The Fun Goes On and On

 

Extended Christmas

It seems that Christmas time is never ending for kids these days. At least for those that can celebrate Christmas day and the three kings day (Los Reyes Magos) – both days with presents and with a new year’s celebration in between.

One lucky kid I know does just that. This is a classic example of getting best of cultures from two countries.

It was all over so quickly when I was a kid. New year was for adults – and still is of course. I can certainly testify to drinking a few too man on enough New Years Eve parties.

And the party goes on…

Today there was another visit to see the three kings. Basically like a visit to see Santa would be in the UK. The kids sit on the knees of their favourite king and discuss what presents they would like to receive. Not quite how it turned out and I may just write a post about that soon.

Just before Christmas Day there were two concerts. One was a song and dance show the other was advertised as an Opera Infantil with Peter Pan and Captain Hook on the poster. It could have been a Pantomime but was something strangely different.

The kids in the audience were probably expecting a children’s show (I know I was) but the idea was to introduce them to opera songs. Most bizarre. Dani was bored after only a few minutes once his curiosity wore off. Pretty soon after there were enough bored kids to fill a bus. After what seemed an age the characters changed tack.

Peter Pan asked for volunteers. Dani’s cousin Susana immediately raised her hand and moved to the front. Dani followed blindly. Unaware of what was in store. They were both selected. After a few silly moves on stage the kids were asked to stand aside while Captain Hook made his “Panto villain” entrance. I knew what was going to happen next.

Here it comes again…

Sure enough Dani started to get scared and his bottom lip quivered. One little girl – smaller than Dani – openly cried. That didn’t help. He looked towards me and held out his hand to go and help. Cruel dad left him to it. I genuinely thought that he would just hold his cousin’s hand and it would pass. She remained cool and unnerved under the pressure. In any case he needs to get over these kind of fears right?

One of the other cast members close at hand tried to console him and it worked – just enough. Meanwhile the little girl’s mother had come to the stage and called her over. She ran to relative safety. Dani was still uneasy but I wanted him to see it through and thankfully he did.

All part of character building and growing up right? Or should I have rescued him?

While Dani survived I am not sure that I did. I still think the whole thing was a bit weird.

More to Come…

Still to come is the visit by the three kings. Twelfth night or the 12th day of Christmas as it is known in the UK. More presents. More Lego Star Wars? We shall see.

Before all that there is new year. The plan is to take a trip just north of Madrid to a ski area. Hopefully the kids can play in the snow and even try skiing for the first time.

All in all, a long, an extended Christmas period. It’s exhausting. For the parents.

That leaves one important question: What date do they go back to school?…..

 

Simply Having a Wonderful Christmas Time

It’s already been a hectic Christmas schedule for my son. He went to his first “Panto” a week or two ago. He has had one appointment with Santa and has two meetings pencilled in his diary with the Three Kings (Los Reyes).

The other day Dani went to his first circus. It was called Circo Mágico. (Magic Circus) It was also the first circus I had been to in about 40 odd years!

Even His Old Dad Loved it!

I was more than a little sceptical as you can imagine. It turned out that I enjoyed it as much as Dani.

It didn’t start off too well as the people on the entrance to the “big top” made us queue for some time. When we finally got in we made our way to front row seats a there were no seat numbers on the tickets. Perfect view.

The overall theme (as the name of the circus suggests) was magic. Equal billing was given to various acrobatic acts which included a troop of Chinese acrobats. Just as exciting as those I had seen on TV. Excellent in close up.

Quick Change Artists

There was even a man and woman double act performing that quick change routine. Where they change clothes multiple times in a few seconds behind make-shift covers. I first saw that act on a Youtube video. Look up the “Quick Change Artists” and you will understand.

Here is a link to that performance:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b7bVdRT20vI

This circus ‘quick change’ act was almost identical and even right next to the action it was impossible to see how it was all done.

Amazing Feats of Power and Dexterity

There were acts of extreme strength and dexterity. Including three young ladies whose strength I found totally baffling. Not the impish, growth stunted little gymnasts we are used to seeing on TV at the Olympic games; these looked like normal young women of at least average height and weight. Despite clearly being athletic looking there was no sign of overly developed muscles. Yet their arm strength would make most men blush. Incredible feats of power and balance.

The more adult performances were interspersed with a little bit of fooling around by two “clowns”. I have to admit that even those two were quite good. Even if they were more for the kids there were elements of balancing and trickery in their stage slots.

You may not hear this type of thing from myself very often, but this dad can definitely recommend the Circo Mágico.

Christmas Eve…

Now it’s Christmas Eve and tonight we will celebrate Noche Beuna at Dani’s grandmother’s house. But the poor boy has vomited twice already and still has a temperature. Let’s hope he recovers later.

It’s a great time of year for most people. It’s even better if you are four years old. Could this be the first Christmas time that Dani will remember? Time will tell…

Some Serious Star Wars Questions

OK so it’s Christmas time and the new Star Wars film is in the cinemas (A new Star Wars movie is now an annual event. I have not seen it yet incidentally). Naturally my son is just nuts about Star Wars already. So, buying presents should be easy this year. Even this old dad has been doing a spot of Christmas shopping.

Shopping for things for my boy. More specifically Lego shopping. Even more specifically Star Wars Lego shopping. In fact, it’s the only kind of shopping I enjoy.

There are plenty to choose from but you have to be careful otherwise your wallet could find itself much like most politicians’ heads. Glossy on the outside, empty on the inside.

What’s going on?

I am still struggling to come to terms with some of the places and characters in the first three episodes, so these new Star Wars movies have got me totally confused. I cannot honestly say which spaceship or fighter craft is which. I may need to go onto the training course with Dani’s Spanish grandmother (see here for that).

As I was browsing through the plethora of Star Wars Lego sets a few serious questions arose. These questions need answers so please help if you know something.

  1. Where do the rebel alliance have their spacecraft made?

Seriously! In every episode so far they have been driven out from one third world planet to another, sometimes via an uninhabitable ice planet here or there. Each time they are driven out of a base they invariably lose several fighter craft and sometimes one or more of their huge cruiser ships. The base planets the rebels have chosen thus far don’t even have the materiel or technology to do repairs never mind build new ships. The bigger spacecraft would take years to build so it is unlikely any manufacturer would take on such a contract with the likes of Darth Vader breathing slowly and menacingly (as he does) down their necks. Where are they replenishing their fleet? And who is making them? Probably Lego! They seem to make everything these days.

  1. What’s going on with robot technology?

OK let’s think this one through logically. Kylo Ren – he is the new lord of the dark side in case you didn’t know – has a cross guard style light sabre. Far more advanced than the basic model wielded by Mr. Vader: Right? The space ships now are clearly far superior to the earlier models some of which appeared to be made out of sieves and various kitchen based cartons (surely not!?). The weaponry in general has vastly improved; all the way from the humble stormtrooper blasters right up to the dreaded Death Stars (which we clearly saw improving just between episodes 4 and 6 right?). Even the stormtroopers seem to have been kitted out with improved suits! Courtesy of Hugo Boss I wonder  So why are the robots still so crap?

Back when R2 was the main “bot” the other, more human looking, droids were slow and cumbersome – or camp like C3PO. They certainly realised the concept of using robots to do the fighting all the way back to the first episode so what went wrong in the robot labs of that bloody galaxy? Was the robot advancement programme budget slashed? Surely not. Even back in the early episodes they had robots performing delicate bionic micro-surgery – like giving Luke and his dad new hands – so where did it all go wrong? Seriously?

Surely by now there should be some serious terminator style robots doing all the fighting. I don’t mean like those almost cute looking “battle droids” we saw in the first few episodes either. I mean full on Schwartzenegger Terminators. Hell, they could have even cloned Arnie himself with the help of those weird long necked cloners we saw in episode 2. It’s not like they have never cloned an army before is it?.

I am sure you can tell that this one really bothers me.

  1. What the hell is General Grievous supposed to be?

OK, I know he appears to be a four armed robo-villain of sorts, but the last time I saw him he seemed to have developed a serious smoker’s cough. How did that happen? Actually, that was the penultimate time I saw him. The last time was when Obi Wan decided to do the General some Grievous Bodily Harm (or GBH as the police like to call it).

I could go on but until I get answers to these hi-tech problems what’s the point? Answers on a postcard to…No; wait a moment! Just leave any thoughts in a comment on this post. Thanks.

P.S: I have just learned that there is a site full of information which may be a good starting point. It is called Wookiepedia Hahahaa… You’ve got to love that!

Catalans Go To The Polls….Again.

Here We Go Again

The sad saga of Catalonia had gone quiet for a short while. It has been nearly two months since I last wrote about it. No longer.

There is an election in the autonomous region in two days time where the central government are asking the Catalans to vote for a new bunch of idiots to run the region after the debacle of the UDI that never really was back in October.

If the central government think things are going to calm down they are sadly deluding themselves. The only possible outcome I can see is an even more polarised population in the region.

Roll Up, Roll Up. The Circus is in Town

The election campaigns are in full swing and if there is one thing to say about it all then this is it: The whole circus is beyond parody. We now have the bizarre situation where the separatists who have been jailed are being allowed to stand in these elections. They are even broadcasting their political messages from their jail cells on radio and TV. Even the former Catalan parliament leader and self styled leader of the republic, Sr. Carles Puigdemont, is being allowed to stand and is campaigning all the way from the “safety” of Brussels where he has been effectively hiding since the arrest warrant was issued at the end of October. The radio and TV channels have been broadcasting his messages to voters from his Belgian refuge.

It begs the question: How on earth could any self-respecting Catalan vote for such a person? Meanwhile one of the other independence party leaders – a certain Sr. Oriol Junqueras – who is now in a Spanish prison, is telling voters that at least he never ran off into hiding. I suppose if I was inclined to vote for one of those parties I would choose the one who stood his ground and chose to stay and ‘face the music’. But what the f**k do I know?

Even by the freaky standards of Spanish politics you really could not make this shit up!

On a slightly different subject…

I have been reading a book about Spain that I had intended reading for many years. You know the thing. You want to read a book but never quite got around to it? Well that is the way it is for me.

That book is “Spain is Different” and when it was first issued in 1992 it quickly became a go to read for anyone who was considering living or working in Spain.

The reason I mention it now is because the book was written by Helen Wattley-Ames, mostly about the time she spent living and working in Barcelona in the early 90s. In 1992 was a special year for Spain and Barcelona in particular. It marked the 500th anniversary of Christopher Columbus sailing to the Americas – from Barcelona. It was the year that the world fair was held in Sevilla. Above all that it was the year of the Barcelona Olympics and foreigners – particularly Americans – were flocking there.

I intend writing a review of the book when I have finished it but for now, because it is very relevant to this week’s events, I want to point out a few of the things the author had to say about regionalism; way back in 1992. She expresses concerns about “the degree to which local governments overdo regional nationalism.” She explains how this had led to cases of people from other Spanish regions not being hired, even if that meant hiring foreigners. She goes on to state how language has become a politicized issue in bilingual regions – namely Catalonia – and how that can lead to trouble. Wise and prophetic writing from a quarter of a century ago.

Back to the Election…

Well; by early Friday we will know if the Catalan farce is to continue. There can be no doubt can there? What will happen in the aftermath? Another attempt at UDI? Or will there be a new prison built to house the politicians? Above all, will Sr. Puigdemont return from his self-imposed exile in Belgium if he is re-elected?

Are we about to see a regional parliament being run from behind bars?

Whatever happens I want to wish everyone in Catalonia a Merry Christmas and a happy new year. They all deserve a break from the turmoil.

Dani’s First Panto…

“Panto”

It’s that time of year. The Christmas and new year period is also referred to as the Pantomime season in the UK. The Pantomime (or “panto” as it is mostly referred to) is as much part of the British Christmas as Turkey and cranberry sauce. In its modern form I would go as far as saying that it is uniquely British; but as with all things theatrical pantomime has its roots in ancient Greece. The word comes from the Latin pantomimus, which itself is derived from the Greek word παντόμιμος (pronounced pantomimos), consisting of παντο- (panto-) which means “all”, and μῖμος (mimos), meaning a dancer who acted all the roles or all the story.

Pantomima is also a Spanish word meaning mimed theatre or farce. Not too different from the British interpretation of old fairy stories

Despite all of the roots and definition similarities in other languages the modern pantomime  remains a uniquely British institution. Part of the Christmas celebrations performed everywhere from school Christmas productions & concerts to local amateur and community theatres, to large West End productions featuring well known TV and Film actors. (Also – it has to be said – some not so well known “celebrities” and assorted “Z-listers”.)

Fun for all the family…

We took Dani to see his first pantomime at a local amateur dramatics theatre with his nana. The theatre was small enough to be close to the action. The panto was “Dick Whittington and his Cat”. A story I can barely remember from my own childhood but that is not the point. This being panto the theatrical licence meant that the story switched seamlessly (well almost) from the streets of London to a desert island via a ‘Pirates of the Carribbean’ style act which included a rendition of The Village People’s “In the Navy”.

That is the essence of panto. Complete mayhem and slapstick which can twist and turn any way the director wants to take it. All with a basic storyline that all ages are familiar with. There are few rules, if any.

From Laughter to Tears…

It was all very well done and quite funny in parts. To keep the parents and grandparents interested they make sure there is as much adult humour in the production as things for the kids. Even Dani’s miserable old dad had a good laugh.

Dani was enjoying the whole thing until near the end when he went from laughing to crying in the space of a moment. When the inevitable confrontation came between the heroes and the pantomime’s villain – one King Rat – the ensuing commotion and audience screaming scared the little boy out of his wits. But it was what went on below the rows of seats that sent the action out into the audience.

Excellent production…

I will admit to adding to his shock and surprise because it caught me by surprise. A nice touch by the producers; blasting air through the plastic tubes they had laid out beneath the rows of seats causing tails to flutter like rats scurrying around your feet. When the older kids screamed – mostly in surprise and delight – Dani started to freeze up. Then when the line of “rats” shot under our feet and his own dad jumped it proved too much. He lost touch with reality and believed the “rats” under the seats were real. He was crying and very afraid. All I could do was keep hold of him and reassure him that it as not real and that the goodies were now beating the baddies in the on-stage “fight”.

The power of live panto on a 4-year-old child eh…Amazing.  When it all calmed down he still managed to walk up to the cast members for them to sign his panto programme. Even the King Rat himself, who as it turned out was a really nice guy. Dani left the theatre slightly bemused but still talking about the slapstick and action he had just witnessed. His first experience of the magic of Panto.

Curious photos

A couple of curious photos…

Here are a couple of photos taken around the little town where I worked in Korea. One is from a seafood market and one of a restaurant.

Apparently they call them penis fish and it is not difficult to see why. A few people had told me about these fish but I really thought they were taking the piss! I have even been told that some people eat these while they are still live. For some reason they do not look very appetising to me. Definitely not for me.

 

This place is an institution in this area. Especially for expats. Barbeque restaurants are very popular in Korea and even if this one is not the best, at least the owners are not afraid to make a bold claim.

Personally I thought is was F****ng  OK; but that wouldn’t work very well as a name for the place.

Comparing Korea

Here are some comparisons of Korea with other places. More observations from this old dad.

Earthquakes

South Korea is just over 100km – or a few hours ferry ride – from Japan. Across the stretch of water known as the East Sea or Sea of Japan depending where you come from. Yet Korea has relatively little seismic activity, compared with neighbouring Japan.

The other day they had an earthquake not far from here – so I was told. I never felt it, but I later found out it was about the time I noticed a lot of fairly large fish jumping out of sea as if they were going crazy!! I was walking along the quayside looking into the water at the little fish close to the rocks when I suddenly noticed some much larger fish jumping out of the water. Then more and more joined in. Leaping fully out of the sea like salmon trying to fight their way up the falls of a descending river. At the time I thought that there must have been a much larger predator in the quay but now I believe it was about the time of the “quake”. My senses may be deteriorating due to age but I am sure those fish felt the tremors.

Lunchtimes

In the work’s canteen the Koreans file in, serve up their food and sit down. Then it’s heads down. Hardly raising their heads until they have eaten enough. Then it’s straight over to drop off their trays and chopsticks.

On the way out of the canteen they pass rows of water fountains and take a quick slurp of water – never any drinks with the meal! Very curious.

Then, just before the exit there are two large urns of tea where most will drink it standing almost without pausing. The whole thing is a like a production line. Then out. 

In the UK we tend to eat quickly and go back to work but it’s nothing like the conveyor belt style of this place. And there would always be drinks to take a little time with at the end of the meal.

In Spain eating lunch it is a national pastime where it normally lasts for 2 hours – or even longer. If the Spanish did a Korean style lunch it would be like finding a restaurant that you want to eat in then turning around and going straight back to work!! It couldn’t be more different.

Language.

Of the three oriental languages Korean must be by far the easiest to learn for westerners. Chinese writing contains thousands of characters. Japanese is initially even more confusing. It uses Chinese-like characters (of which there are thousands) plus a kind of syllable based writing which is possibly simpler and more like an alphabet (but not quite).

Korean is very simple by comparison. It has an alphabet consisting of 40 letters – 19 consonants and 21 vowels. The letters are grouped into blocks, usually of two or three letters, to form syllables – possibly often confused for being characters. If you know the 40 letters of the alphabet you can, more or less, instantly read it. Even if you do not know what the words mean. Great when you are looking for a place name on a bus for example.

Written Korean is very distinctive. You can spot it right away because of the repeated use of circular and oval letters. There are no circles in Chinese and hardly noticeable in Japanese.

Furthermore, Korean is also written left to right, top to bottom. Another good reason it would be easier for westerners.

Pedestrian Crossings

In this part of Korea at least there is no chance of a car/bus/van stopping at a pedestrian (zebra) crossing unless there are traffic lights. It can be quite annoying and dangerous even if you are at a zebra. It reminds me of a post I wrote some time ago where I mentioned how the Spanish cross the roads at zebra crossings. They would not survive long here. That probably explains why I have neither seen nor heard any Spanish people here.

Visit over…

Today is the last day of my first visit to Korea and the job is not complete. There is talk of another trip in the new year. But I am not thinking about that right now. I just want to head west and see my boy.

Ship Building is Child’s Play

Shipbuilding  by blocks…

I mentioned in a previous post how this shipyard had huge sections of hull lying around waiting to be assembled in to the classic ship shape. Like giant Lego sets. You can read that post here. It seems my son has been looking at the photos I sent over of some of the ships in this yard.

He must have been so inspired that he made this fantastic vessel out of his Duplo Lego. Complete with extremely tall bridge section. And he made it all by himself.

I was very impressed: Proud even. Maybe he thought it was a cargo ship and that tall bridge section would allow a line of sight when fully laden. There is even what appears to be a crane in the mid-section. Excellent observation.

Not quite. As it turns out it is a ship but not the ocean going kind. This super structure is a space ship.

A Galaxy Far, Far Away…

Star Wars is very much back in fashion for this four year old. I was informed that he has recently been watching a couple of the movies on TV. With new episodes being released at a rate of almost one a year since Disney Studios bought the rights the TV channels are showing older episodes as part up the build up to the newest release – somewhere around Christmas time.

Since watching the films his fascination for the characters has reached a new level. Add to that the fact that he now has new Star Wars pyjamas covered in Storm Troopers. They are the best. These cloned soldiers from a galaxy far, far away are now his favourite characters. Naturally like any kid his age he knows plenty of the other bizarrely named characters. And he won’t stop talking about them to anyone who will listen. This includes his grandmother who has no idea what he is talking about.

Star Wars Studies…

So confused was his grandmother that she went out and bought the box-set of the first three episodes so she could study them and know what he was talking about.

That is to say the second set of three episodes (1 – 3). As any Star Wars fan will tell you, the very first film in the franchise was Episode 4.

The only problem is that now she has been ‘studying’ the films she is even more confused. Unable to accept the story for what it is there are now too many questions. Not so for a young boy. It must be the (two) generation gap.

It’s going to take a four year old to explain it all.

 

 

 

More Thoughts on Korean Large Scale Industry

I have been here 11 full days now and finally I think I am over the jetlag. No longer are my eyes slowly closing and my head dropping as early as 9.30pm. Now I can last till after 11pm. Haha…fully recovered.

It is true what they say. It takes at least one day per hour of time difference to completely recover from such jetlag. Especially when you are getting up early to go into work.

The Mass Commute…

I take a small shuttle bus from the hotel direct to the support building I am based at. Every morning between 7 & 8am I see so many thousands of workers pour into the shipyard. After a day’s work they all tend to leave at the same time – about 6pm

At these times the place is like a huge bus station with coaches and minibuses everywhere. Many more use bicycles. The hundreds of buses and thousands of cyclists create a scene of inner city traffic chaos; all inside the confines of the shipyard gates.

The whole rush hour periods are conducted by security/traffic controllers standing in the middle of the roads with whistles, flashing sticks and uniforms complete with white helmets. They struggle to control it and much of the chaos just rolls by them.

Shipbuilding on this scale…

The multiple car parks that are dotted around the site are never even half full.

It got me thinking. If a country like the UK wanted to try and revive its shipbuilding industry to even half of this scale nobody would have any time to do any work. Everyone would drive and the traffic jams would be horrendous. By the time they all got to work it would be time to leave and then they would endure a second jam in the opposite direction. It would be completely unworkable.

The same would be true in any other European country. Spain; certainly.

Then I realised that back in the days when the UK had a busy shipbuilding industry nobody really owned a car. Certainly not the working classes. It would have been much like this place now. Everyone commuting in and out of work on buses and bicycles.

In some ways the car has killed any chance of a revival in industries on this scale.

Meanwhile…

I have been joined by two colleagues who arrived late last Thursday. While I have recovered from the jetlag they are exactly where I was just over a week ago. I know the feeling…

Culture Shocks! – But not just the obvious

Well today is my son’s 4th birthday and I am half way around the world and missing him like crazy.

To lighten my spirits I thought I would write about some of the subtle and not so subtle cultural peculiarities I have seen in my few days here. It is important to realise that this area is probably not typical of Korea as all manner of expats and foreign workers are catered for. It’s a bit like going on holiday to Benidorm and saying you have been to Spain.

Language

Naturally the writing is a huge cultural barrier. As anyone who has spent time in the orient can tell you the writing on signs and shops is so mind blowing that it is difficult to pick out the English text which can sometimes be there. The huge ships being made here take years to complete so there are many expats who have settled here with their families. There are so called international schools for their kids which means that they are probably being taught in English. I would like to think that these kids also learn Korean while they are here. A bit of junior school Korean would certainly be useful to me right now.

But the language barrier is to be expected. Here are some other, more peculiar little things I have noticed…

Toilet Humour

Someone had a sense of humour when they installed these. The all singing, all dancing toilet. The Korean writing makes it impossible (for me) to know what is going on but since when did the simple toilet need to be so complicated? I won’t go into detail but we all know what we use it for so what’s with all the gadgets? That extending nozzle in the video is just hilarious. Who thought that was a good idea?

                                

Kids usually develop a sense of “toilet humour” at around 4 years old (especially boys) so my son would love the toilet in my hotel bathroom.

Spam – a lot!

Not to be confused with the Monty Python inspired stage play “Spamalot”. There really is a lot of Spam on display in the supermarkets in Korea. A good friend of mine mentioned this to me before I flew out. Apparently, it stems back to the time when the American GIs were here (during the Korean war) and gave up their rations of Spam to locals. They gained a taste for the stuff. Blimey! Now it is more evident than I am remember it in the 70s.

Special 6-packs of Spam stacked high are a sight to behold.

Speaking of 6-packs…

Usually the term ‘6-pack’ refers to 6 cans of beer. Take a look at this tiny can of beer. The mobile phone is only there to provide a sense of scale.

On the left is a regular 12oz/355ml beer can. On the right is a great little idea. A few slurps of beer just when you only fancy a quick drink. And it just so happens to be one of my favourites – the Japanese Asahi. So small it came in an 8-pack!