Archive | October, 2013

Sushi Conveyor Belt

29 Oct
Sushi Belt

Guests can sit at the bar while the chefs made sushi and dropped fresh items on to the belt as you eat. There were also lovely ladies who topped up my soup for me whenever I get less than half full.

Sorry for the mini hiatus (I missed Photo Friday!)  Something unfortunate happened last week and I was a little down.  So, in light of cheering up and appreciating all of the positive things in my life, I am going to share something great that happened last week.  Of course, this involves food.

Last week I tried something that has been high on my ‘to do’ list for months: eating at a conveyor belt sushi bar.  In South Korea it is called  회전초밥 (hye cheon cho bap) or revolving sushi.  It was all of my wildest dreams come true.  Yes, all of my wildest dreams involve food.

I went to a Lotte Department store food court to find it.  Lotte Department store is quite fancy and I like eating at their food courts, everything is so pretty there and there is a variety of Korean and International foods.

Have you ever gone to a restaurant and saw something that was being brought out to another table and it looked so amazing you had to ask someone what it was so you could order it?  Or more unfortunately, you see something that looks amazing and you have already ordered/received your food and you regretted your decision?  I have done this so many times.  I was also a waitress for years and have seen it happen to a lot of people and my heart always went out for them (you might be thinking that I over think food – if you are I am thinking that you under think it).

The rotating sushi belt was incredible because you could just pick up that plate as it went by.  If it looked delicious, just take it. If you were not too keen to try it, let it pass you by.  You are hungry right away?  Sit down and start grabbing plates.  Eat until you can eat no more, then someone counts up your plates (colour-coded by price) you pay them and then you leave, belly full.

It is brilliant.  There is literally nothing that can put me in a good mood faster than a pleasant meal.  Good company, food, and fast amazing service.

What kinds of things put you in good spirits?

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Learning What Authentic Actually Means in a Korean Tae Kwon Do Class

19 Oct
Punching out the flame of a candle.  Watch out!

Punching out the flame of a candle. Watch out!

I wanted to expand my experience living in Korea by taking a Tae Kwon Do class while I was here.  Tae Kwon Do is one of the most popular martial arts in the world and it originated in Korea.  It was developed in Korea during mid twentieth century.  It combines self-defense and fighting techniques.

I took Tae Kwon Do classes when I was in Junior High almost 15 years ago (I just realized how long ago it was!) in Canada. I really enjoyed it then, I had never imagined that I would ever go to Korea at that time.  Now that I was here, it was a great opportunity to see what the differences were in a martial arts class in Korea versus Canada.

Cue awesome Rocky-esque Training Montage…

I assumed that a Korean Tae Kwon Do academy would be much more intense and serious than a Canadian class.  I assumed that it would be a lot of rigorous training, stern faces and a lot of sweat and tears.   I imagined that at the end of the year I could reflect back on my training like a montage in a movie, I was clumsy and inexperienced at first, no one believed I could do it but through my hard work, determination and natural skill I would bloom into one of the greatest martial artists of all time.  I was like the karate kid.

Reflecting back, I don’t know why I ever thought that.  I have no coordination, rhythm or balance.  I am literally the worst.  I am pretty strong, but that is all I had going for me.

Anyway, I joined this class with a coworker.  The owners of the academy were the gym teachers at the kindergarten that we worked at.  It was not a foreigner class, it was run entirely in Korean and we did not speak Korean.

I definitely sweat and worked hard but there were a lot more laughs than I had expected.  My instructors were like a performing comedy trio.  They would use props like gigantic drums or anything they might find lying around with a mix of physical humour and a few English words that they knew.  Every once in a while if something was really difficult, or if someone was getting frustrated one of them would scream out, “STRESS!”  My coworker and I spent most classes laughing until we cried.

We took a class that was a mostly High School and Junior High students.  There were two brothers that were 10 and 12 years old, they were the youngest.  They were also the only ones who spoke English so I tried to talk to them a lot.  I often asked for translations during lectures, but the boys were never listening.  I felt like Bill Murray in Lost in Translation when the teacher would go on an epic rant for a good five minutes and one of the boys would sum it up with, “I don’t know, you should stretch, maybe.”

Yeah, maybe I will.  Thanks.

Thankfully, one of my instructors knew a little English.  Well, he could quote all of the Star Wars movies, often in context.  I remember paying my fees for the first month that I was there, I handed him a white envelope with cash in it, and he studied the envelope for a few seconds before quietly saying in his best Darth Vader impression, “Impressive…”

He paused, shifting his eyes, waiting for me to acknowledge his use of English.

“What?” I asked, I was trying to process what I had just heard.

He looked a little disappointed.

“Did you just say ‘impressive’?”

I know the feeling.  You are trying to speak in a foreign language and it flops.  I normally don’t try to quote Science Fictions films from the 80’s but in his defense, it was proper use of the word.

The Difference between Canada and Korean Tae Kwon Do (not really) …

I am comparing two schools in two different countries that have literally thousands of Tae Kwon Do Academies each.  These are my experiences, so keep in mind that I have not been training more than a year in either country and my experiences are about fifteen years apart.

In Canada, it is difficult to get a black belt.  You have to train for a few years and you need to be very talented (I am told).  In my Korean class, it seemed that I could take a belt test every month, if I took the test, regardless of how prepared I was, I would be given a belt.  At first, I was disappointed, it seemed like a sham. But I continued to go to the class and I avoided taking tests.  The instructors managed to get me to do two tests in a matter of seven months, so I had my green belt.

There were a lot of kids with black belts.  In fact, almost everyone had a black belt.  Some of the kids with black belts did not seem very impressive to me.  I felt like I could have taken them in a fight.  A 27 year old woman would probably win in a fight against a 15 year old, especially when she is about a foot taller.

Then I actually thought about why it was so easy to get a black belt.  I would bet money that a lot of these kids were there for exercise; their parents made them go for the physical activity.  It was a sport that was culturally important.  That’s two birds with one stone.

However, there were a lot of very talented fighters in the schools.  They were incredible.  One kid could jump about five feet off the ground with ease.  He could round house a giant.

Sure, anyone could get a black belt but at the end of the day, you take out what you put in.  Some took it more seriously than others.  The ones that took it seriously trained hard and became incredible fighters.

Expectations versus reality…

This class what not what I expected.  I did not get to have the authentic experience that I imagine.  It was not like Uma Thurman in Kill Bill, which is what I really wanted.  I would hate them and they would be too hard on me, but out of my hatred, pain and determination would grow a strong mutual respect.

Instead it was soccer games with balloons, impromptu salsa dances and many gag show impersonations.  There was a lot of training as well.  It was really fun, and usually a great workout, just not what I expected.

The authentic experiences that you plan for rarely ever happen the way you want them to play out.  Instead, I learned that I did not know what authentic Korean culture was.  This was it, this was a real class with real students.  I saw some of the most talented fighters that I will ever see in my life.  I also met some of the laziest students I will ever meet (there was this one yellow belt, they never gave her another belt because she literally made like 3% effort, she was so funny, I used to make her practice patterns with me).

This class was not designed for foreigners.  It was designed for youth.  I was 27 years old; I was actually older than one of the instructors, which made him really uncomfortable (Darth Vader).   I really shouldn’t have been there to begin with now that I think about it.

I learned about stepping out of your comfort zone, overcoming language barriers and that I don’t know what an authentic experience is.

I also have a pretty decent back kick.

Friday Photo: Temple on Bukhansan

18 Oct Temple
Temple

This temple is pretty high up on Mount Bukhan (Bukhansan, ‘san’ meaning ‘mountain’ in Korean). I took this last year on a hike up during one of the peak weekends to see the fall colours.

I am getting really excited for the fall.  I love South Korea in the fall.  If you ever come visit, you should do it in November so that you can see the fall colours.  The weather is also perfect, it isn’t humid or raining.  The summer heat just suddenly lifts one day and you can wear scarves and boots.  But the best thing about it is the beautiful colours of all the leaves.

Learning French: A 30 Day Challenge

14 Oct Coffee coffee coffee

I watched a TED talk recently about 30 Day Challenges.  It inspired me to try a challenge myself.  I have some spare time, I might spend a bit too much time watching television or just browsing the internet.  (I might have watched about 20 hours of Ugly Betty in the last two weeks; I probably could have done something more productive at the very least, simultaneously, if not instead).  With the amount of free software, tutorials and courses available on the internet, I should be able to add or improve a new skill to my repertoire every 30 days. 

I have committed to learning as much French as I can in the next 30 Days.

I have been thinking about his for a while.  When I came to Korea I tried to learn some of the language so that I could do things like order food and talk to taxi drivers.  I studied pretty hard for a few months and it was really hard at times.  I don’t study much anymore because of a combination of things, life, laziness, contentment.

I know enough to read, order food and drink in a restaurant and to generally get by comfortably. Seoul is a very English friendly city, I know people who have lived year for over five years and can barely read a menu or say, “Hello.”  It just was not necessary.

I found that learning about the Korean language benefitted me for several reasons:

Everyday life was easier and I was more confident about the things I could do.

I was not nervous taking the subway or the bus because I could read and understand all of the stops (the subway is very English friendly, buses are not always).  I could order food and drinks at a restaurant.  I can tell a taxi driver where I wanted to go.  I could ask where the bathroom was and understand the directions I was being given.

It gave me a better understanding of the culture I was living in.

I was teaching very young children and I could make sense of the mistakes they were making in English because they were thinking in the context of the Korean language. Also, there are untranslatable words that give you insight into things that are important in one culture, but may not be in another.  Like, there is a special word for the top part of your foot.  A kid in my Tae Kwon Do class was trying to translate this part of his foot to explain a better kicking technique.  He kept pointing at it and I would say, “Foot. You are talking about your foot.”

“No, THIS part, “ he would respond, obviously annoyed that I was not understanding.  He knew the word for the whole foot, it was this particular part.

“The top part of your foot?”

“Yes, what is it called?”

“I don’t know, I never really talked about it before.  I guess I would just call it the top part of your foot.”

He was obviously not satisfied with this answer. Maybe there is a name for it.  The point is I did not know what it was. Whether there was a medical term for the top part of your foot, I do not know.  All I know is that I would not talk about it in normal conversation.  In a country where Tae Kwon Do originated, it makes sense that there is a name for that part of your foot.

Local people appreciated that I made the effort.

It is definitely more convenient to interact with someone who can understand at least a little bit of the language that you speak.  Many Korean people that I speak to seem very impressed and appreciative at even the minimal amount of Korean that I know.  I am immersed in their culture, I am interested and I want to make an effort to learn more about it. That’s understandable; I love to talk about what life was like growing up in Nova Scotia.  I especially like when people enjoy to hearing about it because I am going to tell them about it anyway.

Coffee coffee coffee

Studying a language can be a great excuse to have a really fancy overpriced drink. If you have a friend to share it with it is a fun way to spend an evening, especially when it is really cold outside and you can drink something hot and sweet.

Why did I stop studying Korean?  I have kind of given it up.  I learn a little bit here and there, I like to learn new phrases now and again.  But I am comfortable at the level that I am at and I know that I won’t live here much longer and that I will never be fluent.  I stopped because I was trying so hard to learn and moving forward very slowly.  I thought that if I put an effort into something else, I might have a useful skill in the future.

Now I am not saying that it is not useful to learn Korean.  Maybe one day I will have an opportunity to learn to speak Korean more fluently. If I had a job offer that required it, I would jump at the chance in a heartbeat!  Alas, it is just not something that I foresee, my efforts might be better spent towards learning a language that would put me further ahead in my career in the future.  I am a Canadian, that language is French.

French is one of the two official languages of Canada (the other language being English).  There are many languages spoken in Canada (Korean is most definitely one of them).  However, French is an official language and if I can speak French then my opportunities to work in Canada (which I eventually want to do) will most certainly increase.  I have always wanted to learn French; I have been exposed to the French language my whole life and I do know a little.  I can (will) become a French speaker.

I think that learning French will come a lot easier than Korean.  I learned a lot about learning languages when I was studying Korean and that will certainly come in handy.

This is my 30 Day Challenge to me: Learn as much French as possible using the resources that are free and readily available to me here.  These are the ones that I plan to use:

Memrise – a free, online language learning website and Android App

Duolingo – another free, online language learning website

Canoe.ca Android App – A Canadian News app to read news in French

Television Programs/Movies – I will keep a list of the ones that I watch that I have found useful

Bilingual Fiancée – I really have no excuse here.  He couldn’t speak the language when I met him now he is bilingual.

So I am going to start this challenge.  I will keep notes and update in 30 Days how my French has improved.

My Goal: Do something to enhance my french learning for at least 45 minutes everyday.  It can be a combination of things.  I will keep a log of what I do each day.

If you are also on Memrise my name is Jennytrips (I fall all the time, so this name is hilarious BTW) you can follow me and I would love to follow you back.

Is anyone else learning a language right now that has any tips, or would anyone like to join me in this 30 Day Challenge?

Friday Photo: Spout Cove

11 Oct

 

Spout Cove

I managed to get her to sit still for a minute to take the picture. This might be the only picture she ever posed properly for. She chose well!

Another throwback from Newfoundland.  This one is from a place called Spout Cove. It is an abandoned community but some of the homes look like they are still used as summer cabins.  Up on the hill you can see trenches from old vegetable gardens.  We used it because there was a private beach that was perfect for playing fetch and watching the sea birds.

People Watching

6 Oct

 

I saw this family admiring some art that was on display in the park in Hongdae.

I saw this family admiring some art that was on display in the park in Hongdae.

Seoul is a fascinating city for people watching because if you watch for long enough, you are certain to find someone doing something interesting.  Some of my favourite are the ajjeoshis that have had one too many bottles of soju, the ajummas that can carry half their body weight on their backs or heads, or the young couples at various stages in their relationships.

There are also the unique circumstances or people that you encounter.  I have seen music videos, dramas and television commercials being shot.  There are areas that you are sure to see live music or busking on the street.  There are the elderly who have lived through the Korean War and have seen Seoul grow from almost nothing to one of the most populated cities in the world and young kids who cannot imagine there was a world without smart phones and wifi.

While you can take advantage of people watching at any time, in any part of Seoul, here are some of my favourite ways to go about it.

The Han River Park

One of my favourite places to spend a Saturday or Sunday afternoon in Seoul is the Han River Park.  If you get bored of people watching you can read a book, nap, play catch or rent a bike (or roller skates, or a tandem bike).  You will see Seoulites come for the whole day with their friends or families.  They pitch tents and set up camp for an intense day of relaxation and fun.

Head down on your own, or with a group of friends.  You can pack a lunch, buy streetfood, a pizza or chicken to bring down with you.  Bring or buy a picnic blanket, grab some beer, wine or soju at the CVS conveniently located in the park.  This is a classic go to activity on a nice day.

Directions (subway): From Yeouinaru Station Exit 3 or 5, head down to the Han River Park. You cannot miss it!

Hongdae:

Hongdae is a fun area. It is close to a prestigious art college, Hongik University which makes it a gathering place for an interesting group of artists and musicians.  There are lots of cafes, bars and restaurants to set up camp here.  Day or night in Hongdae, you are sure to see something interesting.

Directions: Hongik University Station (line 2), Hapjeong Station (line 2 or 6) or Sangsu Station (line 6)

This little pub reminded me of a hobbit hole.  It also had some comfy chairs outside for people to sit, drink, eat snacks, watch, whatever.

This little pub reminded me of a hobbit hole. It also had some comfy chairs outside for people to sit, drink, eat snacks, watch, whatever.

There are many streets like this in Hongdae that have lost of restaurants and cafes that you can get a coffee, or a meal and sit outside and watch the world.

There are many streets like this in Hongdae that have lost of restaurants and cafes that you can get a coffee, or a meal and sit outside and watch the world.

The Local CVS:

Seoul has no laws against imbibing in public.  At first I thought this would not affect my life. I didn’t really think about it until I went to a Scottish festival on Prince Edward Island last summer. My family and I were sequestered to a tent area with our beer like savages.  I could not see the sheepdog presentations from there and it was a shame.

7eleven, or CU drinking is wonderful because it is outside, there are a variety of drinks avalible and it is cheap.

I know that I said that Han River Park was my favourite, but I retract that statement.  The local 7eleven or CU is my favourite place to hang out and people watch.  The convenience stores in Korea often set up plastic tables and chairs with umbrellas out on the street to encourage people to stay out front to eat and drink.  More often than not, there is a decent selection of local and import beers, soju, makgeolli and wine. Obviously there are many different kinds of snacks to choose from including crackers, chocolate, cookies, ramen and gimbap, for example.

I also love saving money.  The convenience stores sell beer cheaper than you would get it at a bar or restaurant. They also offer imported beers.  Many times the beers offered at a convenience store are much more varied than the average hof.  But they also offer soju, makgeolli and wine. Buying a bottle of wine is usually fairly expensive in a restaurant or bar.  At a convenience store it is the same price you woiuld get it at the super market.

All you need to do is walk around, keep your eye out for a plastic table and chairs, go inside and purchase your snacks then sit back and watch your surroundings.

Directions: Most likely, less than 500 metres from wherever you are in Seoul.

MiniStop

You can find a set up like this on almost every street. There is a plethora of snacks and drinks to choose from in the convenient store. I think this is an activity that cannot be missed if you are visiting South Korea.

If you find yourself in Seoul with nothing to do, or are looking for a relaxing activity, try people watching.  Why do we travel if not to experience a new culture?  What better way to experience a new culture than to watch what people do during their day to day lives.

Friday Photo: Cook up on the Ridge

4 Oct Newfoundland Fall
Newfoundland Fall

There is nothing better than a feed of beans and wieners cooked over an open fire while your dog keeps watch for wildlife.

 

I love living in the city, but I miss being able to escape civilization as quickly and easily like I could in Newfoundland.  This is my dog and I while I wait for beans and wieners to finish cooking over the fire.  This picture captures so many of my favourite things: Eating outside, cooking over a campfire, eating after a tough hike and my dog.  Most of my favourite things involve transportation and food.  My dog is also amazing and she loves eating as much as I do.  (The dog did make the trek across the world and has adjusted well to her life in Seoul if anyone was wondering)