As I mentioned in yesterday’s blog entry, my family and I went to Seoulland, an amusement park inside Seoul Grand Park.  Earlier this month, we visited the zoo at Seoul Grand Park.  With a footprint the size of Disneyland, Seoulland isn’t quite as majestic or thematic as Disney’s theme parks.  Seoulland serves as more of an affordable, functional family fun park.  Admission was fairly cheap (about $9 per adult with a discount coupon).   We even received free gifts, pairs of hunter orange and black Thinsulate gloves embossed with the Seoulland logo.  The park offers a wide variety of fun attractions, including rides, carnival booths, restaurants, and gift shops.   
We went with two other couples and kids in tow.  The day was cool and smoggy but not unbearable.  When we arrived, we were greeted by a pungent smell that turned out to be the wafting smell of fried silkworms.  Yes, silkworms.  I took a photo of the concoction (see below), but I couldn’t capture the acrid smell with my digital camera.  We opted to snack on corn dogs and chicken sticks instead of trying silkworm.  I’m sure they must be delicious!
For the Shutterbugs:  I posted more photos of our trip to Seoulland for your viewing pleasure.  Enjoy!

Overblown and overprepared

We went to Seoulland today with some friends.  I’ll talk more about what happened there tomorrow.  For now, let me dwell on something interesting that happened–or rather, did not happen–today.  We left today fully prepared for heavy congestion and massive crowds at Seoulland.  After all, this is Sollal, or Korean New Year, and the entire nation of Korea is supposed to be out and about enjoying a much-needed holiday.  We all prepared for the worst.  Our friends considered taking the subway to avoid driving to Seoulland.  Finally convinced that driving was a better option, they packed extra food and a portable DVD player for the kids, just in case we were stuck in heavy traffic.  It was all for naught.  The roads were eerily quiet, and we arrived at Seoulland in just 20 minutes.   Granted, we drove on surface streets and avoided the interstate highway, which I assumed was more likely to be congested.  Seoulland was very quiet when we arrived at 10:30 this morning, although the crowds came later.  We left before the masses departed and avoided congestion on the way home.
The experience reminded me of all those times I overprepared for something that did not materialize as planned.  Dear Reader, do you remember Y2K?  Did your company spend an inordinate amount of money and effort to upgrade their computer systems?  Did you wonder at midnight on December 31, 1999 whether the lights would go out and the world would shut down because of the overly hyped Y2K problem?  Did you buy candles or flashlights and keep them handy?  Did you stockpile canned goods?  Did you ever read "The Hot Zone" about the Ebola outbreak in monkeys in Reston, Virginia or watch the movie "Outbreak" and wonder whether a human strain of Ebola or another devastating airborne virus would hit the United States?  Do you wonder now whether avian flu will become a pandemic?  Preparing for the worst and taking precautions are very important, whether you’re driving in wintery conditions, safeguarding your home, or anticipating future risks such as the effects of Hurricane Katrina.  Nevertheless, sometimes non-events happen that are occasionally overhyped and leave you feeling foolish, duped, and/or extremely relieved.  It’s critical to discern when to play it safe and when to take calculated risks.  For example, I’m thankful we did not let any worries prevent us from traveling to the Middle East immediately following 9/11.  The trip was unforgettable.  Today felt like one of those days.  I’m glad we risked heavy Sollal traffic and massive Seoulland crowds despite any misgivings and had a great time. 
Granted, this is also the 20th anniversary of the Challenger Space Shuttle disaster, a tragedy that could have been prevented if NASA had heeded the advice of scientists who warned that the space shuttle’s O-rings were vulnerable to overheating.  In situations as critical as the launch of a shuttle into space, such concerns must be addressed.  A trip to Seoulland during Sollal is much less of a concern and worth the calculated risk.

Right-handed…I think so

I took a couple days off from blogging.  I spent Thursday evening drafting my career evaluation, and on Friday evening we went out with some friends to celebrate one of their birthdays.  Writing my own evaluation has been an agonizing experience.  It’s easy to blog about life in general; it’s much more difficult to evaluate your own job performance and anticipate what your supervisor and reviewer will write about you (good, I hope).  I have to give both of them material they can use to write their evaluations of me.  This annual ritual is one aspect of the job everyone seems to dread but knows is critical to career success.  Perhaps I should recommend changing the format of evaluations so that they’re more like blogs, or online journals.  That would never happen!
Last night my wife and I dined with friends at a "French" restaurant called "Pishon."  Marginally French, it actually served Italian-Asian fushion cuisine, although the ambiance invoked a districtly French aura.  The food was exquisite, and I was experience happy to see that they did not serve sweet pickles.  This is the first European restaurant I’ve patronized in Korea that did not serve sweet pickles, a kimchi substitute in Western restaurants.  The restaurant is cozy.  Seating is only available for about 30 people.  The kitchen could not have been more than 10′ x 8′, much too small to prepare multi-course meals.  I suspect that the restaurant prepares meals in another kitchen.  I also thought it interesting that the gentleman playing classical guitar (which was very nice and romantic, by the way) also doubled as a dishwasher.  At least the restaurant offered valet parking.  All in all, I would recommend "Pishon" to anyone living in Seoul who’s looking for fine dining.
My son and I spent the morning together while my wife caught up on her beauty sleep.  My son really missed us last night, so at 5 a.m. this morning he woke up, looking for mommy.  When she went to see him, he became so excited to see her that he couldn’t get back to sleep.  I took over at about 7:30 a.m. and was with him until he went down for an early nap.  I fed him some cereal and noted that he ate it with his right hand.  Later, when we went outside and played in the sandbox, I again noticed that he used his right hand to shovel dirt.  I realized that my son must be right-handed.  I’ve wondered for awhile whether he would be right- or left-handed, because I am left-handed and my wife is right-handed.  When he was younger, he used both hands equally, but now he’s growing increasingly right-handed.  Right-handedness is a dominant human trait, so I believe it likely that my son would be right-handed.   
In Chinese culture, children are still taught to use their right hands regardless of whether they are left- or right-handed.  As a left-handed person, (a.k.a. leftie or southpaw–not to be confused with someone who leans Left politically), I am critical of this practice, although I know that it is a manifestation of cultural tradition.  In certain countries, I will have to learn to use my right hand to write or eat, or I will risk offending my hosts.  Chinese and Koreans do not generally take offense when one uses their left hands to write or eat, although they still require their children to use their right hands.  In other areas of the world, especially in South Asia and the Middle East, locals can be very critical of people who use their left hands.  I maintain that lefties are essentially a "persecuted" minority, even in the West.  I learned long ago as a student to using scissors with my right hand, because no left-handed scissors were available, and I learned to study in undersized classroom desks designed for right-handed students.  I am dreading the day when I have to eat with my right hand to be polite, because it’s an offensive practice necessitated by protocol (it’s better to do it than offend your host).  Perhaps less malicious than forcing a vegetarian to eat meat or a non-drinker to drink alcohol, it still is offensive to lefties.  I cannot help but lament over the many left-handed people who are forced to use their right hands, stifling the benefits that come from being left-handed.  Left-handed individuals use the right half of their brain, and they tend to think and perform differently than right-handed individuals.  They are well known for being creative and talented, although these traits are not universal to southpaws, nor are they exclusive to lefties.  I would have been very proud if my son were left-handed, but considering that we may live overseas for a long time, I’m happy that he won’t have to worry about which hand he’s using.
I digress.  Let me go back to talking about my son.  Lately I’ve noticed that my son’s speaking has become more nuanced.  For example, rather than simply answering "yes" or "no" in English or Chinese, he now says, "I think so."  I think it’s cute to see this little guy answer questions with more than a curt reply.  I think it’s a phrase he picked up from one of us.  I don’t think he grasps the concept of "I think so" other than that it’s a positive way to answer a question.
Blog Notes:  I talked to my colleague, the community choir director.  He said that he’ll try to accommodate my schedule so I can remain part of the choir.  I will continue to be part of the choir.  It should be fun…and a lot of work.  I’m glad the schedule is flexible.

Choir boy

I did something different tonight–I joined a community choir.  One of my colleagues formed a community choir, and I pledged to join the bass section.  My wife wasn’t too happy that I made the commitment, although I know she will be in the audience when we put on some community performances next spring.  Choir practice started last week, but I was unavailable.  I went tonight for the first time, but I’m not sure whether or not to continue.  Part of me says I shouldn’t do it, because I’m already overcommitted, and time is precious.  Choir practice is scheduled for two hours every Tuesday night.  Another part of me is urging me to do something different for a change.  This definitely is different!
Joining a choir hearkens back to my youth, when I regularly participated in high school and church choirs.  When I was in high school, I starred in a couple of school musicals.  After high school, I kept up the hobby by singing in church choirs, but my interest gradually faded.  Singing in a choir requires a high degree of discipline and commitment that I did not have when I was younger.  I still don’t know if I have what it takes to stay committed to this endeavor.  I haven’t read sheet music in years, and reading the music elicited feelings akin to getting back on a bicycle years after the last ride (I haven’t ridden in years either).  I had forgotten what it was like to sing with discipline, which is a far cry from free-spirited, entertaining karaoke.  The songs we sang tonight are very old medleys penned by the likes of Bach and Mozart, among others.  They require a strong grasp of range, melody, rhythm, and harmony.  Nevertheless, I enjoyed reliving the way I used to practice singing.  Whether I’ll enjoy it week in and week out remains to be seen.  Like a classroom, choir practice will retrain me in a discipline that disappeared from my life years ago.  In the end, I think it will be well worth the effort, because I will be part of what I think will be an amazing choir.  My colleague, the choir director, is also a music instructor and has directed many, many choirs.  He is autocratic and will drive us to excel like a drill sargeant, which is exactly what we need.  I also look forward to meeting many new friends, Korean and American, who share the same passion for singing.  Together, we shall make beautiful music.
Blog Notes:  I spoke to my sister this weekend.  She said that my grandma’s condition has stabilized.  The operation was very traumatic to her system.  She is a very strong lady, and I am hopeful that she will heal, even at 94 years old.  We moved our return trip to the U.S. up to May, increasing the chance I will see her again.

Go Seahawks!!

The Seattle Seahawks are going to Superbowl XL!!!!!!  The Seattle Seahawks are going to the Superbowl!  Eat kelp, ESPN, Sports Illustrated, and the rest of you misguided sports media types who predicted a Carolina Panthers victory today.  No doubt in the coming weeks you will hype the Steeler Curtain and the Bus (Bettis) to no end.  As I expected, the Seahawks are 3.5 point underdogs against the Pittsburgh Steelers in the Superbowl on February 5.  I’ll take those odds anyday.  If you like to gamble, put your money on the Seahawks.  Even if they lose the Superbowl by 3 points, you still win.  Go ‘Hawks!

The New 7 World Wonders

My wife brought to attention tonight’s topic, the New 7 World Wonders.  I am a huge fan of the 7 World Wonders of the Ancient World, a list originally compiled by the Greeks around the Second Century, B.C.  Of the original 7 World Wonders, only the Great Pyramid of Cheops at Giza, Egypt exists today.  (Contrary to popular belief, only the Great Pyramid is designated as a Wonder, not the entire site at Giza.)  The other six Wonders have vanished with age and assaults by natural disasters, invaders, and vandals.  Interestingly, the Acropolis in Athens, one of the candidates on the list of New 7 World Wonders, is not a World Wonder of the Ancient (Hellenic) World.  The other six Wonders were the Pharos Lighthouse, the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, the Statue of Zeus, the Temple of Artemis, the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus, and the Colossus at Rhodes.  
My favorite Ancient Wonder is the Pharos, or Lighthouse of Alexandria (290 B.C. – 1323 A.D.), which dominated the harbor in Alexandria, Egypt.  A massive marble and granite lighthouse, it once dominated Alexandria, one of the world’s great cities from its founding by Alexander the Great until the Middle Ages.  My wife and I have visited both the Great Pyramid and the site of where Pharos once stood (I hope visit the other sites someday as well).  Where Pharos once stood now stands an old Muslim fort known as Qaitbay.  When we were in Alexandria in 2001, I remember watching crews of Egyptians beautifying the site by cutting and assembling a red granite promenade.  It broke my heart.  I was positive that the granite came from the original Pharos Lighthouse.  When the lighthouse was toppled by an earthquake in 1323, it fell into the harbor.  There it lay undisturbed until recently, when its remains were unearthed by archeologists.  Rather than dismantling Qaitbay and rebuilding the lighthouse, the City of Alexandria apparently decided to reuse the marble to beautify the waterfront.  As a history buff, I am saddened that one of the Seven Wonders was used to build a decorative promenade.
On January 1, 2006, the Swiss-based New 7 Seven World Wonders recently unveiled 21 finalists for the distinction of New World Wonder.  According to the Korea Times, the finalists were drawn from the 529 heritage sites on the UNESCO World Heritage List.  Korea has seven World Heritage sites, none of which made the final list of candidates (I think Bulguksa Temple would have been a good finalist).  The rules specify that the final list of World Wonders must feature one world wonder from each continent except Antarctica, and no single country can have more than one site.  Hence, the Great Wall of China made the list, but unfortunately the Forbidden City in Beijing did not make the list.  Based on these rules, it’s obvious that the Sydney Opera House will be named a World Wonder because it is the sole finalist from Oceania.  This is unfortunate, because many sites in Asia, including the Taj Mahal and Angkor Wat, certainly deserve to be called World Wonders.  Assuming the Great Wall of China will be initially chosen as Asia’s World Wonder, only one other Asian site can be designated a New World Wonder.  I am partial to potential Wonders that stand the test of time.  Hence, I would choose Angkor Wat and the Taj Mahal over the Sydney Opera House.
If I were to choose the New 7 World Wonders based on the Foundation’s criteria, I would include these sites on my own list of World Wonders:
  1. Pyramids of Giza (Egypt)
  2. Great Wall (China)
  3. Acropolis (Greece)
  4. Chichen Itza (Mexico)
  5. Macchu Picchu (Peru)
  6. Sydney Opera House (Australia)
  7. Angkor Wat (Cambodia)

If I could change the rules, I would replace the Sydney Opera House with the Taj Mahal (India).  Angkor Wat edges out the Taj Mahal ever so slightly.  Honorable mentions include the Eiffel Tower, the Statue of Liberty, the Statues at Easter Island, and the Colosseum.  Each is significant but a close second those on the list above. 


I also believe the Foundation missed a few potential World Wonders, modern architectural marvels worthy of the designation "World Wonder."  These include the Chunnel connecting England and France, the Confederation Bridge linking Prince Edward Island to the Canadian mainland, the Golden Gate Bridge in California, the Laerdal Tunnel in Norway, the Petronas Towers in Malaysia, and the Pearl of the Orient Tower in Shanghai, China.  Perhaps the Foundation should have two lists–one for ancient sites such as the Pyramids, and one for modern marvels such as the Statue of Liberty and Eiffel Tower.  Age really does make a big difference.

FS Journal feature

I read on another blog that World Adventurers was featured in the January 2006 edition of the Foreign Service Journal, the monthly publication of the American Foreign Service Association.  The FSJ is widely read in the American diplomatic community, and I am honored by the Journal’s unsolicited acknowledgement of my blog in its monthly "Cybernotes" column.  My blog was purportedly highlighted along with a few other blogs related to Foreign Service life.  A hearty welcome to anyone who surfs over to World Adventurers from the FSJ.  Stop by anytime.  Some members of the Foreign Service community already read this blog.  One member calls World Adventurers "interesting and eclectic."  Another commented that it navigates overseas life and tackles sticky intercultural issues without succumbing to controversy.  I hope so.  This blog is ultimately my way of documenting life overseas with a modicum of entertainment value.  I do my best to avoid controversy and strive to inform.
I tried to obtain a copy of the magazine article, but I haven’t yet received my copy in the hinterland of Korea.  In fact, I just received the December 2005 edition, so I probably won’t get this month’s edition until sometime in February.  I checked the AFSA web site to see if I could view it online, but I haven’t set up my online account yet.  Drats!  I’ll see if I can get ahold of a copy soon.
Blog Notes:  I was very sad to find out this week that my grandma has been hospitalized and had to have major surgery.  Fortunately, the surgery was successful, and she is recuperating now.  What I wrote a recent blog entry about Nai Nai, my wife’s grandmother, is ever more relevant.  I’m praying that my grandma will pull through this so that I can see her again when we go home this summer.  She is my only living grandparent, and we are very close even though I haven’t spent much time with her in recent years.  I often think about her and wonder sometimes if I will see her again.  As they say, when it rains, it pours.  *sigh*