Friday Photo: Lions on a Perfect Weather Day

28 Nov

Friday Photo: Lions on a Perfect Weather Day

It has been getting pretty cold here in Seoul. It has dropped well below the freezing point already. While I don’t mind the cold, sometimes it is nice to think of warmer weather. I took this photo at the Seoul Zoo this fall on a class trip. It was one of those, “This is my perfect temperature days!” Also, the lions are looking very regal.


Pajeon and a Travel Update (Mostly Pajeon)

27 Nov
It is so delicious.  This one, from Gwangwhamun Square was served on a hot platter.  It was crispy and so good.

It is so delicious. This one, from Gwangwhamun Square was served on a hot platter. It was crispy and so good.

Let’s take a minute to talk about pajeon here.  Pajeon is a traditional Korean cuisine.  It is best described (in my opinion) as a seafood pancake.  It is hands down one of my favourite Korean foods.  Pancakes in any form are definitely on my top food of all time so keep that in mind when I give it my five star rating.

A friend told me that pajeon is a comfort food to eat on a rainy day with Makgeolli, a Korean rice wine. Maekgeolli is alright, the price is right for sure.  I also find it fun to shake up.  It has to be shaken becuase there is white silt that settles to the bottom. IT is a little sweet and carbonated. It is like a milky white colour.  It throws me off a little bit.  Like beer and wine, maybe I just need to aquire a taste for it.

Back to pajeon: it is made like pancakes, with batter, fried with oil in a griddle.  It has seafood and green onions and it is often served with soy sauce to dip it in.  I like it because it is hot, crispy, oily and there are tentacles in it.

Tentacles are the type of food that you think you should be averse to trying, but then you eat them and they are completely unoffensive and delightful.  I have been a tentacle fan for years.

On a note about the status of the blog:  If have been on hiatus for a couple of weeks here (despite saying that it wouldn’t happen).  Things have been a little bit hectic around here with my job and trying to move on with my career.  BUT in three weeks I am on vacation and in four weeks I am off to NEW ZEALAND.  I am really excited so there will surely be lots of posts about that.

But wait, there is more.  As you all know (probably not even true) I have been trying to improve my career prospects (life skills) by learning french which I have not updated, but it was going very well for the 30 days that I committed.  I feel like I am grasping the basics now.  I can answer questions and think of how to say things in French much easier.  I also feel like I have been more productive in my evenings.  French is continuing, but slower.

I am moving to Santiago, Chile in MARCH!  So, last week I started learning Spanish.  I have never studied Spanish before.  But it is coming along I think.  So in the next four months I am going from Seoul to New Zealand to Seoul to Canada to Chile.  I am really excited to start this new chapter.  These next four months are going to be a whirlwind!

Back to pajeon: Please try this.  You are supposed to share with the people you are eating with.  THAT pajeon in the picture was actually only eaten by me.  No, I was not travelling solo.  No, everyone didn’t order their own meal to consume by themselves Western Style.  We were eating communal shared dishes mostly.  I ordered that pajeon and I ate it all.  That’s how I roll sometimes.


A Guide to Hack into Korean Nightlife

3 Nov Korean Bar
Korean Bar

The name of this bar is actually Cheong Chun ShiNae

There was this bar that my friends and I used to frequent when I lived in Mokdong.  It became legendary because every time we came there we would meet hilarious, friendly locals that we would share drinks and laughs with.

We came to this bar because we could get good, cheap food.  Lots of beer and soju and more often than not, after a few jugs of beer and two bottles of soju, someone would raise a glass to “chunbae” another table and before long our tables would merge and there would be a lot of broken English and broken Korean.

The decor and food is enough that if you go with a group of your friends and don’t meet any locals, you will have a fun time.  This bar was fun because the ceilings were covered in newspaper style, black and white comic strips.  The walls are decorated with old Korean vinyl record cases.  There were half dozen television screens perpetually playing some weird k-pop music show.  Also, they served “pop-rocks” candy with the soju.  We always assumed that this was the soju chaser.  On top of all of this, they had the best cheesy ddeok-bokki I have had in Korea.  Their pajeon is also notable.

We always called this place the “K-Bar.”  That was not the actual name of the bar, but we called it that because it was our favourite Korean Style bar.  There were a lot of Western style clubs and pubs.  There are also a lot of Chicken Hofs selling fried chicken, beer and soju.  This one was unique in that it had escaped teh Western influence but was not too foreign to us that we felt uncomfortable (In fact, we took Korean friends here and they were shocked that we enjoyed coming here).

We met some hilarious characters here, like the older man whose knowledge of English, I can only guess, encompasses only the lyrics of “We are the world” the 1985 charity song.  There were the young girls that taught me how to “one-shot” makgeolli (a Korean rice wine) and I helped them practice their English.  There was also the pineapple salesman who was selling pineapples to pay for college.

This place was a hilarious introduction to the drinking culture of Korea.  I think that there are many places around Korea that you can create your own “k-bar” in.  I have learned the secret trick to breaking the ice with strangers; it’s as easy as raising a glass and sharing a smile.

I don’t spend a lot of late nights out drinking anymore.  Late nights make wasted morning.  Every once in a while it is a fun laugh though, and Korea is a hilarious place in the wee hours of the morning.  You can get your people watching in and experience a part of Korean culture that is just non existence during the day light hours.

If you are in Mokdong and you want to go to this particular bar, go to Mokdong Station (Line 5) exit 1.  Walk straight for a few minutes and it will be on your left hand side.  Look out for the sign in this post.  When it is warm, there are tables set up outside.  

For Google Map click here

Friday Photo: Photographer on the Roof

2 Nov rooftop

I was up on a hill in an old part of Seoul and I saw all of these old rooftops. I love these rooftops, I think they are beautiful.

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?

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

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.