Archive | January, 2012
January 29, 2012

Korean Lunar New Year

The most important of the traditional Korean holidays is Korean New Year, 설날, commonly called Seollal. Falling on the first day of the lunar calendar, it also meant two more days off from work last week and a nice long weekend. Fellow native teacher, Susan, and I were lucky enough to be invited to share the days festivities with Alice Yang from Coffee Nori and her family. As you will see, we were truly honored and grateful for the invite and the warm welcome we received from her thoughtful and generous family.

Although Alice and her family have dispensed with a lot of the more formal traditions (and attire) of the holiday, we were there to witness the Sebae, where (according to Alice and Wikipedia) children wish their elders a happy new year by performing one deep traditional bow and the words “saehae bok mani badeuseyo” (새해 복 많이 받으세요) which translates to “Have a blessed New Year.” Elder relatives typically reward this gesture by giving their children new year’s money, or “pocket money,” (usually in the form of and envelope of crisp paper money) and offering words of wisdom. My Uncle Mike usually refers to this as “walking around money” back home and most of my students said they typically save half and are allowed to spend the rest as they wish.

As this was the first time in one of the countless identical Korean apartment buildings throughout Daejeon other than my own, my curiosity was rewarded with a tour of their very modern 3 bedroom apartment. In addition to a retro, almost 70′s feel and “all mod cons”, there was also a button in the apartment to call the building’s elevator-complete with a readout of what floor it is currently on. Perhaps this is common elsewhere, little things like this continue to amaze me about the technology and ingenuity of this country and its culture. The apartment was filled with about 20 members of Alice’s immediate family, as most Koreans return home to be with parents and relatives for this major holiday. Daejeon and the streets of my dong were essentially a ghost town for the majority of the weekend, so the laughter, warm atmosphere, and amazing smell of the feast to come filling the air was a welcome treat.

Another ritual for New Year is Tteokguk (떡국) which is a delicious traditional Korean soup with sliced rice cakes that is customarily eaten for the New Year. We were immediately seated in the kitchen western style and served a piping hot bowl, with oysters added as a crowning touch, along with several forms of homemade kimchi, burdock root, dried persimmons, yeot (a homemade rice honey candy) , and fresh brewed coffee from Nori. According to Korean age reckoning, the Korean New Year is similar to a birthday for Koreans, and eating Tteokguk is part of this birthday celebration. Once you finish eating your Tteokguk, you are one year older. I am going to wait until May.

(Click on each photo below to view full size)

We were then invited to sit on the floor and play Korean folk games like a hawtu, a card game and  Yut Nori (윷놀이). Yut Nori (yunnori) is still a popular board game nowadays, especially played during Korean New Year using a board called a mal-pan, (말판) and the specially designed yut sticks. Throwing the sticks can result in 5 different combinations which translate into pigs, dogs, sheep, cows, and horses. The rest of the game and the rules will remain somewhat of a mystery to me until my Korean lessons kick in. I was on a team with Alice’s father and his 3 brothers and we were apparently defeated twice by the ladies team right before dinner.

Yut Nori from Matthew M. Vacca on Vimeo.

Dinner, served Korean style, was a terrific combination of rice and several types of kimchi, served with a wonderful pork dish and two different types of cooked fish. Alice’s grandmother was there eating with us and, although she spoke no English, her constant smile and gestures to “eat more, eat more” seemed to be in a universal grandmother language that transcends cultures. The dinner was huge and very filling. After a full day of eating and games, I was inclined to join Alice’s uncle peacefully sacked out on the couch. After more calls for Alice to brew fresh coffee, the party began to break up and I headed home to nap in the comfort of my loft back home. Needless to say, we were honored to be a part of a wonderful family celebration and a day of laughter, food, and games that I will never forget. Kamsahamnida (감사합니다).

January 21, 2012

The Rock Traveler – Now with Video!


After much delay, I am proud to introduce video clips to this internet journal. Please be sure to look for new clips in the weeks ahead.  I have also gone back and added clips to previous posts to update each entry accordingly.

Many thanks to Natalia M. for the fresh tip on I hope you enjoy videos on TRT!

KTX Bullet Train from Matthew M. Vacca on Vimeo.

January 16, 2012

Winesburg, Ohio

Winesburg, Ohio by Sherwood Anderson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


At the heart of this book is the idea that all we are each really looking for is a little understanding and that the the very best in life can be found in the simplest things. I found this book haunting and timeless – amazed that it is now almost 100 years old. I particularly enjoyed the short story style of the chapters loosely linked together; especially “Tandy,” concerning Tandy Hard, and the penultimate chapter concerning Helen White, “Sophistication.”

Winesburg, Ohio, is filled with rich, lonely characters and the slow, easy feeling of life in a time long gone by. However, the idiosyncrasies, perversions, and insecurities of the townsfolk that populate this small town are the very same of towns and cities of any size today. The writing and the stories seems to get better with each chapter as you are drawn in to a town that somehow seems familiar and friendly, yet far removed from the idyllic snapshots you would expect in places like Mayberry or Bedford Falls. If you are like me and have never heard of the author or the novel, you will be surprised that Anderson’s prose is also some of the most beautiful and original you will encounter. I enjoyed it more that any of the authors I was told I should read, praise, and adore.

“Love is like a wind stirring the grass beneath trees on a black night,’ he had said. ‘You must not try to make love definite. It is the divine accident of life. If you try to be definite and sure about it and to live beneath the trees, where soft night winds blow, the long hot day of disappointment comes swiftly and the gritty dust from passing wagons gathers upon lips inflamed and made tender by kisses.”

I took my time with this short book and savored just a few chapters each night. I was truly sad when it ended, fittingly with a chapter entitled “Departure,” but also invigorated, comforted, and wildly sentimental upon completing it. Not only does it refer to many familiar Ohio cities and landmarks from my home state back in the U.S.A, the real-life Winesburg, located in Northeastern Holmes county south of Cleveland, is also just a few miles from Dover, Ohio, the birthplace of my step-father and his family.

Just like the essential books of my youth and my identification with the characters in novels like To Kill a Mockingbird, The Great Gatsby, and Catcher in the Rye, Winesburg has become an instant classic for me overnight and fittingly representative of a new and highly transitional period in my life. Reading the final paragraph of the book summed up the monumental feelings I had on the flight from the U.S. to South Korea.

I knew it was significant and that I was changing as each mile passed in that long trip across the Pacific. It wasn’t until I read this book, however, that I was able to understand those strange and powerful emotions in much the same way Anderson described George Willard’s departure from Winesburg as the train left the station:

“The young man’s mind was carried away by his growing passion for dreams…With the recollection of little things occupying his mind he closed his eyes and leaned back in the car seat. He stayed that way for a long time and when he aroused himself and again looked out of the car window the town of Winesburg had disappeared and his life there had become but a background on which to paint the dreams of his manhood.”

― Sherwood Anderson, Winesburg, Ohio (1919) Dover Publications

View all my reviews

January 6, 2012

Brand Names for Less

For a country that is so obsessed with appearances and so fascinated with brand name merchandise, I find it strange and ironic that they are also so quick to blatantly steal trademarked names, images, and logos. The sort of piracy I have seen here since day one would never fly in the highly litigious climate of the United States. The iconic company (and my former employer) Apple seems to be the biggest victim, along with any permeation of The North Face brand name and logo. While in Seoul last week I found one hat that had combined two trademarks: “Aeropostale” and “Abercrombie & Fitch” into one double violation – “Aerofitch.”

Clothing, particularly outdoor apparel, is available just about everywhere with either some sort of violation, whether a subtle homage or little twist to unmistakable and highly amusing piracy. I am not talking about knock-off Rolex watches or imitation designer purses. These are brand name items available in retail shops and department stores that have to be violating some sort of patent and trademark laws. It is also highly prevalent in signage for restaurants and cafes all over Korea.

Daejeon Neon from Matthew M. Vacca on Vimeo.

Take the never ending stream of bars and clubs named after high-end automobile companies. Imagine what might happen if “The Audi Bar” opened along Fifth Avenue in downtown New York, complete with the exact overlapping rings emblem of the German car maker. Club “Edge Style” near my school has blatantly stolen the “Johnnie Walker Red” logo and incorporated it into its own, seemingly without fear of penalty or retribution.

(Click on each image below to view full size)

I’d love to rant more about this phenomenon, but I have plans. I’m putting on my “Crocodile” sweater and heading over to “Cafe Hello Kitty” to meet some friends…I wonder if the crab meat they serve there is real or imitation?