Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Train Ride Out of Jakarta

For my Christmas break this year, I decided to visit Indonesia. Many colleagues of mine from both Korea and India had sung their praises for the captivating beauty of Bali in particular, and after reading some social media posts on the area, I felt compelled to also visit. What's not to love - culture, warm climate, inexpensive, and a direct flight from Seoul. 
Prior to heading over to Bali, I wanted to check out two UNESCO World Heritage sites on Java - Borobudur and Prambanan. My flight into Jakarta also enabled me to make an overnight visit to a former colleague.
Very early the next morning, a taxi arrived ahead of schedule to take me to the train station. In the 45 minute stretch to the station, we drove past some USA familiars such as ACE Hardware, KFC, a few Starbucks, as well as South Korea's Lotte Mart and France's Carrefour. The city did have some tall buildings, but houses were much more plentiful than in Seoul, where high-rises were the norm for most dwellings. Crosses that were so pervasive in the Seoul skyline were replaced with minarets. Motorcycles were quite common on the road, along with cars and a few rickshaws.  In the section of the toll-heavy road we took, I saw no ambling cows, a bit less garbage, and not the horn-honking culture of India.   

Just as in the railway stations of India, porters were plentiful, deftly carrying heavy luggage, including brightly colored Hello Kitty and Frozen pieces. The station was active, but not the crowded beehive of commerce to which I had become accustomed at various Indian train stations. Unlike India though, my train actually left on schedule. The train coach was air conditioned. clean-ish, and only had two seats on each side. Within a short time, the taller, more modern city buildings were replaced by shacks and more run-down houses. 
Laundry of many colors hung from clotheslines - some very close to the train tracks. I wondered how clean the clothes would be after so many trains passed by them as they tried to dry in the humid weather. Graffiti-covered walls provided a bit of a barrier to some dwellings, but many of the corrugated tin shacks came right up to the tracks. Some kids standing on improvised bamboo porches waved as the train rolled past. Uniformed railway workers stood erect and rather idle-looking at the doorways of the many smaller rail stations. 

Motorbikes and a few cars quickly multiplied at the crossing gates, patiently idling until the train went on through. It was obvious that such waiting was common.
Gradually, buildings became less frequent and gave way to the Java countryside. 

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Illuminated Christmas, Seoul-Style

The commercial area of Myeongdong in Seoul is beautifully illuminated with colorful Christmas lights. I'm not into buying overpriced designer stuff found inside the malls, but I do like the decorations!

Monday, December 21, 2015

Preparations for the Christchild

Outside the Myeongdong Cathedral in Seoul, a worker assembles the nativity scene. It was rather refreshing to see such public displays of CHRISTmas.  

Saturday, December 19, 2015

The (Crowded) Commercial Streets of Myeongdong

After our visit to the Myeongdong Cathedral, my friend and I headed over to the "other" part of Myeongdong - the shopping area. The streets were crammed with people eager to partake of the incredible array of shopping opportunities in the stores and along the streets. English signage dominated here, each fancy store competing to sell its luxury goods and high-end items. 

Clothing wasn't just for people though. Seoul's very pampered pooches had quite the assortment of jackets to keep their carefully groomed fur (and sometimes dyed) warm. 

Hats, gloves and other accessories were stacked and displayed. I couldn't resist to buy some cute patterned socks (made in Korea!) for just over $1 each.

All that shopping makes a person hungry. Fortunately there are plenty of food stalls and restaurants to satisfy those under a variety of budgets and culinary preferences.

Myeongdong also had some romantic-looking walkways.
I wonder of the fur coat is real...

Friday, December 18, 2015

Christmas around the world

It is a rainy, Christmas Day morning here in Bali. When the rain lets up, I hope to go on a walk through the rice paddies around Ubud, then meet a colleague who is also in town with her family to have Christmas dinner this evening. Right now it's a great time to finish the post I started before I left Seoul for my trip in Indonesia. 

On some Christmas breaks, I have taken advantage of the time to travel to new destinations. Many of them were to warmer destinations, but others (such as Eastern Europe) were not. When visiting Pondicherry (South  India) with friends, we were able to visit a church celebrating the birth of their Savior, followed by some festive games. In places such as Prague, I relished in the festive atmosphere of the well-lit city squares, enhanced by Christmas carols. In less Christian areas, we made do with secular signs of the holiday-for instance, the skinny Malaysian Santa at our hotel. 

Next year, my Christmas celebrations will be much more familiar to me, as I will be moving back to Wisconsin. It will be nice to once again be with family as we sing those magnificent Christmas hymns in church, followed by family gatherings and other traditions. 

Wherever you are, a most blessed Christmas to you!

Pondicherry, India

Penang, Malaysia 

Mesa, Arizona 
Bratislava, Slovakia
Udaipur, India 

Pondicherry, India 

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Interior of Myeongdong Cathedral

The interior of the Myeongdong Cathedral is quite beautiful. In a typical Gothic Revival style, the ceilings are high and vaulted. 

Stained glass windows provide light, decoration, as well as illustrate stories of the Bible and the Rosary. Originally created by the Benedictine Monasteries in France, the windows were restored in 1982.
Nativity and Adoration of the Magi

Jesus and His Twelve Disciples

The Fifteen Decades of the Rosary

Pipe organ
I'd love to hear these pipes bellow out the organ sound.
Statue of St. Kim De-gun
Although it is an active church, visitors are welcome. If you're in need of a quiet solace from the hubub of the nearby shopping, check it out!

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Myeongdong Cathedral and a French-speaking Korean Nun

Prior to visiting the Christmas lights around the shopping area of Myeongdong, I visited the Myeongdong Cathedral. The Catholic church was established at the site in 1784. With its brick, Gothic style, the Cathedral (built in 1898) is a stark contrast to the modern, commercial area around it. 
During the 1970's and 1980's, the Myeongdong Cathedral was a focal point for the democratic movement in Korea, as well as for the advocacy of the advancement of human rights. It continues to be very active in mission work as well as support of the local community. 

As the first church in Korea that is built in the Gothic style, Myeongdong Cathedral has been designated a historical site. Typical of many Gothic churches, it has a Latin Cross floor plan with a center and two side aisles. Its roof is 23 meters (75 feet) high, with the bell tower 45 meters (148 feet) tall. The exterior lacks any significant decorative elements, such as gargoyles.

When I stopped to take the exterior photo at dusk, a Korean nun stopped to greet my friend and me. After inquiring about where we were from and what brought us to Korea (my friend and I are both teachers at Seoul Foreign School), the nun switched from Korean to a mixture of French and English. She explained that she has been living in France. Although my French was a bit rusty, it felt good to be able to converse a bit - vs. my nonexistent Korean! It did feel a bit strange speaking French to a Korean nun.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

The Art of Money

The small stalls and shops of Hanoi are so inviting for onlookers. The goods in the front of one shop particularly caught my attention. Such colorful sculptures - all made from money! (Too bad they were fakes). Although the very plain "Bens" were in there, the other currencies were far more colorful. 

Which is your favorite?

Friday, December 11, 2015

Vietnamese Water Puppets

The Vietnamese water puppet show was one of my highlights during my brief visit to Hanoi. Conveniently held in a building right next to the Hoan Kiem Lake, the Thang Long Puppet Theatre was an easy find. Although we had purchased our $4.50 ticket earlier in the day, there was no reserved seating. It was a full house and I had the unfortunate luck to be behind some tall foreigners.
The show started with the traditional Vietnam orchestra playing various instruments and singing in Vietnamese. Then the wooden puppets appeared in the murky water, manipulated by puppeteers standing in waist-high water behind the rattan screen. Such a setup is similar to traditional village puppetry, except that the performances would be held in rice paddies.
Emperor and turtle

Each puppet is hand-carved from lightweight wood. After painting, they are covered with lacquer to help slow down the damaging effects of the water. Some puppets such as the fish are divided into a few sections, articulated to achieve more fluid movement. Each puppet is attached to a bamboo pole that is about 4.6 meters (15 feet) long. A human figure puppet typically is fixed to a floating base at the end of the pole, which includes a rudder and acts like a fulcrum for any string that controls the upper body. Some of those might be controlled by two people, one for the pole and the other for the strings. Up to eight puppeteers might be behind the screen at once, carefully manipulating the puppets to ensure fluid movement and yet keep the bamboo poles under water and out of sight. Some of the puppets could be between 10-15kg (22-33 lbs)and .6 meters (2 feet) tall; combined with the water, controlled movements would require a fair amount of strength.

Themes of the puppet show were directly related to life in the village; fishing, farming, rice planting, harvest, and special festivals. Folktales, legends, and history was also featured.
Dance of the Water Fairies

My favorite section of the performance was near the end, in which the dance of the water fairies was featured. The synchronous movement of the puppets was quite impressive. I would have loved for the performance to have gone longer, but alas after around 50 minutes, the show was over. Most people quickly exited, but I lingered a bit longer to view some of the puppet displays in the building.
Add caption
In addition to my short video above, you can find out more about the behind-the-scenes art of water puppetry in the documentary video below.

Tuesday, December 08, 2015

A Walk Around Hoan Kiem Lake

With some extra time prior to our water puppet show, we decided to take a walk around Hoan Kiem Lake. Although it isn't all that large (one could circumnavigate it in around 30 minutes), it is considered the spiritual heart of Hanoi and is a great orientation landmark.  Park benches and paths ringed the lake. In the evening, people enjoyed the slightly cooler temperatures and went for a stroll. I even saw a wedding couple posing for photographs. In the early morning, the area was a popular place for doing tai chi and other exercising.
Besides the red Huc bridge, the other lake structure that caught my eye was the Turtle Tower. Erected in 1886, this tower is linked to the legend of a golden turtle god who asked the emperor for his magic sword - hence the name  "Lake of the Restored Sword." The lake indeed is well known for its large freshwater turtles. In fact, the largest one recorded weighed 250 kilograms (550 pounds) and 2.1 meters (6.89 feet) long. 

I loved the French colonial buildings across the street. Some were converted into cafés and high-class restaurants. 

I bet this hotel cost quite a bit more than our $22/night place.

We were enjoying our leisurely stroll so much that we nearly were late for the water puppet show. Thank goodness we had spotted the show's location earlier, enabling us to quicken our paces and arrive just as it started. 

Sunday, December 06, 2015

Street-Side Shave

Hanoi, Vietnam
In places like Hanoi and Kolkata, the street is where the action is. Not only can you buy your produce, get a meal, and pick out some beautiful flowers on the street, but you can also get a buzz or shave. 
Kolkata, India
What's your favorite (or most unusual) street-side activity?

Thursday, December 03, 2015

Kanggang-Suwollae Dancers, Korea

Another dance performance observed at school. I loved the playful interweaving of the girls as well as the synchronized, flowing circular movements.

Kanggang-Suwollae, meaning Moon Dance, traditionally took place on the full moon of the first and eighth lunar months. At this time, women, wearing a blouse & skirt and hair tied back with ribbons, gathered in the field and joined hands to sing and dance. Performed only by women, the dance sought to bring about a good harvest. The dance begins rather slowly incorporating a solo call and choral response,  but the pace quickens to a whirlwind pace at the end.

Tuesday, December 01, 2015

Gakshi-Choom Puppet Dancers

These traditional Korean dancers performed at our school. According to my Korean colleagues, the dance is a variation of the Gakshi-Choom performance. Traditionally, the Gakshi-Choom dance is a duet puppet dance, in which the performers playfully dance to light, lively music.