Tuesday, June 10, 2014


Well, my dad fell.  And like many other people his age (late 80s) he managed to break a bone, specifically his femur.  The ball at the top of the femur snapped off, and they had to replace it.  That was 10 days ago.  He spent 7 days in the hospital, and then was moved to rehab.
Apparently the PTs don't work weekends, so after 2 days at this place he started rehab yesterday.  It's a Medicare for-profit facility...short-staffed, but except for cold eggs at breakfast he says the food has been good.  The pain medication he was on at the hospital and the first day or 2 here was not agreeing with him - apparently he is like me - synthetic opiates make us crazy.  So he's off those, and his brain is now functioning.
I, however, am a wreck.  The apartment he and mom have lived in for 25 years is 2 stories, and full of stuff.  I don't see how he can manage here.  So, I am trying to figure out how to tell him (or lead him to the conclusion) that they need to move.  Dad's a stubborn man, and he will not like the idea of moving to an "assisted living" place.  Hopefully the idea of someone else doing the house cleaning and cooking will help the idea along - I wish I had someone to do those things for me.
So I have 2 weeks - that is how long the PT said it would probably take to get him going again.
Keep your fingers crossed.....

Saturday, May 24, 2014


This is fascinating, and seems so ordinary at the same rime:  we're screwing up our bacterial balance with soap and cosmetics.

From the NYT
While most microbiome studies have focused on the health implications of what’s found deep in the gut, companies like AOBiome are interested in how we can manipulate the hidden universe of organisms (bacteria, viruses and fungi) teeming throughout our glands, hair follicles and epidermis. They see long-term medical possibilities in the idea of adding skin bacteria instead of vanquishing them with antibacterials — the potential to change how we diagnose and treat serious skin ailments. 
It's a short read. Hopefully the research will lead to treatments for excema, diabetic wounds that won't heal, and a host of other skin problems.

Monday, July 8, 2013

The 2 Koreas Hold Talks - And I Was There!

Well, not at the talks, but I was at the border.  In fact, I was actually (briefly) in North Korea!
Kaesong is big money for N. Korea.  The companies pay the country, which then pays the workers.  I also found out today that the companies provide food, but not rice - the workers have to bring their own.  Our guide said this was because the North doesn't want the workers to know how much better quality the South's rice is.  The workers also receive  2 "moon pies" every day.  Groups of 5 or 6 workers pool the pies - every day one worker gets all the pies, which are then sold on the black market.  They bring in the equivalent of a month's wages.
Back in April, at the height of tensions, the plant was closed.  But now the North wants money, and the workers need jobs, so the 2 sides are back at the table.
The Kaesong complex had been the centerpiece of joint projects launched when the liberal governments in Seoul introduced a period of inter-Korean rapprochement between 1998 and 2008. All those projects were suspended as relations deteriorated in the later years. The current South Korean leaders were more skeptical of North Korea, which continued to develop its nuclear weapons programs despite years of economic aid and diplomatic engagement.
Their attitude was reflected in their repeated rejection of a North Korean proposal to meet in Kaesong. They insisted that both sides meet halfway, on the border.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Last Day in Korea

Yesterday morning me and 2 new friends went shopping, and I got some goodies to put in the prize jar at school.  That's the bucket you get to pick from when you do really well on a test.  We went back to the hotel about 11:30 and got ready for our last 2 lectures and the closing ceremony and dinner.
After the lectures I and 2 other participants were asked to speak with a reporter about the trip - what we learned, how we plan to use it, our favorite part, etc.  The Korea Society is trying to show that this is an important program for the Korea Foundation to fund.
The actual ceremony was like a graduation:  several dignitaries spoke, we received "diplomas", and then we gave gifts to several of the hosts.  Men had their suits on, women wore nice dresses, all very top notch.
Then we had the closing dinner - the best meal yet.  Cold soup, cold seafood salad, grilled shrimp, chicken, beef, and rice cooked in a piece of bamboo.  More gift giving, then the microphone got passed around and we thanked our hosts.  It's been a wonderful and unforgettable experience.
After the ride back to the hotel several of us went to a night market, but it was a dud, so I went home and crashed.
Today we are going to the DMZ, and our Korean guides can't go.  Tomorrow morning, early, I leave.
Thanks Korea, its been fun!

the internets are slow today, so pics will have to wait.

Experiencing the Monsoon, and Other Joys

The last day of the field trip, and we are caught in the monsoon downpours.  We have been very lucky so far, as this is the rainy season but we have not had any hard rains.  Until today.  And my umbrella is on the bus, so I wear my hat and duck my head, and hide my camera in my purse.
We are at one of the three jewels of Korean Buddhism, the Haeinsa Temple. This complex houses the Tripitaka Koreana, 80,000 wood blocks with all the Buddhist scriptures written down.  it is a UNESCO world heritage site.  It rained a lot of the time we were there, but it was beautiful with the clouds and water.  Very peaceful even with tourists.
We had a long drive back to Seoul, and most of us slept at least some.  We did stop at a rest stop along the way.  There are several of these along the highways, with stores, food courts, and restrooms.
In the evening we tried to go to Nandaemun, but it was pouring, so we ducked into a chicken place and ate one of the best meals I've had here.  Fried chicken with a curry-sort of coating, and pickled radishes.  We took a several-changes subway ride back to the hotel, and I spent the evening washing clothes in the bathroom sink.  I am hoping they will dry before I have to pack; with the rain I am not sure...

Thursday, July 4, 2013

We Get Shushed on the Subway (Twice) and Other Things

This morning started with a trip to a Confucian Academy.  With the rise of the Choson dynasty neo-Confucianism rose to prominence and Buddhism was actively suppressed.   Becoming a Confucian scholar was a high ideal, and the way to rise in the society was through passing the exams and becoming a civil servant.  Although in China anyone could sit for the exams (but you had to have the money to study) in Korea on the 4 top-ranking social classes were eligible.  Neo-Confucianism emphasized ethical behavior and social order, and women's duties were relegated to the home.  The higher ranking social classes were the ones who most emphasized these principles, with commoners still practicing shamanism and Buddhism.
The next stop was Yangdong Village, a 500 year old clan village.  The houses and gardens are beautiful, but built on the side of a mountain, so there was lots of hiking.  We were privileged to visit the home of the headman and visit with him for awhile.
We left the village and headed for Daegu, Korea's 4th largest city. The hotel had an amazing buffet dinner for us, and then we went out for some fun.  We took the subway to someplace.  Apparently it is considered impolite to talk on the subway, and we were shushed by an older gentleman.  Our group split up, and eventually reunited a a karaoke place.  Here in Asia that means individual rooms for groups, so we had 2 rooms for our large group.  We sang for an hour, and our group headed home on the subway about 11 pm.  And we got shushed again!

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

The Field Trip

So we left Seoul Sunday morning for parts south.  Our first stop was the royal tomb of King Sejong.  This guy was apparently a genius - he invented an new alphabet, music, and all kinds of things.  The day was hot and humid, no breeze, and very sunny.  We tried to find shade wherever we went, but still I was drenched all day.We did a lot of driving, and although some was in the mountains, in all the valleys there is subsistence agriculture.  Just like I remember from my last visit - every piece of land larger than a postage stamp is cultivated.  Peppers, squash, lettuces and greens, onions, garlic, and of course large, flooded fields of rice.
After lunch we drove to the Jikji Print Museum.  The Jikji is the oldest piece of text printed with movable metal type.  We saw how the type was created, and then made paper and bound a book.
After dinner several of us went out to explore the nightlife of Cheongju.  We wandered the streets for awhile, then talked with and followed a Korean couple to a nice little pub.  It wasn't as exciting as Seoul, but we had a good time.

 Day 2
The whole day consisted of temples, tombs, and shrines.  We started with the birth of the first Silla king - a flying horse laid an egg by a well, and the boy king was born.  We visited a tomb complex, and entered through the gate that separates the material from the spiritual world.
After more food, we drove to the Seokguram Grotto.  We walked along a beautiful, cool, shaded path to the man-made cave, which was built in 700s by the Silla kings.  The Buddha within the grotto is 3.5 m high, and sits on a pedestal of lotus flower that is 1.3 m tall.  The grotto is part of the Bulguk-sa Temple, which overlooks the East Sea.
Our last stop of the day was another burial mound, guarded by statuary that include to requisite 2 soldiers and 2 civilians.
After dinner we checked into the nicest hotel so far - I have a balcony that looks out on the lake.  

Day 3
We started out this morning with a visit to a steel mill.  Korea's president in the 1960s really wanted to develop industry, so Pohang was picked as a site to build steel mills.  Korea doesn't have the iron ore or coal to fuel the mills, so they are imported from Australia, China, and other places.  The POSCO plant was built, and opened in the early 70s.  Due to the current plague of industrial espionage we couldn't take pictures in the plant, but we got to walk through a rolling mill - the heat from the hot steel was incredible.  I think this was the most fascinating thing I've seen here - watching a slab of almost molten steel go from 25 cm thick to 1.25 mm in just a couple minutes.  This steel will be used in home appliances, etc.
For lunch we stopped somewhere and had an "International Buffet."  Chinese, Japanese sushi, Korean, pizza - plus a bottle of Argentinian tempranillo.
More museuming after lunch -the Kyungju National Museum, where we saw many pieces from the Silla period of Korea.  This city was the capital of the Silla kingdom, which lasted 1000 years.
We then visited 2 Silla sites nearby - the Flying Horse tomb, and the Bun Hwang Sa temple.  You'll have to look at the links to find out about these sites.
After sitting on the floor for dinner, we had a 2 hour lesson-planning session, so that's all for now.
안녕히 계십시오!

Monday, July 1, 2013

4 Lectures, the Museum, plus Dinner and a Show

So we went back to the university today to set through four more lectures.  Today we learned about democratization, especially the June Movement, as well as Korean art, cinema, and a lively lecture by Dr. Mark Peterson of BYU on Korean history.  I really learned a lot during the political science lesson, and understand much better how Korean politics are influenced by their past.  They are in much the same boat as the US in some ways, suffering from "political nostalgia."  The current president is the daughter of a former dictator, kind of like the longing in the US for Reagan, of Iran-Contra fame.
Lunch was at the university cafeteria, but they had it set out for us so we didn't get to choose.  The fish were tasty, the rice fine, and kimchi was kimchi.  The cafeteria had inspirational quotes on the wall having to do with good health, but mostly about having nice-looking skin.  Kinda weird.  But I have to say, the older people have aged well.
After the lectures we visited the National Museum.  I have been there before, so after a quick tour I wandered around outside.  There was a beautiful lake and pagoda, plus a giant patio where people played.  The gift shop was had nice treasures, but was pricey.
The evening was taken up with dinner at a vegetarian restaurant, and a show,  Several women performed traditional dances in period dress.  It was very different from anything I've seen - lots of arm/hand gestures, and long flowing sleeves that got waved around.  By the time it was over I was beat, and glad to head back to the hotel to sleep.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Day 2, We Visit a School

So its our second day here, and after breakfast at the hotel we get on a bus to go to Korea University for our first 3 lectures. The university is in a beautiful park-like setting, and we have to hike awhile to get to our building. We have been warned that Korean lecturers are not like those in the US - they are not animated, they read from scripts, may be hard to understand, etc. But ours are great. The first is a woman who explains Hanguel, the Korean alphabet, to us. I follow for awhile, but she loses me when explaining the consonant sounds. I am trying to get my computer connected to the internet, and although my iPhone logged on just fine, my laptop won't. One of the young girls who is a Korean Society employee and is helping us, notices that I am having trouble and brings over a young Korean University guy who messes with the settings on my computer and fixes everything. So now I can look up some of what the lecturers are talking about.
The second lecture was Korean economics from Park's coup in the 60s up to the present. I had forgotten that the current president is Park's daughter. We learn about the move from agricultural, primary economic activities to Korea's inclusion in the 20-50 club in 2012: $20,000 per capita GDP and 50 million population. Only 7 countries worldwide have attained this status.  The lecturer also talks about the demographic decline, and how some municipalities are paying couples for a third child.  The push for the top has left Korea without enough people to do the dirty/dangerous jobs.
The third lecture is on Korean education.  The woman introduces the lecture with a 15 minute video, then we ask questions and she talks about the Korean system.  There is so much stress on the students, many of whom go to school for 15 hours every day.  They have school, plus after-school study schools and private tutoring, because they want to gain entry into one of the 3 top universities.  If they don't, it will bring shame upon their family.
We eat lunch at the university, a delicious buffet.  I remember my Korean manners, and when the professor we are sitting with pours us all a little wine for the toast, I pour his - it is rude to fill your own glass here.  Dr. ___ is very widely traveled, I find out.  He is off to Peru next , and then is going to NYC and Washington, DC.  He works with LDCs to help them develop the economy of their countries.
Our lectures and lunch have run past the alloted time, so we hurry to the bus and drive to Goyang Foreign Language High School, a private, Christian school where everybody studies from 7 am to 11 pm.  When we arrive we are lead into the auditorium-type room, where our student guides are waiting. We listen to introductions, watch a short video, then our guides take us on a tour, and then to the room where we will teach a short lesson.
Jina is the only one whose name I know and we are now fb friends.  She's a junior, and studies ALL the time.  Her friends said she's real smart.  She lived in San Francisco for awhile, her dad was working there - he's a doctor, I think she said.  Jina said school in SF was easy, she was at a gifted school, but when she came back to Korea she was far behind, and had to study all the time for 2 months to catch up.
That says wonders for our system of education.....
Teaching the class was fun - me and a teacher from Miami split the 30 minutes we had with them, and we all laughed the whole time.  She had a Miami Heat hat, and of course I am a Spurs fan, so we started with that.  The students were  not any different than American kids at heart - the class clown, the smart one who knows all the answers, etc.  I had a great time talking with them about Texas, and learning some about Korea.
Korean students stay in one classroom all day, just like in China, and the teachers rotate through the rooms.  There were no science labs.... although to be fair, the school focuses on foreign language: Spanish, English, French, Chinese.  The students have a countdown going for how long it is to the state exams that determine college admissions: 132 days.  All hearts and minds are focused on that.  At this school students take 10 classes a day, and then spend 2 1/2 hours in the evening after supper studying in a room with 50+ students and I teacher, no questions allowed, no talking, just studying.
On a side note, the girls all thought the Koreas should be reunited.  We didn't have time to get into any depth, but they were passionate in their sincerity.
We drove back to the hotel in evening traffic, and were going to go out, but after taking to subway trains to the "happening" area, we were too tired to do much besides eat and go home.  But I know the place to be if you are a 20-something Korean single person, because they were all there.
Enjoy the pics - click the little on to get the big ones.  They're all from the iPhone - my bag was too full to carry my camera.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Walking in Seoul

So we met in the hotel lobby this morning at 10 to begin our walking tour of Seoul.  We took the subway to the palace, watched the changing of the guard, walked through the courtyard and to the Folk Museum.  I had seen all the places in 2009, so I went to the museum gift shop and bought a couple things, then sat outside and people watched.
the area around the Blue House is pretty fancy, and we found a little place to eat Tteokdokki, a dish cooked in a little wok at your table.  Very tasty.
This evening we have a formal dinner at 6, and tomorrow lectures in the morning and teaching at a school in the afternoon - busy day.  
Enjoy the pics.