Tuesday, May 21, 2013
A Need for Sherlock
The streets in Seoul
have the reputation of being really safe.
That's what my engaging host
- and everyone else we met during our travels - keeps repeating with more than a little sense of pride. Don't really blame them. Swayed by their utter conviction, I am starting to believe it as well. Hard not to when you see ostensibly vulnerable young females tottering home in their skyscraper heels way past midnight through the darkest back-alleys without fear of molestation.
|Though it might be worth some crime to be rescued by a cop who looks like Choi Siwon.|
Even the house that I lived in, a hanok
-style homestay only has brick walls that are barely five feet high. Wouldn't take much for an aspiring thief to boost themself over for a quick steal. After all the rooms in the wooden hanok
only have sliding doors without locks; even the doors themselves wouldn't provide much security since it's made of flimsy wood and paper.
Yet I felt really safe. With the host living in his own abode several blocks down, it was only Charming Calvin and me in the old-fashioned hanok
home. Still we felt secure enough to even leave the main gates wide open throughout the day.
No fear of snatch thieves. No fear of robbers. No fear of assailants.
Sherlock might be out of a job.
Which is something our ruling government patently fails to understand. Trotting out bales of statistics to prove that crime is at an all-time low wouldn't pacify the raging masses
in the least. Who cares about perfectly polished numbers when someone you know has been butchered and robbed several weeks past? Who needs beautiful pie charts and graphs when even senior government servants
are gunned down in broad daylight? With the perceived rise in crime
, even our recreational parks don't feel safe anymore.
Certainly no crime expert but increasing police visibility on our streets as a deterrent would help. Can't walk by two blocks in Seoul without seeing the boys in blue standing vigilant at the corner.
Labels: Issues, Travel
Posted by savante at 3:41 PM
Saturday, May 18, 2013
A Night of Tradition
Every time I hear the word 'tradition', it doesn't take very long before I recall our dogmatic Tevye and his ultra-orthodox village ranting about their all-important religious traditions. Well, I might not be at the faraway Russian steppes but the Koreans situated on the other side of the world feel pretty much the same.
In fact our endlessly enthusiastic host lost no time after our arrival
to organize a traditional music evening strictly for our enjoyment. Something that singularly unnerved me since I can hardly bear sitting through a torturous night of clanging instruments without a single singing voice to distract me.
Really. I don't do instrumental music.
Had the prerequisite ten years of endless piano lessons - at least counted as essential for all good Asian boys - but I still can't sit through an entire recital without nodding off. Well unless there's something that stirs the blood like Tchaikovsky or Paganini!
So to my encouraging host, I did my best to stall for time by hemming and hawing, only to be beat by our Charming Calvin who found himself simply dazzled by the detailed description given of the gayageum
s and geomungo
s. Easily convinced that fellow.
|Dammit I don't want to listen to traditional music!!|
Which is how I ended up dressed
to the nines for the evening concert. I wasn't entirely wrong about the music though.
Calvin : Enjoying the music now?
Paul : You must be kidding. Sounds like someone chopping wood.
Calvin : Not even a bit?
Paul : If I were king, I would have decapitated the entire lot, possibly razed the entire village down, all for hurting my ears with such horrible cacophony.
Calvin : Aiyo!
Paul : I might save the drum fellow though. He is cute. Bed slave material.
Sorry to say I'm still not a fan of traditional music, at least not the usual kind hauled out to bore the starched-up courtiers into a submissive stupor. Most times throughout the night I was thankful I had sufficient makgeolli
- a wonderfully sweet rice wine - to bear me through the ordeal.
Perhaps if the traditional music was a lil jazzed up in a modern way perhaps. Maybe with a voice or two. Such as the new age Korean band Infinity of Sound here.
Or maybe pansori
- basically storytelling through music and words - a brief segment of the evening that I enjoyed most of all. The talented storyteller sings out her tale with the help of a trusty fan and a fellow musician beating a drum.
Though I understood barely a word, even with the hastily whispered translations from the host, the plot came through quite clearly through the studied nuances in the storyteller's tone, expression and movement.
Posted by savante at 11:08 PM
Tuesday, May 14, 2013
'You can never be overdressed or overeducated.'
Doesn't seem like my fellow countrymen are heeding his well-intentioned advice
. Even at our own regular Netherfield soirees
, we have unmindful guests arriving in their ratty tees and casual flip flops wondering aloud why the rest of us are so dressed up. The rest of us blithely wonder whether they've just rolled out of their beds to lazily snatch up whatever's left on the top of the laundry basket.
Presenting the proper image seems to be all important for the image-conscious Koreans though, especially judging by the chic, nattily dressed city folk traversing the streets of Seoul. Sure, most don't actually resemble the eeriely immaculate Kpop idols with their perfectly coiffed hair and ready smiles but it's patently obvious that just a little more care has been taken just before stepping out.
Just a tad more dressy. A little more attention to what they're wearing that day. Maybe a lapel pin to the jacket. A comb through the hair. A lil bit of lip gloss. That quick glance at the hall mirror moments before leaving.
Definitely not the swift rush-and-grab rummage through the crammed closet before rushing out that I am starting to suspect of the more casually dressed sartorial suspects
. Which honestly only works if you're fortunate enough to look like this.
|No, sadly I don't look like Kim Bum - who looks effortlessly gorgeous in a tee and shorts - so I have to at least wear something really nice.|
Which is why we felt we needed to step up our game a little over there. After all I could hardly pass on my far from Adonis-like
looks so I seriously needed something at least presentable to wear. Which seems to be cue for the endless comments from our friends on how shockingly overdressed we are.
Friend : You're wearing a spiffy suit over there?
Paul : Yeah, a suit.
Friend : Wah so overdressed! But it's a holiday!
Paul : So? You expect me to don bermudas and a tank top when it's 14 C?
Friend : Definitely not a suit. Maybe jeans and a tee?
Paul : Why not a suit?
Friend : Because it's uncomfortable!
Paul : Why would you buy an uncomfortable suit!
And the conversation continues. Surely they didn't expect to see me travelling abroad dressed like a sloppy hobo? Don't they ever heed the immortal words of Oscar Wilde? When did bermudas and flip flops become readily accepted everywhere?
Needless to say, the Koreans - especially our hosts at the hanok
- were truly impressed. Even more when we dressed to the nines for a traditional music night they organized at their home. Guess we did set a pretty high bar for future Malaysians.
Labels: Shopping, Travel
Posted by savante at 5:30 PM
Friday, May 10, 2013
May does brings showers but it also heralds the beginning of my annual spring break. Surprised quite a few people when they found out that I'd be heading to Seoul yet again, not the least amongst their critical number my very own sister-in-law, Sassy Sue
Sue : Seoul again? Did you secretly marry a Kpop star there?
Paul : I wish. Oh Choi Siwon, I want to bear your children!
Just imagine Siwon packed into a Samsung box! Though I wish they would export hunky Korean boys along with kimchi and soju, all my desperate entreaties to the customs officer didn't seem to make any impression. Blame the insuperable language barrier. Despite not having the incredibly fetching Mr Choi as a souvenir of my trip, that didn't make Seoul any less irresistible.
|Dammit! Siwon should be in the bag!|
Yes, I was just there exactly a year
ago but it's just... so exceptionally peaceful there in the land of the morning calm. Even with the dire threat of the despotic Kim Jong-Un eagerly waiting to rain a sea of blazing fire on the bustling metropolis of Seoul.
But I like it there. Even with the insuperable language barrier mentioned above - though I am starting to understand bits of the written alphabet. Since it was originally created to be easily and quickly understood, turns out it's not all that difficult to pick up written Korean. Words such as bibimbap 비빔밥 and kimchi 김치 I found easy enough to read on the billboards - tells a lot about me that I've memorized most of the words in the menu.
That didn't stop me from loving the trip though.
- Something about late spring mornings on a heated ondol
floor in our hanok
guesthouse with coffee and bread ready at the breakfast parlour.
- Something about dressing up in fine threads with suits and ties for a day about town with Kpop blasting in the background.
- Something about lazy strolls through the narrow lanes with the boyfriend going in and out of quaint little neighbourhood stores selling peculiar knick knacks from delicately painted music boxes to men's platform shoes.
- Something about companionably roasting galbi
or munching on fried chicken wings as we watch the numerous suited Korean salarymen hurry home.
- Something about lying down on the courtyard platform in the evening chill with natural face masks generously slathered on our faces.
True, it was a relaxing trip for me but I still move just a tad slower than lightspeed so you have to ask Charming Calvin - who seemed to be huffing and puffing throughout - on how much he liked the place.
Posted by savante at 3:59 PM
Monday, May 06, 2013
Mama and Calvin
Till now I have a rather... peculiar relationship with Charming Calvin's parents. Though it's been quite a while since he came out to both his parents, denial seems to be the prevailing attitude in his home. The Borgia variation of the infamous don't ask, don't tell
. Presumably his formidable mother
, Madame Borgia must have successfully deduced our relationship to one another - could there be any other logical conclusion? - but even then, she barely betrays any of her emotions by even a disapproving purse of her lips.
Well maybe once
So it's all sweetness and civility whenever we have our tense lunches. Though his parents may be seriously taciturn, I do try my best to draw them into what little conversation we may have, twiddling my thumbs all the while hoping Madame Borgia
doesn't reach for the kitchen knives.
Which makes me wonder how Calvin views my own mother. Since they do spend quite some time in each other's company, surely he has made his own carefully guarded conclusions on my wildly opinionated, highly judgemental mother
. Assume Calvin remains quiet whenever I leave the room since I can't possibly fathom what they find to talk about when I'm not there.
|Calvin : His mother comes to Pemberley. What shall I do!|
Turns out I wouldn't have to imagine for very long.
Mother : I'll be going for a course next month.
Paul : Nice. Which exotic locale this time?
Mother : Not very far away, it'll be in town. I was thinking of staying over with Calvin.
I think I must have choked on my drink at that moment.
Paul : You're staying over at Pemberley?
Mother : Yes, for a few days. Maybe three. Would it be alright with Calvin?
Paul : I am sure it would be alright. What a delightful idea.
Mother : Be sure to tell him.
Didn't take but a moment after she put down the receiver for me to call up Charming Calvin. Rather than betray any misgiving, our stolid fellow Calvin only nodded and agreed to the arrangements. No doubt he learnt the art of unflappability from Madame Borgia.
My mother and Calvin in Pemberley without me as a buffer. Hmm. Here be dragons
Labels: Calvin, Family
Posted by savante at 3:56 PM