Monday, May 30, 2011

Say Chee-juh!

My new favourite Korean snack is cheesy ramyeon. This is two minute noodles (ramyeon in Korean) with processed cheese. I resisted their charms for months because, well, they just sounded gross. How wrong I was.

The Korean language doesn't have a "z" sound, so most Koreans have trouble pronouncing it. In Konglish, the name given to Korean words borrowed from English, Z's are written as ᄎ. This letter is pronounced somewhere between "ch" and "j", so pizza becomes "pee-cha", zombie becomes "jom-bee" and "I saw a zebra at the zoo" becomes "I saw a jeebra at the jew."

This is where things get tricky. Korean has a very limited range of sounds which can end a syllable. "S", "ch" and "j" sounds in particular are out. If you put one of these letters at the end of a syllable it will be pronounced "t". Why? Because Korean is cray-jee. Ye-suh it i-suh. So  if we want to write cheese, we not only have to replace the "z" sound with a "ch" sound, we have to shove another syllable in there to get that sound pronounced. After all this mangling, "cheese" becomes 치즈 (chee-juh).

Once you've got your tongue around cheesy ramyeon the word, it's time for the dish itself. There are two ways to have cheesy ramen. The first is at a kimbap nara, a type of Korean diner. The ramyeon is just regular old packet instant noodles in a huge bowl of spicy broth, with a slice of processed cheese expertly plonked on top.

It's a good feed for 2,500 won (NZ $3), the cheese and the spiciness of the flavouring sachet making for a strange but delicious combination. Unfortunately the cheese tends to melt and get diluted by the excessive broth. Much better to make your own, using one of these: 

That's a pack of cheese ramyeon you can make at home. It comes with a noodle cake, a flavour sachet, a tiny and completely pointless sachet of dried vegetables, and a pack of cheese powder. For those of you cooking along at home, the red arrow points to the cheese powder. You cook the noodles with the flavouring and veges, then mix in the cheese at the end. The advantage here is that you can pour off most of the liquid before you add the cheese, making a kind of spicy Korean mac and cheese.

Okay, so it doesn't look so great in the photo, but trust me it's 맛있어요 ("mah-shee-suh-yo") - delicious.

Pieces of Korea

Ajumma resting on her trolley as she walks home.
Took a trip to Iksan this weekend, played peekaboo with this guy the whole way!
Korea doesn't really have rubbish bins, so instead the
Ajumma Army cleans up the streets every Monday.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Korean Things I Have Eaten

Candy is an integral part of my week. It's what I've requested most from New Zealand (licorice! Pineapple lumps! Jaffas!). It's what I pick up on my walk home after a rough day, and a few pieces of candy can hold the attention of a class of (ordinarily screaming) 6th graders. My coteacher uses candy as a motivator and I'm endlessly amazed at what a kid in Korea will do for something that costs less than a few won. Recently I'd suspected that one of my 6th graders has a crush on me, and this was confirmed when he gifted his hard-earned orange candy to me after class.

This candy is my absolute favourite. I usually have a pack of it in my bag with me at all times. Some of my favourite students have clicked on to my fondness for it and hand me a piece as I walk in to the classroom. It comes in five scrumptious flavours:

Grape, peach, pineapple, cola and strawberry. Guess which one's my favourite?
Apparently this is a Crown-brand knockoff of Japan's Hi-Chew, but having eaten both I can tell you that these are so much better. They're called Saecomdalcom, which means 'sweet' in Korean, but they are sweet and sour and tangy and a total taste explosion. My current favourite Korean word is '아이셔' (ah-ish-yo) which means 'oh my god! It's souurrrr!' and it's appropriate here. I LOVE this stuff. If you want a pack, leave me a comment and I'll (probably) post it out to you. Unless you're in Korea, in which case buy it yourself!


Friday, May 27, 2011

The Boon and the Bane of my Korean Life

I spend half of my week amongst Koreans aged 6 to 12 and some of them are total meatheads. After an hour of disobedient 6th graders yelling at me and ignoring my timely evil eyes I forget why I'm in Korea and  long for my days of being a Personal Assistant. And then one of my kids runs up and says or does something that makes me happy again. This is a pictorial representation of that moment.

Making Mother's Day cards with my 3rd graders.

Sujin wrote love on my hand.

Some of my third graders, eating apple-flavoured popsicles.

Seoul's Historic Walks and why you should avoid them and do something else

Last weekend while Anna was at some lame amusement park I decided to explore Seoul on foot. I've had Seoul's Historic Walks sitting on my bookshelf for a few months so I thought I'd do  couple of their walks. The book was written by a Korean architect and an expat who's been here about ten years. There's some interesting stuff in there, but it's let down by some vague, unhelpful maps and a lack of direction in the walks themselves, which are really just overlapping clusters of destinations.

After a bit of Seoul searching (sorry), I decided to explore the area around Inwangsan, a big mountain in the northwestern part of the city. This started with Sajik park, which includes the altar where the Korean royal family performed Sajikdaeje, one of the most important religious rites in the Joseon era. The altar was closed, but I did get to see the Main Gate to Sajikdan, described by Seoul's Historic Walks as "a wonderful example of mid-Joseon-era wooden architecture", and by Karori to Korea as "just another fucking wooden gate." Not listed in the book were these two huge statues. I can't tell you much about them since there was no information nearby, even in Korean. I also accidentally deleted one thanks to my crippling technotardation, but here's the other.

I kept going up the mountain, thinking I might climb it if it wasn't too far. I got to a road and must've taken a wrong turn because I found myself walking downhill. Looking up at the mountain I thought perhaps this mightn't be such a bad thing. The whole thing seemed to be fenced off anyway. This was not as strange as it might've been; I figure if a beach can be closed in Korea there's no reason a mountain can't. Down the road I followed a path through the fence that lead uphill to a mineral spring. This was underwhelming, just a tap on an old metal drum with a couple of plastic scoops hanging beside it. I didn't know if I was supposed to drink the water or bathe in it, so I played it safe and did neither. Leading up from the spring was a steep path along the fence line marked by white painted rectangles every couple of metres. This looked like it might lead to a lookout so I figured  I'd follow it until the fence cut it off. After a few minutes I was treated to this view.

The path kept going and so did I, fairly certain by this point that not only was I climbing the mountain, I was climbing the steepest part of the mountain

I eventually scrambled up to the ridgeline and realised it was part of Seoul's old  fortress wall. The wall is in the process of being restored, although a decent chunk of it is still used by the military because of its strategic importance above Seoul. According to one government website on the subject: "in 1968, thirty-one North Korean assassins were discovered just 600 metres  from the president's house." That would explain the fences then. There was still a huge staircase to climb up, but eventually I made it to the summit.

I jostled with the dozens of Koreans all trying to stand on the small rock at the very top of the mountain; the downside of hiking being Korea's favourite activity is that even the great outdoors is really crowded.

After chatting with a Korean student who was hiking the length of the fortress walls (gasp), I followed the wall  back down the mountain, and got a good look at the old and new parts of the wall.

Later that day I visited the Joongang Daily News headquarters, recommended by my guidebook for its architectural significance. The building itself was unremarkable, but it included a cultural centre showing a cool art exhibition celebrating the friendship between Korea and Australia.


A Study of the DPRK's Self Image as Projected by its Propoganda  by Sally Kim

Nightfall Pyongyang by Ian Howard

In conclusion, my writing skills have regressed to about Standard Four and I'm writing things like "In conclusion. . ." But in conclusion, Seoul's Historic Walks is a good way to spend a day or two walking around Seoul, as long as you avoid everything it recommends. 

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Korean Things I Have Eaten

Outside the school we live next to there's a cluster of shops hawking snacks and toys for the kids. There's a bunch of them outside my school as well, and they put the tuck shops in New Zealand to shame. A few of you have received Korean care packages from me and I get the bulk of my stuff from those stores. Eventually I'll sneak in a camera and document them properly.

On the way home yesterday I stopped in with my friend Bonita, and along with a 25c ice block I picked up a bag of Smoky Bacon Chips.

They look like puffy bits of bacon and taste like ramen, according to Tom. Don't be surprised if there's a pack of these in my next care package home!


Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Crossing off items on my Bucket List - Part 2

After Geumsansa we decided to conquer Moaksan, or Moak Mountain. Remember that 'sa/사' means temple? 'san/산' means 'mountain' and calling it Moaksan Mountain will result in you being cut. Just so you know.

Another warning about this blog post - it features pictures of me all gross and sweaty. Yay!

Pre-hike. FACT: Korea has increased my usage of peace signs 300%.
There are a number of trails to the peak but the one we took goes right past the temple gates. Farting man from Gimje told us that the walk would take 5 hours, so we got a little bit freaked out and called our friend Lauren who reassured us that it would be a mere 2. It took me 4 hours, it took Tom about 3 and a half, but we stopped to eat at the top (recommended.)

From the temple there's a 30-40 minute walk on a moderate incline through the bush. The trail meanders along a stream with a few small waterfalls and pools. It is getting rapidly warmer in Korea at the moment, so as we walked I fantasised about swimming in each of the pools and annoyed Tom by doing so. I'm ridiculously unfit so this part of the walk was a challenge and had me sweating buckets:

Damn tourists!

After 2 and a bit kilometres, you'll reach the base of the mountain. From there, it's about an hour of solid stair climbing. I wish I was kidding.

Contemplating will to live. There's 2.6 kilometres of this stuff.
The steps are seemingly endless. When you get higher up they morph into proper wooden staircases that stretch as far as you can see and for a great deal of the hike you can't tell how far you've come. At one point, when I'd been climbing for 40 minutes and I spotted a sign that said I had another 1.2 kilometres to go, I cried.

Pretty much hating life right now.
To give the mountain some credit, it's beautiful. The trees are a gorgeous green, the path is well constructed and it's peaceful, especially if you head up in the late afternoon when the trail is nearly empty. The only sound is the heavy breathing of one lumbering waygook as she tries to burn a few extra calories. I had to take a break every 20 - 30 steps as I was zonked, Tom muscled on ahead and reached the peak about 15 minutes before I did. We passed about 6 other people on the trail. 

When you reach the summit there's a cluster of strange (and if I'm honest, really ugly) buildings and aerials. One of the buildings houses a gondola that ferries people up from the path at the bottom and the other ones host a few satellite dishes and lord knows what else. On the very top there's a helicopter pad for... mountain... rescue... agh, I don't know. It was nice to stand up there and the view was absolutely stunning, but the buildings were UUUUUUGLY.

Smidge of ugly buildings, one tired Anna.
When we reached the top we sat in a small pergola and ate some lunch, after 3 hours of walking and 7 hours of not eating it was probably the Best Lunch Ever. As we were there quite late all of the buildings were closed, I'm not sure if there's a store or a vending machine up there so I'd advise you to buy some water at the temple first. I took two bottles and was dying by the time we got back down. Also, it's windy at the peak and I didn't bring a jumper so I was bloody freezing, take one with you - it's worth it even though you have to lug it all the way up. Learn from my mistakes! After a few photographs it was time to head back down.


The walk downhill was almost as unpleasant as the uphill journey but at least it went faster! My legs were tired and wobbly and the steps are an annoying not-quite-big-enough for two paces, not-quite-small-enough for one pace so I had to stop a few times just to get my bearings back in order. About halfway down, a Korean man caught up with us and kept us company until the car park. We had a stilted conversation in my terrible Korean and his limited English, but the three of us were keeping an eye out for each other. The 5.8 kilometre journey from the peak to the bus stop took us just over an hour.

After buying some water and some delicious Fanta, we boarded the 7:44 bus back to Gimje and then on to home. Today I'm at school and in a moderate amount of muscle pain, but I feel pretty proud of myself. If you live in the Jeollabukdo area I totally recommend Geumsansa and Moaksan for a day out.