“Our sun is shining on you”

This morning, my Colombian friend Eduardo posted the following to his Facebook wall.

Ever heard of the band “Nanook”? Well, they are from Greenland and I don’t understand their lyrics… But man do I enjoy their music… Definitely recommend it.

As soon as I saw his status, I couldn’t help playing the Nanook* on. I was in fact working on a Greenland assignment. Couldn’t be more perfect.

Listening to “Seqinitta Qinngorpaatit (Our sun is shining on you),” one of my favorites, I realized I’ve never talked about Greenland’s music here.

When I first listened to the songs of Nanook, one of the most popular bands from Greenland, I have to confess, I was very surprised at its modern musical style. You couldn’t tell it’s Greenlandic at all, if you just heard the music. It was a shock in a way. Please bear with my ignorance, but I had kind of expected that Greenland’s music would be igloo-y, if that makes any sense. But instead, it’s like, what, Coldplay, to some extent (and with a bit of exaggeration). Yet, it still has Greenland’s own sentiment in it. I became a big fan of their music and gave their CD to Eduardo when I visited D.C. last year from Nuuk. (Your FB status made my day, mi amigo! Gracias!)

Later I expanded my experience in Greenlandic music not just to such young musicians, as Simon Lynge and Nive, but also to some old bands like Asuki from the early 1970s. In fact one of the Asuki’s members is an older brother of the father in my homestay family. (Well, it’s not surprising. In this small community, almost everyone is related somewhat to each other.)

Okay, no more words from me. Listening is believing.

Here are some of my favorites. Enjoy!

Nanook—Seqinitta Qinngorpaatit

Simon Lynge—Love Comes back to You

Asuki—Inuulluarna Mattaliit

So, how do you like them?

*Nanook literally means polar bear in Greenlandic. You can probably see the band members at Atlantic Music, the only record shop in Nuuk, if you’re lucky. I particularly like them because they insist singing only in Greenlandic.

For more information about Greenland’s music, visit here.

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Greenland Beach Party 2032 (interview)

I posted a blog about the long-shot beach party in Greenland long time ago. And I just remembered that I haven’t posted my brief interview with Anders Rønnow Bruun, the creator of the event yet. Ooops.

Anders is a 18-year-old Dane, living in Copenhagen. He’s a member of the Social Democratic Youth of Denmark. The interview was done in August, 2011, via Facebook message.

Q. When did you create the event on Facebook?
A. It must be around autumn of last year (2010).

Q. I assume that you got inspired by the global warming, but what was the moment or the thing that made you create the event?
A. Honestly there wasn’t no particular event that made me make this event. I was just sitting with some friends in my biology class. That was where we came up with the idea.

Q. Is there a reason that you specifically chose July 16, 2032 from 2 p.m. to 11:30 p.m. for the event? Or you chose the date randomly? And why Nuuk?
A. Nuuk is the capital of Greenland and that’s why it’s the only city i can remember.

Q. Do you actually plan to hold an event in 2032 even though Greenland wouldn’t have such a tropical beach then?
A. That i would not know, but I’m young and who knows? There is an awful lot of time to plan it eventually.

Q. How did you develop your interests in the global warming?
A. I think most Danes are concerned about the environment, but the economic crisis in Europe has made it a less discussion subject sadly… But worst of all, the COP15 was a terrible setback for the fight against global warming – and i was going to a school very close to the conference [venue].

Q. Do you plan any other campaigns to raise people’s interests in the global warming and encourage them to act to slow down climate change?
A. Maybe, maybe not. if i get a good idea, I will!

#TTOT=Travel Talk on Twitter

Every Tuesday afternoon, I try to get on #TTOT. Although I have participated only a few times. I so far enjoy the chats with fellow wanderers who I’ve never met in person.

When @the_HoliDaze introduced #TTOT to me a few months ago, I was like, huh? But soon, I learned, it’s like a huge AOL chat room with no limits in the number of people joining. Each week, people participate in the discussion answering five questions on a selected topic, or just by reading others’ answers and retweeting them. It’s a great way to meet the like-minded, virtually.

Another thing I like about the #TTOT is that I get to travel back to the time when I was traveling, while answering the questions given for the day’s session. My travel memories are usually stored in my computer’s “Pictures” folder or inside my diaries and blogs. And I live every day, more often thinking about where to go, rather than looking back where I have been to.

The #TTOT sessions make me look up the photos and diaries and help me remember what I felt back then. Memories I have for some events have sometimes changed over time, and a few times what I remember and what I actually felt at the very moment are different.

And I found a piece of memory today.

This week’s topic was accommodations, and the second question of the day was: Share a picture of the best view from a hotel room? Then this photo crossed my mind, which I had totally forgot about for years.

View from my hotel room in Saint-Gervais-les-Bains

Then, I wasn’t sure if it was a hotel, or a cabin (as I certainly remembered wood walls), not to mention the name. I just remembered it was right in front of the train station of the small village and it had a trolley car on the rail in its backyard.In 2004, Heywiz, who was then living in Paris, and I had decided to spend a weekend in Chamonix Mont Blanc. As we couldn’t get an affordable room in the town as it was a peak ski season, we got a room in Saint-Gervais-les-Bains, which is not far from Mont Blanc by train.

So, I started googling after failing to retrieve my email exchanges with Heywiz. And I found the hotel, or chalet, finally!: Chalet Hotel la Maison Blanche.

And then, everything came back to me so vividly: The cool morning breeze when we walked around the village; the smell of the bread that’s just out of oven from a local bakery; the locally-produced herb drink we had in Mont Blanc; that we had to run to the station to catch the last train to Saint-Gervais to find the train got delayed… all the fun times.

Thanks, #TTOT.

I love traveling solo but not always

If you’ve read Who’s this Wanderer, you would know how I fell in love with traveling: By traveling alone.

When traveling solo, I can be completely free, and can get mingled with local people and fellow travelers more easily. After cutting the ribbon in Canada, I traveled to Australia, Norway, Thailand, USA, and Denmark by myself, and even though I stayed at my friends’ places in France, Japan and Hong Kong, I often traveled alone. I really enjoy it.

But today’s NYTimes article, Single in the Caribbean, reminded me of one of few moments that I wasn’t happy about traveling alone: When I was on the beautiful beach of Koh Nangyuan, Thailand.

It was November of 2008 when I finally crossed off Koh Nangyuan from my to-visit list. For years, I’d longed for visiting the island, where three islets are connected with sand beaches. When I had a long-enough vacation, I chose the island for the destination without a second thought. I didn’t mind such a long trip only to get there: Flew from Seoul to Bangkok; stayed overnight at the Bangkok airport (spent an hour or so getting massage); flew to Koh Samui the following morning; stayed overnight (in fact two nights) at a local accommodation; and took a two-hour boat to Koh Nangyuan.

Koh Nangyuan - when it's peaceful

It was afternoon when I got to the island, and it was quiet, which I loved. Only a handful people were staying at the resort (the only resort in the island). I was very excited to be there finally and was ready to enjoy the serenity. But the following morning, I woke up only to find dozens of couples flocking into the island. Apparently, it was a popular day-trip destination among honeymooners, who’re staying in Koh Samui or Koh Phangan. All of sudden, the resort was packed with hearts.

When the honeymooners started taking over the beaches.

I found a spot, distant from the crowd. I enjoyed napping, reading, and sunbathing on the beautiful beach, but at a corner. I couldn’t help feeling driven to the corner because I was all by myself. And I have to admit, I felt extremely lonely. (Even the resort’s scuba diving trainers were an item!)

It wasn’t just the beach time that made me feel like a third wheel. The lunch time! Eating alone among all love-full couples at a resort seemed, umm, pathetic. It felt like everyone was glimpsing at me thinking ‘what is she doing here alone?’ (I doubt anyone has actually paid any attention to me, but you know, you become timid in such surroundings.)

So, to hide my sort-of embarrassment or to pretend that I was cool with being alone, I scribbled something in my journal, almost staring at my notepad, while eating. Then, one of the waiters, who knew I was the resort customer and nearly the only one I talked with during the entire three days of staying, came to me and asked.

“Are you a writer?”
Well, I was a newspaper reporter, so it’s not wrong.
“Sort of,” I said.
“What do you write? Novel?”
“No. I’m a journalist. But now I’m just writing about my trip.”
“Oh I thought you’re a novelist or a poet as you came here ALONE, and you seem to write ALL the time.”

At that moment, I really wished I were one. It seemed like that’s the only way to make my being alone at a beach resort made sense, at least to the waiter from Indonesia.

I’ve been to beaches alone a few other times: several beaches in Australia, including the Airlie and the Herbie, and in the states, including one in St. Augustine, FL. And I was completely fine with it. I didn’t feel lonely at all.

But a beach resort? It’s a completely different story, for sure. Since then, I’ve been determined to not go to a resort by myself. Never again.

Perhaps I should try the Club Med?

Happy Lunar New Year!

It’s Lunar New Year, and it’s one of the biggest holidays in Korea as in China and some other Asian countries.

Traditionally, all the extended family members get together, make the holiday food like mandu together, do the ritual to the ancestors, make a deep bow to the elders in the family, and play traditional games. These days, however, not everyone goes back home; some buy food at discount stores; and others refuse to have a ritual for religious reasons. But there’s one thing that hasn’t changed yet and would probably never change: We eat ddeokguk on the New Year’s day.

Ddeokguk, roughly translated as "rice cake soup," is a soup with thinly sliced white rice cake, and egg, gim(seaweed), and marinated beef garnishes.

“Did you have ddeokguk?” is a common greeting during the season. And eating ddeokguk, one “officially” gets one year older. When I was young, I remember, my neighbors used to ask me “How many ddeokguk have you had?” instead of asking “How old are you?” (Now thinking of it, I wonder why they don’t use that expression any more, at least to me. Hmmm.)

So, I had ddeokguk today, and I am one year older than yesterday.

Speaking of which, Korean age system is different from most of the rest of the world. In Korea, as soon as you’re born, you’re already one year old as we count the nine or ten months in mom’s womb as life (and we round it up). AND on Jan. 1, you get another year. (Thankfully, you don’t get another on your birthday in Korea. lol)

In theory, if you’re born on Dec. 31, you become two on your second day of being born. (But we usually count by days, weeks or months until a baby celebrates its one-year birthday, which is called dol, so no one would call a two-day baby two years old in this case.)

So, Korean age is always one or two years older than in other countries. Confusing, huh? But to make it more confusing, we do also count age as others do, that is referred as man[mahn], roughly “in full.” The man age is used for something very official as in newspapers, government documents, and regulations.

So, how old am I? Which one would you like to know? (Not that I’m going to tell you. *wink*)

Happy Lunar New Year!!

+ My rather simple recipe

0. Soak thinly sliced ddeok, or rice cake specially made for the dish, in water for about an hour. Drain right before making ddeokguk.
1. Boil water with anchovies and kelp to make broth.
2. Take them out of the pot.
3. Add the soaked ddeok to the boiling broth.
4. When the ddeok floats above the water, it’s ready to go.

While waiting for the ddeok to float, prepare egg and gim, or dried seaweed, garnishes:

1. Egg garnish: Separate an egg and whisk them. Pour them separately on a heated pan, you know, just as you would do to make crepe. When they’re cooked, slice them into thin strips.
2. Gim garnish: Roast a sheet of gim and cut it into thin strips.

(Many people have beef garnish as well, but I’m simply not a big fan of meat-in-da-soup.)

Christmas gift I will never forget

Tis the season. I went to a local market in Seoul and bought a small Christmas tree. Although my family is Catholic, we don’t really celebrate it. I can’t remember when I had an xmas tree at home last time. We don’t exchange gifts. (I think they gave me gifts until I become a teen.) In fact, in S. Korea, Christmas is more for couples and friends, rather than a family, or a religious day. To my family, it was just another day, or a good day-off. In some years, I even worked on Christmas day, as newspapers should be published the following day.

So, Christmas wasn’t a big thing to me. Until I spent the season in San Pedro la Laguna, Guatemala, in 2009. I was traveling the country during the winter vacation. And in Guatemala, Christmas is a huge thing. Tons of fireworks, or bombas, were shot up to the sky even during the daytime. The family gathers, and goes to church (The biggest church in town was packed and some people had to attend the Mass outside the church.), and around the midnight, fireworks reaches the peak. As every town around the lake does the firework, it’s quite something to see the blistering colors reflected to the lake.

I was standing near the lake, looking up the sky, enjoying the atmosphere. It was beautiful but at the same time I missed home, my family and my friends, looking at the people around me. Besides me, everyone else was with family and friends. All the kids of the family living next to my homestay house were also around the lake, shooting up their own fireworks. When it hit 12, everyone hugged each other.

Then, a teenage boy walked to me, and gave me a hug. “¡Feliz Navidad!” He turned to his family and shrugged off to them who had been watching me curiously. Then, everyone of them came to me for the Christmas hug. Some very young, shy kids barely hugged me and ran away to hide behind their parents. Cuties. My heart was full of warmth, and my eyes welled up.

Gracias por el gran regalo de Navidad!

taking photos vs. being taken in photos

A new South Korean TV channel, Channel A, broadcast a three-part program of Greenland. I watched its third episode that featured Qaanaaq, and that reminded me of a Korean, the first Korean I met in Greenland, in July.

She’s living in NJ, USA, and went to Greenland to take photos to update her portfolio, she said. She initially went to Thule, or Qaanaaq in Greenlandic, but soon found the living cost there was too high. She told the hotel manager where she was staying in Thule that she may have to go back to the states, as she couldn’t afford it. Then the manager told her that he could arrange a dog-sledding to Siorapaluk, the world’s northernmost settlement, before she leaves the country. So  the following day, she hopped on the sled and ran for eight hours in the teeth of the freezing wind on the sled to reach that small settlement.

But two days after her arrival, her camera got broken as it wasn’t proof against the arctic weather. And that’s the very moment that the residents opened up to her, she said.

“When I was walking around with the camera, I could tell, they were giving me a wary look,” she said. “But as soon as I told them my camera got broken, they almost immediately opened up to me.”

She ended up staying in the settlement for three months. They rented her an old school house for $1 a day; they invited her to their houses; and embraced her as a member of the community.

Loads of foreigners come to the town and film/photograph their lives under the name of “reports.” But it may have felt like being the monkey in a zoo to them, and they protested it by unwelcoming the point-and-shoot visitors.

I could completely empathize with them, because that afternoon, I had a similar experience. In the residents’ shoe.

That morning, a cruise ship arrived in Nuuk and unloaded about 200 passengers–mostly Europeans–to the capital of Greenland. A German cameraman came to Greenland to film each town the cruise ship visits, and I took him around Nuuk as a guide. Waiting for him to finish filming the beach, I was sitting on top of a kayak wooden rack, looking at the fjord, listening to the iPod. Then a tourist came to me and gestured if he could take a photo of me. This European must have thought that I was a Greenlander. I told him in English that I’m not from Greenland, but he kept fiddling with his camera, looking at me. You know, in the cute cat eyes in Shrek. So, I climbed down the rack and moved to another place.

While traveling around the world, I myself also try to get the local residents’ everyday life in my camera. But I realized I’d never been to the subject, until then.

It was an unfamiliar, strange feeling. Not so pleasant.

Most of the time, I ask for the approval from the people who I’d like to take photos of. But I realized I did it as a courtesy and I hadn’t really put myself in their shoes.

Have you ever been the target of camera-wielding tourists? If so, what did you feel about it? If not, how would you feel about it?