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Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Talent Show (interview with violinist Elisabeth)

We're just finishing up the week-long 10th Annual Pohang International Fireworks Festival. A couple of weeks ago, the pastor of Pohang International Church contacted Nick to see if Elisabeth would be interested in entering the talent contest for foreigners on July 27.  Elisabeth, who relishes new challenges, was eager to enter. The following interview took place on the bus ride home after the contest.

Mama (Sherri) Lantinga: When did you start playing violin? What made you start?
Elisabeth: I started when I was 5. I was inspired by my brother David - he seemed so happy when he played his violin, so I wanted to play it too.

ML: How did you learn to play so well?
E: I've had two teachers and my father helped on the side.  My first teacher, Mrs. Boone, in Iowa, helped me with literature and to love music.  When I moved to Korea in February, I started taking lessons with Mrs. Kim. She helps me with my posture - and she's so picky!  She makes sure everything is perfect.

ML: When did you start playing publicly?
E: When I was about 7, I started playing duets with my brother at churches, and I played in recitals, a festival every February, and then in a youth orchestra.

ML: How did today's contest feel different from other performances you've had?
E: It had competition - it made me feel a bit aggressive and I really wanted to win.

ML: How did you prepare for the contest?
E: I've worked on the piece I played (Concerto in G minor by Vivaldi) since February and had already memorized three pages of it.  I knew the contest would be outside, and I needed to get used to the weather and distractions while I was playing.  So, over the last week I practiced outside - on my apartment building's roof and on a picnic patio on campus where lots of students walk by.  I learned not to get distracted and to keep going if I made a mistake or got hot.

ML: Any other preparations?
E: We went shopping! I tried on a lot of dresses and found my "jungle dress." There are blue  lines all over it, with a black background. - it's a knee-length, sleeveless dress with "fricks and franks" (extra cloth draping on the top). For my hair I decided to just wear it down - wearing a bun made me look bald! :)   For my shoes, I got tan ankle boots with 3" heels, open toes, and jungly stripes of lace and leather.

ML: As you went on stage, what were you thinking?
E: I was thinking that no matter what, I always win because my family loves me and I get a Baskin-Robbins trip after that. My favorite flavor is popping tropica.  Yum!

ML: What were you thinking when you finished?
E: I thought it was the best I have ever played - but it was no match for my new friends, who were acrobats - they deserved first place!  I think I should have won second place, but the judges and crowd wasn't right for this kind of music. They didn't listen to the certain details that made the whole piece come together.

ML: Would you want do this kind of thing again?
E: It would be fun to do again!  I would play a little faster, and maybe play a traditional Korean song so I can try to win!

ML: Any last words for our blog readers?
E: Until next time!

Postscript: Elisabeth didn't win the "life time" award (that went to a tradtionally-dressed Chinese woman and her girls who sang a Korean folk song), or first place (that went to a British guy prancing around in pink pants while singing "Play that Funky Music White Boy") or 2nd place (GREAT Wisconsin couple who did juggling, acrobatics, dancing - huge crowd favorite). So, we don't know for sure where she ranked, but it was definitely in the top 4 of out 9. : )

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Getting a Korean Driver's License

I got my Korean driver's license last week (and Sam almost got his). And I did this without knowing Korean, taking a driver's education course, a driving test, a written test, or even a test of basic signs. Here's how that whole racket happens.

(1) Request an apostille.  This is a legal verification of ... something about having a valid Iowa driver's license.  What is seems to say is that some lawyer in Kentucky says some notary public in Kentucky said something about something.  Between the Korean and legal-ese American, I have no idea what that's about, but it cost $75.  Each. Happily, the Office of International Community Affairs (OICA) on campus arranges for this document and I'm happy to pay the fee.  Then wait about 7-10 days.

(2) Gather your apostille, current driver's license, three passport-type pictures, passport, Alien Registration Card, and 20,000 won (about $18).

(3) Find a way to get to the driver's licensing place. Nick drove Sam and I and Yenni (a student translator provided by OICA) to said location, about 45 minutes away.

(4) Take a number. Wait.  You are the only foreigners. Get a drink from the cooler; admire its quilted cozy.  Browse the pictures in Korean magazines. Watch people failing their driving tests outside the window.  Go to the car to get the rusty scissors to cut apart your passport picture sheet.  Watch people.  Take your picture with the driver's license bureau's friendly green mascot.  Ponder the meaning of the bureau's motto.

(5)  Hooray - your number comes up on the screen!  Go to the counter (if you're a young female, run to the counter with small prancing steps). Nod and smile a lot while the translator talks to the clerk.  Hand your documents to the translator, who hands the right ones to the clerk and gives you back the rest.

(6) Repeat steps 4 & 5 a few times - different paperwork and documents, glue your pictures in all the right places on the forms, answer questions about when you went to Canada last year and confirm that you left from the US and not from Canada when you traveled to Korea this May, etc.  Go down the hall to get a Health Exam.  Worry about what this means.

(7) When directed, sit in a chair by a cubicle. Put a stick thing in front of one eye. A white-coated man points to a number or picture on an eye chart - you say what it is.  He appears to understand English.  After three numbers/pictures for each eye, he pounds a stamp at least four times on your documents, then uses a different stamp and pounds at least four more times.  It doesn't seem to matter if you answer the questions right - Sam called an umbrella a bird, and a horse he called a dog.  Pay 4000 won each for this "health exam."

(8) Back to the main waiting area, turn in the health form, wait some more.  Nick pulls out his own Korean license to show us, and a Korean man walking by stops to look, admire, smile, and move on.  When called, prance (translator) or walk (me and Sam) back to the counter. I sign more forms, agreeing to exchange my Iowa license for a Korean one, but I have the option to do the opposite exchange when I leave Korea so I can legally drive in the US.  Pay $12,000 won.  I get my license.

(9) Uh-oh.  Questions about Sam's age.  It ends up that the legal driving age in Korea is 18, so he can't legally drive here until his birthday on October 4.  To get a Korean license without taking any tests, etc., he must return with all of today's paperwork EXACTLY ON October 4; if he goes a day earlier, he's not old enough to get a Korean license; if he goes a day later, his Iowa license won't be valid as an exchange and he must take all the Korean driving tests.  I do not relay to the translator that Sam will probably just continue to drive illegally for a few more months, and if pulled over he will easily feign ignorance of the Korean language and rules of the road.

(11)  I have a license to drive in this country but don't know the rules and can't read many of the signs - they have unusual symbols or I can't read the Korean fast enough before we pass them.  I ask Yenni about one of the signs and she wasn't sure what it meant, either.  This explains a LOT about driving in Korea.
Our translator thinks this is a warning about wind.
I think it's about raccoon- or bumblebee-patterned
hats with tassels.

This is the name of a river.
ALL their rivers have super-long names
that are impossible to read at speed, even in English.
A flagman.  Flag dummy.  Flag mannequin.
Ah: flannequin.  He wants me to do...
something.  Sorry, can't read the sign.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Dragon Temple (Chilpo-ri)

In another of this week's morning family jaunts, we went north to the fishing town of Chilpo (mentioned on previous blogs as The Place of Marvelous Beaches and as The Place To Which Faulty Heunghae Maps Misled Us) to visit an under-promoted Buddhist temple.  It's so under-promoted that the only place I've found ANY reference to this place was on an ex-pat's youtube video. (The bus system isn't much help, either, but see details below if you want to visit).

Anyway,  we didn't know the temple's name or exact location, but we've learned enough NOT to consult any maps. We googled the Korean words for temple ("sa") and dragon ("yong") so if we got stuck, we could ask some local folk for the yong-sa.  Sam prayer we wouldn't need to pantomime, as that embarrasses him terribly.  But - as Buddha would have it - we found a Sign!  Last week, after noticing numerous swastikas all over the countryside, we discovered that this controversial symbol is an ancient one (3000+ years old) from India, which means "happy being"; it later got incorporated into Buddhism, so now it's on temples, homes of  Buddhists, etc. So, here's a close-up of the road directory in Chilpo - the swastika plus the Korean that says "die-yan-SA" - meant we'd found the way to the temple!!  It was a very, very proud moment.  Maybe you had to be there.

Buddhist monk dorms. 

We arrive to see these buildings, where the monks probably live;  a monk peeking out a window is the only person we see for our 90 minutes on the grounds. In the close-up below, a clothesline, drying rack, and kimchi pots are on the balcony.

A very happy (and portly) buddha statue greeted us.
We got out of the car next to a small hill with buddhas and a glass box of relics.
 Up the hill from Happy Portly Buddha was this
(thinner) version, in front of some veggie gardens
and the garage.
David checking out the frogs in the pond, oblivious to the
money-seeking statues behind him or the dragon to his right.
After some wandering, we found the Dragon, which is what we came to see. This life-sized (?) dragon winds around and up the mountain, with an internal museum about Buddha's life.
Elisabeth gets around the ball to enter the dragon's mouth.
I had assumed the ball would be some old, carefully carved piece of wood.
Nay.  It's a yoga ball, spray painted red.
As usual, a place to remove one's shoes.
However, none of the provided slippers fit any of our feet
- even Elisabeth's size 8 feet are VERY large here.
Hundreds of small (10") golden buddhas in slightly different
poses are stacked in one room.  We don't know why.
Sam hangs one of our written "petitions to Buddha"
on a lotus lantern.  Thousands hang from the ceiling.
Ours are the only English ones we found.

The dragon's throat wasn't quite tall enough to accommodate
these Dutch-Americans.

Elisabeth does a decent lotus position;
David is in pain from even trying.

Sam gets a good look at a golden Buddha;
Nick assesses the painting in the background.
Sam is delighted by the "grouchy Santa" figure he notices in
every painting of the Buddha's followers.

At the dragon's tail, the roof is very low and only Elisabeth
can sit properly for the Buddha.  Note the offering box alongside
the jade items and candles.

Outside the dragon, further up the mountain, we found the temple.
It was not open for visitors, but Sam got this great
picture of a dragon under the roof.

"The Virgin Mary on a Turtle"

Some humorous moments during our visit. Sam was very amused by what he calls "The Virgin Mary on a Turtle" among all the little Buddha statues along the path.

Sam discovered a great irony in the nether regions of the
Buddha Dragon: Ant killer.

Sherri + Frog + Dragon

As David exited the giant dragon's mouth, he found a tree frog.  I picked it up and it jumped onto my shoulder. Elisabeth framed a great picture of it. Us.

Buddhist monk slippers in the worship space of the dragon,
near the vacuum cleaner and fire extinguishers.
I love, love, love the cows on these.

Bus Options from Pohang (shout out to Sandhira Chetty for digging this up):

(1) Take the 500 from the Pohang bus terminal and transfer at Heunghae to a bus to Chilpo.  There are no bus numbers for these buses and they don't leave very frequently: 7:20, 8:55, 10:05, 11:15, 12:15, 13:35, 14:30, 15:10 and 16:35.

(2) The 510 bus (bound for Chilpo) is reputed to change routes without notice and is not the best option unless you like adventure.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

ROKS Pohang: Ship Museum

Today we visited the ROKS Pohang, a Pohang-class Corvette warship of South Korea, which was decommissioned in 2009 and sent to rest in its namesake city, Pohang. Which is where we live, so that's pretty handy.

The ship is anchored in the harbor across from the Jukdo fish market (see previous blogs on that) and was turned into a free, hands-on museum. In 2010, it also became a memorial for the sailors lost on its sister ship, the Cheonon, when it was torpedoed and sunk by the North Koreans (in South Korean waters). Half the men on board died in addition to a rescue diver.  The pictures of these young soldiers bring to mind my college students, and especially Nick's Korean college students.  I am reminded again that this wealthy little country is fighting a long civil war where a pretty small ethnic group and extended family clans are horribly divided across a deadly border.  Here are some pictures and brief comments.
Pictures of the sailors who died on the Cheonon, with
sticky-note prayers left by visitors.
Bronze statue of the rescue diver who fell unconscious
and died from the pressure at the Cheonon wreck.

Nick explains the various warships to David.  His
gesture signals his inner need to expound on
matters historical and philosophical.
David is a good boy.

Sam in one of the control rooms.

David is 5' 5" and doesn't fit in the bunks.
We counted 18 bunks and lockers in this 25x20' room -
not much personal space.

Sam doesn't really fit on board, either

Nick and Sam admire a 30mm gun. 
David prepares to load a 30mm gun.
(Not really - the museum isn't THAT hands-on.)

David and Elisabeth on the bridge with our tour guide.
He is very pleasant but knows almost no English.  That did not deter Nick from
pantomiming his questions, which makes the kids crazy with embarrassment.
It's totally worth it. 

Great signage in Korean, English, and Chinese.  
This is the small armory storage room.
Now we open the door... 

and we find brooms and shovels in the
Small Armory.  Korea makes me laugh and laugh.  : )

Helmeted Americans posing by the aft 30mm gun
At the end of our tour, a very nice young lady came of out her office (formerly the first mate's quarters, or something like that) and thanked us for coming.  I thanked her and tried to be helpful by explaining that the ship was very hard to find on the internet. My limited grasp of Korean and her limited grasp of English meant we were both making typing gestures in the air, hers accompanied by a nodding insistence that if I searched for "pohang warship" I would find this museum, and my air-typing accompanied by a shaking head that this museum is not listed on the pohang tourism sites and is therefore missing a huge target audience. I think we agreed to disagree, then bowed and smiled and thanked each other until I left.  I keep forgetting that in Korea, as the older person I get to decide when the conversation ends.  Wouldn't it be great if politics could be settled so easily?  We could bring back Reagan, sit him in a room with the South Korean and North Korean presidents, and Reagan gets what he wants just because he's the oldest.

Hwanho Park: Zoo, Gym, Playground, Sexy Museum

Nick and I decided that we needed a bit more structure in our family's summer, so we've begun doing Morning Jaunts around the city to visit new areas. On Monday, we took the kids to Hwanho Park - you may recall that place from my Date Night blog. They enjoyed the small zoo - the monkeys (one was definitely a boy) were very active; the peacock was in full "bloom," and the ostrich was feisty, booting the poor turkey a good one.

Then Nick and Sam visited the sleepy deer, and Nick decided to...act like a mountain lion: slow, sneaky, with short quick moves along the fence. I do not know where he gets these ideas. One deer went completely nuts, jumped the fence into the next enclosure, ran wildly about, jumped onto the roof of the shed back in its own pen, then slid into its normal lounging area, stumbling about.  Fortunately, the deer was not hurt, no zookeepers were in attendance, and we got to witness the mighty leaping power of a deer. Unfortunately, no pictures record this event because my mouth was hanging open in equal parts wonder and horror.

To get to the children's playground, we walked down the path past the "gym" which is an outdoor exercise with a walking path and several nautilus-type machines (you can see a bit of it behind the ostrich cage, above).  This was filled with ajeemas and their man-equivalents (we call them ajeemos, but I don't know their real title). Two things struck me.  First, a man looped the exercise path carrying a pair of crutches; second, a woman strode around the path...backwards.

The playground was much like an American one, but it had the unusual theme of Halloween--ghosts, spiders, and pumpkins -- with a side of Pooh-bear honey pots.

At the fish pond, lilypads were in bloom and we found some wood ducks.  Now, wood ducks, of course, are lovely creatures who like to nest in trees; these ironic pieces of art were, well, wooden ducks. I thought Ray "Opa" Lantinga would love these perhaps as much as I did.

This art prompted us to continue toward the Pohang Steel Art Museum.  The city of Pohang was a tiny fishing village until about 40 years ago, when POSCO Steel opened and rapidly became the world's largest steel manufacturer, helping Pohang grow into a city of about 1/2 million people (roughly Omaha's population).  That said, Pohang's reputation is a lot like, say, Gary, Indiana: a blue-collar, smelly, hick town based on fishing, rice, and steel.  So, I was excited by the promise of a museum but given the strange zoo, gym, and playground (and the city's reputation), I was not sure what to expect in terms of fine art.

Although the museum itself was closed (why??), the grounds were littered with interesting sculptures.  And our tour started well enough.  Elisabeth wrapped herself in a coily piece; another piece reminded me of leaded glass; Elisabeth posed atop another structure.

But then the nude sculptures started appearing.  Anatomically-correct male and female nudes - and some, frankly, were rather more "anatomically optimistic."  To a mature adult, nudes are fine and wonderful and worthy of artistic representation.  However, having 3 kids along (2 of them teenage boys) gives a rather different perspective. Out loud they say "Gross!",  "Sick!", and  "Why are there so many NAKED statues?" but if you watch them (the kids, not the statues), they're staring and giggling.  They're interested, all right.

And then...Nick and Sam are ahead of me on the trail.  Nick, apparently reverting to adolescence himself, shouts, "WOW - what a RACK!"  I move quickly to shush him, really not wanting us to reinforce the stereotype of Americans as loud and sex-obsessed....only to found this statue, with Nick and Sam laughing at the shocked look on my face.  They got me.  : ) 

Ah.  Our "educated" airs that led us to wonder what a little "steel art" museum in a "blue collar" city could offer were sucked right out of us.  Let's face it:  we fit right in, redneck humor and all.