Monday, April 25, 2011

Stoked to Get Soaked: Making Infused Soju

Get Soaked...
So, the name of our blog is Soju Cocktail, and we haven’t gone into depth about drinking the cheap stuff, so here goes nothing.

Soju is tons cheap and easily mixable. A sixteen ounce bottle of 20% ABV liquor comes to you for about $1. It doesn’t have a strong taste, but it doesn’t go down the greatest of ease. We have come up with a solution that is a little bit sac-religious to the older Korean
generation. Soaked soju!

This can be done for any liquor, and we have done it to many. Gin, rum, vodka, even whisky. Being in Korea, we’re steeping soju, and you can to.
Step one, get yourself some oranges (or lemons, or grapefruit, or limes) and take the skins off.
Step two, remove any bit of white pith from the very outermost layer of the orange peel. The skin of any citrus has an amazing amount of flavor without the sourness, and without the bitterness of pith. If you leave pith on the skin you will have bitter, gross soaked soju, and no one wants that. What you're left with should only be the bright colored part of the skin.
(further note) I like to leave the skins in as large of pieces as I can, so its easier to strain out later.

Step three, jam those skins down inside a big old bottle of booze. 

Go ahead and eat the orange slices, they don't do much good in the booze, the money comes from the skins. The essential oils make the difference. 

Step four, screw the cap back on the bottle, and give it a shake.       
Step five, leave it alone.                                          Keep it wherever, someplace without a lot of temperature changes is best. Some liquor makers say no sunlight, some say sunlight can only help you. I say, put it wherever you got the room to put it. Once a week give it another shake. You'll see the color start to change after a week, but it gets better the longer you wait. You can wait as little as one week, but my suggestion is to wait at least a month.

Lastly, chill and serve. This makes a very good shot on its own, or mix it with your favorite mixer. For us, it’s Apple Demi Soda, or some sort of white soda. Try it at home with whatever you’d like, and enjoy the cheap stuff even more than before.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Brush with Celebrity, a K-pop Moment

Or, as Shane remembers it, the-time-Rose-nearly-got-us-trampled-by-preteen-girlsThis little tale happened all the way back in December, but please don't hold the tardiness against me. 
Myeon-dong Neighborhood
In Seoul while on vacation, we devoted a couple hours in Myeong-dong, a neighborhood well-known for its shopping and especially sought out by us for the H&M, where I knew clothes in my size could be found. After shopping, we headed back toward the subway. Suddenly, we found ourselves in the throes of a teeming mass blockading the sidewalks.          

The walkway holds temporarily.
I couldn't resist-- maybe it'd be a free giveaway, maybe something else. We were ushered into lines, an invisible barrier creating an aisle among us. This aisle held up pretty well, until the door of the dark windowed SUV cracked open even a hair. Then all bets were off. The crowd surged forward, cameras poised, voices excited. The door closed. Security guards again formed the aisle through the mostly young, mostly female crowd. The door opened. The aisle collapsed again.                                                                                       
The cycle repeated for about twenty minutes, until at last, out stepped... drum roll..... JYJ, a K-pop band that enjoys a huge following in Korea, Japan, and beyond. For those of you looking to expand your music repertoire, here's a sample: Ayyy Girl. Wowza.

Two of the three members of JYJ.

For those of you looking for the adrenaline rush of nearly being trampled by fervent fans, here's a video summary: 

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Weekend in Hwagae, Part II

... Cool mountain air awakes us the next morning. That, and the hanok owner's agitated voice asking us through the papered doors to turn off a forgotten light.                                                 It's Sunday morning in Hadong County (하동군)An hour later, Shane, myself, my sister, and my bro-in-law, begin our hike toward Ssanggyesa, the "Twin Streams" temple located on the fringes of Jirisan National Park.             

Someday I'll learn that proportions on any illustrated tourist map produced in Korea are skewed, and landmarks are farther than they appear. Meaning the walk was much, much longer than expected.           
But it yields some great scenery. A valley to our left, a slow, mostly dried up river running through it. A rolling mountain ridge on our right. Both sides strewn with tea fields, not yet green this early in the year. In one, three goats lay back watching the occasional car pass by. In another, over sized ceramic teapots sit sprinkled amongst the tea, an awkward homage to the plant that keeps this area economically alive. And all along the route, tea houses. One after another, looking mostly quiet at this time in the morning during the tourist off season, tea houses run from spare rooms of homes.       
We reach the modern Hadong Tea Culture Museum, but decide to skip it. We're much more interested in what's across the road-- a giant hotel that never quite made it to being an actual hotel. It looks like something out of a horror movie. Even wiring is installed. I wonder what's the story behind this failed investment. 

Shortly after passing this landmark, we finally make it to the temple, Ssanggyesa (쌍계사), six kilometers after our starting point. The temple was built in 723 A.D., and, as is so often the case, was destroyed during the Japanese invasion of 1592, then rebuilt again. Most striking here, what sets this temple apart from the others I've seen so far, are the wooden statues. They are imposing and vibrant. My knowledge of Buddhism and its symbols is lacking, but I appreciate their beauty nonetheless. 

I try not to interrupt the spiritual practice of others as we wander through the grounds, snapping pictures. Being at these temples always makes me feel unbalanced; I'm here as a tourist and traveler, looking for a thrilling view, while to others, this is a sacred space. This always leaves me feeling like an intruder, even though the Korean tourism board has provided us maps and signs and ticket takers who speak English. 
We take one of the trails leading away from the temple up into the beginning of Jirisan. We hike for awhile, hoping to reach Buri Waterfalls, but finally turn around, concerned about catching a bus back to Busan. 

We leave the temple grounds, and look for a taxi, a bus stop, or any sort of transportation back to Hwagae. We find none, and no one who can tell us when the next bus is coming around. We start walking. The initial exhilaration of a walk in the countryside has worn off. We gradually grow desperate about saving our legs and not missing the last bus home. In a moment of brilliance, some might say audacity, Shane knocks on the window of the only non-moving manned vehicle we've seen for awhile. He asks the driver, a sole Korean man, through gestures and repeated utterings of the word "Hwagae", if the man will drive us back. Finally, he acquiesces, and we're saved from the consequences of our ill planning. We try to thank the man with a cash gift, but he won't hear of it.

We do catch a bus back to Busan, no problem. I leave Hwagae feeling refreshed and relaxed, ready for another few months of city life. 

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Weekend in Hwagae, Part I

When my sister and brother-in-law visited Korea, they wanted to spend some time outside of Busan to see a little more of the country. For Shane and I, it would be our first trip outside the confines of a metro area in six months.

We boarded the intercity bus at the Seobu terminal, at the Sasang subway stop.  Two and a half hours and one transfer in Hadong later, our at times harrowing ride came to its conclusion in Hwagae (화개). Hwagae is a town I would have known nothing about, except for this great article.          
The four of us, not knowing how to get from the terminal to the hanok we’d be staying at, hopped in a taxi and showed the driver our destination’s address. He pulled out of the parking lot. We traveled one hundred yards and got stuck in traffic for seven minutes. Then, we traveled another one hundred yards. When we arrived, the bus terminal was still visible from our current position. I’m fairly certain he and the three other taxi drivers in town had a good laugh at us for the rest of the day.                                                                                   
We laughed too. No matter. The hanok was beautiful. The friendly owner showed us to our rooms, one building of several on the premises. Inside smelled of cedar. The paper covered windows opened to reveal Hwagae village below, buildings no more than five stories lining both sides the river

Crystal, Nick, Shane, and I walked down to the village. We joined the many tourists there that sunshiny Saturday afternoon, families and couples enjoying a day out in the country. 
The town’s central attraction, a sizable but not sprawling outdoor market, has been by far one of my favorite markets I’ve seen so far. Hwagae is known for its green tea, so it’s no surprise that many shops sell ceramic teacups, pots, and tea. I sampled dried persimmon, Shane watched a blacksmith at work making trowels. Hwagae’s tourist info center provided us with a map (in English) and a festival and attraction brochure (in Korean).                                                                                              
We grew fatigued as the afternoon wore on, so we knew what we had to do. We stopped in one of the two mini-supermarkets we could find and loaded our arms with beer and Hwagae-brewed makgeolli. Back at the hanok, we sat on the porch and watched the sunset over the mountains, enjoying our drinks, and all was right with the world. An awkward moment ensued when the guesthouse owner invited us into his home for tea, told us he used to look like James Bond when he was younger, and then left us to supervise some construction outside, us sitting there wondering if he was going to return or not.  Eventually, we decided he was not going to come back. 

Later that evening, we grabbed some galbi for dinner and later still, we watched the stars come out over the mountains of Hwagae.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Happy Birthday to You and You

Way back in my kindergarten days, the kid celebrating her birthday brought a treat for the class and got to be line leader, maybe wore a special hat, and that was that. 
That kind of shallow mockery for a birthday party just doesn't cut the mustard at  the academy Shane and I teach at here in Busan. On one magical Thursday each month, the kindergarten masses gather for cake day birthday party. A typical birthday party goes something like this:
Seven classes gather in the auditorium and "sit nicely" in "rows". The children who have a birthday that month are corralled in the hallway until they are called one by one to make grand entrances. Once posed in front of all the other kids, they're asked through a chant, what they want to be when they grow up. These 5, 6, and 7 year olds have a much better sense of direction than I did at that age because responses have included singer, artist, business man, driver, dentist, and cowgirl. 
After the interviews, classes showcase their talents with a choreographed song and dance number. The song might be a beloved children's song, like Skinamarink or it might just as well be one of ABBA's finest hits. Really adorable.
Then, when all classes have exhibited their dance prowess, the birthday kids are seated in front and birthday hats are plunked on their heads.                                 

During the last leg of birthday party comes the cake parade. The cakes are store bought, and they are glossy, elaborate, and beautiful, and not as overly sweet as American b-day cakes. We sing happy birthday several times over, long enough for the kiddos to have their picture taken for the personalized yearbooks that will come out at the end of the year. Funny enough, the kids look like they're having fun, until the camera's on them. Then it's all straight faces until the cake is served with lunch. 

The children love birthday party, and their excitement usually begins days before the party itself. It's nice to be surrounded with such joy. The power of cake is universal.