April 30, 2007

Yellow Winds

Yellow Dust cloud sweeping from the
Gobi Desert over Korea

When you ask a Korean why they are so proud of their country you will almost always be told, with great enthusiasm, that they are proud of their four seasons: Summer, Fall, Winter, and Spring. If you are like most people I know you will stand there bewildered, wondering why they are so anxious to lecture you on something all consider a global occurrence. Most of the time when I encounter this spiel I sit back and smile knowing full well that there is no point in correcting the situation or even in clarifying.But lately I have come to realize that what they are preaching is not the truth. If you will let me clarify.

It is true, in Korea there are four seasons: Summer, Fall, Winter and Yellow Winds.

Yellow winds, also known as yellow dust, or yellow sands, are a phenomenon to this poor prairie girl. While I am used to dust kicking up from the surrounding fields I have never heard of pollution and sands traveling thousands of miles to settle on a poor unsuspecting peninsula. And this is exactly what is happening over here in my neck of the woods in Asia. Just to put it into perspective, "Shanghai on April 3, 2007 recorded an air quality index of 500, in the US, a 300 is considered 'Hazardous' and anything over 200 is 'Unhealthful'(Wikipedia)". Now I have been sick for just a little over a month. Sick enough that in Canada one would never dream of working, but here the doctors claim that there is nothing wrong with me and despite my best efforts to rest, eat well and exercise I persist in being sick. Tell me could it be the air?

Here is just one more anecdote to leave you thinking. In the morning when I walk to school I see men and women out leaving for work. However, before they get in their car they need to get their broom out of the back seat and wipe the windows of their car clear of all of the pollution and debris that floated out of the magical nighttime sky. Imagine if you will a world where "sulphur, (an acid rain component), soot, ash, carbon monoxide, and other toxic pollutants including heavy metals (such as mercury, cadmium, chromium, arsenic, lead, zinc, copper) and other carcinogens, often accompany dust storms, as well as viruses, bacteria, fungi, pesticides, antibiotics, asbestos, herbicides, plastic ingredients, combustion products as well as hormone mimicking phthalates (Wikipedia)" float in through your bedroom window as you sleep at night and poison your children as they play helplessly in the neighborhood parks.

What a wonderful world we have created!

April 21, 2007

A Fishy Birthday!

A surprise birthday trip! I love a good surprise.

As Trevor planned we hopped on a bus and headed to the southern city of Icheon. Arriving at a spa I was ready for a relaxing birthday treatment. Tea baths, herb baths, mud baths, amethyst heat rooms, and then there were the fish...

The relaxing day came to a sudden halt. "Good for your health," I was told. "Good for your skin," I was coaxed. Apparently these fish are supposed to nibble away any and all dead skin which may be on my body. Nibble. My skin!

'Alright,' I thought. And then I stepped in. It was a sight for the Koreans... but then again I usually am. Squiggling and squirming with thousands upon thousands of these little thumb sized fish tickling me, eating me. It was terrible. I laughed and I curled into a ball as to cover as much exposed skin as possible. It felt like little vacuum cleaners sucking and pulling. I closed my eyes, grabbed Trevor's arm and thought like a true Andrus, 'I can't waste my five bucks."

An hour later, a considerably calmer and more relaxed me would tell you that the experience was worth the money and time. I am not sure about the healing powers of the fish, but I am sure that I will never have another experience like this.

April 14, 2007

Happy Birthday Kim Il Sung

Happy birthday to you, happy birthday to you! Happy birthday dear Mr. Eternal President, Great Leader, Kim Il Sung. Happy Birthday to you!

Kim Il Sung turns the big 95 today. Well that would be if he were alive, but if your a man immortalized as a god in North Korea you do not need to be alive to enjoy such things as having a country wide celebration for your birthday; cake, ham, and food baskets for everyone (food shortages hold no power over such an occasion). It is also not necessary to be alive to be voted into government as the Head of State, he holds the worlds record for longest ruling president. Even today he technically still leads the country, which means his son, Kim Jung Il, is only the commander of the DPRK's forces and is still subject to his fathers authority.

Much of the world knows this man only as a ruler who was personal friends with Stalin and who utilized Stalinist Russias' help in rebuilding, modelling and sustaining their blood soaked country.
After living in South Korea and visiting his domain we now know that there is so much more to this man which the world is not seeing because of world power agendas. Here is what you are not being told but need to know:
  • It is projected that currently there will be a loss of some 3 million North Korean lives due to food shortages in the crumbling regime. Take a look at the picture below. Tell me does it look like Kim Jung Il is concerned?
  • There are an estimated 150,000 -200,000 inmates within North Korean gulags, where the annual mortality rate reaches 25% +. Escapees have reported torture, starvation, rape, murder, forced labour, chemical weapon testing on humans, mass executions, and brutalization of any pregnant woman usually to the point of death. (Nazi Germany all over again).
  • It has been said that the haze over South Korea is the remains of charred prisoners cremated some 50 miles north of Seoul.
  • International human rights organizations Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, among others, accuse North Korea of having one of the worst human rights records of any nation, with a severe restriction on political and economic freedoms.
Aid is being offered, however it is said that this aid is only diverted to the army, allowing the regime to save it's foreign currency- which it should spend on cereals-for weapons purchases and sumptuous feast's in honor of the country's leaders (Kang Chol-Hwan, The Aquariums of Pyongyang).

So with that said, "Happy birthday, Kim Il Sung!"

Operation: Easter Smile

Greetings and good day. Today's operation is as follows:

  • On April 20th, Petty Officer Short Stuff (Mom) accompanied by Petty Officer Crazy Locks (Dad) will execute Operation ES. The prime objective is to deliver a survival package to Sergeant Redhot, Corporal Good Lookn' and Specialist Kimchi.
  • The top secret package will be put together by Sergeant Major Lift Kit (Dave), First Sergeant Rookie Mom (Karalee), and Private Smiles (Baby Dawson); and will include camouflage clothing, chocolate, chocolate and more chocolate. It will also include a tactical map of the Settlers of Catan.
Operation to commence immediately following briefing.

April 7, 2007

Spring Flower Festival

Yeouido Spring Flower Festival

After almost passing out on the subway today from the heat of the mass amounts of people , Rachel managed to gather the strength to get into the cherry blossom festive mood. Rachel doesn't always pose for the camera this way but to get the true Korean experience, she thought that she would try acting like one. Like they say, "When in Rome" and if anyone is wondering where the pictures are of Trevor posing , I have just one thing to say. "I'm not in Rome."

After walking past the 1400 cherry trees, we decided to take a stroll through Yeouido Park which would be the "central park" of Seoul.

To end our festive experience, we decided to stop and watch some local talent and in return, we became local celebrities ourselves. Once the performer in the white glasses spotted us, he yells out, "Hello!" I wave and say hello back. Thinking that was it, he yells out, "Where are you from?" At this point, many people from the crowd split apart and motion for us to move forward. I tell him that we are from Canada and then he proceeds to tell the audience where we are from. Hundreds of eyes turn upon us then the performer asks, "What do you do?" and, "Do you like Korean food?" and finally he says, "Enjoy Korea!" All the people give out a loud applause and turn back to the entertainer. You would almost think that they had never seen two white people before.

April 3, 2007

Highlights of Korea - Mom and Dad

Our highlights of Korea -

The Coolest Thing - "Nanta" - a non-verbal performance of reckless rhythms that dramatize customary Korean percussion in a strikingly comedic stage show, very high energy.

The Oddest Thing - While out hiking on Ray & Trevor's mountain being invited by a Korean family to their home for Shabu-shabu, a traditional Japanese dinner and a not-so traditional Korean imitation. Not to mention all of the incredible help from so many Koreans on the subway and the street. You just needed to reach for a map and they were there to help.

The Most Unusual Thing- Moving trucks using power lifts to deposit household items onto balconies 15 or more storeys up. Also, the "claw" used by the recycle/garbage trucks to load in the unwanteds. Self-propelled flat deck trailers powered by briggs & straton type engines, and steered by foot - Fred Flintstone style.

The Grossest Thing - Silk-worm larvae. If they taste like they smell, you wouldn't dream of eatting them!! Yet Koreans LOVE them. The line up down the street attests to this.

The Funniest Thing- Kimchi stealing Wilf's socks/watch/bookmarks, and Cindy's toothbrush!! That one went in the garbage.

The Cutest Thing - The kinder-kids from Ray & Trev's schools.

The Yummiest Thing- Besides Nepalize food, because that wasn't Korean, - the street vendors. Soooo good!!

Bean fish, Hotteck, cornbread/egg, BBQ chicken on a stick, bite size custard cakes, waffles with honey sauce inside, and cabbage dogs.

The Most Unsettling Thing - The DMZ (demilitarized zone) between South and North Korea, very thought provoking. Here we visited the third tunnel which was discovered by the South Koreans in 1978. It is a tunnel which was built by the North Koreans that is 1,635m in length, 2m in width, 2m in height. It is large enough to move an army ten thousand strong in full kit within a hour of Seoul. They have discovered three more tunnels which are similar and estimate that there are ten more that are unbeknownst to the South Korean Army.

Also, Wilf smuggled his knife into North Korean (This is not something that we would recommend).