Asia, Celebration, Dessert, Family, Food, Funny, Travel

Settle Down, Seoul

There’s some political unrest in Korea, in case you haven’t heard. One of my friends sent me a message the other day about how they were glad we weren’t in South Korea right now, but I had just been wishing I were there. 

His message reminded me of this post I’d written when I was there last. Same country, slightly different political outburst, but here it is: 

I accidentally got caught up in a political rally today. 

This happened in Thailand a few years ago, when I dared Jake to go wave the huge Thai flag. 

Jake at the Shutdown Bangkok rally

I don’t know if political rallies can be your thing, but I really kinda like them. Such a sense of national pride, even if it isn’t my own nation. 

A couple of my friends are a news anchor and a journalist for a newspaper here in Seoul, so both of them have been catching me up on the political climate. 

Hyoseung, the news anchor

This rally has nothing to do with North Korea, so no need for immediate concern. In case you don’t keep up on South Korean politics like I do, their president Park Geun-hye has recently been impeached. It’s a long story, but some people have accused her of being involved with a cult and all sorts of other things. She had a 5% approval rating and was finally impeached a few weeks ago. 

As I am told by my friends, even though she’s been impeached, they are still calling for her to resign her position. (Which if you’re reading this now, and not when I originally wrote it, you’ll know that she did resign). I’m not exactly sure why, some of the more technical political terms get lost in translation. But, you get the basic idea. People aren’t happy with her. 

We were taking a taxi back to our hotel today when we were stopped by a lot of commotion. I knew that there was going to be a candlelight vigil tonight in the city (as there has been every Saturday night since the impeachment) to peacefully protest the president. I also knew that they were expecting a million people to show up to said candlelight vigil. I, however, did not know that the million people would be marching down the sidewalk that leads to our hotel to get to the point at which the protest would take place. Which is what the taxi driver hurriedly spouted off to us in Korean as he dumped us out in the middle of the madness. 


I love the Korean people because they openly embrace Americans. So, upon seeing that we were walking with them, we were quickly given flags to carry and Korean flag pins to wear. We were asked by about 100 different people where we were from. We had our pictures taken with more random people than I could keep track of. I eventually just stood off to the side, holding my Korean flag and waiting for people to come stand by me for their picture. Someone came up to us with a video camera to ask us questions and film us as we were walking along. 


Then, someone asked us what broadcasting network we were with. Which got me to thinking: maybe I should become a journalist. I do have an affinity for crazy crowds and political unrest. 

If anyone needs some quick, unofficial coverage of a B list event, let me know. Until then, I’ll be down in Hongdae, eating these little beauties. 

Standard
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. 

Standard
Asia, Culture, Europe, Food, Travel

Club Class

In the airport, there’s this magical little world no one ever tells you about. It’s hidden away behind glass doors, outside of the hustle and bustle and screaming babies. I lovingly refer to it as “the club”. In the club, it’s quiet and there’s free food and drinks. It’s a wonderful little oasis.

The Korean Club

We have all these amenities, not really because we’re anyone special, mostly because Jake does his travel research.

Each airline has a club, and I’m not sure technically exactly how it works, but we show up at the door and give them our passports and tickets and they escort us in.

 

The Tokyo Club

I keep hearing a waitress in heels walking towards me and am fairly certain she’s coming to tell me to put my shoes back on and to keep my feet off the furniture. I’m really probably not high maintenance enough for this travel life. In fact, there’s no probably about it. I’m not high maintenance enough for this. Seeing as how I’m currently drinking my ice tea from a beer mug, I’m pretty certain that seals the deal. (The mug was the biggest cup they had though, in my defense)


We also have access to “the lounge” at our hotels, which is another magical oasis where there are free food and drinks and where I’m known as Miss Scott, even when I walk in with bed head and Nike shorts on for breakfast. Who am I and how did I end up here?

 

Part of the breakfast lounge in Seoul

 

The lounge in Germany, where they have approximately 37 different types of beer

Short little side note: when we arrived at our hotel, the concierge asked Jake how old I was because they serve alcohol in the lounge, so you have to be atleast 18 to go in. When he informed her I was 24 (his older sister), she laughed nervously and said, oh, I thought she was still in high school. Seriously though, this age thing is getting a little ridiculous! Right?

 

Afternoon tea at the lounge in Seoul

This is all pretty fancy for me. But I am considering buying a fur coat, just to try to fit in a little more. Although, I realized I’m currently wearing socks with holes in them, so maybe I’ll skip the fur coat for now and just treat myself to new socks instead. I’ll take this fancy lifestyle upgrade one step at a time. I don’t want to get too far ahead of myself.

Standard
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.

Standard
Asia, Culture, Travel

Coffee Break Beginnings

I’m back where it all began. Well, where this all began. This being my blog. Which I haven’t been keeping up with very well lately (sorry, mom!).
Actually, Korea is where a lot of things began for me. I almost had a Korean roommate in college but she got moved to the international dorm before she moved in with us. But, that spurred a friendship between us, which spurred me leading a Conversation English group, which spurred friendships with a lot of other Koreans, which spurred our first solo travel, which was to Seoul.

 

Heesu (to my left), my Korean (almost) roommate

So, it’s kinda where it all began in a literal sense.

Traveling solo (or duo in our case, since me and Jake almost always travel together) to a new place where you don’t know the language is pretty exhilarating. I should also mention that Jake was 18 and I was 20 when we first came to Korea by ourselves. We were babies! But, we (he) figured out the subway system and how to get ahold of our friends and meet and order and all the other things you have to know to get around. And, once we got the hang of things, the world became quite a bit smaller and traveling got a lot easier.

 

First time to Seoul

So, this is our fourth time to Seoul.

We’d been planning this trip for awhile, since we could conveniently travel during the holiday season. I was trying to see all my friends on winter break before we left, which just happened to include morning coffee breaks with Jordan. Her family lives a few miles away and we’ve been friends since high school. So, morning coffee while she was home became a must.

 

Morning coffee break selfie

Somehow, one of our morning coffee breaks turned into us booking plane tickets, which turned into jet lagging our way to Seoul (with a short sushi break in Tokyo)


And, jet lag means coffee breaks are a must for us on both sides of the world.

Standard
Asia, Missions, Travel

Moving On…

Airplane bathrooms baffle me. You get one square foot of space, but they include a full length mirror. Why thank you, I did need to see a full view of myself standing three inches away. Yep, just as I suspected, travel worn and weary, that was just the look I was going for! I cause scenes in airports. I liken it to having a toddler at the DMV. All my normal social standards just go out the window. I try, I really do. I always go in thinking I’ll try to be normal this time. But, it never works. I stand in line, everything is going well, then our baggage is too heavy, hidden fees ensue and all the sudden, I’m sitting on the floor, shuffling dirty clothes from one bag to another, trying to balance weights among bags, muttering angrily to myself, with about a hundred sets of Asian eyes all on me. And, after that, it’s all over. I guess I figure once I’ve literally aired my dirty laundry to everyone around me, there’s no turning back and I can throw whatever kind of temper tantrum I need to at that point.

4 of our 8 bags

4 of our 8 bags

My frustration gets me nowhere though, and after an hour at the check-in desk and being ushered into a back room to dig through my checked bag to show them my hairspray (for reasons that didn’t translate), I still find myself running through the airport, with a now 25 lb bag on my back and dragging a 35 lb bag behind me. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen an elephant run, but I have and I know they look more graceful than I did. We made it onto the flight though and God shined a little light down on me in my distress: the seat next to me is open, allowing for some much needed room to breathe. Next stop: Cambodia!

Standard
Asia, Food, Travel

No Soup For You

Finding a post office around here was a little bit difficult. Fortunately, not only did we find a post office, we found the post office. As in, the central headquarters of the post office. Which was huge. And, it just so happened that we found it in the middle of a protest. So, I crossed the police lines to try to find out what was going on (and where I could buy a stamp) I figured it wasn’t too dangerous because they were all eating soup. I was actually just trying to find out how I could obtain a red vest so that I could get in the soup line too. But, then, I figured I probably couldn’t pass for a protester. So, no soup for me.

Soup Time Selfie

Soup Time Selfie

IMG_2968

I’ve basically covered the scale on Korean dining. I’ve done street food, home-cooked, traditional, and fine dining. As you can probably tell, fine dining is not my usual fare. I guess if I had to describe my dining style, “hole in the wall” would probably be the best phrase. Give me a grungy taco shop where I have to order in Spanglish and I’ll be a happy camper. (Have I mentioned that I haven’t had Mexican food for 7 days now? This may be a personal record for me.) However, fine dining experiences are fine.(I can never pass up an opportunity for a pun!)

Let me go ahead and explain what a fine dining experience entails in Korea. They sit you down at a table that is full (as in 20 or more dishes) of food that ranges from recognizable to “I’ve never seen anything like that in my life.” You begin eating, mostly picking up bites of things with your chopsticks from all the different dishes. Then, they begin coming in with more dishes, replacing the ones on your table with new things and continue this parade of food for an hour or so.

Part of our crowded table

Part of our crowded table

They say there’s a first time for everything, so I’ll detail a few of my firsts.

Mugwort pancakes: I thought the green ones were seaweed, but I was wrong. I actually really liked these (plus mugwort has great health benefits) and Jake graciously gave me his portion.

Kimchi, corn, and mugwort pancakes

Kimchi, corn, and mugwort pancakes

Lotus root: I saw the gray disks presented and they sat on the table for the entire meal untouched. Finally, my curiosity got the best of me and I asked what they were (knowing that if I asked, I was going to be obligated to try them.) I was told they were lotus root, and so I picked one up, prepared for it to be squishy. But, again, I was wrong. They were crunchy and slightly nutty tasting. Also really good! I was told that lotus root has blood cleansing properties that make it a great food for health.

Lotus root and anchovies

Lotus root and anchovies

Jellyfish: Slimy. That’s the only word for this. It tastes exactly like what you would expect. Chewy and slimy. Appetizing, right? You kinda just chew and swallow and move on. Did I mention that refusing something is basically not an option?

Jellyfish

Jellyfish

One of the meals we attended had 35 dishes, so as you can imagine, there was much much more. However, I think I hit the high points with these three.

Pair of Choux

Pair of Choux

Oh, and we finally did find our shoes at Dunkin Donuts, what luck!

Standard
Asia, Religion, Travel

Salt

Misunderstandings are always a little funny. The father of my friend was trying to tell us about a pastry we should try and Jake thought he was telling us about shoes (to be fair, it was a French word, so it did sound a little bit like shoes). I was just trying to figure out why they would be selling shoes at a bakery.

Anyway, yesterday, we headed to our first Korean graduation. My friend, Boryung, graduated from her university and invited us to the ceremony. Here she is:

Bo's Graduation Day

Bo’s Graduation Day

While we were waiting at a subway stop, I noticed some women handing out brochures, and I brushed it off as another sale ad for one of their many malls. We were sitting on a low wall, soaking in the sunshine, and finally, one of them took notice of us. She handed me a packet and brochure and at first, I thought she was trying to sell me something. Everything was in Korean (both her spoken words and all the material she gave me) so it took me a minute to figure out what was going on. Upon looking at the packet, I realized she was witnessing to me.

IMG_3035

I don’t know many Korean words, but I am familiar with the words for God and Jesus, among a few others. As I studied the pictures while she talked, I understood that she was sharing the true Gospel. She knew almost no English, but she didn’t let that stop her. She was very nice and in an effort to make conversation with her, Jake asked (in Korean) what he thought was “what’s your name?” After her flustered response, he didn’t go any further. I finally showed her the cross necklace I wear, and made some motions to let her know that I was a Christian and she seemed very satisfied, said what I assume was “God Bless” and went on her way. When she left, Jake said, I don’t know why she didn’t answer when I asked her what her name was? To which I responded, you didn’t ask her what her name was, you asked her how much it costs? (Again, I don’t know much Korean, but I know that market phrase in many different languages)

IMG_3036

We had been to church with Boryung this past Sunday and I had talked to my grandma on the phone before we left for the service. She had asked: will you get anything out of the service since it will all be in Korean? And, to answer her question, it is a little bit difficult. I’ve been to a lot of church services in a lot of different languages and it takes some effort to engage in what is going on. However, I am a firm believer that The Lord breaks beyond the barriers of language and I was overcome at this particular church service on Sunday. As I sat there with 300+ Korean believers, I couldn’t help but think of how the Gospel had spread. Presbyterians sent many missionaries here throughout the 19th and 20th century and Christianity spread. Where would this country be without those missionaries? Look at the impact their work is still having decades later. Today, South Korea is second only to the United States in the amount of Christian missionaries that it sends out. In Matthew 5, believers are called to be the Light of the World and the Salt of the Earth. Those Presbyterian missionaries took that call seriously, and because of their work, the Gospel continues to spread.

PS, did I mention that Jake was an honorary graduate, earning his degree in Foreign Studies, yesterday?

Screen Shot 2015-05-27 at 3.03.36 PM

Standard
Asia, Food, Travel

Street Food Chronicles: South Korea

Leave it to Jake to know exactly what he wants when he smells it. He asks no questions about what it is (although, since the little grandma selling it couldn’t speak English, I don’t think asking would have done us any good), just orders and eats. Our plan was to meet a friend for a traditional food market tour, but on the way, he got a little distracted.

Eat First, Ask Later

Eat First, Ask Later

Japchae Hotteok

Japchae Hotteok

We later found out it was a “pancake” made of mung bean filled with sweet potato cellophane noodles. Looks delicious, right? Jake had told me about this food market we’d be going to for awhile. To put it in US terms, imagine an outdoor buffet where you walk to each food station, sit and eat a few bites, then move on to the next. Except in the US, you probably wouldn’t be okay with eating your food with this sitting in front of you…

Woo Pig Sooie?

Woo Pig Sooie?

Pig Feet and Lungs

Pig Feet and Lungs

I was told by my friend and gracious tour guide, Hyoseung, that every stall has a pig’s head to bring good luck. And, it was true, I saw this at nearly every food stall, along with the pigs feet and ears and lungs piled up on top. My thought was, does it bring good luck if it scares away customers? But, then, I happily sat and ate with it staring me down, so I guess I wasn’t too deterred. Hyo, first, walked us through the market, imparting knowledge of different dishes to us, allowing us to see the full range of our selections. I had decided that the “sausages” I was seeing at many of the stalls would be on my Do Not Try list. So, when we sat down (with me coincidentally seated in front of a big pile of the steaming things) at our first booth and she ordered in Korean and was promptly presented with a plate of said sausage, I was all too excited as you can imagine.

IMG_3032

Upon further explanation, I discovered from Hyoseung that they were called Soondae (which can also be spelled sundae, not to be confused with the western version of a delicious ice cream dish we all know and love). They are pig intestine, stuffed with the sweet potato noodles that have been marinated and cooked in pork blood. These are also known as blood sausage.

Blood Sausage with a side of Liver

Blood Sausage with a side of Liver

The powder is mixture of salt and Korean pepper, made to dip the sausages in. You might be wondering at this point, how did you eat this? And to answer that, I got my chopsticks, picked it up, and took a big bite. It was actually really, really good (which I know you’re not believing right now). I ate more of this than I did of anything else. The liver wasn’t bad either, if liver is your thing. Does everyone have an opinion on liver or is it just me?

Anyway, moving on to our second stall, we were greeted with mandu, Jake’s favorite. Mandu are essentially steamed dumplings, stuffed with different fillings. There were piles and piles of them everywhere. The stall we chose had kimchi mandu and gogi (beef) mandu.

Mandu

Mandu

I guess one good thing about these stalls is that you are able to see your food being prepared. Although, that can also be a bad thing, depending on which way you look at it. We kept seeing these pancakes (jeon) stacked everywhere, then we finally came across someone making the batter from scratch.

IMG_2987

These are mung beans, being ground by this implement, falling into a bucket and being fried into savory pancakes. This was our final course of the market, the proverbial cherry on top of the sundae (or soondae, in this case)

Piles of Jeon

Piles of Jeon

The moral of the story: Don’t judge a sausage by it’s casing.

Standard
Asia, Food, Travel

Kimchi Princess

It’s probably just me, but I think cabbage gets totally overlooked as a vegetable. It’s like that shy girl in the back of the class who you’ve never really noticed and then one day, she raises her hand and you figure out she’s pretty much a genius and it would probably be wise for you to make her your friend. That’s cabbage to me. It has been culturally adapted to just about every cuisine in the world and it tastes totally different but totally awesome everywhere.

Koreans, I think, have always seen the true potential of cabbage and have been making kimchi with it for centuries. Traditionally, kimchi has been made, then stored in big pots, buried in the ground, and allowed to ferment for a really long time. In case I’ve lost you already, kimchi is a deliciously fermented, spicy “condiment” that Koreans eat with everything. Literally, they eat it with every meal: breakfast, lunch and dinner. Typically, kimchi is made in November and December, where the matriarchs take a whole day (sometimes more) to make their family’s supply of winter kimchi. They, then, store it in their kimchi refrigerator. Yes, they have a totally separate refrigerator, set at a very specific temperature, just for kimchi. Because, apparently, the whole “bury the pot” practice has kinda fallen to the wayside. Some families make up to 100 cabbages worth of kimchi. But, I think about 10 cabbages worth is a more normal amount, which I am told will last a family of four approximately 6 months.
The new kimchi can be eaten right away, however it grows in flavor as it ferments, so waiting is preferred. Families will have a “back stock” and will actually be eating the kimchi they made a few years ago. I guess it could be considered similar to canning, in that way.

We got the chance to experience the art of kimchi, as we had a sweet friend and her mom volunteer to teach us. As I said before, Koreans see the true potential of cabbage and I think that starts at the seed. I found the biggest cabbage I’ve ever seen and obviously had to take a picture with it. It was literally the size of a watermelon.

FullSizeRender

Back to the lesson though. You start with raw cabbage and cut it up into pieces (I guess I should also note, we were making spring kimchi, which is made with smaller cabbage, is a faster process and eaten fresh). The next step, it was emphasized repeatedly in excited Korean, was super important. You have to kill the cabbage with salt. Killing is key here. And, apparently, the type of salt you use will change the overall flavor of your finished product. We were using solar salt (the very best choice, according to our hostess).

Solar Salted

Solar Salted

Once you salt the cabbage, it needs to sit for 2 hours for spring kimchi (12 hours for winter kimchi). In the meantime, we went to a local coffeeshop for bingsu, another Korean favorite.

Strawberry and Injeolmi Bingsu

Strawberry and Injeolmi Bingsu

When we arrived back, the cabbage was dead, rinsed, and ready to be coated. The recipe consists of many ingredients and in many different forms of measure. Let me just hit the high notes for you: baby shrimp, fish sauce, plum wine, corn syrup, Korean red pepper paste, onion or apple, and sesame oil to list a few. Then, all of this gets blended up into a thick paste and spread over the now dead cabbage.

Kimchi: The Final Stage

Kimchi: The Final Stage

Our Final Product

Our Final Product

As weird as it all sounds, it ends up being really good. And surprisingly good for you! Recent studies have shown that in the fermented kimchi, the probiotic benefits outweigh that of which you find in yogurt. So, steam some rice, get some kimchi, and chow down Korean style!

Standard