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, 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!

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, 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

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