The world is a wonderful, if very wacky, place to be.

Archive for February, 2011

Six, continued.

When Lyra was three years old, she knew what she was going to get for her sixth birthday.

She waited very, very patiently.

Then we ended up spending her sixth birthday in South Korea, so she waited patiently a little longer…

until yesterday.

Yesterday Saba and Savta came to visit, and Lyra finally got her birthday present: pierced ears.

She chose the ones with the little red flowers.

Then Saba took us all for ice cream.


It was a lovely, lovely belated birthday.

Grandparents. Think of them as Parents 2.0. “Parents: the Previous Generation” just doesn’t have the same ring to it.


Say Cheese!

My foodie family has a new best friend.

This is Yaniv.

Say Cheese!

He is the proprietor of the new cheese shop in Ra’anana, Beit HaGvinot, which just opened on Monday. Shai and Yossef work there, too.

Lyra and I were their first customers. We were on the way to the park when we saw the luscious, juicy olives that beckoned us inside.

We haven't tried all the flavors yet. We'll have to go back tomorrrow.

Beit HaGvinot has all sorts of cheeses from cow, goat and sheep’s milk. We had the blue cheese along with the gorgonzola cheese tonight with potatoes for dinner. Aquila made a strawberry-lettuce-tomato salad that complemented the meal perfectly. Let it be known that we are foodies, down to the baby, who can be calmed down with some emmentaler when she’s really upset. We’ve begun looking at the cheese shop as a sort of a field trip; we go with the expectation of trying something we’ve only ever heard of until now.

They have cheeses from all over the world. I foresee many field trips in our future.

And they have salads.

They are pareve. I double checked.

The shop is at 88 Ahuza Street. You can call them at 077 424 4532 if you have any questions. There are branches in Ramat HaSharon and Kfar Saba that I am sure are also excellent, but then you don’t have Yaniv, Shai and Yossef to take care of you. They didn’t bat an eye when I walked in with my four voracious children; they deserve a medal for that alone.

They just opened so they don’t have a teuda up yet; you might want to stick to buying things with labels on them until the Rabbanut delivers the certificate.
Go on, stop by. Tell Yaniv, Shai and Yossef that I sent you.

And try not to moan too loudly when they give you samples to try. It upsets the other customers.

My niece, the Superhero

Everyone, please meet Super Elisheva.

See the skirt baby Sagitta is wearing? Super Elisheva crocheted it herself.

A week ago, I got the following e-mail in my in-box:

“What are you doing for shabbat beacause my parents are in India so I thought maybe we should go to you but then I realized you are just coming back from Korea so maybe you will want to come to us?”

That’s right. My 15 year old niece invited me for shabbat lunch.

The food was excellent, the company superb, and I stayed until after shabbat so that I could help with the clean up. After all, even Superheros have to study for history tests.
An honorable mention to her sister, who helped clean and made the jello, her brother who made kiddush and havdala, her other brother who helped serve, her other other brother who turned the leftover jello into an art project, and her other other other brother who is seven years old and still called Goo-Goo Baby by his sisters.

He’ll be 35 with a family of 6, certification as a Rabbi and a Phd in Physics and they will still call him Goo-Goo Baby. Just watch.

Dear Seoul

Dear Seoul,

Thank you for a wonderful five weeks.

I know that you are not really set up for the kosher traveler just yet, but I sincerely thank you by taking a step in the right direction by giving the Chabad house official status. This will allow them to buy a permanent center and serve the Jews in Seoul even better. On that front, I apologize for taking three percent of the current Jewish population of Seoul home with me, but I think that perhaps the blog has made you a little less impossibly far away to my readers, and maybe one or two will decide to come visit themselves and replenish the supply.

While I am thanking you, I must comment on how remarkably friendly you have been to my children. It is not easy to travel with children of all ages, and you embraced them all. You waited patiently for them to board the subway, you didn’t flinch when they entered ceramics stores, and you even smiled when the baby fussed (or worse) while riding on mass transit. It seems like you went out of your way to give my children happy memories, and I am grateful.

I know it’s not your fault that we all seemed to get sick; you have different bugs than we do back home. I do appreciate the wearing a mask in public when you are under the weather. It was surprising easy to get used to and really much more comfortable than going without. I doubt that Westerners will adopt this practice any time soon, and more’s the pity.

I also must thank you for unabashedly mentioning “the great wisdom of our ancestors” in your museums. In this modern world where ancient practices are seen as primitive and useless, I really appreciate meeting another culture that also values the ancient ways. May you continue to modernize while holding on to the best of who you are.

It’s time for the children and me to go home now, but we leave Cloud Man in your care. I would consider it a great blessing if it turns out that some day, we can return and visit you again.

I leave you with a blessing of my people; may you go from strength to strength.

Annyonghi kyeseyo and Shalom,

Raising Wings

Seoul Tower

Remember I mentioned in an earlier blog post that there is a museum here in Seoul that tells the history of the city using teddy bears?

Today, on our very last day in Seoul, the first day that everyone managed to be healthy all at once in I don’t remember how long, we went.

It’s in N Seoul Tower, which we can see from our apartment in Coex. The tower has an observatory, and we got there as the sun was setting (we took a detour to Namdaemun Market. It was a very busy day).

Even though it was hazy, there was city as far as the eye can see. I cannot describe how enormous Seoul is. The pictures barely do it justice. It’s just city, city, and more city, punctuated by the occasional mountain.

It keeps going, and going, and going.

I know it’s called a megacity for a reason, but even standing in an observatory smack in the middle of it and seeing it laid out right in front of me in three hundred sixty degrees still boggled the mind.

Then, we went back downstairs and checked out the teddy bear museum.

Honestly, I was expecting something cheesy, kind of like a teddy bears meet wax museum experience.

I was so very ever wrong.

Royal Wedding

It’s a history museum that describes the history of Seoul with costumed teddy bears, and it’s like entering into an ursine fantasy land where every detail is completely authentic and compelling.

It held the kids’ attention, from Sagitta to Volucris, like no other museum we’ve been to.

I thought that paying an entrance fee for a baby was outrageous, but upon entering, I understood.

You know the annoying mom who reads the signs in museums out loud to her inattentive children? Yes, I am that mother. But here, the girls would shout “read this one, read this one!” if I delayed by just a moment.

The displays seemed static, until a sensor felt our approach and then the bears would begin moving, engaged in whatever activity was on display.

Bears playing court music.

There were some giant bears to pose with and hug, too.

Where else can you hug an emperor?

We even got to see some of the landmarks that we visited as interpreted by this teddy bear land.

"Eema, we went on that ferris wheel!"

In retrospect, I wish that we had gone to the Teddy Bear Museum on our first day in Seoul instead of our last day. The city has a tremendously rich two thousand year history, and the teddy bears make it comprehensible and even approachable. It tied together what we already had gotten in bits and pieces.

Honestly, it makes me wonder if we can do a history of Jerusalem the same way. It would be wondrous.

The Subway

The Seoul subway is efficient, cheap, and clean. There is a remarkable lack of any odor whatsoever, with the exception of Thursday (and I’m told Friday) evenings, where there is a definite pickled aroma in the air. Everyone looks completely sober, if a little more cheerful than during the rest of week. Oh, and the subway is safe. So safe that I once watched a woman put down her belongings, including shopping bags from high end stores, walk a few meters away and out of direct line of vision with them, and make a phone call. As a former New Yorker, I was amazed that no one stole them; as a current Israeli, I was amazed that no one called the bomb squad. The woman’s belongings were completely undisturbed when she returned.

Volucris and I have both described how crowded the subway can get during rush hour, but it’s not just the trains, but the stairs and escalators as well. It’s just a sea of humanity, and it involved a learning curve and sense of adventure to navigate that sea. I will admit to claiming enthusiasm in uncomfortable situations so that my little ones don’t get alarmed, and the first time we faced a staircase up from the subway that made me eerily aware of how ants must feel, I made sure to project extra enthusiasm. With the baby on my back in a carrier, one girl holding one hand and the second the other, I made sure that Volucris was close behind and we plunged in. It turns out, it’s sort of fun, and coming from Israel I don’t mind bumping into people and being bumped into, and once we got a feel for the movement of the crowd it was actually very simple to navigate.

And speaking of navigation, the entire subway system is set up to maximize the information that a passenger might need.

At the platforms, there are signs that tell you how far away the next train is.

You can see that the little red rectangle is just one and one half stations away, and you can watch the news, too.

In the cars, there are displays over the doors informing you of what stop you are approaching.

We are leaving the green dot and traveling toward the orange dot.

Everything is in Korean and English, so that foreigners have some hope of getting around.

There are even monitors that not only point the way out of the car, but they show public service announcements. One very common one is a graphic video on what to do in case of fire. Honestly, at first it freaked me out, but now I hardly even notice it anymore, just like everyone else.

The trains themselves are even color-coded according to the line they travel on.

And I didn’t get a picture of the giant interactive maps in subway stations, but with a simple touch of the screen you can plot a route or see a satellite view of the neighborhood you’re in.

In other words, if the Seoul subway system were any more civilized, there would be individual masseuses and hot drinks. South Korea has the best service of anywhere I have ever been, and this sort of consideration of weary travelers is outstanding.

I’ve fallen in love with this city a thousand different ways, and the subway is one of the reasons. Honestly, if I could fit the Seoul subway system in my carry-on alongside Cloud Man’s Kindle, it would be coming home with me.

Yer Darned Tootin’.

Holy Hogwan, people, just when I think I might be getting a handle on the culture here, even a little bit, I discover that even if I spent the rest of my life here, I would never, but ever, get it.

Some of the kids are sick (yes, again. But everyone is on the mend, though I am praying everyone will be well enough to get on an airplane this Thursday). I did, however, manage to get some shopping done downstairs in the Coex mall. One can’t return home empty handed, after all.

Among my purchases was an innocuous looking book of Korean folktales for children with both Korean and English text. I didn’t get a chance to look at the book in the store, so when I returned home I sat down for a minute to flip through it. I was expecting something along the lines of the Tale of Simcheong, the girl who sacrifices herself to the Dragon King of the Sea in order to get enough rice to donate to Buddha to restore her blind father’s sight. Or maybe something like the Frog Brothers, a story of a dysfunctional amphibious family in which the brothers ruin their mother’s afterlife by doing the opposite of what she asked for all her life, only to repent when she died and screwing up her burial, anyway. You know, heavy duty filial piety stuff.

I was not expecting the first story in this book.

For the sake of intercultural exchange, I will share it with you now, slightly edited because this book was written for the local market’s command of English.

This is the Story of the Piping Tiger, a tale of resourcefulness, creative thinking, and what the Koreans really wish they could do to the Japanese, whom they’ve never forgiven for a single invasion from paleolithic times on through World War II.

Pilili~ Pilili~ Pilili~
One day, a young man was walking along the street playing his pipe.
“Oh, I am getting sleepy. I’d better take a nap.”
The young man slept snoring under a tree.

Then, along came a tiger and began sprinkling water with his tail on the sleeping man’s face.
The man panicked. “What a disaster!” He thought. “What should I do?!”
Pretending to be asleep, the young man thought up a plan.

“Oh, I got it! What a good idea!” He thought.
The young man stuck his pipe in the tiger’s rear end.
The startled tiger let out a fart.
Pilili Bung~, Pilili Bung~
The tiger, more startled by the piping sound,
began to run off like a wind.
Pilili Bung~, Pilili Bung Bung~
But as the tiger ran faster and faster, the piping sound with the fart became louder and louder.

All the animals of the forest laughed loudly.
“Ha ha ha, a pipe in the tiger’s rear end!” they jeered.
“Ho ho ho, a fart with a pipe sound!”
So the tiger became embarrassed and ran off, deep into the forest.

~ The End ~

Now don’t you just want to listen to the accompanying CD? I know I do.

Go ahead. Fill the comments up with the obvious puns.

But, please, remember, this is a family friendly blog.

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