23 February 2008

jungle prep and amateur garbage collection

jungle prep. nuthin like bringing lots of dirt inside your home.

plant-related posts may be as interesting to you as my map fetish (here and here), but consider the joy we'll all feel in a few weeks when my terrace realizes its jungle potential!

my most faithful readers will remember last year's absurd voyage to bring one million cubic centimeters of dirt, 15 large trees and shrubs, and 3 coffin-sized, custom-made planter boxes from one end of seoul to the other. despite funky soil, irregular watering and a cold winter, i'm cautiously optimistic that most of my azaleas, boxwoods, maples and pine trees have survived. to prep for 2008, this week i cleared the winter detritus from my planters and terrace.

sunny saturday.

i've also planted thousands of seeds in my living room. while in seattle i purchased several varieties of flower seeds (as if they don't sell seeds in korea). in lieu of a proper greenhouse, i scoured my neighborhood for egg cartons and filled the concave depressions with dirt. my makeshift seedling flats were then placed in plastic trays and set under a south-facing bank of windows. the idea, of course, is to get the growing going on inside since it's still too cold outside. in a few weeks, however, my babies will be transplanted onto the terrace.

finding the egg cartons, however, was an interesting cultural experience. you'd think locating trash in a big asian city would be easy, but seoulites are disciplined recyclers and trash pick-up happens daily. plus, i'm new to the world of refuse collection, so i was always a step behind the old men in their 60s and 70s who move slowly along seoul's streets, building precarious towers of plastic and cardboard atop their wooden carts. as these harabuji (grandfathers) make their way through the neighborhood, they cut the air with rusty, oversized scissors to make a metallic "swish" sound that compels local shopkeepers to bring out their recyclables. it's a sound i already associate with hot summer afternoons in seoul.

snowy sunday.

to my eyes, these ancient men are clearly remnants of a bygone era. but in sophisticated seoul, a well-dressed, young foreigner collecting garbage also seems out of place. when i asked one of these grandpas if i could buy his stack of egg cartons, it's no wonder it took him a few seconds to process what was happening. my appearance, my accent, my question were all disorienting. he looked confused and then said he needed them to balance his load. he couldn't fool me... i'm the king of "how can i end this awkward encounter as soon as possible" responses.

but even without his help i satisfied my egg flat quota. and as i happily carried two handfuls of used cartons home, i was the recipient of many quizzical looks from koreans who are too polite to point and laugh but who are very aware of the weird foreigner. unlike the cult of public ridicule popular among young americans, koreans don't try to humiliate me when i go against local customs. if they do laugh, it's more about their own embarrassment with the situation. but the fact that a guy carrying a few egg cartons would be worthy of a reaction reminds me of the over-the-top image consciousness here. it's ok guys, nobody needs to be embarrassed by my dumpster diving.

the cosmos tray has already germinated.

anyhow, my trays of cosmos, lavender, rudbeckia and nasturshims are planted. although last week's midday temps were hovering around an almost balmy 6 degrees (42 F), it snowed today. but, weather.com says frosts should end by early march, so the kids get to play outside in just a few short weeks!

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