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.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Feeling the Love: A Tale of Two (Korean) Weddings

We were lucky this past spring to have been invited to not one, but two of our co-workers' weddings. Since Shane and I are currently in the midst of planning our own wedding, we thought it neat to be able to see some examples of Korean weddings. Not surprisingly, the weddings we went to were unlike any we've ever been to. We had a lot of fun visiting with everyone and playing our own version of cultural spot the differences. Here's what we saw:
When we arrived, the brides were perched prettily in their own bride rooms, greeting guests and posing for photos with invitees. There's no surprise unveiling of the bride and groom. While the brides took pictures, the grooms stood in the lobby greeting guests and receiving congratulations, about twenty feet away from the bride.                                                                                                   
Our cohort of foreign teachers posing with Jade Teacher.
These two weddings we went to weren't at churches or botanical gardens but inside halls specifically designed to churn out marriages. When the ceremonies were ready to start, guests jammed into the halls, carrying on their conversations. These conversations continued as the groom walked down the aisle, then as the bride walked down the aisle, and then throughout the entirety of the ceremony. 
Check out these sweet aisle runners:                 
The brown shag carpet aisle.
The silk flowers arranged into hearts bordered by mirrors aisle.
A lot happened during the ceremony that I didn't understand because I understand very little Korean. Even so, there were some cool moments:

The moms lighting candles wearing matching hanbok.
The full bows to the parents.

Carrying the bride over the threshold. Or, just holding her
in the air for a minute to the delight of the guests.
The cake wheeled out with candles to blow out, just like a birthday cake.
Though I'm not sure we got to eat any cake later....

Inclusion in the official wedding photography.
Boys by the groom, ladies by the bride. Can you find me? I think Shane's easy to spot.

Celebratory confetti!
At each of the two weddings, after the ceremony, we moved upstairs with our meal tickets for the buffet. The guests at any given wedding have a certain timeframe to eat. Depending on the wedding hall, there may or may not be guests from other weddings eating as well. After time is finished, it's time to make way for the next wedding group coming through. 

The buffets were well-stocked with fresh fruit, seafood, salads, soup, desserts,
                                                                                                 pastas, meat dishes, and even sushi and duck.                                                                                                           
While the guests get their fill, the bride and groom and close family are in another part of the wedding hall, conducting traditional ceremonies. At the first of the weddings, only two tables of us remained when Jade and her new husband emerged. The receptions just last long enough to have a nice meal, and then it's over. Just like that. If you do stick around a bit extra, the bride and groom will eventually emerge.

Jenny Teacher and her husband,  a firefighter.
He was happier than this picture makes him look, I swear.
There were no bridesmaids, no copious amounts of booze, no cheesy line dances.  But there were families coming together, beautiful gowns, excellent meals, and two new marriages that came of it. We had an excellent time and appreciated very much the chance to be invited to something as momentous as a wedding. Though we probably won't be adopting too much from what we saw, we got some great ideas for our own wedding next year. Wedding cake candles anyone....?

Monday, September 12, 2011

Sitting on Songjeong

In the spirit of summer (or rather, the recent end thereof), I thought I would share one of my favorite discoveries from this too quickly gone by summer season: Songjeong Beach, tucked up on Busan's eastern coast in the Haeundae area. Remember how I barely updated at all this summer? Yeah, I was here.
Fun Fact: The sand on the beach is soft and fine, unlike the sticky, coarse sand at Gwangalli and Haeundae, Busan's two more famous and more accessible beaches. When you go to Gwangalli or Haeundae, you better be prepared to spend the rest of the day with tiny shell chips and and sand stuck to your legs, clinging to your skin for dear life. Unlike those two, Songjeong's sand isn't trucked in. This is the real deal (read: it's not a man-made beach). It feels nice under your bare feet. And it falls right off your legs easily when it's time to go home. 
Fun Fact: Unless you have your own vehicle, you're going to spend a bit of money on a taxi or time on the bus, depending on your starting point. The closest the subway gets is the last few stops on the green line. No fear, your travel efforts will be handsomely rewarded. Because Songjeong isn't completely overrun with tourists, the scene is much less developed than those other aforementioned beaches. For example, you can find like three or four chain coffee shops instead of twenty. Your food options are more limited to Korean restaurants, toast stands, or the couple of convenience stores. Songjeong is Busan's "family beach." 

Fun Fact: If you go on a crowded day, and are searching for a precious front-row parasol (because why in the world would you want someone blocking your view of the water), go ahead and keep on looking in the crowded area. There were large sections at Songjeong that looked to us like they had plenty of room for us to nestle in. We lacked the proper military credentials, though, that would have allowed us to park it in that special section.

Fun Fact: The water is more blue here than anywhere else we've seen in Busan so far, except Igidae. The teal water and the mountains made for some rad scenery. Plus, there's a banana boat that you can zip around on AND you can camp here. Awesome.
Fun Fact: Diga loves the sand, hates the water. Shane mostly loves the water. It's pretty shallow here, but if you go far enough, you can actually swim. Don't get too close to the buoy, or those jet-ski lifeguards are coming your way.                                       
One perfect day, splashing around, he was asked by a gaggle of pretty university girls why he wasn't at Haeundae, where the "girls wear bikinis". He also may have appeared on a TV show, but we will never know. Yes, a random man sat down next to him, egging him on to.... something.... while another filmed it all on a film-making camera. "Fighting!" the man prompted! "Fighting!" Shane repeated! Oh, put down the beer, do it again. Can't have alcohol in the shot. "Fighting!" the man prompted! "Fighting!" Shane repeated! Something something something in Hangul. One more time. "Fighting!" the man prompted! "Fighting!" Shane repeated! They weren't interested in my ability to yell "Fighting!". I stand awkwardly out of camera range. These things happen to Shane.

I can only hope that 2011's warm weather stretches long into October like last year. Beach season may be over for everyone else, but for me, Songjeong is still waiting.