Korean Adventure

Myeong-dong night market

5 nights and six days in Korea is a mini-adventure. It was my first trip to Asia, since one can hardly include stopovers in Hong Kong or Changi Airport as a trip.

This was a business trip, fraught with cultural and linguistic difficulty. We persuaded our Korean-born colleague to accompany us and without her we wouldn’t have achieved anything. Certainly we would have gone hungry or simply eaten our way through American food chains.

The hotels we stayed in were generally the standard business kind of hotel. Except for the one in Daejeon, a dour science and technology city. It’s as though the hotel wanted to make up for the dreariness of the city.

Korean country hotel

By far and away the very best parts of the trip were the meals eaten in side street cafes or tucked away nooks. Chi would take us in, chat to the owners about what was available (the menus were definitely neogtiable), and we sat down to Korean hotplate with deliciously grilled on the table meat, an array of side dishes, a little rice, kim chi and soybean paste with chili.

Inevitably, the owner would ask Chi at the end  of the meal ‘Did she like it?’ indicating the only Westerner to hit their restaurant that decade. Smiling and bowing vigorously, I backed up Chi’s assertion that I did. Oh yes, lots!

Have eye mask, will travel

In my very last hurrah for my current job, I’m spending a week in South Korea. While the travel time is only 13 hours in total and not 30 hours I still want to be comfortable. So I made my own eye mask on the basis that I’m not likely to be upgraded to business class where they have the really soft and comfy kind of eye masks.

I was thinking about this during my trip last year to the Netherlands so I kept my eye mask to use as a model. Here’s how it went.

Firstly, I just traced around the eye mask to get the shape. I cut out two fabric pieces (right sides facing).

I used quilt batting for cushioning and cut that 1cm inside the fabric line.

I planned to layer the pieces then apply bias binding. To keep the batting in place, I basted it to one of the fabric pieces.

The next step is to put the elastic in place. Again, I basted this since I’d be machining one side of the bias binding down. I cut the elastic from the airline eye mask and reapplied it to this one.

I forgot to take a photo of the bias binding step so it we’ll jump straight to the finished product.

I could have gone for the usual kind of black bias binding but I remembered the soft, Nani Iro binding from cotton double gauze. Why not?

Of memory

I suspect every major Dutch town has one of these –  a statue in memory of the Nazi Occupation from 1940 – 1945.  Their beauty lies in simplicity. The Amsterdam and Rotterdam ones are singular, evocative figures and like this one in Leiden, the plinth is engraved only with the dates.

I visited the Anne Frank Huis today. It’s something that I wanted to be prepared for, to have time to take it in at my own pace. As a museum it tells a complex story with simplicity and humanity. I read the book as a young teenager – I have to confess my aspie special interest was (and remains) the Holocaust – and to see and move inside the house was a revelation. To have come inside, to be confined, to walk from daylight to rooms with blackout curtains was to understand the enormity of hiding as survival.

Primo Levi, an Italian Holocaust survivor and writer of his experiences, said of the popularity of Anne Frank’s story:

“One single Anne Frank moves us more than the countless others who suffered just as she did, but whose faces have remained in the shadows. Perhaps it is better that way: If we were capable of taking in the suffering of all those people, we would not be able to live.”

I think perhaps that also explains those single figures who stand for the Nazi Occupation of the Netherlands. That in the singular we each find and share the universal.

Gezelligheid

The Dutch like to be cosy and friendly and they have a special word for it: gezelligheid. Coffee is an integral part of this and we are always offered coffee at the beginning of an interview. And not just instant coffee – every workplace has some kind of coffee machine delivering at least four different types of coffee. You can appreciate how lovely we thought this coming from our Melbourne cafe culture.

This is where a health warning needs to be issued: the Dutch like their coffee strong. Heart starter strong. And it’s really not a good idea to take up the offer of coffee at every interview if you have a string of them in one day.  We learned that lesson very quickly.

Gezelligheid is also seen in the architecture and interior design. Even the business hotels make an effort not simply for comfort but for gezelligheid, an atmosphere of relaxation among friends. Some are more successful than others. The one we’re staying at the moment hits it rather well. This is the view from my window. In the bottom right corner is my knitting. Perfection!

Tour de Netherlands

I could get used to international travel, you know.

Well, the international bit anyway. The travel bit is crappy.

Sunday afternoon on the Leidsegeracht, Amsterdam

Amsterdam Radhuis at twilight

This is not our backyard

I’ve yet to meet a Dutch canal I didn’t like.  This one is in Delft, home to the pottery, the memory of Jan ‘Girl with a Pearl Earring’ Vermeer and gentle Dutchness.

Just don’t spoil it by going to the university. Serious ugliness.

Looking for the unseen things

The architecture in Leiden and Amsterdam is mostly 17th-19th century and has a Protestant, northern European restraint about. The 20th century stuff is out of the city centre as you’d expect but I did begin to wonder where the Dutch hid their art deco.

I mean, they know rather a bit about early 20th century architecture, what with the Amsterdam School and all. After hearing about the different gable styles it occurred to me to simply look up. If the buildings didn’t have the room to be obviously deco maybe the windows did.

Bingo!

It makes me think that there are quite a few quilt ideas in there.

The writing’s on the wall

Public art in Leiden – wall poems.

Lagging

The jet lag is slowly receding. Coming back this way, it means a wave of fatigue so deep I can barely stand. I can feel fine and suddenly find it washing over me and dragging all clarity with it. The tide’s coming in later each day and I’m hoping to make it through my first day back at work before it hits.

Some photos have also lagged but are definitely worth posting. This one was in the old part of Porto – I found it astonishing that it seemed to appear on a demolished site. At first glance I thought it was painted but zooming in with the camera proved that it was tiled.

It’s now my desktop background at work.

I love the simplicity of this bird against the old customs house in Porto. It was a little hard to make out and certainly didn’t rate a mention from the tour guide – he was too busy telling us about those bridges.

And there was this stunning tiled picture on a grand home near the university. The other reason it’s so remarkable is that it doesn’t appear to be religious. I checked for reeds, Moses and other biblical figures and it seems to be a straightforward desert scene. Quite eye-catching.

You’ll notice the summery quality of light. Melbourne’s winter light is taking quite a bit of getting used to after all that brightness.

Edited to add: There are other photos of the sewing machine company – here, a shop sign in the Azores, they also seem to distribute designs of national dress.

Visiting Rembrandt

Over my last two days in The Netherlands, I did my Rembrandt tragic thing. I found the Latin School in Leiden he attended before enrolling but not attending university (hey, it was enough to get him drinking rigths, it seems).

The next day I walked over to the Rijksmuseum from my hotel (the main consideration being its location in the museum district). The group of people sitting on the grass were a group of French art history undergraduates, taking it in turns to give their tutorial presentations.

A note on tour guides: follow the French ones. More likely to be an art historian and far more interesting. Of course I wasn’t on that tour as such. I just happened to be looking at Vermeer’s ‘The Milk Maid’ at the same time. And testing out my French listening skills.

This next is the side gate of the Rijksmuseum, in use until the restoration project is complete.

I could have walked out and around to the Van Gogh museum. I didn’t though. I think I was still recovering from the Dutch masters and to have encountered the genius of Van Gogh on the same day would have been too much.

The only word I could use to describe my reaction is ‘swoon’. The Rembrandt portraits are astonishing in their beauty and compassion. Vermeer’s milkmaid is breathtaking in its simplicity and solidity. And the colours! Any reproduction you’ve seen does not do it justice. I was breathless at the luminosity of the yellow and brilliance of the blue.

And as a little taster the museum also had a room looking at three of Miro’s pieces based on some works by Jan Steen.

I’m going back to the Netherlands later in the year for more field work. I’ll take a good look at Van Gogh then.

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