Friday, January 29, 2016

Worshipping the Moon. The Mid Autumn Festival.

Chang-e flying to the moon.
(Painting by Ren Shuai Ying (任率英), 1955.
Licensed under Public Domain.)
The Mid-Autumn Festival is held on the 15th day of the eighth month in the Han calendar - essentially the night of a full moon - which falls near the Autumnal Equinox (on a day between September 8 and October 7 on the Gregorian calendar).  In 2016, the 15th day of the eighth month of the Han calendar falls on September 15th of the Gregorian Calendar.

Chuseok, the Korean autumn harvest festival, is also held on the same day.  While I could have stayed back in Korea to experience how Koreans celebrate the moon, I'm choosing to head to Hong Kong instead.

For Chinese, the Mid-Autumn festival is second in popularity to the Spring Festival aka Chinese New Year.  It's a big deal and I couldn't imagine being so close to Hong Kong and not going there to celebrate it!  I could have gone to mainland China but as a Chinese of Cantonese descent, Hong Kong is the place for me.  I've not celebrated the festival since I was a child growing up in Malaysia and am thrilled to get to experience it as an adult! 

The Mid-Autumn Festival or Moon Festival dates back over 3,000 years, to moon worshiping in the Shang Dynasty (1600–1046 BC). Ancient Chinese emperors worshiped the harvest moon at Mid-Autumn, as they believed that the practice would bring them a plentiful harvest the next year.  At it's heart, the Mid-Autumn Festival is a harvest festival.

The festival is intricately linked to the legend of Chang'e (or Chang-o) who is the mythical Moon Goddess of Immortality and her husband, an archer named Yi. There are many tales about Chang'e but at least two that lay claim as the one behind the origin of the Mid-Autumn Festival.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Moo the Hanwoo.

A plate of Hanwoo beef served up at a restaurant called Cheonja Maru in Changwon.
We might just have to figure out how to get to this place!
 (Photo from Changwon city official blog in Korea.)
Beef. I am a beef eater and if the ratio of beef versus pork or chicken sold in Korean supermarket is any indication, Koreans love beef too!

Hanwoo (also Han-u, Hanu) are cattle indigenous to Korea.  They are believed to originate from taurine (European heritage) cattle, sharing the same origins as Japanese Wagyu.  But natural cross breeding with zebu cattle that migrated to the Korean peninsula through North China has created a uniquely Korean breed of cattle.  Even though Korean cattle are generally known as Hanwoo, the name applies to the  most common type which has a brown colored coat. 

Korean cattle have been raised in the Korean Peninsula since as far back as 2,000 BC.  They were raised primarily for draft and occasionally for sacrificial rites.  It has only been since 1979 that Hanwoo has been bred as beef cattle.  Almost all of the beef cattle population in South Korea is Hanwoo and breeding it requires attention to pedigree. The Korea Animal Improvement Association is the only organization approved by the state to register and evaluate pure-bred Hanwoo cattle.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Take Me Out to the (Korean) Ballgame!

Lee Jong-wook, outfielder for the Doosan Bears from 2006-2013.  He currently plays for the
NC Dinos.
(Photo by 티스토리 블로그 바람이분다 (130807 잠실야구장 두산#양의지,이종욱).
 Licensed under CC BY 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Baseball was born in the US sometime in the late 1860's when semipro national baseball clubs started to be formed.  Since then, the sport has not only become a national past time for Americans but it's become a global phenomenon massing fans in many countries.

The World Baseball Classic is a hugely followed sports exhibition and even the Little League World Series gets major coverage on most sports channels.

Baseball is believed to have been introduced to Korea in 1905 by American missionaries during the Korean Empire, after which it gradually gained popularity.  Today, the sport ranks second in popularity behind football aka soccer.   Korea also has a national team that has participated in the Summer Olympic Games of 1984, 1988, 1996 and 2000. At the 2008 Summer Olympics, it won the gold medal in a final victory against Cuba.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

A Hanok Home Away From Home.

Hanok houses located in an area west of Bukchon Hanok Village, Seoul.
(Photo by by Sakaori. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.)
It was my cousin, Yim, who told me about hanoks. She visited Korea last year with my aunt. She knows how I like to travel and suggested that I look into staying at a hanok in the Bukchon Hanok Village in Seoul.  I Googled the village and the images that I saw immediately captivated me.  I was going to rent an Airbnb apartment but how much cooler would it be to stay in a hanok?

Hanok is the commonly used term to describe Korean traditional home.

The hanok shares characteristics with its Chinese and Japanese counterparts but has developed very distinct characteristics due to climatic and cultural circumstances of Korea.

In premodern Korea, every type of building, regardless of its purpose - residential, official, or religious - was built with basically the same techniques and materials. The materials used in the construction of a hanok are all very environmentally friendly and sustainable.  Earth and stone were used for the foundation; a mixture of earth and straw for the walls; tiles or straw for the roof and wood for pillars, rafters, doors, windows and flooring.  Korean paper was used throughout the house - glued to the frame of the sliding doors and the cross ribs of the windows.  Both the wooden floors and the paper walls were polished with bean oil which not only imparted a sheen to the look of the wood and paper but it also made them waterproof.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Being a Responsible Traveler.

As responsible travelers, we DO NOT want to contribute to this!
Polluted Beach on the Red Sea in Sharm el-Naga, Port Safaga, Egypt.
Photo by Vberger.  (Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.)
They say that travel transforms you and I am living proof of that.  Over the past 10 years of globetrotting, my mind has broadened to accept new ideas and opinions, my heart has grown bigger yet more humble and my awareness of how our modern life is having a negative impact on our planet has grown.

I rarely get on a soapbox to expound on anything but after giving it quite a bit of thought, I decided to open on my approach to traveling....which I dare say, is different from most people I know.

My perspective on travel changed years back and what I have found is that the way I travel now is richer and far more rewarding than I could have ever possibly imagined.

It was my trip to Peru that changed my outlook on travel.  Before then, I was happy to travel in what I call *the tourist bubble* - staying in tourist hotels, eating tourist food, being shuttled around in tourist vans....even shopping for kitschy tourist souvenirs.  Peru was a watershed trip for me on so many different fronts.  The biggest wake up call came when I realized that I had been to see the country....saw Machu Picchu (yay??) but I returned knowing very little about the country and the people.  How could I spend two weeks in a country and return barely less ignorant than when I left home?  This just didn't sit well with me so I knew I needed to adjust my mindset.  Change is not easy and most certainly, my next trip to Egypt and Jordan continued to open my eyes to the fact that for me, the way I was traveling was not satisfying. It was with the next trip, to India, Nepal and Tibet, that things began to take a turn for me.  I started to switch my focus from what to see to learning about history and culture.  In turn, that completely changed how I plan my trips and how I travel.

Monday, January 18, 2016

10 Years.....Almost!!


Icannot believe that I have been blogging about my travels for almost 10 years now!  I started back in March of 2006.  With a couple of exceptions (Quebec City and Puerto Rico),  I have blogged on every single trip that has taken me out of the lower 48 US states!

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Mud Volcanoes of Azerbaijan.

Bubbling volcano. 
(Photo by Peretz Partensky.  Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons.)

Apparently, there are such things as mud volcanoes?  And apparently, there are around 850 mud volcanoes in the world and over 300 of them can be found in Azerbaijan alone.  Who knew?

Mud volcanoes are the little-known relatives of the more common magmatic variety.  Instead of spewing out lava when they erupt, they bubble up mud.  Unlike their magma cousins, they are not considered to be dangerous when they do erupt.

Mud volcanoes come in a variety of shapes and sizes, but those most common in Azerbaijan have several small cones, or vents, up to about four meters (13 feet) in height, sometimes topping a hill that is several hundred meters in height.   These small mud volcano cones emit cold mud, water and gas almost continually.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Korea and Hong Kong!

Guinsa Temple Roofs.
(Photo by Ken Eckert.  Licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons.)

We were still in Madagascar when my travel partner,  George, was already contemplating our next trip together.

We met up a while back and bounced around a few ideas and settled on Chile.  I had always wanted to do a driving tour around the country but after giving it some serious consideration, I decided to tell George that Chile was out.  For one thing, he can only take a few days off work but more importantly, Chile is a place Bro wants to travel to so I want to save it for him.  George fully understood so we bounced around a few more places.  Korea came to mind and it's a place I've never been to so I said yes.  I have to admit, Korea has never been on my list of places to travel to.  I think it's because it's been overshadowed by its larger siblings - China and Japan, both of which I have been to before and enjoyed my visits.


Friday, January 8, 2016

Money Matters.

Photo by Veronidae.  Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

The trips to Thailand and Myanmar and the Caucasus are pretty happening back to back so while I was reading up the currency and money issues for Thailand and Myanmar, I decided I would just read up for the three Caucasus countries at the same time.

Saturday, January 2, 2016

On a String. Yoke thé.

Burmese puppets.
(Photo by  Mydaydream89.  Licensed under CC0 via Wikimedia Commons.)
I have an explicable fascination with puppets.  With most every country I've been to so far, I've researched whether or not it has a tradition of puppetry.  Surprisingly, I have yet to see a performance.   What's up with that?

When we decided to go to Japan in 2011, I spent countless hours reading up on bunraku, which is Japan's contribution to the world of puppetry.  Sadly, we didn't make it to Japan that year as the tsunami struck just about two weeks before we were scheduled to depart for the country.

In 2013, Bro and I traveled around the Baltics and all three countries have puppetry as a traditional art form but I could not find any performances taking place during the time we were traveling.  We did make it to the NUKU Theatre in Tallinn where we spent time walking through their collection of puppets, gathered from both their own workshop and countries around the world.  We also got to peek inside their workshop and watch the artisans putting together creations for an upcoming show.