bakery wars

Saturday, May 30, 2009

On a lighter note (than my previous entries about suicide and swine flu), two big Korean bakery chains have opened stores in our neighborhood in the past few months. We now have four bakeries within a five minute walk from our apartment. One is located inside the local grocery store and doesn't sell anything that really appeals to me, so I won't bother to mention it again.

People of Bread Village is the old neighborhood bakery. The Korean name literally translates to "Bread Village People," but the English name is also prominently displayed.

They make a decent apple tart-type pastry, although I always have to double check as to not buy the sweet potato-filled version. (Apple is square; sweet potato is rectangular.) Liam likes to stop in for their W300 (about 30 cents) cream puffs.

Paris Baguette opened a store a month or two ago. My favorite item there are the blueberry muffins, which come in a two pack. (You can see Liam's fingers sneaking in to grab the muffin on the right.)

Tous Les Jours opened right across the street this week. They have decent banana-cranberry scones. I know that sounds weird, but the banana flavor isn't very strong. They also have walnut scones (too flat and dry) and chocolate chip (not my thing).

All of the bakeries have various pastries, breads, cakes, etc. Most of it is distinctly Korean in style, which means less sweet, somewhat bland, very soft, often containing sweet potato or sweet red bean filling, etc. Blueberries and cranberries are nearly impossible to find (and very expensive) in Korea, which is another reason the muffins and scones are noteworthy.

Maybe our neighborhood CAN support four bakeries, the way people apparently increase their caffeine intake to support Starbucks on every corner in PNW cities. Only time (and expanding waistlines) will tell.

from quarantine with love

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Luckily, the title does not refer to our family, but to a new entry in the blogosphere: An English Teacher Under Quarantine in South Korea. I find it to be interesting reading, both for the content and the humorous perspective.

Two ex-pats with regular blogs are also in quarantine, so their current entries are (obviously) about those experiences: Ruby Ramblings and Sparkling Chaos with Brian Dear. (I assume the last title is a reference to the Korea Sparkling campaign.)

I found the first blog through another that I follow, kimchi-icecream (specifically here), who in turn credits other ex-pat bloggers in Korea for posting first. One of those, Roboseyo, links to the other two in this post. What a small world this here blogosphere is. (I've now amused myself by using the term "blogosphere" for the first time ever -- in print, I've never uttered it out loud -- not once, but thrice, if you count the self-reference.)

The flu has also struck our little family, although I'm pretty sure it's just the normal seasonal type. Luckily, we've been back in Sokcho for a good two weeks now, so there's no chance that we carried this back from the States with us. (Normal incubation is 24-48 hours, with 7 days being an extremely conservative waiting period. Trust me, I looked it up!) In fact, I'm 99% sure came from the "nursery school" that Liam started last Monday. Three days of playing with other germ-infested toddlers and he became sick. Two days later, I was feeling as if I'd been hit by a Mac truck. Not a Peterbuilt, definitely a Mac. Liam and I are both recovering, but Matthew and Rowan are currently fighting symptoms.

We're also lucky because we arrived back on the 9th. There was a flight on the 11th that now has a confirmed case of H1N1, so all those passengers are currently being tracked down. I'm not sure if that's the same connection as the group in the blog or another separate case.

We're hoping this luck will hold out and keep us out of quarantine. Matthew's boss has already fielded several calls about us regarding our flight (not the 11th!) and our fevers (taking the boys to the doctor and filling prescriptions seems to have come up on the radar somehow). Until then, we're drinking lots of fluids, taking antipyretics, and getting plenty of sleep.

RIP: Roh Moo-hyun

Saturday, May 23, 2009

The former South Korean president committed suicide today:

AP article: Embattled SKorean ex-president jumps to his death

Prior to the recent corruption allegations, I had only heard good things about him from Koreans. My grasp of the situation is that it's like Bill Clinton committing suicide during George W. Bush's presidency. South Korean politics have historically been rife with corruption, but Roh seemed to be above it all.

Corruption: Invisible Enemy of Korean Politics

The suicide rates here are also very high. This article claims that mental illness is a leading cause, with societal pressures only being responsible for 10%, although she does acknowledge that the reason mental illness often isn't diagnosed or treated is because of the stigma attached.

Suicide in South Korea Case of Too Little, Too Late

The Korean concept of "chae-myun" (saving face) would seem to me to be a more contributing factor in the suicide rate in South Korea. I wasn't able to find any articles that sum it up completely, but did come across these:

Interesting blog entry by a film-maker focusing on Asian-American mental illness:
The Virginia Tech Murders and Its Implications

Focusing on chae-myun from a business perspective:
The Importance of Saving Face in Korea

two thumbs up: incheon airport and air canada

Sunday, May 17, 2009

After we escaped from purgatory, everything went much better.

In the international terminal, we found an awesome play area with a nice little nursing nook. There's even a bathroom with everything (toilets, urinals and sinks) in miniature. The urinals have little flies painted in the middle, presumably to aid little misters in aiming correctly.

The play area kept Liam entertained until it was time to find our gate and prepare to board. Padded floor, plenty of sunlight, and a jungle-themed structure for kids to run and climb on like crazy monkeys. Perfect! (There was a larger, independent nursing area by the bag check area with two cribs, two changing tables, and two couches. I would guess there are other play/nursing areas throughout the airport.)

Our flight went remarkably well. Matthew felt that Air Canada was more kid-friendly than United, which we flew last May. I thought it was a bit of a toss up. In my limited experience, most flight attendants are genuinely nice people who like kids and it's the personnel who make (or break) the trip. Since our flight from Seoul to Vancouver wasn't full, one of the flight attendants shuffled people around so that I had an empty seat next to me. I didn't have to worry about bumping anyone while nursing or holding a sleeping baby. I was even able to spread out a bit.

The food was definitely better than United, although the Air Canada food was markedly better on the flight from Seoul to Vancouver than it was on the return trip. Weird. The free wine included in beverage service was an excellent bonus.

Warning: Even if the flight attendant gives you extra bottles of wine, you should not drink it all before the meal service. On our return flight, since I hadn't eaten much and don't drink much these days, the three mini bottles hit me pretty hard. I thought I was going to hurl while changing Rowan's diaper.

The evening (5:30 departure) flight from Seoul to Vancouver worked great for the boys. They both slept most of the 10 hour flight. (Liam had a little help from Children's Benadryl, which has in the past year added the disclaimer NOT to use it to make children sleepy. Why not? It works!) By the second day in the U.S., they were adjusted to the new time zone. Coming back on a day flight was a little rougher and the adjustment back to Seoul time took several days. Actually, a week later, their sleep patterns are still a little irregular.


Friday, May 15, 2009

I've been to purgatory, or maybe it was the first level of hell. Perhaps someone with more theological background can help me out with the distinction.

Purgatory is hot. You must surrender all liquids before entering and there are no water fountains. You're told you can't leave until you fill out paperwork in quadruplicate and pay fees. (You thought you already took care of all paperwork and fees in your hometown.) In the meantime, the baby is fussy because he's sick of being in the carrier. The toddler is tired and bored, which means he's whiny. The gatekeepers stare at you while the toddler tries to escape, refuses to sit down, and throws himself down on the ground. Richard Scarry's A Day at the Airport buys you a little time, but purgatory takes longer than that, and it just serves as a reminder that there are jets just past purgatory.

Finally, all the paperwork is filed, the money is counted, passports are stamped, and just before you realize that the your visas for the next year are single entry and you wanted to go to Thailand for Christmas break. But a multiple entry visa would require more time, more money, probably more forms and both children are completely freaking out by this point. You decide that Thailand is over rated.

100 Days...about a month later

Monday, May 11, 2009

Turning 100 days old is a pretty big deal in Korea. The original reason was the high infant mortality rate; however, like most "developed" nations, infant mortality rates are now quite low. Koreans like traditions, though. It's a great reason to throw a party, serve lots of food the infant can't eat, and collect gifts of money and jewelry from the extended family.

We didn't throw a party, but since it's pretty rare for an American infant to turn 100 days in Korea, we decided to rent a hanbok (traditional Korean clothing) and take Rowan in for professional portraits. Of course, we found out mid-photo session that Korean babies don't get their pictures taken in hanbok until they're one year old. Even though we did it wrong, I think Rowan looks darn cute in hanbok. The ladies at the photo studio did a fabulous job.

Here are four of my favorites:

It took me so long to post these because the studio didn't give me the digital negatives, like they normally do here. I think that's because we were too cheap to purchase a big package. We just got some individual prints for ourselves and family, plus a mini album that my friend MinJeong got them to throw in free. She totally rocks. Even though she was sick, she dragged herself and both her kids in to translate for us, because the studio staff knew we're friends (long story).

Anyway, I had to wait until I was visiting my parents to scan in the photos. Hence the weird border issues, too. I haven't bothered to clean those up yet.
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