Monday, July 29, 2013

취하는 이유

There are many things in life that can intoxicate you other than alcohol - things like a poignant story, a sweet melody or a beautiful scenery...

I joined a local tour to River Rhine over the weekend. It was an hour journey from Frankfurt to Assmannshäusen, a town by the River Rhine, in the Upper Middle Rhine Valley. It is famous for its red wine made from Spätburgunder (Pinot noir), a type of black wine grape, grown at its Assmannshäuser Höllenberg vineyard.

Our day started with a chairlift ride. We passed through a corridor bordered by lush greenery, with birds chirping in the woods, before the view in front of us opened up to present River Rhine, Assmannshäusen town and the vast Assmannshäuser Höllenberg vineyard. The majestic Castle Rheinstein stood guard at the opposite bank of the river.  It was a breathtaking introduction.

Before getting onto the River Rhine ferry, we had lunch. Our guide said, "You can see 10 castles during the ferry ride later. If your eyesight is good, probably 12. You may see 20 castles if you have too much wine during lunch." 

Enjoying the lush greenery of the countryside on a chairlift while anticipating the sight of River Rhine

Descending on Assmannshäusen with River Rhine in front and vineyard on the right

Zooming in on Castle Rheinstein on the opposite bank of River Rhine

Assmannshäuser Höllenberg (Hell Mountain) vineyard

"Singapore girl, you're a great way to fly" - guess their occupation :)

Reached the town below safe and sound after a wonderful ride

"Eingang zur Seilbahn" - Entrance to cable car

Moving through the small alleys lined by hotels, guesthouses and taverns

One of the nicest looking hotels in town - Alte Bauernschänke

Quaint old tavern partially covered by vine

Trying to make sense of where I was but to no avail. I can't read German sign.

A landmark of Assmannshäusen - Krone, a half-timbered guesthouse by the river

A famous 19th century German poet, Ferdinand Freiligrath, was once a guest of Krone

River Rhine ferry

Cormorants sun-basking on rocks as the river water rushed by. 

Major Rhine River floods were marked on this wall. The worst flood was recorded in 1882.

How could there be no wine tasting when you are in a wine town? My first step to getting wasted.

Two shots left but I was not drunk. There was too little alcohol in the drinks to make me drunk, zum Wohl.

Monday, July 22, 2013


These days, there is only one Korean programme I will "본방사수" and that is KBS2 TV "Gag Concert" (개그콘서트). First things first, the meaning of "본방사수" (本放(送)死守). What this "신조어" (新造語, new word) literally means is to "defend first broadcast till death", or simply, only watch the original broadcast. "Why so serious?", you may ask. It is all about "시청률" (視聽率, viewer ratings) and only the ratings of the first broadcast matters and ratings mean advertising dollars. So if you are a fan of a programme, you will have to "본방사수".

Back to Gag Concert. When KBS World was first available on local station many years ago, Gag Concert was broadcast without English subtitles. It was one variety programme I would not bother with since I could hardly comprehend anything in the show. But time has changed. I no longer subscribe to KBS World after it was made a paid channel and my Korean is good enough for me to enjoy the "first broadcast" of Gag Concert every Sunday on KBS website. It has since become my source of laughter every Sunday's night.

The following "corners" are my current top five (in descending order) in Gag Concert:

1. 황해 (The Yellow Sea)

The Yellow Sea is the sea that separates China mainland and Korea peninsula but the title gives little clue about the storyline. The theme of this corner is actually "voice phishing" or "telephone scam". A pair of scammers (supposedly from across the Yellow Sea) generates "stomach-bursting" laughters every week with their antics and foul-ups. The pair comprising a rookie and a veteran, is anything but a potent mix. They always ended up making a fool of themselves instead of their victims poorer. This corner is not without controversy. The featuring of scammers who are supposedly from the Joseon ethnic group in China has raised more than a ruckus. However, as they say, "개그는 개그일 뿐" (Gag is only a gag). On the positive side, the corner can serve as a medium to educate the public on telephone scam and immune them against falling victim. This corner is number one on my watchlist. I have since mastered the way the syndicate head said, "너 밥먹기싫으니? (You're tired of eating?)

 2. 두근두근 (Pit-A-Pat)

"두근두근" is the sound made by the heart in love. A couple who are "죽마고우" (竹馬故友, childhood friend) started to develop affection for one another. They kept going out together without admitting they were on date. The laughing points in this corner are the awkward moments which arose due to the couple's 애매모호(曖昧模糊, vague)한 사이 (relationship). There is a Chinese saying that says, "爱在暧昧模糊不明时最美” (Love is the most beautiful during the time when things are vague and unclear). This is one corner that makes you to laugh from within. You laugh because you can easily associate with all those awkward (or beautiful) moments which you might have experienced when you were with someone you like and whom you have not confessed to.

3. 남자가 필요없는 이유 (Why We Don't Need Men)

This corner plays on gender steroetypes, in particular, male stereotypes:

Stereotype 1: 잘 생긴 남자 (handsome man) is a 바람둥이 (playboy). This guy has so many girlfriends that he was always confused who is who and with whom he did what or who likes what. When he slipped his tongue, he would always lie his way out. He has no qualm flirting with other women in front of his girlfriend.

Stereotype 2: 나만 바라봐주는 남자 (man who only loves you) is a nerd. While this guy is a dedicated lover, he is a very sensitive and unsecure man. Whenever his girlfriend seems to know something very well, he would suspect that she has a lot experience doing those things with her previous boyfriend or other guys and become jealous. When she assured him that was not that case, his mood would undergo a 180 degrees change and start to tease her, calling her "요물" (妖物, devil).

Stereotype 3: 보통 남자들은 (ordinary men) 다 늑대야 (are all "wolves" or peverts). This guy would do everything to get intimate or what Korean called "스킨십" (skinship). When his girlfriend showed her disapproval towards his ungentlemanly behaviour, he would take that as she was being shy and suggest, "왜 사람 많아서 그래? 저기 사람없는대로 갈까? (Why, is it because there are too many people? Shall we move to a place where there is no people?)

You cannot deny that such men do exist but the funny part is the stereotypes have been overly exaggerated. I believe guys, in general, do not like to be called "늑대", but they would not mind being called "비스트" (Beast).

4. 시청률의제왕 (The King of Ratings)

This corner is intended to be a satire on how the myopic pursuit of viewer ratings have distorted the way dramas are being made these days. A sad fact of the industry is, the more trashy the drama, the higher the ratings. This corner is about how to make ratings go up by turning a "boring" feel-good drama into a "막장 드라마" (trashy drama). The elements that go into making these dramas include 배신 (背信, betrayal), 막말 (rude talk), 불륜 (不倫, incest) and 아이돌 (idol) with weird Korean accent and bad acting skills. Whenever there is a 반전 (反轉, reverse) or 역전 (逆轉, abrupt change) in the flow of the story as ordered by the director, it would always tickle my funny bones and set me laughing non-stop. While "막장 드라마" may carry all the wrong social values, you have to admit they are actually more "entertaining" in some way.

5. 현대레알사전 (Real Modern Dictionary)

Man and woman are wired differently. The contrast in their perspective is always a good source of jokes. Every week in this corner, the perspective of man and woman is sought on a selected topic. Below are some amusing gender-biased interpretations:

Topic: 사랑 (Love)

Man: Men from 20s to 70s love "예쁜 여자" (pretty women) 
Woman: Women in their 20s love "나쁜 남자" (bad guy). 30s 능력이 있는 남자 (capable man). 40s "남자" (man).

Topic: 결혼 (Marriage)

Woman: 결혼이란 아가씨가 아줌마가 되는 것 (Marriage is when a girl becomes an auntie)

Man: 이 아줌마를 데리고 살아야 되는 것 (Marriage is when I have to live with an auntie)

Man: 신혼 부부들에게 결혼이란 너때문에 사는 것. (10년차는요?) 애때문에 사는 것. (20년차는요?) 죽지 못 해 사는 것 (To a newly-wed couple, marriage is I live because of you. After 10 years, I live because of my child. After 20 years, I live because I cannot die.)

Woman: 10대에게 결혼이란 첫사랑이랑 결혼해야지. 20대는요? 이상형이랑 결혼해야지. 30대는요? 이상하지만 않으면 결혼해야겠지. (To a woman in her 10s, she will have to marry her first love. In her 20s, she will have to marry her ideal man. In her 30s, she will probably have to marry a man so long as he is not weird.)

Saturday, July 20, 2013

뢰머 광장 (Römerberg)

Grey clouds blanketed the sky as I walked by the side of the Main River. Soon, raindrops fell but they were so fine that it was not worth the effort opening an umbrella. Nobody ran for the shelter either. There was a sense of calmness by the riverside that was in contrast with the bustling financial centre nearby. After an idyllic afternoon walk on both sides of the river, I turned back into the city and came to a cobblestone square which I know later as Römerberg.

I learned that Römerberg is the old centre of Frankfurt, with a history that dates back to the middle ages. Since the 9th century, it has been the site of markets, fairs, festivals, tournaments, executions, imperial elections and coronations.

On one side of the square is a medieval building with crow-stepped gable design called the Römer (Roman in German). It has been the town hall and landmark of Frankfurt since the 15th century. On the opposite side, stood a row of German framed houses restored in the 80s. Cafes and restaurants operate at the front of the buildings. In the centre of the square, you would find the Fountain of Justice with a statue of Justice carrying a sword and a balance.

The Römerberg is one of those must-visit places in Frankfurt and one very good reason being ... (read till the end to find out)

The Römer, the town hall of Frankfurt with crow-stepped gable design that dates back to Middle Ages

Statues of the four kaisers of the Holy Roman Empire on the facade of the Römer

Römerberg with a row of restored German frame houses at one end

Restaurants, cafés and smaller shops can be found at the square itself and in the vicinity.

People watching is a good pastime, no?

Fountain of Justice in the centre of the square, but no water though.

Old St Nicholas Church, Romerberg

Statue of Justice with unbound eyes carrying a scale and sword surrounded by colourful blooms

... the annual Frankfurt's Christmas Market. Just looking at the picture (unabashedly "stolen" from the Frankurt Tourism's website) makes me drool. The giant Christmas tree, the merry-go-round and the lightings are just so Christmasy. The market will be open from 27 November to 22 December this year. Hope to be there someday.

Frankurt's Christmas Market at Römerberg (click to enlarge picture)

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

진선미 (眞善美)

The inscription on the frieze of Alte Oper (Old Opera) reads, "Dem Wahren Schönen Guten" (To the true, the beautiful, the good) or in Chinese, "眞善美".  I let out a faint sigh as I stared at the inscription. I am far from these ideals. All I have was a camera to take in whatever beauty I could capture as I find my way closer to them.

Dem Wahren Schönen Guten (To the true, the beautiful, the good)

Alte Oper, otherwise known as the old opera house, was built in 1880, financed wholly by the people of Frankfurt. During WWII, 80% of Frankfurt's buildings was completely destroyed and Alte Oper was not spared either. After the war, it was rebuilt, again with support and donations from the citizens. Today, the building serves as a concert hall and is home to all sorts of entertainment at the heart of the city.

Alte Oper (Old Opera)

The square in front of Alte Oper is called the Opernplatz (Opera Square). A 2-week food and beer festival was going on as the locals welcomed the start of summer holiday. "Summer holiday" is a remote term to me, but having the chance to mingle with the crowd at the festival, I caught on the holiday mood. My own celebration was a good meal of bratwurst (German sausage), no booze though.

Coffee brewing at the mobile coffee cart

This is how life should be lived - have a break and drink

A row of quaint old buildings by the side of Alte Oper

Alfresco cafes everywhere. When outdoor temperature was less than 20°C, no sweat at all.

Alte Oper at 11pm. Drinking crowd has yet to disperse.

Dining crowd has dwindled

Italian food stall calling it a day

Calling it a day for myself too

Sunday, July 07, 2013


Cherries I brought back from the countryside. I had it for breakfast dessert.

A visit to countryside brought an unexpected reward - fresh and succulent organic cherries. It's like coming a full circle, from the day I was overwhelmed by the majestic view of cherry blossoms at Kyunghee Dae in spring to now, plucking cherries with my bare hands in summer. I was so happy enjoying my harvest in the field that I forgot I have yet to wash my hands after feeding some spotted deers earlier. Happiness, I guess, can cause one to throw caution to the winds.

Saturday, July 06, 2013


In a big flat pan was Spanish fried rice covered by plentiful seafood and chicken meat. A plate of Paella Valenciana, which is what it is called, came with a handsome serving of prawn, mussels, clams, squid and a lemon wedge to remove the fishy taste. All the goodness in the ingredients was well absorbed by the rice. This was accomplished by covering the cooking pan with aluminium foil and allowing the rice to simmer in a broth until cooked. I watched them cook as I ate standing. It was a food and beer fare, there wasn't many sitting places. One serving costs 8.50€ but an additional deposit of 2€ was required to make sure you return the plate. Business was brisk. A big pan of rice was sold out as fast as it took me to polish up my plate.

Paella Valenciana. Delicioso!

Monday, July 01, 2013

여름의 밤

Nightfall in summer comes only after 10pm. It was already past midnight when I returned to my room after an "evening" walk by the Main River. Night is no longer young but summer is.

Frankfurt Train Station with ICE 3 high speed train waiting at the platform

Festival night at the Opera Plaza in front of Frankfurt old opera house (Alte Oper)