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Yeosu Azalea Festival

Unfortunately, I’ve been a bit under the weather the last several days, coughing and sneezing, feverish and chilly at times, and a bit lethargic (lazy?). So, apologies for the lengthy delay between posts.

As I stated in my previous entry, I did manage to take in the Azalea Festival at Yeongchuisan (san = mountain) here in Yeosu last Saturday. Unfortunately, we caught it about a week too early, so it was a bit of a flop. There were some sparse regions of azaleas, resplendent in their pink blossoms, but the vast fields that spring up at this time of year were sadly absent. Like I said, we were a week too early.

Still, it was a beautiful day, with clear, blue skies, warm temperatures, and little wind. Corrie, another English teacher at the university, Anne, one of our Korean students, and I started our climb up the mountain about 10 in the morning. I thought we’d have to take a gentle hike to the azalea fields, but it turned out to be somewhat of a steep trek — not grueling, but a good workout. Was it worth it, considering the lack of the flowers? Sure, more than worth it. Here’s a few photos from the day.

One of the trails up the mountain, the one we took, starts from the enormous petro-chemical area of Yeosu. Many Koreans make the trek, so we weren’t alone. Here we go, soon passed by these guys as we took several breaks on the way up to catch our breaths and rest our aching leg muscles.

Yeosu Azalea Festival

Hiking to the azalea fields

Up we went, hoping for a bedazzling pink flower show, joined by many azalea acolytes. Quite a few tour buses drop off aficionados of the local flora, so the mountain does get crowded.

Yeosu Azalea Festival

Hikers going up to the Azalea Festival

Yeosu Azalea Festival

More people ahead of us

Unfortunately, the azaleas weren’t out on this part of the mountain. There were more blooming at the university, as a matter of fact. We could have just walked around there to see plenty of flowers, but it was worth going up Youngchuisan despite that. However, off to our left on a ridge below us, they were in full regalia. Corrie and I thought about going down to see them, but it was a LONG way down, so, a LONG way back up. There was a road there, but, unfortunately, it wandered off toward the farther mountains, away from Ann’s car. We had a good view of the flowers, despite our distance from their fields.

Azalea flowers at the festival

Field of flowers at the festival

Flowers at the Azalea Festival

Another view of the flowers

Eventually, we made it to one of the peaks. We saw another one about a kilometer from us and several dozen meters above, but we decided not to make that hike; the trail was packed and we were eager to take a snack break. Here’s Corrie, on the left, and Ann at the top of our little world.

Corrie and Ann at the Azalea Festival

Corrie and Ann

Despite the lack of azaleas on this weekend, I was fascinated by the area. The scenery was exhilirating, but the intricacies of the myriad petro-chemical plants enthralled me. Ann had to drive through several kilometers of the area to reach the mountain, and the road winds its way through the tanks and pipes and weirdness of these industries. The architecture of the area is monstrous and its pull on me is undeniable; I’m going to go back there on my bicycle or motorbike later in the summer and photograph this alien landscape.

Here are a couple of shots of the area, showing the new bridges linking the Yeosu Peninsula with the port of Gwangyang. Before the bridges were built, travel time from Yeosu to Gwangyang was probably a couple of hours, but now the journey has been cut at least in half. The bridges aren’t open yet, but they should be ready to go before the Expo opens.

Bridges to Gwangyang from Yeosu

New bridges from Yeosu to Gwangyang

New bridge from Yeosu to Gwangyang

New bridge from Yeosu to Gwangyang

The weather, as you can see, has been gorgeous lately. I also did a photo walk around campus this past Wednesday morning, an election-day holiday in Korea, and took lots of photos of the wonderful spring colors in the area this time of year. I promise I’ll try to get those up soon. More later.

Vientiane Boat Racing Festival

The Vientiane Dragon Boat Racing Festival is one of the events marking the end of the Buddhist Lent period, which is called Ork Punsa in Laos and Thailand (read about it at the Buddhism Inter blog, at this Laos travel blog, or at Lao Voices). The race was held this past Thursday, Oct. 13th, along the Mekong River in the capital. Check out this video posted on You Tube to see some of the racing and some of the other goings-on along the riverbank. Lao Voices also has a short article on the history of the boats.

Nai told me that his entire village was celebrating because many of the young men on the winning team, including one of his brothers, are from his neck of the woods. I’ve watched these guys practice and race before, and they are an amazing sight to watch. The You Tube video above will give you some sense of the strength and team work of the top crews. Wish I’d been there. Someday, perhaps.

Children’s Day, Turtle Ships

Before it gets to be too far past the fact, I’d better do a post on Children’s Day, which was on Thursday, May 5th. There’s really no equivalent holiday in the U.S., particularly since it’s an official national holiday, an off day for government workers (and English teachers :smile: ). That should tell you something about how most Koreans feel about their kids. That week was also the Turtle Ship Festival, which is held in conjunction with the holiday. The festival celebrates legendary Korean naval commander Admiral Yi Sun-shin, inventor of the turtle ship. I posted last year about Children’s Day and the Turtle Ship Festival.

It was a gorgeous day–warm, with brilliant sunshine and blue skies (no yellow dust blanketing the area). The festival area is located at the Jongpo Ocean Park Walkway, from where I’ve taken a number of photos, such as this one.

Last year’s festival was a bit on the small side, but this year’s was much, much larger, due to the upcoming 2012 Expo (May-Aug 2012), so one of my former advanced level English students informed me.

Naturally, there were kids with their parents everywhere you turned, playing games, having fun, enjoying the beautiful weather.

There were dozens of tents set up for food, cultural exhibits and local organizations, with a few surprises along the way.

Here’s a fellow demonstrating kitchen knives.

This guy was doing something with these hamsters (gerbils?); I’m not sure what, but they were rather indifferent to his efforts. They lay there, not moving, either tired or drugged. If the latter, the guy should be taken to the woodshed for mistreatment of animals.

Wanna buy a sword?

Small turtle ship replicas.

Korean junk food, with french fried sweet potatoes in the lower right corner.

This food vendor was pretty good at tossing and stretching his noodle dough.

You could also buy paintings depicting the defeat of the Japanese naval forces when they tried to invade Korea way back in the late 16th century.

And continuing to walk along, I ran into surprise #1–MontanaRon is shocked to see a Montana Native American!

Ok, not really. It was a Korean dressed in Native American garb, selling flutes. Pretty cool, though.

Just a few tents down from him, I stumbled onto surprise #2–schawarmas! A couple of Turkish fellows were selling lamb or chicken schawarmas (They had a couple of Turkish flags hanging in their tent, so I assume they’re from that country.)

Unfortunately, I had just eaten and wasn’t hungry at all. They were doing a booming business. It’s coincidental that a reader left a comment on the blog about schawarmas. (Alan, are you reading this?) And, while I’m at it, let me give a BIG SHOUT OUT to his website, which features tons of recipes for this fantastic mid-Eastern food. Check it out at ShawarmaRecipe.com I hope the Turkish guys are here to set up a schawarma restaurant–I’ll be one of their best customers. (Yeosu has very few options if you’re hungry for something other than Korean food.)

There were also a couple of stages set up for performances, but my timing was bad–nothing much going on in that respect, though this small group was hamming it up and playing music for the crowd. Check out the older Korean on the far right and the man kicking up his heels to the left of him.

This wasn’t too far from the new bridge, which still isn’t open.

Overall, it was a great afternoon out. I can hardly wait for the Expo next year when there will be dozens of international booths (along with their respective foods). Gotta go–gettin’ hungry for breakfast and gotta work soon. More later.

Children’s Day and Turtle Ship Festival

Yesterday, Wednesday, was Children’s Day, a national holiday in Korea. (Though I find that there are no real holidays working for the university–we have to make up all classes that are cancelled due to any “holidays.”) It’s kind of like Christmas for the kids, with gifts and time off from school for fun. It’s a day out at the amusement park, the zoo, the movies or just an afternoon playing games with mom and dad.

Celebrated each year in conjunction with the holiday is the Yeosu Turtle Ship Festival. I’ve posted a few times previously about Admiral Yi Sun-shin and his invention of the turtle ship, and Yeosu has a four-day festival to celebrate his achievements. Usually, there is an International Tall Ship Festival held near this time also, but it was cancelled this year due to the construction of the Expo 2012 grounds at the harbor.

I took a bus to the Ocean Park Walkway (see a previous post about the walkway here) and spent about 3 hours walking around the various exhibits and watching some of the local talent performing on the main stage. Here’s the main area before the talent show began. Later, the place was packed, not half-empty as it appears here.

TurtleShipFest_MainStage

Here are a few shots of some of the performances; much of the local talent was quite good.

Festival_Orch1

TradOrch_Acrobats

TurtleShipFestival_FanDance

Many of the older folks were wearing traditional Korean clothing that is considered their national dress– the hanbok. I persuaded this gentleman to pose for me. I assume the cap and sunglasses aren’t standard, but I thought he looked pretty cool.

TurtleShipFestival_Man1

There was an international fireworks festival later that evening, but, having jogged for 80 minutes in the morning (almost a record for me), I was pooped and decided to call it a day around 4 in the afternoon. In addition the forecast had called for rain in the evening (which we got), and I had a couple of early morning classes today, so, early to bed. More later.

Boats and Churches

Hmmm, boats . . . do I mean arks? No, not really. I was just going through some of my older photos, kind of cleaning the cobwebs out of the attic, so to speak, and came across a few shots of some boats I took. First up is one taken at the Tall Ship Festival that was held way back in May. Here’s an article about the festival, which was held in conjunction with the annual Turtle Ship Festival. I wrote about the turtle ship as part of my Field Trip post of November 7th this year.

This is a lineup of some of the ships, including a modern-day Korean naval vessel, taking part in the festival. The two tall ships, the Pallada and the Nadezhda, if I’m not mistaken, are from Russia.

Ships_in_line

Here’s a replica of a turtle ship, also displayed at the festival. It features armor plating and sturdy wooden planking, and, to deter enemies from boarding, sharp metal spikes studded the deck. By all accounts, they were very effective in staving off Japanese invasion fleets in the late 16th century, though there weren’t many of them, according to this Wikipedia article.

Turtle_Ship1

Hiding in there somewhere is the Korean training tall ship, the Koreana. Here’s a photo of it at the Soho Yacht Marina, a photo I played around with in Photoshop to give it a somewhat antique look.

Koreana_Antique

Also in the marina area is an interesting Korean church. There is no shortage of unusual, strange and downright bizarre Christian churches in Korea. I could probably publish a coffee table book of them. (Hmmm, there’s an idea.) Are these churches established in existing buildings or are they built from scratch? I imagine it’s a bit of both. The first shot below is a church near the Sindeok Beach area. To me, it resembles the prow of a ship (the ark?). What do you think?

Church2

Now, here’s the one that’s not too far from the marina. If the church above resembles a ship, what does this one resemble? What’s its theme or motif? Let me know what you think. Leave a comment below, if you’d like.

Church1

[NOTE: Added these photos and one more of me (as if anyone would care except my mother :-)) to the Yeosu Photos section in the Photo Gallery.]

Football Match

The Africa Cup is currently being contested for in Cairo, with 16 teams making the cut, 4 in each division. Today I watched the match between Morocco and Cote d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast) on my somewhat fuzzy TV, reception being what it is with only a pair of rabbit ears. I opened up my window, despite the slight chill in the air, because I wanted to listen to the neighborhood’s reaction when (and if) the Moroccan team scored. About the middle of the second half, down 1-0, it appeared that they had finally put the ball in the net. Yup, people in all the surrounding cafes erupted with shouts and cries of joy. I dare say most of Meknes and, indeed, most of Morocco, were tuned to the match. Alas, the camera angle only made it look like a goal; the ball actually went wide, hitting a supporting pole and bouncing into the back outside of the net. Morocco went on to lose by the same margin, 1-0. I’m sure the whole country is disappointed. But, they play again on Tuesday against Egypt and then a few days later against Libya. If they can come back to win those two games, there is a good likelihood that they will move on to the quarterfinals.

Saif left a comment on the “Feast Day . . ” entry asking why I didn’t post the photo he took of me with the sheep. Well, even though I love taking photos, I’m a bit camera shy myself, but, if you’re interested,click here.

Feast Day . . . Friday

The day of the Feast of Sacrifice, Wednesday, was beautiful. I sat with Saif and his family on the roof of their apartment in the bright sun, waiting for the butcher to arrive. I even got a bit of sunburn. The fellow was an hour or so late, so we sat around talking–Saif, his younger brother, sister, mother, Saif’s friend, his brother’s friend and me. We ate oranges and a dish that tasted a lot like macaroni and cheese, only it was made of bread and milk and baked in the oven. Really quite tasty, as was all of the food I ate the past few days. Try some of the Moroccan recipes here; you won’t be disappointed.

Finally the butcher arrived. He had already had 10 appointments that day. The sheep was well taken care of before, as it was given water to drink and salt to eat. After wrestling the reluctant animal to the ground, it was hogtied and the butcher then sliced its throat, the blood flowing out on the rooftop, though not as much as I expected. It was all very quick, and I don’t think the animal suffered much, thankfully. Muslims feel a lot of respect and gratitude for the sheep, though there was no religious ritual involved. After it was decided that the sheep was truly dead, Saif used a bicycle pump to inflate air into the carcass through a cut made in the leg. It started to puff up like a Macy’s Thanksgiving Day balloon; this was necessary to make the separation of the skin from the meat easier. I watched the whole process, from taking the skin off, to the removal of the “innards” and their subsequent cleaning, to the burning of the head in order to remove the horns and to cook the brain. It was quite a long and tiring procedure, taking the most part of two hours, with the entire family and friends involved. I took photos, but I’m only posting a few here (none of the bloodier ones, though). In the photo below, the butcher finishes off the “balloon.” Clockwise from left are Nouaman (Saif’s younger brother), Saif, his mother, and the butcher.

Below, Saif’s brother and sister are roasting the head of the sheep over an open flame. (I cropped out the head, but if you want to see the full photo, it’s in the gallery.) They roast, then scrape off the fuzz or beard, roast some more, scrape off more, roast, scrape, etc. Takes quite a while. Then the horns are chopped off with a hatchet that, to me, resembled a small medieval battle axe. Eventually, the skull is split open and the brain is removed and cooked. I didn’t have any brains, I don’t think. (No derogatory comments, please.) 😆

Afterwards, we ate sheep-liver kabobs cooked over a charcoal grill, stuffed in bread and sprinkled with salt, cumin and mildly hot red pepper. You can’t dine on meat any fresher. . .

The sun began to lower in the west, the afternoon becoming chilly, so we went downstairs to the apartment. More conversation followed, and eventually I mentioned that I’d better leave, since I was riding my bike and I didn’t want to ride in the dark, but I was entreated to stay for the evening meal. This consisted of warm bread fresh out of the oven, a stew of various parts of the sheep and oranges. Again, pretty tasty. Finally, I took my leave. I was invited back, though, on Friday for lunch. Because of all the work involved with the sheep, Saif’s mother did not have time to cook a proper meal, so I returned today.

Two of Saif’s uncles and an aunt were there, visiting from Casablanca, Tangiers and from a small village just outside of Meknes. Today we ate, guess what? . . . yes, sheep! This was a roast, smothered in prunes and apricots. We tore off chunks of fresh-baked bread and used it to scoop out the fruit and meat, which was so tender it virtually fell from the bone, no knives or forks needed. We also had more sheep kabobs and oranges. I was fairly stuffed. The meal was preceded by tea and followed by coffee. Basically, I’ve eaten more sheep these two days than I’ve eaten in the totality of my life before. It’s pretty good. I think the whole of Morocco and, indeed, most of the Muslim world have been eating sheep for the last three days. I suppose a sharpster could invest in sheep futures and make a small fortune. Of course, my heart goes out to the families of all those lost in the tragedy of the Hajj in Mecca.

At any rate, I was very happy and honored to be invited by Saif to his house. This is not unusual in Morocco. The country is reknowned for its hospitality, where the “guest is king,” according to one of my guide books. More later.

And Even More Sheep

No, you don’t have to go out to a farm to buy a sheep for the holiday. LaBel Vie set up two rather large tents in their parking lot on New Year’s Eve day, the last time I was there. I thought at the time that it was something they were doing for the New Year celebration, but, no, it turns out that you can go into the tents and buy a live sheep for the Feast of Sacrifice. The price is 36 dirham per kilo, or about $1.75 per pound. I don’t know if that includes the butcher’s fee, and maybe you could recoup some of the price by selling the wool. However, that’s not the point; as I posted before, some of the meat is given to those less fortunate.

The weather has turned nasty, as forecast; it’s been chilly (about 45-50 degrees F.) and rainy most of the day. A great day to cook up a large pot of hearty bean soup. Yummmmmmm. Chock full of white beans, carrots, potatoes, onions and secret spices. Dip into it with a warm, fresh baguette. Yeah! More later.

Marrakech Bound

I’m off to Marrakech tomorrow morning, catching the 7:55 train. It’s also the first day of Eid in Morocco. Since believers are supposed to go to early morning prayers at the beginning of the festival, I’m hoping the noise will settle down early tonight so I can catch some sleep before getting up at 6 a.m. I’ll probably be out of touch with the blog for the next three days, but I should have a lot to report about the trip and Marrakech, hopefully with some photos to put in the gallery.

It looks like Friday and Saturday will be devoted to sightseeing and whatnot, with a welcome dinner to the conference on Saturday evening. Nabila and I give our workshop at 9 a.m. on Sunday, then I’m supposed to catch a 2 p.m. train that afternoon. I might, though, see if I can change my ticket, maybe coming back on Monday instead. More later.

Here’s another mosque photo.

Festival!

We have a three-day vacation, of sorts. Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday this week is the university festival, so there are no classes. Why they scheduled it so close to the end of the semester is beyond my comprehension. The last day of the semester is June 14, then 10 days of teaching adult classes and I’m off to Laos and Thailand!

In addition to being excited about vacation time, I’m also on pins and needles waiting to hear if I got the SIT job in Africa or Indonesia. I’m sure I’ll hear nothing until the end of the month, so I’ll try to be patient until then. More later.