Wednesday, August 29, 2012

The calm after the storm

<Insert obligatory apology for falling off the face of the blogging world. Things got really busy with finals, summer intensives and camps. Hopefully things will resume their normal schedule.>

I know much of the United States is following the progress of Hurricane Isaac, wondering if it will wreak the same havoc as Hurricane Katrina did a few years ago. While I certainly hope that the strength of the storm diminished considerably, I've had other things on my mind. Namely, Typhoon Bolaven.

It's Typhoon Season here in Northeastern Asia. I've experienced several typhoons in my time in Korea. Generally, they've just been a little bit windier and a little bit wetter than a normal monsoon season day. Given the general geography of the peninsula, we tend to be pretty sheltered in Seoul. But this one was different. It was supposed to be The Big One. The storm itself was absolutely massive -- it was around 2000 kilometers (1,250 miles), so the predictions were that the wind and rain would last a long time. It was also supposed to be pretty powerful.

Bolaven (which is a plateau in southern Laos, in case you were wondering) gave the Japanese island of Okinawa a pretty rough time of it. Apparently it was the worst typhoon to hit in the last 50 years or so. Everyone in Korea was bracing for a rough storm. The government cancelled school (although strangely, many of the teachers were still expected to brave the storm to go sit at their desks in an empty school). The military bases went black. It was pretty crazy. The storm was supposed to hit sometime on Tuesday, but we weren't sure exactly when.

I stayed up until the wee hours following radars, reading about typhoons and generally waiting for something to happen. Sometime around 4am, I gave up. According to the radar, we were supposed to be getting something. But when I looked out my window, I didn't see much. There were some gusts of wind, but not anything too crazy. So, I made sure that all of my windows were securely fastened, my flashlight was handy, and I went to bed.

I woke up the next morning around 10, fully prepared to see that I had no electricity and a scene outside of my window that could be used for hurricane stock footage. But things were in pretty much the same condition they had been in the night before. I went about my day, continuing to follow the radar and keep an eye on what was happening outside. Only it didn't ever seem like anything happened.

I read my Bible, drank tea, chatted with friends, worked on stuff for the upcoming semester, made a new iTunes playlist... And still, nothing happened. The storm moved on the radar, but that was really the only thing that changed. From what I've read, things were much worse elsewhere in South Korea. Last I heard, there were 9 people who had been killed. There were some Chinese fishermen who ran into trouble. I think that somewhere around 10 of them are still missing. But it certainly wasn't the horrible, terrible storm that everyone was expecting. No word yet on how North Korea fared, but they've been having a lot of flooding problems to start with, so it probably isn't a good situation.

In Central Seoul, things were pretty quiet. The wind got quite strong toward the end of the day. I saw some trees do some pretty spectacular acrobatics. But I never lost power, there's no damage to my apartment, and it seems like life will move on as normal today.

For me, the worst part was that I'm from the Midwest. I'm used to tornado weather. With tornado weather, if there's a lot of wind and storm weather and it suddenly gets really quiet and calm, this is generally bad news. I've watched a lot of thunderstorms and tornado cells in Indiana. This is as ingrained in me as my childhood phone number and address. But with typhoons, these wind gusts and moments of calm are quiet common. So all day long, I kept having to remind myself of this meteorological fact and resist the urge to go to my non-existent bathtub and hide. But I'm thankful that mental wear and tear is the worst thing I came away with from this typhoon. Apparently there is another one that is gearing up to hit us on Thursday night (Typhoon Tembin) but I suspect that it will be a tropical storm or less when it gets here. 

This morning, I found myself unable to sleep. So I went up to my rooftop about 15 minutes before the official sunrise time and took a few pictures of the city waking itself up in a post-Bolaven world.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Cherry Blossoms

It's been a busier than usual past few weeks between midterms looming and the refrigerator drama... I promise I'll tell the story of the fridge drama, but I need a few more days to develop a sense of humor about it first :)

In the meantime, I thought I'd share some pictures from Tuesday. On my day off, I decided to climb up the mountain that I live on and check out the park and cherry blossoms. They aren't quite at their peak, but they are certainly beautiful.

There are lots of cherry blossoms, but there are also lots of magnolias in bloom this time of year. 

I was in the park, and there was this couple. I'm not sure if they are actually getting married, or if there is some sort of drama/advert type thing going on here. 

There were so many beautiful flowers. 

I wasn't the only one who came out to enjoy the flowers and warm weather. There were lots of kids in matching uniforms from a kindergarten or daycare. 

This little boy was lagging behind the group a bit. It's clearly a universal thing for little boys to enjoy playing in the dirt. 

The cherry blossoms are just getting ready to make an appearance. 

One of my favorite things about this city is pretty much everywhere you look, you can see mountains.  

I saw this bag sitting on a bench. There weren't any other people around, so I don't know what its history was. 

There is a circular road that runs along the mountain. This couple were enjoying a leisurely stroll along the path. 

I laughed a bit when I saw this sign. Isn't EVERY sale a happy sale??

This says "South Mountain Park". The mountain is called "Namsan", which translates into "South Mountain", but everyone calls it "Namsan". Trivia fact for the day: "Namsan" was the first Korean word I was able to literally translate without any help. 

Near the park entrance was this great outdoor library. I wish I knew more Korean so I could read some of the books there. Maybe someday I'll bring my own book and read there. 

These four men didn't say a single word the whole time I was in this section of the park. They just sat there, surveyed everything and acted super cool. 

I love this tower. You can get amazing city views from the top. At night, it is lit in different colors. I live within site of this tower, so when I walk home from work at night, I'm able to see it. It's probably my favorite Seoul landmark. 

These men were sitting at the other end of the garden. They were talking and laughing. It made me happy just to be around them, even though I couldn't understand much of what they were saying. 

Friday, April 6, 2012

Spring is coming!

I saw this as I was walking home from work... It's still rather cold around here, but spring is on the way!!

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Korea National Museum

One of my friends decided that we needed to go do something on the weekend. She decreed that I'd been in my apartment for too long, and we were going to go to the Korea National Museum. I'd never been, so I decided that maybe it wouldn't be such a bad idea. It was really nice to get out of the apartment, but I was definitely exhausted after we left. We didn't even see most of the museum either. It's so huge. We started in the special collections, so there was a mix of different things.

There was this really lovely archway of bamboo leading up to the main entrance of the museum. 

I don't think that the building actually had a dome, but from the inside it looked a lot like a floating dome, which was pretty cool. 

These are the end caps for traditional tile roofs. I love these things. I think they're so beautiful. I have an ever-growing collection of pictures from various palaces and museums around the city. 

This next part is dedicated to all of the great faces that were around the museum. I don't know what all of them mean, but there were certainly lots of interesting ones to choose from!

Can't you imagine this one making a great salt and pepper shaker set??

I can understand the man looking surprised, but I really want to know what they were looking at to make the donkey look that surprised. 

The warrior is very serious. His faithful steed apparently has other ideas for the day. 

This was a pair of earrings from one of the early dynasties. I can't imagine having a hole in my ear big enough for these things to fit in. If they were along the line of a clip on earring, I can only imagine how much that would hurt. I'm definitely not ever complaining about earrings again!

I used to have a little tea set that looked kinda like this! It was actually labeled as a "child's house play set". I guess there are some things that transcend cultural boundaries. Love. Laughter. Playing house as a little girl....

I don't remember what this one was either, but I thought that it was absolutely lovely. I really enjoyed the colors and the lighting. It was very dramatic!

Some of the pottery was absolutely exquisite. 

I love the color and the detail. 

Some of it was just cute. I guess even hundreds of years ago, there was a booming industry for things that served no practical purpose other than being cute. 

I don't remember what this is, but it was really small. I think it was only about 3 inches across. It was so amazingly detailed though!

These are traditional signature stamps. People still use these stamps today. They register their stamp with the government, and it counts as an official seal. Which is cool. Unless you're a foreigner who doesn't have a cool official seal. And you're trying to sign documents. But instead of a nice line to sign your name, there's a little box for your seal. It gets interesting. I've thought about getting a seal made, but my name has so many syllables when it is written out in Korean, I don't think it would fit. So my legal signature has been reduced to even more of an illegible scrawl than it was before. 

The next part of the museum had a lot of beautiful paintings and calligraphy in it. 

There was this giant rock, but I'm not entirely sure where it came from, or what it said. But it was really pretty, with the light and dark contrast. 

When you first saw this picture, what did you think it was? A torture device? The original "As Seen on TV Lawn Aerator"? Believe it or not, this was a typical pair of shoes. Just a normal pair of shoes. Not soccer cleats. Just shoes. They were so big that they were too big for even my foot. I want to know what happened to all of the shoes that are this size? How did they shrink so much??

This wasn't part of the museum, it just made me laugh. We were walking though these amazing exhibits, and this mom and her little girl were sitting there. Both of them were wearing headphones. Both of them were playing on their own smart phone devices. This is actually a pretty common scene around Seoul. It's just the first time I've had my camera on me when I've seen it. 

We saw this as we were walking back out. It doesn't matter how many times I've seen it before, I'm always fascinated by the juxtaposition of old and new in this city. Palaces that are thousands of years old sit next to cranes that are building skyscrapers. It's amazing.