Sunday, March 21, 2010

Bump, Set, Kixx!

Nissa and I had a chance to check out Korea's pro volleyball league for the first time this weekend.  We saw a men's match and a women's match -- both of which were pretty damn entertaining.

The above video is from the women's match between GS Kixx and Hyundai Hillstate.  Note the corporate team names, which is standard in Korean professional sports.  Exhibit A: the Kixx' mascot, which is a gas pump.

While the game was great, the highlight for me was the crowd participation.  As you can see, they're led by an energetic conductor and a group of cheerleaders.  Nissa was the first to notice the sound effects that play in sync with each bump, set, and spike by the home team -- "G...S...KIXX!"  The woman who spikes the ball in this clip is Destinee Hooker, an import from the U.S., who dominated whenever she was on the court.  She even had her own theme song (which you can hear) that they played after she made kills like that.  Granted, a few of the other players had theme songs, too, but I thought her's was the best -- "My Destinee, my Destinee..."

We had another first after the game as well.  Yellow sand (황사).  It's the toxic dust that blows in from China every spring and can be hazardous to your health.  We couldn't really see much since it was dark outside -- in daylight, a yellow haze hangs over the city like a fog -- but we took note of what the locals did and covered our faces as we headed for the subway.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Ganghwa Island

We took a short day trip to Ganghwa Island (강화도) yesterday.  The main highlight of the journey was a brisk hike up Mani-san, which still had traces of snow left on it from the week before.  From its peak we were able to get a nice view of the Yellow Sea and make out some of the smaller islands nearby.
There is a legend that the founder of Korea's first kingdom built an altar on top of this mountain and made sacrifices to his ancestors there.
We were the very last ones down the mountain at sunset.  By the time we got back to the bus stop it was dark and quiet in town; quite a difference from what we're used to in the city.

Another thing we're not used to: random acts of kindness.  A woman actually saw us waiting in the cold and invited us into her store to keep warm while we waited for our bus home.  A bit taken aback, we accepted.  But being Americans we couldn't help but keep our guard up.
It was a butcher shop after all.

Brain-eaters at the ball

I just finished the hit mashup novel "Pride and Prejudice and Zombies" last week. Read my review of it here.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

White-naped cranes

Nearest train station to the DMZ.
This line is part of the inter-Korean railway that was rebuilt in 2007.

I went up to the DMZ area again last Friday, this time for a piece for Radio Netherlands Worldwide. We were lucky enough to get pretty close to a family of white-naped cranes. The cranes are endangered in Asia, and symbolize longevity here in Korea.

Following are a few highlights from the trip.

Friday, March 5, 2010

70 years later, still waiting for apology

Yi Ok-seon with a photo of herself in her 20s.

Back in mid-January I went on a tour of the House of Sharing -- a museum and home for Korean "comfort women" survivors about an hour outside of Seoul. These brave 할머니 (grandmas) are spending their retirement telling their stories of sexual enslavement during World War II and fighting for an apology from the Japanese government.

Last week Radio Netherlands Worldwide's "The State We're In" aired the interview I helped put together with one of these grandmas. It was incredible hearing Yi Ok-seon 할머니's story and spending time with the other women. Not enough people know about their struggles, even here in South Korea.

A shrine at the House of Sharing museum. The garland on the right is a chain of tiny origami cranes made by Japanese visitors.