Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Rockin' Out

Happy Tuesday! Be prepared; this ginger's song makes for some good boppin' in your desk chair.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Glitter on the Mattress


Our Stay in a Korean Love Hotel

I had read about love hotels in the guide books and lists for visiting Japan. They sounded so crazy that I was particularly disappointed to miss out on them when our trip plans changed, and we decided to skip Japan on this trip. However, near the end of our travels with Jenny, when we arrived in Busan, I found myself in a lobby of one. Turns out they have them in South Korea too!

Briefly, a love hotel is a place where you can rent a room overnight or for a shorter amount of time. Apparently, in Japan and South Korea, since many extended families all live under one roof, privacy is scarce. Thus, love hotels are available as an escape for couples so that they can have some private sexy time together. They are very discrete, often having very sheltered areas for cars and separate entrances for guests so you don't run into anyone during your visit.

I'll bet porn is probably pretty
easy to understand in any language.
I'm sure the average clientele at a love
hotel don't want their picture taken, but
this guy just never wants his taken. Period.
I was practically bouncing up and down in anticipation as we entered the nondescript entrance of the castle-shaped building. We paid for a night though we could have chosen to pay an hourly rate. As soon as we exited our elevator, the excitement began. We had our own library of Korean porn and action movies to choose from and our hallway was lit with sexy blue track lighting. Awesome start. Our hotel room door even had its own tiny light which only turned on when we were in the room so hotel employees would not accidentally disturb us.

Even more fun lay behind our hotel room door. We had a backlit mural of a Miami beach style tropical mansion on our ceiling done in hot pink and neon green. There was track lighting along our ceiling, a small disco ball and other levels of lighting options incorporated into the mural. Fabulous. And better yet, we had a high tech remote that controlled all the lighting in the room, the sound system, the television, and the bathroom lighting as well (I found this out as I was showering and, in his attempt to turn off a malfunctioning overhead light in the main room, Nathan turned off and on and then off my bathroom light so I was left hollering at him in the dark.) There were energy drinks in the fridge, comfy robes and slippers, and HBO (in English!) Our shower could turn into a sauna at the push of a button and our large bathtub could easily fit two people (this was the only place in South Korea I ever even saw a bathtub).

Since it was clear that we were travelers and not mere hourly visitors (what gave it away?), the hotel manager gave us a quick in-room tutorial on which button on the remote turned on or off which room feature. We would later have to call him to come turn off the overhead light after we had pushed every button on the remote 20 or so times to no avail. He clearly thought we were idiots, but it turned out to be a problem with the remote and not user error (He ended up just unscrewing the light bulb, which was annoying because we totally could have just done that ourselves.).

I can't really speak to feeling very sexy in a room where you have a ceiling that looks like it's been taken from a diner wall in South Florida as the red, green, and blue lights rotate around you, but perhaps that really does it for some girls. I can tell you, however, that it was a great night in a very comfortable and clean hotel room, so I was pretty happy to have had my fun in a love hotel.

Pictures by me.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Lost in Translation

Koreans seem to have a great fondness for all things American. In particular, they are big fans of English. English translations appear everywhere from menus and signs to t-shirts and restaurant walls. Unfortunately, it seems that the majority of time the person in charge of the translation was clearly not remotely fluent in English.

With some of them, we were able to figure out the gist they were trying to say, but there were some that were truly indecipherable. We captured a few of our favorites.

Starts out strong...but then...puzzlement.

(Uh, I hate that funk crap. But it works!) 
It does?

Don't leave me hanging!

Does anyone else now feel the need to call her lady chest parts "freedoms" now?

As seen on a university campus.
Apparently you only get one so think about it long and hard.

Double meanings.

"A tranquilness heart." Someone didn't even use a web translator on this one.

As your customer, I guess I'll say "Thanks?"

Yum, that one sounds tasty. I'll have that.

Somebody's somebody. I couldn't ask for more.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Photo Journal: Korea

A photo journal using a few of my favorite photos of our trip to Korea. 

We spent the first two and a half days of the trip in Seoul where we visited a palace, a shrine, a Buddhist temple, the Korean War Memorial, climbed a huge hill to the Seoul Tower, went to a giant park where 
legions of old men play Baduk (Go), wandered through a few large markets, and ate a huge variety of Korean food. 

Highrises stretch as far as your eye can see in any direction.*
Gyeongbuk Palace
One of the emperors would use this island to practice his archery.
So much for the art of Asian contemplation.
An historic reenactment of the changing of the palace guards.
Jogyesa Temple at dusk, our first Buddhist Temple.

We took a bus to Seoraksan (se-rock-san) for one day. (It was the most comfortable bus I've ever been on.) We stayed in the National Park at a lovely hotel with a gorgeous view of the snow capped peaks and blooming cherry trees. We took an early morning hike up to a cave before breakfast. It was an exhausting, continuous climb, ending with hundreds of steps up the side of a rugged cliff. After breakfast, we visited the temple nestled in between the mountains, rode a cable car up into the mountains, and hiked to a waterfall, while Nathan climbed to the teetering rock (another thousand steps) and then came back to hike to the waterfall. Even he had to admit to being worn out that afternoon.
After hauling myself up the final metal steps, only to
discover the vendor carts and realize that people have
climbed this route while carrying a whole cart along.*
One of the rugged craggy
peaks we saw as we climbed.
McArdles in Korea
Water for purification and cleansing.
"Tongil Daebul," bronze Buddha statue.
Sinheungsa Temple at Seoraksan

You could make a donation and write a supplication or prayer on a
curved slate that would later be used in roofing the temple buildings.
The slates were covered in every imaginable language.
From Seorakson, we headed to Daejeon (tay-jyan), Jenny's current hometown. There, we saw the university and a few other places where she volunteers and spends her time, went to a jimjillbang, an art museum, the arboretum, explored the town, ate some more delicious Korean food, and tried to go to a baseball game but got rained out, so we headed to a bar instead (not all that different from Chicago with that one).

Feeling my lousiest at this point of the trip.*
From Daejeon, we took a train to the port town of Busan (poo-san), where we stayed at a love hotel, saw a group performing traditional dancing and drumming in a square near our hotel, went to Jagalchi, Korea's largest fish market, where we had some delicious grilled fish for breakfast, headed to the shore, and then went to the UN Memorial Cemetary.

Cherry blossoms in the background.

The white ribbons you can see looping through the background
were actually attached to the end of some of the dancers' hats.
They would whip their heads around to make the ribbons fly.
One of the fishmongers at Jagalchi
preparing something we could never identify.

The shore in Busan almost looks like the Emerald City.

We said goodbye to Jenny, Susanne, and Shirley in Busan and then headed to the island of Jeju for three days. We arrived on Sunday night, took a long bus ride to our hotel in Seogwipo, and then had a Korean dinner of sea urchin and broiled mackeral. Our first morning we saw Jeongbang Waterfall and then headed to rent a Vespa. When we had the motorbike, we headed east to see the resorts, Yakchunsa Temple, the volcanic columns, Cheonjeyeon Falls, and then had some delicious black bean sauce noodles for dinner. Our final day on Jeju, we headed north to Halla-san (Halla Mountain), went to the Bijarim (Nutmeg) Forest, the Sangumburi Crater, hiked along a volcanic cave-filled coast, and climbed up to Sanbanggulsa, which had a temple, a shrine, and a larger mustachioed golden Buddha before heading back to Seogwipo to have some of the island's famous black boar and explore the port. After we returned our trusty Vespa, we explored the open markets and considered buying our own Baduk game, but settled on a pile of snacks for the trip home instead. In the morning, we took a harrowing taxi ride to the airport and began our long trip home.
Our comfort level on the bike dramatically improved after two days of maneuvering.**

All the Buddhist temples were preparing for Buddha's
birthday on May 10th by hanging lanterns everywhere.

Yakchunsa Temple, our first stop after getting the bike.

The beautiful insides of the temple.
The matching outfits and peace signs
required of "real" Jeju tourists.
Offerings to Buddha at Sanbanggulsa
One of the Korean fishing ships in port in Seogwipo.

*Photos by Jenny McArdle. 
**Photo by motorbike rental guy.
All other photos by Hanna McArdle. Please ask permission before using.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Hipster Animals

I think I appreciate these especially living here in Chicago where I encounter these hipster types milling around so often. (Btw, I love that the lion has one of those spacer things in his earlobe!)

I love this artist.
"I could say something about having no decent paid work in a shit economy and trying to trick myself into being busy to keep the gnawing anxiety at bay or that it’s a dry run for a book pitch or something equally half true but the number one reason anyone does anything on the internet: I want people to send me free stuff."

My kind of gal. And my kind of clever art.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Adventures in Showering

The modern Korean bathroom is surprisingly different from the typical American bathroom. I suppose when you think about it, this point should not come as a shock. Nearly everything in Korea is very different from the typical equivalent in the US. The food is quite different, the landscape, the language, the history; why should I expect my shower to be any more familiar to me?

I've "showered" using a small plastic bowl to pour water on my head from a five gallon bucket when visiting a friend in Nicaragua, so by no means do I consider a Korean shower an unpleasant experience. Warm water comes from pipes above my head, and I did not have any concerns that some of that water might contain any bugs or vermin doing the backstroke, so  I truly was a happy camper even if my showering thoughts were not the soothing non-thoughts I experience at home in own shower.

My shower thoughts in Korea consisted of "Huh, guess no one ever knocks on the door desperately needing to use the toilet while you shower or boy would that be super awkward," "I've never squeegeed naked before," and "Wearing shoes in the shower is the most dressed I've ever been while showering, and yet I've never felt more naked."

This is pretty typical, though not exactly like one we had.
Why, you ask? Korean showers are really just shower heads above a drain. You don't really have walls or shower curtains around your shower area. You are basically standing in the middle of the bathroom, possibly directly in front of a toilet, while your shower water ricochets all over the room coming dangerously close to your very small loincloth towel and puddling just under it so that if you have managed to miss the towel with the water luge off your shoulders, you can be sure it will be good and wet when you accidentally knock it off the hook before squeegeeing the floor. Also, you are likely wearing the bathroom sandals that were sitting at the entrance to the bathroom and occasionally being goosed by the squeegee as you back away too far from the toilet. But you do have a lovely warm toilet seat and a refreshing (though somewhat initially startling) rear spritz and blow dry from the bidet toilets to look forward to in the morning.

Oh yeah, and that's not even mentioning the jimjillbang (gin-ja-bong). Remember the Turkish bath? Well, if you take away my underwear and add in a substantial amount of pointing and discussion by little old naked Korean ladies then you've got the typical Korean bath house, which I experienced with my two lovely sisters-in-law. Thankfully, I was feverish from my sinus infection so I didn't particularly mind the commentary from the peanut gallery; I willfully avoided thinking about the fact that I was naked; and I did actually enjoy the painfully vigorous full body exfoliation scrub.

My favorite part was steaming in the various rooms before the naked part (we were given pink shorts and tees because that part is coed). Each one was slightly hotter than the last and had grass mats, salt rocks, or very smooth round rocks (that we called Cocoa Pebbles) to lie on and burrow into. There were also refrigerated and frozen rooms and an extremely hot room that we ducked into briefly. Amazingly, I felt a thousand times better after the jimjillbang, infection-wise, and only minutely demoralized about having gotten naked in front of my husband's family. "I'm practically European now," my inner pep talk went, "and I was way skinnier than those Korean ladies."

photo via http://cmgarlan.blogspot.com 

Encountering the Native Inhabitants

Like any trip overseas, you encounter the people first. And let me tell you, the Korean people did not disappoint. I cannot begin to tell you how kind and generous the Korean people we met were. There were also many opportunities for them to be wildly entertaining.

A few things I have learned (merely by observation, so fault the facts if you must) about Korean people:

After practicing their English on us, these
schoolgirls asked me to take their picture.
Koreans are really rooting for world peace. Doesn't matter what they are standing in front of or who they're with, when a picture is being taken everyone throws up their fingers to show the world that when they visited the golden buddha at the top of that mountain in Jeju, they were also wishing for world peace. Waterfalls? Oh yeah, bring on the world peace. Random statue? World peace! New husband taking a photo of you in a field of wildflowers? World peace.

If you pass a group of 650 school children in Korea, they will all say hi or hello to you in English giggling maniacally when you say it back.

This is a cliff hike directly along the sea. This girl is
wearing 3-in Louboutin shoes on volcanic rock.
Looking good is more important than walking fast. The Chinese had footbinding, the Koreans have fashion. Nearly every woman under 30 wears dangerous looking heels. HUGE, spike heels with rows of buckles and zippers that are usually out of proportionally fancier than the rest of the outfit. And there doesn't seem to be a thought about the activities ahead when getting dressed in the morning. We have seen the fashion outfits with the huge heels on hikes and climbs and on non-work days tottering through the park and down cobblestone streets.

Over the age of approximately 30, looking the part is better than knowing what you're doing. People going hiking have "hiking outfits" complete with those ski pole type things to finish off the look. They have the North Face jackets and pants and shoes, the whole works. And I am unsure if they've ever hiked before. People biking have "biking outfits" complete with head to toe spandex and goggles. Again, unsure if they've ever biked before buying the whole outfit.

Next up, the adventure of using a Korean bathroom!

Friday, May 6, 2011

The First of Many Firsts

Nathan and I recently returned from a pretty significant travel adventure to South Korea. It's taken me a bit of recovery time, so I'm just now starting to blog about it. It hasn't been so much that I needed the trip to sink in as I needed to get healthy. I definitely came back with some sort of respiratory/sinus infection. (To which the doctor I visited last week prescribed not talking and salt water gargling as a cure. Ugh, co-pay down the drain!) I could digress about the crappy doctor for much longer, but I'll spare you.

I also returned to a crashed work computer. This is usually my fastest avenue for picture uploading, so that has also slowed my blogging. However, today I am tackling the first blog entry (small though it is). Hopefully more will follow shortly.

The first of the many firsts we experienced on our trip was our flight path. This was the first trip Nathan and I have ever taken that has gone up over the North Pole! When we looked out our window mid-flight, we could see polar ice caps and huge ice flows. It was pretty amazing.