Saturday, July 26, 2014

A Finger Made For Hitch-hiking

26 July 2014

Well, we’re in a strange little hotel in the region of Seattle-Tacoma airport, with slow slow slow internet.  But it’s a huge room, almost a suite, with a king-size bed and it’s affordable.  So we’re okay with the strangeness of the place.

Oh, there was a wonderful manhole cover at the Narita airport (in Japan) – I guess indicating the fire zone or something.  (Looks like a fire truck, right?)  The airport also had wonderful planters full of flowers, almost like little parks all by themselves.  Just a lovely touch of the outdoors inside the huge airport.

Anyway, we’ve been enjoying the things that Bellingham has to offer.  The Bagelry is a favourite spot for our family, so we go and have our egg and a bialy or bagel, and just absorb the Bellingham ambience.  Subdued excitement and all.

I’ve been sorting papers – a professor and author and book editor accumulates a ton of paper, which needs to be sorted into piles – some to be recycled, some to be reviewed by my brother the attorney, some to be donated to other coastal geologists (who were our father’s students, once upon a time.)

We also are taking care of medical stuff while we’re in the US – I finally found a doctor (or maybe a physician assistant) who took a biopsy of the rash that won’t die.  I’ve been asking drs if we could just culture the blisters, to find out exactly what this is – a fungus, or an allergy, or a parasite, or what.  Because it goes away with treatment, and then comes back.  So the medical person suggested a biopsy – which, of course, hurts horribly.  First there’s the shot in the thumb – ow, ow, ow, lidocaine shots hurt and thumbs are as sensitive as toes, there’s just not much flesh and too many nerve endings.  Then, well, I won’t go into detail about how they take a sample but it still kind of hurts and apparently fingers bleed more than one would imagine.  So I was bandaged up way more than seems needed for a hole that is maybe 1/8” wide.  But the bandage is weird compression stuff that supposedly helps stop the bleeding more quickly. 

Anyway, the diagnosis is eczema.  Good to finally have a diagnosis.  Not a fungus, just my sensitive and allergic skin freaking out from, well, who knows.  Environmental stuff?  The original fungus?  Stress and emotions?  I don’t know.  On Monday I’ll find out our treatment plan.  And hopefully make this thing go away for good.  (And does eczema impact finger- and toenails the way a fungus does?)

But it was an impressive bandage on the thumb, and Richard and I agreed I should try hitching a ride to somewhere, pretending I was Sissy from “Even Cowgirls Get The Blues.”  (If you haven’t read it, find the book and give it a shot.  Tom Robbins is from Washington state, and his sense of humour is, well, rather Washingtonian.)

We’re taking a quick break from the sorting and trashing, and are in Seattle for four days – a little shopping, a visit with friends, and a little sightseeing.  Today was my shopping day, and I had a great time visiting a few of my fave stores to replenish my wardrobe.  Only bought a few items, but I’m happy.  Because sometimes you just need something new and pretty, right?

And tomorrow is the big get together with my friends way back from college – yup, friends for some 42 years.  Wow.  Amazing to think about that, having friendships for that long a period of time!  Sometimes life is really like a movie, where you meet as young college students and see each other through grad school, careers, relationships, marriages, children, changing careers, illnesses, eventual retirement, and of course for me, living elsewhere and then traveling.  And we’re still friends, and each time we get together we just pick up from where we left off last time.  So it will be wonderful to spend some time together, just hanging out and talking and eating.  Because of course we’re all good cooks.  And my friends make incredible chocolate desserts.  What’s a party without chocolate?

Since I don’t have a kitchen at the moment, I get to collect side dishes and condiments.  I’m going with all the exciting tastes we’ve encountered around Asia and the Pacific Islands – kimchee, wakame, satay sauce, sweet chili sauce.  Daikon radish pickles if I can find them.  Fortunately, Seattle has a large Asian population, and so many stores carry these items.  I met a lovely woman from Pago Pago, Samoa, at the grocery store this evening, who helped me find the kimchee and then insisted I get in the checkout line in front of her, since I only had three items.  She was impressed that we’d been to Pago, and we had a nice little chat as we paid for our groceries.

Oh, final photo – this wonderful manhole cover shows the Seattle waterfront in kind of an odd little map form, with all the piers sticking out into Elliott Bay, and the streets at odd angles around the curve of the bay.  However, nothing is labeled, so it doesn’t really help if you don’t know the city.  But it was a unique take on manhole cover art, so I thought I should capture it.   

There was a family of tourists who stopped and watched me take the photo, and were quite confused what was such a big deal about this manhole cover.  I had to explain that it was a map of downtown.  But, well, not everyone appreciates manhole covers.

Maybe I'm making converts! 

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Cleaning House

19 July 2014

We spent one night in Japan, near the airport in Narita.  Nice hotel, nothing special - although they had "pajamas" for guests to wear.  I know, not something you see every day.  Hotels sometimes have bathrobes (which I think is a wonderful luxury, I love having a hotel robe to use!).  Most hotels in SE Asia, even in northern Asia, provide slippers so you can leave your shoes at the door.  But this hotel had "pajamas," which turned out to be a heavy cotton blue and white striped nightshirt.  So of course I wore that while hanging around the room.  Because I don't travel with along nightshirt, despite the fact that I love them for lounge wear.

So then we had a long flight (9 hours) to Seattle.  Yes, we're back in the USA.  Richard and I are back in Bellingham to help my two youngest brothers who have ended up with the task of dealing with our parents' house.  The house we grew up in, more or less.  Forty plus years accumulation of stuff in the house, to be downsized, cleared out, sold or saved, and eventually the house to be sold.

It's sad, to be emptying out a house, clearing out all those items that trigger memories.  Some things will be saved, like family photographs and other keepsakes.  The cradle that the five of us used as babies, each with our own little metal plaque with our names and birth dates, attached to the bottom of the cradle.  This will definitely be saved, for subsequent generations.

But other stuff - the freezer in the basement that looks like some Antarctic archaeology dig - well, some stuff is slated for the dump.  Piles of junk mail that has accumulated.  Vitamin pills.  Boxes of pudding mix that was "best if used by" five years ago.  Just, the stuff that piles up when you have a big house.

So we're clearing things out, while trying to not be too sad about it.

We also have some fun planned, because, well, that's life.  Happy and sad.  Up and down.  

I'm awake since the wee hours of the morning, maybe still on Korea or Japan time.  

So I think I'll go attack a room and just throw away all the stuff that needs to be tossed, recycling as much as I can, and, well, just cross one more task off the long long list.

And we'll keep you posted about the excitement planned on this trip.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Last Post From Seoul

14 July 2014

We're leaving Seoul tomorrow, so this is our last report.  We've enjoyed our five or six weeks here, but there are places to go and things to do and we're moving on.

So, we visited one of the palaces, the Gyeongbokgung Palace.  The original palace was built in the 1300s, at the beginning of the Joseon Dynasty, which lasted into the 20th century.  The original palace was destroyed in the 1500s during the Japanese invasion, but was rebuilt during the 1800-1900s.  

So, this palace.  I don't know what we were expecting, it looks so wonderful from a distance.  (This is the palace that we see from the US Embassy, with a huge hill looming over it.)  It somehow was kind of a letdown.  It's a beautiful and huge building, don't get me wrong.  All kinds of gates and wings and pagodas, with intricate painting.

Maybe it was the lack of grounds - the palace complex is set in a field of dusty dirt.  Not even grass.  No trees.  No flowers.  Just lots of empty yard.  To the point of being empty dry dusty fields.

Maybe it was because the palace is in the middle of the city, with skyscrapers in the background.  Not even in the distance, just kind of across the road.

And even though things are sort of colourful, well, it's that "sort of" colourful - there's definitely an austerity to the colour scheme.  It isn't fun and exuberant the way buildings are in SE Asia.  The colours are muted and sedate by comparison.  Which leads to a feeling of stateliness in the grand palace look, but also feels, well, austere.  Remote.  Unfriendly and unwelcoming.  Maybe even unhappy, if a building complex can look unhappy.

So it was interesting, and we walked around for a while, but didn't spend a long time looking at everything.  

Here's a link to the official Korean website, if you want more information about the palace: 

We walked around the area, and then took the subway to the casino, which is near Seoul Station.

And I found this wonderful series of flat metal sculptures by David Gerstein - these colourful figures were mounted on the wall of a food court.  The bicycle figures were set up outside around the building.  And the tree of butterflies was in a little courtyard by the food court.

I just loved how whimsical the pieces were, and I found them to be so much cheerier than the palace!

Anyway, we're heading to Japan tomorrow, but we're not staying there.

So - cliff-hanger time!  Tune in some time during the week to see where we end up!


Thursday, July 10, 2014

The Musée d'Orsay Comes to Seoul

10 July 2014

I'm not sure how I found out about this exhibit, but once I knew, well, I had to go.  The Musée d'Orsay, the Parisian train-station-turned-museum, houses most of the French Impressionist paintings still in France.  It's a beautiful building, and the paintings inside make it a phenomenal museum.

Somehow, 170 or so of those pieces of art were sent to Seoul for a special exhibit at the Museum of Korea.  Which makes some sense, because this museum is attached to the train station by those flat escalator people-mover things.

The walls of the long hallway are perforated and backlit, creating swirling patterns on one side and silhouettes of museum artifacts on the opposite wall.  Yes, a Buddha and Bodhisattva made of little holes in the panel and lit from the back!

Well after that entrance, I knew the museum would be something special.  And it was.

Museums and palaces and other civic buildings in South Korea seem to be built on a grand scale, making these edifices major monuments.  Beginning with the Joseon Dynasty in the 1300s, this tradition continues to this day.

So instead of having a building amid the city, each museum here has grounds.  A water feature.  A pagoda overlooking the water.  Koi.  Waterlilies or lotus blossoms.  Each museum is surrounded by a park, where people can enjoy the outdoors, the sun, the water, without feeling as if they're in the middle of a city of 10.14 million people.  We've been to a few museums, and this seems to be de rigeur.

And special exhibits seem to include oversize versions of certain pieces of art, for photo opportunities.  People were posing in the middle of Rousseau's "The Snake Charmer," or in front of Monet's "Woman With A Parasol."  (I loved the kids playing with the 3-D snakes, the boys hanging onto the fangs as if fighting a twelve-foot-long cobra!)


So, the exhibit.  The title was "Beyond Impressionism," and this small but ambitious show tried to trace the development of art in France from just before the Impressionists through the major players of the Impressionist movement, on to the Neo-Impressionists (van Gogh, Gaugin, Cezanne, and the Pointellists such as Seurat and Signac), and onward through the Post-Impressionists (Toulouse-Lautrec) and then to "La Belle Epoch," the early 20th century.  Ambitious!  

Okay, so when a major museum like the d'Orsay sends out priceless works of art, they don't send out exactly the A list.  They send lesser known pieces of art by the masters.  Not that these are any less wonderful paintings - more that they are less well known, for whatever reason.  

So you probably know different versions of Monet's paintings of girls in a boat.  Or "Woman With a Parasol."  Or "London Parliament Seen Through Fog."  Yes, they exist.  There are several versions of some of them, because the artists were interested in how light and season affected the subjects.  And certain paintings are better known.  So no, they didn't get the trip to Seoul.  But that's what makes shows like this so interesting - these are the pieces of art that often aren't seen!  The better known paintings hang in the galleries, and these are almost like backup players who hide in the wings.  Or understudies, waiting for their chance to go on.  When they are at the d'Orsay, they are in storage, often changing places with other works that might be taken down for restoration, or loaned out.  But these are the oftentimes hidden gems, and the only way to see these works of art is to attend exhibits of loaned works in sometimes obscure locations.

And then there are wonderful little gems that are NEVER seen - have you ever heard of Renoir's "Field of Banana Trees"????  No, I never have either.  Lovely piece full of depth and whimsy and redolent of the tropics.  Why don't we ever see this?

These are just a few of the paintings that were there, some of my favourites that were in this exhibit.  Van Gogh's "Portrait of Eugen Boch" with the sky a preamble to his later "Starry Night" series.  A lovely "White Cat" by Bonnard - anyone who has ever owned a cat knows exactly how this person feels, trying to eat her dinner with the cat trying to eat it for her.

There were also photos and films of the building of the d'Orsay train station, and later the Eiffel Tower, both emblems of art and architecture in France during the time of the Impressionists and beyond, both symbolic of the wealth of the nation.

It was a delightful show, and I'm so glad I went.

I also took a quick walk through the main part of the museum, which houses artifacts from pre-historic through modern South Korea and other areas of Asia.  There were huge stone sculptures and a four-storey-high pagoda, room after room of ceramic pieces (the creation of celadon glaze being a major pivotal point in the history of ceramics), and of course glass, jade, and beautiful metal work.  Again, the museum is large, but houses a collection that spans centuries and millenia, as well as covers a huge geographic area, so the exhibits provide an overview of the history and culture of much of Asia.

Oh, the main part of the museum is free of charge.  How many national history museums are like that?

Last bit of info - on the third floor of the museum, there is a Korean tea house for refreshments.  But, unknown to me before I got there, on the ground floor, beyond the museum gift shop and bookstore, there is an entire food court serving Korean and Japanese food.  If I ever went to this museum again, I'd make sure the have lunch there.  I relaxed with a cup of iced tea, and all the food looked and smelled wonderful.  So make this a mid-day even, lunch and then the museum.

Here's their website for more information (such as how to get there):

and an overview of the exhibit I attended:

(I always forget to say this - the photos of the artwork are all from the internet.  Don't take photos of artwork in museums, it's bad for the art and you violate twenty million copyright laws or something!)

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Adventures in Bingsu Eating

9 July 2014

I decided today would be the day I'd try a bingsu.  A bingsu is a special Korean summer treat of shaved ice flakes with fruit and sweet azuki beans and maybe cookies or bits of cake, and some kind of liquid added to make it tasty.

There was one place that makes smaller bingsus, but they have mango, my personal kryptonite.  (As in allergic.)

So I opted for a bingsu in a flavour I like, planning to not eat the entire thing.  Bingsus mostly come sized for two or more to share.

I went to Caffé Bene, a coffee chain here in Korea that has branches around the world.
 I had a nice sort-of-chat with the young lady behind the counter, who speaks as much English as I do Korean - thus mostly menu.  I'd point at one bingsu picture, she'd tell me what flavour it was.  We got stuck at "razpinny" - I'm not sure what it was.  We also discussed whether or not they had decaf for the coffee bingsu, with me acting out too-much-coffee woman versus "and here is coffee with no caffeine" - to discover that no, they do not have decaf.

Okay, so I got the coffee bingsu, figuring at least I would end up with sort of iced coffee at the end.

The bingsu was a huge plastic bowl of shaved ice, with several shots of espresso poured over it.  Then sweet azuki beans piled in the middle, with crunchy things around it - almonds, a few cashews, and what I swear were chocolate corn flakes.  Topped with a small scoop of coffee gelato.  A few chocolate chips.  And one little Caffé Bene signature chocolate emblem.  WOW!

I was told to mix it all up and eat it that way, but, well, I'm a picky eater at times.  I'm not fond of sweetened azuki beans, I find the beans overcooked and too sweet most of the time.  And I had to pick out the cashews because they're actually related to mangoes, so they're like para-kryptonite.

I tried the gelato with some of the shaved ice coffee.  Sort of a weird combination.  I tried adding a little bit of nuts.  Okay, so icy coffee gelato and nuts, not bad.  Icy coffee gelato and chocolate corn flakes?  Weird.  All in all, the taste was good - but the combination was a little strange.  And the ice flakes made everything taste, well, LESS.  Watered down.  And at times my mouth was so cold I could barely taste anything anyway.

I finally pushed most of the beans off to one side and scooped the icy flakes and coffee into another cup, and took that home - it was essentially a coffee frappé, the original frappuccino but without the milk.

So I give bingsus an okay - it may be an acquired taste.  It may be that a fruit bingsu would be tastier, but I was afraid the berries would freeze.  And, well, again I had no idea what liquid was added and I didn't want something super sugary and syrupy.

It was an adventure, I've always liked eating ice so I've been intrigued by bingsus.  And now I know.

I balanced this super sweet snack with a very healthy arugula pizza smothered in wonderful arugula and cherry tomatoes - so good, and so much healthier!  Best pizza we've had in this part of the world (sorry Australia, but you really don't make very Italian pizza) - I can't find a website, but the place is Antonio's, just down the road a few blocks from the Nambu Bus Terminal.  Wonderful pizza made in a genuine fire-heated pizza oven.  So good!

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Melons, Flowers, and the Subway

8 July 2014

Yesterday I tried one of those little melons we've seen, identified online as Oriental melons, Korean Star variety - bought it at the market down the street and had one of the salesladies pick out a good one for us.  And yes, this is why you need a Swiss army knife in your checked luggage, for moments like trying a melon.

Our report - lots of seeds inside, the flesh was a bit hard, and the rind was very thin - not even as thick as honeydew or cantaloupe.  The taste was very mild, not a strong taste of anything.  Vaguely sweet, and vaguely melony.  But, well, not enough of a taste to say wow this is wonderful.  More of a "meh."  Nothing special, either way.  We won't be buying another one.   

I'm still trying to find a place that will make a single-size bingsu for me - haven't found one yet, everyplace makes giant bigsus for multiple eaters.  But here are some photos advertising this summer's bingsu flavours - I think the berry looks the tastiest.  But see what I mean about an ice and fruit (or cookie) parfait?  With some liquid poured in.  I really need to try this and see what it's like.  Very intriguing!  Might be weird, and I don't really want to try the beans - but intriguing.

Okay, funny story about the subway from the other day.  Now, each car or coach stops at a pre-assigned point at each station, labelled with a number - the track is separated from the platform by a glass wall with sliding doors that line up with the coach doors.  Certain seats at each end of the coach are designated preferential seating for seniors, people with disabilities, people with babies, pregnant women.  And people who sit there usually try to get Richard and me to sit there - I've even had older men get up to give me their seat.  I'll sit if it's a long ride, but if we're only going a few stops I'll tell them that, and try to get them to sit down.  And of course if someone old enough to be my parent gets on the train, I get up and offer my seat.

So I'm sitting on the train, we're going wherever, we're about 2 stops from where we transfer, and some older woman gets on the train.  I pop up, go over to her where she's holding the upright pole, and motion that she can have my seat.  Only she doesn't just go sit and smile thank you - no, she grabs me by the wrist and drags me back to the seat, chatting on the phone the whole time.  Sort of pushes me back into the seat - except, as I'm ready to sit, the train starts off with a lurch and suddenly I'm standing on one foot, arms out and one foot up, doing sort of a yoga airplane and trying not to fall on the elderly people sitting on the seats!  I managed to not embarrass myself by falling and rolling around this end of the train, which is what I was expecting - but it was pretty funny!

Today's event - you can tell I went to the flower market.  The Express Bus Terminal is just two stops away from the subway station nearest our hotel, the Nambu Bus Terminal.  (The buses go to different parts of the country, we haven't gone anywhere on them yet.)  Anyway, on the third floor of the Express Bus Terminal is the wholesale flower market for this part of Seoul.  HUGE hall that goes on and on forever, and is FULL of flowers!!!  For anyone who loves flowers, this is heaven.  For an art person and/or photographer, it is paradise.  So yes, I hovered between heaven and paradise the whole time - it is SO GORGEOUS!

The entire hall is perfumed with roses, lilies, and all kinds of blooms, as well as the greenery that always is put into floral arrangements.  Each vendor tends their area, keeping their flowers watered and fresh, the debris swept up, and okaying (or not) photo-taking.  And of course I always thank people for allowing me to take photos of their flowers, and assure them that everything is just beautiful.

So, walking around carefully (because the floor is quite wet), I think I criss-crossed the entire hall, overwhelmed by flowers.  I've been to flower markets in other countries, but I've never seen the bins full of stacked flowers like this!  You'd think the blooms would get crushed, but the vendors have a system - flowers are usually grouped (6 or 12, I would think) and one layer is placed blossom to front; the next layer is placed stem to front and blossom to back, allowing buyers to see flowers from both sides of the bins.  And creating sort of a supporting network between the layers of blossoms, so they don't crush each other.

At least, that's how it looked to me.

Some of the vendors make gorgeous displays that look as if they are still life compositions waiting to be painted by some Dutch artist from the 1500s.  I guess it depends on the aesthetics of the vendor and how they choose to display their flowers.

I don't even like hydrangeas, the flowers don't have enough definition to look pretty to me, but these huge puffs of colour were just incredible!  Intense pinks and blues, delicate lavenders, and some mixes - wow!

Of course, there was also a section with floral accoutrements - vases, baskets, ribbons, mugs, little ceramic animals on sticks to put in amongst your flowers, crystals, you name it, it probably was there.

And I realize not everyone notices the piles of debris and trash that get piled up, but at flower markets they really are pretty - sort of the floral detritus of a botanical frenzy, or something.  I find them beautiful, and always try to get a few pictures.  A few men found me quite funny, but one got into the spirit and held up some tiny celadon roses for me to photograph.

I bought a huge stalk of cymbidium orchids, one of my favourites - these are the flowers I carried as my bridal bouquet, so they're sentimental as well as incredibly gorgeous.  As yes, I carried the flowers around all day, all around the market, the department store I browsed, to lunch, and back on the subway.  They were resting on some cotton wool (quilt batting stuff in American English) and all wrapped in cellophane.  A few of the flower vendors peeked in and told me the flowers were a good choice, they were very fresh.

Our friendly hotel clerks found a small vase for me to borrow, and we now have a wonderful floral display in our room, brightening things up for what likely is our last week in Seoul.