It was good to know that Korean’s celebrate Halloween, as this is hands down my favourite holiday of the year. I love Halloween, always have, always will. I especially love the giddiness one feels when one makes their own costume and tries it on for the first time (usually at home) and a feeling like your the most interesting and cool person on the planet comes over you. I love it because I am a performance artist at heart and Halloween is basically the unofficial national performance art day for all the countries that participate in it. And lastly, I adore Halloween because I feel most at home in costumes.
For most of my adult life, on Halloween, I have been dressing up like this:
This is an early picture of Monochrome, an action-adventure character I am developing in my spare time.
Every year I take out and put on Monochrome trying to perfect her. I usually perform her on Halloween as a series of long tableau’s being as still as humanely possible so I become more of a statue then an alive participant. She’s fun to put on in groups, at parties and events that I have done over the years because of her opaque black skin, which I’ve found that people don’t really know how to engage and interact with. I think this is because when you put on the such opaque and dark make-up you lose all facial expressions and then no one knows how to read you via facial expressions. It freaks them out really, and it’s fun to play with people like this in a safe way.
I get a thrill out of watching the suspension happen with the people around me as the opaqueness of my skin and the stillness makes me into somewhere between a person, villian and an object.
YET, this year I decided to adopt a more family-friendly costume as I would be wearing it in front kids at the school I teach at. So, I decided to resurrect the ladybug, a costume I remember wearing as one of my first costumes as a child. I love it because of the shell and its simplicity. I even made the shell similar (but bigger) to the last time I wore it and added clay and glitter on top for a fun “campy” DIY effect.
This picture of me in my ladybug costume was taken by the amazing Paige Stewart, a great photographer currently based out of Seoul.
Here are some pictures of me wearing it and some pictures of the kids costumes and my lovely coworkers costumes. It was a great start to Halloween, as this party actually took place the day before Halloween, and featured games, dancing and a haunted house. It was fun enjoying the kids and being apart of their fun.
The gang in costume on Halloween Party one of two.
Despite the unfortunate ‘Indian” impostor costume, these kids are looking pretty cute in all their day-before Halloween glory!
Two great witches!
Eitherway, in Monochrome or not, Halloween is always a blast! On this eve of Halloween I wish everyone the most fantasmic, wonderous, safe and giddy Halloween!
Day 2: Hanok Village & Namsung Tower
This was a beautiful day to take in the sights of Seoul.
What I thought was going to be a quiet and peaceful day ended up as a fun-filled actioned packed culturally enriching day thanks to Alyssa and her parents (pic 9) and my mom (pic 1).
We took in many traditional performances in the Hanok Village near Namsung tower (pic 1-7). Alyssa and I even participated in a circle dance which was so cool (pic 3-4). We made our own vibrant masks, based off of traditional Korean masks (mine, pic 8). We ended off the day with a tour up Seoul tallest tower (pic 10), Namsung tower. This a cool place to go especially at sunset if your in Seoul for a while it is definitely worth the bus fare on small hike up hill. What a wicked day!
Day 1: Momma Visit
Here are my mom’s first impressions of Korea:
Airport…Wow! Seoul is so big, modern and busy!!
Travelling from airport … without out the Korean signage and licence plates, these all look like the modern highways and buildings back home and could be anywhere in North America!
Day 1-2 —- lots of coffee shops, garlic on the subway… not a great gig being a washroom attendant… yuk tongs for the garbage cans.
Subway behaviour: not much talking… lots of watching tv on the their Samsung fablets, or mostly they are asleep, but the subway vendors are hilarious!
Alli’s looked like it did when I Skype with her…
Not too overwhelmed, just want to drink it all in…. by the way where’s the old shit??
My mom’s first impressions read like a beautiful poem so I really just left them as is and raw. To me, fragmented thoughts of overwhelming wonder are really what it’s like when you first get here I think.Korean people really do try, even if the can’t understand you…
On decisions and ideas: “You’re just working a plan.”
This very much sums up both, the spirit of my momma past, present and future, our time together in South Korea this past Chuseok, and my life since I left Canada.
The next several blog post will document the past two weeks spent with my mom. She has even agreed to co-write some of these entries with me.
Before, I start this series I would like to state my most sincere and heartfelt thank you to my mom for coming to visit me. It was a long way to come, a lot of fun was had with her and I miss her already.
Thanks so much momma!
Next post: Day 1 with Momma.
Culture Tuesday’s: Ceramic Heels
Artist: Hong Mi Jeong
When: April 27th, 2013 to May 3rd, 2013.
Where: Jaemigallery, 506-3 Sinsa-dong, Gangnam-gu, Seoul, South Korea.
I really would have liked to have posted this in April, to give both the artist and the space, Jaemi Gallery a plug. However, I didn’t have this blog until end of the May and I just started Culture Tuesday’s last week!
Hong Mi Jeong is a Korean ceramic sculptor and I went to her first solo show, Ceramic Heels. It was the first ever opening I attended in South Korea. It is one of my major goals to see as much art as I can while in South Korea, so I was thrilled to experience my first opening in one of Seoul’s most famous and wealthy neighbourhoods—Sinsa in Gangnam District.
As for the art work, it was placed at ground level, the space was clean save for the work so not to distract the viewer. Their were approximately 19 shoe-scaled ceramic sculptures on display. Both the arrangement and the individual works had a nice balance between solidity and airy fragility provided by both the earthy ceramic material and the subject matter of women’s high-fashion heels. The work seemed like a perfect candidate to be entered into The Bata Shoe Museum in Toronto, Ontario, Canada a museum dedicated to the story and artful history of shoe design.
Overall, the works were engaging and their was quite a good number who turned out for the opening in the airy minimalistic space and it was a lot of fun. Great work Hong Mi Jeong!
Hanagae Beach : A great beach not far away!
Hanagae Beach on Muuido island is so very close to Seoul, it’s like a 30 minute bus ride directly from the Incheon Airport and to get their is easy, cheap and fast. You can take one of three buses #222, 220 or 306 bus from the Departure wing bus bay #7 at ICN airport. 222 and I believe 220 drop you directly off at Muuido Ferry terminal, whereas 306 drops you off at the road near the road to the ferry terminal. You can pay 1,500 W (approx. $1.50 CAD) on either bus to get you to the Muuido Ferry Terminal. Then you pay a one-way fare of 3,000 W (approx. $3.00 CAD) to walk onto the Ferry, you don’t pay this on the way back. Last, you take the green bus (another 1,500 W fare) waiting right at the end of the ferry dock as you walk off the boat and it will take you right up to the main entrance of Hanagae beach. All the buses take t money so if you don’t have cash you can still. It’s just this simple.
A few of us took this very same route to savour the last bit of gorgeous summer weather In South Korea. We stayed right on the beach in a handy hut that cost 10,000 w + 10,000w (approx. $10 CAD) per person a night, and came with pillows and blankets. There is also a 10,000 w key deposit that you get back at the end too,
We brought some food and also ate some yummy Korean BBQ beach side. This beach was one of the few beaches I’ve been to since coming to korea (and surprisingly i’ve been to quite a few in such a short amount of time) that was closer to the beaches I’ve been used to growing up near the great lakes of Canada. The sand was nice and the beach lesser known so it wasn’t packed the whole time we were there.
Also for those who like ziplining, you can do this here for 30,000 W (approx. $30 CAD along the beach). Personally, I have never gone ziplining before and I want my first experience to be through a dense and magestic jungle. Yet, it seemed safe and fun though!
Some other cool highlights were: blinking and seeing that the almost 1km long shoreline (pic #2) at 3:00 p.m. vanished into rippling waves (pic #6-8) the temperature of soup. Also, at night it was awesome looking out at the flashing lights that seemed like gigantic, distant fireflies in the night sky only to discover they were really just flashlights carried by whole families of Koreans doing some late night clam digging, which was what the lady in pic#3 was also doing during the day.
Overall, it was a quality weekend and I highly recommend anyone in the greater Seoul area who has never been to Hanagae Beach to go before the weather gets to chilly to swim. Right now the water is fantastic so go!
Culture Tuesday’s: Korean Bow Collection 2013 - Martyn Thompson
Since moving here I have been to more openings and galleries than I have in a number of years. I don’t know why I seem to have been hermitting from art since it was in my life as a professional exhibiting artist for many years previous. Either way I am glad I am back viewing art on a weekly basis. I would like this trend to continue, and to help with this effort I will be doing a spot every Tuesday promoting the art spaces and opening I attend that week.
Korean Bow Collection 2013 - “New Works’.
Artist: Martyn Thompson
Location: Color of Money, Ilsan, South Korea.
When: Saturday, August 31st, 2013.
This past weekend I attended my second art opening since moving to South Korea. Thompson’s work is really engaging, performative and layered. His show is installed at a local billard hall/restaurant/bar two districts down from where I live, The Color of Money (they have really good western food including good veggie burgers!).
'New Works,' consists of primarily a series of gorgeously rich, high colour photographs installed in a local expat-friendly Korean bar. Smaller-scaled sculptures are also featured and something I enjoyed at the show as the semi-transparent figurative effect Martyn employed I have seen other artists attempt but few as successfully as he has in “Deep Bow #1”. As this play of heaviness and lightness with the 3-D bowing figure on layered printed glass is not an easy effect to pull off, but he did so quite nicely.
The Korean Bow Collection, whether in its photographic or scultpural manifestations, features the performance of a Korean deep bow from various people who come from various places. I have heard from many others that the Korean bow when performed to another, is a sign of deep respect in traditional Korean culture.
Living in Korea for the past seven months, I have only seen Koreans bow this way less than a handful of times: I saw monks perform a deep bow before the image of Shakyamuni Buddha in a traditional Korean Buddhist temple, and the other time I saw a groom bow in a Korean wedding to the parents of both the bride and the groom both dressed in traditional Korean dress (Hanbok).
The Deep bow imagery Martyn is using seem to me to talk about an intimate struggle going on in Korean culture today. The imagery he uses talks about the layered and complex struggle currently going on between young adults growing up with two major influencing cultures: western culture and Korean culture. What’s important to note here is the the people of South Korea are indigenous to the Korean Peninsula, and the battle between their traditions and the force of outside foreign traditions caused by the pull of global trade is complicated on many levels.
The subject matter is further strengthened by the material aspects of the work, stemming from a layering of fast shutter images capturing the movement of many people from many backgrounds performing the Korean Deep bow, some nude, some in varying states of undress and some in Hanbok.
Furthermore, at the opening, there was also a traditional dance performed in the space and I felt it helped to provide a gentle framework for the viewers, and was a good choice to include.
In the end, I was left feeling both engaged by and a sense of balance from the work between how the subject matter and the physical artifact was presented in the foreigner friendly space in the heart of a Korean suburb on the outskirts of South Korea’s largest city.
So needles to say, if you are in the area of Jeonbalsan, in Ilsan between now and September 14th, be sure to stop by the Color of Money and check out ‘New Works’ by Martyn Thompson, as you will be glad you did.
Getting around in Taiwan:
Getting around in Taiwan is one of the most enjoyable transit experiences I have had in a long time. The subway system is cheap (less than a dollar CAD in most zones), it’s zoned which makes it easy because just by paying you know where your going. The system is in English and easy to navigate—even easier than the KoRail system in South Korea, and it is really easy to navigate here too.
We took bicycles, a boat, the train, the bus, and the subway. In a small city the bikes we rode (pic 7) were really the best way to see a lot of the city of Hualien. We took boats (pic 6) to see a rare glimpse of the majestic sperm whales. We took the train (pic 5) to see Eastern Taiwan in a laid back way riding along with the locals. We took subways (pic 1-4) to see a staggering amount of sites in Taipei in a limited amount of time. The only type of transit we didn’t take (besides cars of course) was Taiwan’s beloved scooters, which are everywhere in-masse. I was a little intimidated by them to be honest and their higher CC limit on the scooters were a no-go this time around.
On a weird note: The Taipei metro single uses passes that look and feel like poker chips but have a sensor that lifts the gate for entry. Space-age poker chips are cool.
The other weird thing about the Taipei subway system is that the bathrooms have a light-up digital LED display that tells you which stalls are occupied and which aren’t. Creepy yet useful, and the shot shows the female washroom, but they also have these for the male washrooms too.
Coming to Taiwan we were worried about the availability of the train tickets in a busy time during the summer. Yet, their was barely a line and plenty of tickets when we got to the station the morning of. Transit went this way throughout the trip. Overall it was one great nice long ride throughout the land of Formosa.
Taiwan: Great Heights
A fear I am currently in the process of over coming is my fear of heights. My fear of heights seems to grow each year along with my determination to stop being so irrationally scared of the immense of space between me and the ground when I am near the edge of something way up high. As my favourite lyric from the much-loved musician, Alanis Morrisette goes, “the only way out is through,” or rather up a mountain.
So in this spirit, I gave myself a proper push in the right direction of freedom from this fear when Alyssa and I decided to ride the The Maokong Gondola (貓空纜車, pic 1 and 2). This gondola ride is a 4.3 km long, lasts about a half and hour one way and follows a path up to Maokong Mountain wherein the greatest distance at one point between the ground and the floor of the gondola is around 300 meters. It was a challenge at times between the whistling wind from the open vents in the gondola, the uneasy swaying of the gondola, the length of time the ride was and the general anxiety that I have from being so far away from the ground.
Yet the white knuckle ride both there and back was worth it as we were fortunate to experience a tea ceremony in what was once the largest tea growing region of Taiwan. We also had some of the best Chinese food I have had to date. Last but not least, we viewed a breath-taking sunset on the cliff top and saw all of Taipei laid out before us. If you are ever in this area, find out when the sun is setting that day and plan to arrive at Taipei Zoo station about a hour and a half before—everything is still open and eating dinner while watching a beautiful sunset is so amazing here!
This night as with many, many other nights since leaving Canada I felt truly elated, and was thankful for the day.
Hot Springs in Taiwan
One of the best ways to for me to unwind is in spas. I love them and I have been going to hot springs around the world since an early age. It is one of my goals to visit every major hot spring in the world.
Taiwan has hundreds of natural hot springs as it is on a collision zone between two major tectonic plates (the Yangtze and Philippine Sea Plates) in the pacific ocean and experiences minor (and sometimes major) seismic activity on a daily basis. Taiwanese hot springs are unique as the water is very clear, and potable. The first mentioning of hot springs in Taiwan were around the 1690’s, but they weren’t developed until the 1800’s by German business men.
The first hot springs to be developed in Taiwan were the Beitou hot springs and were the same ones I soaked in one hot and humid afternoon earlier this month. These hot springs at their rawest sources (pic 1, 3) are immensely hot and not swimmable and boil and bubble like halloween witches’ brew.
To be tolerable to soak tired feet in, the water is either piped into hotel/private spas or the Millenium Hot Springs spa, a public access outdoor natural spring in Beitou, accessible by the Taipei Subway system. Through piping the natural spring water they can control the temperature largely by using water displacement, wherein the hottest pools are right next to the main water pipe and the coolest pool are the farthest away and have been refiltered and recollected many times as the water flows down into successively cooler pools. So you are never uncomfortable in these hot springs because their are many pools to choose from.
Other neat facts:
Bliss: Taroko Gorge National Park
After our whale watching excursion, the next day we got up earlier and spent the whole day at Taroko National Park—the biggest ecotourist draw in Hualien, and a central reason for our choosing to vacation in Taiwan. Like the whole trip it was easy to get to the national park without a car or a scotter.
There is a tourist shuttle run by the city of Hualien that stops at every main trail and attraction in the park. You buy either a 1 day pass (approx. $7 CAD) or a 2 day pass (approx. $14 CAD) at the orange bus terminal building next to the Hualien train station. The bus drops off and picks up folks right outside the ticket booth. Mind you, it is a bus on a laid back island so they take their own time and have their own ways of getting to and from Taroko so don’t take the shuttle if you run on a tight schedule.
For example, on the way up to Taroko we had a driver who talked super-animatedly in non-stop rapid-fire-Taiwanese-dialect Mandarin and sped up and down the winding-twisting hairpin turns of the two lane mountain road making all the tourists squeamish the whole way. The trip took about 50 minutes from the Hualien bus station to the mouth of the Shakadang trail. Whereas, on the way back we had a 50 minute stop on the side in the caves of the Shallow Grotto trail for some unknown reason and this time it took 2.5 hours to get back as the bus driver took every side street between Taroko Gorge and Hualien bus station. Either way, it’s guaranteed to be an adventurous way to get to the gorge.
Coming to the Gorge and Hualien, I had three goals to walk the peaceful river beds of Taroko Gorge National Park via Shakadang trail, walk in the water hewn caves of the Swallow Grotto trail and see a pagoda and temple hidden on the high peaks in Tianxiang village. All were fabulously completed that same afternoon:
1. Shakadang Trail (Pic 1-4):
What a beautiful way to enter into this immense expansive of magnificent wilderness. This trail is marked as an easy walking trail. I was skeptical at first because in S. Korea trails marked as easy are usually uphill most of the way, dirt paths and so not easy. Yet the opposite seems to happen on trails in Taiwan, as the trails here are easier than expected. This trail was a wide stone path with plenty of rest points and even easy steps for anyone who has trouble with the heat or walking longer distances. At the end was a place where you could unofficially dip your toes in the river (as swimming in the national park is officially illegal and subject to a fine, but toe dipping seems to be a gray area). The water was some of the clearest water I have ever dipped my tooties in and a great way to cool off in the rising noon-time heat.
2. The Swallow Grotto Trail (Pic 5-8)
The Swallow Grotto Trail is essentially a walked trail in caves that follow the main highway that snakes along Taroko Gorge National Park that helps to connect the park to the rest of Eastern Taiwan. It’s a pretty trail and it was glorious to take pics in and watch the amusing tourists in their hard hats get creative photo-ops (pic 5).
3. Tianxiang Villiage (pic 9)
Our last stop was to the main village within the park where tourists can get something to eat, rest, and even stay at a super fancy hotel called The Silks (runs at approx. $300 CAD/night). It was a beautiful place to relax in and a worthwhile stop. While we explored the village we also entered a Buddhist temple grounds that was both beautiful and eerie. For this and other temples that were explored in Taiwan please stay tuned for tomorrow’s post about Temples in Taiwan.
Overall, Taroko Gorge was full of both relaxing bliss and adventure. It’s lushness should not be missed on any trip through Taiwan!
Taiwan: Whale watching
This was a highlight of the trip. It was a hot day when we set sail after a last minute decision at about 1:30 in the afternoon, which is a silly thing to do when you can avoid it as Taiwan this time of year is very very hot from 9:00 am until 3:00 p.m, alas, it was a blast anyways.
We were nicely cooled off by the intense splashing as the boat raced after many pods of Sperm whale’s (pic 1, 6 and 7) and a couple of varieties of dolphins (pic 1, 8). It was neat being one of only two white people on the tour, as sometimes I feel this is rare going to touristy things in Seoul.
Seeing live animals swimming near me was an intensely happy experience. I highly recommend this tour to anyone who visits Hualien, it was also pretty cheap only costing the equivalent of $28 CDN.
It was so amazing and so surreal being surrounded by chatty and happy dolphins. Unlike the Sperm whales who were majestic, calm and a bit shy checking us out for five minutes and then disappearing into the deep blue, finishing off with their big picturesque flukes high in the air lowering them into the water slowly getting ready for a deep dive like a polite hand waving good bye to us.
Yet as we watched the hyper dolphins race, dive and slap each other until the tour guide got tired of it and pointed the boat for the shore, I could have sworn the dolphins, who have a brain of similar in size to us, were on a tour of their own. I would like to think our boat was really the Human Tour as we were the ones contained in a small area not them. And regardless of race, age or size we all made the perfect, “Oooo” and, “Awwwe”, noises right on cue whenever the dolphins were, slapping their fins in the water, flipping around, or simply moving.
Oh to be a whale or a dolphin for a day!
The Story of The Three Amigos
This hostel is a great hostel, and in a great location. It looks like a hipster cafe when you walk up to it as it’s so open on the first floor lounge/front desk/kitchen area, it’s comfortable and casual so there’s three big pluses right there!
I have no idea how this hostel got it’s name but the three main staff that operate it are all extremely helpful, friendly and characters in their own right. They made some of the strongest and yummy coffee I have had since leaving Canada, and they look at you funny when you ask how much they want for it. I would have gladly paid for it.
Another big plus of the place is all the people Alyssa and I met while staying there for four nights. We met people from our own neighbourhood back in South Korea (there was a korean english teacher infestion the whole stay), we also met people from all over the U.S., one guy from Russia and another from Switzerland. It was so rad drinking and talking with them after our various adventures in the Hualien area.
So a big thanks goes out to The Three Amigos for being more than just a place to stay, but a landing pad for our Eastern Taiwan adventures!
Next post: Whale watching in Hualien.
Food: Tasty Travels in Taiwan
I ate so well in Taiwan and there are so many meals not photographed here, and talked about, but alas some meals are just not meant to be photographed but simply enjoyed in that moment.
From day one of our journey the food was so good. Even the plane food on Thai Airways was a treat, as there are over five special meal choices to choose from upon purchasing the budget air tickets. On the way there I had Lacto-Ovo vegetarian lasgna, a fresh salad with hard boiled egg on top and a yummy dessert with a nice glass of wine.
On the way back I had Asian-style vegetarian that consisted of two kinds of curry and rice, a quinoa salad and sweet rice with a gin and tonic for an after dinner aperitif. Both meals were the best plane food I have ever had.
Note: the alcohol was free, the meal was free and my flight was 90 minutes, but I still ate a great full course meal; we are so poorly treated by North American airlines!
Later, after mere hours of landing, I had my first genuine Chinese dumpling (leek) in Shilin Night Market in Taipei Taiwan. The rest of the journey was filled with fantastic and cheap Chinese food.
Next, I ate Mao Po Tofu (pic 3) on the top of a 4,000 ft above sea level mountain, and it stands to be the best Chinese I have had to date.
Before that, I ate at many Szechuan inspired Taiwianese roadside stalls nights before in Hualien. I was filled nicely for what converts to $1.50 Cdn at one such stall. I enjoyed for $5 Cdn some amazing vegetarian Chinese food at a Buddhist Buffett (pic 2) right next to a brightly coloured and adorned temple just a block north of the Train station in Hualien.
Yet, some of the best meals were the ones I wasn’t eating, but was watching (and photographing) in the markets of Taipei. It was a marvel to see how such humble ingredients could be so artfully coated, prepared, marinated, barbecued and cooked right before my eyes!
Lastly, on our final night in Taiwan, Alyssa and I went wild and ordered fresh Mussels in Taiwanese-style marinade, fresh stir-fried bamboo shoots and fresh escargot (pic 9). It was my first time ever eating a snail, it was hard ethically to eat for a few seconds as I enjoy snails as a species, and a little chewy as they were quite large for snails, but overall satisfying and a worthwhile experience.
The whole meal, including Taiwan beer cost approx. $18 Cdn, and was the second most expensive meal we had on our trip (Mountain-top Mao Po Tofu was the most expensive coming in at $22 for the both of us, including a tea ceremony). We ate in Danshui, a district right on the ocean, a lot of fun and a touristy part of Taipei.
So a big shout out goes to all those hardworking people who fed me during my stay in Taiwan—your food was so good! Thank you!
Next post: The Story of The Three Amigos.