Sunday, June 24, 2007

Another Post Ex Facto: A Slide Show of the Korean Wedding

My sister-in-law, EIEIO, put together a slide show of some of the pictures she and I took in Korea at the Confucian wedding of Number One Son and his lovely bride, The Bride. You can view it here. And you can keep checking back for the long-promised description of our 24 hours in a Buddhist monastery. It will get here eventually.

News Flash: Television Hypes the News!

It turns out the dramatic little story by Chicago television station, WBBM, about Arcola hero, Brad Pullen, grabbing the gun when his captor laid it down to pee, tying up the alleged perpretrator with his necktie and marching him out of the bank where he had been held all day was just television hype. It didn't happen. Not even close.

It now comes out that an FBI negotiator talked the gunman into giving up. He and Brad walked out of the bank, without any gun. Don't look for a correction on WBBM's website; it isn't there. Don't get me started on television "news."

Friday, June 22, 2007

I'm From Arcola!

The little town near which I grew up and from which I graduated from high school hasn't had this much press since Dave Barry used to write about marching in the annual Broom Corn Festival parade with the Lawn Rangers. A day-long crisis in which a bad guy from Chicago ("aren't they all?" is the downstate attitude) was holed up with hostages in a little bank branch in town.

Some media are reporting that it ended when the gunman laid down the gun to pee and the remaining hostage grabbed the gun, tied the guy up with the hostage's necktie and marched him out the door. Our local newspaper is saying the guy surrendered peacefully. I'll go with the dramatic version. This is what one of my brothers, the Internationalist, who is home from Vienna for a few weeks to attend weddings had to say about it in a family email.

"The town is small but things ended well. Brad Pullen,
the bank manager who was taken hostage along with his
grandfather(who just happened to be meeting with his
grandson) and five of his employees coolly persuaded
the strung-out hostage-taker to release everyone else.
Then, after seven hours, Brad grabbed the
hostage-taker's gun when he laid it down (to pee),
tied the hostage-taker up with his necktie, and
marched him out of the bank.

"Brad is Gene's friend and was his classmate. He is
the son of one of my classmates, Rick, from my 12
years in Arcola schools. His grandfather has a bar
(the Dog House) down the street from Wilmer's house.
As Rick reminded me last night at the celebrations, in
school we always used to be in the alphabetic lineups
together: Otto, Pullen...

"To further illustrate the town's entanglements...
Brad's fiancée and mother of his three-month-old child
is the granddaughter of my first-grade teacher, Mrs.
McCoy. Brad's sister is the girlfriend of the son of a
classmate of Rick and I, Matt McClain. On Saturday
night, Matt's country music band, the Humboldt
Thunder, played at Brad's grandpa's bar, the Dog
House. I had a long conversation with Matt's wife
(she married Matt when she was 15 and he was 16). She
said for the first time she and Matt were going to
travel. They were taking Matt's motorcycle down to the
Smokey Mountains.

"Rick and Matt are very proud that their sons have gone
to college and amounted to something.

"Brad is a very calm, quiet guy. He didn't make any big
statement to the media. When he finished talking to
the police at 9:30 last night, he calmly walked into
the Doghouse, sat at a corner of the bar and didn't
have much to say.

"Here's a story by WBBM the CBS affiliate in Chicago.
Their video is particularly good. They happened to be
interviewing Brad's grandmother when she got the call
that he'd gotten out.

"Of course, a com search for Arcola &
hostage will get you a lot of stories.

"There were many happy people in the Dog House last

(The Internationalist)

Friday, June 15, 2007

Last Sunday in Seoul, Post Ex Facto

Blogger's Note: The posts about our recent trip to Korea for Number One Son's wedding, appear with the most recent ones first. To read them chronologically, scroll down to "Korea Report: We're Off." They really do make more sense that way. This one is out of order because I got behind in my blogging while in Korea and jumped to the end.
In the top photo, the Humble Philosopher/Carpenter and EIEIO try to figure out the subway route while The Sensible One (left) and Baby Milton (right) watch them struggle. On Sunday, the day after the wedding, we took the opportunity to explore an ancient palace and do some shopping. With the aid of a couple of maps, we made our way around Seoul using the subway system and our feet.
The city has an excellent subway system (although I couldn't get Humble Philosopher/Carpenter, who thinks everything Japanese is superior, to admit that Korea has the best subway system, he did allow as to how it was very good.) The trains are very clean, very quiet and graffiti free. Electronic maps in each car show the stops and where you are located. The cost, in the central city area is 1,000 won, about $1 U.S.
Our first destination was Changdeokgung, the "Palace of Illustrious Virtue." It was built in 1405 and used as the seat of government until 1910 when Japan took over Korea for the umpteenth time. We are trying to make it in time for the palace tour at 10:00 a.m. After getting off the efficient, clean, modern subway, we go the rest of the way the old-fashioned way, by walking. That is one big difference about living in a big city; you walk a lot. In small towns, and farms, at least in the United States, no one walks. We walked a lot in Seoul. When we got to the palace, we discovered the tour wasn't until 11:00, and since we had passed the famous shopping area, Insadong, a place to go with lots of restaurants, antique shops and trinket shops. So, we walked some more, back to Insadong for a short period of shopping. I have a very low tolerance for shopping, even for only an hour. After looking at some ties, which were three for 10,000 won (about $10) and almost buying them, I thought to look at the tag and saw they were 100 percent polyester, not silk. That did it for me, I hoofed it back to the palace to wait for the shoppers. The Wife came back with several pots (both of which were broken by the time we got them home) and some other things -- I don't even want to know what. Korean palaces are quite unlike European palaces of the same era. They are mostly made of wood, instead of stone and granite, and are mostly low-slung, narrow buildings, with most or all of the rooms opening to the outside. They are more colorful on the outside, but the insides are comparatively plain. The long hallways common to European palaces are mostly on the outside in Korean palaces. Although Korea hasn't had a king since 1910, when the Japanese took over the country, members of the royal family lived in the palace up into the late 1980s. The big attraction for this particular palace is the secret garden, which is hidden in the back of the palace grounds. The garden is equipped with a library, so the king could read in the comfort of hidden nature. In the picture on the left, you can see the pond in the secret garden, covered with lily pads.
Some of the crockheads are gluttons for punishment and headed back to Insadong for more shopping after we were done at the palace, while Baby Milton, EIEIO and I went back to the hotel for a little rest before meeting NOS, The Bride and The Bride's family for some ginger chicken soup that NOS has been raving about.
Sorry, I don't have any pictures of the feast. We were seated on the floor again (as we were every time we ate at a Korean restaurant in Korea.) The advantage of floor seating is that it is easier to spot dropped food and pick it up unobstrusively. The disadvantage for Westerners is that our feet go to sleep about five minutes into the meal, and then it is a matter of trying to shift position unobstrusively to try to get some feeling back before we have to stand up. What we got were whole chickens stuffed with rice and ginger root in a big bowl of soup. It was accompanied by the usual panoply of side dishes, including kimchee. The chicken was so tender that even a clumsy user of chopsticks had no trouble pinching off chunks of flesh and getting them into his mouth.
When we were done, several hours later, we headed back to the hotel, but made a stop on the way at the Baskin-Robbins for some regular American ice cream to be eaten sitting in regular booth with regular spoons, just to remind ourselves that the whole world hasn't been turned upside down.
Tomorrow: Our overnight stay at an ancient Buddhist temple.

"It Smells Like a Zoo"

NOS is nothing if not hard working, and Thursday, being his first day back from Korea with his new Bride, was also his first day back at work. Not wanting to leave The Bride by herself all day in a new country with a new husband, The Wife took her out shopping for household things and groceries and then brought her to our house for dinner.

As we were sitting in the back yard eating our chef's salads, we quizzed her about her impressions of her new country and her new townhouse. She was not used to hearing all the birds, and the frogs in a pond near the townhouse. Seoul is very urbanized and there are not a lot of parks and open spaces, conducive to wildlife. Where the Bride had lived in Seoul was pretty much solid concrete (not all of Korea is like that; I'll tell you about our lovely trip to the mountains to a Buddhist monastery when I get around to it.) And the other thing she hasn't gotten used to are the animal smells. "It smells like a zoo," she said. We were puzzled at first, then realized their townhouse is several miles from the University's experimental farms; what are referred to as the South Farms. Kids from Chicago complain about the smell of the South Farms, and, plans are in the works to move the farms several miles further away from campus. Having grown up on a farm and having been used to the smell of barnyard manure all my life, it had never occurred to me to even notice the smells.

And we think Korea is different.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

The Saga Is Over

For those of you wondering, yes, we're home again. Our plane was to leave Detroit at 9:00 a.m. this morning and other than being delayed by unspecified "equipment problems" for about an hour and a half, we got home okay. Other than NOS not being at the airport to pick us up (when the plane was delayed, he couldn't find out when we were coming in) and we were not able to call him because I had written his number down wrong, and information didn't have his number, everything was fine. Other than having to pay $26 for a five-mile ride in a rattletrap old taxi whose air conditioning was not working on a 91-degree day, it was fine. Other than the cab driver insisting on listening to Rush Limbaugh, despite my discreet suggestion that we might enjoy hearing something other than that loud-mouthed buffoon of a windbag, everything was fine. When we got home, I just discreetly and politely, in a low tone, very genteel-like told the cab driver that if she was wondering why I didn't give her a tip, I thought that for $26 for a five-mile ride, we deserved a ride in a cab with functioning air conditioning and without Limbaugh, and if she could please relay that message to the owner of the cab company, I would appreciate it. I sincerely believe that the cab driver did not heed my kindly suggestion. Other than The Wife being upset with The Yard Man when we got home because he was supposed to have all his mess done before we got back from Korea and here it was the day after we were supposed to be home and he was still fooling around out in the yard, everything was fine. Other than the Cleaning Lady we had hired and paid in advance to go to NOS's townhouse and give it a thorough scrubbing before he brought his new Bride home, having gotten her weeks mixed up, or so she claims and not having done what we hired her to do, everything is fine. Really.

I still have some Korean adventures to write about. Like our overnight stay at a Buddhist monastery in the mountains near Seoul and our wakeup call at 3:45 a.m. for morning meditations and bell gonging and other things. So, don't go away, I'll be right back.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Be Happy. Worry!!

As I write this, it's 9:25 p.m. EDT and The Wife are in Detroit. The rest of the Crockheads are home. I should make you wait and tell you this story in order, but I still have Monday and Tuesday to write before I get to Wednesday, and some of you probably want to skip to the end. I'll go back and fill you in on the intervening days later. Or, if the Seoul Report has been toooo loooong, just skip it.

On Wednesday morning at 10:00 a.m. Seoul time (Tuesday evening 9:00 p.m.) our flight was to leave Seoul for home. Or so we thought. Mr. Cha, the Bride's father, who has been so kind to us, told us he would escort us to the airport. To get there by 8:00 (two hours ahead of takeoff for international flights) we would need to leave from the airport bus pickup point several blocks from our hotel at 7:00. Mr. Cha is usually about 10 minutes early, so we headed for the hotel lobby about 6:55. No, Mr. Cha. We waited and waited and then it was a few minutes after 7:00 and no, Mr. Cha. That was very strange indeed, and then Number One Son showed up. Turns out he and Mr. Cha had been waiting for us at the hotel registration desk on the 15th floor.

We headed off for the bus pickup point at a fast walk, or in my case, as I was practicing running like the Japanese did in the airport, at a little-bitty-steppy trot. We got to the pickup point and there were the bride and her mother with an awful lot of luggage. Since some in our group were not carrying the two bag checked luggage limit, we had told her to bring everything she wants, we could take some of the bags in crockhead names. We barely got there as the bus pulled up. The driver and a helper were piling luggage into the luggage compartment when the helper let out an earth-screeching yowl and started hopping about rubbing his toe. I take it he dropped some of The Bride's luggage on his toe. Poor man. I hope Korea has workers' compensation.

As the bus was going to the airport, I started worrying. If there was a two hour requirement for international checkout that was strictly enforced we were going to be in trouble. Besides all that luggage to handle, I had to turn in two rental cell phones and get my money exchanged. It looked to me like we were going to get there a few minutes after 8:00 and were not going to be ready to check in until some time after that. I could only hope they didn't enforce the rule too strictly.

We got there, I hustled off to find the phone and currency exchange places, the rest got in the check-in line and then someone thought to check the actual time on our e-tickets. Our plane didn't leave until 11:00 a.m. We had gotten confused with the time our plane had left Illinois. So we had plenty of time. And it was good we did because there was a lot of confusion at the check in place. Three of the bags were overweight, but I gladly paid the $200 overweight penalty so that we could get the Bride moved to Illinois in one fell swoop.

When we had everything checked, had our boarding passes, we still had an hour to kill before boarding so we decided to have breakfast. But then the service was interminably long, and I started worrying again that we were going to be late to the boarding place. We made it okay; everyone got on and once again my worries had been unneeded (or maybe the worries were needed; without them we would have been late.)

Our first stop was in Neruda, Japan again where we had a two hour layover. I volunteered to watch the luggage while everyone else disappeared into the airport to buy sushi or God knows what else. Soon, it was getting near boarding time and I was the only crockhead in the boarding area. I started worrying again. The line for getting on the plane was getting longer and longer, snaking around the corner and I was just sitting there, like a fool, with a pile of luggage. I couldn't get on and leave everyone else's stuff unguarded. Finally, they showed up, with their shopping bags full of God knows what and their bellies full of sushi. Since we were in the Super Elite class of World Travelers (the Northwest frequent flyer's program) we got to bypass the long line and board right away with the Super Duper Elite First Class people. So, once again, my worries were either not needed or all that saved us from disaster.

The flight from Japan to Detroit was uneventful. It was only 11-1/2 hours long instead of the 13 hours going the other way because eastbound airplanes get the benefit of the jet stream helping push them along. Still, 11-1/2 hours is a long time to sit cramped in an airplane seat. We were right on time landing in Detroit. Note, I said "landing" not deplanning. After we landed we sat and sat and sat, at least 20 minutes before we taxied up to the terminal. No problem because we had a two hour layover before our plane took off for Champaign. So, I stopped worrying.

Big mistake. I now have definite proof that if you don't worry bad things happen. When we got to immigration, the Bride and NOS had to go in a special line because she is not yet a citizen (although she has her permanent residence visa.) That line was interminably long and interminably slow. The rest of us found everyone's luggage while NOS and The B were still in the immigration line. Since Champaign is not an international airport, we had to go through immigration and customs in Detroit. The Bride and I told the rest of the crockheads to go ahead while we waited for NOS and The B. We saw NOS use his best sales techniques to get a man ahead of him in the line to allow them to go first. Finally, when they got to the immigration man, the process didn't take long.

We had four luggage carts to carry all the luggage, grabbed the carts and ran for customs. By then our plane to Champaign had started to board but if customs didn't take too long and the run from customs to the boarding gate wasn't too long, we could still make it. After I thought we had cleared customs, one of the men sternly told us to come with him. Uh-oh. Turns out it was not a big deal, but The B. was bringing enough money into the country and had, wisely, declared it on the customs form, there were more procedures. Then he spent five minutes telling The Bride and NOS how smart they were to declare the money because if they hadn't it could have been forfeited. By the time he got done with his helpful lecture we were in serious danger of missing our last plane.

We still had to go through security, which we did in record speed and then were sprinting for the gate when The Wife got a stricken look on her face and said she left one of her carry on bags at security. So, she went back to get it while the rest of us headed for the plane. I told her we would try to talk the boarding people into holding the plane for a few minutes.

NOS, The B and I got to the boarding place and everyone but Baby Milton was already on board. I sent NOS and The B onto the plane while I tried to explain the problem to the boarding person. She said that if The Wife got there in two minutes, she could still board. I waited to see if she would make it because I didn't want to desert her by herself in Detroit if she didn't make it.

Meanwhile, the Wife had gotten lost on her way to the security place. So, she wasn't close to making it back on time. The plane was still there when she arrived, but once the doors are closed, they're closed and they don't reopen them for anyone.

But, the boarding person was very nice, particularly for a Northwest Airlines employee. "So, you were delayed by immigration?" she said (not asked.)

"Yes," and also, my wife forgot her bag at security," I said honestly and naively.

"Because if you were delayed by immigration," I can give you vouchers for a hotel room and meals and get you on a plane in the morning," the boarding person said.

Finally, understanding, I said, "Yes, we were delayed by immigration." Which we were.

So, here we are in Detroit for the night, roughly 24 hours after we left Seoul yesterday. Unless something else happens, we fly out of here at 8:54 in the morning and arrive home about an hour later. But I am not going to make the mistake again of relaxing and not worrying.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

The Squatdown

I hate to go from the sublime to the ridiculous, but I promised you a picture of a squat down toilet, and here is one, spotted in the rest room at a palace we visited on Sunday. For a complete set of instructions, check here. Toilet paper is strictly bring your own or do without. I have a travel pack in my briefcase. When you think about it, it really is more sanitary than sitting cheek to cheek with the previous occupant of the facility.

Confucian Wedding, Part Two

Blogger's Note: These posts appear with the most recent ones first. To read them chronologically, scroll down to "Korea Report: We're Off" They really do make more sense that way.

Here is the rest of the post on the traditional wedding:

Unfortunately, I didn't take pictures of the first part of the ceremony with Number One Son standing in front of the Best Man holding a duck. The parents of the bride and the parents of the groom were seated in chairs facing each other in the front, and I had my camera under my chair, but didn't dare be taking pictures while participating in the ceremony. When I finally realized that the photographers were running the show,and no one was going to be horribly offended if I joined in the fun, I pulled my camera out and started shooting.After some chanting by the two Confucian officiants, Number One Son was placed in a sedan chair, carried by four fierce looking warrior-types, and marched in a procession out of the main tent to a little tent in the back where the bride was waiting.After presenting her with the duck and some other mumbo jumbo which I couldn't see or hear, she was placed in an enclosed sedan chair and the procession came back to the main tent. There NOS and The Bride joined the two priests behind at a table laden with different kinds of food. NOS and TB each had two handlers who choreographed everything they did, placing them at the right spots, placing their hands, heads and bodies in the right positions and telling them what to do. NOS was at a disadvantage, because although he knows some Korean, he is hardly fluent in the language and did not understand what they were saying to him all of the time. There were no wedding rehearsals, so the whole affair was almost as new to the couple as it was to us crockheads, although I assume The Bride had attended a number of these events as an observer. There were two rather lengthy orations, which, of course, we couldn't understand, but which I am told by Humble Philosopher/Carpenter were probably Confucian exhortations on how to conduct themselves as a married couple and in society. There is no "ah-ha" moment when the couple is pronounced married as in Christian ceremonies, but the climax of the ceremony seemed to be when the couple did a series of highly formalized bows to each other and to the parents. The wife bowed twice to the husband and he returned the bow once, each getting way down, knees on the ground in their bows.
Then there were photo ops, with members of the bride's family, the groom's family and friends, posed in front of the temple that is pictured on the 1,000 note won, the national currency. (I didn't get a picture of the groom's family, since I was in it.) But that wasn't the end of the ceremony and photography. We then went inside a banquet hall and while the guests were eating, the bride and groom, and different family members at different times were placed in a small side room for various procedures. First the parents of the groom were placed on pillows in front of a low table filled with food goodies and served by the bride and groom with wine. Then the newly-marrieds arranged themselves (or, more precisely, were arranged by their handlers) on the other side of the table in front of us, holding a cloth stretched between them. The Wife and I were each given a handful of juju beans and we had to toss them at the cloth. The number of juju beans that they caught with the cloth were the number of children they would have. Unfortunately, the cloth was stretched too tightly, or our aim was poor, or fate decreed no children, but they caught no beans on the first try. We tried again, and they caught 10. I don't know what that augurs. Maybe the two tries will average out and they will have five. (Sorry, no pictures, I was participating.) Then members of my family took their turns on the pillows, were served with wine by the couple and then gave them words of wisdom. I have a picture only of HP/C, BS, Seester and The Sensible One, but Baby Milton and EIEIO pitched in too to give the newly weds the benefits of their insights. Then the bride and groom served each other wine. For the finale, the groom picked up the bride and carried her around the table. Then it was off to the banquet hall where there were thousands and thousands of dishes. Okay, maybe hundreds. I know there were many, many, for sure. These are only a sampling of some of them. Finally, the couple changed into street clothes to greet their guests and start their married life together. And so ends the traditional Korean wedding. But our adventures in Korea are far from over. Still to come: a visit to an ancient palace, shopping and an overnight stay at a Buddhist monastery.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

The Main Event: A Confucian Wedding

Saturday was the main event; the traditional Korean wedding of Number One Son and The Bride for which me, The Wife, Number Two Son, and my fellow crockheads, The Humble Philosopher/Carpenter, BS, The Sensible One, Seester, Baby Milton and EIEIO have traveled half way around the world. This will be the third formalization of their marriage for NOS and TB. The first was a city hall wedding a year ago to help her visa application, the second was the Roman Catholic church wedding on Friday night and the third is the traditional Korean wedding on the grounds of a former Confucian monastery, now part of a University in Seoul. This is the one for which we came.

Traditional weddings are held on auspicious (auspicious, not suspicious -- go look it up if you don't know the meaning) days and Saturday, June 8 was an auspicious day, so lots of couples wanted their weddings on that date. The location of this wedding is a popular one, on the grounds of a temple whose front is pictured on the 1,000-won note of the Korean currency, so lots of couples wanted their weddings on that date in that location. Our time slot was 12:30 p.m. Mr. Cha showed up at the hotel at 11:00 with rented cars to chauffeur us to the temple. Here is the entire crockhead group,minus the photographer, of course, waiting for the cars. Mr. Cha is on the left, calling to see where the cars are. I told you I'm not a good photographer and I realize the background leaves something to be desired, although it might work as an album cover for a cutting edge music group. (Number Two Son doesn't think so.) The Wife is on the right, carrying a box with the hanbok she will don for the affair. Although we come thinking she is renting a hanbok, it turns out the bride's family has this one made for her to keep.

When we get to the temple grounds, another event is in progress, so we wait while The Wife goes to be helped into her hanbok. Although Mr. Cha and I are wearing ordinary business suits, we are given boutonnieres and white gloves to wear. As I struggle to put on the gloves, all I can think of is, "If it doesn't fit, you must acquit."

At the entrance to the temple grounds, there are two huge bouquets of flowers and some signs, which have our time, 12:30 on them. A friendly man, who speaks very good English and turns out to be a colleague of Mr. Cha interprets the flowers and the signs and tells us a little about the ceremony in which we are about to engage. The bouquets are for the wedding. The one on the left is from a construction company (I'm not sure why they sent a bouquet, but I know the Cha's have just moved into a new house, so maybe it is from the company that built the house.) The one on the right is from the company for which Mr. Cha works, a travel agency of which he is the general manager.
The signs announce the Otto-Cha wedding. The one on the right lists my name at the top, then the name of Number One Son, his status as "firstborn" and the date and time of the wedding. The one on the left has the same information for The Bride.

The flowers and the signs, along with a guest book and someone to receive the gifts, which are primarily money are set up under a 500-year-old gingko tree, which split hundreds of years ago and now has main limbs supported by iron supports.

With all due respect for the Confucian principles upon which the ceremony was based, the main event seemed to be primarily a vehicle for the photographers' arts. (Confucianism is not considered by Asians as a religion, but a set of principles on how to live, thus there is no anomaly with devout Catholics having a Confucian ceremony.) There were two professional and an amateur who seemed to be running the show, shouting directions at NOS and The Bride about how they stood and how they tilted their heads, even during the ceremony. The marital couple first came out and posed with some nice temple tiled roof backdrops. I would hate to think what Number One Son's reaction would have been if The Wife and I had tried to dress him up in a Mickey Mouse hat and a red robe, but he was all smiles today. The Wife had been outfitted with a hanbok and here are TW and the Mother of the Bride, with the Bride in all their finery. The two red dots on the bride's cheeks, by the way, are not the result of a bad makeup artist, but are red paper circles. I am sure they have symbolic meaning of which I am unaware, although I know red is thought in Korean culture to ward off the evil eye and brides are thought to be especially susceptible to the evil eye.

The ceremony started with The Bride sitting in a small enclosed tent behind the main one. Two Confucian priests officiated, with NOS standing in front of his best man, who was holding a wooden duck. (In the olden days, they used live ducks. Ducks are used because they supposedly mate for life and are a symbol of fidelity.)

(I'm having trouble with blogspot. Earlier I lost an entire post. Right now it's not letting me upload pictures, so I'm going to go ahead and post this before I lose it, and then try continuing with more commentary and pictures.)

Friday, June 08, 2007

I'm a Seoul Man

Blogger's Note: These posts appear with the most recent ones first. To read them chronologically, scroll down to "Korea Report: We're Off" They really do make more sense that way.

Second Note: I'm tempted to skip a big blog of time. I woke up early this morning and spent a couple of hours getting my blog up to date. When I was about ready to hit publish, I did something, or blogspot did something or my computer did something, but most of it disappeared. So, I've been obsessing all day about whether to recreate what I wrote or just skip it. I'm too obsessive-compulsive to just skip it, so I'm going to try to recreate it. It was better the first time, I'm sure.

My appreciation of Japan rose rapidly on Friday morning. Besides the beautiful view out our hotel window, The Wife discovered some quintessential Japanese gardens in the back of the hotel:

Our plane for Tokyo from Seoul leaves at 12:30 and they want us in the lobby to get our bus back to the airport at 10:00 a.m. Northwest, being the scoundrels that they are, (but I repeat myself) has more than a bus load of people waiting at the hotel to get back to the airport. But, the Japanese, ever efficient, have us covered. They bring two buses. Baby Milton and his wife, EIEIO, come out of the hotel, watch as one of the bus drivers stows their luggage in the compartment on the bottom of the first bus, and then find the bus is too full, so they get on the second one. The problem is the first bus pulls away from the hotel with the luggage and the second bus waits another 10 to 15 minutes for stragglers and Baby Milton and EIEIO have become separated from their luggage. When we get to the terminal (we're on the second bus too, but with our luggage,) the bus driver is thrown into a frenzy of activity, calling people and running around, trying to find the luggage. When I say that Japanese people run, they literally run. I spied one young ticket taker repeatedly leaping over a pile of luggage in her way as she ran to and fro trying to take care of some problem or other. For the ones not leaping, the running of Japanese people looks a little odd to Western eyes. It's more like a very quick shuffle, taking quick little baby steps. As The Wife observed, "I'll bet they don't win many Olympics running that way."

One might think, looking at the literature, that it really makes no difference which carrier one uses, Northwest and Japan Air Lines, the company that will actually deliver us to Seoul, the planes are all the same. One might think wrong. The planes and crew are completely different. Although we're on a 747 again, this one has the look of being well maintained. The stewardii are young (okay, I'm an ageist) and smiley (okay, I'm a sucker for charm)and actually helpful. Three of the ones on Northwest had serious attitude problems. They looked mean and did the bare minimum to get paid. If they happened to be walking past when you had some garbage to get rid of, they would say they'd be back later -- which they were, an hour later.

But enough complaining. We got to Seoul at 12:30 on Friday to a heart-warming reunion between NOS and The Bride.

The Bride and The Bride's Father help us find a bank to change our money and get us set with the people at the telephone kiosk to get cell phones to use while we're in Korea. The cost is only $2 a day, but 60 cents a minute, but the phones are so complicated I'm not sure we'll be able to figure out how to use them. It seemed like a good idea to reserve phones when we were still in the States and I saw how cheap they were. That way we could keep track of each other without having to go around in lockstep.

We board an airport bus for the ride into Seoul to our hotel. It is about a 45 minute ride. We're staying at the Casaville in an older part of Seoul in a University district. Embarassingly, my Visa card doesn't work and they don't take Discover. I didn't want to take a bunch of credit cards to a foreign country so I had left my MasterCard at home. My Visa had worked earlier in the day, so I don't know what the problem is. Trying to make an international call to the company would have been a hassle, which I would have done before trying to sleep on the street, but luckily, the Humble Philosopher/Carpenter brother has a card that works so we're permitted to check in. The rooms are small, but very comfortable and with a lot of built in conveniences. There is a full kitchen with stove, refrigerator, microwave and sink and lots of cupboards and closets to put things.

I had been singing "Get Me to the Church on Time" to myself (in my head; I wouldn't inflict my singing on others) since leaving home on Wednesday morning, but it turned out that we were just going to get there under the wire. There was to be a church ceremony as part of the regular Catholic mass that evening at 7:00 and we had a couple of hours to rest, change into church-going clothes and get to the church on time.

The Bride's father, Mr. Cha, came back to the hotel at 6:00 to escort us to the church. Before the regular service, Jeremy and Bomina came out, dressed in traditional costumes. There was a short ceremony of "I do's" with Bomina translating from Korea to English and Jeremy happily saying "I do," even once when Bomina was the one supposed to be the one doing the promising.

After the service, we (The Bride's Family and all of the Crockheads) walked to a traditional Korean restaurant, The Turtle, for a traditional Korean meal, sitting on the floor on cushions. Koreans offer many, many different dishes in small servings. I have no idea what most of it was, other than I recognized salmon and other fish dishes, kimchee (the national Korean dish of fermented cabbage, which I love,) and beef. Although I have a pretty good camera, I'm not a very good photographer, so a lot of my pictures were blurry or badly composed. I did get this pretty good shot of the remains of the evening as we were leaving. We started walking back to the hotel, but were caught in a downpour and had to wait under an underpass for a while. When the rain let up, we debated for a while about whether to continue walking or catch a bus or taxi, but the wimps won out and we took a bus back and to bed for the end of an eventful day.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Jet Lag

Blogger's Note: These posts appear with the most recent ones first. To read them chronologically, scroll down to "Korea Report: We're Off"

I did go to bed at 9:30 p.m. and by 11:00, I was awake again. That was 8:00 a.m. Champaign time and my body said it was time to go to work. I tossed and turned for several hours and then got up, wrote a couple of entries to my blog and then went back to bed to toss and turn some more. Interestingly enough, that room card receptacle that turns the lights to the room on and off turns them all on and off. There's no way (at least none I have found; I can't believe the efficient Japanese would not have forseen the problem) to have some of the lights on and some off. So, unless I want to wake The Wife in the middle of the night, I have to work in the dark. Which is no problem when I'm writing on my laptop, but a bit of a problem when I go to the bathroom.

Luckily, the Japanese have a solution to everything, and there is a flashlight in the closet, which I spotted before I went to bed, so I get the flashlight to light my way to the bathroom. Second problem; the door to the bathroom won't open. Now what? I yank around by the light of the flashlight, thinking, "surely, it didn't get locked accidentally," when I realize it opens out instead of in. It makes sense, I guess, if you're going to drive on the wrong side of the road, it might be confusing if the doors didn't open opposite from the rest of the world, too.

I try the Butt Shower again, and I, again, come to the conclusion that one should always think, "safety first," and finish up with toilet paper, no matter how exotic the idea of a Butt Shower might be.

I go back to bed, actually sleep a little bit and then by 3:00 a.m. (1:00 p.m. home time) I'm tossing and turning again. By 4:00 a.m. it is getting light outside. Tokyo must be pretty far north to be getting light this early. I'll have to check the latitude. I look out and take back all my grumbling about the scenery around the airport last night. A beautiful view is all I can see out my window. Picture follows.

By then, I'm wide awake, so, since The Wife is still sleeping, I decide to take a shower by flashlight. It takes a while to figure out how to get the water to actually come out, but when I finally get it spraying on me and not the floor, it is a very nice shower. I get the blog up to date and I think I'm ready to face the world again.

A Butt Shower

When TW came home from Japan last year, she was raving about their toilets. They have this contraption, where instead of using toilet paper, you push a button and a nice warm spray of water will give you a butt shower and then blow warm air on it to dry. Sounds pretty weird to me, but NOS has told me that The B wants one of those contraptions installed on their toilet in their new home when she comes to America. She thinks toilet paper is gross. After seeing the Northwest Airlines toilet yesterday, she has a point.

So, while we were waiting in the terminal yesterday to see if we could get to Seoul on Thursday, TW used the bathroom and came back to report that they had a butt shower in there. I needed to use the bathroom and decided now was an excellent time to try one out.

I won't go into the details, folks, but I'm telling you they don't work. I used the highest pressure, and I made sure to get complete coverage, but luckily, they also had toilet paper available for us barbarians or I would have been up the creek without a paddle, so to speak.

They also had, as an option, the squat down toilet receptacle, which really is a better idea than what we North Americans use. With the squat down you don't have to get cheek to cheek with the previous occupant, who may have left all kinds of invisible cooties. It is not a hole in the floor, at least not in this modern era, it is a perfectly designed porcelain receptacle that you flush after use. I forgot to take a picture, but will try to do so before we leave Asia.

Our hotel has a butt shower in the bathroom, so I did get a picture of that for your viewing pleasure. This one does not have a separate button for spraying a little cologne on your butt after doing your business, unlike the one at the airport. Notice the warning about not trying to use the butt shower unless you're sitting down. Only dumb Americans would need such a warning.

Don't Ever Fly Northwestern

Blogger's Note: Since blogspot lists posts with the most recent ones on top, if you want to read about our Korean adventures in order, you need to scroll down to the first one, "Korea Report: We're Off." Sorry for the confusion.

It turns out 7 is not our lucky number. When we get on the ground, there is an announcement that all passengers going to Seoul on Northwestern Flight 007 should see a ticket agent, there is going to be a delay. We gather in front of the Northwestern counter and wait until everyone is off the plane. There are about 50 of us, anxiously huddled.

The agent is a very nice Japanese man, who has a little trouble expressing himself in English, but when he finally thinks of the word, pronounces it pretty well. The upshot of it is that he is very sorry, but there is a maintenance problem with the aircraft that was supposed to take us to Seoul and they don't know how long it will take to fix it and there is another plane coming and rather than inconvenience us by making us wait around, they have cancelled the flight. We are now booked on a Japan Airlines flight that leaves at 10:00 a.m. Friday morning. They will put us up in a hotel and provide us with dinner and breakfast. So solly. What the ........... ? They can't do that to us. We have people waiting for us in Seoul. We have to go to a wedding. We have other family members flying into Seoul, Son Number Two, and my sisters, Seester, and The Sensible One, who won't know what to do without us.

This is the second time Northwestern has done this to Son Number One. He met his Bride in Japan a week before Christmas, the only time he will have seen her since he left Korea last July and when we get there for the wedding. I dropped him off at the airport on a clear winter day and went to work, only to get a call from him an hour later telling me that Northwestern has cancelled his flight. The next flight would be out of O'Hare the next morning, and it was up to us to figure out how to get him to O'Hare. If we wanted to fly out of our local airport, the next available flight would be in four days. They said it was weather related, and therefore there was no compensation. What the .................... I raged. They can't do that to us. I called ticket agents; I called their supervisors; there was no way I was going to let them cheat NOS out of a day with his B. Nothing worked. I took him to Chicago the next day and we didn't get as much as an apology from Northwestern.

So, I already know that raging won't work. My sister-in-law, BS, grew up in Japan; speaks the language like a native and sidles over to the ticket agent to try some Japanese charm. It is fun to watch her as she is transformed into a Japanese woman, talking shyly, with her hand covering her mouth. She returns to tell us there is a chance for one or two of us to get on a flight Thursday evening. We wait around and wait around and finally are told the only remaining flight to Seoul on Thursday evening is already overbooked, so we might as well go to the hotel and relax.

I have been to the Neruda airport before for the connecting flight to Seoul, but I have never been out of the terminal. Japan, around the airport, looks pretty much like all other international airport terminals. Ugly buildings; garish signs; expressways and parking lots. The Wife thinks the trees look different. Maybe, if you know your trees, you can detect an Asian species, but trees are trees to me. They drive on the wrong side of the road in Japan, and that is an interesting experience.

I have been told by TW who was in Japan several weeks a year ago that Japanese hotels are superior to those in other countries. This one certainly is impressive. The staff is extremely friendly and helpful. TW said when she was here last year, whenever there group left a hotel, the entire staff would come out, line up and wave farewell to them. NOS needs to call The B to tell her the bad news about our trip delay. I figure out how to use the vending machine to buy an international calling card, but NOS and I are not successful in figuring out how to use it. A hotel employee comes over and also has trouble, but eventually makes the connection. The B is not happy, to say the least, but what can we do? When it's Northwestern, don't expect to get there on time.

The room is interesting. The front desk has given us the common-looking plastic card to use as a room key. After several tries, we get the door open and push the light switch but the lights don't go on. We try several times and nothing happens. Finally, I notice, beside the light switch what looks like a receptacle for the room key card. We insert the card and voila, the lights come on. What an interesting way to make sure room occupants don't leave their lights on when they're not in the room; plus keep track of the room key in the detritus of their luggage.

We have checked two bags, and are not given access to the checked luggage. That is being held at the airport for the flight tomorrow morning. Luckily, we had travelled enough to know to insert an extra pair of underwear in our carry on luggage. Unluckily, because of the hassle with getting liquids through security, we did not try to carry on any toothpaste, shampoo, etc. Not to worry, Japanese hotels have you covered. Besides the standard shampoo and conditioner in the room, they have a full set of toothbrushes, hairbrushes, and the tiniest tube of toothpaste I have ever seen. They even have an extra Q tip for you.

Asia uses 220v for its electrical equipment and we have packed several converters for TW's hair dryer, my computer, etc, but the converters are all in the checked luggage. But wonder of wonders, this room has 110v. power. I'm getting suspicious -- maybe this hotel does nothing but cater to travelers from North America who have been stranded by Northwestern. I'll bet they do very well.

It's 9:30 p.m. here; 7:30 a.m. in Illinois. I feel like I've been up all night, which I have and go to bed.

Crossing the Ocean

Our plane leaves Detroit for Tokyo just a few minutes before the scheduled 5:30 p.m. I've never been on a 747 before, even though I've crossed the Pacific and the Atlantic oceans several times. This sucker is huge. There's even an upstairs for first class passengers. It holds 403 passengers. The main cabin has 3-4-3 seating, which isn't too bad. The last time we went to Korea, the middle section had five seats, which means the poor person in the middle of the middle section was pretty much stuck for 13 hours unless he wanted to crawl over his neighbors.
TW, NOS and I are in a side section, near the front of the steerage. BM and EIEIO are four rows ahead of us and HPC and BS are across the aisle from us. NOS isn't much of a reader and immediately starts getting bored with his old parents who enjoy the time plane travel gives them for reading. He wants to play scrabble with BS, but she's not in the mood.
"Does anyone want to talk?" NOS asks, but after getting nothing but uncommunicative grunts, he wanders off to find some more congenial company. When he doesn't return for a long time, we start looking around for him and spot him in an animated conversation with a young man several rows back. This goes on for several hours, before he finally comes back to check on us. This is truly amazing to TW and I. NOS used to be painfully shy. Neither of us are extroverts. When did NOS have a gene transplant?
At 5:30, the stewardii are wheeling out supper. Like typical airline food these days, it's not very good and there is so little of it. I opt for the beef stew and biscuit. It is actually not that bad, considering my expectations. The meal includes a little container of iceburg lettuce with two somewhat tomato-y looking slices on top. I'm not sure the salad counts as a vegetable in the reality-based world, but I'm recording it as a vegetable. There are also a few newly-thawed shrimp, which if you can get the sauce packet open, can be turned into shrimp cocktail. Besides the biscuit with the stew, there is a carbohydrate-looking something or other, which I finally figure out must be a roll, although when I finally get it out of its plastic wrapping and bite into it has all the taste of a baked hockey puck. There are actually two desserts; a package of dime-sized chocolate chip cookies, which make a nice chaser for the hockey puck, and finally, the piece de resistance, a little piece of chocolate. I could go for about 15 more of the chocolates and consider it a pretty good meal.
After supper, everyone heads for the lavoratories. By the time I get inside there is paper on the floor and overflowing from the waste receptacle. I don't know how many nationalities we have on board but not all of them are skilled in the use of sit-down plumbing. I doubt that you really want to hear any more about the lavatories.
About 7:00 p.m. (EDT) the stewardii decide it is time to settle the kids down, so they make us pull the shades even though it is still light outside and it's interesting to look at the patches of snow on the ground. We're over northwestern Canada, coming up on Alaska. It turns out we don't have to go to bed yet, they're just dimming the lights so they can show movies. The first one is the recent one with Hugh Grant and Drew Barrymore about the aging rock star and the young song writer. I saw it in the theater and, although I have plenty of time to waste, don't bother to turn my headphones to the movie channel. I read until I fall asleep, then sleep for a few minutes, then wake up and listen to some music, then walk the aisles, then read a little more. The next movie is The Freedom Writers with Hilary Swank, which I haven't seen and try to watch. I give up after half an hour. How many movies have already been made about innocent young teachers thrown into wild classrooms who, then, somehow, manage to come up with a way to reach the critters? Too many. Too bad for Hilary who has made some great movies.
The movies are over and everyone settles down to try to get some serious sleeping. With NOS still having abandoned his seat for chatting, we have three seats for two people so there is a little more room to try to get creative about the placement of limbs. It would be a lot easier if they were detachable.
It is now 2:00 a.m. EDT. I have done a lot of tossing and turning, trying to get comfortable. I have discovered why old women wear shawls. They help keep you warm. The cabin is way too cold for my liking and even with wearing a sports jacket, I was shivering until I put the flimsy cloth they call a blanket on my head and now I am sitting here typing, wearing what probably looks like a burkha to the sleepy-eyed inmates shuffling past. We've been in the air now for 10-1/2 hours so the worst is over. Another couple of hours and we'll be landing in Japan. I can do this.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Korea Report: We're Off

We're on our way to Seoul for the traditional wedding of Number One Son. Our plane from Champaign was to leave this morning at 10:15, meaning we needed to get to the airport by 9:15. We were picking up NOS at his townhouse on the way to the airport, and, The Wife needed to pack his suitcoat,so we decided to give ourselves plenty of time by leaving home at 8:30.

Usually, I'm the clock police, but this morning, TW was pacing at 8:35, while I leisurely went to the bathroom, and checked the house for forgotten items, redeeming myself (at least in my eyes) by conveniently noticing the suitcase still on the floor in one of the bedrooms. TW was getting worried because several phone calls to NOS's house were getting no answer. When we got to NOS's townhouse, about 8:45, there was no immediate response to our knocking on the door. Pounding with increasing franticness eventually brought a sleepy-looking NOS to the door in his underwear. His alarm had malfunctioned and his phone hadn't rung loudly enough to wake him, but deciding that getting on our way was probably more important than giving him the full shot of recriminations that he deserved, we packed his suit coat, washed his dishes and tidied up for his new wife while he got dressed. I was not that worried because we had built in enough time that we were in no danger of missing our flight.

By 9:15, we were in the check-in line at our little airport, well ahead of the rest of our crockhead group. The rest of the group traveling with us are the Humble Philosopher/Carpenter (HPC for short;) his wife, BS (no explanation necessary); the youngest crockhead who is popularly referred to as Baby Milton (BM) and his wife, EIEIO.

We were on a small jet from Champaign to Detroit; everything was fine and on time, and, after paying $7.95 for internet access, I've been checking my email; checking in on my favorite blogs and reading Everlasting Flower. When everyone returns to the gate, I'll try to take a picture of our intrepid group and post it.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

News Flash: Fire Your Cleaning People

This is an actual article from our local "newspaper" yesterday. In all fairness, it is a reprint from the Akron Beacon Journal, so at least two editors had been drinking at work:

"Rather than dusting the top of the refrigerator periodically, cover it with plastic food wrap that you can peel off and replace every few months."

My first thought, after I stopped laughing, was why stop with the refrigerator? All those wooden surfaces that we are paying big bucks to have dusted every week could simply be covered with plastic wrap and the plastic replaced every week. I hope Mary Beth Breckenridge who came up with this idea hasn't patented it. I see a new career for my old age -- thinking up new surfaces to cover with plastic wrap. I'm pondering right now whether it will ever be necessary for me to have my shirts laundered again. I'm thinking plastic wrap around the collar and under the arms, and maybe down the front just before I sit down to eat, and voila, no more laundry bills.

Friday, June 01, 2007

I Got Them Wedding Blues - Part Two

I remembered again tonight why I talked my bride into a small family only wedding in the back yard when we got married 36 years ago. It was all those picky little etiquette things that no ordinary amount of common sense could possibly get right.

I picked up the mail tonight and saw it included a "regrets" RSVP from our next door neighbors. We see and talk with them almost every day. They're good neighbors and nice people. We have left our house keys with them when we're going to be gone in case someone needs to get into the house. We pick up their newspaper and hold it for them when they're going to be gone. The Wives consult each other on plants. The Husbands consult each other on how to get out of yard work. We are completely friendly with each other -- no formality.

So, I remarked to The Wife when I brought in the mail, "This is odd, Joann sent us a 'Regrets' in the mail."

The Wife looked at me uncomprehendingly, "So?"

"Why would she mail us her regrets instead of just tell us, or hand us the card?"

Indignantly, "That's not how you do things."

"We didn't mail the invitation to them instead of handing it to them, did we?"

"Of course."


The mail man literally goes from our mailbox to their mailbox. But I doubt that he is allowed to just pick up the invitation from our box, drive 20 feet and put it in their box. No, Emily Post would object. He has to pick up the invitation, take it to the processing center five miles away, dump it in the postmark machine, sort it, take it back out to his truck and then drive past our house to the neighbor's house and put it in their box, reversing the process when they RSVP. Anything simpler would be impolite.


Jeremy and Lydia -- A Looong Time Ago

I have enjoyed getting acquainted again over the last several months with one of my readers, Lydia, from Boston whom I knew nearly 30 years ago when she lived across the street from us on Anita in Grosse Pointe Woods, MI. I don't know her email address and we have communicated by leaving notes on each other's blogs. Last night, I was looking at a scrapbook The Wife is compiling for Jeremy and Bomina and came upon this picture. With the blog turning Jeremy-o-centric for the next several weeks because of his upcoming wedding in Korea, I thought it appropriate to share the picture with the world, but particularly with Lydia. On the chance that she doesn't remember, the people in the picture, from the left, are: Jeremy, Shannon, Becky (not the Anonymous Becky who sometimes comments on this blog) and Lydia. The picture would have been taken sometime in 1978 or 1979.