Thursday, 31 May 2012

Seoul is....

As the first mission given to the Global Seoul-Mates, we were asked to post a photograph with the phrase, 'Seoul is....' as an expression on what we think of the city.

And one sunny day, as I walked through the Cheonggye Stream, I took of this photograph using the label of the cover of the Seoul Magazine and just placed a white sheet of paper below.

And voila!

Mission accomplished!  Walking through the Cheonggye Stream is just as relaxing as it!

Sunday, 27 May 2012

Gifts From iBuzzKorea and Shinsegae!

It's always fun to receive a receive a gift. And it's double the fun if you get two gifts!

When I read on the iBuzzKorea homepage that gifts are being given away for the Touch Korea Tour Pack event, I immediately signed in and registered for the free gifts! Who wouldn't want to have miss A's latest CD?
And one weekend, after buying a few things from the Namdaemun Market, I walked towards the Shinsegae Department Store and presented my printed registration at the Customer Service Desk!
When I handed my printout, the ladies at the desk already knew what it was! So, I had no trouble explaining what I was there for. The immediately gave me that Touch Korea Tour brochure, pack and of course, the miss A music CD!
And on top of these gifts, they told me that I need to go another counter to receive another gift!

What? Another one?
I headed to the Delamer counter a few meters away and showed another helpful lady my lucky gift coupon! 

Well, it was a La Mer cream from which she put in this little green box. 

So, if you haven't gotten your Touch Korea Tour Packs yet, just do the steps on the 'event' page of the link below, and you're off to the Shinsegae Department Store!
Kamsa-hamnida to iBuzzKorea and Shinsegae for these gifts!  I am playing miss A's CD now, and as to the cream? Well, I haven't opened it yet. Maybe somebody else would want to have it?

Saturday, 26 May 2012

Blood, Juice and Needles: Donating At The Korean Red Cross

I once asked my English-speaking doctor at the local hospital about donating blood in Korea, and he just mumbled 'yes, you can' and didn't suggest any thing more.

So I tried looking for ways on how to donate, but never really got into it.
Until one day, the Korean Red Cross mobile blood bank came to our office building to accept blood donations! It was actually a huge bus with some medical equipment and small beds!
I was lucky that day there was someone who helped me with the translation during the screening. There must have been more than a dozen questions before I was accepted by the Red Cross nurse as a donor. 
(The nurse filling up my Red Cross registration form and holding the bloody pad for initial testing)

Questions ranged from how many years I have lived in Korea, to whether I have lived in Europe, or I have been to places where malaria was endemic. The nurse also asked whether I was under medication. 

Luckily, the lady who assisted me in translating the questions were patient enough to see me finish the screening, and voila! I passed! With flying blood red color!

Of course, they would extract my precious blood, and later screen the blood of whether it was of royal origin. Ha-ha-ha! (Kidding!)

And after I signed some documents (I wasn't sure whether I was signing away my entire blood supply), I was told to lie down on one of the beds in the bus. I think this was my first time to ever lie down straight in a bus! How cozy!
I am not exactly afraid of needles and the sight of blood. But after watching those gruesome and bloody horror movies all these years, I am so used to them already.
And while the nurse was skillfully pricking my left-arm vein to start the extraction of my sugary blood, I was also getting ready with my cellphone to take photos of the bloody event.
(My fingers trying to hold up that 'two-finger pose. Ha-ha-ha!)

As I lay there filling up the plastic bag (I can't remember how much blood was spilled, er, extracted), I thought that the little inconvenience for me was my time spent for the whole thingy and a nanosecond of pain from the needle. But this negligible inconvenience could not even compare to what medical problem the eventual donor must be going through to need the blood.
I think it took me about 20 minutes to fill up a bag. I think. I lost track of time. But after they withdrew the needle and patched my arm, I was given a biscuit and orange juice, and a tube of BB cream as a token. 
Honestly, I didn't want any gift in return. I just wanted to donate. Period. (And I definitely didn't know what to do with that BB cream. I think I gave it away.)

The next morning, I received a text message from the Korean Red Cross advising me that my blood was accepted. (They must have screened it at the lab.) I was finally a certified blood donor!
(I was asked which organization I would want to receive my blood.)

Here's the English page of the Korean Red Cross in case you want to donate or volunteer:

                  (A little pain goes a long, long way.)

Monday, 21 May 2012

The Santa Cruzan!

During the month of May in the Philippines, every town and city celebrate the Flores de Mayo (Spanish for 'Flowers of May'), a Catholic celebration in honor of the Virgin Mary. 

And usually on the last day of May, as the highlight of the festivities, a procession through the town's main streets is held. The procession, or Santa Cruzan (Holy Cross), is a pageant of sorts where Reyna Elena's (Queen Helena) search for the Holy Cross is re-enacted. 

Queen Helena is the Roman Emperor Constantine, the Great's mother. And the Santa Cruzan is basically based on this emperor's sending his mother to do an errand. (Talking about a mama's boy, I guess). He wanted her to look for the Holy Cross. 

Well, thanks to that doting mother who always wanted to give what her son wanted, towns and cities in the Philippines have this parade of ladies and their escorts, all dressed up in their elaborate gowns and  barong tagalog walking through the main thoroughfares during a hot summer evening!

Each lady, or sagala, is assigned a title of the personality she represents based on the story of the search of the Holy Cross. And the most popular personality is, of course, Reyna Elena herself. Who wouldn't want to play the emperor's mom, if only for one summer night?

Being Reyna Elena means she's the prettiest of all the sagalas (or perhaps she's the daughter of the town's wealthiest family?). Well, with a very expensive-looking gown and an inch-thick make up, who wouldn't look like a queen?

I miss watching the Santa Cruzan back home, although I don't miss being forced to be consort during my teenage years. And I think my brother didn't like being a consort either. I don't remember seeing him smile all throughout the procession. Ha-ha-ha!  And I can't recall which 'reyna' I escorted. But I'm sure it wasn't the Reyna Elena.

But unlike me (and my brother), the consorts accompanying these sagalas in these photographs I took during the Philippine Santa Cruzan in Seoul looked proud, happy and enjoying their role.

These reynas in their Filipiniana gowns and decorated parasols also look pleasing and proud to share an aspect of the Filipino culture to everyone watching the parade at Banpo Park in Seoul.

It would have been a more elaborate Santa Cruzan had this been held in the Philippines, where this time of the month, the excited ladies who will represent the personalities of the Santa Cruzan will have been selected already. By now, these girls and their proud moms must be busy attending to their gowns and all the preparations required to pull off this once a year (or once in a lifetime) assignment.

When Queen Helena traveled to the Holy Land in about 326 B.C., I wonder if she also wore such elaborate gown and wore such heavy makeup. But leave it to the Filipinos to turn a historic event, which otherwise will have already been forgotten, into an annual pageantry, which not only takes on a religious form, but also showcases the 'who's who' of a community.

But since I'm here in Seoul, I wouldn't be able to catch the Santa Cruzan at my hometown. But when you do catch one at yours, I hope the sagalas and their consorts would be as proud and happy to be part of the Flores de Mayo festivities.

Sunday, 13 May 2012

The Seoul International Marathon

I would have wanted to just sleep some more on a Sunday morning. But I realized thousands of runners have already gotten out of their beds while it was still dark and headed to Gwanghwamun Square where the starting line of the annual Seoul International Marathon was.
                                            (The Blue Bus that I rode)
                                (A cordoned road)
I thought it would be fun taking photographs of the runners while they were en route to fulfill their dreams of breaking the world record. If not, perhaps their personal best.
                (A few pedestrians making their way
                    to Gwanghwamun Square)

           (A bridal car wasn't allowed to pass. 
                 I hope the bride's not in there.)

So, I lazily got out of my bed and rushed to the Namdaemun Market area, where the marathoners would detour en route to the City Hall/Euljiro area. I should be there before 8AM, the time the race would start under the stern, strict gaze of Admiral Yi.
         (A helicopter was buzzing above taking                          an aerial footage of the race)
I have never run a marathon; I'd rather play tennis! But just to see world-class marathoners breeze past me on a cool Sunday morning would be neat! I thought perhaps the next time I see these ferocious marathoners would be at the 2016 Rio Olympics! On my TV screen! So, it would be really fun to see them a few meters away with all their stamina, focus and the look on their determined faces!
Although international marathoners flew in to join the marathon, thousands more registered to join the 5K and 10K events, which made the whole thingy more fun!

And as I rode the Blue Bus 402 that morning from my Hannam-dong neighborhood, I saw a notice posted inside the bus that its regular route was momentarily cut off by the marathon. But no problem for me, I was getting off at Namdaemun Market anyway. That's where I wanted to be. That's where I would bump into the marathoners, and that's where they would run into me, literally. Ha-ha-ha!

As expected, when I got there, the police had already cordoned off the intersection. A few cars were trying to make it through, and a few pedestrians were trying to catch the marathon as well.
                  (Sponsors' cars leading the marathon)
So, I sat on the pavement and just waited...and waited... and waited until....a motorcade of police motorbikes, mobile units of TV channels and ambulances signaled that I should get ready!

Then lo and behold! The first pack of runners appeared, pacing themselves faster than parishioners going to church on a lazy Sunday morning. They strode along and turned left towards the Bank of Korea. I was expecting the theme from Chariots of Fire movie playing in my head as they ran past me. But these elite runners were not running in slow motion, barefooted and on a beach. They were speedy, on running shoes and in Namdaemun Market!

I stood there for a moment and watched the first batch of elite athletes, and tried to share in the fun of the sport they love. Those fit torsos and strong legs were proof that they could really take on 42 kilometers of non-stop pacing. 

And after the premiere pack, there came the fun runners in their costumes and jolly faces! Some of them looked serious, while others looked that they were happy just to run!

                "Run, Forrest, run!"
                      (A runner in a costume and a crown!)
After a few minutes at the Namdaemun Market area, I walked towards that fountain near the Shinsegae Department store, just across the Bank of Korea, and took more photographs from an elevated view. 

Unlike the runners, I lost track of time. And when the last runners ran by and being trailed by an ambulance and a few cars, I knew they had all passed.

 ("These legs are made for running. That's what just they do. One of these days these legs are gonna walk all over you!")
                     (Top running chef!)

So, I got back to the Blue Bus 402 bus stop at Namdaemun Market, which at that time, resumed its normal route already. Those runners had already run towards the other side of downtown where they now cut off a new set of bus routes.
               (A bank run @ the Bank of Korea building)

                             (It's a date!)

I was happy I got out of bed early to catch the Seoul International Marathon that morning. Although I didn't sweat like the runners did, I also had fun watching them enjoy what they decided to do that Sunday morning.

                             (Running and skipping rope!)

The day after, I read in the news that a Kenyan, won the men's marathon, and an Ethiopian lady won the women's. They were the fastest runners from Gwanghwamun Square all the way to the Jamsil Olympic Stadium in just little above two hours!

                 (Friends running in groups and 
                    wearing the same color!)

Tomorrow morning, a new batch of marathoners will run through the streets of Seoul again, and along the official route, they will enjoy the tourist spots on foot, although I doubt they will be able to take photos.

Well, if they won't be able to take photos, I will. 

Good luck to the marathoners! Happy running!
               (The cars and ambulance trailing 
                        the last of the runners!)