Friday, December 09, 2011

How's That for Convenience?

Get this. 

You're busy. You have work. A family. Responsibilities. A tight schedule. 

No worries. 

The good people at Home Plus make it easy to do your grocery shopping on the glass panels separating the subway tracks from the platform. This 2D store is at the Seomyeon transfer station in Busan. 

They've had these up on Seoul for awhile, but it's cool to see one here (side note: we once met a guy from Seoul who called Busan "provincial" in a derogatory tone. Busan is a city of 3.6 million people. What a twat.). 

Using your smartphone, just scan the UPC's of the items you want. They'll be delivered to your home by the end of the day, the charges automatically deducted from your account. Too cool right? You may never have to interact with a fellow human being again!

Monday, October 31, 2011

Ultimate Hanbok Fashion

Korea's fall harvest holiday is Chuseok (추석), and it's come and gone twice now since Shane and I arrived on the peninsula. Based on the lunar calendar, Chuseok 2011 happened mid-September. Though we didn't celebrate (saving the feast for Thanksgiving, North American style), we did get to enjoy a fashion show. Our kindergarten students dressed up in their finest  traditional hanbok (한복) and strutted their stuff through the auditorium. Most of these kids would later don their hanbok again later that weekend for traditional bowing ceremonies to their grandparents. Here are some highlights from the fashion show:

One of Shane's six year olds, who, because of the age
system difference, is probably actually a young five.
Two very sweet girls from Cornell class. Cornell class just
started with us about two months ago, so they're really
absorbing a lot of English right now.

All of the kiddos, plus Jenny Teacher.
We sort of got them all looking in one direction. For like half a second.
Me and Hannah Teacher with the Stanford class.
I love these kiddos. I swear they are happy,
just terrible at smiling for photos.
Shane and Hannah's Emory class. They're the top dogs at SLP,
being in their third year of English study. Next year they go to first grade.
Amy in her pink hanbok. She's such a smartie!
Lily, who never smiles, but is one of
the sweetest, cutest little girls.

Alice. This girl is full of spit and vinegar and is totally in
love with Shane Teacher. She's so awesome and plays lots
of pranks on me, like hiding behind the door. Every day.

Grace. She once told me, "Wait a minute teacher, I'm busy right now."
Bless her for the laughter she provides! She also likes to reply,
 "Yeah, yeah, yeah, teacher."  Who taught her this stuff?

Andy and Eric, the dynamic twin duo. These are two really smart cookies.
Like, they finish their worksheets before I even finish
handing everything out. They tell me every week the spelling list is too easy. 
Alex in his fancy purple hanbok. He's a superstar.
Loves Transformers and his new pet birds,
Rio and Blue Parrot.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Going to Gyeongju II: Hiking Namsan and Other Soul Satisfying Fare

Our day trip begins at a traditional restaurant that had obligingly opened early to accommodate our group of six. As soon as we settle down onto the floor mats, side dishes (called banchan, 반찬) and mountain vegetable bibimbap (sanchae bibimbap, 산채 비빔밥) mix-ins start arriving on our table. This will be our fuel during the all-day hike ensuing right after breakfast.  Today is devoted to conquering Namsan Mountain in Gyeongju.


A bowl of sanchae bibimbap starts with a bowl of sticky white rice topped with vegetables. Ours had spinach, bean sprouts, onions, mushrooms, and various unidentifiable green and twiggy mountain vegetation. To that, we each add some red pepper paste (gochujang, 고추장) or fermented soybean paste (doenjang, 된장).  

I ate up all the spicy, tangy-dressed lettuce salad and most of my bibimbap. Our other banchan included green pancakes, fried zucchini, marinated mushrooms, fish, radishes, and more. At the end, we were treated to some homemade sweet rice drink, which I'm pretty sure is called shikhae (식헤). It was light and sweet and cold, and really really delicious.
                                                                                                                                                          From the restaurant, we started onto Namsan Mountain's (남산) western face, entering near three mounds that are the Samneung Three Royal Tombs (삼릉). These tombs hold the remains of three Silla Dynasty kings: Adalla, Sindeok, and Gyeongmyeong, the 8th, 53rd, and 54th rulers, respectively.

Just a short way up the Samneung Valley (삼릉골) trail that would lead us further and further into the Namsan District of Gyeongju National Park, we see our first Buddha of the day, perched up straight but whose head was taken from him at some point.  
After this one, we pass a handful more of the Buddhas scattered over Namsan. They look relaxed and untroubled. Our group stops and takes photos at each, admiring how long they've been there and the care it took to carve and assemble them. My favorite is pictured below. He's the Seated Stone Buddha, sitting on a lotus petal and expelling evil by touching the ground. It was made in the 8th or 9th century, with some restoration work done just a couple years ago. 

Next, we encounter six figures etched onto the side of a rock. Two are Buddhas, four Bodhisattvas. We have to study the rock for a few minutes to allow our eyes to follow the intersecting lines.

The most awe-striking Buddha of the day is the seven-meter-tall seated Seokgayeorae image carved on the side of Namsan. He directly looks at the Geomobong peak. Our hike takes us directly past the Buddha, and later on, we get a second view from higher up.

When we make it to the peak, we stop and fuel up with some PB&J's. There's no view from this peak, since we're completely surrounded by forest at this moment. The first treasure on our descent is this three story stone pagoda. The view from here is incredible. There used to be a temple here where the first Korean novel, Geumosinhwa, (written in Chinese) was authored. 

Our hike gets a little tenuous when we have to perform some fancy repelling action. Actually, the whole little part where you need the rope is maybe eight feet tall, but still, awesome.

The last major Buddha we pass on the way down is a seated stone Buddha from the eighth century. Like his friend from earlier, his head has gone missing sometime over the years. He's sitting atop a three wheel pedestal.

We're all famished after our hike, so we hop on the city bus and head toward the more central area of Gyeongju. Dwayne and Yuhee lead us to Sampo Ssambap (쌈밥) Restaurant for a little lunch. Ssambap is when you take some sort of leaf, maybe lettuce or cabbage, and wrap it around some rice, a little meat, condiments, banchan, whatever your preference is. This is awesome in an of itself, but this place was serving up ssambap to the extreme! Out came bowl after bowl after bowl! Side dishes, pastes, fish, meats, custards, until the dishes were completely covering our table! And all this for ₩10,000 per person (aprox. $9). 

After dinner, not quite ready to end our day, we go to one more place for a drink before home. We walk along the backside of a park until we happen upon a restaurant. The place is packed, and rightly so. It's incredibly atmospheric, an open-air restaurant with courtyard tables as well as private tables in side rooms. It's called Dosol Maeul (도솔마을), which means "Stone Pot Village."

We order an appetizer, a mixed tempura-fried vegetable platter that included some tofu and lotus, and some Korean rice wine, dongdong ju (동동주). We are told that dongdong ju is makkeoli's more formidable cousin in terms of it's strength. The taste is unique but really refreshing and delicious. 맛있어요!

When we're all sufficiently fat and happy from the snacks, drinks, and fresh air, we start our walk back toward the intercity bus terminal. Once again, Gyeongju has been a revitalizing and relaxing respite away from Busan. I'm sad to see the day over, but there will be at least one more trip back in our future. 

For more on visiting Gyeongju, see my post on our first trip there.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

It's Soju Cocktail Hour: The Watermelon Soju Cocktail

With the warm weather slowly trickling away, we thought our nights of watermelon cocktails were gone for the year. After all, out of season watermelons retail for around twenty dollars, and although these drinks are good, I shudder at the thought of $20 watermelons. So it was a nice little moment of serendipity when the fruit truck guy who parks across from our hagwon had late season fresh watermelons for 4,000 won. True to form, we turned one into cocktails. Here's how to make some of your own, should you be lucky enough to stumble across a melon.

Chunk up that watermelon.
Take out as many seeds as you can along the way.
 The melon reduces down as you blend it,
so you might need more than you think.
Eyeball it.
We added some frozen strawberries
to thicken it up.
It's optional.

Add around a teaspoon
of sugar.

Squeeze that lemon or lime.
It's going to need some zing

Throw in a shot of soju per cocktail.
Or more, your call.
Give it all a blendaroo. Check and see if you need
more sugar or lime by taste.
If you're all good, pour it out and drink it up.
Don't you want to go make one right now?

Monday, September 19, 2011

Convenience Store Raid Series: The Great Popsicle Taste Test

In our ongoing attempt to pretend that summer isn't over, Shane and I descended upon the freezer case of the Samsung Big Mart downstairs. We set out to taste our way through the popsicle freezer case. Yes, there is a freezer case devoted almost entirely to individually sold popsicles (and also a case for ice cream). Here are the fascinating results:                                                                                   

Popsicle One:  Ppongtta (??) Soda Flavor
Flavor: A cross of cotton candy and Dreamsicle
Impression & Comments: It's a bit awkward to eat out of the plastic, which is shaped almost like a baby bottle, but that awkward plastic also made for no side drippage.
The Verdict: Shane would eat another right now if he had one. Awesome and creamy!

Popsicle Two: Saengtaeng Citrus
Flavor: Chunks of Jeju tangerine right in it. The bar tasted like frozen juice, very vibrant flavor and color.
Impression & Comments: The wide base made it hard to finish off at the end without messing myself. But it's only 65 calories!
The Verdict: I feel like I've missed out for the past year since it's taken me this long to taste the happy.

Popsicle Three: Encho 
(Encho is short for enriched chocolate bar)
Flavor: Crunchy outer milk chocolate shell w/ almond pieces, vanilla ice milk under the shell
Impression & Comments: There's a chocolate bar inside my ice cream!
The Verdict: I totaallly crushed it! Even with the ice milk in the middle, it's still a totally legit popsicle!

Popsicle Four: Haessihossi
(I can't translate this, I have no idea)
Flavor: Walnut. Tastes like butter pecan ice cream with some bitable sunflower seeds in it.
Impression & Comments: Holy camoly, this is so good! 
The Verdict: This popsicle brought out the expletives in Shane, in a good way.

Popsicle Five: Watermelon King Bar
Flavor: Watermelon
Impression & Comments: It's not great. The chocolate-covered sunflower seeds taste old, and the popsicle tastes candy-like with a syrupy flavor. The look of it is the best part.
The Verdict: I've have had better watermelon popsicles before, so I should have opted for the other brand. Not worth finishing.

Popsicle Six: Babambar Gold                                 
Flavor: Pieces of chestnut on it, which was nice, but not a lot of flavor to this guy
Impression & Comments: ... a surprise in the middle.... it's like a white sweet bean paste.....ugh disappointment....
The Verdict: Shane just wanted to eat the outside and leave the white bean alone.

Popsicle Seven: Megaton (?? my translating skills stink)
Flavor: Caramel awesomeness
Impression & Comments: It has a good burnt sugar flavor and smell. This bar has a nice and creamy meltiness without making a mess
The Verdict: It's just so good. The caramel bar is one of my go to favorites when I need something sweet. Shane says, "Mmmm, yeah."

Popsicle Eight: Saengtaeng Pine Bar
Flavor: Pineapple 
Impression & Comments: Like the tangerine bar, it's very fresh, with little pieces of real fruit. It is super flavorful, and super awesome.               
The Verdict: Yes and yes. Maybe it's possible to melt it to make a cocktail....

Popsicle Nine: Chanys                                       
Flavor: Fruit punch
Impression & Comments: It looks like a bomb pop, but doesn't have a super strong flavor. It's even a bit watery. The small white ribbon on the bottom and the layer under the pink part tastes like a cream soda Dum Dum.            The Verdict: Solid but unspectacular. Not something crave-able, but it'll do in a pinch. 

Friday, September 16, 2011

This is Our Dog - Diga

Let me tell you about a little white scruffer that Rose and I call Diga. For the last few years, Rose and I have really wanted to get a dog. At our place in Madison, we couldn't get a dog, and that really sucked. As we were getting ready to leave for Korea, we found out that many expats abroad adopted dogs. This sounded amazing to us, but we weren't sure how easy or practical it would be for us. The rest of this article is the story of Rose and I expanding our family. 
After we arrived in Korea, we spent the first six months adjusting to life abroad. If you read our blog in the early stages, you know what we were up to, if not, go back and check the back catalog. We looked around the interwebs to find dog resources in Korea and would be in delight when we crossed a cute dog on our walks down by the stream. We watched Best in Show a number of times when thinking about getting ready get our dog.                                       
We found out about the Busan Abandoned Pet Sancuary, better knows as BAPS. BAPS is operated by a few wonderful people, including Leo and Jin (our expat friend and his lovely Korean wife). They took over the shelter three years ago and it has been getting better and better ever since. They have fully ingrained themselves in the community and get regular volunteers on Saturdays and Sundays to help out at the shelter. They are a shelter that truly cares about the dogs they take in. Their band of strays covers many types of breeds and sizes. They are a no kill shelter and have always been a shelter that does not charge an adoption fee. They have 30 or so dogs there at any one time and 15-20 out in foster care or on their way to adoption. They take in new dogs when they can. One of the more grim ways that dogs end up at BAPS is that they are rescued from the dog meat markets. Dog meat is technically illegal in Korea, but it can still be found in back alley restaurants off the menu. 
BAPS is a fantastic organization that helps many dogs and gives many a fantastic volunteering opportunity. If you are living in Korea and you are interested in volunteering for this great organization find them on and get involved. They have donation baskets at many popular spots around Busan, please donate and support. If you are living elsewhere in the world and would like to learn more about them, check out their website to see some pictures and learn about the dogs who live there.                                         
                                                                                                                             On our first trip to BAPS we were hoping to take a dog home with us that day, but they wanted us to wait to find a dog that worked well with us and they also wanted to get to know us a little better. Some of the dogs are still there from when Leo and Jin took over three years ago, and one of those dogs was Diga.

Diga was the first dog that Rose came to. We harnessed Diga and another dog that looked just like him up and we started down the road. Diga moved slow, very slowly, and shortly after Rose and I switched dogs, Diga put on the brakes and refused to walk anymore. Something about it was so sweet and endearing. The little pup felt so meek and mild that the three of us (Rose, myself, and the-not-yet-named Diga) formed an instant connection. Little Diga jumped up on our laps and just wanted to sit and be cuddled. He had to come home with us. 
The next week we were back at the shelter and we made the decision to take him home with us. But this was just the beginning of the journey. We had to make a stop at the vet's office to get a full check over and haircut. Our shaggy dog became a little pink rat. He needed all his hair taken off because much of it got matted from the winter spent in the greenhouse. Now he would be cold if it weren't for... dog clothes. One of Rose's new favorite things, not my favorite, but useful for such a little dog out in the cold.
That vet told us we would need to find another vet in our area to look after Diga's issues. He had some skin problems and a pretty nasty ear fungus. Our coworkers at the hagwon helped us find an English speaking vet only five doors down from the school. Pretty nice!
Dr. Pi (pronounced pee, but not spelled that way) is a very kind man, who has taken great care of Diga. They do grooming there as well and have given (at our request) Diga a pretty sweet mohawk. Also, at many vets offices around Korea, they have a dog who lives right at the shop. Dr. Pi's is Meng, an extremely little tea-cup shih-tzu that weighed all of 3.5 lbs. He's Diga's friend, and very funny.
We saw Dr. Pi quite often the first few months with Diga, his ear problems took a while to heal up and he had some stomach problems, which were probably mine and Rose's fault. But he's been great for the last few months and we've barely seen Dr. Pi except around the neighborhood. And he always asks how little Diga is doing.

Diga is a constant source of entertainment, both at home and when we are teaching at school. Many of our students have met Diga, and even if they haven't, they are always asking questions about him. When we read stories in class, if there is ever a dog, doesn't matter the size or color, we usually call it Diga. Many of the students have taken to this as well, so I guess it's a good thing that the Clifford books have yet to catch on in SLP.
Diga is one happy guy who loves to cuddle and loves to bring happiness into our lives. We miss our families so much, and Diga being here has made it easier. He is a new member of our family, and he fits in great. I never knew how nice it was to be needed, but Diga has made me realize how great it is.

In a short while, we'll be headed home with our little scruffer. It will be a long flight and hard work, but we couldn't imagine leaving him here. He has become an important part of our lives. As Rose and I grow as a couple, we've been excited to see our family grow. So thanks to Diga. I'm glad he's a part of our lives.