Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Indonesia: Taman Safari

Taman Safari was the main place I wanted to see in Jakarta.  A couple things had caught my eye in my research, but this seemed the most interesting to me.  I knew I had only a couple of days in Jakarta, and I wanted to make the most of them, but I also was exhausted from my adventure trying to find a hotel.  I tried to justify a couple days in the luxurious hotel to myself, but, in the end, I couldn't.  I walked to the travel agents' offices (because yes, the hotel was so nice that it had two different travel offices in it) and asked for information on things to do that would be open in spite of the flood.

Sea World, which was right on the water, was clearly not going to be an option, but then, a brochure advertising the Taman Safari park caught my eye.  I was sold.  The travel agents, however, were not.  They told me it was about 45 minutes away, and, if the water hadn't receded, I'd be unable to get there.  I asked them if they minded calling the park and asking for me.  Grudgingly, the agreed.  In the end, it sounded like, everything was going to be a go.  But I wasn't out of the woods, yet.  Next, they tried to convince me I needed to rent a car to drive through the safari myself.  I knew that normally people drove their own vehicles there, but, "Surely," I told myself, "a tourist attraction of this magnitude has options for people who have not yet mastered the mystery of driving on the left side of the road."  I scoured the brochure and found that you could arrange to rent a car there.  While driving myself around the park wasn't my favorite idea, it was at least better than driving myself through the giant, congested city, a feat I was sure would kill me if I attempted it.

So, the next morning, I ate an enormous breakfast at the hotel buffet (my plan was to survive on the two complimentary meals, provided by the hotel, a trick I learned at family Thanksgivings when we stayed at a similarly-styled hotel), and headed out to the taxi stand, where I found another one of my trusted BlueBird taxis.  I told the driver where I wanted to go, and, after he checked to make sure I was serious about the 45-minute ride, we were on our way.When we got there, I assumed that there would be some check point where the driver would let me out, and I'd piddle around until I found the rental area. So I was very surprised when I realized that there were animals surrounding the car.  As it turned out, the driver had opted to take me through the park himself, a considerably cheaper option for me (since the taxi fares in Jakarta are mostly based on distance traveled, rather than time - as they are in Korea) and, I'm assuming, a considerably more enjoyable option for him than his normal fares.  He even drove me around the theme park part of the area, driving me up to different rides and attractions and waiting for me to finish.  After the park, we made a couple stops for souvenirs, and returned to the hotel in time for me to have some dinner and do some serious work on my story (Yes, I'm still working on it.  If I'd been more faithful to it, I'd probably be further along by now, but I haven't been.  I can also justify it a bit by saying that I've been very anal about my edits, too, so it's changed massively since I started, which has contributed to the amount of time I've spent on it).  I made the choice to stay with this taxi driver, based on one observation: It was crazy cheap to do so!  I had a private driver the whole day for a grad total of $60.  That, my friends, is winning.

Now, we all know it wouldn't be a vacation post if there weren't some pictures.  I will tell you this, though, I forgot to charge my Canon PowerShot SX50 HS 12.1 Megapixel Black Digital Camera - 6352B001 (Google Affiliate Ad) the night before, meaning that a few minutes into the tour, it died.  At first, I was very frustrated, assuming I wasn't going to get any pictures, but then I remember that I had my Penguin (Aka.. my iPhone) on me, so I used that to take most of the pictures in the park.  I must say, I was very impressed with how they turned out.  See if you can tell where I switched cameras (to be honest, I can't remember exactly where it happened):

A lot of people brought carrots with them to feed the animals. As a result, many of them would stick their faces right into the cars, searching for food. I shook hands/trunks with this elephant.

My brother thinks this was a bull, but I'm not convinced. All I know is that I wouldn't want to be the one to make it mad.

This tiger looked like it was pretty settled to take an afternoon nap like many of the other tigers were doing, so I leaned out the window to take a picture of it (not at all uncommon for people to do in the park). At that moment, it decided it didn't like the spot it was in, got up, and started walking seemingly toward the car. The taxi driver started yelling, "Window! Window! Close the window!" It was a hand-crank window, so I was turning it as fast as I could, yelling also: "I know I know I know I know I know!" It turned out that the tiger only wanted to pass in front of our car to cross to the other side. (Apparently that's not just a chicken pass-time.) We both giggled rather sheepishly for a bit after that.

Llama face!

In the baby zoo, people could buy tickets to play with/take photos with various baby animals. The only two that were awake while I was there was the white tiger and the lion cubs. The tiger had just woken up from a nap, so he was happy to play. He licked my leg and sniffed at my arm, yawning widely in a couple of pictures. All in all, he seemed rather curious. The lion, on the other hand, was very sleepy, about to end his shift. He did sniff my face, something that made both the handler and myself nervous, but, mostly, he just laid there like a doll. But I can assure you, he most definitely was real.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

My Life Song

Plenty of Christians talk about having a "life verse."  I, however, have a "life song."  This is a little nudge that I get from G-d to tell me to hang on; I'm on the right path, and there's something great just over the horizon.  It refreshes my soul, helping me to be able to push on when I reach what I think is the end of my limits.  Today, for the first time since I was in the airport, leaving for Korea, I heard that song again.

So this is probably a good time to leave you with a teaser... I've got an announcement, coming soon.  I'm not quite ready to drop the bomb, yet, but start preparing!

Until then, I'll leave you with Lee Ann Womack's "I Hope You Dance":

I hope you never lose your sense of wonder
You get your fill to eat but always keep that hunger
May you never take one single breath for granted
God forbid love ever leave you empty handed

I hope you still feel small when you stand beside the ocean 
Whenever one door closes I hope one more opens 
Promise me that you'll give faith a fighting chance 
And when you get the choice to sit it out or dance 

I hope you dance 
I hope you dance 

I hope you never fear those mountains in the distance
Never settle for the path of least resistance 
Livin' might mean takin' chances, but they're worth takin' 
Lovin' might be a mistake, but it's worth makin' 

Don't let some Hellbent heart leave you bitter 
When you come close to sellin' out, reconsider 
Give the heavens above more than just a passing glance 
And when you get the choice to sit it out or dance 

I hope you dance 
I hope you dance 
(Time is a wheel in constant motion always rolling us along) 
I hope you dance 
I hope you dance 
(Tell me who wants to look back on their years and wonder, where those years have gone?) 

I hope you still feel small when you stand beside the ocean
Whenever one door closes I hope one more opens 
Promise me that you'll give faith a fighting chance 
And when you get the choice to sit it out or dance 

(Time is a wheel in constant motion always rolling us along) 
I hope you dance 
I hope you dance 
(Tell me who wants to look back on their years and wonder, where those years have gone?)

Indonesia: Arrival in Jakarta

The Indonesia portion of my journey started off with an adventure.  I had noticed on my plane that I was nearly the only International person on it.  This was slightly unnerving for me, but I figured it was due to the late hour of the flight or something along that vein.  What I didn't realize was that Indonesia was in the middle of its rainy season and Jakarta, the city for which I was headed was flooded.  In fact, I didn't realize that until much later, the flood, obviously, being the first to catch my attention.

After landing and obtaining my Visa-on-arrival (wonderful things), I headed out, looking for the taxi service that was reported to be the only reputable one in the city.  I barreled past the drivers who were out of their cars and waiting in the luggage claim area (never, ever go with those guys; it'd be cheaper to connect your wallet to a vacuum.), and found where the other taxis were waiting.  The next obstacle were the drivers who were waiting on the sidewalk.  Generally, these are no better than the luggage claim area guys, but sometimes you get a good seed there.  Thankfully, I  had the good sense (and the blaring TripAdvisor warnings) to continue looking for BlueBird Taxi.  I breathed a sigh of relief when I found the correct taxi service.  It was the only one with a line, so I felt much better about it all.

It took me about half an hour to wait out the line, and never once did I waver in my resolution to take a BlueBird taxi.  When I finally got to the front of the line, I showed the driver the name of my hotel, and everything took a downward turn.  He got very disgruntled, even getting out of the taxi to consult with the attendant.  Assuming he didn't know where it was, I began to get frustrated.  I am notorious for picking bad hotels from the Internet, so I assumed I'd chosen yet another hole-in-the-wall place that only looked like it was find-able from a map.  Finally, after a couple of phone calls, we were on our way.

"There's a lot of water, so I'll need to take the highway," the driver said.  I agreed.  I'd looked at the map, the highway passes straight by the waterfront, leading to the center of Jakarta, where I had booked my hotel.  I also had learned from my trip in Thailand that this probably meant there would be a toll.  I was okay with these things, and I told him so.

Just as we were about to get off the highway, the driver pulled off, into the median, and said to me, "There's a lot of water, we probably can't go there."

Now, I was confused, and, once again, a bit nervous.  We went back and forth on it, until I realized what he meant.  There had been a flood.

"Can you just try to get to my hotel?"  I asked.  "I have reservations."

The man hesitantly agreed, asking the men at the toll-booth for the status of the neighborhood past the exit.  They assured him that it would be okay, and we plowed on through the puddles.  Unfortunately, those puddles began to get deeper and deeper, until I could feel the water vibrating against the floor of the car under my feet.  The taxi stopped.

"I'm really sorry, missus, but we cannot go this way.  There is too much water."  I secretly breathed a sigh of relief.  I didn't like us driving through the water.  But then, as quickly as the relief came, it left; I had no idea where to go.  Then, my driver turned to look me dead in the face.

"Missus, are you a Christian?"

My heart leapt to my throat.  All of my friends' warnings about Indonesia being a Muslim country didn't seem so trivial anymore.  I looked around outside the car.  The houses looked to be little better than those of a slum in the 1am gloom.  Everywhere, there was some amount of water.  I had nowhere to go.

I took a breath.

"Yes.  I am."

The man started speaking very fast.  "Good.  I am a Christian, too, and, in the name of Jesus Christ, I promise I will get you safely to a hotel."

I'm ashamed to say, I wasn't convinced.  "A nice hotel?"  I asked him.

"Yes, missus.  A nice hotel."

"Okay.  Let's go."

We pulled away, and I felt my deposit stay behind in the deep puddles of the neighborhood.  I had already had one instance of booking for the wrong dates and being charged for the room when I didn't show up.  Now, it was going to happen again.  I sighed and resigned myself to it.  There was nothing I could do about it at that point.

The first hotel we came to was a name I recognized; I had researched it in my hotel booking process and seriously considered staying there.  I paid the driver, thanked him, and ran inside, but he followed.  After a short conversation with the concierge, he informed me that there were no rooms available.  Later, that made sense to me: All the people displaced by the flood would have to go somewhere.  But, in that moment, all I could think about was how very much I wanted to sleep.

I got back in the taxi, envisioning a long night of hotel hopping and paying and repaying the driver.  Within, five minutes, however, he was pulling up a long driveway.  One look at its towers and circular driveway told me that I was going to need to switch hotels the next day.  There was no way I could afford that place.  Nonetheless, dear old Benjamin was going to take one for the team (the team that connected my eyeballs and my cognition), and make new friends with the people that ran the hotel.

When I walked in, I was greeted by a bell boy, who took my bag from my hand and my backpack off my back and led me up the escalators, where I came face to face with two large arrangements of Oriental Lilies, one of my favorite flowers.  In that moment I said to myself, You know what?  This is vacation; let's live a little.  After all, I did just get paid.  I decided to stay in the Hotel Santika Jakarta for the duration of my time in the city.  Much to my wallet's surprise, it only turned out to be ~$130/night for the exclusive suite I was given (they were pretty booked up, too), which included a breakfast buffet, complimentary mini-bar, and evening snack bar (which I turned into a dinner buffet).  Considering that that's roughly what I would pay for a night at a Wingate Hotel in the States, I gladly agreed that it was worthy my money.  Thus began a series of events that led me to several unexpectedly luxurious hotels.  For now, I'll leave you with pictures of the Hotel Santika:


Breakfast buffet area

My room and incredibly soft bed

Exclusive lounge where I ate my dinners

Truly, though, the pictures don't do this place justice.  It was an amazing hotel, with excellent amenities, and a wonderful masseuse.  This was the perfect answer to the stress that came with my unfortunate timing in landing.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Today's Holocaust

I remember the first time the idea of the Holocaust really hit home to me.  I was in elementary school.  I don't remember how the topic came up, to be honest, but I remember the question I asked: "Mom, how could people have let this happen?"

My mom, trying to be diplomatic, paused before giving her answer.  "Maybe they didn't know."

I thought about that.  I could understand how people in the United States wouldn't have known about the concentration camps, but something didn't sit right with me.  "But... What about the people who lived there?  There were people who lived in the area of the concentration camps.  People had to notice the other people in their towns being taken away."

I could tell my mom was uncomfortable, and of course she was.  There's no good answer to the question I was asking, much less one you want to admit to an elementary schooler.  "Well, some people did try to help," she said.

"Then how could this have happened?  How could people let this happen?"

Even then, I was asking the question that has plagued me my whole life.

As a child, I was able to excuse many people's ignorance of the occurrences of the Holocaust due to proximity.  In a pre-television world, ignorance was a standard of life, but today, in our world where we can watch videos that have been emailed to us from anywhere in the world on our watches, ignorance just doesn't have the ring of viability that it used to have.

So what if I told you that an estimated 200,000 people are currently being held in prison camps that are comprable to those run by the Nazi party?

Would you believe it?  Would you ignore it?

Sadly, most of the world is currently choosing to ignore that statement.  (Heck, a chunk of the world is still choosing to ignore the Holocaust.)  But I'm writing to you with a heavy heart, today, because I can no longer hope that this is just a rumor, a falsehood spread by propagandists, trying to sway our opinions.  Very early this morning, I was shown definitive proof that North Korea is operating the prison camps that refugees have claimed to escape (assuming, of course, that you don't consider refugee testimony to be definitive proof).

What you probably don't know is that right now, as you're reading this, a man named Joshua is carefully monitoring satellite feeds, focused on North Korea, and he's releasing all of his findings to the public by way of his blog, the most horrifically fascinating part of which is the section that gives detailed descriptions of and instructions on how to use Google Earth to see these prison camps.  Entranced, I spent the next two hours, pouring across the mountains of North Korea, searching for the camps he described.  Sure enough, they're there.

Joshua has a section devoted to each camp in North Korea, even spending countless hours scouring satellite feeds and Google Earth to find ones that had yet to be located but came up in refugees stories.  He reports all information he has to the Internet at large here.  I'd encourage you to take the 5 minutes it requires to download the Google Earth plugin for Google Maps, or to even download the program onto your computer.  Then, start finding them yourself, noting that some of the areas have changed slightly since he first uploaded his photos (he's since upgraded his technology which will not allow him to upload photos).  For example, Joshua features this photo of camp 18:

Whereas, today, I searched for it and found this:

As you can see from the washed out bridge and entry area, it looks like they've had some recent flooding, but they are clearly the same place.

Now, to the untrained eye, I can understand how this may look like any other North Korean city, but there's a tell: All North Korean prison camps are guarded by towers and lined by electric fences. So, the "gimme" that you're looking for is a seemingly dirt-road around the "city," interspersed with "houses," like here, at the northwestern border of camp 18:

This is real.  This is happening, and it has been happening for years.  Already, our children are going to ask us the same questions that I asked my mother.  I, for one, do not want to have to tell them that I stood by and did nothing.

This is a video of an address given by Adrian Hong, co-founder of NGO Liberty in North Korea (LiNK), to C-SPAN on the reality of what is happening in North Korea.  For the record, I understand that he and I ended up using a lot of similar terminology   Let me assure you, I watched this video after I wrote my blog post, so, any repeat of information is not evidence so much of plagiarism  so much as it evidence of truth.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Vietnam: Mekong Delta

While in Vietnam, I mostly hung out with Danielle and her expat friends, but we arranged for me to take a couple of tours and do some things on my own while she was at work.  After my first tour, I was a little nervous for what I would see in the Mekong Delta, but, based on Danielle's instructions ("Make sure you bring me back some coconut candy!"), I felt confident that it wasn't going to be more war remnants.  I'm happy to report, I was very right!  This trip was much more relaxed, my only concern being my poor balance and my proximity to the Mekong River.  It isn't really the best thing for you to touch, so I was a bit worried about getting another parasite.  (The one I got in Nicaragua was quite enough for my, thank you very much.) I had a better time than I was expecting to, and I was really surprised to find how much I liked the coconut candy, so I think we can chalk this one up to a fun day.

On the Mekong.  I was super nervous the whole time, because I was at the very front of our low-sitting boat.  Every time I moved, the whole thing moved.

Looking out over the Mekong

A young woman wrapping the individual coconut candy pieces

We got to taste honey, fresh from the comb

Lunch was an adventure!  I must have looked nervous or something, because my waitress just went ahead and cut up my fish for me.  I get uncomfortable when my food looks at me while I eat it.

The last stop on our trip was to a pagoda with three giant Buddhas: The Buddha of the Furture and the Buddha of the Present, then the Buddha of the Past.

So, there you have it: a MUCH more mild day of touring in Vietnam.  Like I said before, I mostly just hung out with Danielle and her friends, so there wasn't much that seemed like a picture sort of occasion.  Therefore, this is the end of the Vietnam portion of my blog updates, but I did more than enough photo-taking in Indonesia to make up for it.  No worries. :)

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Vietnam: Cu Chi Tunnels

I had every intention of prefacing this with a warning for the sensitive or veteran reader of this blog, but, looking back on my photos, I'm no longer convinced that this post need it.  Seeing everything at the Cu Chi Tunnels themselves was so much more intense in person, the jungle baring down on me with every step I took between the trees.  Seeing various sections of the forest barbed-wired off (because there are still bombs hidden in the ares behind them, and seeing death traps everywhere, was incredibly overwhelming.  I ended up having to break off from the group and our North Vietnamese guide who seemed to take pleasure in what he was showing us.

Having seen all those things; having pictured soldiers on both sides stumbling into traps laid by the others; having realized that the Vietnamese people still struggle with the aftermath of it all, still lose civilians from leftover traps and bombs; I cannot help but feel that nothing, absolutely nothing, is worth embarking on any path that could eventually lead to that.  No word spoken out of anger, no pride-driven act of stubbornness can be justified.  I'll even go so far as to say that, in the balance of it all, I cannot even allow for an act of self-defense.

This isn't my natural inclination.  I am incredibly vindictive by nature, wanting to respond with extreme force in the face of events I feel are wrong, but thinking back on Vietnam quells those instincts.  I hated every moment of this part of the trip, but I would highly recommend it to anyone who visits Vietnam.

The Viet Cong traversed via underground tunnels, equipped with many camouflaged holes that allowed them to catch  American forces unaware.  The Viet Cong employed many children for this task.  Contrary to popular belief, it is not likely that the children were pressed into service; the Viet Cong movement was even begun by a young girl who lost he father in the extensive bombing campaign of the area.

Tourists can go inside some of the tunnels these days, but, in order to account for the distinct difference in body size between today's tourist and that of the Vietnamese people in the 1960's, a large area around the opening has been opened.  I walked the tunnels for about 30 meters, but that was more than enough for me.  In order to fit, I had to walk bent at the waist and squatting a little in pitch darkness; it was incredibly uncomfortable, and I don't envy anyone who had to live like that.

This was the most shocking of the traps I saw, probably because I wasn't expecting it.  The idea was that someone would step on the camouflaged cover and fall through onto the spikes; the cover would continue to spin, hitting the person and pushing him further onto the spikes.

This is one of many traps that were made by individual families to protect their homes.  Each family had its own, distinct style.

In seeing these things, I had a hard time not labeling the residents of Cu Chi as monsters, noting that the traps seemed designed to cause the most pain possible, going beyond self-protection.  It seemed so extreme, so unnecessary, so blood-thirsty.  But then I remembered all the bombing campaigns and, worse, Agent Orange.  (I can hardly think of a more horrific weapon than Agent Orange.)

I know it's hard to see from this picture, but this is the residual crater from a B52 bomb, left some 50 years after it was first created.  That means that erosion and plant-growth have filled in the hole somewhat.  Even still, it's so steep and deep that it requires stairs to get up from the bottom.  Don't be mistaken, both sides that fought this war used extreme measures to do so.

Spike-traps hidden under ground certainly were gruesome weapons employed by the Viet Cong, but they had other options as well.  Many of the bombs dropped on the area never exploded, and they used that to their advantage.  By collecting and cutting them open, the Veit Cong could salvage the gunpowder from inside them, creating bombs of their own.  This was a very dangerous tactic, but that did not stop it from being effective.

Replicas of the Viet Cong cutting open bombs have been moved into an opened underground bunker so tourists can have an idea of what it was like for them to have to live and work underground.  Still, this is not a fully accurate representation, as the ceiling has been removed and heightened so tourists an have a more comfortable experience.  Furthermore, the bombs would not have been opened inside the bunker; the task was far to dangerous for that.  Bombs were sawed in half outside, a two person job in which one person would saw while the other constantly poured water on the bomb to keep it from become too hot and producing sparks.  The salvaged powder was then moved inside, where new bombs were made.

The homemade bombs were clearly effective.  After several lengthy bombing campaigns, American soldiers were able to move through the Cu Chi area on foot and in tanks, unaware of the resistance measures the locals had taken.  As a result, they were caught entirely off-guard by the attacks that came.  The results can be seen above.  The Viet Cong destroyed this tank with a well-placed bomb, created from other explosives designed to allow the tank through the jungle.  In a way, it's poetic, until you stop to think about the reality of the situation. 

Bombs were not the only thing salvaged by the Viet Cong.  Any tanks that were destroyed got picked clean, as you can see from the photo above.  One of the most important assets gained from tanks was rubber.  This rubber went to making shoes for the resistance fighters.

Pictured here are several tank-rubber shoes in varying sizes.  These are the normal, every day shoes, but when there was mud on the ground, they would switch their shoes to a type that was created to leave backward footprints in the mud.  This way, the Viet Cong could leave false trails throughout the jungle, often leading American soldiers into traps.

It's incredibly easy to want to vilify people surrounding the war.  People vilify the Americans (I've never heard the Australians get vilified, but that doesn't mean it doesn't happen.), the North Vietnamese, or those who didn't get involved.  But I'd like to propose that pointing fingers is entirely useless, and somewhat misses the true lesson that we should take from this.  I cannot clearly define a "good guy" and a "bad guy" in this war, nor can I clearly define a "winner" and a "loser", what with all the PTSD amongst American and Australian soldiers and unexploded bombs and mines across Vietnam that still regularly kill children.  The words of James Cameron came constantly to me in Cu Chi, echoing through my mind as I tried to process what I was seeing: "This is sad, very sad, only."  There is nothing that will ever happen that can justify this.  I'm sure my saying that will upset some people, and you are all entitled to your own opinion, but I beg you to think of everything that happened in Vietnam.  Research it, sear it into your mind, and use what you find to help you weigh your future decisions.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Vietnam: Cao Dai Temple

For part of my vacation in January, I got to go visit my friend Danielle, who is now living in Vietnam.  Unfortunately, she and I did not end up taking any photos together, partially because the crime rate in Ho Chi Minh (where we were) is such that carrying a camera around wasn't the best of ideas, but mostly because that's the sort of thing that she and I frequently forget to do.  Nonetheless, I got plenty of other photos from while I was doing tourist-y things, so I have plenty to share with you.

Today, I want to spend an entire blog post on a stop that probably only took 30 minutes.  Outside of Saigon (AKA Ho Chi Minh) there is The Great Temple of the Cao Dai religion.  Cao Dai is one of the more interesting religions that I've come across in my travels.  It combines elements of Buddhism, Taoism, Confucianism and even Catholicism, melding together to form a uniquely Vietnamese experience.  Central to the religion is the presence of vibrant colors, which you will see from my pictures.

Having studied the basics of all of the religions involved, it was fascinating to watch the Cao Dai service unfold, picking out the contributions from each, but, as a religion rather than an intelectual exercise, I found Cao Dai to be a bit hard to wrap my mind around.  I couldn't (and still can't) fully fathom how people could be so devoted to a religion that was willing to glean what it liked from any religion that came into contact with it.  I can understand a lifestyle that would do that, but a religion?  If the point of religion is to acknowledge something higher than the worshiper, wouldn't bringing in elements of the worshiper's own design be counter-productive?  Can you be fully devoted to a religion that isn't fully devoted to its own traditions?  I'm not sure; but these things were all on my mind as I photographed the temple.


Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Oh, hey! Check it out!

Cooking Winter Camp lesson plans are here!  (And photos are interspersed.)

Click here for the loveliness.

One sneak peak to get you interested:

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

The Korea of Yesterday

While being here in Korea, I'm often confronted by people and stories of their time in Korea. Frequently, I'm told, "I went back, and I couldn't recognize it anymore." I know the mere facts, having only come here for the first time in 2011, but I've found their stories believable. I mean, why not? Look at the facts with me:

  • In 1950, the Korean War started.  What could be called an extension of the Cold War, it could be very callously summed up as a fight for and against communism.  As it seems to be with any country that is honestly entertaining communism, Korea was not yet a major player in the global theater.
  • Until the end of the Korean War, people lived in a survival cycle: survival cuisine, survival housing, survival clothing... it looked roughly like this:

  • I took this picture on my first cultural trip in Korea
    (외암리민속아을 - Oeam-ri Folk Village).  It's a low-class home in
    what is now called a "traditional village," a working village
    that's been kept in the traditional style due somewhat to the desire
    for the preservation of Korea's history, but mostly because
    tradition dictates that the oldest son of a family is
    to take over and care for the family's estate for a certain
    number of years after his parents pass.
    • After the Korean war, Korea BOOMED; it's growth was unprecedented.  It went from looking like the photo above to looking like this in a matter of 50 years (less in some places):
      This is a pretty typical sight in Korea these days: Rows of apartments
      that all look the same and clearly went up quickly.  Assume each floor
      holds two family-sized apartments, and that will give you a
      decent idea of the population of Korea.
    • Because of the fast growth spurt, there's a lot of aspects of Korean culture that haven't caught up with modernity.  For example, many building projects are still undergone in the quickest way possible, rather than the most lasting.  Korean cuisine is still very much based on survival foods, rather than based on an expanding palate.  However, consumerism is at an all-time high, so the things that are in and around those housing units and food products are cutting edge (and expensive).  It's an interesting quirk of Korea.

    So, there you have it, based on the growth and history of Korea, I could easily believe that very recently everything was different in Korea.

    What I wasn't prepared for was a recent flickr stream of one expat's view of Korea from 1958-1966.  It's crazy, isn't it?

    Some things have changed:

    Some things haven't:
    Lake Cheongpyeong Farms 1960
    Oeam-ri Folk village 2011.  I know, it's not the exact same
    place, but I'm pretty sure it's the same mountain.

    So, that is your Korea culture/history lesson for today.  Tune in next time for more exciting adventures! 

    (All picture from Korea in the 1950's and 1960's on this blog post are taken from Somthers52's Flikr steam.)