog with some of things I did that I didn’t have to talk about while I was there.  Also, I think I’ll keep it going with posts about stuff going on in Korea, Korean food, Korean stuff here, etc.  Maybe I’ll need to change my blog title now, eh?  I probably won’t do that, but it might confuse some people!  I’ll have this blog and also will probably move my real estate one over to wordpress too now that I’m more familiar with using this thing.

Anyway, two days ago (August 15th) was a national holiday in Korea- Independence Day of sorts.  It’s called Gwangbokjeol (광복절) which translates to “Restoration of Light”, but basically that day in 1945 signified the end of Japan’s colonial rule over Korea (aka pretty much the end of WWII).  In Korea, a lot of people wave about their national flag proudly, and there’s also a song about the liberation too.  The colonial rule lasted 35 years and during that time because so many of the Japanese men were fighting in the war, they forced Korean men to work in mines and factories (in both Korea and Japan) to kind of make up for all of the workers who were gone.  If Koreans were allowed to go to school, they were forced to speak and write in Japanese only.

During this time, many Korean women were forced to work as ‘comfort women’ in Japanese brothels.  Many of these women were poor, from the countryside, or even kidnapped.  Some were lured in with the promise of working at a restaurant or factory, and then when they got to Japan or certain areas in Korea, they found out what the real deal was.  To this day the Japanese government denies that this took place and so many are still outraged by this.  Every Wednesday at noon in Seoul, in from of the Japanese embassy (which doesn’t look like a very pretty building, compared to those surrounding it) comfort women who are still alive come and protest.  I decided to attend one of these and see what it’s like.  Surprisingly, there were a handful of foreigners who showed up and they even have a few pamphlets in English.  Every Wednesday they bring out extra security in case these ‘grandma’s get out of control or something, ha!  Most of these women live at a place called the House of Sharing, which is half house, half museum.  You can read the stories of some of the halmoni (translates to grandma) on their website.  Below are a few pictures I took while at the protest.

At the end of the whole thing, everyone bows down and thanks the halmonis for coming out and telling their stories.

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Spoiled Kids on Children’s Day

Many of you perhaps celebrated Cinco de Mayo yesterday (the one kind of food I miss the most is Mexican, having a hard time finding it here).  Here in Korea, yesterday was a national holiday- Children’s Day.  It’s a pretty big deal for the kids, almost like a second Christmas.  Pretty much everyone gets the day off, which gives parents the opportunity to take the kids to a zoo, park, museum, amusement park, movie theatre, or some other funtastical place.  Children get showered with money, candy, gifts, not always just from parents, but extended relatives.  And then there are those kids who complain a little the next day to their friends because of their lack of ‘fun’ gifts (just like Christmas!).  I overheard an eight year old whining to a friend how that all she got was a book.  Spoiled kids!

This coming Sunday is also Parent’s Day (same day as Mother’s Day in the U.S.) but I don’t think they may it quite as big of a deal as Children’s Day.  The reason why Children’s Day came about is probably explained by this quote from a 1951 Time Magazine article:

“Some 30 years ago, in the days of Japanese rule, the elders of Korea saw no hope of freedom for themselves. But their children, they felt, might be more fortunate. They began to observe May 5 as Children’s Day. Last week battered Seoul celebrated Children’s Day with a parade by the police, who marched 600 strong behind a brass band and a huge placard: ‘Children Are the Nation’s Flower.’

“The nation’s flowers emerged from caves and broken buildings. Beside the budding, shrapnel-scarred elms along the streets, they watched. Now & then a youngster clapped or smiled, but mostly they stood with wooden faces, like tired old people who have found life very hard and who take little joy in parades.”

The article noted that the band avoided the South Gate and the bombed Seoul Station where “the abandoned, the homeless, [and] the orphans prowled restlessly, begging, stealing, conniving to stay alive.” It ended by noting that the police handed out small packets of candy and food to the children, and those with parents then went on long happy walks, while those who were orphaned by the war and “had no parents to take them home melted back into their caves and cellars.”

This year, even Hillary Clinton sent best wishes for the holiday:

“Press Statement

Hillary Rodham Clinton
Secretary of State
Washington, DC
May 3, 2011

On behalf of President Obama and the American people, I am delighted to send best wishes to the children of Korea on Children’s Day this May 5.

On my visit to Korea last month I saw the promise of Korea’s future. Korea’s investment in education has given countless children opportunities and experiences considered impossible only a generation ago. The unique perspectives that your children now carry with them help cement our partnership for years to come.

We all share the responsibility to give our children a world that is cleaner, healthier, and more prosperous than the one we inherited. On this special day, as we reflect on the future of our children, know that the United States is your partner and ally in this important cause.”

So there you have it.  Doubt that any children now really think about the meaning of Children’s Day (like Jesus on Christmas, right?) but it makes a little more sense to see parents spoiling them now.

Children’s Park and Cherry Blossoms

On the bus now, my first time using the wordpress iPhone app.

Anyway this morning after I got off the bus I ran into some people I knew from work. They showed me a short cut that goes through Children’s Grand Park. This “park” features gardens, amusement park, sculptures, water park, picnic areas, pavilions, and even a zoo! The weather has been really nice this week and the cherry blossom trees are finally blooming so I decided to take the shortcut in the afternoon too. I managed to get myself a tiny bit lost (the Korean side streets are crazy and not numbered like in the U.S.) but I managed to find my way out. There were a lot of people out so it was a nice sight to see. I was getting hot too so I took off my trench coat. I swear Korean people do not sweat. And they don’t get as hot as Americans. Hence the lack of deodorant here (you can find it in but it’s difficult to do and expensive). Good thing I stocked up before I came here!

Here’s a picture I took walking through the park.

20110414-042541.jpg

Radiation Rain, Go Away

Today while I was riding on the bus, my aunt called and told me not to run around wet, but to buy an umbrella as soon as I got off the bus at the nearest 7-11.  She was watching on the news that there was a possibility of some of the radioactive rain headed to Korea since it was raining today.  After getting off at my stop, I grabbed one of the free newspapers to cover my head (more like my face) until I reached a “Buy the Way” which is like a CVS with no pharmacy.  Really it’s more like a gas station without the gas.  I got a simple white umbrella for 3,500₩ (do you remember how much that equals?).

Anyway, a lot of the schools near her apartment were cancelled, and her husband told her not to leave the house all day.  Probably better to be safe than sorry though, since she’s going to be giving birth in 3 weeks. 

Maybe eventually I’ll get one of those face mask things, but really more because of the yellow dust storms, not so much the miniscule radiation that Korea might get.  Here’s an article about about the school closings today because of the fear of radiation rain.

(borrowed pic from msnbc- Korean environmental activists today)

Dok D’oh!

Recently, things seemed to have turned a tiny bit sour between Korea and Japan.  They were doing so well too, after the earthquake and tsunami.  I heard on the news a week or so ago that South Korea donated more to the disaster relief than any other country (over $19 million, I think).  This is a pretty big deal, considering the bitter history in the past century between these two countries, but South Korea is putting all that behind them and acting like a good neighbor. (photo borrowed from dokdo-takeshima on flickr)

So the reason why things aren’t exactly 100% peachy between the two is because of a little thing called Dokdo.  Well actually it’s two things.  The Dokdo territory consists of two small islands- Dongdo and Seodo (with some other tiny nothings around) that have been part of the territory/history of Korea since around 500 A.D.  Recently, Japan approved middle school textbooks for the 2012 school year, which show Dokdo belonging to Japan and not to Korea.  Even after WWII, Koreans were using Dokdo for various reasons, building a lighthouse there in 1954, so it’s pretty clear that Dokdo belongs to Korea and has belonged to them even despite the hardships of wartime.  On the Dokdo website, it says that there are officially three residents on the island, but several hundred people use it as their permanent address, maybe as a way to claim Korea’s authority over the land?

photo borrowed from gossing2

Dokdo isn’t just about drawing a line down the middle of the ocean and dividing what’s mine and yours, the sea around Dokdo has some great maritime resources, which makes it all the more valuable.  Besides the manned lighthouse there is also a fisherman’s lodge, docks, power plants, helicopter pad, and more stuff. 

Anyway, right after Japan made that announcement about the textbooks, Korea’s donations to the Japan earthquake/tsunami relief immediately started to go down.  They’re a little upset, but who can blame them?  Anyway, it’s important to remember it is the Japanese government, not most of it’s people, who are trying to claim the islands as their own.  I would like to go check it out sometime, although it’s really not that big.  We’ll see how this conflict is resolved in the next upcoming weeks or so.

borrowed from 임프레자

The Duck’s Belly

So about a week or so ago I went with my aunt and her husband for a bit of a ride out in the country.  We were out there to see my aunt’s sister-in-law’s new house.  Here in Korea, when you visit someone’s new house for the first time, you bring a gift, which is similar to what most of us do in America.  In the U.S. we usually bring a plant, food, or sometimes liquor, right?  Anyway here you take something like toilet paper, paper towels, or laundry detergent.  Things that people will need and use once they move in.  Also, I read somewhere that Koreans give the laundry detergent and soaps to ‘clean out’ all of the previous bad chi, mojo, whatever you wanna call it, from the previous tenants/owners.  So we traveled with toilet paper in tow.

After seeing their new place we went to a local restaurant whose name pretty much translates to the duck’s belly.  Here is a picture of the statue outside the restaurant, although to me it almost looks like a goose.

Inside this quiet and traditional looking restaurant was a hopping place, with tons of people at waiting patiently for their chance to have some of this juicy duck.  Apparently the place is somewhat famous because my aunt said she saw a story about the restaurant on tv somewhat recently.  Anyway, we were lucky that we didn’t have to wait long at all, especially since I was starving.  After being seated, the servers bring the uncooked ducked and put it on this hot marble slab to cook.  We had two kinds, since we had two cooking stations at our table- one regular, one spicy duck.  The grease all goes to the edges and goes down this tube into a bucket.

Here’s some video of them cooking it:

After we had some of the duck they started cooking some fried rice on the same marble slab, but this was a little different from fried rice that I’ve had before.  Here they flattened it to the slab and burned it a little, then rolled it like a crepe and cut it into pieces. 

Video of the burnt fried rice

All in all it was quite tasty and we had a little bit of makgeolli (막걸리, korean rice wine) to go with it. 

WEll, this was another quick and lazy Sunday morning post for you all.  My brain isn’t quite awake yet so forgive me for grammar errors and whatever else.

Toilet Paper and Yellow Dust

Hope that everyone had a good weekend!  This weekend instead of joining in the St. Patrick’s Day festivities in Insadong (which looked fun from the pictures I’ve seen) I went and visited my aunt and cousin in Chungju (충주 first part sounds like “choose”) which is a small city about a couple of hours away from Seoul.  It’ located kind of in the middle of South Korea with a population of around 200,000.  My mom is from somewhere near here, but I’ll have to ask her exactly where she grew up.  Anyway, my point is, it’s a really small town as you can see:

Chungju city’s slogan is “Good Chungju” which just cracks me up.  It’s even more fun than “Hi Seoul”.  I don’t think cities in the U.S. have slogans, but I’m glad we don’t.  It would be hard to sum up what the city is about in just a few words.

We took a pleasant bus ride down to Chungju.  I’ve been here once before about 4 years ago when I came for my other aunt’s wedding.  This aunt has two kids- one boy and one girl, both around my age, both nurses.  Her son still lives with her but her daughter just got married a few months ago and live closer to Seoul.  Anyway, it’s always a good time when I see her (even though we can’t communicate very well) because she is a great cook and there’s always plenty to eat!  My aunt and I came bearing some gifts (fruit and some Baskin Robbins ice cream- which is pretty expensive here) and stopped by my aunt’s restaurant first.  (Her restaurant is about a 30 second walk from her house.)  She owns a sundae (순대 pronounced soondae) restaurant and I just now realized what I ate.  No wonder my English speaking aunt refused to tell me when I asked, haha….  

my aunt’s soondae restaurant

 Stop reading now if you don’t want to get grossed out, but soondae (sundae, whatever you prefer) is a dish made by boiling or steaming cow or pig intestines then stuffing it with stuff (maybe noodles, rice, kimchi, veggies, etc).  Really I had an idea of what it was, but I just chose not to think about it 🙂     The soondae in this picture is the darker looking stuff.  Not sure what part of the pig the lighter colored meat is and I don’t really care to know.

She still had a few customers there so after we ate and chatted it up a bit, my cousin walked us to their house.  Housing varies a lot here, just like in the U.S., but I think more so here because of the age of some of these buildings.  Compared to my other aunt’s newer apartment  (the one who I’m staying with), her house is very small, but felt like home nevertheless. 

My English speaking aunt reminded me upon our arrival to the house that I shouldn’t put toilet paper in the toilet, I have to throw it away separately.  There are many places like this in Korea (probably in other parts of the world too) that have to do this if they don’t have updated plumbing.  This was a much better option than using the squatter’s toilet at her restaurant so no big deal. 

We put down our things then watched my cousin popped in his sister’s wedding DVD.  Koreans really have an interesting system for weddings here.  I should do another post on that (dedicated to Tammy!) but they do a great job with the DVD setups and editing the photos… maybe too good of a job on the photos!  My aunt and recently wedded cousin arrived soon after and we ate.  Slept, then in the morning ate a huge breakfast of some of my favorites:

L.A. Galbi (갈비  marinated beef short ribs called L.A. galbi because the meat is in the shape of California) 

Doenjang jigae ( 된장 찌개 soybean paste soup)
Godeungeo ( 고등어 this really good fish)
bunch of Korean side dishes

My sister really likes galbi, so she missed out.  I don’t think in the U.S. we normally eat this big of a breakfast, but I stuffed myself yesterday morning!  She remembered all of the foods I liked 4 years ago and made them for me again 🙂

After we were done digesting, it was  time to get ready then went out and walked around some parts of Chungju and stopped at a coffee shop.  Here’s a short video of us and a look at some of the cute cakes we had with our coffee (yes, pretty much all we did was eat this weekend):

We decided to cut our outing short because on the taxi ride to town we heard a yellow sand/Asian dust/yellow dust/etc warning issued for that day and advised people to stay inside if possible.  This yellow dust is a seasonal happening in the fall, but worse in the spring.  The dust starts from the deserts of China and blows its way over to Korea, Japan, and nearby.  It makes the city look kind of yellow and foggy, makes cars dirty, but also is bad because it picks up some pollutants in the air and can really make certain people sick.  After my nap, I noticed my throat was a bit itchy but solved that problem with some honey tea.

I could go on and on the rest of the weekend about what we ate, jokes we laughed about, the lazy naps we took, and what juicy Korean dramas we watched, but I’m feeling lazy now.  Some other highlights were skyping with my relatives in Japan (first time I saw them since the earthquake and stuff, they’re ok) and also meeting my cousin’s husband for the first time (he picked us up and drove us back to the Seoul area).  My mom and other aunt in America met him for the first time over Skype.  Bowing is hard to do over the internet, especially on an iPhone 4!

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