Do not want to live to blog, but I am enjoying this rhythm.
What’s not to like: nearly a continuous family vacation. We all need, I fear, a reality check! But, for the moment, we’ll just “enjoy” (when did we all start saying that?)
Lots of excitement here/there. We watched the inauguration (WOW!) at 1:30 a.m. on Feb 20 at a condo at THE South Korean ski resort: Yongpy’ông in Kangwondo — my first visit both to the province and the resort. For his Obama collection Isaac chose to buy a South Korean newspaper that featured Obama swearing in; So Jin and I coaxed him to choose one of the many other newspapers that featured gorgeous photos of the couple dancing, strolling etc. but he insisted on the serious one. Yongpy’ông is vying to host the 2018 winter Olympics and my goodness are they ever ready. A “resort” seems the wrong word for this ski city with its world-class water park, enormous sleeping capacity, nearly 20 lifts…It has been over 20 years since I have skied so it is hard for me to distinguish what is Korean from what is a transformed sport. Nearly half of the people on the mountain (at least on the bunny slope) were show boarding and there are air stations all over the place equipped with nozzles for drying off your skis (i.e., at the end of the day or even as you head into lunch). I was hesitant about skiing — the metal in my leg, the fact that we live on a hill that I can barely walk up even in full tact etc. — but, like riding a bike, it all came back to me. The girls picked up from where they had left off with my sister Ruth and niece Molly a year ago in New Hampshire. It was a first for Isaac and Andy and it was warm and the (made) snow was in great form; Isaac took to it easily and was quickly converted; Byung-ho (who was finishing up his PhD in anthro just as I was applying/arriving in 1990 — he was, I think, instrumental in my hire!) and Jin-su (his brother-in-law) were (again) instrumental in managing Andy’s getting down the hill (I think it took OVER an hour) at which point Andy announced the end of his skiing career (his legs can’t figure themselves into a snow plow and instead he found himself heading down with the speed of a racer (the rest is history and I could barely look)). The girls quickly picked out Jin-su (the better skier) as their personal guide and they went on to tackle a “gold” (green-blue-gold-black) which in hindsight even Carmen admits was a bit ambitious. It was certainly hard to feel the economic crisis, but evidently we were witnessing but a fraction of capacity (it was a weekday). It was definitely a younger set: small kids in large groups (the kids all agreed that American kids would be too unwieldy to handle in such large groups) and college students on break (Isaac quizzed each of his chair-lift mates — the chairlifts are 4 across (a new one for me) and one of them is in an internet-based club that rents a room in the town that the members all share). Red-jacketed, helmeted (required for kids) Isaac was popular on the slopes; he had a blast, but 12 runs did him in and he literally collapsed at 12:30 (we had only purchased morning tickets), balling that he wanted to keep skiing and then that he hated skiing etc. etc. Hats off to Byung-ho for engineering this trip (no small feat), to Andy for trying a new trick at our age (!), to Jin-su for his good cheer in helping all of us, to Ji-young (his daughter) for putting up with us, and to me for braving the sport after such a hiatus. Also noteworthy: Andy took his biggest car trip thus far: 1 hour plus to Byung-ho’s apartment in Sanbon. The English speaking GPS (Haejoang arranged for one) was a help (he braved Seoul driving without it last Saturday to Home-plus; the streets were crazy-crowded, and the store was not to be believed (crowded) — the outing exhausted Simone, Andy, and me (Simone came along to secure baking items and indeed made chocolate chip cookies the very next morning which many friends then enjoyed) and meanwhile Carmen and Isaac played (and watched some TV at home)).
We had a special après-ski treat: a one-hour trip to the coastal city of Gangneung — inspired by my student/friend Jin-Heon who wrote from Urbana to say that this is one of his favorite winter spots (I didn’t even know that Kangwondo was both he and his wife’s “home town” and that So Jin too was born on the Eastern coast). The Gyeonpo (Kyongp’o) beach was beautiful, having been evidently recently completely re-done, razing all the sashimi-dives that have typically dotted most touristy beaches: the result, a gorgeous pristine stretch. Isaac ended up with his pants off (in January) and the girls in bare feet. Kids and beaches simply are a match. Andy couldn’t believe that we had traversed the width of the country which prompted him to figure out which U.S. state best approximates South Korea’s size (his answer: Indiana).
And on this perpetual vacation of ours, there have been more treats. “Evanston Mom” (a very Korean way of referring to the Mom of the boys we met in Evanston), So-yeong took the girls shopping to Namdaemun market (her also stylish unmarried sister joined while her husband was sent home to take care of the boys, only after picking up the girls and delivering all 4 of them to the market!) Five hours later they returned toting many bags (we gave each girl 50,000 won — about $40): skirts, leggings, sweaters, and fabulous scarves (a gift from So-yeong). One of Carmen’s appeals: “We need to fit in with the Korean style” (!) Really cute stuff and all had fun (I think teen shopping is a great thing to sub-contract!) So-yeong is the Mom of 2 boys, so I think she had fun (purportedly So-yeong and her sister commiserated with the girls by telling them that they too much prefer shopping to museums) (how taxing our 30 minute visit to a show on early modern landscapes and calligraphy seems to have been!) (it was beautiful).
When we “dragged” them to the museum (Hapkoje Gallery near Kyôngbokkung Palace) I spotted a hôtddok (sticky rice flour pancakes filled with brown sugar) truck and was compelled because the Seoul I remember had these everywhere (the truck definitely was playing to this nostalgia with a sign about the “taste of yore”). The kids loved them. But the exciting thing was that the couple was deaf. Between the woman’s lip-reading, Carmen’s signing, and writing, we had a nice conversation and have since been texting (although I haven’t figured out Korean language texting yet — next week). Also, a friend of the woman’s called to say that they would arrange to have a deaf person and hearing friend from our neighborhood visit us so that Carmen can begin her forays (she has wanted to learn about Korean signing). I am simply stunned at the easy way in which everything is falling into place, most importantly for the kids. Speaking of which, Alex’s Mom (and Alex) took the girls to Everland amusement park (a good hour outside of Seoul (in Yongin which we passed on the way to the ski area); they came home at 10:30 last night, exhilarated (I’ll leave those details to Carmen’s blog). For his part, Isaac had a treat because Q-ho (anthropologist here who is ably assisting me!) took him to the Palace which the girls had little patience for when we walked through the grounds but which enthralled him. All 3 of them are quite taken with their Chinese zodiac animals: Isaac the snake and the girls the Ox, the year that is about to begin with many festivities this coming Monday (Isaac and I went with So Jin yesterday to buy him a han’bok (Korean traditional clothing) for the day (he was most excited though to learn that the little red purse (a “service” with the purchase) will be filled with coins if he bows to his elders on new years day! Q-ho bought Isaac a reproduction of the snake sculpture at the Palace and last night he did a beautiful sketch of it. Taking photos in front of their zodiac animal is becoming a pastime and we are in good Korean company when we do it (there were beautiful wooden ones at the East coast beach).
Isaac has found the “Monicals” (his favorite pizza chain at home) in Seoul: near the Yonsei gate (although he also proclaimed that it is more like the upscale fare at Timpone’s). There he sprinkled parmesan (“the best I have ever tasted,” he said) on the seaweed (kim) that I had in my purse (always safe to have along for Isaac) and proclaimed “kimcheese” which is funny because of its proximity to kimch’i (the pickled cabbage that is Korea’s staple food).
My old friend and fellow anthropologist of Korea Laura Nelson is in town and what a treat to spend an evening together and to have another on the horizon. She is here beginning research on breast cancer in South Korea with many fascinating hypotheses about South Korean (and American) particularities.
After many years of little contact, I had a wonderful meeting with Choong Soon Kim who along with Laurel Kendall welcomed me so kindly to Korean anthropology. He treated me to a fabulous breakfast and we had sooo much fun catching up. He is the President of Korean Digital University and reminded me that his was the first anthropology PhD in the U.S. Into his 70s, he is still furiously writing and has a fascinating book on the horizon on Korea’s multicultural past and present. Now here is a tidbit that was remarkable news to me: 26% of Korea’s 4000 surname sub-groups (i.e., the Kims of Kimae (a place name)) (from 286 surname groups)) are descendents of naturalized Koreans (e.g., from China, Vietnam, Mongolia…) Into the present, his University is making a big push to serve the many foreign wives (and husbands) in South Korea today — particularly in the regions (i.e., outside of greater Seoul).
Yesterday I met Professor Kwang-yeong Shin (Sociology, Chungang U.) who I met first at a conference in Toronto on neoliberalism. It was fascinating to listen to his thoughts about South Korea’s recent changes, particularly in regard to class/inequality. A year ago he began an Inequality study group that I hope to join — he is also part of a group on inequality in East Asia that my old friend Hiroshi Ishida (Tokyo U.) is also active in. Professor Shin said that rather than fret about South Korea’s 880000 won generation (i.e., circa $700 with the devalued won), that is 20-somethings with low paid jobs (who he points out get to live at home), it is the 50-something men who have been forced to retire as early as their late 40s and end up as apartment guards, taxi can drivers (that explains all the drivers who frustrate Andy for hardly knowing their way around), Amway-like salesmen, or eventually small business owners (which helps explain South Korea’s some 50,000 hairdressers and South Korea’s persistent #1 self employment figure (34% of the population, 25% excluding farmers)). He also told me about the dramatic extent of the economic bubble that is now bursting (3X real estate increases (the sense that one had to buy NOW), dramatic rise of the stock exchange etc. South Korea’s currency devaluation is paralleled only by Iceland’s (alas, a good time for those of us with dollars).
Way too long. The New Year this coming Monday and other reunions on the horizon too. Really, who else but Mom and Dad would read this!