my new t-shirt

Sunday, December 7, 2008

It was a birthday present from my friend, Kelsey. For those of you who don't read Hangul (Korean), it says "Mul ba?!" As I mentioned before, that's the gangsta way of saying, "What are you looking at?"

I don't know if I'll have the nerve to wear it in public, but it totally cracks me up. (She bought it from Babo Shirts.)

Liam is 2...or 4...or maybe 3

Friday, December 5, 2008

Liam celebrated his 2nd birthday on Wednesday...or did he?

This is a paraphrased version of a conversation I had with YeonSoo, the owner/director of the school where Matthew is employed. (Technically, so am I.)

YS: How old is Liam?
me: Two, U.S. age. But four Korean age, I think.
YS: Four?
me: Well, he was one when he was born...
YS: Yes.
me: And he turned two on his first lunar new year, in January or February...
YS: Yes.
me: So then, he turned three last year and four this year. Right?
YS: Well, yes, but we would call that three.
me: Okay... (but thinking, HUH?)

Liam doesn't really care how old he is. He just likes blowing out candles as you can see in the picture of him blowing out the candles on the cakes that YeonSoo bought for Liam and me, since my birthday was Thursday. I haven't been able to get him to hold up two fingers in answer to the "How old are you?" question. But then I haven't really invested much time in the matter. Most people who ask him here are expecting to see three or four fingers, anyway, not to mention they ask in Korean.

I, on the other hand, am a bit traumatized by the fact that in the past five years (with three birthday in the U.S. and two in Korea), I have celebrated my 27th, then 30th, then 29th, then 30th again, and now 33rd birthdays.

Bring on the national health care!

Monday, December 1, 2008

One of the things that South Korea does well is national health care -- at least in my experience. Matthew pays 2.2% of his paycheck, his employer matches that, and all three of us have coverage.

Here is my standard OB/GYN visit:
I walk in (no appointment necessary) and hand my little pregnancy booklet to a nurse at the front counter. She gives me a little strip on which to urinate (testing for excess protein in my urine). After I get back from the restroom, I check my own blood pressure on the automatic machine, then weigh myself. The nurse records both.
I take a seat. After about 10 minutes (20 on a busy day), the ultrasound technician calls me in to her room. She checks out the baby's vitals and measurements. About half the time she prints out a picture for me.
I return to the waiting area. After another 5-10 minutes, I'm called into the doctor's office. We discuss any test results, symptoms, etc.
Finally, I return to the front counter to pay. My usual bill is W20,000, which used to be about $20 before the exchange rate went to hell. Currently, it's closer to $14. My most expensive visits, with various blood and urine tests, have been W60,000.

That's impressive, but the truly impressive part is yet to come.

Liam is sick. He has a bad cough and now a slight ear infection. There's a pediatrician's office in the same building as my OB/GYN. We've now taken him in three times, as the doctor wants to check his recovery frequently.

Here's Liam's visit:
Parent gives child's insurance booklet to counter nurse. Another nurse is simultaneously checking his temperature via an instant ear thermometer while he plays on the slide or rocking horse in the waiting area. Within 5 minutes, parent and child are ushered into the doctor's office. While Liam screams and (at least when accompanied by me) pulls parent's hair, the doctor and nurse work together to listen to his lungs and heart, check his throat and ears. The doctor then gives directions to the parent (or the other parent if both are there and Liam is still screaming in first parent's ear). The bill and prescription are all on the same paper. Today we were in and out in about 10 minutes total.

Total cost per visit: W1,800 to 2,800 per visit. Yup, that's about $2.00.

We take the prescription to the pharmacy across the street from our apartment building. (There is an on-site pharmacy, but we like our local pharmacist and prefer to give her our business.) She gives us the medicine in small bottles (just the right amount for the two or three days until the next doctor's visit) labeled with the amounts and times per day to be administered. She also throws in free vitamin C tablets.

Total cost for 2-3 days worth of medicine: about W3,000. That's the same price I paid for a little toy train at the discount shop down the street after Liam's second doctor visit.

I will point out that something like 92% of medical facilities in South Korea are privately owned. It's a very different system than many countries with universal health care. But it certainly seems to work, at least from my vantage point.

Note to self: stop falling down

Friday, November 28, 2008

Some women get clutzier when they're pregnant. I guess I'm naturally clutzy enough that I can't get any worse. I never tripped or fell when I was pregnant with Liam. I blame Liam completely for the fact that I've now fallen twice, in public, in the past month.

The first time, I was walking with Liam on a rainy, dismal day. I remember that it was the day of my friend Aubrey's birthday party and we were returning from the stationary shop where I'd gotten a card and ribbon for her gift. We'd also picked up Liam's favorite little fish-shaped, custard-filled (shuga-cream in Konglish) breads. Liam was tired, which he proved after we got home by throwing a stupid fit (over the fish bread) and then falling asleep on my lap. So, on the way home, he wanted me to carry him, something I've been doing less and less lately. Because of the toddler perched on my protruding belly, I couldn't see the curb very well, came down on my ankle wrong, and fell, dropping my child and the bag with the fish bread.

Why is this worth blogging about? Because there was an older woman walking by who saw the whole thing, saw that I was obviously pregnant, saw that I dropped my child who was then crying, and did NOTHING. She was not feeble-old or helpless-old, just grandmotherly. She didn't even ask if I was okay. She just stared at me for a moment and then kept walking, before I was even collected and off the ground.

Yes, I added this to my "list of slights," an imaginary list that I invented once in conversation with my friend Jen. I'm taking back what I previously said about old people in Korea being extremely courteous. Apparently that only applies when others are around to see them being nice to the foreigners.

This past week, I was walking down the sloped sidewalk in front of my apartment with Liam. He was holding my hand and started running, then fell down. He somehow took me down with him. So there we were, sprawled on the sidewalk, checking out our scrapes, and I looked up. A girl was standing at the end of the sidewalk just staring at us. In Korean, I said to her, "What? What are you looking at? Go!" Then in English, "What are you looking at? Foreigners fall down, too." She looked surprised and walked away. (She might have been surprised because I yelled at her. She might have been surprised because I spoke Korean. Or she might have been surprised because I said, "Mul ba?" which is the way gangsters in Korean movies ask "What are you looking at?")

I know that I'm a cranky pregnant woman. I understand that's just the way Koreans are in general, and specifically around foreigners who don't really fit into the social strata. That doesn't stop me from getting very, very, very irritated. So obviously, I just need to stop falling down. That will solve the problem. (And I still say it's all Liam's fault.)


Monday, November 24, 2008

As I mentioned in the previous post, Konglish is the term used for words borrowed from English, but usually with their own uniquely Korean pronunciation.
Ironically, Konglish can make it easier for foreigners to communicate outside the classroom, and yet frustrating to communicate within the classroom.

Case in point: my middle school listening/conversation class several years ago. The text I was using contained thematic units with completely random vocabulary. One of the listening activities is to choose from several sentences the one which best describes a tiny black-and-white photograph in the book. I think the sentence in question was, "The woman is reading the label." Students didn't recognize the word, "label." After I explained it, one girl said, "Oh, LA-BELL." Of course, la-bell.

Same class, this time the word is "matinee." I explained that it's a movie showing or theater performance in the afternoon. No recognition. I looked it up in the English-Korean dictionary. The first Korean entry was met with blank stares. The students didn't understand. I carefully sounded out the second entry: mah-tee-nay. I almost slapped myself in the forehead as I reitterated, "Come on, guys, mah-tee-nay." "OH, MAH-TEE-NAY!" my class replied.

The biggest slap-myself-in-the-forehead moment was when an elementary school student corrected MY pronunciation of Hawaii. "No, teacher, ha-wa-ee!" Now I realize that her pronunciation is probably closer to the original, but being corrected by a ten-year-old on the pronunciation of a state in MY home country is a little ridiculous. American teachers are hired to teach American English, and if we want to mangle the pronunciation of our states, then so be it.

My friend Sara tells a particularly hilarious story (as all of Sara's stories are) of explaining, drawing, even pantomiming a parachute with no recognition from her students. Finally, she looked it up in the dictionary: Pah-lah-choot. Her students swore they didn't understand any of her attempts, but she suspects they were just toying with her.

Outside the classroom, if I don't know a word in Korean, I often try to Konglishize it: z becomes j, f becomes p, compound consonant sounds are separated (i.e. bl become bul), and often extra vowels are added at the end. It's amazing how well this works.

Some Konglish words, written as they sound:
ice cream: eye-soo-cu-reem-uh
cheese: chee-juh
pizza: pee-jah
hamburger: hame-buh-guh
steak: suh-tay-ee-kuh
coffee: cah-pee (sounds like copy -- so my students were always confused when I said I was going to make a copy during class)
vitamin: bee-tah-mean
bus: bu-suh
taxi: take-shi
motorcycle: oh-toe-bah-i (supposed to sound like "autobike")
cell phone: han-duh-pone (supposed to sound like "handphone")

I killed the voices

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

We live in probably the biggest apartment complex in Sokcho, which we sometimes refer to affectionately as "the projects." Buyoung Apt ("ah-paht" in Konglish) was built 10-20 years ago, depending on who you ask. The complex stretches about a mile, parallel to, but about one block off, the main road through Sokcho. It's divided into smaller areas by various streets which are scattered with restaurants and other businesses. Some small businesses, like daycares, are housed within apartments. The buildings are each about 15 stories high and our floor (which is about average) has 8 apartments. In some ways, it's almost like a little city within itself.

Our apartment isn't fancy, but it's comfortable and fairly spacious. All the buildings (at least in our section) were repainted inside (interior hallways) and out this summer, which makes them look much snazzier than when we moved in this spring. There are lots of playgrounds, which are gradually being updated. We have easy access to a large grocery store, a dry cleaner, a stationary/craft store, restaurants, etc. The only drawback is the voices.

On the wall in our main room (kitchen/dining/living) is a phone, which we never use. We assume it would connect us to an ajashi (doorman), who probably can't speak English anyway. Above that is a small speaker. The size is deceiving, considering the volume of the announcements that come from that speaker. There is no volume control. On average, once per day, anytime from 8am to 9pm, random announcements are made, by various people, through this speaker, always book-ended by a series of dings, somewhat similar to our doorbell.

Of course, if we understand a few words from the rapid spiel, we're doing well. Sometimes, we can deduce the content of the announcement from events that follow, such as the time our water was shut off shortly after an announcement, or another time when we lost power for a few hours. Overall, these announcements do us no good. The last three evenings, after Liam was already in bed, the same man's voice made lengthy announcements which included the word "piano." Piano is Konglish (a recent addition to the Korean language taken from English). Not being able to understand the majority of the message, I can't be sure, but I'm very suspicious that he is advertising (among other things) a piano school.

My first attempt was to muffle the voices. I used thumb tacks to affix a terry cloth dish towel over the speaker. It was completely unsuccessful, but did draw questions from several guests, both Koreans and foreigners. Last night, I finally had enough. I removed the cover and then the actual speaker unit from the wall. Matthew disconnected some wires and replaced the rest of the unit. Now we wait. Hopefully, I will never hear the voices again.

Update: IT WORKED! During Liam's nap today there was an announcement. I know that because I could hear our neighbors' speaker. That's how loud it is! It wasn't loud enough to disturb Liam, though. Hallelujah!

this place in time

Friday, November 7, 2008

Just in case you were wondering:

3 years ago: when we first came to Korea (as of 7 November)
6 months ago: when we returned to Korea (6 months to go in this contract...after that???)
4 weeks from now: Liam turns 2 years old
8 weeks from tomorrow: Rowan's estimated due date

happy day

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

This isn't usually a forum for my political thoughts, but part of living in South Korea is my identity as an American, and the United States has just experienced an historic moment, after which we will never be the same.

Reasons I am ecstatically (one might say blissfully) happy today:
We have elected a liberal president.
We have elected a black president.
We have elected a (relatively) young president.
We have elected a man who believes in change.
We have elected a man who has made me cry twice in the past week, because of the hope he represents.
We have elected a man who I consider a feminist.
There will be a strong first lady in the White House.
There will be children in the White House again...and a new puppy.
There will not be another four years of the same.

God bless America!

a weekend in the country

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

It all started with E-Mart, as do so many things here in Sokcho. Matthew & his dad met J.E., a Korean-American from NYC who is teaching out in the boonies on the other side of Mt. Seorak. Since she comes into Sokcho most weekends, she's joined us for Sunday evening dinners and a jaunt to Daepo Hong (harbor). Her bosses also run a pension, or "back packers' hotel," and were kind enough to let us stay in one of their cabins a few weekends ago. We had planned to visit a nearby temple while there, but it was extremely crowded due to the autumn leaves. (Day 1, the line for the shuttle bus was insane. Day 2, we took one look at the back-up of highway traffic and decided to go the opposite direction.) Instead, we drove our rental car down to Gangneung (about an hour south of Sokcho) for the day. Even though things didn't go according to plan, it was a beautiful weekend and a nice change of pace to be completely mobile. (It was on the return trip from Gangneung that we stopped for the disappointing clam chowder.)

Giving credit where credit is due, I need to mention that Matthew & I were photographic slackers that weekend. All of these pictures are courtesy of J.E.

blindsided by pizza

Monday, November 3, 2008

I thought pizza was fairly safe. I thought "Hawaiian pizza" was too simple to mess up. I saw the picture, which certainly looked like pineapple and ham, and thought that would be delivered. I thought wrong.

Yes, it's actually fruit cocktail: peaches, pineapple, some unidentified fruit and (YES!) maraschino cherries. No ham. But those are black olives. I couldn't bring myself to eat the maraschino cherries, but other than that, it was strangely good.

When will I ever learn?

Sunday, October 26, 2008

South Korea is known (with varying degrees of fondness) by many expats as "the land of not-quite-right." American culture has had a large influence on Koreans, but they tend to put their own spin on things, like food. You would think that after many disappointments, I would learn not to get my hopes up, but apparently I'm still...


easily deceived or duped
(for example, see picture at left)

Fool me once: Baked Potato w/ "sour cream"

A new restaurant called "Joys" (part of a Korean chain) opened in Sokcho the first time we were here. They had baked potatoes on the menu with what looked like sour cream. Not so much. Try sweetened whipped cream. So I scraped that off and asked for butter. The waitress brought me honey butter, since that's what they serve with bread.

Fool me twice: Nachos

Mexican food just has not caught on here. Taco Bell is one of the only American major fast-food chains that has not set up franchises in South Korea. So I really should have known better than to order nachos and quesadillas at "Miller Time," a bar in Sokcho's restaurant district.

The quesadillas were passing good, but they contained no cheese. That's right; they were just dillas. The nachos, which were picture-perfectly arranged, were topped with cheese, honey-mustard sauce (same color as the cheese), sliced jalapenos, corn, probably some other random vegetables, and maraschino cherries. (Apparently, someone had seen a picture of nachos with diced tomatoes on top and thought they were cherries.) They were inedible.

Fool me three times, I'm just an idiot: clam chowder

Our friend Kelsey showed us a flier for a little place called "Edelweiss" down the beach a ways. According to the limited amount of English on the flier (and the pictures), they serve clam chowder (in a real bowl with three slices of crisp garlic bread on the side) and sell "real chocolate" and have some sort of "Sound of Music" theme.

Since we rented a car for the weekend and were driving back up the coast with friends, we decided to stop there for a light supper. The place is tiny, think small gift shop with one table and a mini-kitchen, but the proprietor said he had clam chowder and showed us a large take-out paper bowl when we asked what size the chowder was. We thought it was a decent deal (for Korea) at W6,000 (about $6 at normal exchange rates), so all five of us ordered bowls.

I was mostly supervising Liam so that he didn't break any of the souvenirs for sale. But our friends were able to see that he was opening cans of Campbell's clam chowder, and not even the chunky kind that we have to order from Costco in Seoul, but the original concentrated kind that we can buy for about W2,500 per can at the local grocery store. He heated it in the microwave, with less milk than normal, but didn't stir it very well. The large paper bowls he had shown us were only half-full of soup, which was served with semi-sweet crackers and a sliced dill pickle (which is hard to find in Korea). Oh, and he put on the soundtrack from "The Sound of Music" while we ate. Now, that's atmosphere.

It was edible, but definitely not worth the price. But, then, why did I expect anything else?

gettin' domestic

Friday, October 24, 2008

If you know me very well, you know that I'm a very sarcastic person. The name of this blog is pretty tongue-in-cheek. Not that I'm not a happily married, happy mother, but I don't know that I live in a state of bliss (especially if ignorance must accompany it). And I'm not really all that domestic. I like to knit, cook and bake, and there ends my domestic skill. My mother and husband will both tell you that I'm horrible at cleaning. I don't "use enough elbow grease," according to them. Whatever. Martha does not scrub her own pans.

With that disclaimer, I've been wanting to add a touch of domesticity to this blog. My friends here keep asking me for recipes, since Matthew and I definitely prepare food more than the average waygook. My loyal readers outside Korea (Hi, Sumi, Sara & Sue ; ) will hopefully be entertained by the lengths to which I must go just to recreate some of my favorite foods.

This is my stove. There are three gas burners on top, and a small gas oven on the bottom.

By small, I mean that the opening measures 12x6". Due to all the weird shelves, the largest baking dish that fits measures 6x8" at the bottom. It's a Pyrex dish that's wider at the top. I can make recipes that are supposed to fit in a 8 or 9" square pan. However, if I fill the pan too full and the contents rise to the rim, some of it will inevitably stick to the top element.

These are the controls. (Oven control is on the bottom right.) No temperature, just handy little pictures (featuring fish & bread) that vaguely indicate which elements are in operation. We've gone through a lot of trial and error to figure out which settings work for different recipes. The first time I made pineapple upside-down cake, it took forever to bake because I had the oven on too low. The second time, it was Cajun-style. (Sorry, no photo documentation on that.)

I should mention that I'm "lucky" because most Koreans (and foreign teachers in Korea) do not have ovens of any kind. Some of our friends here have toaster ovens. Others of the more permanently-settled type (i.e. married to a Korean) have normal-sized ovens. Traditional Korean cooking does not include baking and most Koreans prefer to buy baked goods from the store.

Here is baking lesson #1: meatballs

I don't actually use a recipe, but here's basically what I put in the batch I made today:
3 slices of bread
1/2 cup milk
2 eggs
half of a medium-sized white onion, chopped
4 or 5 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
2 teaspoons dried basil }
2 teaspoons dried oregano } All herb amounts are guestimations;
2 teaspoons dried thyme } I just dumped them in.
salt and pepper to taste
400 grams ground beef
400 grams ground pork

Soak the bread in the milk until it's soggy, then squish all the excess milk out and crumble the bread into a mixing bowl. (This is a great alternative since I don't have a blender and haven't found prepared bread crumbs here.) Add the eggs and all the seasoning. Mix well with a fork. Dump in the meat and mix it all together with your hands. Yummy ; )

Shape the mixture into balls about 1 1/2 inches wide and place on some type of broiler or grill sheet.

Bake with the upper element partially on and the bottom element fully on. (This would be known as broiling in a normal oven.) Keep a close eye on them, because burnt meatballs suck and stink up your whole apartment. You'll need to cook them 5-10 minutes on the first side and 2-5 on the second side. Maybe. If the back of your oven is hotter, like mine is, you'll probably need to rotate the pan one during the first side's baking time.

When the meatballs are done (NOT pink in the middle), move them to a paper-towel-lined plate to cool. Once they're cool, you can store them in the fridge or freezer until you are ready to add them to spaghetti, sweet-n-sour sauce, etc. The batch I made today yielded about 5 dozen meatballs.

Follow that with cooking lesson #1: creamy carrot soup

1 cup chopped onion
1/4 cup butter
4 1/2 cups sliced carrots (1/4 inch thick)
1 large potato, peeled and cubed
2 cans (14.5 oz each) chicken broth*
1 tsp ground ginger**
2 cups heavy cream (make sure you get the unsweetened kind!)
1 tsp crushed dried rosemary***
salt & pepper to taste

In a large pot, saute onion in butter until tender. Add carrots, potato, broth, and ginger. Cover and cook over medium heat for 30 minutes or until vegetable are tender. Cool for 15 minutes.
Puree in small batches in a blender or food processor (thank you, Kelsey, for letting me borrow yours) until smooth. Return to the pot, add cream, rosemary, salt & pepper. Cook over low heat until heated through.
Makes 6-8 servings.

*Broth: You can also use vegetable broth. We make our own. To make vegetable broth, chop up some vegetables (onions, carrots, leeks, zucchini, garlic, etc. -- whatever you want to use) and add some herbs (fresh or dried) and a lot of water. Bring to a boil and then leave it to simmer for several hours. Strain everything chunky out and (voila!) you have vegetable broth. Chicken broth is basically the same, but with chicken. Matthew has discovered that he can get a chicken carcass at the local grocery store for W500 (usually about 50 cents, but currently closer to 35 cents with the horrible exchange rate) if he just asks for it.
**Ginger: We brought dried ginger with us, because we packed the entire contents of our spice shelf. Fresh ginger is actually easier to find here and would probably work great. You would probably want to use more than the recipe calls for, since dried herbs are more intense. Grate it as finely as you can.
***Rosemary: I used fresh rosemary when I made this recipe here. Rosemary plants are very easy to find in Korea, although it's not commonly used for cooking. Koreans just like the aroma. I probably used between 2 tsp and 1 tbsp of fresh, chopped rosemary. (I broke off 2 or 3 sprigs, rinsed it, pulled off the leaves and chopped those up.)

a few high-lights of my in-laws' visit

Saturday, October 18, 2008

I have been a negligent blogger. I could blame it on my in-laws visiting, but they were only here for 10 days. I've just been lazy.

We had a great time while they were here. Not trying to see or do too much, made it a relaxing and enjoyable visit for everyone (I think).

All of us at the top of the Mt. Seorak cable car. It was a beautiful, clear day!

Liam plays peek-a-boo with Grandma on the bus ride down to Gangneung.

Matthew (w/ Liam aloft) and his mom explore Ojukheon grounds in Gangneung. Ojukheon was the home of a really famous mother & son. She was an artist whose artwork is already featured on the W5,000 bill and her portrait will be on the upcoming W20,000 or 50,000 bill. Her son was a scholar and advisor to the king.

Matthew takes a picture of the rest of us enjoying a fabulous meal of dolsot bap (hot pot rice) and a plethora of side dishes. Liam likes the rice best.

Matthew and his dad grub down on free noodles at Naksan temple. Mashisayo! (Delicious!) Isn't it cute that they're color-coordinated? (So very Korean of them!)

things that make me chuckle

1. Yes, that's "ROCK THE OTE" (downtown clothing boutique)

2. Advertisement in children's boutique window

3. "I Did Blow with Kate moss And all i Got Was this Lousy T-shirt." (This is actually one of Matthew's students. She still wears the shirt, even after he explained the meaning to her.)

4. From our mattress: "Glaring sunshine is deeply sprayed at room which is cotton. Dreaming a romantic vision, awaken life by freshing morning air. Feel the comfortable Bed-room culture which can feel own mood."

5. I'll let you read it for yourself. This was the back of a jacket prominently displayed at a vendor booth at the Yang-yang Pine Mushroom festival. The vendor showed me that it came in another color, too. After I asked to take a picture, Matthew tried to explain the meaning to her. She didn't seem very shocked. Huh...

korean food

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Two of the most well-known elements of Korean food are kimchi (spicy fermented vegetables -- usually cabbage -- sometimes referred to as "Korean sauerkraut," which it is definitely NOT) and gochujang (red pepper paste). I don't like either of them.

I can tolerate kimchi only if it's cooked, like in dubu kimchi or cooked on the grill with samgyeopsal (fatty pork -- a bit like thick cut bacon). Dubu is Korean for tofu; dubu kimchi then is tofu with kimchi. Chunks of semi-firm tofu are arranged around the edges of a plate filled with cooked kimchi mixed with pork. (It can be ordered without pork, but many vegetarians have been misled. Koreans tend to eat tofu in addition to meat, not instead of it.) The tofu and kimchi mixture are eaten together, with different textures and tastes complimenting each other. The tofu tempers the spiciness of the kimchi, and the pork adds some extra flavor. This is usually considered "drinking food" as it goes very nicely with beer.

Gochujang manages to be both bland and spicy at the same time, and is, in my most humble opinion, a waste of taste buds. Thai and Mexican food are my favorite cuisines, so obviously I don't mind spicy, but I like it to have more flavor. Korean cooking tends to use gochujang in place of any other herbs or spices. Gochujang is mixed with meat, seafood, or vegetables, and is usually present in at least half the side dishes served with every meal. I don't like any of it.

With that said, there are plenty of Korean dishes I do enjoy.

Since I already introduced the topic of tofu, Sundubu is a tofu stew commonly found in our provice, Gangwon-do. Very soft tofu is cooked in a delicious broth with clams (still in the shell) and thin-sliced green onion. Of course, it's served with rice as is almost any soup here. The idea is that you scoop some rice up with your spoon, then dip into the broth before eating. (The picture is actually of sundubu jiggae. It's similar, but contains gochujang and, evidentally, a raw egg.)

My other favorite soup is galbitang, beef-rib soup. Chunks of rib meat, some still attached to the bone (and therefore awkward to eat), are cooked in broth with japchae noodles (thin, transparent sweet-potato noodles), thin-sliced green onion, and egg (reminiscent of egg-flower soup). This is the ultimate sniffle-busting meal for winter.

Galbi can actually refer to the rib meat of cows, pigs, or even horses, as we learned on Jeju Island (famous for its horse meat). When we go out for galbi, we almost always order pork, since it's half the price and twice (well, almost) as moist and tender. The meat is marinated and brought to the table piled on a platter. Galbi restaurants have grills built into the tables, so it's cooked right in front of you. The waitress usually gets it started and then the women at the table (if there are any) are supposed to keep an eye on it. (Very different from the States where men typically take over grilling duties.) Matthew usually takes over, and the waitresses invariably keep placing the tongs in front of me. The meat is cut into bite-size pieces, and typically eaten wrapped in lettuce or sesame (very tasty!) leaves with soybean paste and sliced garlic (raw or grilled). Galbi seems to be the most common favorite amongst foreigners, probably because it is just straight-up good (unless you don't eat meat).

Another non-vegetarian foreigner favorite is bulgogi, thinly sliced beef marinated in sweetened soy-sauce. At a restaurant near our very first apartment (which disappeared -- the restaurant, not the apartment -- during our absence), the meat was mixed with vegetables and served on a bed of rice. The sauce was a deliciously subtle combination of spicy and sweet. I hope to find another restaurant that makes bulgogi the same way, and hopefully delivers.

Mandu is Korean for dumpling, and refers to a variety of different types. Mandu is typically filled with meat, vegetables and chopped noodles. It can be served fried as an appetizer or in Manduguk (soup) which is similar to galbitang with the exception of the title ingredient. In both of those options, the dumpling part is pasta-like (as pictured). My absolute favorite is steamed mandu, which is more bread-like. There's a small restaurant across from the express bus terminal that serves mandu this way. I wish I could put into words how perfect these steamed mandu are. They are a little bit of culinary perfect, for only $2 for a plate of five dumplings. I'm not really sure what is in the bottles on the table, some type of oil, some vinegar perhaps, and a red-pepper powder that lends the perfect touch of spiciness. The mandu are dipped in a combination of these, which the bread soaks up wonderfully. The tragedy here is that the two times we've eaten there since we've been back, there were no mandu since the owner hurt his finger. He makes the mandu and his wife makes the gimbap...another foreigner favorite which actually comes with vegetarian options.

Gimbap is sometimes referred to as "Korean sushi," but it contains no raw ingredients. Normal gimbap contains thin slices of canned ham, perhaps crab, thinly sliced vegetables like carrot and pickled radish, surrounded by a layer of rice (bap), wrapped in dried seaweed (gim). My favorite variation is chamchi (tuna) gimbap, which usually has sesame leaves and mayonnaise in addition to the vegetables and tuna. (I prefer that it doesn't contain ham.) There's also cheju (cheese) gimbap, bulgogi (beef) gimbap, and even "nude" gimbap which lacks the gim. So it's not really GIMbap, now is it? You can buy gimbap from the refrigerator section of almost any grocery or convenience store, but you should not, unless you are starving. Gimbap should always (again, just me voicing my oh, so humble opinion) be eaten fresh, with most ingredients still at room temperature. (Please ignore the chunk of radish kimchi on the plate. I would not eat that.)

Pajeon, often described as green onion and squid pancake, is considered hiking food. It's also sometimes called Korean pizza. It's neither pancake nor pizza, although it is cooked in a round, flat shape. The batter is mostly egg, with some grated potatoes and the previously mentioned ingredients. It's usually pretty greasy, as it's cooked in a healthy amount of oil, which is probably why many people find it necessary to wash it down with soju (the evil Korean grain alcohol). I've had other variations, of which I don't know the names, since they were homemade. Our neighbor made some with kimchi (again, okay, because it's cooked and not overwhelming) substituted for the onion and squid. Two of my friends (one Korean, the other married to a Korean) make it with just potatoes and eggs (and probably some other ingredients that contribute to texture, but not really to taste). All variations are served with soy sauce for dipping, which nicely flavors the bland potato-egg base.

Finally, I come to hottoek ("ho talk"), a funny name for a wonderful, fattening, tooth-rotting treat. Unlike pajeon, hottoek could accurately be described as a pancake -- not as "pitta bread with sweet filling" as Lonely Planet would mislead you into thinking (crazy Brits can't even spell pita right!). Pitas are baked, this is FRIED, FRIED, FRIED on a griddle. The "sweet filling" part is correct, but that description does no justice to the mixture of brown sugar, honey, nuts, and cinnamon that melts in the middle. If you eat it while it's hot, the filling will inevitably drip down your arms, and you will lick it off, because it is that good. (On a windy day, you may end up wearing the filling as t-shirt decoration.) Because I am a crazy American (see, I'm an equal-opportunity insanity-labeler), I consider such a sugary concoction as breakfast food. I used to occasionally walk about half a mile (from our beach apartment) on weekend mornings to buy hottoek (3 for $1), and, yes, I could eat all three in one sitting.

Korean cuisine is very diverse, and I've tried only a small fraction of the traditional dishes. I know that I've skipped over many of the delicious dishes that I have tried, but I've already made myself hungry writing this much. I need to go find something to eat.

a few more thoughts about old people

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

I forgot to mention in my previous post on this topic that old women often push their groceries and other packages around in stripped down baby strollers. The covers and padding are usually gone, leaving just the plastic frames. Matthew thinks they also function as a type of walker, since U.S.-style walkers would be much too slow for the grandmothers as they zip around.

I feel I should also mention that old people here are the group most likely to give up their seat on the bus for Liam & I. (The next most likely group are women in their 20s and 30s. Teenagers are the least likely, in their own little world with their headphones on most of the time.) I have declined ("Kontenio." That's okay.) when the seat is offered by a frail-looking old person. Come on, I don't need the seat THAT badly!

a head wound, a domestic disturbance and infernal itching

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

No, these things are not really connected. Maybe someday I'll write a story in which they are.

The head wound is actually part of the continuing (even though I said it was over) saga of Bossy Grandma. She struck again.

I met up with Min Jeong, my Korean mommy friend, at the playground one evening. I was sitting on a bench, feeding Liam a snack -- and therefore captive -- when Bossy Grandma sat down beside me. She had the nerve (THE NERVE!) to touch my belly and start telling me AGAIN that Liam is too young for me to be having another baby. She used her concerned face and everything. In English, I told her, "Yes, you've already told me that. And it's none of your business." I tried to ignore her after that, although the kids who were watching Liam eat his fruit leather kept translating for her.

Perhaps 10 or 15 minutes later, Liam started one of his favorite pastimes: jumping off a bench. His friend Jun Min quickly followed, and so did Little Chunk (grandson of Bossy). Liam probably made a dozen successful, unassisted jumps before his foot caught and he went down headfirst onto the gravelly sand. Of course, Bossy Grandma jumped on him before I could take the two steps between us. I had to practically push her off my child so that I could comfort him. I was cuddling him and heading for the nearest empty bench to assess the damage when Bossy Grandma started talking to me. Of course, I ignored her, but then one of the kids started saying "pee, pee," which means "rain" or "blood" in Korean, and pointing to Liam's head. At that point, I pulled him off my shoulder and looked at his head. Sure enough, there was a patch of bright red blood in his white-blond hair. I quickly said goodbye to Min Jeong, grabbed my bag, and headed up to the apartment with Liam, shooing away the future ambulance-chasers who tried to get a good look at Liam's head.

The conclusion of this story is that once I cleaned the blood up, the wound obviously wasn't very serious. We ran into Matthew's pediatrician friend the next day, who said it was just a "surface abrasion." He has a little scab that his hair mostly hides. I haven't run into Bossy Grandma since then, but I'm sure when I do, I'll get an earful about my poor child and why I shouldn't let him jump off benches. Oy vey.

The domestic disturbance occurred last night. Liam went to bed early and I was checking e-mail and otherwise wasting time, when I heard a man's angry voice. After a few minutes, a woman started yelling back. I realized it was our next door neighbors. The windows to the hallway were open, so I could hear (but not understand) every word they were saying. I wasn't trying to understand. Then their son (about three or four years old), started crying. I shut the windows. I find this incident worth writing about not because it's that unusual. The same thing could happen in any apartment complex in the U.S. But I didn't know what to do. In the U.S., I would either stick my head out the door and ask if everything is okay, or call the police, depending on the severity of the argument. Other than the raised voices and tone, I don't know how serious it was. I could ask if she's okay, but would I understand her reply? Is that socially acceptable here? I could call the police, but what would I say? Matthew took some fresh-baked cinnamon rolls over this evening and said the mom and son were home and seemed fine. (Hopefully they split the third cinnamon roll before the husband came home!)

And, finally, the infernal itching. Liam and I have about a brazillion mosquito bites each, including on our faces. They don't seem to bother Matthew much. He is either not as sweet as we are (very possible), doesn't visit the playground as often (but I'm positive we get most of the bites while we're sleeping) or drinks enough alcohol to keep them at bay. ("Move on! This one ain't tasty!") I cannot wait for a nice dry autumn. Death to all mosquitoes!

Photo documentation of my poor little man's bites:

And thus ends my whining. Until next time.

Hiking Korean-style

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

After two days of rain, Sunday was a perfect day for a hike. We decided to head to Mt. Seorak to do the waterfall hike: short enough for Liam, easy enough for me, but interesting enough for Matthew.

In the slideshow:
Views of the stream facing east (toward the Sea of Japan) and west (toward cable car).
The first part of the hike winds through a forested area.
Matthew enjoyed searching for caterpillars along the way, and plans to return this winter (with Liam, hopefully) to look for cocoons and chrysallises.
Suddenly, there is a clearing in the woods. Hiking (even just a short ways) stirs up an appetite for food, drink, and souveniers. A proprietress tries to talk Matthew & Liam into potato pancake or wild mountain grape wine. (Unfortunately for her, we'd packed PB&J sandwiches.)
The second part of the hike is fairly steep (mostly stairs) alongside some gorgeous waterfalls.
At the trail's end, Matthew carries Liam back up from the water to eat some lunch. Notice the women in the foreground decked out in serious hiking gear.

This hike was our introduction to Seorak National Park almost three years ago. I haven't done the hike since then, so this was an interesting return. Three years ago, we were a childless couple, just arrived in a new country. It's amazing how much has changed since then, but the hike is just as beautiful as ever. We're looking forward to doing it again in a few months when the leaves are changing colors.

I'm done.

Friday, August 22, 2008

This is the final chapter in the Bossy Grandmother saga, because I've dealt with her for the last time.

When Liam and I got into the elevator early this morning (en route to the beach), she was there. She suddenly realized that I'm pregnant, although I swear she asked me the first time I encountered her. Maybe she thought I hadn't lost my baby weight from Liam, or maybe she pesters so many foreign women with toddlers that she has me confused. (That was sarcasm, as I think I'm the only foreign woman in town with a toddler.) At any rate, she proceeded to tell me that Liam is too young for me to have another baby. I said he's 20 months now. The new baby isn't due until January. They'll be 25 months apart. I don't know why I bothered. She kept insisting that they're too close together. "Whatever," I said in English as I fled the elevator.

What an evil, toxic woman. She has never said a positive word to me, other than to refer to my son as "friend" (chingu) when talking to her grandson. (All Koreans seem to do this when they have a toddler anywhere near Liam's age.)

So I'm done. When I see her from now on, I'm going to ignore her. I don't speak or understand any Korean when she's around. That's one perk of being a foreigner.

I've figured out...

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

The bossy grandmother that I talked about in my old folks post is my honorary Korean mother-in-law.

One day, Matthew, Liam and I got into the elevator to head down to the park for an evening stroll. Bossy Grandma was already in the elevator with Little Chunk in his stroller. She scolded us for not having Liam in a stroller. "You can't carry him everywhere," seemed to be her argument. We pantomimed that he walks most of the time. Matthew was a bit surprised by her behavior, until I told him that she is the grandmother who tells me everything I'm doing wrong with Liam.

The sad thing is that Little Chunk is probably her son's little boy, meaning that her actual daughter-in-law has to put up with CONSTANT nagging. I'm assuming that she also works, considering how often I see Grandma Bossy with Little Chunk. That poor, poor woman that I don't even know.

Recently, Matthew ran into Bossy Grandma in the elevator, minus Little Chunk. She seemed to be complaining to him about how Little Chunk pinches her, as she was showing him bruises. I know it's evil of me, but I had to chuckle. I wonder if her daughter-in-law has trained Little Chunk to pinch Bossy Grandma.

Summer break: Gangneung

Gangneung is the city of about 250,000 just an hour's bus ride south of Sokcho. In the past, we've only seen the downtown area. Although it does include a McDonald's and several movie theaters, it's otherwise unimpressive. During our break, we decided to check out some of the more picturesque parts of Gangneung.

It rained during most of our time there, but we had lunch in "Tofu Town," soup made with fresh bean curd, served with rice and a few sides. Then we walked in the rain to the nearby lake, where we rented a family bike, so very touristy of us. It stopped raining during our ride, so we were able to enjoy our stroll past rice fields on the way back to the bus stop. The next time we visit, there are some cultural/historical sites we'd like to see, but it was a rather impromptu day. (We had actually planned to visit a temple on the other side of Mt. Seorak, but we would have waited several hours for the next bus there.)

The random picture is three guys in matching hot pink polo shirts (all with collars up) walking together around the lake. It's a Korean thing, I guess.

another day, another walk

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Sunday, it was not raining. In fact, it was quite warm. We decided to check out a nearby hysterical (I mean, historical) site: a traditional thatch-roofed house that was just recently discovered. We didn't really get to check out the house, but the views from the hill where it's located are great. You can see so much of the city.

From there, we continued to wander through neighborhoods of traditional houses until we came out on the main road near the beach. Liam and I played in the water a bit, then we walked back to the main road to catch a bus home. On the way, we made an interesting discovery: a restaurant that apparently serves rabbit soup (ttoki-tang). Matthew is anxious to try it.

an amazing walk in the rain

Monday, July 28, 2008

On Saturday, it looked like our entire week of vacation was going to be rainy. (This has turned out not to be the case, but weather forecasts aren't always correct.) We had spent some time downtown in the morning, but decided to take a walk in the country, with a fruit orchard and the accompanying roadside stand as our destination.

Liam rode on Matthew's shoulders most of the way there, just enjoying the scenery. We passed a construction site with building machines (just like on Bob the Builder!) that prompted a chorus of "Wow! Wuzdat?" for the next five minutes. After meandering through neighborhoods of traditional houses, we broke into open country. The rice fields are a brilliant shade of green this time of year. Fruit orchards, with apple, pear and peach trees, alternate with vegetable gardens. There was even a small herd of cows, hiding from the rain in their stalls, and several families of dogs in their kennels. Ducks and geese wandered through the fruit orchard. We bought a huge bag of peaches for W5,000 (about $5) which, although they aren't as ripe as ones we'd buy in the States, make good peach crisp.

Liam walked back, splashing in the water that streamed down hills and swirled into the drains. We decided to stop at a cafe on the way back. We had seen signs advertising (in Korean) "Cafe 900 Meters", "Cafe 700 Meters," etc. From a gravel parking lot, we passed through a small entry way surrounded by interesting wooden faces. We walked up the narrow path through the lush woods, passing several water features, pottery arrangements, and an interesting variety of wood and metal statues, including the Blues Brothers and a random non-Korean-looking soldier. As we got closer to the main building, we noticed small cabin-like buildings in the surrounding trees. When we reached the main building, the waiter who came out to greet us explained that besides the main building, there were "bungalows." He led us to one of the bungalows, a small wooden building with full windows on three walls, two of which opened. Inside the only furnishings were a shoe rack, a low wooden table, a fan, and a stack of floor cushions. We ordered coffee and kiwi juice (more of a smoothie) which came with a small assortment of packaged cookies. What a find! We had our own little retreat in the woods. We'll definitely bring people here in the future.
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