Monday, December 27, 2010

Sleepless in Osaka

Howdy all, Im updating from my couchsurfers house in Osaka. You'll have to excuse any poor spelling and punctuation here as I'm updating to you from my iPod. I arrived arround 330 and got to he couchsurfers house by 6. She helped me go through the maps I picked up from the airport and then we went out to dinner. She took me to a nice litle yakidori(grilled chicked) place. Lots of good stuff on sticks. I was a little shocked to see the bill. I was going to pay for her dinner but when I realized that the bill was nearly 6000 yen (nearly 80,000 won) I begrudgingly took 2000 yen from her to cover some of the bill. When I arrived atthe airport I had 7000 yen which I exchanged at gimpo airport before coming. ThT was almost completely spent upon my ariv when I bought a 3 day subway pass and a bus ticket to the city. So, while I was hoping this would be a budget trip, I think it's going to be a bit mote than I planned. I just have to make sure that when I'm arround by myself that I sample the best of the 7/11 cuisine ㅎㅎㅎㅎㅎ.

After goin to bed arround 10pm, which is much earler than my normal bed time, I found myself hopelessly awake around 230am. The current time is now 520and I still haven't slept a wink since I woke up. I'm thanking god right now(whichever god is in charge of all things mechanical) for this iPod and the fact that even though my host doesn't have wireless, that I'm picking up a working(semiworking) signAl from somewhere else. Otherwise I'd be going mad right now with nothing to do.

Tomorrow(no I'm going to meet a japanse friend from my sat. Korean class in the afternoon and hopefully get in some sightseeing . There's actually not much to see in Osaka , and even less this week due to the new years holiday which is a big deal here in japan.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Skating at City Hall Plaza and my Christmas Eve in Seoul

We spent all day on Friday deliberating what we should do with our Christmas Eve. Christmas in Korea is notorious for couples out on dates, overpriced drinks (from coffee to booze), and needing reservations to get into any decent restaurant, so we were a little stressed over what to do since we didn't want to face any of those things. This is actually my first Christmas in Korea. My first Christmas in Asia, I spent on a plane going to Vietnam, my second I was home for two months between contracts, so finally, another year has passed and I'm actually in Korea for Christmas (though I'm leaving tomorrow for Japan), but had no idea what to do.

Finally, at 9:00 when I was leaving work, the boyfriend suggested we check out the ice skating at City Hall Plaza. While I've wanted to go for a while, the freezing temperatures yesterday made me feel a little uncertain about the event, but it sounded better than sitting at home on Christmas eve, so we met up at Sindang and headed to City Hall station.

They suggest that you make online reservations, but we didn't and we were fine. That probably wouldn't go for any holiday like Christmas eve, but I'm positive the cold temperatures kept a lot of people away.

The price is only 1,000 won per person (0.86 cents USD by today's exchange rate) and that includes the skate rental. The skates weren't exactly high quality, but then again, what can you expect for 0.86 cents?

Finally it was time to get on the ice. Fortunately, I was not one of these people pictured below that were a bit scared to let go of the railing. I don't blame them too much though, I wouldn't want to learn how to skate for the first time in the crap skates they rent out either. 

We skated for about 45 mins before we got cold and sick of feeling like hamsters running round and round the wheel without a purpose. After taking copious amounts of photos we got off the ice and started to deliberate what to do next.

We tried warming up at one of these warming stations, but either I was so bundled up that I couldn't feel the heat or it was just so cold that this fire wasn't doing anything. I gave up standing there pretty quickly. 

We decided to head to Noksapyong to Tony's Aussie Bar up the hill.  As we walked to the bus to get to Noksapyong, we passed Baskin Robbins selling ice cream cakes on this frigid night. In fact, I've been seeing huge cake displays outside of every bakery I've past in the past few days. Evidently, eating cake is a Christmas tradition in Korea. We didn't buy one.

In the tunnel to cross the street near Haebangchon, we found this and thought it was amusing. 

We haven't been to Tony's in a while because it seems that whenever we go lately, there's no seats left. The place is always packed. As we ran up the hill in the freezing cold and wind I was just imagining the same problem tonight. Full of Korean couples for Christmas eve (since most of the foreigners are out of town by now, or getting ready to get out if they're not already). But, I was delighted to find the place nearly empty except for two (Korean) couples. The winter drink menu was certainly an exciting one. Eggnog with rum and hot mulled wine. I ordered one of each!!

Of course, by the time we got there, the kitchen was already closed, so after hanging out for an hour or so, we decided to go back down the hill and check out some chicken we had seen roasting in the window of a little Korean as we had made our way up the hill to Tony's.

It was as delicious as it looked from the window. And they had a glorious space heater right next to our table. We stayed here another while, not looking forward to going back out into the cold. 

Finally, we went home around 1:30. It was a lovely night full of unexpected surprises. I hope everyone's Christmas is full of more wonderful surprises!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Sick of Jajangmyon? Get some real Chinese food in Seoul.

Are you sick of of the typical jajangmyon and tangsuyuk that Koreans call Chinese food? It's time you checked out This dongbei (northeast) style Chinese restaurant called 동북화과왕-Dongbuk-hwagwa-wang (written in Chinese characters) in the Dongdaemun station area. This rather popular hole in the wall has some great selections. We usually just pick randomly off the menu (though there's a few we always get) and we've never been disappointed. We went with a big group on Saturday night after Korean class to celebrate the end of the semester and picked a fairly wide selection of plates to try, some tried and true favorites and some new things.

Panchan (side dishes) are a mix of Korean style and Chinese. Koreans wouldn't be happy if their meal didn't come with kimchi. 

This dish is one of my personal favorites. Di san xian, an eggplant and veggies fried in a delicious sauce.

Perhaps this is what tangsuyuk was trying to imitate. Guo Bao Rou, seems to be some sort of sweet and sour pork. 12,000 won. In any country, it's not my favorite. 

This is the boyfriend's personal favorite. Jing jiang rou si,  pork with green onions and cilantro for a do-it-yourself wrap in tofu. 12,000 won. Here's how it works:

Choose what you want to eat and put it onto the tofu wrapper.

Wrap tightly and enjoy!  (you probably could have figured that out without my help...)

Here's a tasty dish. It's fried bok choy, I believe (feel free to correct me, my Chinese food experts out there) with a garlic (?) sauce.

Si quan sha (this pinyin is wrong but I can't find the right one) is fried shrimp in a slightly spicy/tangy sauce. Quite delicious. 20,000 won

Also, not pictured here is our fried rice, which was nothing special, just your typical fried rice and our spicy tofu that we got "service-uh" (aka, for free).

And what authentic Chinese meal would be complete without some authentic Chinese hard liquor? It seems as though the Chinese go for something not so tame as soju (and I say tame because of its 20% alcohol content verses the 40% this one has). While I'll never be a fan of straight hard liquor, I must say, this has much more flavor than soju... though it also burns a lot more than soju going down too.

For anyone craving real Chinese food in Seoul, this is the place to go. It's rather austere setting and decor is another draw for me. I feel this place cares more about the food than the ambiance which means they're not overcharging you for some fancy-shmancy place. We ate all this food and liquor and got out for 10,000 won per person, which I think is quite a feat.

To get here, go out Dongdaemun Station (not Dongdaemun Culture and History Park Station) exit 6. Take your first left and then the next left onto an alley with lots of restaurants. It will be on your right before the Family Mart. It's less than 2 mins from the exit. There is no English or Korean on the sign, only Chinese characters, so you'll have to just keep your eyes open for the sign that says 24시 2F and a big red sign in Chinese (see photo at the top). The menu has lots of photos to help you decide what to eat if you don't know your Chinese food. Here is their website, but they have two locations so their directions are a little confusing.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

House of Sharing (나눔의 집)

Sunday I had an amazing opportunity to visit the House of Sharing in Gwangju, Gyeonggi-do province, about 45 minutes from Seoul. This is a house where women, who survived sexual slavery by the Japanese military during Japan's military expansion into the rest of Asia before and during World War II, have come to live together. The Japanese term for these women was "comfort women" but their position was far from comfortable. Today we refer to them either as sex slaves or simply Halmoni (Korean for grandmother).  Estimates of how many Korean women were conscripted into this brothel system are between 50,000- over 200,000. Many died or were killed as they served the Japanese, and most of those who survived were left behind in the various foreign countries where they served, stranded, unable to get back to Korea. While many of them eventually made it back to Korea, years later, the shame of the ordeal kept them from telling the public about what they endured. The world was ignorant of their suffering until 1991 when the first Halmoni came forward and talked publicly about her experiences. Many people, even Koreans, refused to believe, but her courage has allowed 220 more Halmoni to come forward and declare themselves as former sex slaves to the Japanese. Many others, though, remain in silence, either not wanting to relive memories of the past, or discouraged by families who feel ashamed to have this scar on their family's history.

These women, despite their age, continue to fight for official recognition and compensation from the Japanese government, which continues to claim that they were uninvolved in the brothel system.

The House of Sharing is a place for the Halmoni to live together and heal the wounds of the past while educating the future generations of the suffering they survived.

Before you enter the museum, you will pass two sculptures. This sculpture represents what the Halmoni dreamed of before they were conscripted into the brothel system. They dreamed of love, happiness and having families of their own. 

This represents their mind after becoming sexual slaves. Their dreams shattered, pierced with bayonets. 

As you enter the museum, you are greeted by the hands of Kim HakSoon Halmoni, one of the survivors of the brothel system. Her message as you enter the museum is this: "우리가 강요에 못이겨 했던 그일을 역사에 남겨 두어야 한다" which means: "That which we were forced to do must be recorded in history." You can learn more about Kim HakSoon Halmoni from this interview I found online.

It's hard to see on this map, but if you can make out the tiny dots marked about the map, they represent the locations of all the known and suspected sex slave camps set up by the Japanese military throughout their empire in East Asia and Southeast Asia from 1932-1945 when WWII ended.

Actual photos of the "comfort women" and Japanese soldiers at the brothels.

The Japanese soldiers paid for their stays with the "comfort women" with the Japanese military currency (left side) but the women never saw any of this money. Each woman was issued one condom which she needed to wash between clients. Some women saw up to 40 men per day. Those who complained about the conditions or tried to escape were beaten or killed to make an example for anyone else who had similar thoughts.

The women, who were 80-90% Korean, were given Japanese names, usually flower names, and each woman's name was placed on a wooden placard on the wall which is quite similar to menus in a Japanese restaurant. When a woman was unavailable for a day due to illness or other reasons, the placard was turned over, just as a sold out item would be in a restaurant. It really goes to show how the women weren't even thought of as humans. The reason why the actual number of women who were coerced into this trade is unknown, is that when more women were required they were ordered on military supply requests along with ammunition and other supplies.

After you pass through the rooms of the museum explaining the history of the sexual slavery, you come to a room which shows the present. You can see photos of all the Halmoni and how they came back to Korea. You can see Japanese and Korean textbooks, neither of which touch upon the subject of the sexual slavery during the Japanese occupation. Above, you can see many gifts which have been bestowed upon the House of Sharing. Many have come from Japanese visitors who do not follow their government's line of thinking in that the Japanese government and military were not responsible for the brothel system.

An art therapist has helped the Halmoni to come to terms with their suffering and express their emotions through art. Some of the paintings are on display in an upstairs room of the museum.

As you exit the museum, you can place your hands in the hand prints of the Halmoni.

Finally, visitors may have a chance to meet some of the Halmoni that reside in the house. We decided to make a banner with the Halmoni. Actually, none of the Halmoni actually painted with us, but they seemed quite content to watch us. Some people talked to the Halmoni, but I'm much to shy for that. But, I had a nice time painting. Above you can see my creation :-)

English tours are only offered about once a month by the International Outreach Team so you'll have to plan in advance if you want to come here. You can visit the English website or email the International Outreach Team ( for more information. The next tour will be held on January 15th, 2011. You need to email to sign up, but you can also check out their facebook event.

One other way to participate in their struggle for recognition from the Japanese government is to attend a Wednesday protest. Every Wednesday, no matter what, the Halmoni go to the Japanese embassy in Seoul to demand that the Japanese government accept involvement in their suffering. Any are welcome to join the Wednesday protests and having a western face present shows the Japanese that it's not only Koreans, but the whole world who are aware of this stain on Japan's past.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

First Ski Trip of the Year: Konjiam Resort

Konjiam Resort had as special 50% offer through last Thursday, so we had to take advantage while we could. We paid about 20,000 won for the night session (21:30-00:30). The snow was great, though they only had one trail open at the time, so everyone and their brother who went to take advantage of that 50% offer was on that one slope. That part was not so fun. Even though Konjiam is a small mountain (by my Vermont standards) I was pretty exhausted after 2 hours of skiing. Besides the fact that only a few days before I was so sick I had to skip work, but I'm also terribly out of shape. But, it was a good warm up round for better skiing to come, I hope.

With all the cold weather we've been having, they were blowing snow like crazy. I would expect them to have more trails open very soon!

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Snow and Daido Moriyama

 My co-worker introduced me to the work of Daido Moriyama yesterday. He is a Japanese photographer famous for high-contrast, black and white images. He tends to shoot in 1600 ISO to overexpose the photo, and then overdevelop it in the darkroom making for a really interesting effect. But the coolest thing about this kind of work is that it's incredibly easy to imitate on your own. Since his style is not so much using a tripod and lining up each shot with precision, but more of a haphazard kind of shooting style, you don't need any special equipment and you can shoot as you walk along the street (moving), even at night. The high ISO speeds will let you use faster shutter speeds for surprisingly clear shots at night. Then you need to boost your contrast and sharpness (I opted for highlights over sharpness because the sharpness tool on my photo editor is really terrible) on your camera or in the post processing. It's basically night photography made simple. These are some of the best shots I took tonight in the snow:

Let me know how mine stands up to the master... This was my first try..

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

FC Seoul, K-League Champions!

We arrived at World Cup Stadium a bit later than hoped and found ourselves overwhelmed in a crowd of people all trying to get into the stadium for FC Seoul's championship game against Jeju United. We found out that the total number of tickets sold for the game was in the ball park of 59,000, which was by far the biggest crowd we've ever seen at a game. 

The Jeju fans were out in full force. Usually the fans of the opposing team are lucky if they can fill one row of seats, but nearly all of the lower section was full on Sunday for the big game. 

The game was an exciting one. FC Seoul scored the first goal, but it was offside and therefore couldn't be counted. Jeju scored the actual first goal of the game, much to the dismay of the FC Seoul fans. But, then FC Seoul made it's first real goal in a penalty kick not much later. Tensions were high in this final game of the season, and, as you can see in the picture above, a near brawl broke out when Jeju disagreed with the referee's call. 

 Halftime show called for some rather eclectic cheerleaders... 

Finally, the game ended in a 2-1 win for FC Seoul making them league champions for the first time in 10 years.  Players rejoiced on the field...

...And the crowd went wild...

Adi won MVP for the game, since he came back from injury to play this final game and scored a goal in this crucial match.

There were fireworks and awards given.

...Until next year....