Adventures of an American Seoul-Sister

Adventures and Observations of an American Seoul-Sister

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Fall and Falling

For the past couple of weekends, I've gone hiking in nearby Woraksan National Park.  It's a beautiful, but small (by American standards) mountain range forested with deciduous trees such as japanese maple and ginko.  The display of fall colors was wonderfully reminiscent of my New England childhood.  Full of reds, yellows, and oranges, the trees dropped leaves like a ticker tape parade. 

The hikers were many.  In Korea, it's en vogue to get decked out in the lastest, top-of-the-line hiking gear when visiting a mountain, regardless of how far or long you plan to hike.  Also, it doesn't hurt to have a ski pole or two for use as hiking sticks.  I was sadly underdressed in my jeans, rainbow sweater, and worn-out sneakers.

At the foot of the hill stands an ancient shrine called Mireuk-ri.  Having been to this shrine before, I knew it was worth seeing again before heading uphill.  You can see pics of this shrine in my past post "Rainy Day Woman."

The last time I visited Woraksan, four of us hiked up the mountain, following a well-worn and wide path through the trees.  It was incredibly easy to reach the first summit, so we decided to move along to the next peak.  Here the trail got a bit tricky.  We had to topple over loose boulders, and then, the trail stopped, and we were left to grapple up a suddenly-steep mountain side.  Slipping on fallen leaves, and falling on our asses got to be too much, so we turned back.  Heading down the mountain was just as sketchy, to say the least.  Let's just say, the leaves weren't the only things falling.  At random steps, our feet would give way and send us sliding at alarming rates down the near-cliff-like mountain.

On the way back down, we met of group of middle-aged Korean hikers who insisted on sharing their tangerines and makoli (rice wine).  By this time, we surely needed it!  We all grinned stupidly at each other for a while (mostly oblivious to each others' languages), took a couple of photos, then continued back down the trail.  Having made it past the most treachorous terrain, we were able to slow down and enjoy the breath-taking fall colors. 

I most have snapped a hundred photos trying to do photographic justice to the fall colors.  I hope you enjoy them as much as I enjoyed the real thing.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Bulgogi: A Tabletop Tour

One of the most common types of restaurants in Korea is the bulgogi restaurant.  Bulgogi is basically thin steak that is grilled at the table.  Here's how it works generally (there is some variation on the table design and cooking arrangements at each restaurant):  First, if the tables are low and diners sit on the floor, they must remove their shoes at the door before walking onto the dining room floor.  The ojossi will bring to some small cups, a bottle of water, and some moist towelettes or washclothes for hand-cleaning.  The center of each table has a small inset barbeque pit for holding hot coals.  Over the coals rests a metal rack.  Over all of this is a metal vacuum tube that sucks away all the smoke.  Marinated raw meat is brought to the table.  Diners cook their own meat on the rack and chop it into bite-sized pieces with heavy-duty scissors so that the meat can be picked up easily with chopsticks.  There is also the option to grill garlic and hot peppers.  The meat is eaten straight from the grill, dipped in spicy bean paste, and/or wrapped in lettuce or sesame leaves.  Along with the meat, a series of side dishes is served.  The side dishes vary depending on the restaurant.  Some restaurants serve a much better display than others.  I went to one the was particularly generous and interesting in its array of side dishes.  Here's a quick video of the arrangement followed by a brief key. 

At the center is meat cooking atop hot coals.

Then clockwise:

Spicy bean sprouts
Shredded cabbage with salad dressing
Kim Chi next to Spicy bean paste
Tiny chilled sea snails (suck on the end to get them out of the shell)
Raw meat in the top left (barely shown)
More spicy bean sprouts
Spicy shredded green onions
Fermented cabbage leaves (not spicy)
Sea lettuce
Lettuce leaves
Vegetable pancakes
Cold seaweed soup

Mashikke tuseyo!

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Green and Getting Greener

These are add-ons to my past post "It Is Easy Being Green."  So, I finished that post.  Then, low and behold, more "greenary" starts popping up all over the place!  So, here's some more for amusements sake:

This is a rolled-up futon mattress that I got out of the trash.  It looked in good shape and pretty clean, so the hippy in me couldn't leave it in the trash.  I mean to have it cleaned to use for visitors.  Dumpster-diving is a common passtime for little old ladies in Korea.  In fact, the law requires that trash be thrown out in see-through bags so that the old folks can tell if there's anything worthwhile inside before they rip the bags open. 
I love my Korean lunchbox.  It's basically stackable tupperware with an attachable handle.  The best thing about it is that I can take different foods without them getting mixed together. waste!

This is the lunchbox, stacked and ready to go.

 Because of the street lights outside my window, I can't sleep without my dragon eye mask.  Two things I love about it:  I am "year of the dragon" and, if you know me, then you know that the dragon sign suits me rather well.  Also, the straps hook around the ears, which makes more sense than one strap that goes all the way around the head which is slippery and gives hair a funky crease overnight. 

My badminton set is green, so is the package containing the cheapest shuttlecocks (made with real goose feathers).  Badminton is one of the most popular sports in Korea.  Almost every park has badminton courts (also green) that are in nearly constant use. 

Hopefully, that's all the "green" blogs you'll have to read, as I am going to make a conscious effort to get some other colors into my life!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Pepero Day

While the rest of the world commemorates the day that WWI ended and pays respects to their veterans, South Korea celebrates Pepero day.  What is Pepero Day?  And what is Pepero?

Pepero is essentially a chocolate-dipped breadstick.  The normal size of a Pepero stick is usually a bit smaller than a pencil, but they can get up to the size of a long cigar.  Pepero exists in the USA, but it is sold under the name of Pocky and found in Asian markets and some grocery stores.   

Pepero Day is a commercial holiday invented by Lotte, the makers of Pepero.  Their explanation is that November 11th, abbreviated 11/11, is the perfect day to celebrate Pepero because all of those ones in 11/11 look just like Pepero in a box.  Of course, everyone is reminded of Pepero when they see all those ones on their calendars anyway, so why not make it a special day?  Hmm...  Despite these dubvious connections, their plan seems to be working because Lotte earns 55% of its Pepero sales in the month of November. The boxes range from small packets to boxes of mammoth proportions, and prices ranges from anywhere between 700W (70 cents) to 35000W ($35).

I would liken the holiday to Valentine's Day, only instead of handing out little cards and boxes of chocolate, everyone hands out boxes of Pepero to their favorite people.  Further, most of the boxes are red and are printed with hearts, teddy bears, or pink-bowed puppies.  The boxes even have convenient "To" and "From" spaces printed on them for the purpose of gift-giving.  Luckily, my students adore me.  I have quite a catch of Pepero on which to nibble away my Thursday evening.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Andong Mask Festival

Last month, I boarded a train to Andong to see their annual mask festival.  Mask dances are a centuries-old tradition in Korea, so I was in for a real treat.  The train carried me east-bound through the Korean countryside, past small villages, rice fields, and forested hills--the standard Korean terrain. 

Once in Andong, it was easy to find the festival grounds.  The were just a short walk from the station.  I cruised through the fair quickly.  It had the usual fried food booths and trinket stands.  At one end of the grounds, there was a stadium hosting mask dance performances. 

I skipped all this and hopped on the bus for the nearby folk village of Hahoe.  The 40-minute bus ride was worth it!  Hahoe was incredible!  The village is ancient.  Being in Hahoe was like having traveled through time.  Once populated with wealthy and prominent muck-itty-mucks of old Korea, it now stands a as a monumental treasure of Korea's past and still houses those that hold true to their traditional Korean lifestyle (with the addition of one or two satellite dishes and few motor-scooters).  My description of the village cannot do it justice, so I've included a number of pictures here. 

The village is situated on a river.  Beside the river, a small stage hosted traditional mask dances throughout the day.  Each dance was accompanied by drumming and other percussion, and each dance told a tale.  It seemed to me that most of the tales were eerie ghost tales.  Different masks were used to tell different stories.  Some masks were made with wood and some with straw.  Watching the dances was like seeing spirits from another world.  I could tell that these dances were an ancient expression on Korea's people--older, probably, than the village I stood in.  Most of the dances were performed by men.  Occasionally, a woman would join the dance depending on the tale being portrayed.  Towards the end, there was a short children's performance.

Across the river, a beautiful, large house stood alone.  It was only accessible by a crowded ferry.  By "ferry" I mean many styrofoam boxes strapped together to form a hope-it-can-float structure.  It floated despite its obviously awkward maneuverability.  I must go back some day to see this mystery house (just visible in the final picture) and to enjoy Hahoe again.  It's been one of my favorite destinations so far for its sheer and ancient beauty and its ability to transcend time.

Monday, November 8, 2010

It Is Easy Being Green

Apparently, it is easy being green in Korea.  Cleaning up my tiny one-room the other day, it dawned on me that almost everything I've aquired since coming to this country is a lovely shade of green.  So many things are green that it looks almost intentional, but I assure you that it's not.  I share these items with you here, not simply because of the green-ness of the items but also because of their Korean-ness. 

These are small packets of pickles.  I have dozens of these collecting in my fridge.  They come with all delivered fried chicken and pizza.  Sometimes, pickles even come on the pizza!

Sesame leaves are a delicious minty leaf that is used to wrap BBQ'd meat.  I like it chopped up in my salad.  Almost every garden in the city grows sesame.  They eat the leaves all summer, then collect the seeds in the fall.

This is a spicy bean paste with garlic.  It's the standard condiment for meat.

Tea!  This is green tea, but I'm amazed by all the different and strange choices.  Corn tea, for example, is quite popular.
Soju, Korea's beverage of choice is a rice alcohol that sells for only about 1000W ($1) a bottle.  Korea doesn't have any open container laws, so you can see people getting bombed on soju anywhere you go at almost any time of day.

Dishing washing liquid with a pump--brilliant!  This one is charcoal scented.  Charcoal is a popular scent and flavoring for everything from soap to soup.

Fell in love with Utory aloe foam cleanser at $2 a bottle only to have them go out of business before my first bottle was empty.

Luckily, I stumbled on Skinfood's nearly identical product (for twice the price).  Love this natural Korean-made skin care company! 


I had to buy this baby powder after "The Chafing Incident of August."  The only place I could find it was behind the counter at a pharmacy for a whooping $7. 
These rubber sandals are the standard footware for children.  They also serve as bathroom slippers in many restaurants and in my apartment.  Many places don't allow you to wear your shoes indoors, so they provide slippers for walking into the bathroom.  They cost only $3 and come in just about every color.  Mine are green. 

The smallest peace crane I've ever seen was a gift from a student.
Love this yoga mat because it has velcro straps to keep it rolled up. 

My garbage pail with Korean cutesy-ness.

10000W is the most common bill in Korean currency.

My green card.

I picked this up at the World Martial Arts Festival.  It's been cut by a very sharp sword.

This beautiful ornament is handmade with hanji (traditional Korean paper).

I got this cool puppet at the Andong Mask Festival.  I find it somewhat terrifying.

As the Wicked Witch of the West, I have green skin.