Just a week, today. And it’s snowing. Crazy how much we have somehow been able to do and still, for my part, feel relaxed. Getting “away” is key: not my house, not my every-day — makes a difference! I teased Carmen that she’ll go home answering to “What did you do in Korea?” with “I blogged”; and I’ll go home replying, “I read Carm’s blog.” Hers is great: much more fun. And I can just refer to her photos until she teaches me those tricks! So, if you haven’t already, do visit: http://carmenkorea.wordpress.com. Andy, no surprise, has begun to master his environs; I can talk to the cab drivers, but it is Andy who tells them where to go! The Seoul on-line bus maps are his universe. And today he is off at Seoul National: his first real day at work.
So, the kids. A bit of a routine has taken hold: but Andy and I clamor for more. Just now they are downstairs with Yôn-mi, a 5th grade teacher on winter break, learning the alphabet (han’gul) and some Korean — they can all count a bit now which comes in handy at Hapkido (Korean aikido) where there is lots of movement-to-numbers. Yôn-mi has called in extra support, a teacher of younger kids, for Isaac! Hapkido is a hit; the woman master (sabon-nim) is warm and funny and orchestrates a fun-filled hour that is circus like — every few minutes the act changes and yesterday included breaking some boards (with a seam) in half. The unheated studio seems to be a neighborhood hang-out; and the hours are flexible — every day at 11, 2, 3, 4, 5 or 7 — and they can go twice if they want.
Meanwhile, the Illinois Korea-net is kicking in — and it is large and strong!
My good friend and artist Bea Nettles enjoyed the assistance of a young woman Sim Jana (last name first) last summer and suggested I reach her while she was home on break (she did her BA at the U of I) and is now doing book making at Columbia College). Jana’s father is “Seoul Intangible [i.e., living] Cultural Heritage No. 26 Somok (Door & Window),” namely he carves beautiful wooden, well, doors and windows. With the assistance of Jana’s Mother, he fitted a whole traditional home with his own woodwork; it is a museum of sorts and eventually his family will live there. It is called: Chun Won San Bang (some blog features: http://blog.naver.com/kyj6181/55659696
http://blog.naver.com/kyj6181/55781628). The kids took wood shavings as mementos! And Jana has played with door/window motifs in some of her remarkable work (http://artistbooks.ning.com/profile/JanaSim). The kids are invited back to try their hand at it in the courtyard when it warms up — aspiring architect Isaac was thrilled. In the courtyard is a tree on which Sim Yong-sik (the intangible) has placed hand-carved tiny turtles at the base and the branches are full of stylized wooden birds made by a friend of his; and the wall of the courtyard is the work of another friend — a beautiful mosaic (not exactly, since it is all clay, but I don’t know what to call it) of a traditional Korean pattern that features 10 good luck symbols (e.g., the pine, crane, turtle…). I have loved that motif for years and this rendition is breath-taking (a photo will follow).
And the U of I network took me to an amazing event the other evening, a farewell party for Lee Gi-beom (EPS Ph.D. from years ago — I was on his committee) who was stepping down from the directorship of Okedongmu (http://www.okedongmu.or.kr/e_i_m01.asp), an NGO devoted to North Korean children. I was able to see my old friends Soo-Jung and Byung-ho too. I learned how to program my cell and have enjoyed calling many old friends this week — and so lovely to be able to say: there’s no rush, we have months and months ahead.
We did our family’s foreign registration and could see Seoul’s changing demography. So Jin’s house is nearby so we were able to visit her family; I was so happy to see her in-laws who kindly hosted me when I visited several summers ago. For Isaac’s part, he told me that he wants to know what it would feel like to listen to English if you didn’t know even a single word and I told him that it would feel just like it feels for him to be in Korea. He wasn’t convinced and said that he would like to forget all of his English so that he could really know. Josie, another U of I-er here in Seoul, called this poetic!
And have we been eating well. Simone fell in love with Casa Della Luce at Yonsei’s East Gate. And we followed cousin Kathy’s recommendation to waffles at the Café at the Ilmin Museum in downtown Seoul (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ilmin_Museum_of_Art). WOW, a thick waffle topped with whipped cream and fruit and it seems that waffles are “in” in Seoul these days and that there are whole neighborhoods known for them! And, yes, we are enjoying Korean fare too and the fabulous cooking of the once-a-week cook that we inherited (for a price, of course) with the house. Isaac is basking in kim (Korean “nori” (in Japanese) or seaweed) which many friends have brought him. And U of I-er Hee Jung’s mother brought us so much delicious kimch’i yesterday and the Korean version (I think) of the Japanese “Christmas cake” — lots of whipped cream — the girls loved it!
That about says it. Skiing in Kangwondo on the horizon! And Carmen is counting the days until Everland with Alex, the grandson of my old friend, So-yôn’s mother, next Thursday. Sunday we have a hike planned — and Carmen a shopping spree with the stylish Mom of the Evanston boys, Soo-Jung. Simone might check out jazz dance in the neighborhood. And I have found a pool — now to mobilize myself back into that groove.