Archive | September, 2012

The Seoul Tower

30 Sep

During my recent trip to Seoul one of the highlights of the trip was visiting the Seoul Tower.  Seoul is set in a valley with mountains surrounding it – there are lots of hills and lakes – apparently the feng shui is one of the best possible for a city.  In Chinese there is a saying when you are looking for an apartment (有山有水) – that basically means that if you have a mountain at the back of the house and water in front – it is the perfect situation.  Seoul is a prime example.

You can see the mountains surrounding Seoul

Here you can see the mountains and the water – good location!

Another view of the city

At the top one of the hills that surround the city is the Seoul Tower.  We looked down at the city at dusk and enjoyed the view – Seoul spread out at your feet.  Closer in, the tower has also become a place for young couples to declare their love and to lock things of importance to them to the fences guarding people from the edge.   I was fascinated by the display – it was a modern version of the locks that I saw at the top of Mount Tai earlier this year.

Lots of different locks – and other symbols of love

The dustbin made me laugh. I don’t read Korean so I don’t know what it said – but it was unique.

The locks even tower over my head. I wonder how people put them at the top?

I think that my favorite was still the small dust bin that you can see above.  I looked through the entire collection (and there were thousands of locks) – and I didn’t see another like it.  Perhaps they believe cleaning together is the secret of marital bliss?

I wonder how the tradition started there – it’s not a holy place now, but perhaps in the past?  Who knows?

If you were going to “lock something up” as a symbol – what would it be?

Weekly photo challenge – solitary

27 Sep

This week’s photo challenge is on being solitary.  To me, solitary sounds more interesting than alone – solitude is something positive – a chance to contemplate life and ground myself for a few moments.

I think it’s easy to do that type of contemplating when you’re by the sea.  The first photo is when we were at the sea in Shenzhen watching the waves crash onto the shore.  Li climbed down on the rocks and watched the waves while I snapped the photo.

The second photo Li took of me as I was enjoying the peace of the lake near Dali, in Yunnan province last November.  It was a long day and I remember just focusing, closing my eyes and relaxing while I heard the birds and waves.

Both of those photos are historic ones – but yesterday when I was in the office I realized that someone had put a teddy bear on the ledge by the window.  The bear really looked like it was contemplating life and looking out over the Shanghai skyline.  I had to take a photo.

May we all enjoy our solitude.  Which is your favorite?

To see other bloggers ideas on “solitary” please click the link at the beginning of my post.

Making kimchi in Seoul

25 Sep

The aprons and gloves were necessary. The red pepper paste was pretty powerful!

As part of my recent trip to South Korea, I attended a brief demonstration of how to make kimchi – the ubiquitous fermented/pickled cabbage dish that is everywhere in South Korea.  Since I was with a Chinese tour group I don’t know that I absorbed enough information to make my own (nor would I especially want to), but I did get a chance to spread the red pepper paste on the cabbage leaves and bundle it up.

Our guide/teacher explaining the different types of kimchi.

Our hosts (who were hoping that we would purchase their kimchi products) explained the different types – with over 200 different varieties possible.  In Korea they sell special kimchi refrigerators so that each home always has a constant supply available – and to segregate the smell that can seep into different areas.

Kimchi in small bowls accompanying our roast pork dinner

An example of turnip kimchi

When we ate – kimchi was available for breakfast, lunch and dinner in different formats.  Sometimes it was the pickled spicy cabbage, sometimes turnip – some yellow, some white, some darker colors.  Even at the airport when I ordered a bowl of noodles, there was a small side dish of kimchi as an accompaniment.

Over my short stay in Seoul – I ate a lot of kimchi, enough so that I probably won’t have it for a while, however it was a unique and fun part of my trip.

Have you had kimchi?  When trying to explaining it to someone who has never had it , I likened it to a spicy version of sauerkraut.  What would you compare it to?

Happy Birthday to me!

23 Sep

Happy Birthday to me!

At the time that this post will be published I will be cheering for my alma mater (Notre Dame) at an ungodly early hour (due to the time difference) in the annual rivalry against the University of Michigan. My family is a divided family – Notre Dame vs. Michigan where the taunting and heckling come out every year.

I remember once my grandmother called my father (different sides of the rivalry) and heckled him after Michigan won.  I’m lucky to be able to see the game this year.  After the game I plan on spending the afternoon at a spa.  Even though I am not yet fully unpacked, some “me” time will be the perfect antidote to a busy schedule.

Perhaps my birthday luck will lead the Irish to a victory?  I hope so.

Travel theme – texture

20 Sep

After skipping a week of the travel theme at Where’s my Backpack, I am back this week with two shots that symbolize “texture” to me.

Can you feel the scales?

The first shot was one that Li took when we were on holiday in the Philippines earlier this year.  This extreme close up of a snake still makes me feel slightly uncomfortable when I look at it – but the shot itself captures the texture of the snake’s skin almost perfectly.  Looking at it I almost expect the snake’s tongue to come out of the monitor hissing towards me.

We took lots of shots of different wildlife while on that trip – if you’d like to see any of the others, you can check out my post from earlier this year on Wildlife in the Philippines.

Stone pocked texture

The second shot is one that I recently took when in Seoul, South Korea at the palace complex in Seoul.  I was fascinated by the different guardian animal/humans that surrounded various buildings and this one has the contrasting texture of the carving in the sculpture, but also the pock marked stone itself creating an interesting contrast.

I haven’t decided if this was a guardian of good or guardian of evil.  What do you think?

How do you view texture in the world around you?  If you’d like to see other people’s ideas of texture, please click on the link at the top of the post.

Shanghai sunsets

18 Sep

Shanghai sunset – looking over the elevated highways

This last week we have been blessed with some beautiful weather.  Last Friday evening before I left the office my colleagues called me to the window.  The clouds looking to the west looked like they were on fire.  Lights on and around the elevated road were twinkling on  and cars headed into the clouds.  The colors changed from red to purple to black as we stood there soaking in the beauty.

Then Saturday as I was going back and forth moving boxes, I noticed that the sky was tinged pink and thought it was so beautiful that a photo was needed.

Despite all the chaos right now, there is beauty everywhere.  I also posted on sunsets a couple of weeks ago in response to Where’s my Backpack’s challenge.

Where have you seen your most recent sunset?


16 Sep


How did I collect so many things over the last five years?

Moving is cathartic.  You clean out and throw away and repackage.

And it is a huge mess – you can’t find your shoes or something breaks or …

I am very much in the middle of a move – the apartment search that I wrote about was finally successful and I now have the keys (and just a couple of days) to move things from one building in my complex to another.

The apartment is just a little bit smaller (but with higher rent) and a slightly different layout, different furniture…

Packing though is a headache.  I have fortunately found a couple of things that have brought back good memories as I have packed to help ease the pain.

Yes – this was in my desk drawer- more than two years later!

Here is a shot of a ticket to the Shanghai Expo back in 2010 (I threw the ticket away after I took this photo – likely won’t be very useful for me anymore).  To accompany it here is a picture of my brother at the expo during his visit then.  I can’t believe that was two years ago!

My brother with the iconic Chinese pavilion back in 2010. It still exists and I think has been turned into a museum.

Going even further back here is a pair of socks (clean) that I was given on a flight on Philippine airlines.  Back in 2009 when going on my first business trip to Singapore I flew from Hawaii to Singapore (via Manila).  I had already made my travel plans when told I needed to go to a regional training.  That was a great trip to Hawaii with a very good friend and I’m guessing the socks were a result of that trip.

Socks… and a very nice Philippine Airlines bag

After I am moved in – I’ll take some photos to share the new apartment.  For the time being I’ll keep the disaster zone to myself.  I may be a little late on posting this week as I’m still trying to figure out the internet in the new place.

What’s your favorite (or least favorite) part of moving?

Two different worlds

13 Sep

My August and September are shaping up to be two of the busiest periods I have lived through in a while.  An office move, a personal move, several high profile people visiting at work from overseas, a trip to Korea (more to come on that) and trying to plan for October holidays have put me behind the eight ball.  Sleep has definitely been a luxury and I anticipate the next couple of weeks to continue in the same mold.

As I am trying to fit everything in I am getting to the office earlier than I have for a while – arriving between 8 and 8:30 which gives me an hour of “peace” before the masses arrive.  The cleaning staff has not yet accustomed themselves to seeing me since the office move and with the move I no longer have an office so I am in the main working area.  It’s that funny awkward feeling – you know that they’re doing their job but I would prefer to move in a bubble – no loud noises – floating through my morning without interruptions.

One day last week I walked into the women’s restroom and found our cleaning lady washing her hair in the sink.  She had carefully tucked paper towels around her collar and was rinsing (I think) when I arrived.

I almost backed right out of the bathroom – it felt as though I was intruding on a very private moment.  Instead, I scurried into a stall and took a little longer than I otherwise would as I listened for signs that she had finished.

I came out and we nodded at each other as I washed my hands.  Nothing was said but my mind had a list of questions that I wanted to ask – the first being “Why are you washing your hair in the sink?”

Can you think of a world where you would do that?  I’m having a pretty tough time.  I wrote about Urban Shanghai last week and the contrast between old and new and this struck me in the same way – but at a much more personal level.  I felt uncomfortable – partially because of my position of privilege in this culture and partially because I believe that there are certain parts of my life that I don’t want to share with others (washing my hair being one of them).

Any stories where you have seen two different worlds come together?

Follow-up post on Travel Theme: Signs

11 Sep

As I was going through my photos looking for something else, I found two more signs that fit very well into the Signs post that I posted several weeks ago.  They were taken when my family visited China in the summer of 2008 when we were taking a cruise down the Yangzte river towards the Three Gorges Dam.

Should you be scared when the “Look out!” is taped on with masking tape?

The first sign was literally taped to the tiny balcony of my room on the boat.  The Chinese is something more like please pay attention and be safe, but the English is definitely more aggressive.  At the time I couldn’t read the characters so we looked very carefully around to see what we need to look out for.  Looking back it’s even funnier now that I know what the sign says.

How can a sign prevent you from turning over?

The second sign was posted along the dam itself.  I believe from the picture that it is telling you not to jump over the edge but the translation really doesn’t share that same urgency.

Has anyone reading been there more recently? I wonder if these signs are still in place or they have been edited to be a little more enlightening.

Any other signs that you’ve seen lately?

Church in China

9 Sep

Stained glass window at the church in my hometown

When I’m in Shanghai, I am a regular visitor at the international Catholic parish that is close by my apartment.  Close may be a relative word – it’s a very fast 15 minute walk or a more leisurely 25 minute walk.  Given the heat that we’ve had lately it certainly seems longer.  When I first came to China I wasn’t sure about going to church.  As a Catholic I had heard stories about the Chinese government taking a cut of the donations, about them not accepting that the Pope has ultimate authority in the church, about priests being appointed by the government instead.

When I finally got up the nerve to go though, it’s a pretty normal catholic church experience – I go to mass in English and the majority of the congregation (I’d say at least 50%) is Filipino.  Like going to any new parish, I don’t recognize all the songs and at the beginning there were certain local customs that took a while to get used to, but perhaps the universality of the church does conquer everything.  There is one thing that is different than most mass experiences in the US or Europe in that the average age tends to skew much lower because people over 65 can’t get work permits to live in China.  Senior citizens tend to be the largest group back in more developed countries, but here it’s only if they are visiting someone who already knows where the church is.

There have been times when I have felt a little uncomfortable.  Every once in a while the priest will start complaining about Chinese government intervention and I always feel like looking over my shoulder to see if we’re being observed.  Even though I’ve now attended for a couple of years, it just seems that any one of the chinese faces  (and they are not many) could be a spy.  I am likely just paranoid as the Chinese government has far larger issues, but who knows?

In general though, church focuses me, allows me to put faith in something larger than myself and allows me to continually straddle the western/eastern world that exists in Shanghai.  I feel lucky to have my faith – especially because so few people born here are provided that luxury.

Have you ever gone to church in a foreign country?

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