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Sunday, April 29, 2007

A Buddhist Temple on Gwangak Mountain

Join me on my Sunday adventure:

When these men saw me snapping friends' photos, they wanted theirs taken, too!

We ate a Korean pancake, kimbap and miso soup, at a restaurant near the entrance of Gwangak Mountain. It only cost us 2,000W (2USD) each.

Pigs feet and alcohol for sale at the bottom of the mountain.

There were small barbecued birds for sale, as well as chicken's feet, as seen in the above photo. I tried chicken's feet on my birthday and they are bony, without much meat on them. They taste how they look.

I felt a bit silly wearing a running suit, because my friends showed up at the subway station, in jeans and nice shirts. Who knew you can be under dressed on a mountain!

Buddha's birthday is coming up, so the path was decked out with lanterns.

There is more than one temple on Gwangak Mountain. This one is closest to ground level, and involves only a small climb.

Look at the sunlight pouring in. The day was gorgeous.

View out the temple door. There was a monk wandering around. We had a picnic at that table.

Heading home...

Saturday, April 28, 2007

A Japanese Business Meeting

After a meeting, Friday, I was taken out for Japanese food by the management. It was a nice treat because it's generally pretty expensive, in Korea:


Here we are slurping noodles and waiting for our Californian rolls to arrive. Our rolls had tuna and mayonnaise inside.

Draped on the cake is tomato-flavored gelatin. There was also a cherry tomato on the plate (by now it's in Hoon's mouth!) The tumblers held a sweet fruit juice.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Interview: Dating in Korea

I've been checking my Google keyword analyses. Lately my #2 search is 'dating in Korea.' So, yesterday, I interviewed a Korean friend (who shall remain nameless) about the dating world of Koreans and foreigners. Here was his response. Listen up, girls! :

Q: Why is it that Koreans have few same-sex friends?

A: typical Korean guy thinks very much like Billy Crystal from When Harry Met Sally; True friendship between a man and a woman can exist so long as there is absolutely no possibility of becoming attracted to each other.

Q: Are Korean guys generally interested in dating foreigners?

A: Now that interracial and inter-cultural marriages are becoming more and more prevalent and accepted in Korea, any reasonably minded heterosexual Korean guys would dump their existing girlfriends to go out an attractive and intelligent foreigner. Especially, when she shows a genuine interest and a deep appreciation for Korean culture, that’s a major plus.

There is a very popular TV show in Korea called, ‘Miyeodlui Suda,” meaning, ‘A chat with beautiful women.’ 20 something beautiful girls from all over the world share their thoughts and experiences regarding Korea and its people. They all speak Korean fluently. The two most sought after/searched on-line girls happen to be Canadian. Needless to day, they’re the best looking and funniest ones.

Q: You're a Korean guy. Can you give my readers (foreign girls) tips on dating in Korea?

A: Sure --

1. When a Korean guy says to you half-jokingly, “do you have an (American/ Canadian/ Australian) friend you can introduce me?” It means he likes you. Yes, they tend to beat around the bushes. They tend to be a bit shy.
2. If a Korean guy wants to “hang” with you, it means he is interested in you.
3. If a Korean guy pays for your food, he thinks you’re pretty cute.
4. If a Korean guy writes you a poem, he’s got a serious crush on you.
5. If a Korean guy invites you to his family dinner, the game’s over. Expect a proposal real soon.

*Remember though, these rules are only applicable to Korean-Korean guys, not westernized or North Americanized guys.

Q: Do you think it's possible for Americans/Canadians to really understand and fall in love with a Korean?

A: I think many foreign girls are apprehensive about dating someone from a very different culture. It's only natural. I mean, it’s hard enough to date someone from your own culture. I think there are two ways that kind of relationship can work: (1) one of them must completely assimilate into the other’s culture, and (2) they must be open-minded to find a middle ground somewhere. I personally have rarely seen a couple of the latter case.

Q: You've dated a few American girls. How was that?

A: Actually, I felt a constant pressure that I could not show any of my “Koreaness” to them. For them, being a Korean wasn’t a cool thing. I could fool them by coming off as American-born Korean guy since I have no accent. However, I’ve made a decision a while ago that I would no longer date anyone who has no interest or appreciation of my culture. As Americanized as I am, Korean culture still is a huge part of who I am.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Eating 자장면 for Lunch.

자장면 (Jajangmyeon) are wheat noodles topped with a thick, black bean paste. The only vegetables I could identify were sauteed onions and mushrooms. There was also a trace of meat. Recipes vary, sometimes including seafood.

At this restaurant in Suwon, offering a mix of Chinese and Korean cuisine, jajangmyeon will fill you up for only 2,000 W (2USD.) If you're not a fan of spicy eats, I'd recommend this dish. It's mild, but very tasty. Personally I love spicy food, but it is taking a toll on my skin.

Although originally a Chinese dish, the variation familiar to Koreans is only available at Chinese restaurants in Korea. Most Koreans I talk to consider
자장면 to be "theirs."

The carbohydrate-packed meal really does taste like comfort food. It is eaten on Black Day- April 14th: a day set aside for Koreans who have no significant other, and received no gifts on Valentines Day or White Day. I'd choose the noodles over flowers, in a heartbeat!

Suwon Tourist Attraction

Meet Tae Hun. He is an engineering graduate student whose Mother is a Buddhist. He is kind, slow to react, and incapable of lying- even a white lie is out of his realm. I experienced my first Lunar New Years at his home and we now spend our Sundays together.

Last Sunday, we visited Chosun Dynasty tombs, on the Southern border of Suwon: "Yoong Gun Tomb." To reach Yongju-sa, catch bus 24 in front of Suwon station:

The tombs are the final resting places of King Jongjo (1752-1800) and King Sado (1735-1762). King Sado's father, senile in his old age, was convinced that Sado was going to usurp his throne, so he banished him to a rice chest where he suffocated, at 28 years of age.

King Jungjo did his best to recover his father, Sado's, honor. He visited Gunrung several times a year and cried over his father's demise.

This is where the traditional bowing ceremonies took place, centuries ago. Wine and food were placed on these tables:

On the hill are the graves of King and Queen, surrounded by statues like horses symbolizing defense. I would have liked to take a closer look, but there was a sign warning people not to venture past the rickety brown fence:

As we walked around the grounds, admiring the forest of pine trees, we saw a cloud of smoke rising in the distance. Minutes later, firetrucks and ambulances sounded. People gathered around to watch.

On the long bus ride home, Tae Hun pulled my history book from my bag and read to me from the Korean war chapter.

Korea- Decorating on a Budget

When you're an expatriate for a short while, it's wasteful to splurge on furniture and art. Your ticket home is like your ticket to heaven. You can't bring your stuff with you.

That doesn't mean you can't personalize your place for cheap. My apartment is looking cute, for about 60,000 W (60 USD). Here's how:

Plant - 2.70$, HOME PLUS
Striped rug- 2$, dollar store at South Gate

Computer desk- approx. 30$, HOME PLUS

Candle- 1.30$, HOME PLUS. The holder was a gift.
Frames- 4$ for two, HOME PLUS

Dresser: 0$ (found it on the side of the road.) Same with my bookcase. It's spring!

Framed poster: 20$, HOME PLUS
Coat hanger hook: $1, at any stationary store

Grand Total: 61$ USD

Monday, April 16, 2007

Think you don't know any Korean?

When I first arrived in S.K, I recall hearing English words float to the surface, in a sea of foreign jabbering. Konglish is English, written in Hangul and spoken with a Korean accent. The term Konglish can also represent the misuse of English in Korea, but that's another subject altogether. Many 20th century objects have been assigned a Konglish title.

Pat yourself on the back, because you just may be familiar with these "Korean" words:

Running shirt / Hand phone / Bus / Diet / Neck tie / Heart (symbolic of love) / Home run / Chance / Hot cake / Coffee / Ice Cream / Balcony.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Come to dinner with me in Seoul:

The weather in Korea has been mild and springlike. Min, Hiroko: my Japanese friend, and I went to Seoul's National Cemetery to admire the cherry blossoms, but it was closed for the night and we couldn't get in through the gates. I'd recommend the cemetery to anyone who has an eye for beauty. The trees in bloom were breathtaking, on grounds where 160,000 soldiers and patriots were laid to rest.

I said, "wow," over and over but, to be fair, I'm like that. I "mmm" throughout dinner and gasp when I see something pretty:

I had a great evening, but I'll zoom into things that might be of interest to you:


The Statue of Liberty was in town. As a result, security was heightened... you know the drill:


This photo peels back the curtain on Korea's night culture. You'll be hard pressed to find a store open Sunday morning, but Saturday at 1AM? Buy a new bra. A house plant. A container of pumpkin soup:


Min informed me that men eat turtles with phallic necks, for their stamina-increasing blood properties. These little guys are like Korean Viagra, though they look a little sluggish to me:

Check out our spread of food, all at 10,000 W (10 USD) each. The 10$ includes sweet ginseng wine, for all, and cups of shikhye: rice juice, as a post-dinner refreshment. I wasn't keen on the fish eye glaring at me, from the plate, but he tasted pretty good dipped in Gochujang. The eyeball is high in protein:

Here Min pours boiling water into the left over rice dish: "noo-roong-ji" (literally, scorched rice), to make a delicious soup that we all fought over:


I took this photo because ever since I posted about the "devious" dual-spinning barber poles, after midight, I give these shops the 'I know what you're up to, don't try to fool me,' nod.

Once again, highlighting the commercial use of English in Korea: Visit the Barrel in Wine:

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

The origin of Kimbap

My view at lunch time. More impressive than the pile of kimbap, brushed with sesame oil and shimmering in light, are the boxes of tin foil (under the counter) to wrap it with! That's quite the supply. It's common for Koreans to stop inside the door of a restaurant and order one, to go, for 1,000 Won: 1USD. It's the Korean version of fast food.

Kimbap is a staple. I've never met anyone who didn't like the seaweed wrapped, sticky-rice delight, filled with carrots, radish, cucumber, egg, ham and other yummy ingredients. Standard kimbap is only 1,000W, or 1USD.

When I first arrived in Korea, I pretended the rice roll was Japanese sushi, like times back home I put a dollop of mint sauce on my beef! I have very, very evolved taste buds.

Lamb may not be the origin of beef ;) but the origin of kimbap is, indeed, sushi. When Korea was liberated from Japan in 1945, the Korean government instituted a policy to remove Japanese cultural references from its lexicon. At this time, sushi was renamed "kimbap."

The older generation still calls kimbap, "sushi."

Monday, April 09, 2007

2 Pairs of Shoes fixed for 4,000 Won.

The shack in front of Dunkin Donuts is where I got my running shoes and pumps fixed. The shack aptly says, "Happy Suwon"- the city's slogan.

Inside sat this man, who flashed a grin and promptly began fixing (and shining) my shoes. The windows let in breeze and the bike he took to work was leaning against the side of the shack.

I couldn't believe how fast he was. The heels had to be sanded down and rebuilt. He did that, and glued the soles of my runners back in place in less than 5 minutes, all for 4,000 W, or 4 USD. He let me tip him 1,000 W- probably thought I was an American.

My shoes striking a pose:

He was friendly and as charming as a man can be when he speaks another language:

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Holidays in Korea

A Korean Persimmon Tree in Bloom

The trees told me it was Easter, but the people didn't.

It's Easter? Doesn't that mean I get holiday time, Korea? I see you wearing crosses. How dare you make me work on Easter Monday. Sure, eating chocolate eggs and biting into a bunnies' ear, to honor Jesus, make little sense- and it's unfortunate holidays have lost their religious significance, but I find myself mourning the consumerist traditions- and time off work.

Living in Korea has been like residing in an alternate universe. There were cold spots this winter but nothing compared to Canada's freeze, global warming considered. There was rarely enough snow in Suwon for boots. As I told friends, living 14 hours ahead of them, and experiencing more of a lingering autumn than winter, has been strange. Where are the milestones that give my life order?

More importantly, where are my Cadbury eggs?

Korean kids don't go 'trick or treating.' I enjoy telling students how I spent my October 31sts marching through the neighborhood in costume, with a pillowcase of candy. They're impressed when I describe sorting the mountain of sugar- licorice from caramel squares. Korea has its own version of Halloween: Ghost Day, just like its take on Valentines Day: White day. But somehow Korean holidays don't seem as much fun!

I mean how cool was it to get 30 Valentine cards from classmates with captions like, "You Captured my Heart," beside a picture of a butterfly net? You're so clever, Hallmark.

Most of my students haven't decorated a Christmas tree, in their living room, received more than a dinner out on their birthdays, dressed up as a Power Ranger to get candy from strangers, or scoured the living room for hidden eggs. For me, these things were a vital part of childhood.

It leaves me wondering. Do Canadian kids have "better" childhoods than Koreans? It seems like Koreans grow up too quickly. I wouldn't think twice about demystifying the tooth fairy or Santa Claus, because they wouldn't believe something so silly, anyway. I went for a walk today and was saddened by this empty park:

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Photos of Suwon, South Korea

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

The Question of Beauty

I have a confession to make.

It isn't only Korea's 4000+ years of culture that I envy, or the traditions passed down through generations.

The Korean face is on the Asian pedestal right now. I told my adult class, "I can't get over how beautiful Koreans are." One woman blamed it on the obsession with fashion and plastic surgery, but I interrupted her. "No, no, no. Strip all of that away and you'd be just as stunning."

I've never seen an ugly Korean. On public transit I catch myself staring at passengers. When sun lights up people on the bus, I'm mesmerized. The skin, eyes and hair are perfection- angelic in a way that I'll never be. Even the men are soft and pretty.

But I never realized how 'constructed' the idea of beauty is until I moved here. Korean women who I find especially gorgeous aren't considered attractive by my male friends. A man in my adult class described Koreans as having 'iron faces.'

I'm often asked if I think the Chinese American actress, Lucy Liu, is beautiful. Of course I do. No, my Korean friends inform me. "She hasn't even had her eyelids done. There are many women who look like her, she is just average."

I guess in a race where people have mono hair/eye color, differences are embraced.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Video Games in Korea: Harmless Play?

PC room nearby my Apartment

The children I teach have one thing in common. They love computer games.

"What did you do last night?" "Played computer games."
"Did you do anything fun on the weekend?" "Video games."
"Did you go anywhere?" "A PC room with my friends."
"What are your hobbies?" "Gaming."

Ok, guys, I get it...

But how can it be the main leisure activity? Humans, especially children, need touch and social interaction. Enter multi-player gaming. Thousands of players compete in battles like Starcraft. Top Korean players are paid wages of professional sports players!

A minority are even addicted, sacrificing jobs and interpersonal relationships.

Do the games encourage violence? My guess is no. Doom, the ultimate Generation X game, was blamed for the Columbine tragedy. The boys played incessantly in the days leading up to the massacre. But it's obvious to me that they were desensitized. Period.

Mothers may look over their son's shoulder and see horrific bloodshed, but there are mental games at play. A program I saw on the Discovery Channel questioned why the players need the outpouring of emotion. I agree that that is the question.

I'd say the popularity of video games in Korea can be linked to the crazes of portable TV players, cell phones, engrossing dramas and norebang. Even drinking. Kids are stressed out from the pressures of school. They don't want to think. They'd much rather nest in front of the computer screen and forget the stresses of daily life.