Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Reflections on M*A*S*H

Before I came to Korea, I worked at a place that I loved. At that place that I loved, the boss man referred to me as Radar. At the time, the humor (veiled  compliment?) was wasted on me. 

Shane and I finish the season three finale of M*A*S*H, the same program that as a petulant teen I teased my mother about watching because it had aired fifteen years before. And because the colors were dull and murky. Watching this episode, I ball my eyes out and wish I would have sat down with mom at least once. To start understanding something unable to be understood.

That same boss, when I announced that I had begun the search for a job in Korea, seemed skeptical. "What in the hell for?" he asked me

I couldn't blame him for asking. He was stationed in Korea, near the border, after the war. He spent a good chunk of his early twenties jumping out of planes and running with his rifle for the army. He tells me of a time his outfit chased North Koreans who had snuck over the border in an attempt to reach the South Korean president in Seoul and assassinate him. 

Of course the show's palate was ugly, dull. It was war. I sit and watch M*A*S*H now, and I try to contextualize and situate myself in a country that just sixty odd years ago was largely destroyed. In the show, the Korean characters wear hanbok and look for arable land and sometimes are operated on by Hawkeye. 

Korea is a different place now. Hanboks are usually only worn on special occasions and most farming families live in the cities doing non-farming work. Korea of the past is a place I can comprehend even less than the Korea of the present, no matter how much I read and study, though read and study I will. Radar be my guide. 


Thursday, March 24, 2011

Party Down at The Party Premium

Meticulously prepared, brilliantly colored, course after luscious course, The Party Premium delivers.

I love eating. So does Shane, and coincidentally, our most welcome guests for almost two weeks, my sister Crystal and her husband Nick. They visited Korea over her birthday, and Nick works as a professional chef. This could only point to one thing: a really, really tasty fancy dinner while they were here. 

We settled on The Party Premium, an upscale buffet located in Haeundae in the lower level of the Pale de CZ building. Upon arrival, we were greeted warmly and by one manager in particular who backed away from our table bowing all the way. We were seated in our very own glass room, either because we had made our reservations earlier than any of the other patrons, or because they wanted to put us in a showcase. Crystal chose a bottle of Tempranillo, we ordered a few beers, and off we were. 

We ate forever for an hour and a half, until they began to tear down the buffet at 10:00 pm. Some of the  highlights: gorgonzola pizza, mocha gelato, bamboo steamed squash and beef soup, freshly squeezed mango juice, a wide array of sushi and sashimi, cheese plates, beef carpaccio, smoked duck salad, chicken caesar salad, Peking duck... and that was just for starters.

A meal at The Party Premium isn't your best budget choice; however, this isn't Old Country Buffet. The food's high quality along with the wide variety of options makes it a great place for a special night out. Now, I'm just waiting for another such special occasion to roll around so I have an excuse to go back.

For more info and lots more pictures of food, hit up www.gotheparty.com

Monday, March 21, 2011

On Display at the Trick Art Exhibit

Ahead of me, tiny Korean toddlers dong-shim a replica Renaissance female reclining nude.               Around a corner, a couple kneels on a magic carpet, arms spread wide. To my left, red wine poured by a two dimensional Greek god is caught by a teenager in a two dimensional wine glass. 

By the time we've finished our tour of the exhibit a couple hours later, we've seen a Korean dad sprout a 'fro and a nun ascend to heaven.

The place was fun. Like, really amusing. Old fashioned silliness, when adults can just act like kids again. Shane and I, along with our friends Jen and Lee, have become part of the exhibit, watching and being watched. File this one under random adventures. 

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Convenience Store Raid Series: Deli Manjoo

A couple of these not-too-sweet little guys on a chilly day and life is great. They're called Deli Manjoo (델리 만쥬) -- Deli, short for delicious, and Manjoo for the Korean word for Chinese dim sum. Cute, right? They can be found at small stands next to many convenience stores, pumping out of the automatic machines especially built to create them. The same stands usually sell another snack called hodo kwaja (호도 과자), cakes molded into walnut shapes, filled with red bean and walnut. The cream cakes' outer shells resemble pound-cake, and the inside is a creamy, custardy deliciousness. A bag of them, enough to share, usually costs about 3,000 for 20 or 2,000 for 12. Make sure you get them hot; they lose a lot of their awesomeness if they've cooled. They pair really well with a big glass of cold milk. 


Sunday, March 06, 2011

Jangsan Hiking, Busan Daytripping

The top of Jangsan rewards those who reach it. The very tippy top of the mountain is chain-link fenced off, a relic of the Korean War, but from where we stand the views are wide. We summited the Haeundae area Jang Mountain after about four and a half hours of hiking, and from here, we can see Haeundae Beach, Centum City, Sajik Stadium, and a small wildfire with a helicopter making a beeline towards it with its load of extinguishing chemicals. A bit unsettling, but it looks under control. 

Shane and I sip red table wine out of plastic Dixie cups along with the rest of the Busan Daytrippers. We found this crew, an ever-changing mashup of folks who get together to hike Busan's thousands of paths, on a local expat forum. They're a fun bunch, the kind of people who think of bringing wine along. 

In the couple hours leading up to this faultless moment on the way up, we had passed by Pokposa, a Buddhist temple. It's Lunar New Year's Day, a traditional day for worship, and it's semi-crowded, yet quiet and peaceful. There's a bowl of fresh fruit and incense on the altar in front of a ten story pagoda, and a grey stone Buddha that faces every direction at once. We hear soft chanting floating out through the temple doors, and we peek into the temple buildings, feeling like voyeurs intruding into a sacred time and space.  

We hike on for a long while, until we reach stop number two. We approach a shack, which our leader Joe tells us is a great little stop for some mountain food. After a few minutes of our searching, an old man crawls out of his sleeping shack (it's now about one in the afternoon), and brings us makkeoli, followed by the freshest tofu I've ever tasted and savory, pungent kimchi. Ten of us laugh and eat and celebrate how good it is to be alive, looking over the mountains and the sea. 

Feeling renewed, we continue the hike, walking for a time along a barbwire edged land mine field, here in the middle of a metropolitan city, another lingering remainder of the Korean War. When we come out of this forested length of the hike, the landscape opens up and we're walking the perimeter of a tall grassed field, the kind I'm used to seeing back in the Midwest. This kind of openness is such a rarity here.

After our wine and photo ops on the top, we head down the opposite slope of the mountain. As we come down through the trees, in the distance I see a golden Buddha contrasting against a pine backdrop. When we arrive to Seongbul Temple ten minutes later, we're greeted with the light sweet smell of incense, stone lanterns, and a ten story pagoda. We watch Koreans bow and meditate and pray in front of the Buddhas, and our hike ends with the beauty of Buddhism.

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Afternoon at the Museum

Crisp winter Saturdays lend themselves nicely to afternoons in a museum. 

Shane and I used one to stroll around the expansive Busan Museum of Art. The museum's a beautiful, wood and sunlight filled hall that's only thirteen years old and is also identified as the Busan Museum of Modern Art, depending on which sign you read. 

There are a surprising amount of children inside. Many patrons are moms exposing their young kids to the art world. A few others are students completing their homework assignments, taking notes on pieces that strike them most.

BMOMA's not an overwhelming museum. Actually, when we finish weaving through the rooms on floors two and three, I wonder if we've somehow missed a large chunk of the museum, because we've finished the entire place in two hours and I feel like there must be more to see. Nevertheless, I really really like the place. It's calm and beautiful and lively all at the same time. 

The day we visit, there's a large exhibit by author & artist Henry Miller, a collection of works by emerging Busan artists, and a huge exhibition by a major avant garde Korean artist, Park Seo Bo. The museum's exhibits change frequently, so I know I'll be back to this sanctuary another time.

For more information, hit up http://www.busanmoma.org/main/
Admission is free.