Saturday, May 31, 2014

Korea 2013: Busan Chapter 2

UN Memorial Cemetery in Korea

We awoke the next morning for a delicious breakfast provided by the hotel. By the time we managed to settle the boys and travel by taxi to our first destination, the UN Memorial Cemetary, it was already lunch time. But we were at once awestruck by what we saw. 

The Korean national tourism site provides some background information on the burial ground:

The UN Memorial Cemetery in Korea honors UN soldiers from 16 countries that were killed in battle during the Korean War from 1950-1953. This serene park spreads across a grassy plain area of 135,000 m2. Some of the sites and memorials include: Memorial Service Hall, Memorabilia Hall, 2 Turkish Monuments, Greek Monument, Australian Monument, British Common Wealth Monument and 2 ponds. The Memorial Service Hall and the Memorabilia Hall were constructed in 1964 and 1968 respectively. The citizens of Busan dedicated the Main Gate in 1966. There are many annual events held here, some of the key events include: April’s Tributary Ceremony of the Veterans of the Korean War, May’s American Memorial Day, June’s Korean Memorial Day, and October’s UN Ceremony Day.

Being a keen student of the Korean War, I was thrilled at actually stepping foot in a place which had so much historical significance. I remembered from my history classes that Busan was the city where the South Koreans made their final stand just before being rescued by the US-led UN forces. It was therefore particularly poignant to situate the cemetery here. 
The first hint of the solemness and serenity
accorded to the place.
What is war? After all at the end you would simply be buried in a row
alongside others who had fought with you.
Soldiers were buried according to their country
of origin. 
Here lies the names of all those who had died to preserve the sovereignty
of South Korea.
In memory of the fathers who gave their lives so that their children
could live.
Solemnly reflecting about the cost of war.
Memorial Service Hall.
The lovely stained glass windows depict the hope for the future.
Towards the end of our visit, the weather suddenly turned very cold and it started to rain. We were forced to head indoors where we spent the rest of the day at one of the branches of the Lotte Department Store. it was a fruitful afternoon, and we managed to book a slot for a family photoshoot at one of the studios we had found on the Internet.

Busan Tower & Yongdusan Park

We woke up bright and early the next morning. Eager to get outdoors after an afternoon indoors, we headed for Yongdusan Park, which according to the Korean Tourism Organization, houses one of the three "well-known" mountains in Busan. These are the details from the website:

Yongdusan in downtown Busan, is one of the 3 well-known mountains in Busan. Its old name is Songhyunsan, which means a mountain has a view of the sea through the dense fine tree forest. Later the name has changed into Yongdusan. It came from its shape, which is similar to dragon head and people thought it has a spirit to defeat enemies coming over the sea.

On the mountain were shrine built by Japanese people during Japanese colonial role, but now are Cheokhwabi monument (the stone monument to the exclusion of foreigners from the country), Chunghontap (memorial tower for Korean war victims), 4.19 Revolution monument (the student's anti-government revolt), the statue of General Lee Sunsin(the great commander in Joseon Dynasty period(1392-1910)) and Busan tower. 

During Korea war, displaced people built houses on it even on the top, but 2 times of big fires took all them away making it bald mountain. Since then, fierce efforts to plant trees have created such beautiful park. The name of the park was once Unam park in the time of the Liberal Party’s ruling but it went back to Yungdosan park after April revolution (1960). It is a place with beautiful scenery. Especially the night landscape from Busan tower is magnificent.

Mummy & Son enjoying the lovely walk up the
gentle slopes circling Yongdusan.
Daddy & the Boys.
Little Z was clearly in his element!
At the base of the Busan Tower there are couple
spots for those cutesy "lovey-dovey" photos.
Legend has it that if you lock your hearts together
at this fence, that you will be "locked" together
forever. If only love and marriage was so easy :)
After a leisurely walk up Yongdusan's gentle slopes, we finally got to the top and all ready to ascend Busan Tower. The view from the top was apparently quite a sight to behold. More on the tower here:

Busan Tower is a symbol of Busan that stands proudly 69m above sea level at a height of 120m. The top of the tower is modeled after the baldaquin of Dabotap Pagoda in Bulguksa Temple, Gyeongju. Beloved by Busan citizens and tourists alike, the tower offers a stunning night view and plenty to see, such as the Statue of the Great Admiral Yi Sun-shin, the Bell of the Citizens, a flower clock, the Museum of Musical Instruments of the World, and a bust of the Busan-based independent activist, Baeksan An Hee-je.
Quite a majesty view of the tower from below.
There is apparently a legend involving lovers and the
temple just below the tower. 
The large number of shipping vessels underscores Busan's origins as a
trading city and its importance on major shipping routes.
Busan is after all Korea's second largest city as is evident from the dense
population enclaves depicted here.
The littler one is carried by Mummy so he can also enjoy the sights.
A story of two brothers.

A Magical Christmas Surprise

By the time we descended from the tower and walked down the mountain, we were exhausted. We wandered into a restaurant frequented by the locals, and realised that they specialised in chilli pork and served few other dishes. Too tired to find another eating location, we tucked in and were surprised that the boys could manage the spice and actually enjoyed the meal. 

After lunch it was a nice walk in the direction of the Main Building and Aqua Mall of the Lotte Department Store. The world's tallest indoor musical fountain is located there and we knew that the boys would love to see it.

Enjoying some delectable street food on route to
the Lotte Department Store.
The streets were transformed before our very eyes as
daylight made way for eventide. 
The boys were mesmerised by the dazzling display
of Christmas lights. We even had performers
singing and dancing right in the middle of the street!
These little boxes were apparently gifts to the City of Busan from cities
all over the world. 
We were particularly enthralled by these lovely crystalline animals.
A most magical Christmas. A night we will always remember!
We managed to make it in time for the last show of the musical fountain and it was truly a performance to remember. Spectacular splashes of water and wispy sprays of mist were choreographed to haunting classical music and modern Korean tunes. The experience left all of us mesmerised. But the show was over all too quickly, and were left to eat our dinner, shop and then finally make our way back to our lovely hotel.

Next: The Lim family take time out for a family photoshoot.
Previously: Savouring Busan's best fried chicken and enjoying a walk on "Camellia Island".

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Spotting Differences and Celebrating Commonalities - A Review of the I Theatre Production "Spot the Difference"

A review of the I Theatre production, “Spot the Difference” written for Little Day Out, a Singapore-based website that provides information and updates on the best of Singapore for families with young children.

There are ten differences between these two pictures. See how many you can find.” Just like the picture puzzles we are all familiar with from our childhood, “Spot the Difference” proved irresistible to its young audience, leaving them spotting the differences between the characters, and, as a result, themselves, all the way to the closing scene. 

The plot is a simple one, actually. Scene One opens with two neighbours searching for a new home - the bubbly and vivacious Soo, and the straight-laced and proper Vik. The former settles into a home “all curvy and swervy and topsy-turvy, my home sweet home”, while the latter determinedly moves into his home made of squares and straight lines, because “straight lines guide you upon a straight path!” 
"All curvy and swervy and topsy-turvy."
They are opposites in every way - Soo is like the swirly letters in her name, a carefree and loveable character who delights in the spontaneous and sees beauty in a bit of chaos; Vik values angles and straight lines, and finds great satisfaction in order and tidiness. Put them together and it’s a sure recipe for disaster, especially when you add the gregarious and larger-than-life “Ziggedy” into the equation, who thinks that life is boring when you look at it from only one perspective, and decides to stir up things between the two just for fun. The tension builds to a rousing climax where Vik and Soo find that it takes a combination of both circles and squares, straight lines and curves, to defeat the mischievous Ziggedy, and the play ends with a surprising compromise and a home for their newfound friend.
"Straight lines guide you along a straight path."
It was indeed the stark contrasts between the characters which made the production so engaging, and in this regard, Director Isabella Chiam has achieved her goal of letting the characters’ personalities take centre-stage. The casting was excellent and gave rise to clear differences between the characters whom all were able to relate to. The children in the audience were overheard asking one another which they preferred, “Vik or Soo? I like Soo!” It certainly sparked a healthy ongoing debate throughout the length of the play on who they liked more, and I am sure that for the adults, the contrasts between the two proved all too familiar.

There were so many elements that would appeal to a younger audience; the carnivalesque atmosphere with candy-floss coloured costumes which sparked the imagination, the clever use of familiar props like colourful bean bags, exercise balls and boxes, and a stage set with clean visual lines so that the re-arrangement of the various props on it was almost like the altering of various elements of art on canvas in order to tell the story. 

Audience engagement was present throughout, from getting the children to identify the straight lines and curves in the characters’ names, to helping Vik and Soo find and catch the elusive Ziggedy. Parents will also appreciate the themes that come through clearly: diversity and acceptance, tolerance and graciousness, forgiveness and compromise, all great material for further discussion. It is interesting to see how Vik and Soo have different ways of interacting with their environment, and how neither is wrong, but just different. Indeed food for thought for us grown-ups in the audience!

The characters speak in gentle rhymes, and different genres of music are used effectively by Julian Wong to further accentuate differences in personality - sweet, lilting tunes for Soo and rousing classical music for Vik, while Ziggedy grooves to a Reggae beat. 

It was the perfect combination of circles and squares, straight lines and swirly curls, order and mayhem, and comic elements and serious themes which I really appreciated in Brian Seward’s script. “Spot the Difference” was unique in not just highlighting the differences between the various personalities, but in helping us all to see that once the differences seem to converge, we are all really not that different after all. This is a play definitely worth thinking about.

"Spot the Difference" is part of the ACE! Festival 2014, and is running from now to 31 May.

Photos of the play can be found at the Little Day Out website. You can read our Behind the Scenes interview with "Spot the Difference" Director Isabella Chiam here.

Korea 2013: Busan Chapter 1

Return to Busan

It was a rather sad departure for us as we had grown fond of our hosts Mr and Mrs Park, as well as the lovely Bellus Rose Pension, not to mention the charming and quaint city of Gyeongju. Mrs Park was particularly kind and offered to drive us to the KTX train station for a small fee. As we did not want to endure the one-and-a-half hour bus journey with two small kids, we took up her offer gratefully.

The return train to Busan was thankfully uneventful, and our younger son E slept through the journey, allowing us to tend to our older child Z, who spent most of his time looking out of the window and enjoying the scenery.

Upon arrival in Busan, we transferred to a taxi and was swiftly transported to our final hotel for the trip, the Sunset Business Hotel. Our decision to stay at this hotel was not without its reasons; the previous hotel had the peculiar distinctive of installing a rubbish chute in the shower area and we were just not prepared to stay another night there. Thankfully our new abode was more than what we had imagined and the kids quickly settled in comfortably.
Simple but lovely fittings.
The boys "fighting" for a seat at the
comfy armchair.
All's not complete without a quick rolling on the "bouncy bed".
And the best part yet - a lovely view of the Haeundae Beach!

Bonchon Chicken - the Best in Busan!

The rumbling in our tummies reminded us that we had not eaten lunch. So we decided to go for a relaxing lunch before taking as stroll around the Haeundae Beach area where our hotel was based. Randomly deciding on a restaurant opposite our hotel, we were surprised by how good the food was!
The restaurant offers a buffet brunch but we decided that
the ala carte menu looked more interesting.
We realised the Koreans love beer with their
fried chicken. It's quite a lovely combination!
The chicken sizzled as it was thoroughly immersed in its soy
marinade. According to Bonchon, the chicken is so crispy
as the skin is melted away during the frying process!

Dongbaekseom Island

After a delightful lunch, it was time to get our leg muscles moving. Dongbaekseom Island, so named because of its abundant dongbaek (or camellia) trees, was conveniently located nearby, and we enjoyed a lovely afternoon walk there. While Dongbaekseom is not actually an island now due to the natural accumulation of sand over the years, an outing there still provides the impression that you are in another world.

The littler one sucking it all in.
Lovely view of Haeundae Beach.
Do you see what he sees?  
Dongbaekseom Lighthouse
Our little poser boy.
Beautiful sunset by the APEC House.
Islands at dusk,
As the sun set, the weather began to get very cold, and we hurriedly returned to our hotel, where we settled for a simple dinner and an early night.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Of Singing Cats & Operatic Ogres - A Review of I Theatre's "Puss in Boots"

A review of the ACE! 2014 Production "Puss in Boots" by I Theatre, written for Little Day Out, a Singapore-based website that provides information and updates on the best of Singapore for families with young children.
Our little son Z was clearly enthralled by the friendly cast!
Imagine a French countryside resplendent in rolling hills, rushing streams and delightful mountains. In the glorious sunset you can almost catch a glimpse of a magnificent castle which boasts of wealth beyond measure. Enter a poor miller’s youngest son, a talking cat in boots and two obnoxious ogres. That sets the stage for the I Theatre production Puss in Boots.

Producer Brian Seward provides an interesting twist to the classic French tale Le Maître Chat, or “The Master Cat”, which spins the story of how a cunning cat helps her master win the heart of a princess through the use of lies and trickery. Seward’s version is decidedly more positive, and while he acknowledges the role of the cat in the traditional rags-to-riches transformation of the miller’s son, he also imbues strong family values of honesty and compassion into the script.

The titular character Puss, played by Candice de Rozario, apparently drew inspiration from her two cats Pirate and Spock as character study references for the role. Singing almost throughout the show, de Rozario gave a convincing performance as the courageous cat who masterly engineered her master’s ascension to power. The surprise among the cast was however Jo Tan, whose performance as Ogre Queen Arugula Funghi, stole the show with her impeccable French accent and witty lines; not to mention the operatic timbre of her singing voice.

Puss in Boots dazzles; and not only because of the outlandishly spectacular costumes designed by Brian Seward. The music and dance choreography was what set this production above many others. Choreography Cathy Kee, for instance, entertained with many delightful dance manoeuvres. And music composer Bang Wenfu experimented successfully with a whole array of musical genres; from the opening jazz number to a Latino salsa tune, and even a re-make of the popular “Roar” by Katy Perry. This was exactly what Bang told this reviewer during a Behind the Scenes interview prior to the screening of the show. He mentioned that in musical theatre, it is important for songs to convey thematic coherence, and this was especially true for Puss in Boots.

The musical is recommended for families; especially children from 3 to 14. As with all other I Theatre productions, there is an element of audience participation, which in this case was through the use of flashcards to teach the audience how to pronounce the words “Marquis of Carabas”. The play is also very clever in its use of word puns and witty jokes; for instance, the use of cheesy names such as Gorgonzola, Mozzarella and Ricotta for the miller’s sons and the ogres’ names Arugula Funghi and Al Funghi certainly causes one to think about enjoying a crisp salad on a hot summer day. This reviewer’s older son, who turns 4 in July, was attentive throughout the show. He wanted to watch the show again immediately after it ended, telling us that he “liked” the cat.

Puss in Boots is part of the ACE! Festival 2014, and is running from now to 31 May.

You may refer to the Little Day Out website for more photos from the production.

The Education of a Child

Quote of the Day:

Education is something very close to our hearts. As educators, it always warms our hearts to see young people growing in stature and contributing towards the society at large. However, there are some who choose the wrong path and make one bad decision after another. These "lost children" have a special place in our hearts and we still desire to help them make decisions that will change their lives in a positive way. 

Each person has the power to make the right choices in life. It is our hope and prayer that our children will make decisions that will set them on the right path. Our deepest desire is for them to know and experience the love of God, and to influence the world through their actions and deeds.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Art Appreciation and Book Review: Harvesting Dreams (Hundertwasser for Kids) by Barbara Stieff

One of the things I have really been looking forward to doing when the kids grow older is art appreciation. I have always appreciated works of art; though from the completely amateurish perspective of one who failed Art in secondary school and never thought I could draw. I can, however, enjoy and appreciate, and I hope to give our boys plenty of opportunities to do so as well. Wandering around the Musée d'Orsay in Paris or the Met in New York was one of the major highlights of the trips I had the privilege of taking during my student days, and I could spend days poring through the collections and wishing I could come back for more...
Harvesting Dreams by Barbara Stieff

Z has been given the privilege of joining an art class in HeART Studio for a term, and this term they are studying the art of Friedensreich Hundertwasser, whose work I must confess I had never heard about till now. I was pleasantly surprised to find "Harvesting Dreams (Hundertwasser for Kids)" by Barbara Stieff on Amazon, and even more delighted to find that our library carried the title! (Junior Lending English 709.2 STI). You may refer to this link to read our review of Z's first art class.
We settled down before bedtime tonight with the book, and had our first impromptu art appreciation lesson. It is a compelling book, with bright colours and interesting photographs of the artist's life and work. Z was immediately interested in it. There is so much to explore, and we will be taking our time with this book - themes of the artist's life and his inspirations, of the beauty he saw in nature and the world of dreams, some theory of colour, art and design, architecture, and a very useful section "Things to Make and Do" behind, where readers can extend their learning by designing their own t-shirts and windows, or finding out about "dark-bright" colours, which were Hundertwasser's favourite. The Austrian artist himself lived a colourful, adventure-filled life, and spent his time sailing around Europe, finally living the last part of his life in a converted pigsty in New Zealand, amidst unspoilt beauty. What a way to live a creative and dream-inspired life!
433 The I Still Do Not Know
Z was fascinated, to say the least; and so was I, not just with the book, but with his response to the artist and his art. The conversation that ensued surprised me. I asked him which of two paintings he preferred, and why. He said he preferred the one on the left, "433 The I Still Do Not Know" because it had more spirals, and "looks like a palm tree, you know?" I was intrigued that he was able to draw parallels between Hundertwasser's art and what was familiar to him in nature, which was the very inspiration behind the artist's work - the spirals are  a symbol of life and nature.
252 Gatto Doppio (Double Cat)
831 Tender Dinghi
We talked about the colours in the paintings and which colour he liked. He liked the bright red, and I, the brilliant blue. He identified a cat with two heads and two tails in one of the paintings "252 Gatto Doppio (Double Cat)",  and said that it had "laser lights" coming from its eyes. He noticed the rainbow colours of the ocean that the boat was sailing on in "831 Tender Dinghi", and said that the lollipop-trees in "745 Blobs Grow in Beloved Gardens" were chocolates, and that the houses were interesting. He said that he wished to design his own "Bouncy Bed", i.e. hotel, just like Mr Hundertwasser designed buildings, and that it would be "dark blue", and also "go round and round like a circle". 
745 Blobs Grow in Beloved Gardens
Our older son has always had a penchant for creativity and all things slightly off-tangent, and that is part of what makes being his parents so enjoyable for us. I am looking forward to more delightful conversations which he and I will have with this book and Mr Hundertwasser. As for Z, he can't wait for tomorrow's art class so that he has a chance to draw spirals like palm trees, interesting houses, and cats with laser eyes. I am sure he will.

"Everything is here to be happy on earth.
We have snow and every day a new morning.
We have trees and rain, hope and tears.
We have humus and oxygen, 
animals and all the colours.
We have distant lands and bicycles.
We have sun and shadow.
We are rich."
- Friedensreich Hundertwasser

* The pictures of the paintings reproduced here are from the WikiPaintings Visual Art Encyclopedia and the Hundertwasser Non-Profit Foundation.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Called to be Faithful

Quote of the Day:

There have been so many times when I have felt inadequate as a father. I hear of so many fathers who do amazing things with and for their children, and I wish that I could be one of those amazing men. I wish that I could do more physical activities with my two active boys, or spend more quality time with them; I wish I did not always have to be so strict when I discipline them, or always repeat the same things when I try to get them to obey me.

Yet I was reminded today that my role as a father is not to be extraordinary. I would of course be happy to be an extraordinary father. What I am supposed to do, is to be a faithful father; one who brings up his children in the ways of God and teaches them to love God, to love others and to love themselves. I am also called to be a fruitful father; that my children will grow up to become individuals who will make a difference and change the world.

Indeed I am blessed to receive this special calling as a father.