Thursday, July 9, 2009

I’m a Seoul Man, Shiatsu-phile, and Sauna fan

And now the wrap up of my June trip to South Korea.

After our tour at Seoul Institute for the Arts (now located in Ansa, not far from Seoul) our Fulbright group returned to Seoul on Friday, June 27. We met in the hallway at the Sangnam Institue to devise our final gift-giving protocols and then headed back to the Fulbright House for a program wrap-up, evaluation, lecture by one of the Fulbright Junior Researchers, and then a buffet! The two charming Fulbright Junior Scholars, Katherine Lee (our Samulnori music guide) and Aimee Lee (our guide to hanji paper making) accompanied us to Myeong-Dong, a lively district full of tens of thousands of young people on a Friday night. Saturday a.m. we had a final coffee and farewell; a great experience with my colleagues Kenya, Wes, Richard, and Magid!

Then my first free weekend in a month! Thanks to our Theatre alum, Jooyoung Song, I had a wonderful, relaxing time, visiting the “Happy Sale” at Korea’s version of Macy’s, Shinsegae, and eating at a wonderful Japanese/Mediterranean fusion restaurant in the Itaewon district. Ms. Song is working with our students who are completing their intensive advanced Korean program for four weeks at Korea University. On Sunday, we had one of several other Cal State LA reunions as Professors Hae-Kyung Lee and Susan Mason (the latter on a weekend visit from her Fulbright teaching fellowship in Japan) met with Jooyoung, as well as one of our current MA students and her mother. Our student’s mother had studied dance at Ewha Women’s University just ahead of Professor Lee, and several decades later we were all sitting around the same table. As Professor Mason said, “I just love being so international!”

I was thinking “much fewer than six degrees of separation” and my musings were verified just a few days later. Sitting in a coffee shop near Korea University (okay, there’s a theme here), a young woman approached me and asked if by chance I was a professor at Cal State San Marcos teaching film and women’s studies. Jeannine was a former student of mine teaching in Korea with no connection to Korea University—she just happened to be in the neighborhood (in this extended city of 20 million or so). In my official missives I’ll write more to students and faculty about all the opportunities in Korea these days, a great place to teach English or other subjects in English while having an international experience.

In the meantime, there was more shopping (another theme), this time at Insadong and a couple of other shopping, cafĂ©, and gallery areas in Seoul over the next few days, where I followed my usual gift buying practice, “One for you, one for me.” I also paid a return visit to Mamma Kiki’s, the wine bar of another Theatre alum, Shin Lee.

Of course my business wasn’t quite over as I scheduled further university visits to Ewha Women’s University and I was able to talk about extending our student and faculty exchanges with our partners at Korea University.

On Wednesday, the first of July, I hosted a welcome dinner for our 11 Cal State LA students, Professor Lee, and Ms. Song. It was exciting to meet again the students we had welcomed to our intensive Korean program just one year earlier, now in Seoul to complete their program at Korea University.

On this, my final evening, I had to pay my respects once again at Mamma Kiki’s where we had a small alumni gathering. I thought we had ended at 1:30 a.m. only to learn that Karaoke must follow! Your Dancing Dean actually danced, and sang, and sang, and danced, and sang… I thought the demand for new numbers would never end, but I really need to take that healthy singing course that our Music faculty offer, as I’m still hoarse. Of course others did ballads while I had to sing “Proud Mary” and—by mistake (wrong number punched in)—“Born in the USA,” among many others.

I wish that I had more time to describe my painful but necessary shiatsu treatments and the delightful spa culture of Korea but perhaps after my next trip to Seoul I can enlighten you more about gold rooms, ice rooms, exfoliation, dining, doing e-mail in the sauna and other similar important matters. In the meantime I say Annyonghee kay-sayo (Good-bye) to my sisters and brothers in Seoul.

Photos provided courtesy of Magid Sherzadegan.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Travelogue Lite

My last blog left me on my Fulbright trip to South Korea in Gyeongju, the capital of Silla, one of the three ancient kingdoms that formed on the Korean peninsula, the Buddhist center of Korea, and once the center of fabulous wealth. We visited a serene mountain Buddha, a temple complex at Bulguksa, huge burial mounds, museums and institutes in a muggy heat. Another rain cooled our visit to two universities in Daegu, Keimyung University and Kyungpook National University, and then we were off to visit the world’s largest auto plant, the Hyundai factories at Ulsan.On to Busan and the beach (AKA 'Pusan'—there have been two major transcription methods from Korean’s Hangul alphabet to our Roman one and I understand yet another may be adopted)! Korea’s second largest city has grown from a sleepy fishing village to about 4 million people. Stretched along the beach and bays with skyscrapers poking through the mountains Busan reminds me of Hong Kong. Not that I’ve ever been to Hong Kong but after years of National Geographic and who knows how many films I seem to have a strong mental picture of it anyway. It was great to stroll along the waterfront near the APEC building, get sunset views of the magnificent bay bridge, and feel the cool sea breezes. I thought that Cal State LA students would love to visit, study, or teach in our sister city. And speaking of teaching, we met one of the Fulbright English Teaching Assistants and visited his school (Namsan High School) as well as Pukyong National University.
Busan is also famous for its fish market. While we didn’t buy anything at the market (it’s not easy to cook flounder on a field trip), we did have a great restaurant seafood lunch hosted by the kind people at Pukyong including spicy soft shell crab and varieties of fish I did not know. Keimyung University also had fed us very well the day before in their university restaurant, wonderfully fresh Korean fusion.
Last time I promised to speak of food (and shopping), so here are a few quick rules:
  • 1) if it’s red sauce, it’s spicy;
  • 2) don’t resist MOST unknown fish—they may look as strong as pickled herring but they might be (mostly) mild and delicious;
  • 3) but Do ask if the fish has been fermented and then be prepared to inhale ammonia;
  • 4) I’m used to crispy calamari; prepare for chewy squid;
  • 5) if at a traditional restaurant eat slowly and judiciously—they keep bringing more dishes and then more, finally ending with rice as the last savory dish before the dessert, usually fruit, arrives. I could go on and on about food but my last advice is this—Korean food is much more than just BBQ!
Heading back towards Seoul we crossed the persimmon capital of Korea (dried persimmon duly bought and consumed) and stayed two nights in Daejeon, visiting Daejeon University (in a spectacular wooded setting) and its downtown College of Oriental Medicine. Then very near Seoul, in Ansan, we visited the specialized Seoul Institute of the Arts, which is quickly becoming the Cal Arts of Korea collaborating in multimedia projects throughout the world and turning out many of Korea’s finest actors.
You’ll have to watch for the next iteration of “The Dancing Dean” to hear more about shopping, saunas, Cal State LA students’ arrival in Seoul, and Korean karaoke, including my own hit song and dance numbers. It will be worth the wait!