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by ZweiBieren Letters from Susan in Korea Prof. Susan Hansen
  July 2, 2006

It’s Monday morning in Seoul.  We can hear the bells from the nearby Buddhist temple, and our balcony on the hill looks out over the campus and city.  Cloudy and misty, as usual, and some smog from the 11 million people and cars in Seoul. 

What a week!  We had the opening reception, with spectacular entertainment from Korean folk musicians and dancers and a splendid buffet. Our first classes met in a beautiful new building – all very high-tech, but luckily the students and Fred can help me figure out all the technological gizmos. Most of my 20 students are of Korean background but from American universities. The 1000 students in this program are from 40 different countries.  They can read English well, but I’m not so sure about their writing or willingness to participate in class.  I’m trying some group discussion projects to get them involved.

We have over 40 faculty.  Psychology, film, and business are the most popular classes. One couple is from Cornell, here with their two daughters – so they know where Horseheads is!  I’m sitting in on a class in Korean culture and literature taught by a delightful Korean woman now teaching in Hawaii.  I hope to meet with some of the Korean political scientists so I can learn more about Korean politics.

We had a delightful evening Monday with Prof. Lee, whom we had met on Semester at Sea.  He was very pleased to welcome us and took us out to a wonderful traditional Korean barbecue dinner: the meat is cooked on a charcoal grill set right into the table.  He has invited us to his university for lunch next week and to his home July 17. His wife is a pediatrician, and he has two grown daughters and two grandchildren.

Our anniversary was Thursday – a VERY hot day!  We went to an excellent Chinese restaurant – the menu was all in Korean, but the waitress was very helpful. Then we had ice cream at Baskin Robbins, and walked home in the rain.   Lots of shops and restaurants on campus, all very lively at night.

Ellyn –   I’ve seen a few American Eagle clothes on campus.  Most of the Korean girls are so slender – I can see why you need size 0 and 00 for this market. Maybe Fred and I will lose some weight – our apartment is up a STEEP hill, and there is a very nice fitness center here also (but no swimming pool). I’m starting up a yoga class – I’m not an expert, but can at least lead a few poses, and perhaps another faculty member or student will help me.

Saturday we visited a “village” of traditional Korean houses in a park in Seoul, and then went to a huge department store.  AMAZING food – lots of French pastries and a whole aisle of cooking exhibits from Thailand.  Amazing clothes also – Armani, $$200 designer jeans – luckily there are lots of discount outlets in the city also.  We are getting pretty good at getting around by subway: lots of signs in English.  Last week Fred even found a Go club (called Paduk here) and there is a TV channel that broadcasts Go 24/7.

Yesterday Prof. Lee and his wife drove us to the DMZ.  We saw the tunnel the North Koreans had built to infiltrate, and could look into North Korea from the observatory.  Beautiful day and beautiful scenery – mountains, rivers, and rice paddies.  It’s so sad that the country has this artificial boundary separating families.  NO letters or phone calls or visits allowed into North Korea!

Fred has put our Korea pictures so far on his Web site, www.physpics.com, so you can enjoy the country along with us.


July 18, 2006

Here’s the latest installment of news from Korea. Fred has many pictures and his detailed log on his Web site, www.physpics.com, and I hope you all have checked it out. He’s really enjoying the digital camera, because he can play with the pictures afterward and share the good ones.

Lots of fun activities to report. We went on a field trip to the huge Samsung Electronics main campus, and saw dozens of the new gizmos they are developing. One is a cell-phone-sized phone, camera, music player, computer, calendar, etc. all in one – “digital integration” is the coming thing, Also appliances – flat-screen TVs, refrigerators and washing machines with all sorts of fancy controls, and a best seller in Korea – a Kimchi fridge, to store the pickled vegetables served at every meal. Cabbage, radishes, etc. are marinated for weeks in vinegar and hot peppers, and this fridge keeps the odors from spreading to other foods. We also took a bus tour of the main sights in the city, and walked around the grounds and buildings of a huge palace built for the last royal dynasty. And we rode to the top of the 700-foot Seoul Tower for a spectacular view – on a relatively clear day, for a change.

We had hoped to visit a Korean folk village to see traditional homes and crafts, but it rained buckets that day and most of the last week, so it was too muddy. Flooding all over the country- roads washed out, people stranded, crops ruined. Just as with US disasters, it’s all the media here are covering. Combination of monsoon rains and a couple of typhoons – and maybe global warming?? But at least it hasn’t been hot – I’m not sorry to be missing your heat wave.

Sunday we sent to the huge new Seoul National Museum. Beautiful art objects and archaeology dating back thousands of years – especially fine ceramics. Korea even had trade with the Roman Empire over the Silk Road from the Mediterranean across China.

Yesterday – no classes, national holiday. Fred and I took a long subway ride to the southern edge of Seoul to visit our friend Prof. Lee, whom we got to know on Semester at Sea. He and his wife Hong have a lovely, spacious apartment – huge, with four bedrooms, study, balcony garden, big kitchen – and of course a Kimchee fridge! She served a traditional Korean meal of tender braised beef, fish soup, pickles and salads, rice, and fruit for dessert. And we sat on cushions on the floor at a low table – bit of a challenge for Westerners. His Ph. D. is from Pitt and he has had a distinguished career as a professor of English and dean – recently retired. He has been a wonderful host, driving us all around (to the DMZ a couple of weeks ago) and answering our dozens of questions. Last week he also took us to lunch and a tour of his university.

A big trip planned for this weekend, via train to an area in the South with the remains of many palaces from one of the first Korean kingdoms. One of the faculty members speaks Korean and will guide us. So we’re hoping it will STOP raining for awhile! It will be nice to see more of the country and to try out the super-express trains. And I’ll enjoy a hotel with a swimming pool and a bathtub – we only have a shower. And tomorrow we may try again to visit the traditional village.

Cooking is still a challenge because of the unfamiliar ingredients. . I even tried out the rice cooker – sort of like a pressure cooker, to make the “sticky rice” Koreans like. So we’re hardly starving, and plenty of places to eat out near campus. We had a delicious sushi dinner last Friday. So far we’ve avoided the American restaurants like the Outback Steakhouse, McDonald’s, and TGI Friday’s. The dorm also has a fitness center and music rooms, so I’ve been enjoying the piano. We’ve watched a couple of Korean movies (with English subtitles) at the dorm. I’m teaching the Yoga class two nights a week. And we’ve started Korean lessons! VERY challenging – far easier than Chinese, because they do have an alphabet with only 24 letters to learn, BUT lots of confusing double vowels or consonants, and many sounds hard to say in English. I certainly don’t expect to be very fluent in conversation, but already we can read some of the words on signs around the city and subway. So – “Anyeong Hasseyo,” everyone – that’s hello and goodbye!


August 1, 2006

Probably my last memo from Korea – how time has flown. My last lecture was today – exam is Thurs. – graduation and final dinner Fri. evening – and we leave for Japan on Sat.

We’ve made some wonderful friends, and it’s been fun getting to know the students and to learn a bit about Korean politics.

Many adventures to report.  July 21-23 we took the KTX bullet train to the Southern city of Geong Ju.  A nice mix of old and new – the train was super-fast, very slick and comfortable, and the express bus back to Seoul was also luxurious compared to anything in the US. Fine highways as well, and a spectacular rest stop in the central mountains.

The old city dates back to the 5-6th century, the heyday of the old Silla kingdom and a UNESCO World Heritage site. They buried their royalty in tombs covered by huge mounds of dirt and rocks, and the few that have been excavated have yielded wonderful art and artifacts about how people lived. We also saw one of the restored palaces, surrounded by a picturesque pond, gardens, and lovely landscaping.  Then we drove to the shore by the Sea of Japan for lunch and a view of a floating tomb (an offshore island), pagodas, rice fields, and temples.  The fishing boats came right up to the beach to deliver the fish for our lunch of a wonderful fish soup, which we ate sitting on the floor at low tables under a tent.  Not comfortable for Westerners – my feet quickly go to sleep.

We also drove up a curving mountain road to see a famous grotto with a fine statue of Buddha.  The rule seems to be that Buddha statues belong up HIGH, so it was quite a walk and climb. We stopped at another even higher Buddha shrine later, and I let Fred do that climb alone.  I sat by the shady temple garden and listened to recordings of Buddhist chants – very peaceful afternoon.

We traveled with several other faculty, incl. a couple from Cornell with their daughters, age 8 and 14 (I hope to see them in Ithaca when I get up to Horseheads).  Our leader, an economics professor, spoke Korean and that helped out a lot.  He has a Korean wife he met here in the 1980s when he was a Mormon missionary. Many other tourists, mostly Korean – families, darling children, honeymooners.  We met an interesting guy from New Zealand, a retired sheep farmer taking four months to travel all over Asia. A great shopper – never missed a souvenir stand, but almost missed our bus once because he was still shopping.  By Sun. we’d all had enough Korean food, so we went to the fancy brunch at the Hilton resort on a nearby lake. Then we almost missed our bus back because the taxi driver took us to the wrong hotel, but made it with minutes to spare.

Last Wed. we went to the Korean Disneyland – Lotte World.  Mostly indoors, because it was raining as usual.  Fred and the students enjoyed the various rides – I enjoyed the shopping and the Korean Folk Museum, especially the wonderful exhibits of costumes in styles going back many centuries.  They also had scale models of palaces, villages, farming, markets, temples, etc. with little figures in costumes.  Since I had seen only empty palaces, it was fun to see how they might have looked during a royal procession.

Sat. we went to a show “Cookin’” – the actors played chefs trying to prepare a dinner, but getting distracted and doing fancy drumming with the knives and kitchen utensils, juggling, and just clowning around.  Very funny and no translations needed!

Sun. I went with a friend to a lecture and Zen meditation at a Buddhist temple in the city.  They had a whole program for Westerners, led by monks from – Italy and New York City, who somehow ended up in Korea.  Their answer to all the world’s problems seems to be – sit and meditate.  A strange religion that talks about “mind” rather than God, but very interesting to hear such a different perspective.

The monsoon seems to have ended – now sunny and HOT, but I just read it would be 101 in NY today – hope it cools off before we get home.  And we’d love to hear from you – hopefully before Friday since we won’t have the computer connection.


August 10, 2006

Hello from Kyoto - beautiful and historic old capital city. We've had excellent guides and enjoyed Mt Fuji, the "bullet train" ride, a white-water river boat trip, Japanese arts and crafts, girls in kimonos, temples, palaces, etc. Fred has been busy posting photos - I'll get back to more detailed news soon. The typhoon missed us, but it's been super-hot here as in the US. I love the Japanese gardens, art, and beautiful fabrics.
We leave tomorrow for Hiroshima and Osaka - back to Tokyo (Dai Ichi Hotel) the 14th and home the 15th. It will be great to catch up on all the news from home!
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