Wednesday, October 27, 2010

A Typical Korean Van?

Wow, that is one gigantic Korean van.
Wait, maybe it isn't.
Is that a picture of an octopus?
What is going with this thing?
Woah, Joey Lawrence!
There's a dude in the back of this micro van.
What is he doing?
He's making Octopus Balls also known as "Takoyaki."
They are a batter based snack that get filled with pieces of octopus, green onion, picked ginger, and tempura. They get covered in a sweet sauce and a spicy sauce, and then dusted with flakes of dried bonito fish (kind of tastes smoked trout). Sounds weird, really weird. I admit it.
But they tastes delicious.
Thank you micro-van. You make sea-food dreams come true.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Radio On

In my last post, I mentioned that while soaking up PIFF Square's flavor, Shane and I were invited to talk on the radio about our experiences at the film festival; they were looking for a foreigner's point of view. Because the station, 90.5 e-fm, is close to our apartment, because the time worked out with our teaching schedule, and because it sounded just plain fun, we agreed to Kimee's request. The next morning, we met up with her at the subway stop, and she walked us to the KNN building, home of the e-fm studios.

When we got inside the station, Kimee introduced us to the program's host, DJ Donna, and her boss, the station director. They made us feel welcome, briefed us on the program, and we waited for our ten minutes of fame.

Once inside the studio, we cozied up to the mics, and let DJ Donna run the show. I have to compliment her skills! She kept the show flowing, asking top three about PIFF and asking how we were liking Busan so far. She played a few songs between pieces of conversation. Which? Hangin' Tough, of course, by New Kids on the Block, so I got to tell Busan about how I went to their concert when I was little. She also played a Michael Jackson song.
We left the studio feeling confident and satisfied. Also, they gave us gift bags with handkerchiefs, travel coffee mugs, and pens. Not just any pens, but the ones that are three colors in one (red, black, and the third was actually a mechanical pencil).
We walked to school feeling very excited. For the rest of the day we got to tell our friends of our adventure with DJ Donna, and brag about the New Kids On the Block song.

The PIFF Cometh, We Went-eth

For Shane and I, Busan continues to reveal itself as the city that keeps giving, and in early October, she gave us the Pusan International Film Festival (PIFF). For a week, the cinematic world came to our doorstep.
Here's just the facts, Ma’am:
Years in existence: 15
Total films shown this year: 306
Of those, number of world premieres: 153
Persons in Attendance: 182,046
Among those in Attendance: Oliver Stone, Willem Defoe, Carlos Saura,
Juliette Binoche, and many Asian superstars
Films we saw: A Woman by Director Giada Colagrande and Inside America
by Director Barbara Eder
Cost of our four tickets: 20,000 won, or $17.77
Our PIFF adventure began with an early morning haul to the Shinsegae ticketing office at 7:00 am for tickets we feared would sell out if we didn’t get there early enough. Willem Dafoe was going to make an appearance at his film, and being from Wisconsin and huge fans of Life Aquatic, we didn’t want to miss it. Two hours and a new friend we met in queue later, we had them.

Later that afternoon, our posse trekked to Shinsegae, the world’s largest department store which also houses a movie theatre, for the film A Woman. As we settled in, Willem and his wife, Giada, entered and settled in themselves.
The movie itself was....intriguing. Not our favorite, but artistic. The real excitement was after the lights came up, and the writer/director and lead actor hosted a question and answer session. Shane didn’t hesitate. He asked how Willem prepared for this role since it was so different than many of his other roles. Willem looked right at him, smiled, and gave a great answer about how he loves a challenge and he tried to become a part of the scenery, reacting to the other actors.
The following Sunday, we had tickets for Inside America, which had been touted as “a glimpse into America’s bleak soul, somewhere between plasma screens and food stamps”.
Wandering PIFF square in Nampo-dong on the south side of town, Shane and I grabbed a bite of street food: a potato covered fried corn dog (oh my arteries) and a Turkish kebab.

As we met up with our co-teacher friends, Shane and I were approached by a young Korean woman with a clipboard. She asked us if we would be willing to appear on the radio the next morning to talk about our PIFF experience as foreigners (would we?!). After it was all arranged, headed into the theatre, the smell of butter soaked popcorn inviting us inside.
Turns outs, America’s a pretty depressing and scary place, at least according to this film. Like no America I’ve experienced. Though none of us found it too resonant, it was engaging and entertaining. Filmed in only seven weeks, and with a minimal budget, the film focuses on a Texas border town with a huge rift in social stratification, leading to dependence on drugs and gangs.
PIFF was the first film festival either of us had attended. The volunteers were helpful, tickets easy to purchase, snacks cheap. We look forward to your next gift, Busan!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Gwangalli Beach

Gwangalli (pronounced Gwah-nuh-lee) Beach is awesome. I'll just say that plain and simple.
We've spent a few days down on the Gwangalli beach since coming to South Korea. Only once to actually swim. There is a lot to see and do on Gwangalli beach and yet it is not overwhelming.
The first trip we took to the beautiful beach I (Shane) was still sunburnt, crispy and painfully sunburnt. I kept having to adjust my shirt the whole day to make sure to keep my shoulders covered up. We got off the subway at the Geumyeonsan stop and tried to make our across the giant street. It took a while to find a cross walk, and it took a few blocks as well. We spent some time looking at the many bridal stores that line the street as well as traditional Korean garment shops that sell Hanbok's. The color of the smooth silk looked immaculate.
We found a side street that led to another back street with a scooter shop on it that came to an alleyway with a small Buddhist monastery hidden behind the cement walls that entrapped us on our path. Soon we could see The Diamond Bridge and a sliver of blue sea water. Before we could get there we strolled past a bar called The Miller Palace. It looks extremely out of place with romanesque columns and an all-black exterior. We had a good chuckle about that.
We stepped onto the beach just 20 steps later. The sea air in Korea doesn't smell like anywhere else. Like it barely smells like the sea, just very fresh. The water there was very blue, like the blue you only see in pictures, and we live here.
We walked down to one side of the beach and back to the other. (keep in mind, this is about a 2/3 mile long beach) We ran into the opening weekend of the Busan Biennial. Many Korean artists displayed public works of art around the theme of evolution. Lots of creatures and some other ephemeral pieces set the scene and inspired me.
One week later, we returned to the scene of the blue water and stretching suspension bridge. This time we had to make a quick stop and purchase a set of speakers that we bought from a Canadian who would be leaving Busan soon. They came with us to the beach, and they were heavy. In south Korea, you really don't have to worry about people stealing stuff, so we just left our bag and our new speakers there and ran into the water. There is very soft sand at the beach, and its a lot less busy than Haeundae beach.
When we were out in the water, we met a couple of guys from Calgary who gave us an awesome tip, "Go to Breeze Burns." Breeze Burns is an awesome little burger shop. Rose had a classic hamburger and I had an awesome Veggie Burger with BBQ sauce. We came back to the Beach after lunch, swam around for another hour, and took off for further adventures that day.
Our third trip to Gwangalli was less adventurous and more of a wander-fest. We walked up and down "Cafe Street (and/or) Theme Street. " It is literally a street filled with almost nothing but coffee shops and quaint Korean restaurants. It's nice. We looked over the artwork again and took many pictures.
We went on the beach and relaxed in the sand. We relaxed in the sunlight. Rose read, I sunbathed and listened to music. I actually have a tan, its quite a revelation.
All in all, its a beautiful place that has a plethora of relaxing activities, and it has to be one of my favorite spots in this adopted city of ours.

Sunday, October 03, 2010

Birthday Bulgogi

I turned 27 this September. My birthday fell during Chuseok, one of the country’s most important holidays. Chuseok-- Korean Thanksgiving-- celebrates the fall harvest. Traditional ceremonies honor ancestors and elders. Many families hold rituals in their homes and at cemeteries. Chuseok is always held on the fifteen day of the eighth lunar month, so this year, September 22.
Because of Chuseok, we got the day off from work. Actually four days. Other foreign teachers long had vacations planned, so Shane and I flied solo. Though quiet, my birthday was memorable. We hiked in the morning (see Hiking Seunghaksan: Attempt One) and after some restorative Veronica Mars episodes that afternoon, ventured for dinner.
We wanted to try bulgogi, one of Korea’s most widely-known dishes. According to our Moon Handbook, until about 30 years ago, eating meat wasn’t even that common, but post-war prosperity increased carnivorousness. As we soon found out, Korean barbecue rocks so hard you’d think they’ve been doing this forever.

Searching for the cheapest option, we settled on a corner place filled with locals. Please know Shane wasn’t being a cheap-ass on my birthday. Each bulgogi restaurant is more or less like the next, with variation of side dishes, and you can pay twice as much for the same foods. We pointed to the menu for two servings of beef but successfully verbalized beer order (maekju- the only word we really know so far besides hello, thank you, and car, despite our students’ best efforts to teach us).

The waitress/cook/ dishwasher ran, yes,ran, to our table with a long-handled pail full of red hot coals, which she promptly dumped under our table top grill.Before we knew it, side dishes covered our table. The side dishes (banchan) included marinated cucumbers, super spicy rawpeppers, oil with salt in it for dipping, garlic, kimchi, red chili pepper paste (super awesome), dried anchovies, noodles, and a salad of onions, bean sprouts, red pepper paste, and sesame leaves.

When the heap of rolled up beef slices arrived, we threw some on the grill. In minutes, we were eating. It was like eating bacon-- beef bacon-- for dinner.What a difference a couple months makes for us former vegetarians.
And what’s a birthday without cocktails? Don’t worry, we got some after at Fuzzy Navel bar. Shane got a brandy sidecar, which he needed to end his brandy drought. I got a maitai, probably one of the best cocktails I’ve ever had, tangy and only slightly sweet. Birthday success.