Saturday, January 30, 2010

Another US citizen detained in North Korea

North Korean officials have reported that they now have a second American in their custody for illegally crossing over the border from China. The first is, of course, Robert Park, the Christian missionary who crossed the border and planned to get caught so that he could raise awareness of the human rights abuses, particularly against Christians in the country. (Of course, what he probably did, instead, was start a new persecution of what few Christians are left in the country after 50 years of communism..)

Now reports are starting to come forward about this second detainee. Supposedly, according to the Dong A Ilbo... (which is a South Korean news source, and we know how reliable those are...) this man crossed the border because he wanted to join the North Korean army and escape from the capitalist world.

Sounds like a nice plan. Good luck to him if that really was his real motivation for entering NK. He's definitely as far from capitalism as you can possibly get. I bet working in a labor prison camp for no money and hardly any food is just what he had in mind.

I'll keep following this story to see if a more plausible explanation arises.

Reuters Article
Bloomberg Article

Haiti Fundraisers

2S2 has compiled a list of some of the fundraising going on in Seoul to support the earthquake victims in Haiti. Check out their post for a list of events.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

The North strikes again..

After the South issued a statement last week stating that they were willing to make a preemptive strike against the North, if there were clear signs of a nuclear attack. There's little surprise here that the North jumped at the opportunity to say that the South was threatening war and has now decided to push the South into making a strike against the North and prove how serious that threat is.

Yesterday the North set up a "no-sail zone" along the western borderline. This "no-sail zone" stretches even into South Korean territory.

Yesterday at 9:05 am the North started firing a barrage of coastal artillery shells towards the Northern Limit Line.

Soon after the North fired at 9:05 a.m., South Korean marines on the island fired bullets as warning shots in the air toward the North instead of counterattacking. The North’s artillery shells landed in the North’s own waters, said Won Tae-jae, spokesman for the South’s Defense Ministry. Won also said that the North fired some 30 shells in two rounds from 9:05 until 10:16 a.m. The first round lasted for 20 minutes and was directed toward the upper no-sail zone and the second round began around 9:45 a.m. and aimed toward the other zone. Another round of shells was fired at 3:25 p.m. [1]

Since the shells didn't land in South Korean territory, the South had no reason to counterattack, following the rules of engagement. They fired warning shots into the air and warned them not to provoke an attack.

The North blames the South for this, claiming that they provoked them and declared war with their statements last week.

"Our revolutionary armed forces will regard the scenario for 'preemptive strike' which the south Korean puppet authorities adopted as a 'state policy' as an open declaration of war," its state KCNA news agency quoted a spokesman for the armed forces general staff as saying. [2]

Others see this as a way to rally the people with their government and hope they forget about their hyperinflation that is sweeping their nation. And of course warn the South that they are more than willing to attack at any time.

"North Korea is exercising a two-track policy of aggressively seeking economic cooperation and humanitarian aid on one hand while heightening military tension on the other," said Kim Yong-hyun, professor of North Korean studies at Dongguk University. [3]

As usual, the North flutters between showing signs of wanting to improve relations and ready to start a war. I'm almost getting sick of reporting it because it's the same old story, over and over again. North tries to provoke an attack. The South doesn't take the bait. Really, why would the South even want to attack the North unless it felt genuinely threatened? The South has nothing to gain from war with the North, except gaining a country full of impoverished, starving masses who are ill-equipped to adjust to the modern day South Korean world of capitalism and high competition.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Training

Both jobs that I've now worked for in Seoul have both been very good about training. At my last job I had 6 or 7 days of training, and her I get 6 days of training. I am very grateful for this. But, I must say, I hate observation. Especially now, for my second job, also another SLP, I know how to teach a class. It's nice to see other people's teaching styles, but you can only take so much of sitting in the back of a classroom and watching someone else teach this mind numbing grammar or whatever before you start to go nuts. My papers have little drawings all over the margins. They look like my student's book's margins. I still have four more days of observation before I start teaching on Monday, and I may just go nuts.

They have no real work for me to do in the office. I wouldn't mind some lesson planning or homework list making, or writing syllabi right now because there's only so many times you can check facebook during break times before you start to feel unloved because nothing has changed since the last time you checked it, 5 minutes before.

I can't believe it's only Tuesday. Tuesday, before classes have even started, for that matter. This must be the longest week on record and it only just started.

Anyway, in other news. I finally found a dresser, and we bought a comforter set for the bed on Gmarket (Korean version of Amazon, or whatever online shopping site you use) last night. It wound up being about 70,000 won for the whole set (only duvet, not a blanket) which felt a little expensive, but it was one of the cheapest we could find. The other other cheap one had bad reviews. This one had generally very positive reviews.

So, the apartment is just about completely ready. Once I get the comforter set up, maybe I'll take some photos to put up here.

I'm having cell phone issues. As I mentioned in an earlier post, I lost my cell phone 2 days after getting it set up on a new prepaid plan. While I debated what to do next, my boyfriend found a phone from a friend of his. He won't charge me any money for his nice phone, but the deal was I had to pay his bill. Well, he hadn't used it for 4 months, but the bills had still been piling up, so there was a 78,000 won bill. After going all the way to the SHOW service center I got the bill all cleared so I could use the phone. But, the second problem is that I need a converter for the cell phone charger.

See, all cell phones in Korea need to be able to use a single, standard phone charger. Sounds genius, doesn't it? Except that most new phones nowadays are either too small to fit that charger, or are too cool to put that old school charger on their phone. So, their solution? Make a cell phone charm that adapts the charger socket to the old style socket. So, you're stuck with this ugly phone charger adapter as your cell phone charm when you could have something cool like a hamburger or chili peppers or something just as inane.

My problem is that my boyfriend's friend lost his. So. No charging my phone for me until I get that little adaptor. The SHOW service center didn't have it. I need to go to an Anycall (my phone brand) service center. I got directions by phone this morning from my boyfriend from looking at a map online, but unfortunately, the conditions on the ground were not quite what the map appeared and I wound up missing my turn and consequently didn't make it to the service center and was quite nearly late for work on my third day. No good.

So, anyway, I'm still unreachable for the most part. But at least I have a job, dresser and comforter in the mail.

So long til next time.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

New Job

So yesterday I started at my new school, Songpa SLP. I was immediatly impressed by the big, clean, new building. Compared to my old school it was sparkling. I was ushered into a confrence room when I arrived and the head teacher came in to meet me. They ordered me some lunch (thank God) and started explaining my schedule for the next few days. Monday I have to go in at 9:40 and get my health exam. I'm a little peeved that they are making me pay for half of the exam, 40,000 won, even though it's a visa requirement. Oh well, what can you do.

My schedule seems ok, MWF five 40 minute classes. One class only has two, well behaved students, and another class only has three, slightly odd, boys. The other classes are moderatly sized and moderatly behaved. I think it looks alright. I still don't know about TTH classes yet, but the schedule sounds light.

The staff seems friendly enough. The morning teachers and afternoon teachers are separated by 5 floors, so I get the feeling it's going to be very hard to get to know the morning preschool teachers as my office is on the 5th floor. At least the afternoon staff seems friendly enough. There is one other guy starting with me this week. It's his first time in Korea. It's always interesteing to hear newbies speak about their first impressions. I'm reminded of things that I totally forgot about that are wierd and different.

Anyway, I hope things continue to go well at this new school. It seems like a good place to work for. I'm hoping my daily commute everyday does not become cumbersome. last night I didn't get home until after 10 o'clock. I don't think that will be normal, as I waited around in the office for some people to get things done, so we could walk together. Plus we were helping the new guy to find a grocery store. I expect that the whole commute took about 50 mins, including walking, waiting, and walking again. The train ride itself didn't feel that long... And when I have homework to do on the train, I bet it will go even faster. I hope.

Connections...

I'm finding more and more that the best way to get a job in this city (or anywhere in the world, I'm sure) is if you have some connections. I had a better chance at my job because I had a friend of a friend working at my school. That friend of a friend, whom I am replacing, just got a sweet job (which I also applied for and didn't get) at Yonsei University Foreign Language Institute which offers free Korean language studies at the school plus a 3-8pm working schedule. They got that job because they had a friend who pulled some strings for them. Today I send a friend a recommendation to apply for a job at my friend's school because he's in the market for a new job too. Providing that job is still open, my friend should be able to get him a job.

The great thing about being here for so long is you start to get connections with so many people. Old co-workers who move on to bigger, better schools. People you meet around who work at other schools. All of a sudden you find yourself hearing about job openings left and right. For me, it never seems to work out that it's when I need a job, but nevertheless, it helps you find jobs for others.

Don't forget to use all the connections you have when trying to find a job, whether it be here or at home. Unfortunately, in this economy, it tends to be one of the most important factors in finding a job...

Friday, January 22, 2010

My very own Kimchi Bokkumbap


This week I decided to try my hand at making kimchi bokkumbap (or kimchi fried rice). To some people who don't eat kimchi all the time, it might not be an appealing sounding dish, but ohho, let me tell you, it's one of the great dishes Korea has to offer.

My students always tell me that this is the easiest dish to cook. Usually when I ask them to write instructions on how to do/make something, they always seem to choose kimchi bokkumbap because it's something most older kids know how to make. It's pretty easy.

1) Chop up whatever veggies you want to stir fry in your bokkumbap. I chose onion and garlic, but feel free to be creative.

2) put some oil in the pan and fry up your veggies for a few mins.

3) After they've been frying for a few mins, add your kimchi and fry that for a few more mins.

4) Add your rice and fry that for a while.

5) For extra flavor, add some sesame oil.

6) You're done! Top with fried egg and or seaweed and sesame seeds for more flavor!

7) 많이 먹어요! Eat a lot! Enjoy!

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Bubble Tea in Seoul


You know, I was in Korea for a year and 4 months, and never once did I see a bubble tea shop, or even a coffee shop that served bubble tea. I thought that the fad must have passed in Asia, because I was only able to get it in Chinatown at home. Saturday evening, though, we decided to go somewhere for coffee near my Korean class, and as we looked across the street, there was conveniently located a bubble tea shop. I ordered a hot green tea (powder green tea, the best kind) bubble tea. I've never seen a hot bubble tea before, usually when I get bubble tea, it's more shake-like than tea-like. But, nevertheless, this was a tasty tea, served with a spoon (think those spoons you get in most Asian restaurants outside of Korea) to scoop up the tapioca pearls. My friend ordered some sort of cold drink with the tapioca pearls, which also looked quite yummy. If you happen to run across this place in the Sookmyung Women's university area, you should definitely check it out. I also highly recommend the dalk galbi place across the street!!


If you are curious about what bubble tea is, see here for the wikipedia article.


To arrive, take the side street between exit 8 and 9, go under the train bridge and cross the street. Go up with the street with the GS25 on the corner and look for it about a minute later on your right.

Flyby Russia...

While flying over to Seoul, I spent a few hours over Russia. I couldn't help but stare at this landscape void of human civilization....

Of course, the photo can't do it justice...

shopping for bedding...

I've been having the hardest time finding bedding that will fit my bed. We bought a double size bed used, but I have found that it is impossible to find double sized sheets and blankets. There are several types of beds in Korea:
Single (slightly more narrow than a twin size at home)
Super Single (slightly larger than a twin size at home)
Double
Queen
King

It would seem as though not many people make double beds anymore. Maybe they are a thing of the past?? We searched lotte mart, E-mart and Gmarket. The only place where we had marginal luck was Gmarket, but even there, only select styles are available in double sizes.

You know, I wouldn't mind buying a queen sized blanket, seeing as how blankets tend to be on the small size, they don't hang very far off the bed on either side, they tend to just cover the top, but I would like my sheets to fit the bed. I hate the feeling of waking up in the middle of the night to find yourself on the bare mattress because your sheets have popped off...

And of course, the other problem is the price. Bedding seems to be super expensive. I mean, I guess it is at home too, but I would really like something on the cheap side. I hate spending money... I've seen people selling their used blankets online, but I feel like a blanket is something rather personal that I don't want to share with others...

Well, I hope I find something soon...

Lost cell phone..

Yesterday I lost my cellphone. I have no idea how I could have lost it, since I wasn't even using it. I was only in two stores and the boyfriend's car. We couldn't have been out for more than 1/2 an hour. And then *poof* it was gone. We keep calling it, hoping someone will answer, but alas, no answer. If I have time today, maybe I'll go to the stores where I was and see if anyone's found it. But I'm not hopeful. Now I need to start thinking of either how to survive for a month without a cell phone, or to figure out how to get another cell phone.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Interesting tidbits...

Well, it seems as though I left my photo upload cord in America, so until I can get my hands on one, this blog will have to be photoless. But, there are some other little odds and ends I can talk about until I can get some photos up.

Today my internet was finally installed. I had been using the boyfriend's "wibro" internet connection (one of those low data limit cellular based internet services you can plug into your computer for like 10,000 won a month) but I maxed out the monthly limit of data after two skype calls home... oops.

So today the internet guy came by to set up the internet. We also decided to get a wireless internet phone instead of a landline. I'm not sure how much it costs, but it's cheap. But, I'm now fascinated with this little phone. I went to make a phone call and when it wouldn't let me hit the button I wanted, I read the screen to see what it was trying to tell me. "New text message". What? It's a landline. How can it get a text message? Well, I guess, why not make a "landline" to send and receive texts. It just makes sense, I've just never seen it before.

Then I noticed that the ring was a little low and I tried to get into the menu to raise the volume (mind you all these menus are in Korean). I thought if I hit the up button when I got the ringer screen, it would raise the volume, but in fact changed the ringer. I flipped through about 50 rings before I came back to the original one. I was tempted to set my phone on "고스트하우스" ("ghosthouse") but in the end I went with "India". In fact, there was only one normal ring on the whole phone that I could find.

I also tried to enter in names into the phone book. Well, it was easy enough, but I was trying to type in Korean, which I assumed would be easier, since it's a Korean phone, but then I found that only half the alphabet was listed on the buttons. Where is the "ㅎ"? I still haven't found it... So, I still wound up typing in everybody's names in English. Oh well.



Another slightly interesting side note was my trip to get my bed. We found it for 30,000 won on a Korean used site, kind of like craigslist or something. We had to hire a mover, but we wanted to check it out first before we decided to get it and call the mover. We went to the house, checked out the bed and decided to buy it. We called the mover and he said it would take him about 30 mins to get there. Ok, no problem. We disassembled the bed and moved it out into the hallway, which took 15 mins or so. After that, we were going to go out and get some food until the mover arrived, but the woman insisted we stay inside and wait. While we sat, this perfect stranger brought us over a big plate of fruit and steamed buns filled with red bean (Koreans like to put red beans into things) and glasses of juice. We were very grateful since we hadn't eaten and she and the boyfriend chatted for a while, mostly about foreigners, because she was very curious about me and why I was in Korea.

Finally, an hour later, the mover finally arrived. Part of the deal of how he agreed to move it for only 35,000 won was that the boyfriend had to assist in the moving process. Not a big deal, of course, it was only a bed. While we were waiting outside for the mover to finish getting the last of the pieces into the flatbed, the security guard started chatting with the boyfriend. I wasn't paying much attention to the conversation until the boyfriend looked over at me and said "예브다" beautiful, in Korean. "What?" I said. I started to pay more attention to the conversation, but I coudn't follow it. After we got back in the car I asked him what they were talking about. The conversation went something like this:

You're living with a foreigner?
Yea.
Foreigners are so pretty. Their noses are very high.

I think there was more to it than that, but that's about as much as I could figure out. Evidently "high" noses are quite attractive around these parts. I had no idea my nose was so noticeably "high".... But at least I'm pretty. ^^

Nothing To Envy, by Barbara Demick

About a week before leaving for Korea I was listening to NPR (god I miss NPR when I'm here) on the radio while driving somewhere. They were interviewing a woman who worked for the Los Angeles Times as a correspondent in Asia and she had just recently published a new book called Nothing to Envy, Ordinary Lives in North Korea. After hearing the interview, I hit Amazon.com almost immediately and bought the book, praying it would arrive before I left for Korea.

Fortunately it did, and I started reading while waiting for my plane. Now, those that follow this blog will know that I have a slight obsession with North Korea. I don't know what it is but something about this country fascinates me like no other. Normally I don't seek out documentaries to watch, or non-fiction books to read, but when it comes to North Korea, I am just simply fascinated.

Anyway, I was immediately sucked into this book. This oral history of 6 people's lives in North Korea was simply fascinating. The story begins many years ago, back when North Korea was a developed country, then she follows the progression of how it slowly slipped back, going from a developed country with "nothing to envy" to a desperately poor nation with crumbling infrastructure and masses starving. All of the people she focuses on in the book have made it to South Korea, one way or another. She follows their lives and how they go from loyal citizens to crossing the border and making their way to the "enemy", South Korea.

Anyway, I highly recommend this book to anyone who is even slightly interested in the topic. I guarantee you will be satisfied. I'm hoping Korean booksellers will pick up this book, but I have no idea about the availability of this book in Korea. Check out your local booksellers and ask them to order it for you or get it on Amazon now!

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Coming along...

Well, the apartment is starting to take shape. I think I've cleaned about 85% of what needs to be cleaned, and it's starting to feel a little more home-like. We found a bed for only 30,000 won (+35,000 won moving fee) on a Korean used furniture website. It's pretty basic, but it works. We moved the TV into the bedroom and decided that we're going to try to live without cable, since we're not big TV watchers anyway. This morning I put the rickety bookshelf into the bedroom, but it looks like it's about to topple over because the back is not attached. I'm wondering how to attach it without hammer and nails / staple gun.

Last night we set up some bars in the small room to hang clothes on. That was probably a two hour affair, trying to get all the bars even and the right distance from one another and the wall. But now I feel like I have one giant walk-in closet. The boyfriend was convinced I had so many clothes that we needed 5 bars plus two shelves, but once I got everything hung I really don't think all that was necessary. Oh well, I have room for expansion, I guess. Then, of course, there are all my summer clothes that are in the mail on their way. I guess (if I could find enough hangers) I could hang those up... that would fill up those bars pretty quickly.

The kitchen took a while to clean... there was grease everywhere I looked... walls, cabinets, stove, counter. After a few hours of scrubbing, it's starting to look much nicer. I've rearranged most of the kitchenwares and it's starting to feel like my kitchen now. I have a rice cooker, which is a first for me. I made rice by myself this morning in it... and it turned out... ok.. but I need to get the proportions of rice/water a little better next time.

I'm very proud of the improvements I've made to the bathroom. I hung two shower curtains to contain the water to the middle of the floor, I've scrubbed all the mold I can get off the walls, and I found plastic covering for the window to keep out the awful draft. The bathroom is feeling warmer and (slightly) drier than before.

The only major things I still need are a dresser and a nightstand. I think I've found a small dresser on craigslist, and I'm hoping to pick that up tonight. I'll continue on my search for a nightstand in the coming days I guess.

I'm also waiting to get my internet and phone set up. The boyfriend says he's gona call, but it hasn't happened yet, I hope he gets around to it soon... I'm starting to wonder how hard it can be to call for me and my mediocre Korean skills. We're planning on getting an internet phone, which is very cheap or free when you get the internet, and you can even make international calls for cheap rates on it (though, when I have skype, I don't see why it's necessary..).

Anyway, I'm off to meet a friend for Indian food for lunch. Updating from Starbucks is no fun. When I get my internet up and running, expect to see photos from the new apartment!

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Korea, second round

Well folks, I arrived last night back in Seoul after a two month visit home. I don't start work for another week, thank goodness, so I have time to rest and get settled. I think the second time around is going to be much easier in terms of adjustments, though there are lots of changes in my life in Seoul this time around.

I have moved into my new apartment. This time I'm living in a villa, instead of an officetel. For those of you outside of Korea who have no idea what a villa or an officetel are, I'll give you a quick explanation. An officetel is usually a modern apartment building that happens to have some offices on the first floor or two. Then it's usually a high rise with modern, typically smallish apartments (or at least English teachers live in small ones). My old apartment had a modern shower in a beautiful bathroom. Kitchen was small, but had everything I needed (minus a microwave), and the sleeping/living area again, was small, but comfortable and clean.

Villas are smaller, typically brick apartment buildings, usually with only 3-5 floors. These types of apartments fill the backstreets of Seoul, while office tells often line the main roads. My new apartment is larger than my officetel, as typical of villa apartments. I have two rooms , plus a hallway area where there is a small kitchen area and a bathroom. The kitchen did not technically come equipped, as they typically don't. Fortunately, we were able to buy the gas range and fridge from the girl moving out (along with a large portion of her furniture for that matter). The bathroom will be the biggest adjustment. The bathroom, which is slightly raised from the rest of the apartment, has a shower head that faces the sink. The bathroom gets covered in water when you shower, so I'm going to look for some ways to hang some shower curtains to keep the water contained. The other problem with the bathroom is that it is FREEZING cold. We've been keeping the door to the bathroom shut because when it's open you feel a draft throughout the apartment, but when you open the door to go to the bathroom it's like walking into a refrigerator. I'm wondering if some strategically placed curtains might not only constrain water, but keep the important part of the bathroom a little warmer. (If anyone has any experience with this, let me know please!)

We're still playing with ideas on what to do with the two rooms we have. One room is quite small. I have a feeling the bed might fit in there, but not much else. But, if we kept the bed in the small room, then we could have a much more open and comfortable living area in the other room. The other option is to make the small room into a sort of storage room, to keep all the things like clothes, skis, luggage, etc. that visitors don't need to see, out of the way. Then the bed can fit into the large room with hopefully enough space for relaxing. We're even toying with the idea of a sofa, but I really don't see where it's going to fit...

For the moment, we still don't have a bed, which makes the whole organizing idea a little tough since I don't know how much space I'm working with. We're going to go furniture shopping after the boyfriend gets out of work today and see if we can find anything. For the moment, though, we have a yo (Korean style floor mat) to sleep on, which is not very thick, but I still find comfortable. I might need to turn the heat down while I sleep though... I find the ondol (Korean floor heating) to be baking me while I sleep.

My other slight problem is that my flight from Boston-San Francisco was delayed two hours and I got on my connection to Seoul with just barely enough time for myself to run from the domestic terminal to the international terminal. Not to mention the fact that there was no way my luggage was going to make it to the new plane. When I got to Incheon, they already had paperwork out with my name written as they knew exactly where my bags were... which was not in Incheon. I'll be waiting for a call today, hopefully not too late, about when to expect my bags to arrive. The good thing is that I had more clothes here than I realized and can easily survive for a few days without my bags, if necessary.

I'm hoping to recover from my jet lag quickly. Today I woke up at 5 am and now at 9:50am am still wide awake. I'm expecting a crash at any moment, considering how little sleep I got on the plane and the day before leaving.

Photos to come once everything is clean an organized!

Also, definitely looking to buy:
Bathmat
Curtains
Tension Rods for shower curtain
Bed (larger than a twin)

This list might grow as the week progresses...

Thursday, January 14, 2010

To-do

Here's today's to-do list, the day before I leave:
  • Go to the bank
  • Go to the post office
  • Go to the laundromat
  • Meet friend for lunch
  • Go home and put a turkey in the oven for dinner
  • Start packing
  • Write check for student loan
  • Eat dinner
  • Keep packing
  • Say goodbye to friends
  • Double-check everything
  • Shower
  • Sleep (?)
  • Leave for airport at 3 am-ish

I tried to do online check in, but something about my itinerary won't let me. I hope that I can check in for Singapore Airlines at the United Airlines counter, since they are both Star Airlines. I also hope that the ticket counter really opens at 4am, like the woman on the phone told me, unlike 5am open time that the website states, since my flight leaves at 6:10. I'm a bit worried about all the heightened security since the Christmas day incident. Let's pray (to whatever deity you prefer) for no problems at the airport or on the plane...

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Almost ready

Got my visa, got my plane ticket, got my apartment, got my job.

The only thing left to do is finish packing! I'll be in Korea on Friday! Can't wait to be back!

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Inaka: Lawrence, MA

After a long day of skiing on Monday at Mt. Sunapee, my friend treated me to an amazing dinner of sushi at Inaka in Lawrence, MA. She went all out and ordered eight different orders of sushi, as you can see from this picture.


The chefs here are amazing and make some of the best sushi I've ever had. It's really up there with the sushi I ate in Japan. Some of the flavors are much more American, of course. We had a nice cream cheese, cucumber and salmon filled sushi (see middle of photo) that even my mom ate, and she generally refuses to eat sushi. The one to the top right is Jim's Scallop Maki. Sushi topped with baked scallops. A little hard to eat, but worth the effort because the combination of tastes was just amazing. The two front rolls were not my favorite, since they both have fish eggs which I don't particularly care for.


All in all, an amazing sushi treat, which I'm sure I won't see the likes of until I take another trip to Japan (or back to Inaka, whichever comes first)


We also ordered some sides of fried mandu (dumplings) and lobster soup. Both were amazing, and it makes me want to go back to Korea so I can eat more dumplings all the time.

As you can see, this tea looks a little strange. It's not clear, but is very green. This is the exact kind of tea that I was served in Tokyo. I've never seen it outside of Japan before. I know it's green tea, but I don't know how it's different from the green tea you get normally. All I know is, is that it's the best green tea I've ever had. It's not quite as bitter as normal green tea that one usually has at home or in restaurants. Don't get me wrong, I like the stuff I have in my house, but this stuff is amazing. When I asked the staff about it, they said they import it directly from Japan. Makes sense, since I've never seen it elsewhere.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

It's officially official!

I received my visa issuance number in my inbox this morning and went to the consulate as quickly as I could. My visa will be ready on Tuesday. I went home and made my flight reservation. Somehow the price went down instead of up as the date approaches. I'll be leaving Boston on Thursday and arriving in Incheon on Friday evening.

My boyfriend set up his web cam in the new apartment to give me a tour. Actually, it was pretty much what I imagined, but it's nice to see it for real (kind of). I still can't get a good feel for the size of it but I guess that's the nature of cameras. Not much in the way of depth perception. The poor boyfriend, though, is sleeping on the floor with no pillow or blanket tonight because we still don't have a bed and he hasn't gotten the yo our friend offered us. I hope he does that soon, because I don't think that a jacket for a blanket and a book as a pillow will be enough to provide any comfort...

Anyway, now with only 7 days left, I feel as though I should start packing. I've got too much to do this week, people keep pulling on me in every direction wanting to see me before I leave and its getting to the point where I can't see everyone, as much as I wish I could. If only people lived closer and didn't work all the time, life would be so much easier!

Friday, January 8, 2010

A more optimistic look on Americans...

I accidentally came across this article from the New York Times written about Americans from a Brit's perspective. I thought it was rather interesting and I thought I'd throw it on here if anyone else would like to read or comment.

January 3, 2010
Letter From London

My American Friends

The first thing I ever heard about Americans was that they all carried guns. Then, when I came across people who’d had direct contact with this ferocious-sounding tribe, I learned that they were actually rather friendly. At university, friends who had traveled in the United States came back with more detailed stories, not just of the friendliness of Americans but also of their hospitality (which, in our quaint English way, was translated into something close to gullibility). When I finally got to America myself, I found that not only were the natives friendly and hospitable, they were also incredibly polite. No one tells you this about Americans, but once you notice it, it becomes one of their defining characteristics, especially when they’re abroad.

This is very strange, or at least it says something strange about the way that perception routinely conforms to the preconceptions it would appear to contradict. The archetypal American abroad is perceived as loud and crass even though actually existing American tourists are distinguished by the way they address bus drivers and bartenders as “sir” and are effusive in their thanks when any small service is rendered. We look on with some confusion at these encounters because, on the one hand, the Americans seem a bit country-bumpkinish, and, on the other, good manners are a form of sophistication.

Granted, these visiting Americans often seem to have loud voices, but on closer examination, it’s a little subtler than that. Americans have no fear of being overheard. Civic life in Britain is predicated on the idea that everyone just about conceals his loathing of everyone else. To open your mouth is to risk offending someone. So we mutter and mumble as if surrounded by informers or, more exactly, as if they are living in our heads. In America the right to free speech is exercised freely and cordially. The basic assumption is that nothing you say will offend anyone else because, deep down, everyone is agreed on the premise that America is better than anyplace else. No such belief animates British life. On the contrary. A couple of years ago a survey indicated that British Muslims were the most fed-up of any in Europe: a sign, paradoxically, of profound assimilation.

If the typical American interaction involves an ostensibly contradictory mixture of the formal (politeness), the casual and the cordial, what happens when one moves beyond the transactional? Like many Europeans, I always feel good about myself in America; I feel appreciated, liked. It took a while to realize that this had nothing to do with me. It was about the people who made me feel this way: it was about charm. Yes, this is the bright secret of life in the United States: Americans are not just friendly and polite — they are also charming. And the most charming thing of all is that it rarely looks like charm. The French put a rather charmless emphasis on charm, are consciously or unconsciously persuaded that it is either part of a display of sophistication or — and it may amount to the same thing — a tool in the service of seduction.

You can see all of this in operation on flights back across the Atlantic from America to Euroland. At first we are under the spell of America. Instead of plunking ourselves down next to someone without a word, we say “Hi.” Maybe even indulge in a little conversation, though this American readiness to chat is counterbalanced by the fear that once we’ve got into a conversation we might not be able to extricate ourselves from it. By the time we’re mid-ocean, a kind of preparatory freeze has set in. As the flight stacks up in the inevitable holding pattern over Heathrow, we begin to revert to our muttering and moaning national selves. But, for a week or so after landing, a form of what might be called Ameristalgia makes us conscious of a rudeness in British life — a coarsening in the texture of daily life — that had hitherto seemed quite normal.

For example. I pay a considerable sum of money to play indoors at Islington Tennis Centre. Eighty percent of the time, the next people to play indicate that your time is up by unzipping their racket covers and strolling on court, without saying a word, without a smile, without acknowledging your existence except as an impediment. In America that would be not just unacceptable but inconceivable.

What is the relevance of this anecdotal trivia to a serious debate about the status of America in the world?

Most of my American friends were depressed and gloomy about the Bush years. Several said that if Bush were re-elected in 2004, they would leave the country. He was and they didn’t. The bottom line is that given the choice, Americans love it rather than leave it. Day to day, American life remained as pleasant as could be expected, even in the midst of considerable economic hardship. There was even a bonding, anti-Bush feeling similar to the kind of consensual opposition that we experienced under Margaret Thatcher. A visiting American artist like Patti Smith found that while the usual torrent of name-­dropping — Rimbaud, Mapplethorpe, Kerouac et al. — got a smattering of appreciative applause, a single gibe about Bush brought the house down.

At the same time, either sterling went up or the dollar went down (I don’t really understand this stuff), and as a consequence, Americans felt poor when they visited our rainy little island. So, for a brief period, we felt richer — planeloads of us went to Mannahatta and bought up everything in sight — and ideologically and ethically superior. Man, that felt good. We had a less blinkered attitude to Israel, didn’t drive big gas-guzzling S.U.V.’s, and if we were chilly of an evening we put on a sweater rather than turning up the heating (or, more accurately, turning off the A.C.). Sure, Blair went along with invading Iraq, but wasn’t that partly because he hoped to restrain the crusading fundamentalism of Bush? Now the dollar is back up — or down, or whichever it is — Europe is no longer expensive, and with the election of Barack Obama, the brief cushion of political superiority has been permanently deflated.

The Obama election was a real kick in the teeth, because although we Britons still seethe with class hatred, we pride ourselves on our highly evolved attitude to the question of race that has consistently undermined the American dream. The slight problem is that racial intermingling in Britain is most conspicuous in the ethnically diverse makeup of the groups of yobs — Asian, black and white — who exercise their antisocial behavioral skills without any kind of discrimination as to whom they happen to be terrorizing. In this regard, as in so many others, we seem to be leading from the bottom up.

Across the board, the grounds for all our feelings of superiority have been steadily whittled away. It turns out that the qualities that make us indubitably British — that is, the ones that we don’t share with or have not imported from America — are no longer conducive to Greatness. They actually add up to a kind of ostrich stoicism that, though it can be traced back to our finest hour (the blitz, the Battle of Britain), manifests itself in a peculiar compromise: a highly stylized willingness to muddle on, to put up with poor quality and high prices (restaurants, trains), to proffer (and accept) apologies not as a prelude to but as a substitute for improvement. We may not enjoy the way things are, but we endure them in a way that seems either quaint or quasi-Soviet to American visitors.

A tiny example. There’s a fashionable gastro pub near where I live. You scrum at the bar, desperate to get the attention of the barman. After a while, he will raise his eyebrows and glare at you. Unschooled in our rough ways, a visitor from America might assume he is being threatened, but actually the glare means that your order can now be taken — as long as you’re quick about it. When a friend from California had managed to order, he was handed the credit card terminal, which showed the amount and the option to add something for service. Americans are predisposed to tip, but my friend was slightly taken aback because, far from being in receipt of anything that might be described as service, it felt as if he had been fighting for a place aboard the last lifeboat on the Titanic. “Welcome to England,” I said.

Geoff Dyer’s latest book is a novel, “Jeff in Venice, Death in Varanasi.”

Thursday, January 7, 2010

So soon..

I just realized that if all goes according to plan, I could be back in Seoul in a week an a half. Of course, with this big snow storm in Seoul, who knows if anyone is in the immigration office clearing my paperwork. The earliest my visa processing number could have shown up would have been today, but I kind of knew between New Year's and the snow storm that that was quite unlikely. Now everyday I'll just have to hope and wish and pray that that number will show up in my inbox. And then, when that number does decide to show up, that there are still flights left as now I'm at the less than 10 days before the flight mark.

I've packed a box of summer clothes to ship by boat, as I've decided to carry light suitcases this time instead of pushing the 50lbs limit every time. I am a light packer really, and I might find that I have extra room in my suitcase, but that's ok. This time I'm bringing two pairs of boots with me and a big new ski jacket, so that will probably occupy the space that the summer clothes would have taken up.

I haven't even pulled my other suit cases back out yet... they are sitting in the attic, out of the way. Of course, it's hard to pack winter clothes, as I'm wearing them. I made a packing list last night (mostly out of boredom) but I'm sure I'm forgetting something. I'm trying to bring two weeks of summer clothes and two weeks of winter clothes, just like I did last time. I also have a few random articles of clothing that I left with the boyfriend that wouldn't fit in the suitcase... now that I'm thinking of it... it was more than a few random articles, I think it was a whole duffel bag... don't worry, a small duffel bag, but still.

Technically, Wednesday was the day I could have moved into my apartment in Seoul. The boyfriend walked in to check it out. He says it's a little dirty... we're going to have to do some cleaning seeing as how we have a cheap landlord who won't bring in a cleaner to clean it for us. He is, fortunately, redoing the floors and wallpaper in the biggest room for us.

We paid the girl moving out for a bunch of her things. It sounds like we have nearly everything we need minus a bed, dresser and maybe a sofa. A friend offered to give us her yo (floor mat) until we were able to find a bed. So, really, we might not need to buy much more. Of course, I haven't even seen this place except for photos, so when I see the situation on the ground, I might have a very different opinion. I'm excited to see it, I just hope it's everything the boyfriend makes it out to be. Sometimes men have very different standards than women...

List of things we got from the girl moving out:
  • Desk
  • Tables
  • Chairs (how many? I don't know)
  • Clothes Hanging rack
  • Dishes
  • Pots and Pans (?)
  • Gas range
  • Full size fridge
  • TV
  • Washing Machine
  • Clothes drying rack

Anyway, I'll keep you all updated with apartment details once I arrive. Also I'm sure I'll be blogging again when I buy my plane ticket!!!

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Yelp

I don't know when Yelp started, but I hadn't heard about it until I was going to San Francisco with Beth and she looked up all our hotel ratings on it. Yelp is basically one big review site that reviews restaurants, hotels, events, shopping, and basically anything else you would ever want to review. It provides google maps for everything, plus price range, parking info, accessibility, etc. I started reviewing today and updated it with some of the restaurants I've put up here recently. If your interested in restaurants in the Boston (and NYC) area, feel free to check out my reviews!

I added a Yelp map on my side bar, or you can check out my reviews at http://smileyjkl.yelp.com.

Kaze Shabu Shabu

Last night my friend and I went in town to try Kaze Shabu Shabu in Chinatown, Boston. We actually stumbled upon the place accidentally while looking for another shabu shabu restaurant and decided to give it a try.

Beth being adventurous...

The restaurant was very clean and our waiter was very attentive. That is until the end when he must have taken his break and some other waitress came by and snatched all our sauces before we were done eating...

most of the hot pot restaurants I've been to in the states tend to have slightly higher technology than Korea... mainly I mean that there is no open flame on the table, just an electric hot plate built into the table. Maybe you can see it in this photo...


We both ordered the beef with the free bouillon broth. This was good, though if I did it again, I wonder if it might be worth the extra $3.00 for the flavored broths, as this was a little bland... as to be expected with plain bouillon broth, I suppose. The price for the beef was $12.00 which seemed reasonable to me, especially as this included a big plate of vegetables (even if what I thought was a potato turned out to be radish...) and vermicelli noodles or rice, your choice.

Notice that here you can each order your own broth, and it comes in the same bowl with this ingenious bowl splitter. Americans aren't big on food sharing like Asia...

I noticed the sign on the wall that mentioned half price appetizers and $1.00 PBR after 9pm, so this might not be a bad place to come before heading out for the night. ...If you can fight the cold at this time of year, that is...



After here, I went to my favorite place to get some bubble tea down the street at New Dong Khanh. I can't vouch for all their bubble teas, but their avocado is amazing, they put a whole avocado, plus vanilla ice cream into the blender to make it plus the tapioca pearls.... amazing. :-)


Oh, and just for comparison's sake, here's a photo from over a year ago when Beth and Mommy visited me in Korea and we ate shabu shabu there... this was my favorite spicy mushroom shabu shabu. The beef is cut much thinner, the broth is pleasantly spicy (not burn your mouth of spicy) and it comes with a nice side of wasabi and udon noodles... not to mention the bokumbap at the end of the meal. Now, the question is... what's more authentic? The Korean or the American shabu shabu?? Anyone have an opinion?

Monday, January 4, 2010

Snow in Boston, but not quite like what is hitting Seoul today


Here's a photo from the JoongAng Daily from Seoul today. I've already gotten messages from 3 people about how bad the snow is over there. First it was my boyfriend, who it took 5 hours to get from Yongpyong Ski Resort to Seoul this morning to get to work. Then an old co-worker informed me that she walked 30 minutes through the snow to SLP this morning to find out that classes were canceled for the day. Great communication. Then another friend IMed me from work but he had already decided he was gonna have an easy day with his kids.

Our cat, don't ask me to spell her name, because I can't. We never gave her a proper name because she adopted us, instead of the other way around.

Boston, too, has gotten it's fair share of snow, but not nearly as bad. It has been snowing more or less continuously for the past two days, but just a gentle snowfall that has only accumulated a few inches of the light stuff. Driving looked bad this morning as the plows hadn't gotten out, but by evening, it didn't look so bad out there... not that I was driving....

Me, actually shoveling...

My mom actually convinced me to get off my lazy butt and shovel with her. After we had shoveled out everything, we decided to go downtown, despite the snow. We really didn't do much, we were hoping to see the ice sculptures, but the only one we saw appears to have already been vandalized because there were ice blocks all around the base and I couldn't make out what it was supposed to be. Nothing photo worthy... Then we stopped by Macy's to check out their store and compare it to ours. If you've ever worked at a retail store (or any sort of company with many branches) it's amazing how interesting it can be to go into another branch and compare and critique their work. I used to do it all the time when I worked for Borders back in the day.

Boston Common

Quincy Market in Fanuil Hall

Then we walked down to Fanuil Hall, walked through a few stores and got dinner at The Blackstone Grill in that area. Then we headed home. Nothing exciting, but it was very pretty with all the snow. Enjoy the photos!

Not another list of resolutions...

Lots of people make resolutions for the new year. I don't really see the point, because most people break them within days of starting. Here's a list of things I will do, and some things I hope to do in the new year.

Will do:
  • Go back to Korea, hope to be back around the 15th of January
  • Move into my new apartment and get settled
  • Start my new job at Songpa-SLP
  • Ski as often as possible
  • Continue studying Korean
  • Travel more (Thailand, Cambodia, China again, Japan again are top on the list, but other opportunities are always welcome)
  • Finish paying off my loans from college and be completely debt free

Hope to do:
  • Apply for grad school for Fall 2011
  • Become fluent in Korean
  • Continue being happy with life
  • Practice my Spanish so I don't lose that skill
  • Exercise more often

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Apple Pie

There's not much more American than an apple pie. I've been making apple pies since I was probably 5 years old. I have my favorite recipe, which came off the back of one of those pie crust boxes, it's called perfect apple pie, and it really is the perfect recipe.

Bethy ready to peel

Beautifully cored apple

Last week my mom bought some apples which she thought were on sale (although when she checked her receipt later it turns out they really weren't) and so we had a big ol' bag of apples sitting around. Last night me and Beth were bored, so we thought we'd throw together an apple pie.

I was in charge of cutting and peeling

I bought some crust at the Fruit Center this week... it was wheat crust, which I thought would be interesting to try. Unfortunately, just like wheat bread, wheat crust tends to be less pliable than it's white counterpart and therefore no good at making a top crust on an apple pie. Lesson learned for the future.

I tried it today, though, and dispute the sad looking crust, it still tastes great, even the crust tastes ok too!

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Koreatown, NYC

Our first stop on our blisteringly cold evening in Koreatown was Pinkberry, the hit sensation frozen yogurt shop that has taken Hollywood by storm. Despite the cold, there was a line (albeit short) to get some frozen yogurt on this frozen day. From Pinkberry's website and wikipedia, I found that this little frozen yogurt chain was founded by Korean-Americans in LA and is based on the Korean chain, Red Mango. It's spreading quickly and you can probably expect to see a Pinkberry in a city near you very soon.


I was very impressed with the frozen yogurt. Maybe I'm biased, because I've always preferred frozen yogurt to ice cream, but this was full of flavor and deliciousness. If you stumble upon a Pinkberry, I highly recommend that you give it a try.


After getting our Pinkberry we headed over to a little HOF style place called Pocha32. Walking in here I really felt like I was stepping into one of the chillest HOF's I'd ever seen. It was full of Korean-speaking people, Korean food and soju. The decor was basically netting on all sides with soju caps hung from the netting, plus some photos and Christmas lights. Sounds pretty relaxed, huh?

We ordered some bosam (which I never got around to trying in Korea, strangely) and tubu kimchi. Both were excellent and tasted like Korea... makes me excited to go back!


Tubu (tofu) kimchi.... looks kinda weird and nasty, but this was delicious!


Bosam, boiled pork, cabbage and spicy radish (?). You wrap the pork into the cabbage to eat it.
We also ordered a soju coctail to go with our anju. I've never seen soju cocktail served like this, in a bottle like this and frozen like a slushy, but I liked it :-)

The only downside to this restaurant is the price. I guess it's not expensive for the US, but paying 18.99 for soju coctail makes me cringe a little when I know how much it costs in Korea. The bosam and tubu kimchi were a little pricey, but not over the top, both I think each was between $13-16.
Typical signage in Koreatown. Everything is bilingual. Very cool, makes me feel like I'm at home...

The Metropolitan Museum of Art


After our ramen lunch we headed over to The Met for my first visit ever to the museum. We really wanted to see the Egyptian exhibit, but we wound up spending the majority of our time in the Eastern art section. They also had an interesting special exhibit called "Art of the Samurai" which included many samurai blades, armor, robes, and some artwork.


Pitcher depicting frontiersman Bill Nye confronting a "Chinee" on the results of a card game. Very pitcher worthy, I'd say.


Ganesha

Very cute clay samurai man


Kick butt samurai armor


A very Japanese robe


I was super excited to see this, "View of Toledo" by El Greco. I studied this painting in high school Spanish class and it never made much of an impression on me until I went to Spain in my senior year of high school and went to Toledo myself and realized that it looks exactly the same. I took probably a whole role of film trying to figure out where El Greco must have been sitting to paint this landscape. Of course, I never found it, but that view of Toledo that I saw was really just breathtaking. No wonder why El Greco felt the need to paint it.

Some pottery from the Korean Art section. Pretty sure I saw this exact same vase in Insadong for 40,000 won. ^^

Friday, January 1, 2010

Ippudo: NYC and Think Coffee


As I mentioned in my last blog post, our first stop after arriving in Manhattan was a well known Japanese ramen shop over in the East Village called Ippudo. We weren't 100% sure of where we were going, not to mention the blisteringly cold weather, but we eventually got there, wind burnt and all. We didn't know much about the place, really, except that it got excellent reviews on many websites and was specifically recommended by someone my friend knows. Hence the trek to find this place.

Upon arriving, we were totally flabbergasted to find that the wait for a seat was an hour... at 1pm on a Tuesday afternoon. We decided that all these people must be waiting for a reason, so we put our names in and got the heck out of there because there wasn't even a place to sit for that time there were so many people waiting around. We walked down the street and found Think Coffee. Think Coffee is an environmentally friendly coffee shop that does its best to provide organic and fair trade products and serve their coffee in biodegradable products.


I ordered a delightful hot apple cider and my friend got an americano. The prices seemed very reasonable for NYC and we sat there killing an hour waiting for our table at Ippudo talking and relaxing from our 4 hour bus ride and our 1/2 hour trek through the cold.

Just before 2pm we headed back to the restaurant, just in time as the couple ahead of us that should have been seated were nowhere to be found and we were called next. We each ordered a set lunch, which was comprised of a big bowl of ramen, small side salad and a big bowl of rice with meat on top.

Now, the ramen tasted just like what I had eaten in Tokyo, so I didn't find any problem with the authenticity of this restaurant. It did seem a little overpriced to me, considering I paid $6.00 for that bowl of ramen in Tokyo, and I paid $16.00 for this set lunch here (13.00 if you choose not to get the set). But, this is New York, and this is America where they seem to think it's ok to jack up the price 4 times for anything "Asian", so I guess I should have expected this.

My ramen set

My friend's ramen set

The ambiance of the restaurant was great. Since it was just the two of us, we were just seated at a big table shared with many others. Not something that bothers me at all. Big groups were seated in half enclosed booths covered in tatami mats (no sitting on the floor, don't worry). The kitchen was big and open and you could hear them shouting in Japanese every time an order came up or whenever anyone passed them leaving. Granted, I doubt any of them were actually Japanese, I saw various races cooking in the kitchen, but it was still fun to hear Japanese being shouted on all sides.

When we went downstairs to find the bathroom, we found a little window to watch the man behind the noodles... a young guy was working the machine making fresh noodles for our consumption. Very cool, I guess they had to prove that their noodles really were fresh. Too bad I'm so darn short, I couldn't see in very well...


Anyway, I'd give this place 4/5 stars too. The wait was a bit long and the prices were a bit high, but despite that it was very authentic. Feel free to check out their website to find out how they "turned ramen into an art" and all their other bragging rights they feel they deserve.