Asia, Culture, Food, Funny, Travel

Jet Lag Junkie

Jet lag has set in, which means I’m up at 2:48 am drinking a coffee and eating a kiwi. From 3 – 4 am, I went to the hotel gym for some yoga to start off the day, then was at breakfast, wide eyed and ready by 6. 

The unfortunate thing about being up so early is that nothing is open. So, it doesn’t really benefit you to go wander the streets. There is one place in the city that opens at dawn: the fish market. 

Early morning eel cleaning

Noryangjin Fish Market is where all the best restaurants in the city come to buy their seafood. Not surprisingly, there were no other tourists there at 7 in the morning, so we were quite the spectacle. Probably because I kept stopping to take pictures of stuff like this.

Is shark fishing even legal?

Yes, I wore white shoes this day

After our fish market tour, we made our way to a neat little shopping district. 

We ducked into a random restaurant that we walked by for lunch. It was the sort of place that requires you to take your shoes off at the door and sit on the floor to eat. 

When we were properly barefoot and seated, we realized that there was no menu in English. Our waitress also quickly realized that we didn’t speak Korean. A conundrum ensued, in which she was presumably asking us (in Korean) what we wanted to order. She was getting blank stares in return, so she did what any good waitress would do. Babbled at us in Korean, made a two sign, and just brought us something. 

Two steaming bowls of something.  

Still unsure of what we’d gotten ourselves into, I started pulling out chunks of bone and meat, hoping to identify something. If you’ll remember back with me to What Did You Say?, unidentifiable bowls of meat and vegetables don’t always work out in my favor. 

But, it tasted pretty good. Jake’s review of the stew was a little different than mine. 

I believe this is a correct direct quote:

“It doesn’t taste exactly like dirt, but just a little bit.”

Later in the day when we met up with some friends, I hesitantly asked them exactly what we’d eaten. 

It’s called Haejangguk, a spicy mixture of pork bones, vegetables, and broth. But, more commonly, it’s referred to as “Hangover Stew”. 

I’m not sure if I should be offended that she mistook my jet lagged looking face for being hungover or thankful that introduced us to the delicious Korean remedy. 

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America, Animals, Culture, Family, Food, Health, Mexico, Summer

T-Shirt Trade

I traded a t-shirt for a grilled chicken salad. And, it was a great swap. We were at a teacher’s fair (which basically amounts to a bunch of crazed teachers trying to get free stuff as quickly as they can) and our shirts were the most popular item.

As we were setting up our table, (pre- crazy teachers) a girl from another table representing a local restaurant came over and asked to swap gift cards for a shirt. She held out 4 cards for free salads, which just happens to be my favorite meal, and I gladly gave her a shirt. I’ll trade veggies for t-shirts any day! 

We had our family reunion this past weekend and my grandma was telling a story about how even when I was little, I’d eat anything. For me, that pretty much sums up my family reunion experience. Inevitably, the conversation turns to what weird things I’ve eaten over the past year since everyone last saw me. I’ve told the dog and egg story quite a bit. If you didn’t catch those the first time around, check them out here and here.

After being at the family reunion, Monday and Tuesday were pretty hectic, just trying to catch up. One of the churches we work with called on Tuesday afternoon (after the teacher fair that morning) and said, oh, by the way, those 400 shirts we ordered: we need those in 3 hours. And we need them delivered to the church (which is one hour from our shop). No big deal. 

Jake’s hands after printing 400 custom dyed shirts


After delivering them, we were exhausted. And, I needed a reward for surviving the day. And the reward I chose? Tacos. 

Jake and I typically eat at the Mexican restaurants that you actually have to speak Spanish at to order. Not really your run of the mill places. We order things like huaraches, tlacoyos, and chilaquiles. This place was an in between place. Not commercialized, but not way off the map either. There were a couple things on the menu I didn’t recognize though. 

Listed under the taco fillings, it had mulitas. I took Spanish in high school and Jake took German, so occasionally, I will recognize Spanish words that he doesn’t. But when he asked me if I knew what it was, I didn’t recognize that one. So, he looked it up on his phone. 

And this is what showed up. 


Armadillo tacos, anyone? 

My first thought was: surely they aren’t really serving that here. My second thought was: should I order it? 

I realized the issue though. Mulita and mulitas are two different things. It turns out that mulita is the name for an armadillo in Uruguay and Argentina). Mulitas, however, are more like tortilla sandwiches. Almost like a quesadilla, but not quite. Either way, mulitas have nothing to do with armadillo. Unless you made them with armadillo meat. So, I guess you could have mulita mulitas in Argentina. 

I played it safe and just had chicken. 

And, I was pleased to find out the next day that the church we made a late delivery for gave us a sweet gift. Gourmet popcorn. 

Trading food for t-shirts? A yes every time. Just maybe not for armadillo tacos. 

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America, Celebration, Dessert, Family, Food, Funny, Summer

Birthdaze 

Since when does setting your alarm for 6:45 am feel indulgent? I don’t know, but there’s something about that extra 45 minutes that feels a little like eating ice cream for dinner. Does this mean I have officially reached adulthood?
Speaking of ice cream for dinner, I decided to cut sugar. Well, I’ve technically been off sugar since I came back from Laos. Actually, that’s not completely true either. What I mean by that is that I have been off of processed sugar. In Laos, there were very few options for anything processed. It was mostly all fruits and vegetables and rice. So, I didn’t eat any processed food for my three weeks there. Then, when I came home, the garden was finally producing, so I just continued. 
Side note: processed sugar is really addictive. I assume everyone already knows this. But, if anyone needs some suggestions of documentaries to watch or books to read on this point, I can definitely suggest some good ones! 
Back to my story though. Last week, on our fishing trip to Canada, my grandma made snacks to send with us, so I broke my no processed sugars contract with myself, promising I would get back on track when I got home. Unfortunately, it’s birthday week, which I forgot. So, now I’m stuck in a perpetual cycle of cake and ice cream events. I’m still trying to limit it, but who can pass up cake and ice cream for a birthday?
My mom’s birthday is July 14 and mine is July 22. I am almost never home on my birthday, due to church camp. See No Laughing Matter for the 2015 festivities. But, this year, it just so happens that it falls in the weekend before we go to camp. So, I don’t really know what to do with myself. 
Anyway, today is my mom’s birthday. The older I get, the more I realize that I am becoming more and more like her. (Which is mostly a good thing, love you, Mom!) Mostly I notice it in the conversations we have. We have a lot of the same patterns of speech, but more than that, we think in the same ways. We are both very detail oriented, so if anyone is telling us a story, we’ll both ask a lot of questions. We also share the same sense of humor. 
Which is why when Jake and I went to pick out her birthday cake, I knew it would be just right. If you know my mom, you know that she is very particular about certain things. This is where she and I part ways. I’m not picky at all. But, a few of the things she likes and will not compromise on: Coke (it cannot be Pepsi, it has to be Coca-Cola. Original. Not diet. Not caffeine free.) Ice (you cannot just have a cold drink, there has to be floating chips of frozen water in it) Whipped icing (buttercream won’t do).
Her favorite is a store bought (trust me, I would do homemade but she likes store bought better) white birthday cake with whipped icing. Jake and I knew this. Because it’s what she always got for us. So, we went in search of this cake. When we got to the store, they have a selection of cakes that you can choose from and then request writing on it. I assume that you can actually think ahead and call and order exactly what you want, but why would we plan to do that? Right. So, we were distressed to find that they didn’t have any with whipped icing. It was all buttercream, except for one lonely chocolate cake with whipped icing. And, you guessed it, chocolate won’t do. 
The bakery lady (Dee, as indicated by her name tag) noticed our distress and asked if she could help us. Jake explained what we were looking for and she said they had one last white cake with whipped icing that someone had just come in to claim. But, they hadn’t come back for it and she didn’t think they were going to. She showed it to us and it proudly stated “Happy Birthday, Zack!” 
Jake and I looked at each other. Then he said: we’ll take it just like that. Dee laughed, like we were joking. I proceeded to explain that it was just for our mom, for a little family birthday party, and that it didn’t really matter what it said, she just liked that kind of cake. Dee laughed again and said she couldn’t do that, she’d feel bad sending a cake with the wrong name on it. Finally, Jake said, just put a red X through it and write Mom out to the side. Well, Dee just thought that was the funniest thing anyone had ever asked her to do. But, we talked her into it, assuring her that it would be funnier than if it had been done right in the first place. 


She did what we asked and it was funny. So funny that she asked the other bakery girl to come take a picture of her handiwork. As we were walking away, with our prize birthday cake in hand, Dee said, thank you kids so much for that! I was having a bad day and I needed something to make me laugh and that just really made my day. And you tell your mom, Happy Birthday from all of us here at the grocery store.

So, Mom: Happy birthday from me and Jake! And also, from Dee and all the other unnamed people at the grocery store. Hope you have a good one!
(Also, Zack, if you happen to be reading this: happy birthday to you too, sorry for stealing your cake.)

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Animals, Asia, Culture, Farm, Food, Health, Missions, Travel

Ride or Die

 I’m still trying to catch up on my posts from Vietnam.We moved around a lot from place to place while we were there, which provided lots of travel time to write. However, what I lacked was the time to actually post what I was writing. If you know me very well, though, my delay should not come as a surprise.

                                                              

I ate a cricket this morning. And it was surprisingly refreshing. Not because it tasted great or anything. But, because I wasn’t going to do it, then I decided that I could handle it. So, I did. Pushing the limits you set for yourself can be a good thing.

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My carefully selected snack

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 I also rode an elephant. It wasn’t a first or anything. But, I was in the hotel room in the middle of the afternoon and I got a phone call. I answered, of course, and the voice on the other end said: “do you want to go ride an elephant?” No hello, no this is so-and-so, just elephant ride? And what’s your natural response for a phone call like that? Sure.

                                                              

So, we went on elephant excursion number three. This one was pretty typical: elephant, basket, little boy sitting on his head while we trek around. But, the seating arrangement was different. It was a wide metal basket with a narrow bench and no harness or strap of any kind. I’ve only been in bamboo baskets, which create for a little more traction. But with the metal bench and my denim shorts, I was sliding all over the place. Combine this with the fact that we were climbing down a steep embankment and the “driver” kept hitting the elephant on the head with a metal rod: I was sure I was going to topple out of the basket any minute.

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Treacherous looking basket

 But, I survived. Upon dismounting from the basket, the animal wranglers were offering other various rides. I had never seen anyone ride an ostrich, but they had them saddled up and ready to go, so I thought I’d give it a shot. It kinda made the elephant ride feel safe.
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Taking in the view

 The “saddle” has handles on the front and the back, and you are encouraged to hold onto both. Because those things take off like they’re trying to buck you off. Me and my ostrich were pretty in sync though for the most part and it was calm. We settled into a little routine. In fact, in most of the pictures, we even had the same facial expressions.

                                                              

Until the boy with the metal rod came around again and started hitting him. Then he took off and I nearly fell off again.

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Trotting along

I’m thinking some animals just weren’t meant to ride. But, then again, there’s a first time for everything.
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Celebration, Culture, Family, Food, Middle East, Travel

All Hands on Deck

I’m good at making friends. I always have been. I remember in elementary school, when I’d start a new year, I’d survey the classroom and decide which girls I wanted to be my friend. Then, we’d be friends. I think it’s probably because I’m a little annoying and just shove my way into people’s lives. But, it’s kinda charming, right? 

So, it should come as no surprise to anyone that I made some friends the first time I went to Jordan. Here’s mostly how I made them: Hi! Do you speak English? The golden question. If they say, yeah, a little bit, you’re in! It’s that easy. 

 

A few of my new and old friends from Jordan

 
I met Hana, Danny, and Ziad the first time I was there. So, they were my base contacts during my visit. They made sure I was taken care of, led me around, introduced me to new people, and made fun of me in Arabic. You know, the usual stuff. So, Danny’s house was one of the first places we went when I arrived. 

 

My warm welcome crew

 
Jordanian women are a force to be reckoned with. They will feed you until you’re full then feed you some more. You don’t enter their house without being offered something to eat and drink. And Danny’s mom followed the standard. 

After the greeting hugs and kisses, she brought me one of my new favorite things. It’s called hamleh. They’re toasted chickpeas that you shell and eat. They reminded me of the Jordanian version of popcorn. Not really because they’re anything like popcorn. But, that’s just what I thought of. 

Hamleh

They’re so good! And tea. Because I love tea. And Danny’s little brother, Feras, just happened to have made a homemade pizza, so I had some of that as well. It’s always a smorgasbord with any Jordanian family. 

And at the end of our little gathering, they told me they’d teach me something I’ve wanted to learn: to eat mansaf with my hands. 

Mansaf is the dish that defines Jordan. It’s a chicken and rice dish and I’ve had it a few times in Jordan, but never with my hands. 

Another version of mansaf I had while I was there

Now, there are certain preparations you must make when you eat like this. It feels a little like going into battle. 
To start, you have to roll your sleeves up. And not just a little bit. Your sleeves must be securely tucked above your elbow. You must take all jewelry off. No rings, no bracelets. You have to stand solidly above the dish, letting everyone know you mean business. And, for me, I had to pull my hair back, to make sure it wouldn’t get in my way. 

  

Once you have fully prepared yourself to partake, the real work begins. 
First, you make a little bit of a well in the rice nearest you and some hot broth gets poured on it. 

I asked Feras what the liquid was made of because 1) he speaks really good English and 2) he cooks, so he knows all the recipes. It’s some combination of buttermilk and yogurt, obviously with spices and other things in the mix. 

  
Second, you carefully dig your hand in, making sure it’s cooled enough to not burn you. Now, as I said before, this is not a free for all. There’s a method to the madness, perfected over many years, I’m sure. 

You start by getting the amount of rice you feel you can fit into your mouth at one time in your hand. (Brittney tip: get a smaller amount than you think you’ll need, I know from experience that my mouth is not as big as I sometimes judge it to be) And you start balling it up. This isn’t as easy as it sounds because you’ve got rice and chicken covered in the broth and it’s hard to get it all compacted together. 

Of course, everyone else made it look simple. Once you’ve sufficiently made a ball, you rest it on your fingers and use your thumb to shove it off your hand and into your mouth. 

  

  
It’s a skill. One that I’m not very good at. But, I managed to get completely full and didn’t get food all over myself. Which is more than I can usually say for myself when using utensils. 

I’m thinking I’m gonna start skipping out on the forks and spoons from now on. Saves on doing dishes plus it’s way more fun! 

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Culture, Family, Food, Middle East, Travel

Cereal Comfort Zone

So, in all of my travels, I have actually never stayed for any extended period of time with a family. Mostly because it’s usually me and Jake traveling together and it’s more of an imposition for families to keep two people. And also because Jake doesn’t like staying with people. He’s American to the core and personal space rules the day. So, no family visits.

I, on the other hand, love putting myself in the middle of things like that. I don’t know why, but I like the unpredictability of it. I guess I kinda crave being out of my comfort zone a little, in a strange way. No choices. You eat what they eat. You sleep when they sleep. You go where they go. It’s a true experience.

 

My cute host family

Most people probably don’t know this about me, but I love breakfast. Not the actual meal. But the morning time surrounding it. I love the preparations, sitting around drinking coffee, talking. I just like it. And I like the food too. At home, I’m usually up around 7 am. I eat a bowl of cereal every morning and drink coffee. That’s my routine.

Let me go ahead and re-emphasize that nothing in Jordan resembled anything from my life at home. So, out of my comfort zone is an understatement. I’ll also go ahead and tell you that I spoke to no other native English speakers the whole week. Most everyone knows English, but it’s everyone’s second language so there is still a barrier there. Needless to say, I picked up on a little bit of Arabic.

 

Can you pick me out of the crowd?

So, let’s take a Jordanian breakfast. First, it starts around 10:30 or 11 am. I was staying with my friend, Hana, and her family and her dad was cooking us eggs for breakfast. She invited me to the kitchen for coffee, which looks like this.


So, definitely not Americano.


But, the smell of it is amazing. Every country has a smell for me and this is the smell of Jordan. It’s spicy and rich. I love it. And it’s always made like this.

Apparently because the coffee is so strong and bitter, you have it with a sweet. Which, at Hana’s house, turned out to be chocolate. Coffee and chocolate are not a bad way to start breakfast.


Then, after that comes the main course. Which are a bunch of different dishes. With bread. Toasted like this.


You kind of just dip and assemble as you please. Hummus and olive oil are the standards with everything. Then, there’s lebaneh, which is similar to plain yogurt. It’s really tangy, almost like a cheese.


And homemade olives. Because there are olive trees everywhere. So everyone cans their own. To go with the main breakfast, you drink tea, which for us was slightly sweet and minty. You finish up around noon and you’re good until lunch, which commences at roughly 3 to 4 pm.


Cereal, anyone?

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Asia, Culture, Food, Funny, Travel

Curly Fry Chronicle

This picture pretty much describes us 100% accurately.

Jake loves us, he really does

 

Jake and Jordan are so bad for each other. We stopped by a McDonald’s for a bathroom break on our way to dinner. Side note: bathrooms are really hard to find in Asia, but McDs usually always has one. Anyway, Jake felt obliged to buy a drink in exchange for the use of their bathroom so I went to sit down while he and Jordan stood in line. They came back with not only two drinks but a bag of curly fries. When we’re on our way to dinner.

Why?

Because they both agreed with each other that they had to try them because we don’t have them in the US. Logical reasoning, right?

Second side note: I did try the curly fries and they were really good. McDonalds, just why don’t we have these in America?!
This post is mostly for Jake and Jordan, so the rest of you can just read along. Last year, when we were in Korea, I did a really good job (if I do say so myself) of covering Korean foods and most of what there is to know about it. But, Jake got a new camera for Christmas and sold me on the purchase by claiming the new camera would be “great for the blog!” He never needs an excuse to buy gadgets, but he usually always has one.
So, almost every dish we had here got a professional looking cover photo. Which I now feel obliged to show everyone. Because it really is top notch photography.
Jordan had never tried Korean food before coming on this trip, so this can serve as a guide for her to tell people what she had. (You’re welcome, Jordan!) I feel like I should also tell you that she had never used chopsticks either. And at most restaurants, they dug out a couple of random forks for her and I because they got tired of seeing us struggle.
Andong Jjimdak: this is my absolute favorite Korean dish. Andong is a province in Korea and is known for “country food”. Jjim means stewed and dak translates to chicken in Korean, so it is chicken that has been simmered in a delicious soy based sauce with carrots and potatoes and served with glass sweet potato noodles. It is so good! And this picture makes me want some right now.

Bulgogi: a Korean classic, bul means fire, gogi means meat. So it’s a grilled meat dish. We usually have this one with beef. It’s thinly sliced and marinated in a sauce made of garlic, sesame oil, soy sauce, and mashed apple or pear (to add sweetness) The first time I had this, one of my friends cooked it for me at home. And after adding the raw beef to the marinade, stuck her finger in it to taste it to make sure it was right. Why she waited til she had the raw beef in to taste the marinade, I’ll never know. But, that’s what I remember most about this dish.

 

We cooked it at our table

 

Kimbap: this is a Korean snack food that is similar to sushi. Kim means seaweed and bap is rice. We had this at the same market I wrote about last year. The one where I had the pig intestines stuffed with the blood noodles? If this isn’t ringing a bell, you can go back to the beginning and read about it. Anyway, these particular kimbap are called mayak (which loosely translates to drug) because they are small and addictive. They have Korean radish, carrot, and scrambled eggs in them and they’re coated with sesame oil.

 

They’re the little rolls over by the staring lady

Bimbibap: another rice dish (did you notice bap in the name?), this one is a standard. Bimbi means mixed. It’s served in a stone pot that is roughly 396 degrees (it’s seriously hot, don’t touch). And when it’s served, you mix it around really quick to cook the egg that’s been cracked on top. It’s kinda bland because they serve the sauces on the side so you can make it how you like.

Ssambap: notice “bap” again. More rice! Ssam means wrapped. These are essentially lettuce wraps you make at your table. You order your meat, which you grill at the table (AKA Korean BBQ) and then are brought a basket of “leaves” and all the sides. You put rice, meat, sauce, and garlic in the leaf and enjoy! And this dish is even better because it always comes with a show, which consists of a lady coming to your table with a slab of meat and kitchen scissors and cutting your meat for you while babbling in Korean. A true two for one deal.

Ttopokki: pronounced “top-okie”, this is honestly not one of my faves. It’s chewy rice cakes simmered in a spicy sauce. I don’t like the texture and I don’t like the spice, so this one isn’t really for me. But, I’ll eat it when I have to.

Samgyetang: this was a new one for me and I really enjoyed it. Sam means ginseng, gye means chicken and tang translates to soup. So, ginseng chicken soup. It’s served with a whole small chicken, which you tear apart with chopsticks and dip into a small saucer filled with a salt and pepper mixture. (Jake tried to put the salt and pepper in his soup, which is apparently a no-no. Don’t deviate from the custom.) The chicken is stuffed with sticky rice, so it takes a little eating before you locate your rice. It comes with a little whole ginseng in the soup, which is prized for its major health benefits and can be super expensive.


Also praised for its “medicinal properties”, a round of ginseng liquor on the side. We were told that old Koreans have a little every day as medicine. And I know why, because that’s exactly what it tastes like.

Bingsoo: a Korean meal with friends is never complete until you’ve left the restaurant and located a dessert cafe. And bingsoo is, by far, our favorite. It consists of milk ice flakes that are the consistency of powdery snow, with various toppings, depending on how you order it. It’s served in a big bowl and meant to be shared, so you must have it with friends.
Injeolmi bingsoo is Jake’s favorite. It is topped with a roasted soybean powder, sliced almonds, and little chewy rice cakes. Then, doused with a good helping of sweetened condensed milk.

Strawberry shortcake bingsoo was Jordan’s favorite. It was my first time to try this variety and it didn’t disappoint. It consists of a layer of shortcake on the bottom, a layer of strawberries, a layer of whipped cream, a layer of the milk ice flakes and a scoop of vanilla ice cream buried in the middle. Sounds awful, right?

There were a few dishes we couldn’t convince Jordan to try though.
This one is a pork leg that you pick up and eat like a turkey leg at the state fair. Except you pick it up by the hoof, from this steaming bucket, so maybe next time.

And as tempting as this lady is making octopus look, we decided to skip out on that one too. Seeing as how the cut the legs off the octopus and serve them to you still moving, with the suction cups sticking to your tongue as you fight to swallow it, I thought I could miss that experience for now.

Check please!

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Asia, Beauty, Culture, Fashion, Food, Travel

It Takes Two

I never wear lip color. But, Jake and Jordan were busy buying gold face lotion (yes, it actually has gold flecks in it and is apparently some of the best face lotion on the market in the world right now, as told by the girl selling it) so I used all the store testers to give myself a new look. Jake was less than impressed that I used the store tester lip gloss wand, but it looked pretty clean to me.

Pucker up

In other news, I’ve won Jordan over to the dark side. I was literally having a meltdown. I think I’m borderline hypoglycemic because sometimes it feels like my blood sugar just drops off the map. I was having a moment and all I wanted was street corn. As in cobs of corn that they cook and sell on a street. God heard my request fast because as soon as I said it, we walked right up to a stand.

 

Street corn stand

It’s maybe a little odd to some people, but I love it. And now Jordan does too. You get two street corns for two dollars. They only sell them in sets. You can’t buy one corn for one dollar. You have to buy two. I don’t really know why, except for the fact that everything here is made for couples. Even the street corns. I think it’s a conspiracy, ya’ll.

 

Subway hat shopping and corn eating, no shame in my game

Did I also mention that Jake, Jordan, and I are all currently single and all have no prospects of changing that anytime soon? So, we don’t exactly fit into the couple culture here. And, yes, it is very much a culture. You’re not somebody unless you have a somebody. And they go to extreme measures to let you know they go together.

 

Singles in Seoul

 

Couple clothing. It’s a phenomenon.

They literally buy matching things as a couple then wear them at the same time to let you know they’re taken. Here are a few examples:

Winter coats: to me, this could almost be construed as seasonal, so it wouldn’t be my first choice of couple clothing. I feel like it says, we’re together for the winter, but once spring hits, I’m out! However, the cost amount of a coat may indicate a more serious status in the couple clothing world. Also, it is an essential, so maybe if your guy wants matching coats, you should go for it.

Shoes: this one is the most popular (and the most difficult to get a picture of). We saw a ton of matching shoes. This is also a little more costly purchase, however, I think it indicates a medium amount of commitment. My thoughts are that it says: we’re officially established as a couple and we’re semi-serious, but we’re probably never getting married.


Hats and scarves: totally seasonal, not a costly purchase, not too much thought put into it, you’re definitely not marriage potential. But, you’re cute, so keep doing you.

That pretty much covers the main bases on attire. The options vary some in the summer: matching t-shirts, matching shorts, etc.But, I’m not really concerned about finding someone to share fashion with. What I’m really concerned with is finding someone to share delicious street corns with. Jake is no good because he hates corn, unless it comes in the form of a tortilla. But, me and Jordan make a perfect match.

My true Seoul-mate.

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Culture, Europe, Food, Travel

EXPOse’

I found some new glasses today. 

  
They’re pre-transition lenses. 

  

And, yes, I have been wearing them, they’re super convenient. To be honest, I haven’t really gotten that many stares with them. Fashion is kinda weird around here. 

I met a girl from the U.S. She asked me what state I was from and when I told her I was from Arkansas, she said: what are you doing here?! 

   

Good question. Milan is the city hosting the 2015 World Fair. Just to give you a reference point, the Eiffel Tower and St. Louis Arch were two sites that were built as a result of World Fairs. The theme for the Expo in Milan has to do with food, agriculture, and future sustainability. So, coming to check it out just seemed like the thing to do. Also, it is the biggest event ever organized on food and nutrition. I’m a nerd, I know. 

  

People have asked me what it’s like, which is another very valid question. I had no reference point for it and since it’s not heavily advertised in the States, I’m sure no one else really does either. After having experienced it, I would say that it is like a composition of a bunch of museums. 

There are 140 countries represented and each country has a pavilion, which they dedicate to explaining their agriculture and food supply. Each pavilion is completely different in its depth and content. Some are a short walk through, some have videos, Romania’s had a magic show (still trying to figure out what that had to do with anything), some are really interactive and technological. Each country can decide what angle they want to take too. So, some focus on their main cash crop, say coffee, for example, while others choose to focus on what their country is doing to feed a growing population. 

I met the American girl at the American pavilion (strange, I know), which depicted the changing landscape of food in the US population. It looked at the evolution of fast food and how our focus is changing back to farm fresh and organic foods and how the collaboration of these two ideas is resulting in a new food culture. 

   

Along with countries being represented, there were also “concept” pavilions, which covered different topics. One I was interested in was future foods. I didn’t know what this would be exactly, but was interested to find out. It turns out it was a supermarket of the (probably not so distant) future. 

  

In this supermarket, I went to a shelf and picked up a jar of raspberry jam and on a screen beside me, it told me not only what I had picked up (there were weight sensors in the shelves, which were able to indicate to the computer what I had selected), but also where the raspberries had come from, their nutritional values, as well as the carbon footprint that was made in producing this jar that I was holding in my hand. 

  

It all sounds so advanced, I know, but I do think that we will begin to see more of this type of technology as people desire to become more aware of the origins of the food they eat. 

  
As you can well imagine, I didn’t even begin to cover everything the event had to offer, but I tried my best. I think we did 44 of the pavilions, so I’ll highlight some of my top picks. 

Israel: I’m headed to Israel in a little over a week, so I wanted to check this one out. Theirs focused on how Israel has become an exporter of food, despite their desert climate. Because of the difficulties with farming desert land over the years, they became innovative, which led to the creation of cherry tomatoes (a plant which was more desert sustainable and offered greater yields than the traditional size) and irrigation systems that are used worldwide today. 

 

  

Belgium: the over arching theme of this exhibit was about utilization. Belgium is a small country that wants to maximize their output to feed their people. It had a section explaining the commercialization of insects there. I assume everyone knows this, but insects are becoming more popular and acceptable as a food item worldwide because they are much more sustainable to farm (using less water, food, and land) and offer more protein per gram than most of the meat we consume. They also had a section which talked about wild, edible plants. Did you know that there are 50,000 edible plants on the Earth, but only 200 of them are currently consumed? Neither did I. We should be using these wild plants to their fullest potential, which is what Belgium apparently thinks too. Also, chocolate. Belgium has chocolate.

  

Russia: I like Russian history and culture. It’s so interesting to me how this country has changed and developed through the centuries. Their exhibit featured the Russian scientists: Vavilov, who is the founder of the world’s largest collection of cultivated plant seeds and Mendeleev, who created the Periodic Table. It also displayed pictures from their 110 year old plant collection of cultivated and wild plants from all over the world. Their work in the preservation of our food supply is impressive and more extensive than I ever realized. 

  
Other country highlights: 

Brazil had a ropes course you had to navigate to get into their building. 

  

The Czech Republic had a huge birdbath. 

  

And, Mexico had chilaquiles. Because no cultural food tour can be complete without a little Mexican food. 

  

 

  

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Food, Travel

Listen here! 

There are two questions I will without a doubt ask when a hotel room has been booked for me. #1: do they have breakfast? #2: is there a gym? Breakfast is important to me. It’s (as we all know) the most important meal of the day. And, to me, the rest of my day hinges on the perfect carb to protein to fat ratio found in the bowl of bran flakes I eat every morning. The inconvenience of being at a hotel and having to go out to find breakfast is annoying. I don’t ask for much, just cereal, milk, and coffee. Same with the gym, I just need a treadmill or a bike, or elliptical and an hour or so of uninterrupted activity and I’m set.

Mississippi is a different world, in case you’ve never been. They have different customs, a different accent, a whole different way of life. It’s a state rich with history and for that, I love it. One of my favorite books is based in the Belhaven neighborhood where my aunt lives. This area of Jackson has seen so much change over the last fifty years and you can feel it.

Having been here a few times before, I’ve seen some of the sights, checked out the local landmarks and institutions. But, there was one I hadn’t made it to yet. The Big Apple Inn.


This place is located in the part of town that used to be known as “little Harlem.” And they are famous for one thing: the pig ear sandwich. Which I had to try.

As I’ve said before, I marvel at the way our ancestors (and even people of our day) learned to utilize every part of an animal. One of my life principles is waste not, want not, which I’ve been accused more than once of taking to an extreme. But, I do think we learn so much by observing how to get the most use from the resources we’ve been given. So, the pig ear sandwich. Historically, slaves in the South were given the remains of the animal after it had been butchered and the “choice” meat had been cut away. This practice created a base for a lot of southern cuisine that we now have today. Go into a grocery store in the South and you’ll see pieces of the past displayed on shelves in the form of pickled pigs feet, snouts, and chittlins.


Most people would automatically dismiss such things as gross. And, in a lot of cases, they’d be correct, it’s not the most appetizing thing to think of eating. But, to me, this is an age old testament of taking the best of a bad situation and making something of it. So, if you view it that way (remember: perspective is everything, ya’ll!) a pig ear sandwich isn’t all that bad. And, it really wasn’t. It was tender and I’d say most similar to bologna. They pressure cook the ears, so they are easy to eat. And I’m told, they go through nearly 900 ears a day. They served it with lettuce and mustard, so it really just tasted like most any other sandwich I’ve had. The white piece in the middle is the cartilage of the ear, which you would expect to be chewy. Not so, they’ve got this down to a science.

Sandwiches really aren’t my thing, so it wasn’t something I’d eat a lot of, but the ear was good. And, the steady line of customers coming in and out of this literal hole in the wall proved it. Taking a step outside our perception of palatable is necessary sometimes. That one step can take you to a lot of really neat places you never expected to go. As they say: never stop exploring! Oh, and never pass up a good breakfast.

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