Sunday, February 19, 2012

Korean Heaven

So it only took us a little more than a week to find a Korean grocery store near our new apartment in Brisbane. It's called "Hanaro Mart", and the second we stepped inside it today we were whisked away to Korean food paradise.

A lot of our old favorites were there -- but most importantly a brand of kimchi we ate a lot of when we lived in Seoul. Along with enough ingredients to make a meal, we added a couple of classic Korean ice cream bars to eat outside in the summer heat. All in all, a good Sunday afternoon.

I forgot to mention earlier, but we just moved into our apartment yesterday. We're still settling in but the neighborhood is pretty nice and it's good to finally have a place of our own after vagabonding for the last few months. Let the nesting begin.

The Birds

7 a.m., Brisbane:

Friday, February 17, 2012

Walking and the art of motor-spatial maintenance

Lots of walking this past week, not always by choice. One of my biggest concerns when coming to Brisbane was the reliability and coverage of its public transportation system. In general, Asians do this kind of thing really well, mainly out of necessity. When millions of people are packed into a space meant for just a few hundred thousand at most, you figure out how to move all those bodies around in a disorderly, orderly fashion.

Well, it turns out that for a city this small, Brisbane's buses, trains, and ferries do a pretty damn good job of getting you nearly anywhere you need to go.

Up to a point.

The downtown area here is quite small, and once you venture outside of it, the region's layout gets very suburban -- fast. The advantage of this for people like Barry and Kay, who we've been staying with the last few days, is you can own a nice, big home and have a garden and a yard and your own little piece of heaven. The disadvantage is that to go most places without needing a change of clothes afterwards, you need a car.

I take that back. You don't need one. It is perfectly reasonable to lug a vacuum cleaner, brand new and in the box, out of the local shopping mall and bring it on the bus with you. The box, of course, gets a seat, too. But you don't see that kind of thing often, and I'm pretty sure it looks a little weird. We did exactly this today and while walking from the bus stop with this giant box in my arms, two of Barry and Kay's neighbors looked at me askance, as if to say, "Who are you... and where are you taking that -- thing?" (In all honesty, they were really nice, but I'm pretty sure they'd never seen a Yankee carrying a giant box around this neighborhood before.)

The fact is there is a lot of space here and to get around easily, a car really is best. Which is too bad because I liked not having a car for the last few years. It's interesting, too, that the way you get around makes a huge impact on the way you view your surroundings. When you can hop in your Holden (Aussie car company) and hop out at the mall that's just a couple kilometers away, it seems really close by. But it's a completely different story when you're trudging over to the mall underneath the blazing, midday sun. Now expand this idea out to a place that's an hour's drive away, and your sense of space changes fast. The phrase "nearby" means something completely different when your primary mode of transport is walking.

Luckily, the buses here run on time. Usually to the minute. They aren't nearly as frequent as they were in Seoul, and the network is not as convenient, but it ain't too shabby for a city of this size. And it still puts the CTA to shame (for shame!). Now if only we can figure out a way to get to the beach...

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Is this real life?

It takes an insane number of hours to get to Australia on a plane. I would guess if you tried to come here by boat or some other old-fashioned method you would be noticeably older by the time you arrived. But for all the time and energy it takes to get here, it really isn't that different from the US. After all, they've got everything here from Target to K-Mart to Colgate toothpaste (that last one is especially nice to have around after our experience in SK). But as they say in Pulp Fiction, it's the little differences.

They have colleges here, of course, but no one calls it that. It's "university", or "uni" for short. College apparently refers to high school here. I feel really weird whenever I say "uni", though, like I'm trying to be cool but failing horribly.

And everyone says "No worries" instead of "You're welcome" or "No problem". Oddly enough, and contrary to what the people saying it suggest, "No worries" makes me a little nervous. I always think, "Well, maybe in this case we have nothing to worry about but there are a lot of problems out there that we should worry about." Something keeps me from saying that out loud, though. Probably my desire to not get punched in the face.

As you probably know, Aussies drive on the left. That's not really a big deal but it is a little disorienting when trying to cross the street. Also, when walking on the sidewalk, because the same road rules apply. Luckily they still wear their shoes on the same feet here (not the case in New Zealand).

There is Coke and Pepsi, along with a few other familiar brands, but there are a couple drinks that are specific to Australia. There's "Lift", which sounds like a 5-Hour Energy sort of drink but is actually a really nice lemon-flavored soda that contains no caffeine. I've also seen a lot of ads for ginger beer-flavored Slurpees, which sound really good (oh right, and they also have 7-Eleven). Good Australian wine is in abundance, and apparently pretty cheap according to our hosts.

We've been staying with a really great couple named Barry and Kay for the last few days. Nissa met them through the Rotary Foundation, which is sponsoring her fellowship here, and they've been feeding us some great home cooked meals while filling us in on the fineries of Australian culture. They're big into food, and have been telling us about all the great kinds of local fruits and vegetables you can find here in Brisbane -- anything from mangoes to pineapples to pumpkin, it grows here. I'm looking forward to settling into our apartment in a couple days and checking this abundance out for myself.

Friday, February 10, 2012

We're Back!

Flash forward four months and a few weeks... Time circuits on.... Flux capacitor fluxxing... HANG ON!!! Ahhhhhhhhhh......

And we're back.

I'm sitting at my cousins' house again in Seoul and can hear the cats crying and fighting out in the cold. I haven't been here in months but strangely it feels like I never left. I took a flight in from Chicago last night and looking out the window of the bus from the airport, noticed the magnificent mountain ranges that circle this giant city. I had forgotten how much I loved them.

A few things have noticeably changed since the last time I was here. The sundubu restaurant we used to eat at after Korean class is now just another Paris Baguette. Too bad. And the Girl Scouts of Korea office near Insadong shut down. Not that I ever saw a Girl Scout in Seoul. Other than that, though, most things are just like I remember, which is comforting.

The last four months have been some of the best in my life. Not only did Nissa and I tour through Asia, seeing some of the most beautiful and marvelous things in the world, but we also got to spend a good amount of quality time back in the US with our friends and family. Obviously, we were too busy to blog. Or just didn't feel like it.

I'll be on my way to Brisbane to meet up with Nissa tonight. At the moment, I have a bit of a luggage problem (i.e. too much). I'll have to figure that out at some point before leaving for the airport. On the agenda today: see Yeon-hee and Andrew, get a 2NE1 cd, and record some street sounds.