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Archive for March, 2011

I’ve been spending a lot of time in on the weekends, hiding out from the cold weather and trying to get things in order before we leave in less than a month (eek!), so I decided that I needed a night out with one of my best friends here in Korea, Chansong, and one of her friends from church!

We met in Cheonbukdae to chat and exercise our chopstick skills over a meal of shabu-shabu at a local Japanese food restaurant. Shabu-shabu refers to thinly sliced beef dipped briefly in boiling broth, then enjoyed with vegetables that also simmer in the same pot. The food trend, which began in Osaka, Japan has quickly caught on all around Asia and has taken on variations in each country.

In Korea, it is customary to serve the beef with a plate of vegetables (ours included three kinds of mushrooms, cabbage, carrots, squash, and a single mandu as well), with a tiny nest of fresh noodles to one side, and a small bowl filled with rice, nori and an egg to make jook at the end of the meal.

To begin, the girls and I dropped our veggies in our personal pots as soon as the broth began to simmer. While they bubbled, we dug into a complimentary salad of crisp cabbage, a ripe, juicy orange and tangy kiwi dressing. Yum! I practically licked the bowl clean. Once the vegetables began to soften, we began dunking our meat our pots and enjoying the combination of the produce and the beef.

I traded Chansong some of my mushrooms for her squash, since she isn’t a fan.

Once the meat was gobbled up (trust — it didn’t take long as I was starving after a long day of work), we plopped the fresh knife-cut noodles into the pot to make a mini version of kalguksu. After slurping up the noodles with the two delicious sauces (one was soy sauce based, the other a kind of gochujung) the broth had reduced quite a bit in the pot and it was time to drop in the rice.

The resulting dish was a creamy type of congee — a rice porridge called jook that combined diced vegetables, nori, rice and a single egg to produce a rich, satisfying bowl of comfort (especially on a night with temps in the 50s). I wasn’t able to finish all of the jook due to my bulging waistline at that point, but it was the perfect end to a perfect meal. My only regret is that I didn’t come to this restaurant sooner!

It was more than a steal at 9,000 won (under $9). I felt like I robbed the place blind!

Afterward we headed to Art and Travel for a night cap and more girl talk.

A few weekends ago, I was lucky enough to be around to celebrate Chansong’s 22nd (21st American age) birthday. Even though she has been able to drink legally in Korea for years now, I felt like this was a milestone that couldn’t go unnoticed. So, we spent a lively Saturday playing cards and drinking at Deepin.

She was a trooper and even accepted the shots of whiskey I bought her — the first ones she had! Happy times with a bestie who I will miss dearly when I go home…

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Since we have less than a month left in this lovely country, we decided that the time had come to pack our bags, head past Seoul and say hello to our neighbors in the north.

Well…not say hello exactly, seeing as we weren’t allowed to look, gesture to or converse with soldiers from the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, but you get the picture. Evan and I — along with fellow tourists and hosts from the United Services Organization (USO) — took an amazing and educational journey to the De-Militarized Zone between North and South Korea.

Our journey began early morning in Seoul, where we rolled out of bed and on to a bus at the U.S. Military Base, Camp Kim. After a short, sleepy bus ride, we arrived to our destination, where our tour guide briefed us on the history of the DMZ and the Korean War.

During the tour, we were given explicit instructions as to not draw any negative attention from the North Koran soldiers who were watching us like hawks through the lens of binoculars. Yikes! No bags were allowed off the bus, and there was no holding our coats just in case it looked like we were concealing weapons. Also, as I mentioned above, absolutely no contact, verbal or otherwise, with said military men. Ironically, we were also informed that despite the area’s name, the DMZ is actually one of the most militarized areas in the world.

Here’s the DPRK soldier, staring.

We visited the Joint Security Area (JSA) first, where we toured a conference room in the Military Armistice Commission building. The Military Demarcation Line (MDL) runs through the room, separating North and South Korea. ROK (Republic of Korea) soldiers guarded the doors as we poked around, standing in Tae Kwon Do ready stance and sporting dark aviators (used to show no emotion). We stepped over the MDL in the room, technically into North Korea! Here’s me with the ROK soldier, on Kim Jong Il’s side of the border.

The outside of the MAC building, showing the concrete slab separating the two countries. The soldiers stood with half of their bodies covered — to make them harder targets if shots were fired, and so that they could give each other hand signals without being seen. ROK soldiers face DRPK soldiers to keep an eye on their enemy, while DRPK soldiers faced each other, so that if one tried to defect to the South, the other could shoot him.

Next, we were able to catch glimpses of the two villages in the DMZ — Taesongdong (Freedom Village) in the South, and Gijungdong (Propaganda Village) in the North. TSD is inhabited by South Korean farmers who abide by a strict set of rules to live in the area — and are well-compensated for their lifestyle by the ROK government. Propaganda Village earned its name by having large loudspeakers set up to blast propaganda glorifying Kim Jung Il at the people of Taesongdong. After a short flagpole-building competition, Propaganda Village, despite being uninhabited, boasts the largest flagpole and flag in the world.

There were lots of observation towers full of people keeping their eyes on us.

We also visited the Bridge of No Return, where prisoners of war were exchanged in 1968. The POWs captured by the United States were given a choice of staying in the south or reentering the north, under the rule that they would never be allowed to go back if they crossed the bridge — hence the name.

There was a monument at the scene of the Axe Murder Incident, where the North and South clashed over the trimming of a tree and three soldiers from the South were hacked to death with axes. The circle around the memorial represents where the stump of the tree stood.

An actual piece of the tree trunk remains in a museum at the JSA.

Next, we visited the Third Tunnel, which runs from North Korea to South Korea and was discovered in 1978 with the help of a defector. This is one of four tunnels that have been found to date, that were intended help the North invade the South. N. Korea denied accusations of “aggression” and claimed the tunnel was used to dig up coal, but the UN and South Korea didn’t buy it. We were able to trek down to the actual tunnel (240 ft below ground) and see blockades set up by South Koreans. Pictures were forbidden, but trust — it was super cool and creepy.

After a bulgogi lunch (which was decent) we headed to Dorasan Train Station, the last stop in the South on the tracks that once connected the two Koreas. It was clean (obviously, since it isn’t used) and celebrated the hope for unification in the future.

The thing that resonated with me the most during this amazing journey was that, despite numerous incidents of violence, defectors and continued aggression, the people of Korea hope for and constantly try to work toward unification with the North. At all of these memorial sites, there were monuments that celebrated joining the two countries, broken families and long-lost friends, again. I was really touched by the humanity shown in bits and pieces along the tour.

To Seoul and back in 24 hours is an exhausting mission to say the least, but experiencing one of the most fascinating and memorable tourist visits to date was well worth the trek. Plus, we were able to run by Insa-dong and pick up some souvenirs (in addition to what we bought on the tour) afterward. I highly recommend this tour to anyone and everyone on this peninsula!

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Last Sunday, the weather was gorgeous (we’re talking in the 60s), so we decided to take a trip to Hanok Village for some souvenir shopping and to eat some of the food Jeonju (and especially the traditional village) is so famous for. ^_-

After a little bit of research, we opted to try Veteran (베테랑), an unassuming restaurant that is famous for its wild sesame knife-cut noodle soup (kalguksu) and dumplings (mandu). People reportedly drive from around the country to eat at this fast-paced, jam-packed restaurant — and I can see why!

Evan and I decided to play it safe and order one of everything on the menu — and judging from the fact that the menu only had three things on it, we were sure we wouldn’t be disappointed.

We began our meal with a dish of jjolmyeon (쫄면) cold noodles slathered in cabbage, cucumber, a spicy red sauce and topped with an egg.

The noodles were chewy, and perhaps I would have liked this bibimguksu (mixed noodle) dish more if the sauce was a touch less sweet. Either way, it was nice, but completely forgettable by the time our next plate arrived.

The mandu (만두) were up next, and they were tiny explosions of flavor wrapped in thin, chewy shells. All too often I find that the wrap, especially with steamed mandu, is too thick or overpowering to enjoy the filling. Not so here! These soft dumplings were stuffed to the brim with sweet potato noodles, pork, and a multitude of spices. Even Ev, who generally doesn’t like steamed dumplings, couldn’t get enough of them. Definitely the best mandu I have had here!

The last dish to arrive was the kalguksu (칼국수) and my only regret is that this soup didn’t come first so we could actually finish it. It was so delicious. The thick, chewy noodles (cut with a knife, not spun, hence the name) had a texture reminiscent of Japanese Udon noodles, and sat in a rich, egg-laced broth. They were topped with soft egg whites, roasted seaweed, red pepper powder and wild sesame seed powder, which I had enjoyed in bibimbap before but never knew what it was!

The resulting dish was a hot, spicy, salty, comforting soup with a broth similar to egg-drop soup. The powdered sesame added another nutty flavor, elevating the umami elements of the dish. It was excellent, and very deserving of it’s country-renowned reputation.

Of course, it wouldn’t be a meal in Jeonju if it weren’t served with pickled radish rounds and a type of kimchi. This particular one is made with daikon radish (kkakdugi 배추) instead of the normal napa cabbage.

I happen to prefer kkakdugi to normal kimchi, because I enjoy the flavor but can’t get past the texture of the fermented cabbage leaves *shudder* It reminds me of wilted lettuce that has sat in the crisper too long and has begun to brown. Eek!

However, this particular kimchi was fermented in a sauce that was — wait for it — way too sweet for my liking. Note to any potential future Korea residents: if you don’t like sugar or everything with a sickeningly sweet twist, don’t bother getting on the plane. Now, I love me a Snickers Ice Cream bar every once and awhile, but the culture here has such a massive sweet tooth that they load the white stuff into everything from pizza sauce and bread to ramyeon! Enough natives… enough.

The kkakdugi at our neighborhood kimbap spot, however, is perfection. Gimme gimme.

The shopping part of the trip was considerably less successful than the eating — despite poking our heads around various shops, we didn’t find anything to satisfy our souvenir wish list. We are off to Seoul this weekend to finally visit the DMZ (yay!) and we plan on taking a look in Insadong for Korean gifts for our loved ones.

Wish me (and my Korean flag, compliments of the tourist hordes in Hanok Village) happy hunting!

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Korea’s answer to Valentine’s Day. You see, that hallmark day for lovers here in the East is reserved especially for females to go gaga over their guys, showering them with candies and chocolates. Now, the day has come for prince charming to woo his women — White Day has arrived!

White Day, a holiday celebrated in Korea and Japan, marks the day when it is the men’s turns to dote on their lady friends. It’s like having V-Day part deux, spinning companies such as Lotte (who runs approximately half of Korea) into a chocolate-pushing frenzy. Only one month after celebrating Valentine’s, the stores are once again chock full of candies and goodies used to make ladies swoon — but the presents don’t stop at treats. Jewelry, lingerie and marshmallows are also popular gifts for Korean men to give today.

Family Mart and GS 25 were fully prepared for the rush of ill-prepared men who are panicking for a last-minute gift to buy their loved ones.

Now, normally I don’t condone these ridiculous, made-up holidays where people feel obligated to buy cheap candy and dote on each other… but since I’m a woman, I will fully embrace this girls-only holiday! :P

At school, a kindergartener named Jin handed out goody bags to the teachers to celebrate. Score! We made out with two lollipops and about 8 packets of instant coffee — which begs the question, is Jin’s mother (who is a constant fixture in the mornings) trying to tell us something? Zombie reference or no, I’ll take it!

My elementary students gave me gifts as well, including a gaggle of lollipops and a delicious truffle-esque candy. Nom nom.

First Pepero Day, then Valentine’s Day, now this? I should move to Korea and start a chocolate manufacturing plant. For real.

Next up is Black Day, where all the sassy singles get together to eat jajangmyeon 짜장면, a delectable Chinese/Korean fusion dish that features thick wheat noodles, meat and vegetables slathered in black soybean paste. Evan and I prefer jajangbap (same dish, just made with rice instead of noodles). Seriously, jajang sauce is so good. SO good. We’ve frequented a Chinese fusion eatery in our ‘hood for months now — for pickup and eat-in. A post with food descriptions and drool-worthy pics to come!

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Since my kindergarten class tossed up their caps at graduation nearly two weeks ago, I have been, erm, adjusting to life with my younger, smaller, less-advanced K-II class. Gone are the days where my little ones could write better than my second graders!

Sigh. So to help with the new challenges new classes (including an extra one every day) bring, I made a “work days” countdown calendar so that I would have something to look forward to after all of the crying, hitting, yelling, sneezing, injuries, laughs, tests, sentences, Reading Street stories, stickers, and science experiments every day.

At least my new class is allowed to do crafts!

I didn’t include the weekends because, as much as I miss California and can’t wait to bite into a decent burrito, I love my weekends here in the ‘Ju, and the quality time with the people I’ll miss.

It’s just the whole “being a teacher” thing that sometimes makes me want to rip out my hair.

Only 29 28 more days of working left before laying out, sunshine, sleeping late and spring produce take over my daily routine.

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The adventures first… explanations take such a dreadful time.” –Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.


And the adventures we shall share! To celebrate the (un)birthdays of my friends Elizabeth and Ashley, and the farewell of my friend Priscilla, Radio Star was transformed into an extraordinary Wonderland, and the characters of Lewis Carroll’s beloved books came together to drink, be merry… and maybe chop off a few heads.

In the bar, we marveled at Alice’s tear river, the White Rabbit’s house, hanging bulbs, cards, trippy artwork and endless amounts of decor that helped transform the beloved dungeon into the place where magic happens.

My friend Jenny Ryan and I (yes, I know, but if you go to a place where there are people who were born in the 80s, you’re bound to find a few Jennys) made jell-o shots to sell at the shebang. All of the proceeds from the sales and the cover charge at the door were donated to the Jeonju V-Day campaign, helping to raise money for the Jeonju Women’s Shelter. Overall, the team of hard-workers raised over 700,000 won! Epic success.

Jenny and I both donned “Alice” costumes to sell our creations — and they went fast!

Evan dressed as the always-smiling Cheshire Cat …

… who got considerably less smiley (one frowny feline) when I didn’t grab him a beer from the bar.

Everyone really went all-out with the dress-up aspect. It was so much fun to see everyone’s creations!

In fact, Jenny and I had so much fun, that we fell down the rabbit hole… and kept right on falling, down to the disgusting floor in an unfortunate accident involving too many feet in too little space. ICK! Luckily, we thought it was kind of hilarious.

Definitely a party for the Jeonju memory books.

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