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Archive for April, 2011

As our time in Korea comes to a close, I decided to honor our profession and our experience abroad with the ABC’s of being an expat teacher in this great peninsula!

A is for Anju, the most amazing drinking concept since beer pong. Never give into a late-night urge for drunchies when you have endless amounts of everything from peanuts and french fries to nachos and rice snacks coming to your table with the beer.

Runner-up: Ajumma

B is for beondegi, the most wretched stench/snack combination ever concocted. Let’s take silk worm pupa, boil them until crunchy and putrid, then serve them with beer! Um… let’s not. Barf.

Runners-up: bibimbap, Busan

C is for Cheonbukdae, where throngs of hip youngsters gather to drink, dance and be merry on the weekends. It is also home to Pick It Pack It, the best burger in the ‘Ju!

D is for dakgalbi — the cheesy, noodley, oh-so-naughty Korean dish that is so comforting and homey that I had to try to recreate it at home!

Runner-up: Deepin and Deepinto

E is for E-Mart, since we couldn’t have survived without this mega-store around the corner.

F is for fan death. There isn’t anything better than an isolated population believing that you could die from leaving a fan on inside of a room and shutting the door. It will suck out all of the oxygen! Or wait… no, no it won’t.

Runner-up: Football

G is for gamjatang, the spicy pork-back soup that takes you straight into the home of (someone’s) Korean grandmother as she slowly stirs the pot, adding spices just so and making the most perfect bowl of stew you could ever dream up. BEST Korean food. Hands down.

Runner-up: Gaegogi

H is for holidays — from the traditional American ones (Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, Valentine’s Day) to the special Korean days (Chu Seok, Solnal, Pepero Day) where we got a taste of real Korean tradition. A rare and wonderful experience.

I is for Itaewon, the “America” away from home and the only place to find hunger-satisfying foreign food, a multi-cultural community and normal-sized clothing all in one place.

J is for Jeonju, forever my home away from home.

K is for kimchi, the national dish of Korea and the star in culinary delights such as kimchi jjigae and kimchi bokumbap!

Runner-up: K-Pop (aka pure musical gold)

L is for Little River Day School, where I had the pleasure of working this past year — it brought me good friends, great memories and taught me a thing or two about teaching (patience. lots of patience.)

M is for the annual Mud Festival in Boryeong! From the rain and the endless amount of mud slides and pits, to the shower-less hotel and the amazing sea food, our experience at this yearly foreigner fun fest was one to remember!

N is for Norebang. Private karaoke room + friends + 24 hours + endless beer and snacks = best time ever. Done.

O is for octopus! I’ve never eaten so much of the sea creatures as I have in Korea — from live and wriggling to boiled nicely in a pan, I can say that I will never eat so much octopus again. Trust.

P is for Pizza School, the one place we could run away to and forget we had limited access to all of the foods we were craving — well, we could forget if we ignored pictures of things like sweet potato paste, corn, hot dogs and crumbled tortilla chips and other blasphemous toppings on the various pizzas.

Runner-up: Pizza Maru

Q is for Quiznos, which saved me from sliding into a deep sandwich-less depression over the past year. Every time we went to Seoul, this little gem was on the itinerary, pumping life into me with every bite of the Italian-style sub. Nom nom.

R is for Radio Star, the rockin’ live music venue that has hosted a multitude of awesome bands, kick-ass parties, fundraisers and general debauchery.

S is for sonsaengniiiim, the never-ending cry for (usually Korean) teachers heard by English hagwon workers around the country. So much for not speaking Korean in the class.

Runner-up: Samgyeupsal

T is for Trailer Park Boys, which is (thanks to our good friend Chris) one of our new favorite shows. You’ll never be the same after you experience the hilarity that is these guys from Nova Scotia (especially if you have real Nova Scotians to compare them to)

U is for the Ulsan Cup 2010, one of the best weekends I had during this experience. Me and my girlfriends (the cheerleaders) spent two days rooting, burger-ing and (trying to) cartwheel as the men of JUFC kicked their way to football victory — without ever conceding a goal!

V is for V-Day, the anti-violence campaign that I, along with other committee members, donated time and energy into from October to April, culminating in performances of one of Eve Ensler’s amazing collection of monologues, and a kick-ass concert.

W is for Wa Bar, our (ex) watering hole where we spent many a night icing each other, playing rounds of kings cup and cheering on the USA team in the World Cup — all while enjoying free baskets of french fries. R.I.P. Seoshin-dong location.

Runner-up: waygook

X is for xenophobia, the interesting phenomenon that I’ve experienced here. In America, people fight to stand out the most, while being “different” is generally shunned and avoided in Korean culture.

Y is for the year that I’ve been away. The longest I’ve ever been away from home, the time it took to build a new home here in Korea, and one of the scariest/best/awe-inspiring years of my life. I’ve grown so much and am going back a better person because of it!

Z is for zero, the number of regrets I have about leaving my life in the States to try my hand at being a teacher. With my best friend/boyfriend by my side, we made a lot of great memories.

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That may have been a little tasteless, but I couldn’t help it. Don’t hate me. Or judge me!

The time had come for us to try bosintang (보신탕), a soup made with gaegogi (개고기) or… dog meat. Yes, the same population that has fully embraced the Paris Hilton trend of parading around toy species in tiny sweaters still happily slurp down a bowl of dog with a side of rice. It’s been a part of Korean cuisine for hundreds of years.

I went to a nearby joint with Evan, Chris and John to pick up some bowls of soup. I had eaten beforehand because I didn’t plan on purchasing my own portion. We sat down and the boys ordered their soup while I opted for a bowl of rice. Even though I didn’t order any myself, I knew I wouldn’t leave the restaurant without trying it.

It tastes like roast beef. It really psyched me out to be eating a puppy, so I could only have two bites. Luckily, the soup came with a large array of side dishes.

Like the über-creepiness of Japanese munching on whale and dolphin as they watch water shows in Taiji in The Cove, I find it strange that bosintang exists in the country of puppy cafes, where you can grab a cup of Joe and play with Fido as you get your caffeine fix. I guess it would be akin to watching a 4-H show and chowing down on a burger or a hot dog, but its the cultural differences that skeeve me out.

It is worth noting that the sale, manufacturing and processing of dog meat have been illegal in Korea since 1984, but it the laws aren’t strictly enforced. The dogs used for consumption are bred and raised in dog farms.

Once was enough.

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Despite having delicious and nutritious lunches prepared for us daily at school, there are times when we need to get away from the workplace (or the fish head soup) and grab a bite to eat at our little neighborhood hole-in-the-wall.

Across the street from mega store E-Mart, there is a tiny Korean joint that serves up amazing food at even more amazing prices. It is our escape from the workday, our little food sanctuary where we can enjoy our company over plates of lovingly prepared food.

Every neighborhood has restaurants akin to this little place, where you can get single servings of food (as opposed to the other barbecue restaurants, where you won’t be served solo). We’ve been to different places, but this is by far our favorite. When we first started dining at this restaurant, I grabbed a take-out menu and spent 2-3 hours trying to translate it. Eventually, I had my Korean teachers help fill in some gaps :)

The menu has a large variety of popular Korean dishes, ranging from rice and noodles to dumplings and meat. Here are some of our favorites:

The kimbap (김밥) here is one of our go-to meals. It is fast, easy and cheap. Large sheets of toasted nori are filled with spinach, carrot, egg, pickled radish and ham, rolled up and sliced.

The tonkatsu (돈까스, fried pork cutlet) is another popular choice. The original and the cheese-filled option are slathered with sauce and served with a small heaping of rice. A hearty lunch for days you need something hot and comforting.

Another winning dish takes the best elements of kimbap and tonkatsu and rolls them up into a piping hot dish of deliciousness. The tonkatsu kimbap features a smaller pork cutlet topped with carrot, spinach, pickled radish and rolled up in rice and nori.

The dolsot bibimbap (돌솥 비빔밥) is a top pick for me. The mixture of rice, vegetables, sesame powder, egg and red pepper paste served in a sizzling hot pot is the epitome of comfort food. After I’m finished with it, I want to curl up in the fetal position and nap. So good.

Although I’m not a huge fan of kimchi made with napa cabbage, I do quite like dishes that use the fermented favorite. Kimchi bokumbap, a simple plate of rice fried with spicy kimchi and topped with an egg and toasted nori.

I also love kimchi jjigae, a stew filled with tofu, bean sprouts, bits of beef and kimchi, served boiling in a hot pot with a bowl of rice on the side. It is hot and spicy, but has a refreshing, cleansing effect on my head. This is the ideal soup for when you feel congested!

All the dishes come with the standard sides of kimchi, pickled radish, julienne cut greens and (my favorite) daikon radish kimchi (kkakdugi 배추).

Nom. Is it lunch time yet?

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