Ruby Ramblings

June Reads
June 29, 2009, 1:12 pm
Filed under: Books | Tags: , , , , ,

A pretty lackluster reading month.  Two titles really stood out, but most of what I read was stuff I wouldn’t have normally picked up, but the last teachers in my apartment were kind enough to leave an entire stack of books behind. Maybe luck isn’t as bad as it seems.  😉

SundayThe Sunday Philosophy Club So-So as my students say.

Half blood prince Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (Book 6) Speaks for itself.

Magician's Assistant The Magician’s Assistant
I don’t know how to explain it, but there was something about this book that was both engaging, yet devoid of life. As I was reading, I enjoyed the story, I was compelled to keep reading, but in my head the story viewed flat, like a movie on a banged up old screen. It is one of Patchett’s earlier works, and although not of the quality of Bel Canto, the premise was interesting. A magician’s assistant marries her magician, who she has been madly in love with for twenty years even though he is clearly gay, and he and his lover die of an unnamed, but identifiable disease soon after. She discovers that everything he told her about his younger life in their twenty years of friendship is a lie, and pursues his real family for answers to who her husband really was.

Devil in the White CityThe Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America Fantastic. Chicago is one of my favorite cities in the entire world. This is a great piece of history.

Death of VishnuThe Death of Vishnu – Manil Suri Also fantastic, especially if you are interested in Indian fiction. It was a fast simple read, but not fluffy like a lot of the Indian romance fiction. Really interesting points made about class, religion, and the complexity of Indian society.

Fight Club
I think the only reason I enjoyed this book is because I’m the only American under 35 who has never seen the movie. Interesting, disturbing, great twists, and can be read in it’s entirety on the subway ride from Anguk to Bupyeong Market.

Many Waters Many Waters Okay. Although the wrinkle in time series was one of my favorites as a kid, I did not realize and had not read the last two. This is number 4 in the series, published in 1991 I believe. It’s okay, but it jumps really quick from the home base to the twins being sent back in time – to the biblical period no less.

June 28, 2009, 2:44 pm
Filed under: Buddhism, Korea, Travel

I am sunburned and exhausted from my trip down to Suwan today, but here are some pics.

Every Sunday at 2pm they do a traditional dance and cultural event. There was some great tea to be had as well. Look Carrie, it’s like fire dancing and drumming all in one! The streamers are actually attached to their hats and spin around to leave their hands free to play instruments. It was fun to watch.

An old percussive instrument.

A story etched in slate on the side of the building.

From the palace, I looked up the hill and saw what I’ve been looking for. Finally a Buddha!

I think this was a temple on the grounds of a school for young monks and people studying Confucianism.


The fun never ends.
June 27, 2009, 4:18 pm
Filed under: Korea, Travel

So while I was sleeping last night, Jim went out to the store. He didn’t bother to lock the door, since we live in a private building, and he was only stepping out for a little while. Plus it was about 3am, the only people on the street are fellow foreigners calling their families and chatting, and some incapacitated drunk Koreans. Well, while Jim was out, and I was asleep, someone came into our apartment, stole my purse, dumped it out in the hallway, and made off with my wallet. Which had about $200 cash, my American drivers license (so I now can’t get a Korean one, not that I’d f&^%ing drive here), my Alien Registration Card, my American and Korean bank cards, my SS card, and what made me saddest of all since to me it makes me more of a resident than my ARC by my standards: my shiny new Kyobo card. (A chain of bookstores that sells English language books.)

Luckily my passport was hidden elsewhere.

It just keeps getting better and better.

One of the Korean teachers at the school graciously went down to the police station with me and filled out all the required forms in Korean. The cops were attentive and friendly, but basically said they couldn’t do a whole lot. I asked if they could knock door to door on our floor and ask if anyone saw anyone suspicious. They said that wasn’t within their authority. Well, what the fuck, what authority do they have? (To be quite honest, we’re pretty positive it was the crazy girl across the hall and her drunk, pilled-out boyfriend.) We knocked on her door this morning, pointed at my purse, and without even prompting the boyfriend said “You want money?” and then slammed the door in my face. The cops didn’t seem to think that was very compelling.

Although this has been an inconvenient set-back, for the most part things have been pretty positive. Even with the quarantine, even with a chauvinistic pig of a boss, even with someone walking in out of who knows where into my house while I’m sleeping, I have to say that the other teachers both Korean and foreign are awesome. I adore my students, even the ones that give me hell, and I’ve been amazed at how accommodating a lot of the shopkeepers are at my lack of learning any Korean aside from hello and thank you thus far. Korean restaurant staff and shopkeepers are masters of reading mime, and are usually full of smiles and good will.

So here’s to another week of not getting bombed by the Dong II master and my own series of unfortunate events.

15 Favorites
June 27, 2009, 12:17 am
Filed under: Books

I finally caved and did the fifteen first memorable books you think of on facebook. I figured since I did all the work to do it, I might as well post it here as well. Here I was able to add interviews and such.


1. SparrowThe Sparrowby Mary Doria Russell – an anthropological team explores a new planet. Nothing goes as planned. Everyone dies. That is a way oversimplified version of a truly inventive and creative book. Amazing writing, characters you would swear you actually know, and lots of social commentary.

2. The Handmaid’s Taleby Margaret Atwood Ah, distopian novels are my favorite. Some call this too feminist, I call them chicken. Chemical disruptions have created a society where procreation has become almost impossible. The few possible fertile women are forced into being “handmaids”, vessels for the future of rich men’s families. In the book torture is justified as a means to national security.

3. Oryx and Crakeby Margaret Atwood – Atwood’s answer to the Handmaid’s Tale being too feminist. Also a distopian novel, but the two main characters are boys, one sweet and kind, his best friend a mastermind who has discovered a way to destroy the world. The book opens with “snowman” as the kind child is known, wishing he had believed his friend when he said he would push the button.

4. A Prayer for Owen Meanyby John Irving One of my all time favorites. I don’t feel the need to explain it. Just read it.

5. The Cider House Rulesby John Irving The book takes place in Maine. I grew up in Maine. But I read it while living in Nepal. Surreal.

6. Finding George Orwell in Burmaby Emma Larkin – Classic travel narrative. A woman traces George Orwell’s path across Burma trying to find links to his writings and inspiration.

7. The Snow Leopardby Peter Matthiesen – My first trip to Asia was to Thailand. I was trying to get to Nepal, but got offered a teaching position in Kanchanaburi instead. I read this while living there, and was completely inspired, but it wasn’t until seven years later that I actually made it to the himilayas.

8. She’s Not There: A Life in Two Gendersby Jennifer Finney Boylan
I loved this book and recommend it to anyone who is open minded about such things. Jennifer teaches at a University in Maine, and I met her once, a brief touch with someone who is almost famous. The writing is great, and it goes more into the emotional side of being transgendered than looking at the actual mechanics of deciding to get a sex change.

On a side note apparently the premiere place to get a sex change is Thailand. Due to the large number of wives cutting off their husbands wangs, Thailand’s doctors have become masters of unattaching and reattaching such things: courtesy of The Geography of Bliss: One Grump’s Search for the Happiest Places in the World by Eric Weiner.

9.Snowby Orhan Pamuk

10. Geishaby Liza Dalby An anthropology dissertation that reads like a travel narrative. Great writing, great imagery. This book was actually the basis for most of Arthur Golden’s research for Memoirs of a Geisha. Dalby lived in Japan from the time she was a teenager, and was the first western woman to ever become a fully fledged Geisha.

11. Speaker for the Deadby Orson Scott Card An anthropology based Sci-Fi. One of those books I recommend to everyone – it’s really not just for sci-fi fans. But you really should read Ender’s Game first.

12. Refuge: An Unnatural History of Family and Placeby Terry Tempest Williams
My first memorable introduction to writing on environmental issues. Williams lives in the Salt Lake City area and talks about the shrinking lake, toxins, nuclear testing, and all things you didn’t even know you should be worried about. I also met her at College of the Atlantic when she received an honorary masters from there.

13. Small Wonderby Barbara Kingsolver I love Barbara Kingsolver, and this is a particularly good collection of essays by her. My least favorite book of hers is most people’s favorite: The Poisonwood Bible.

14. Memories of My Melancholy Whoresby Gabriel Garcia Marquez – “We already are old, she said with a sigh. What happens is that you don’t feel it on the inside, but from the outside everybody can see it.”

15. There Is No Me Without You: One Woman’s Odyssey to Rescue Her Country’s Childrenby Melissa Greene – an expose of a widow in Ethiopia who decides to open her home to HIV positive orphans. Besides being a moving story, it shows how things can go very sour when western influences get involved, offer large sums of money, and the rest of the neighborhood gets jealous.

There are so many more…..

June 20, 2009, 1:38 pm
Filed under: Korea, Travel

It takes so long to get anywhere.  I feel the need to plan excursions outside of Bupyeong packed with interesting things to do. as I’m going to be spending at least three hours of my day on the subway, I want to feel like my destination was worth it.  Usually that just ends up with me coming home with really sore feet.  Today I went down (north and east actually) to Samcheong-Dong – an artsy neighborhood that is a great reprieve from the concrete jungle that spreads from Incheon to eastern Seoul.  Most of the two or three floor buildings are glass, wood, or brick, with probably fifty coffee shops in a four block radius.


I walked around, and then couldn’t resist going to the Tibet Museum, even though the outside looked gimicky.  The familiar Buddha eyes drew me, and although the entrance price was steeper than most large Korean museums (at 5,000 wan, which isn’t that bad), it housed some interesting pieces.  The museum was quite small, but some of the artifacts were quite old.  There weren’t any signs in English, so I can’t tell you quite how old, but I enjoyed the displays of traditional dress and the raggedy old prayer wheels.



Their gift shop was a joke.  I was hoping to get some more Tibetan incense, but there was nothing remotely related to the subject matter of the museum.  Some plain leather purses, some really ugly and girly hair ties, and some cheap bracelets.

I saw a sign for a musuem up the hill called The Silk Road Museum, but I didn’t make it that far.  Instead I got distracted by the most lovely tea house.  Nestled in the neighborhood, I wouldn’t have found it if I hadn’t been admiring the building.  I was just thinking that it would be the most amazing apartment, and then realized folks were sitting at little floor tables sipping something.  I slipped my shoes off at the door, shook out my umbrella and left it in the handy umbrella holder, and found a great little wood table to sit at.  Tea Houses may be my  new favorite thing.  The smiling older woman who took my order was so welcoming.  I ordered persimmon leaf tea, not the most flavorful, but it never got bitter either no matter how long I let it steep.  Each order of tea comes with a three step process:  a thermos full of hot water as you are supposed to use the tea leaves until they are exhausted, a little tiny teapot to brew the tea, a strainer and holding vessel that you strain the tea into, and finally the little tiny cup you sip out of.  I just sat, read, and nibbled on traditional Korean cookies for a couple hours.


The tea house had a garden in the middle.  The building was a square built around the garden, with the interior walls being made entirely of glass so you can contemplate the garden while sipping tea.  Just gorgeous.


Swine Flu Craze Ain’t Over Yet!
June 17, 2009, 2:29 pm
Filed under: Korea, South Korea Quarantine, Travel

It seems the H1N1 virus is being brought back into the spotlight.  WHO announced it is a “pandemic.”  I suppose the common cold is pandemic, but does anyone care?  This may be a little more serious than that, but given what I saw in the quarantine with people getting over it in a matter of hours, not that much more for people with decent health.

I’ve received a couple of e-mails from folks about continued concern from schools.  One said her school is requiring her to undergo a nine day quarantine after she returns from a trip to the US in July. 

Another said that her school is having a break, and all foriegn teachers are being asked to come home from their vacations 10 days early in order to insure they are not sick.  Take ten days out of their once a year trip to visit old friends, family, deal with paperwork from home, and stock up on favorite supplies.  Not take ten days out of a full school year, but ten days out of precious vacation time.  None of the Korean teachers got the same memo.  She said they have agreed not to come home early amoungst themselves, and the school can take it or leave it.

On another note, I witnessed for the first time the use of corporal punishment.  A math teacher borrowing one of the rooms from our school had kids lined up and was giving them wacks across the butt or hands.  It was pretty scary.  I went to one of our Korean teachers and asked since our school is very strict on not using corporal punishment, if we could demand that teacher not use it as well when in our building.  She said not really. 

I thought this had been made illegal this year!?  (Another side note to home that it is unbelievable that hitting kids in school has only been illegal here since January.)  I almost said something to the teacher myself, but I’m pretty sure he doesn’t speak any English, and I’m sure calling out another teacher in front of students would probably get me fired.

Tuesday Teaser
June 16, 2009, 3:49 am
Filed under: Books

Teaser Tuesday, hosted by Should be Reading.

“More likely the two older boys discovered that their five-year-old victim did not mind the excursion; that far from struggling and shrieking, he merely gazed at the skeleton with cool appreciation.

When his eyes settled back upon his captors, it was they who fled.”

Pg. 39 – The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America by Erik Larson

Little China in Big Korea
June 13, 2009, 3:09 pm
Filed under: Korea, Travel

I headed out with J. to explore Korea’s official Chinatown today.  The entrance is right outside the very last stop on the #1 line, Incheon station.  It seemed to me to be a tourist area designed for Korean and foriegn tourists to the sanctioned Chinese area of Korea.  I enjoyed it nonetheless.  A good break from miles of concrete highrises, this really small area of about four square blocks is packed with trinkets, restaurants, and molds of chinese-looking statues.



I don’t know if they do this every weekend, or if it was some kind of occasion, but there was a parade with drummers, and the chinese dragon.  The two people dressed as the dragon were on tall wooden beams, and the would jump as a team from beam to beam while doing a dance.





View from the top of a hill down to the docks in Incheon.


East meets West.  Although I know in my head that about 30% of Korea is Christian, I can’t help but find the crosses and churches here out of place.  When I was in Nepal, the most militant missionaries trying to save Nepali souls were Korean folks. 


Democracy Now! report on North Korea
June 10, 2009, 3:32 am
Filed under: Peace, Politics, Travel

Part 1

Part 2

Well, it’s become clear that North Korea wants something. The last time they stamped their feet and threatened their neighbors, the US gave them fuel aid. I’m not sure it’s clear what is going on now, but they have escalated their actions by holding two journalists and sentencing them to twelve years hard labor, as well as shooting off the test missiles we are aware of.

I thought the Democracy Now report was interesting, and wanted to let people know that overall, people here do not feel an eminent threat. For the most part, it seems locals folks were much more worried about swine flu than getting blown up by North Korea.

Deoksugung and Gyeonghuigung Palaces
June 7, 2009, 12:55 pm
Filed under: Korea, Travel

After a week of relative freedom, I can get back to the real purpose of this blog, which is to share pics and stories with those who aren’t here with me. In the whirlwind of make-up classes and getting into the swing of things, today will be my only day off for two weeks. Our days are usually consumed by prepping, six hours of non-stop teaching (not even to sit down), and catching a midnight dinner with our coworkers. I’ll get to the job and what our housing is like in a later blog. Today was the one and only day I’ve been able to do anything remotely cultural. While I visited some reconstructed old palaces, J. spent the day going to the modern day palace: the shopping center.

First I went to Itaewon to try and met some bookie friends and find out where What the Book is. I was only half successful in meeting who I wanted to, met someone I didn’t expect to, and found what is going to be my haven.

Then I talked my sore feet into doing what I’ve been wanting to do since I got here: explore some old palaces. There are several old palaces in Seoul, little parks and quite spots in the middle of such a loud and busy city. I sent to the two smallest first, saving the big guns for a later weekend when I have more time.


The entrance:

I came on a cultural day apparently, there were folks in full dress marching and carrying flags, and a concert was being held inside. I tried to stay and watch, but honestly the music was a little too happy and cheesy for me (complete with a white girl in Korean dress as MC doing her best to speak in Korean).


I wasn’t clear on how old this palace is, but was built sometime in the late 1500s, I saw that it changed hands in 1608, and is now a great park right off the City Hall subway exit. The backdrop of all these buildings is one of the busiest intersections in Seoul, huge buildings, and a cool stone wall that surrounds the park.


Heungcheonsa Bell – 1510


Pieces from a Water Clock from 1536.


“Throne-room” of one of main palace



From my Seoul map, I saw there was another small temple just a short walk away. I asked the people at the gate which direction to walk, and they said not to go there, that it was too small; they didn’t recommend it. I decided to ignore them and go anyway. It was a great walk down a back street, half of which was along the wall of the park. The rest was a great collection of little shops, art galleries, and cafes. I enjoyed this palace even more than the first. It was a maze of buildings, and had a wonderful mountain backdrop and some trails where the trees almost drowned out the sound of the city. There were very few people there; it was the complete opposite of the rest of my experience here.


It is quite, free to enter, and although there are still several restored buildings here, it used have over 100, most of which were destroyed by the Japanese.





On the walk back to the subway, I popped in a little art gallery featuring some fantastic contemporary artists. Coming from the perspective of a country that is developed, and seen the downside of endless growth and greed, I’ve been concerned about Seoul’s seeming complete embrace of consumer and material culture. It was refreshing to go to this gallery, and see that at least on the art scene, there is a dialog about traditional vs. modern, the impact of pop-culture on society, and commentary on materialism. My favorite pieces were by an artist who was taking images of modern Seoul – huge skyrises, barges full with cargo, and juxtaposing them with cutaways of the underbelly of Seoul revealing dinosaur bones. I might be wrong on my interpretation, but to me they were saying that even with how fast it is all growing, there is so much more history and life here then what may be apparent on the surface.