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Archive for May, 2010

One of the best perks of our job comes from the kitchen, my favorite stomping ground. At 12 noon every day, the kindergarten classes gallop to the bathroom to wash their hands, and we — the teachers — get a waft of our lunch for that day.

Two women — Mrs. Han and Mrs. Chai, affectionately referred to as Imonim (aunties) by the Korean teachers — whip up an organic, delicious, nutritous, authentic Korean meal for us to enjoy. The ladies are always busy prepping when we roll into school around 9:30. Everything is freshly prepared, seasoned nicely and usually delicious.

The meals vary from day to day, but always include rice (the school uses a combination of black and white, we call it purple), laver (green tea seasoned seaweed), and a soup of some sort.

I have plucked 5 sample lunches from our menu, all of which we’ve eaten more than once and I have throroughly enjoyed.

Day 1: Pulled beef, egg with vegetables (similar to an omlet), kimchi, purple rice and a spicy soup.

Day 2: White fish cooked with egg and vegetables, spicy cabbage, marinated cucumbers and mushrooms, purple rice with laver and seaweeed soup.

Day 3: dak doritang (spicy Korean dish of chicken simmered with potatoes, carrots, onions and lots of spices — sooo yummy), marinated cucumbers, kimchi, greens, purple rice and egg drop soup.

Day 4: Pork bulgogi (usually served with beef, it is a spicy Korean specialty sauce), purple rice, steamed cabbage with hot pepper sauce and garlicky greens.

Day 5: The school’s version of bibimbap, a popular Korean dish (especially in Jeonju) made with rice, egg, vegetables, laver, meat and bean paste. I paired that with a sort of spicy kimchi and bean sprout soup.

None of my friends that work in other hagwons or in public schools have free lunch cooked for them daily — that I know of, anyway. It certainly pays to be the teacher at a school where students’ parents demand top-notch grub for their kiddies!

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Okay, so it doesn’t exactly have the same ring as Taco Tuesday, but it works — it’s not like I can make it to Baja Sonora from Korea anyway!

After Katie’s package full of Mexican goodies came in the mail, I decided I couldn’t wait another day to chow down on some authentic south-of-the-border grub that I hadn’t really had up until this point.

During my break at school, I ran to E-Mart to pick up some beef. Since beef here is ridiculously expensive — the portion you see cost about $10 — we usually stick to chicken as our protein from the store. However, I needed carne asada for my tacos, and Korean beef is of exceptional quality. So I splurged!

After a long day at school and the gym, I diced an onion, and threw it in a pan with the beef.

As the onions and beef cooked slowly together, I took out the central ingredient to our dish — chipotle chiles in adobo sauce, sent all the way from the States.

I LOVE chipotle chiles. I love them. If there is ever a chipotle salsa in my vicinity, it is my first choice. It also is the central ingredient in William-Sonoma’s corn/avocado salsa I made this winter, which is another new favorite of mine. I chopped up a full pepper, seeds and all, and tossed it in with the beef. I added three or four spoonfulls of adobo sauce and little pepper chunks for good measure, along with a heaping pile of minced garlic.

Next, I lightly fried corn tortillas — also courtesy of Katie — in canola oil, and patted them dry. Once the meat was done, we piled the beef into the shells, topped with leftover mozzarella cheese from our dak galbi, threw on some cherry tomatoes and voila! Tacos!

Nom nom. So good! I will definitely appreciate these peppers and these tortillas while we have them, and maybe even get some new recipes under my belt in the process.

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Seven weeks of my kids sneezing, coughing, touching, rubbing, sniffling and grabbing finally caught up to me this week, and I’ve come down with a cold. But even as I wheeze and sniff my way through this week, not even a little sickness could dampen my spirits.

I am officially 25 now, in both Korea and America. I have been a “birthday person” ever since I could remember — I love the excuse to party, getting all of my friends and family together, and reflecting on the year past.

This is the first year in a long time that I had a relatively quiet birthday, but it was just what I needed.

The day started off wonderfully, with Evan peeling himself out of bed in the wee hours of the morning to run to McDonald’s and bring me a sausage McMuffin, hash brown, and hot coffee in bed. He isn’t what you’d call a morning person, so the effort of the gesture wasn’t lost on me. I am truly a lucky girl. :)

At school, my kindergarten class gave me an enthusiastic “Happy Birthday” when I came in the classroom. One of my girls, Yoon Jung, made me this adorable card.

I love how on the back Yoon Jung is smiling as I, tiara and all, discuss what an adjective is to the class (adjectives are the grammar lesson for this week) — and the boy next to her looks ready to cry. LOL, I guess English class can have that effect on some people.

Another girl made me a paper birthday hat, and two of my school’s Korean teachers — both of whom I like very much — gave me a box of cookies with a froggie card — on which they wrote, endearingly, “I think you have a hard time adjust to Korean culture. Cheer up!” LOL. I’ve since made a point to be less tired/much happier around them, because I really do love Korea, my job and the people I work with, and I want them to know it!

I love the card, which they gave me with huge hugs, and I felt really touched that they remembered :)

The cutest gesture ever though was when one boy, I found out, did extra chores at home to earn money to buy me this cute little charm for my cell phone…and wrote me a birthday note telling me how much he loved me. Cutest. Thing. Ever.

Evan also had his K-II class shout Happy Birthday to me. Love those kids. I gave all of my classes candy as a little party favor.

I even received a wonderful package of love from my sister back home! Kate — your package made my day, and it was just in time to help me celebrate turning 25. Thank you for the food, the clothes and everything I needed — you’re the best!

After work, Ev and I relaxed at home, watched the Lady Gaga episode of Glee, cleaned ourselves up and headed to Chonbukdae for dinner. I decided on an Italian spot we had a few beers at about a month ago called Team.

Before our meal, we received hot bowls of soup with a bread basket. BREAD! I was so excited. Then came our caprese salad. Soft, creamy mozzarella cheese, ripe juicy tomato slices topped with a zingy pesto. Next to that, a pile of crisp lettuce and slivered almonds drizzled with balsamic vinegar and a tart dressing. Delectable.

Our pasta dishes came next. Evan ordered a spicy, creamy seafood dish while I opted for a classic — spaghetti carbonara. Evan’s dish had a nice kick, perfectly breaded shrimp and an amazing sauce.

Mine was great too — crisp bacon in a creamy, hot sauce. Delicious! We washed our meal down with a bottle of Chilean Cabernet. I think that sommelier speeches in the States are slightly awkward — since I know nothing about wine — but in Korea they are even more so. Our knowledgeable vino expert told us all about our pick — in Korean. We smiled, nodded and drank. It was gooooood… I haven’t drank much wine since I’ve been here, and it felt really nice going down.

After dinner, my boyfriend had one more surprise — an ice cream birthday cake with candles! Yippee! It was made with chocolate, vanilla and raspberry ice cream and it was SO good.

Definitely one of the best birthdays ever!

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Of course, we didn’t spend our whole time in Seoul partying the night away.

After Thursday’s tequila party, we took our time waking up on Friday. When we finally dragged ourselves out of Tim’s apartment, the only thing on my mind was Mexican food.

Mexican food is the bane of my existence. It is my weakness — and Tim said there was a little restaurant nearby! My gluttony and addiction lead me to order a burrito AND a tostada — total fatty move — but I didn’t regret it. It was so yummy. And to have avocado again was magical.

After lunch we hopped aboard a bus that took us Seoul’s Han River, where we ended up hanging out and cat-napping, overlooking the water.

When we hopped off of the bus, we walked down a flight of stairs and under the bridge that connects northern and southern Seoul. This is the view from under the bridge, across the water. Under the bridge and on the grass near the water were the perfect hang outs for lots of daydreamers, frisbee-throwers, couples looking for romance, dog-walkers and even one ecstatic — and scared — little boy learning how to ride a bike.

Saturday we went to Insa-dong, an artsy neighborhood full of  local artist love. Painters, sculpters, and artists from every medium in between flock here to sell their goods to people looking for authentic Korean merchandise. It is definitely a repeat mission — one of my goals is to find something exquisite to remind us of our fleeting time here.

Ssamziegil was one area that had four floors of shops, carts, and merchants selling their works of art. This great flower art installment wrapped around a four-story high cutout next to the stairs. It was pretty awesome. I think Insa-dong was my favorite neighborhood in Seoul. After shopping a bit, we grabbed an authentic Korean galbi lunch, and had these cinnamon-walnut donuts from a street vendor for dessert. Yummy!

While we trekked to Myeongdong for our next shopping excursion, we passed the Cheonggyecheon river. The river, which was a stream 50 years ago, was restored in 2002 to generate a tourist interest and beautify the city. It is a stunning breath of fresh air — nature and tranquility in the heart of the hectic city.

It even has waterfalls!

I only wish we could have seen the river at night. Rocks were strategically placed throughout the river, allowing people to cross on stepping stones. On many of the rocks, these statues below, and buried in the shallow water were different colored lights, which created a spectacular light display when the sun went down.

We finally made it to Myeongdong, just as the rain picked up a bit. The streets were FULL of westerners, gabbing and popping into lots of western-brand stores. The overcrowded, overwhelming street was definitely something new. We poked around in H&M for a bit, before the sheer amount of people got to me. I felt bombarded, so I took a breather. This is a great place to come, though, if I ever need to buy anything western.

Sunday, our final day, we ate lunch at CPK. It was delicious, expensive and worth it. Korean sauces tend to be on the sweet side — including on pizza — but there was no sweet sauce here. The pie tasted just like home.

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The week after returning from Busan just flew by, thanks in part to a busy — and short — school week. On Friday, the nation celebrated Buddha’s birthday, which meant a four-day week for us. We decided to take the opportunity to finally visit Seoul for the first time, and catch up with my cousin Tim.

Evan and I bought tickets for the 7:30 bus a day in advance, and arrived at the bus station with a comfortable amount of time to find our seats, kick back and relax. The buses here are luxurious — soft seats that recline far enough to sleep comfortably, and enough leg room to keep Kobe Bryant content.

I snapped this gorgeous sunset as our bus pulled out of Jeonju.

Nearly four hours, an episode of The Hills and a cat nap later, we arrived in Seoul. TIm greeted us at the massive bus terminal, then we hopped aboard a subway to his neighborhood, Gangnam-gu.

Once we arrived, I quickly changed and threw on a pair of heels, and we were off to meet up with Tim’s work buddies to celebrate his pal Hamilton’s birthday. The city — population approximately 24 million — was overwhelming and exciting. At the bar, we grabbed some mekchu and got the party started. So happy to be with family!

The beer was flowing, and the party moved on to tequila shots. Hm. For those of you who don’t know, Evan cannot stand tequila, but he downed his share anyway, in the spirit of camaraderie. It was basically top shelf anyway — Pepe Lopez, anyone? :P

After our whistles were sufficiently wet, we continued to parade around the city, stopping at watering holes along the way. The heels I wore turned out to be a bad decision … I required Evan’s socks and Tim’s shoes to eventually make it home. I’m spoiled.

Friday night was nonexistant on the town. We got home around 5 that morning, so needless to say we weren’t in the mood to drink. We took it easy, and saw Robin Hood at a nearby cinema. It was a prequel, so-so, nothing to write home about.

Saturday night we were ready to hit the town again. Since I had a hankering for the foreign food it is hard to find in Jeonju, we ended up going to Itaewon to get some good old-fashioned American grub.

Itaewon was unlike anything I had seen in Korea thus far. The rainy streets were full of people from every different ethnic background you could think of, and the restaurants that lined the streets displayed everything from Indian food and tapas to Italian and Mexican. It was so diverse — due in part to a local USA military base — for a second I thought I was back in America.

We ended up walking up a steep, rocky street to a sports bar called Sam Ryan’s. I ordered a juicy steak sandwich, topped with cheddar, mushrooms and peppers, with a side of crinkly fries. Heavenly to say the least.

After dinner, we kept the party rolling over to Apkujong, known as the sort of “Beverly Hills” of Seoul, to a club called Monkey Beach. It was raining all day, but Evan had somehow found two abandoned umbrellas on the street. Tim’s friends Nick and Seung Hyun joined us for dinner and drinks. I caught my cuz and his gal in an adorable candid.

The club reminded me of a cross between a Spring Breaker’s hangout and an indoor rave. There were lots of flashing lights and techno beats, as well as buckets of alcohol being sold. A winning combination!

We boogied and jammed to the deejay’s set list. All in all, a perfect way to end our last night of mini-vacation!

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Our last day in Busan, we decided to visit Haeundae beach — the most popular beach in the city, and definitely deserving of a separate visit.

We decided to go to the bus station early in the day, to guarantee we had seats on the 7:30 bus ride home, so we didn’t make it to Haeundae until around 3:30. No matter though — the weather was incredibly nice, and we were able to relax on the hot sand for awhile.

You’ll notice that everyone in the photos are fully clothed — here in Korea, everyone wheres swimsuits UNDER their clothes, and jump into the water fully dressed. It is a modesty thing.

No smoking on the beach! Only sunbathing — I laid around in just my bikini for awhile, then decided to blend in and wear my dress :)

There was an international dance show going on during our trip — the girls all danced so beautifully with their fans!

After lounging on the beach for a bit, we decided to make our way to a Mexican food restaurant we saw near the subway station — Fuzzy Navel. I have been dying for Mexican food, and the tacos were pretty good. Our food took forever to come, and I gobbled it down so quickly!

At this point Evan, Smiley and I were in a serious time crunch to get to the bus station on time. We hopped aboard the subway, all anxious, and decided that when we arrived at the station, the men would get the luggage from the lockers and my duty was to find the bus and make sure it didn’t leave us!

We arrived at the station with 10 minutes to spare, sprinted up the stairs… and had no idea where we were. We had gone out an exit we hadn’t used yet, and were totally lost. We spent the next eight minutes sprinting around the street, looking for signs, grabbing luggage, asking where the Jeonju bus was, running running running.

Lungs burning and completely out of breath, we made it to our bus at 6:58. Thank goodness Evan has been running on the treadmill at the gym, or we would all have been screwed. We sank gratefully into our seats as the bus roared to life, people crammed in the aisle, sitting on newspapers.

We later found out that Mike, Kristie and their pals tried to buy tickets for the 10:30 bus at 7:30, but it was already sold out. Thankfully, they knew how to take the train home, but we couldn’t help wondering what on Earth we would have done if we had missed our bus.

Next time, we’ll leave earlier.

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After we explored Nampo-dong — and I found the perfect Korean-style club outfit — we showered and changed back at the hotel, then headed toward an Italian restaurant that Mike and Kristie found that day, Aglio e Olio.

We were NOT disappointed with dinner. The menu was only in Korean and Italian, but thanks to those two years of studying in college, I was able to order without too much difficulty. I opted for the risotto ai funghi (mushroom risotto), Evan ordered the spaghetti ai frutti di mare (seafood spaghetti), and Smiley got the spaghetti bolongese (spaghetti with meat sauce).

Oh my goodness — the only photo we managed to get was of our empty plates. We inhaled our food! My risotto was creamy and rich with chunks of sauteed mushrooms and onion and a dash of garlic. We washed down the meal with the house red wine, which was a nice break from beer.

After dinner, we decided to start drinking at a local bar. After being turned away by a few places, we finally settled at PIFF.

Before coming to Korea, we bought a decent amount of books on the country and culture, but really you can’t know a place until you experience it. That said, a few of our guidebooks cautioned that we may encounter xenophobia during our time here. Korea remains one of the most homogeneous countries in the world, and we have not been exempt from experiencing some anti-foreign sentiments here, just like one would most anywhere you go.

It is likely we were turned away from a few small, mostly empty and solely Korean bars for being foreign, but for the most part, we have escaped being victims of any sort of racism or bigotry. Koreans in general have been extremely friendly, and especially eager to help foreigners. I just wanted to point out that while this has happened here, I have found it to be rare.

We played some games at PIFF, then started searching for a place to rock out on the dance floor. Smiley asked a friendly local on the street, who graciously wrote down an address in Korean for us to give to a cab driver.

The club was awesome! We had to order food with our drinks, which is customary at nicer establishments, so we ordered a fruit platter and beers. The place was full of smartly dressed, young Koreans who were looking for a classy night out — so we got our groove on with the locals.

The DJ was killing it, and the dance floor was jam-packed full of people. At one point in the evening, a live band even dropped down on a stage from the ceiling!

I danced with this guy and his friends for a few songs. They were hilarious, getting down with me and singing along to every song. So fun.

Smiley used the toothpicks from our fruit platter as props for this picture. So chic.

All in all, we had a fantastic night. We didn’t get back to our hotel until the wee hours of the morning, after dancing until our feet couldn’t move anymore.

Moral of the post: always ask locals to point you in the right direction of the party!

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