Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Report from Kenya

In January 2007 I traveled to Kenya with University of Illinois journalism professor Nancy Benson and UI law professor Patrick Keenan to investigate the conflict that arises between humans and wildlife around the Masai Mara wildlife reserve. I shot about twelve hours of videotape throughout Kenya, but mostly in the rural settlements of the nomadic Maasai tribe. Professor Benson has since produced a short documentary using the material we gathered and enlisted a UI graduate student to edit the video (since I'm now on another foreign adventure!). The piece has aired on the Public Broadcasting System affiliate in Urbana, IL, WILL-TV, as part of the award-winning "Prairie Fire" series. This was my second contribution to "Prairie Fire"; I produced a feature for the series three years ago after my reporting trip to Peru. You can watch the Kenya video below . . . please excuse the awkward first frame!

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Hanna, du, se . . . you're out!

Last weekend's sunny, warm weather offered the perfect scenario to enjoy America's pastime . . . in Seoul. I went to a baseball game at Jamsil Stadium in southern Seoul on Sunday afternoon. The Doosan Bears took on the SK Wyverns. "What the heck's a wyvern?!" you ask. Don't bother asking the Korean fans who were waving and wearing Wyvern paraphernalia. When I asked the red clad couple next to me, "What's a wyvern?" they offered no response, just stared at me with wide eyes (although I can't be certain they even understood the question). In case you're truly interested, as I was, you can read about wyerns here.

The Doosan Bears had a very hip, sexy, female cheering squad. The Wyverns had an enthusiastic young chap leading dances and cheers and commanding the crowds every move with a whistle.

Jamsil Stadium

No, this isn't Busch Stadium . . . a fan of my home team roots for the Wyverns in Seoul.

I went to a baseball game in Tokyo last August and the beer distributors were young, sexy females with wide smiles and bleached hair carrying pony kegs on their backs. Evidently, Seoul prefers the male counterpart.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Seangil Chukahaeyo, Sophia!

That's, "Happy birthday, Sophia!" The KBS World Radio English team celebrated Sophia's birthday last Friday with a lunch of "Shabeu Shabeu", essentially a pot of fresh seafood boiled alive at your table. I've eaten my share of seafood in this lifetime, but this was a special experience I'll never forget. I'm no animal rights activist, but watching my soon-to-be lunch writhe in a pot of boiling water right next to my glass of beer was an eye-opener. The event was complete with a chocolate cake, U.S. style, since my experience baking a cake for a friend last month has made me a master finagler of American recipes in the land of morning calm.

Part of our crew just getting started with the Shabeu Shabeu

Sophia didn't want to wait for this guy to die

Sarah says, "Don't fight it, buddy!" pushing the crab into the boiling water as Chris watches in wonder

A great meal topped off with a delicious chocolate cake

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Visual Pollution

My KBS office resides in an area of the city zealously referred to as the "Manhattan" of Seoul. With a cluster of high-rise office buildings, the National Assembly headquarters, and a large city park, Yeouido island sits on the south side of the Han River and is the center of South Korean politics. Ironically, the name Yeouido translates to "useless". As one of Seoul's business districts, it has a very white-collar feel--suited professionals toying with cell phones and Blackberries, commuters racing across six lanes of traffic just in time for the light to change, and sidewalks and cafes saturated between noon and one o'clock. It's lively in its own right, but one thing my area of Yeouido is lacking is color. Aside from the large park in the center of the island that offers an abundance of colors in autumn and at least a little green in the spring and summer, the area is pretty boring, aesthetically. Travel beyond Yeouido's concrete and glass and you'll find parts of Seoul plastered with so much color you'd think a Skittles factory exploded nearby. Whenever I pass through these areas in a bus or taxi I feel like an awestruck country girl cruising the city for the first time. The flashing lights advertising bars and 24-hour saunas and huge, colorful advertisements seem to go on forever--up every building, down every alley, and reflecting off the windows of taxis buzzing by. The Seoul city government calls the excess of neon lights, signboards, and advertisements "visual pollution" and it's taking measures to ensure the mayhem doesn't spread. Starting this month, businesses in developing areas will only be allowed one sign of restricted proportions and flashing lights on signboards will be completely banned. In a March press conference, Seoul Mayor Oh Se-hoon said, "Many advertisements on Seoul streets have gone long beyond their informative function and become 'visual pollution,' which has posed a big obstacle to Seoul's revival as a city of high-quality design." Since the law is not retroactive, the areas already "polluted" probably won't see much change. While it's becoming difficult to photograph some of Seoul's historic landmarks without capturing tacky neon lights in the background, I must admit that the bright and colorful parts of the city are part of what makes Seoul, well, Seoul, to me. I learned to read Korean by testing myself on signboards I pass between home and work, and I can't deny the feeling of excitement and wonder I get from these bright, bustling neighborhoods in a place that couldn't be more different from small-town America. At the end of the day, I really am a country girl in a big, foreign city and its visual pollution is all part of the thrill. So as Seoul's increasingly Western-influenced government pushes the city to become recognized as a global hot spot of business and culture, I just hope they don't take too much of Korea away.

To the right and below, two sides of a building in my neighborhood.

This example is not an anomaly. Many buildings are completely covered in signs.

Hanging out in bright Hongdae

Some kindergarteners add a splash of color to Yeouido during a KBS tour last autumn

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

South Korea's 18th General Election

South Korea held its 18th general election last week. After a 13-day official campaign period, President Lee Myung-bak's Grand National Party snagged a majority of parliamentary seats, paving the way for Lee administration policy to pass the National Assembly. I've long bemoaned the excessive campaign period U.S. politicians enjoy, yet South Korea's 13 days seemed incredibly short. Candidates had no choice but to hit the ground running, trying to cover constituencies, shake hands, and hold babies as quickly and efficiently as the next guy or gal on the docket. Most campaign workers seemed to fit a fairly narrow demographic. In Korea, they're called ajummas. That refers to married, usually middle-aged and older women. To the left, a couple "campaign ajummas" (as I call them) hit Seoul streets early on a Sunday morning. You can see a banner promoting candidate #2 in the background. Banners of this type, ajummas dressed like this pair, and trucks outfitted with booming PA systems, podiums, and large television screens were seen all over Seoul during the campaign period.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Spring has sprung in Seoul!

Seoulites enjoyed a beautiful spring weekend. The weather was perfect for sightseeing, hiking, or just relaxing outdoors. Here are a few photos I've taken recently. To the left, cherry blossoms bloom around KBS.

Enjoying some street food in Hongdae, Seoul. Saturday was warm enough to shed the coat and scarf and hit the streets under sunny skies. My favorite--chicken on a stick!

I love the city. You never know what you'll see next. Don't let the bunny ears fool you, this guy was all business as he cruised past Hongik University. He wouldn't even smile for the camera.

Bikers take a break in Yeouido park Monday morning.

Street food hits Yeouido Park!

Korea is famous for its cherry blossoms. They came out in full force over the weekend.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Worldwide Friendship today!

Don't forget to catch Worldwide Friendship today! Haewon and I will read listener letters and discuss some interesting news items. Sue Park brings us "Searchword of the Week" and Jieun Kim introduces us to a new spot in the country with "Discovering Korea". Those of you who have left messages here on my blog don't want to miss the show!

Friday, April 4, 2008

Seoul Calling with Matt and Abby

Genetically, we're 1/4 Korean but our enthusiasm for this country is 100%! We're Matt Kelley and Abby Rhodes and we host Seoul Calling on KBS World Radio every Tuesday and Thursday. Abby writes the show, so pass along your ideas, comments, and suggestions. You can comment here on the blog or e-mail us at english@kbs.co.kr.

Seoul Calling comes to you every weekday with interesting news about what's going on in and around Seoul, rounded out with K-pop music and special features like "Korean Festivals" and "Easy Korean Cooking". At the end of every Seoul Calling episode you can catch our daily language lesson, "Let's Learn Korean!". With contributors Jieun Kim, Sue Park, and Chris Dykas, we bring you fun and varied programming you won't find anywhere else.

O ship beon!

***Originally posted December 13, 2007 to personal blog

Since samgyeopsal (three-fat pork) has become a weekly staple in my diet, I decided it was high time I join a gym. In a society where great importance is placed on appearance and it seems everyone is on a diet, gyms are ubiquitous. I located a little mom-n-pop operation about two blocks from my apartment last week and sauntered in to inquire about their monthly membership rates. I made my first faux pas just stepping in the door. It's customary to take off your shoes when entering a home or a a restaurant with floor seating, but I didn't realize the same rules apply to gyms. And apparently walking over about five pairs of shoes just to get through the door wasn't hint enough. Once I realized everyone who was paying attention was staring at my feet, I quickly shuffled back out into the entryway and shed my shoes. Through a series of hand gestures, grunts, and facial expressions, I confirmed the membership rates and told the owner I'd be back another day.

So, this Monday I found myself back in the gym, the owner sternly instructing me to do "O ship beon" [fifty more] abdominal exercise "x". Fifty more?! Who do I look like, Rocky Balboa?! This guy does not think it is cute and/or funny that I don't speak Korean. While I smile at my own ignorance, hoping for a little sympathy, he seems to get increasingly annoyed. Although I tried to explain that I really just wanted to run on the treadmill, Mr. Gymowner seemed highly concerned with my mid-section and insisted upon guiding me through rigorous strength training before turning me loose for a cardio workout. I hung up my coat and hadn't gotten three steps outside the locker room when he approached me and used blatant gestures to "explain" we'd be working on my stomach . . . and whatever you call the flab that pokes out of your sides over the band of your exercise shorts. At this point, I was glad I couldn't understand anything that was coming out of his mouth. His message was pretty clear--"Honey, that samgyeopsal is going straight to your gut."

Amid 1970s era posters of body builders, I huffed and puffed my way through Mr. Gymowner's instructions, looking forward to being left alone to commence my treadmill workout. But when the time arrived, I realized every treadmill in the gym was set up on a permanent incline--a significant incline. Not ready for defeat, I decided no hill was too much for me and started running at a fairly brisk pace. That's when I realized everyone else in the gym was watching me (some giggling) and there was no way I would make it any longer than ten minutes at this pace. But now that I had established myself as super woman, I couldn't give up my ambitious run and settle for power walking like some soccer mom. The glass in front of the treadmill reflected my face getting redder and redder and even my most inspring iPod tunes weren't cutting it for this workout. I hammered through 25 minutes with visions of Sylvester Stalone confidently maneuvering the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art before succumbing to my fatigue. I stumbled off the treadmill, my legs feeling like Jell-O, grabbed my things, and rushed out before Mr. Gymowner could catch me and demand, "O ship beon!" of any other maneuver up his sleeve.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Valentine's Day, White Day, Black Day . . . what's May 14?!

As "Black Day" approaches, I thought I'd post this little ditty I wrote after Valentine's Day. Originally posted to my personal blog on February 15, 2008.

Korean's have figured out a way to recognize Valentine's Day while building a second-chance day for men and a separate day for cynics right into the system. Valentine's Day in Korea is a time for women to bestow upon men chocolates, candies, and the like. The lucky ones with both X and Y chromosomes can sit back and be showered with gifts from wives, girlfriends, sweethearts, daughters, even co-workers. It's completely acceptable, and often expected, for females to buy chocolates for all the men in their lives, regardless of the nature of the relationship. Of course, if the brown-nosing men out there want to go ahead and buy gifts for their sweeties on Valentine's Day, the gifts aren't likely to be turned down. The men aren't expected to reciprocate in any way, however—until White Day on March 14. That's the day women hope to get their due. So, I think of it as a second chance for men, since most probably screwed up Valentine's Day in some fashion anyway. And for those who get shafted on either of those days, or are otherwise disgruntled, there's April 14, Black Day. Black bean noodles called jjajangmyun (짜 장 뮨) are consumed by the bowlful by black-clad singles and cynics who use the day as their personal revenge against holidays dedicated to love.

Cognizant of the customs regarding Valentine's Day here in Korea, I was anxious to see how things played out among my co-workers and friends. The men in the office certainly received many more chocolates and gifts than the women, although I did get a few treats, myself. Our English service intern (a female) gave me a chocolate with a note that almost brought a tear to my eye:

Dear Abbie (smiley face)Happy Valentine! Pretty Abbie (smiley face) though there's been little time to talk, I 'shall' know you have a warm heart! I like your voice on radio, so, please let me hear it for a long time (smiley face)


I'll let you know how things go on White Day next month. If this system works like the well-oiled machine I think it is, I should rake in some serious chocolate on March 14.