Tuesday, December 31, 2013

CardiNiners Weekend

An ex-Yelper friend announced on facebook that he had extra tickets to the Cardinals final home game. I figured, why not? It's a decent drive down to Phoenix. And what do you know. Of the four people who showed interest, my name was pulled from the literal hat.

Ahead of the matchup, all I wanted was for the game to be meaningful to both teams. We got that. The 49ers were playing to possibly improve their playoff position and the Cardinals were playing just to get into the playoffs.

So now all I wanted was a good game. We got that! San Francisco built a 17-0 lead before Arizona clawed back to 17-17. The place was electric. The 49ers then hit what looked to be a game-winning field goal. Not so fast. The Cardinals drove down the field and hit a game-tying field goal.

But 29 seconds left proved enough for the Niners to make a couple of big plays and hit the actual game-winning field goal.

In the end, an Arizona win would have meant nothing for their playoff chances (they needed New Orleans to lose), so I'm glad San Francisco won. Great game. Fantastic stadium. Awesome atmosphere. Couldn't have asked for a better experience.

As you can see, we had pretty good seats. Awesome for free. We were by the Cardinal "Red Zone" in the lower bowl. The fans around us were great. A mix of people supporting both teams. Good-natured ribbing. All in good fun.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Christmas 2013

Here is our Christmas card for 2013. We got the idea from this photo. Bawoo is just staring off into space, but we're happy with how it turned out.

Hope everyone enjoys the holidays!

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Sideways Country

We took a short trip to California's central coast. I recently had Jieun watch "Sideways" and she really enjoyed it. So of course, we had to go visit a couple of film locations.

Just like Jack and Miles in the movie, our first stop was to Alma Rosa Winery. It was actually called Sanford during the time of the film, but they have since been forced to drop the name. Fortunately, they have maintained their small, independent vibe. The whole place is just rustic and quaint.

With the sun quickly setting, we decided to make our way into the strangely Danish town of Solvang. Sure the place tends to be touristy. But we had a surprisingly nice time walking around and checking out all of the small shops. If we didn't have dinner reservations at The Hitching Post II (our other Sideways movie destination), we probably would have eaten more in Solvang—they have a ton of cute little bakeries.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Seoul Fortress Hike

One thing I learned during my pre-trip research is that hiking is a huge pastime in Seoul. The city is a sprawling metropolis, but the surrounding mountains provide myriad hiking opportunities. I took advantage of the so-called Seoul Fortress hike, mostly due to its close proximity and the history behind it.

The main part of the hike traverses Bugaksan, a mountain to the north of Seoul that overlooks the President's official residence (Cheongwadae or the "Blue House"). Because of security concerns, you have to fill out an application and provide some identifying information to enter.

You spend pretty much the entire hike on the old Seoul Fortress wall. It's an interesting peek into the city's history. You can even see where wall-building technology changed. Or perhaps these are sections of the wall that were later rebuilt.

Soon into the hike, you come across Sukjeongmun, the great north gate. I already posted a photo of the gate's exterior in a previous post. Here, you can see the gate's interior. Unlike the other gates around the city, you can actually go inside.

Bugaksan provides fantastic views. Unfortunately, photography is mostly prohibited due to the high security—there are guards stationed at regular intervals. With that in mind, I'm not sure how I managed to capture the shot below. You can see the section of wall that I had already hiked.

This stone marks Bugaksan's 342m peak. Don't worry. The guard at this spot indicated that photography was allowed. The peak had a nice view of Namsan Tower to the south.

The descent after the peak turned out to be very steep. I'm glad I did the trail east to west instead of the opposite direction. The map below shows the basic route. I started at the white line (road) just below the gate at the bottom (Sukjeongmun) and ended at the gate up top (Changuimun).

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Nexus 5

Only a geek would create a photoblog post about a new phone.

I'm up for an upgrade on December 1. But forget all that now. This phone is unlocked and works on pretty much any carrier. It also introduces the new Android version 4.4, otherwise known as KitKat. I haven't had much time to play around with it yet. For sure, it will be nice to have a powerful phone again (my aging Galaxy Nexus is still decent, but was slowly showing its age).

Monday, November 4, 2013

Hanok Villages

There are two great places in Seoul to see the traditional Korean house known as Hanok. One is an actual residential area called Bukchon. For a while, I understand that the residents of Bukchon were modernizing their homes, but the city has provided incentives for people to restore them to their original glory. As probably the last neighborhood in Seoul with a large concentration of Hanok, this is a great idea.

In another part of town, you'll find the Namsangol Hanok Village. These aren't replicas or recreations. Rather, they are actual Hanok that have been relocated and restored. The village is like a window back in time.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Colorado River Coffee Roasters

If my recent coffee obsession has taught me anything, it's that fresh beans are a must. Ideally, your coffee beans should be no more than a few weeks from the roast date and they should be ground immediately before use with a quality burr grinder.

That's where CRCR comes in. I was so happy to find that we actually have a quality local roaster. I only recently discovered them even though I've unknowingly had their coffee before at places like Sambalatte and Grouchy John's. You can order their beans online and you'll get a freshly roasted bag. But on this occasion, with my current bag of Redwall Espresso blend pretty much empty, I figured what better time to visit the roastery?

Meeting Erik and Jana, it's clear that this isn't really a job for them; it's a passion. Erik enthusiastically explained everything about the process. It starts with the green coffee beans going into the roasting machine. ("Green" refers to the raw, unroasted bean).

It was fun to see the smaller machines they used before they stepped up their production. Their current roaster features dual infrared burners that supply even heat along the rotating barrel.

The entire roasting process can be computerized to a point where it could run on its own. But that's not how Erik likes to operate. He constantly monitors everything and takes notes.

Once the beans reach their ideal roast, they drop out to cool.

This system has fans that suck air downwards, speeding up the cooling process considerably.

The aroma is incredible.

At this point, all that's left is to bag and tag.

CRCR's bags feature a one-way air valve that allows the beans to keep degassing (releasing CO2). This also allows you to squeeze the bag and sample that wonderful scent.

Our overall visit to CRCR was much more than I anticipated. Not only did we get to see the process first hand, they even brewed up some coffee for us to try. And when I asked about buying their coffee mugs, Erik was kind enough to just let us walk away with a pair.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013


One more Jack-o'-lantern for the road. If you're not familiar with this character, it's from "My Neighbor Totoro," a 1988 animated film by legendary filmmaker Hayao Miyazaki.

The etching of the belly and teeth wasn't as bad as I thought. I just used a paring knife. I cut hard outlines first and then etched out the pumpkin skin. It might have helped that we actually started the main carving a few days ago. After sitting in the fridge for a few days, the pumpkin flesh became softer. I then put both of our pumpkins in a water bath with a bit of bleach (to help prevent mould). This completely rehydrated the pumpkins and they are nice and hard again—just like new!

Monday, October 28, 2013

The Eight Gates of Seoul

I knew about Sungnyemun coming into our trip, but as I explored the city, I learned that there were actually eight gates. This dates back to when Seoul was a walled fortress. They had four great gates and four small gates. Of course, I'm crazy enough that I just had to make it a point to capture them all.

Of the eight gates, only six still exist. Unfortunately, of those six, I only got around to five of them (I'll explain later). I'll start with what is officially called Heunginjimun. This great gate is more commonly referred to by its directional name, Dongdaemun (literally "east great gate").

I've already blogged about Sungnyemun (official name). Directionally, this is the city's "south great gate," otherwise known as Namdaemun. Unsurprisingly, it sits right by the Namdaemun street market.

The final great gate that still exists is Sukjeongmun (also known as Bukdaemun or "north great gate"). Structurally, this one isn't as "great" as the others because it sits on top of a mountain and was used less frequently. To access this gate, you need to hike up the mountain along the Seoul Fortress wall (that will be a future blog post). The nice thing about this gate is that you can actually walk inside it.

At the end of the Seoul Fortress hike (or the beginning if you go the other way) is Changuimun—one of the four small gates. Its directional name is Buksomun ("north small gate").

Finally, on the east side of town is Hyehwamun, otherwise known as Dongsomun ("east small gate"). The painting on its wooden underside is quite colorful.

As for the remaining small gate that still exists, I know why I failed to visit it. The gate is called Gwanghuimun officially or Namsomun directionally ("south small gate"). There is another gate in Seoul called Gwanghwamun, which I did capture (another future blog post). I confused their names and thought that I had already visited all of the gates.

Next time perhaps?


Would you believe I had never carved a pumpkin before? This was fun, albeit entirely unoriginal.

I placed this pumpkin on an existing lamp base that's barely out of frame. I bounced my flash off the ceiling to illuminate the exterior of the pumpkin. Other than clone stamping out the bright light bulb in the Goomba's belly area, this photo is pretty much unedited.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Limousine Bus

As I continue to go through my Korea photos, I'm still finding ways to categorize and separate photos into potential blog posts. So I present to you some transportation-related images. This first one is from the awesome "Limousine Bus" that we took from and back to Incheon International Airport (ICN). The seats are wide and comfortable with foot rests and backs that recline generously. It's a great way to get from the airport to the city (about an hour drive).

Once you're in the city, of course, the main transportation system is the Seoul Metropolitan Subway. The T-Money card is the way to go. You load up the card with however much Korean Won (KRW) you think you need and reload when it runs low. Not only convenient, it saves you 100 KRW on each trip compared to buying a new ticket every time.

The subway stations are probably the safest in the world. You don't have to worry about crime—I never even felt in danger of being pickpocketed—and you are completely separated from the trains until they arrive and the doors open.

This is a common sight. Pretty much everyone is on their phone.

Pil-Li-Pin! I couldn't resist capturing and including this sign.

If I remember correctly, this memorial wall is located in one of the Gwanghwamun subway station tunnels.

Moving away from the subway, the free Wi-Fi on the KTX bullet train was invaluable.

Finally, here is a policeman conducting traffic (a fairly common sight). I just like the photo for some reason.