My first blog. Wouldn’t even be able to post if Carmen hadn’t started hers first and told me what to do. Thank goodness for millenial kids. In a word, we are lucky: an old friendship has afforded us a beautiful apartment — 4 bedrooms, 3 lofts, nestled in the hills in Seoul’s NW. This is an old neighborhood with an old neighborhood feel. A far cry from the cutting edge of Seoul life South of the Han River. Haejoang (our host) left us a childhood friend (who long ago married a Korean settler in Taiwan — from the colonial era) who oversaw this apartment’s recent maekover (it is incredible!) to help us settle in for a couple of days: now we know the ropes: the various garbage collecting, the groceries down the steep (really) hill that stores will deliver, the bus routes. Ch’unhui-ssi has now gone her way to Jeju Island to be with her Mom in her 90s (we plan to visit her) (I’ve never been to South Korea’s tropical island and its about time) (Her daughter is here learning Korean at Yonsei — her Mom wants her to learn the can/will do spirit of Koreans that she finds lacking in Taiwan’s warmer climate and mindset!). Meanwhile Haejoang gave Andy a driving lesson (he was great) and she is arranging for English GPS and she has made all sorts of other arrangements too: at 10 this morning we head to the kids’s school neighborhood for MW 10-12 soccer for Carmen and Isaac (and we knock on a little ballet studio door for Simone); the 10 year old boy on the first floor will knock today at 4:30 to take all 3 kids to the neighborhood hapkido (a taekwondo-like marital art); and Yonmee from the third floor (a twenty-something school teacher on winter break (winter break is South Korea’s summer break, i.e., long) will knock and get started with Korean lessons for the kids (our “villa”- the word for small apartment buildings — has 7 units; a far cry from the much more typical huge apartment complexes that pretty much ARE the Seoul landscape). So, Haejoang has been busy on our behalf!! The kids have already seen their school (www.sungmisan.net) and met (very briefly) all their teachers who happened to be in a faculty meeting (they are young!) School doesn’t start until March 1 which is why Andy and I are grateful for all of these other arrangements. Soon we will be more solo as Haejoang heads to Japan and Nepal (afterwards she will live with a friend for the duration — incredible right! her generosity). (Andy is free to use her car but driving in Seoul is not for the faint). Other than seeing So Jin (my old friend and former student) and Q-ho (Haejoang’s student who will be helping me with my work while I am here) who were kind enough to pick us up at 6 am on Jan 9, I have not begun to make contact with my Korea network. It is SO lovely to come here and not feel the need to power-connect; it has been about 12 years since I lighted into Korea for more than 10 days. With 7 months, I can take it slow. The only friends we connected with are Isaac’s: 2 little boys and their parents who we met in Evanston when we subletted last summer — they brought toys (to lend — the perfect tonic for Isaac, including han’gul (alphabet) magnets for the fridge) and “kim” (seaweed), Isaac’s trademark food) and they took us to a tofu-specialty shop down the road where Isaac fell asleep under the table (in one of those rooms with the low tables that you snuggle into with the warmed floor). And yesterday we went to Seoul’s premier bookstore (Kyobo) and bought Korea’s Lonely Planet guide (NK is included), Obama’s autobiography (it was sold out in Urbana’s best bookstore), maps to quench Andy’s desires for detail (although now he is hooked on the “Seoul Metropolitan Bus Map” which does it all, building by building; he’s been at it now for over 2 hours), and a play-do kitchen set for Isaac (he is really missing his things from home). This is an odd genre: no question my parents will want to read every-word, but as for the rest of you, I by no means mean to presume this level of interest. The best editor it seems will be time: i.e., not coming in too often. Let me close on the lovely serendipity that my cousin Kathy spent several years in Seoul several years ago and is able to get us started on some healthy Korea tourism — I am delighted this visit to be a tourist! The researcher gig is old hat; these are new ropes.
January 11, 2009
Day 4 in Seoul