Friday, April 29, 2011

Korean Things I Have Eaten

In an effort to make myself blog, I'm going to write about things I eat. As we've been here for over 8 months I forget that some of the food I eat on a daily basis would probably be considered weird by anyone outside of Korea. Here's part one: Sunny 10 Chocolate Flavoured Soda.

I found this at a stationery store in Gimje when we went to visit our friend Lauren. I asked Tom to take a picture but he videoed instead so here's my comprehensive review.


Thursday, April 28, 2011

Sunday in Seoul

We went to Seoul to eat fish and chips, and drink cider, open a bank account and get out of Buan. In transit to one of the many places we visited this weekend we saw this person dancing in the subway. There is so much I want to say about this video so here's what I got.

The song is 'Shy Boy' by the band 'Secret' - click on this text to watch the music video.  Tom and I haven't really talked about K-Pop on the blog because it messes with our Indie Music Cred, but it's a big part of the culture here especially considering I spend most of my week with people under 14. The K-Pop industry has been booming since the early 90's, and there's a set formula.

Aspiring stars are selected and 'apprenticed,' put through a 2-year grooming process where they are coached to sing, taught choreography and physically sculpted - whether through exercise or plastic surgery. They are made into a band (some of the bands are HUGE, like Super Junior with 13 members) and the Magic Power of the Internet helps make them big. 

K-pop songs are formulaic too, there's a catchy chorus (usually including a few English words), weird fashion decisions and a dance routine which is faithfully memorised by the fans. I've used a few k-pop songs in my lessons and the kids go nuts for them, usually they leap up and sing and dance along. I haven't really been clubbing in Korea, but a friend told me that young adults will dance along to the videos during a night out. If you want to learn more about k-pop I utterly recommend and their Music Monday videos.

The next part I want to talk about may not be as obvious. The person dancing is male. I'm by no means an expert on LGBTQ rights and I usually leave the social commentary up to Tom, but in South Korea I imagine it's a bit like the 1950's. There are only a handful of openly gay celebrities, one transgender star who was the SECOND person in South Korea to legally change her gender (in 2002!) and any gay bars are generally restricted to Jongno, Shincheon and Itaewon in Seoul.

Queer couples do exist but frequently will get married to cover it up. One of my friends told me that his coteacher talked about the apartment he shared with his boyfriend, when they were away from their respective wives. My own coteacher has expressed shock that I know queer people (let alone having friendships with them, scandalous!) so when I saw this guy dancing I just had a huge flood of WTF. He'd made a real effort to cover his face and continually adjusted the mask while he danced. We saw a few expressions of disgust in the large crowd of subway patrons gathered around but I didn't really know what to make of it.

Confucian culture values homogeny and conformity, and Korea does Confucianism better than anywhere else in Asia. Anyone considered 'different' is generally treated like an outcast. Tom and I (and all of our Waygook friends) get stared at when we're out in public. Disabled people are either ignored (like the deaf pupils in my classes) or seem to work as beggars, selling small things on the street or pushing music players through subway cars. To cross-dress, dance and be out in a public place during daylight hours is just so un-Korean. It reminded me a little of Cuba Street at home, which was kinda nice.

So, apologies for the unholy mishmash of k-pop and queerness. Back to talking about food and travel, eh?

Monday, April 18, 2011

Sent from my iPod

I bought myself a shiny new toy which has meant living frugally for the month of April (not a bad thing, considering my bank went out of service for three days). It also means I have another thing to fascinate my kids with. Here's a few pics and videos gleaned from my iPod. 

Suggestive hairdressing in Jeonju

Springggg (AKA not Winter. Assa!)

Petrol station/boat in Gomso

Awesome kid with an awesome mullet!

One of my 6th graders. Naughty but cute!

My 6th grade class as I escaped last Friday. The girl in the glasses is Korean Dan.

This little chub is one of my favourite 5th graders. 

My gorgeous students and some ginger fro.
And some videos:

My 5th grade class

I'm teaching them adjectives - this kid was making his 'ugly' face.

And finally, my 3rd Grade class at Gomso Elementary School. Putting the kids on wheely seats rates up there with Shittest Idea Ever. I showed this to my coteacher and she hasn't complained about our classes since.

I document them because I want to be them.

Let's take a moment to discuss another of my favourite things about Korea. 

These particular breeds flock to popular entertainment and shopping spots, like Myeongdong in Seoul, or Nampodong in Busan. The first time I saw them was at Lotte World, while waiting in line for a particularly awesome ride. My good friend Lauren and I have sacrificed our dignity time and time again to be photographed with them on trains, busy streets and park benches. 

I'm talking of course about the Korean Matching Couple. Googling tells me this phenomenon exists in China as well, but I have seen some beautiful specimens on the shores of the Land of the Morning Calm. Witness:

And the coup de grace:
Matching QUARTET!
Unfortunately as it's barely spring, the full glory of the matching couple is not on display. When I finally capture the complete shoes-pants-shirts-hats combination I'll be posting it right here. Until then, enjoy these Google images and likeminded blogs, I sure do!

Monday, April 11, 2011

Korean House and Garden

With our various ailments and our quest to save money, we've had a quiet weekend. We bought some bathroom stickers a while ago but never got around to putting them up. For whatever reason Korean people love decorating their bathrooms with brightly coloured stickers. Flowers, animals, and inspirational English phrases are all popular. Anyway, now our bathroom looks like this:

Next, I'm going to show you how to make kimchi boegeumbap. This is a popular Korean dish, essentially stir-fried rice with kimchi, topped with a fried egg. I made it for the first time last night and it turned out pretty well. It's easy and the only hard to find item is the kimchi, which you might be able to get in an Asian supermarket.

To make it for two people you'll need:
  • two cups of cooked rice, ideally cooked the day before. I'm using brown rice, but white rice is the normal Korean way
  • 3/4 of a cup of chopped kimchi, plus about 1/3 cup of kimchi juice. 
  • one medium sized grated carrot
  • 3/4 cup bean sprouts 
  • two eggs.

This will be the last of a huge container of kimchi that my co-teacher gave us when we arrived seven months ago. Fortunately a friend of ours gave us some that he was given and didn't want, so we're set for kimchi for the foreseeable future.

Heat a small amount of oil in a frying pan on medium-high heat and fry the kimchi for a couple of minutes. Throw in the grated carrot and bean sprouts and stir through. Cook for about one minute. Turn the heat down to medium and add the rice. Stir fry for a few minutes until the rice is lightly fried and the kimchi and carrot are mixed through. Serve with a fried or poached egg.

A fried egg is standard, I used poached eggs instead because our stove isn't wide enough for two frying pans.
We also got a few more plants. The rosemary and lavendar came from the friendly people at the plant shop next to our local grocery store. The blue pot is basil. It was a kit (pot, soil, seeds) from a cool Korean stationery store called Daiso. I really miss fresh basil so I can't wait for it to grow. We can get most of the herbs we need here but they are always dried. I miss having a herb garden.

Also, Anna made this delicious cake. . .

There's really only one way to finish this. . .

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Korea Makes Me Sick

Literally. Since I've been here I've had 7 colds, including the Korean 'Death Cold' which was the worst 24 hours of pain in my life. I've had dermatitis, a bladder infection and some lady problems I will discuss after a bit of soju. My doctor ends his appointments with a cheery 'see you in a month!' and the pharmacist grins when I come in the door. Now I am experiencing a fresh hell:

On Sunday I slipped while doing laundry - like the shower in our bathroom, the water from the washing machine drains through a hole in the floor. One leg went one way while the other slammed itself into the clothes horse and came down hard on the step into the laundry itself. After limping around all Monday I went with my coteacher to one of the hospitals in town (there's 5!) to check myself out.

The doctor was the most impersonal I've met in Korea, and spoke the least amount of English. I've actually been impressed with Buan's Medical personnel, each of the doctors I've visited have been friendly and fluent enough that I've only had to pull out my cellphone dictionary a few times. This guy glanced at my foot, shooed me away for an x-ray, called me back in and pronounced my little toe to be broken. The only physical contact he utilised was to poke me in the toe, hard, until I cried out. Bastard.

The x-ray technician was in charge of suitably trussing up my foot, and now I have to wear this hideous contraption for 4 weeks until I am healed. This is the first time I've broken a bone and I'm a little disappointed the experience wasn't more impressive. Okay, I lie. I'm really disappointed. 

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Photo post! - Cobbled-together edition

Delicious treats from Passion 5 Bakery in Itaewon.
More deliciousness, the mushroom pita in the front is divine!
Restaurant in Namyeong.
T-Shirts hawked by the ajummas (middle-aged married women) in Itaewon

I had the second from the bottom. How could I not?
Ginseng is considered to be extra potent because it looks like a person. As a result, there are pictures like this.
This picture was taken during our trip to the Jeonju Zoo.
Making this little chap smile was the only bright spot in an awful day.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Only Lunch Can Break Your Heart - Day Five

Today's lunch was a fitting end to the week, a wide range of flavours and textures, from the absolutely revolting to the almost okay. As usual, here's a pic:

Helpfully, this lunch was divided left to right. The stuff on the right was borderline edible, and at times nearly enjoyable, while the left side was just awful. 

Today's best thing was the soup. It's made with a dried soy bean paste that gives it a rich, slightly nutty flavour. It's a bit like miso, only rougher and more substantial and with chunks of soy bean in the bottom. The soup has cubes of tofu and slices of zucchini in it, as well as some spring onion. I really like the soy bean paste, particularly in dwaenjeon jigae, a stew of tofu, veges, potato and sometimes seafood cooked in the soy bean broth. This soup is nowhere near that good, with it's small selection of overcooked veges, but it's a welcome change from farty chicken broth.

Above the soup are two vegetable dishes.   

On the left is our old friend cabbage kimchi. I think we must've finished the old barrel because this stuff is fresher and crisper and much more like food. Beside that is a dish made from cucumber slices and a strange variant of red pepper paste that I haven't encountered before. It's oily and smells less than fresh. This concoction also has another vege mixed in that I can't even begin to identify. It's crispy but it doesn't really have a taste.
Okay, so there's a bulb-shaped bit, and what I hope are roots coming out of it. I suspect it's one of the throw-away parts of another vegetable, but who really knows?
Overall, I'll let the cucumber thing go, it's raw veges and that's amazing enough on it's own. It doesn't need to taste good, and not all the ingredients need to be real food, for me to be impressed. 

I can't quite face the red mess in the top left just yet, so let's do the rice. It's got red beans it. Yes, those revolting things they use to flavour desserts. I actually used to like red bean, but Korea has made me hate it. Apart from it being in everything, it's just not appropriate in rice, and it ruined the only part of school lunch that I can normally depend on to be edible.

Okay, I've done everything else. Here's the thing in the top. I'm calling it that not to build suspense but because I genuinely don't know what to call it. The main ingredient is either chicken or fish. I'm really not sure. It also contains white lumps that look like potato but taste more like parsnip. The carrots, I'm pretty sure, are carrots.

As for the red sludge it's all cooked in, it looks a bit like a tomato-y sauce, but really isn't. I'm not sure what's making it red because there's no tomatoes in it, and not enough chilli for that much colour. It tastes oily and salty and most of all, dirty. Like it's a mixture of chilli and dirt. I don't even know. The first time we had it I thought it was chicken casserole, but when I tasted it I felt violated. I've tried it again since then, just in case I got a bad batch the first time, but it was the same. I've been avoiding it for months but had to have some today so I could write about it. When I ate it today, my whole body felt clammy and squirmy, I think out of sympathy for my poor taste buds. Just thinking about it now is making me want to vomit all over my desk. 

That's the end of the week of lunch blogs. More interesting topics to come in the future. Before I go, heres today's Random Korean Insanity, a bike pump from the dollar store here in Buan.