Thursday, January 31, 2013

100 Things I Love About Korea # 50: Replay - Random Funny English

This is a repost from November 12, 2007.

In Korea English is vogue. (I think it's kind of like the trend in the USA a few years back with Chinese characters.)
English words or phrases adorn clothes, hats, books, bags, pencils, storefronts, menus, and just about everything else. Sometimes the English words make sense and seem appropriate. Sometimes they seem completely random and nonsensical. Sometimes a notebook or a shirt will have a few lines from a random English poem, song, or story.
Today, as my students were writing in preparation for a speaking assignment, I stopped to read the cover of a student's notebook. It was so randomly hilarious that I wrote it down. It also expressed a cultural idiosyncrasy for younger Koreans. They have this thing for poo. (Someone gave Emma a very popular Korean book in which the main character is a pile of dog poo trying to find its identity in the world. No kidding! The dog poo eventually fertilizes a dandelion and feels self-actualized as part of the circle of life.)
Anyway, without further adieu, here's the story I read today on the cover a notebook, complete will graphic illustrations:
One day a little tortoise met a hedgehog.
The little tortoise said, "Hello Mr. Nice to meet you."
"Hi little fellow. Where are you going?" Mr. Hedgehog said.
"I'm on my way to poo-poo. It's a sort of Emergency situation."


100 Things I Love About Korea # 49: Replay - Church Bake Sales and Auctions

[This is a replay of the post: "The Great Pie Auction (and Annual Meeting)" from November 7, 2007.  This was the original auction that started a tradition of hosting bake sales and pie auctions to raise money for missions.  I think our all-time-record is an apple pie (by Patricia Clark) that went for upwards of $300.]

Sunday night was the annual meeting at our church. Usually, these have been a lot of business, with one report after another, and not very much fun. This year we tried a different tact, thanks to the ideas and leadership of our new assistant pastor, Julene Tegerstrand.
We decided to make this a celebration event, focused on telling the stories of the year. We started with a catered dinner, which gave a reprieve for our fellowship team from the efforts of potluck. The dinner was in the beautiful new dining hall at the top of KNU's newest building. This setting has several great advantages for us: round tables, a large attractive room, audio-visual equipment, and an accompanying kitchen.
As people entered, a PowerPoint slide show was rolling with pictures from different events throughout the year. At each table were markers and a large piece of blank paper. The people at each table (at least those who cooperated) drew pictures of events within the church or their lives throughout the year. Then, the people discussed their pictures with the others at their table. Then, we had someone from a few different tables stand and explain their pictures.
The different leadership teams on the board issued written reports, but in the meeting, each team told one story of a significant event that happened that year with their team. Not all of the leaders got the message here, but for those who did, it made the reports more interesting. I tried to follow suit by telling a story of how our advisory council dealt with conflict and learned how to work together as an international team.
While the votes were being counted, we auctioned off 4 pies made by our resident Canadian matriarch, Patricia Clark. That was lots of fun, and it was my first time to serve as an auctioneer. The money all went toward our church mission trip to Tanzania (2008). The first pie went for 100,000 won (about $110). The last pie (a lemon marange (sp?)) was purchased by a coalition of westerners for a grand total of 200,000 won. There were laughter and cheers all around, as the bidding went up and up and as I tried to convince people to bid more. At one point, as I was pumping the bidding on the last pie, my mind went blank in mid-sentence, and I said rather questioningly, "150,000 won for ... a pie?" I don't know if I've described it well, but that was a hilarious moment.

100 Things I Love About Korea # 48: House Warming Toilet Paper

House warming parties are a big tradition in Korea.  Any time someone moves to a new apartment, they are socially obligated to throw several parties (for the husband's coworker, for the wive's coworkers, for the family, for the friends, etc.). Traditional presents for these parties are household goods like cleaning supplies or, my personal favorite, toilet paper.  
We didn't have to buy toilet paper or laundry soap for more than a year.  That sure beats some random decorative item that most people never use.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

100 Things I Love About Korea # 47: Replay - Thanksgiving SPAM

[This is a replay of a previous post from September 27, 2007.]

"Happy Thanksgiving! Here's some SPAM."
Tuesday was Chuseok (chew-sock) here in Korea (and China - I think). This is a fall harvest festival, sometimes called Korean Thanksgiving. For Chuseok, nearly everyone around Korea travels to the home of a high ranking family member (oldest living member, oldest son, something like that). The roads are packed with cars, and the cars are packed with food and gifts. Near the beginning of September, the stores start to fill up with these gifts.
We westerners are always amazed at the gifts that Koreans give for Chuseok and Lunar New Year (in February). Some of the more popular gifts include: seaweed, liquor, spam, tuna, toiletries, socks, lotions, cooking oil, and fruit (huge boxes of pears, apples, peaches, or grapes). Sarah and I have always laughed at the popularity of SPAM here - you know the pressed meat in a can.
We have been blessed to have free babysitting for several months now. A woman connected to our church has both her children studying in the USA, and she is lonesome for children. Emma loves her, so ever Friday night, we take her to "Imo's" (Aunt's) house. We decided we would get into the Chuseok spirit, so we bought her a $35 gift pack of spam and tuna. That's a lot of spam!
We also picked up some bathroom gift packs for our neighbors (shampoo, lotions, toothpaste, body wash, loofa, etc.). When we dropped by with our gifts, they looked surprised, and the women of the house disappeared into a bedroom to scrounge up a return gift for us. It was good fun.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

100 Things I Love About Korea # 46: DaeCheon Beach

It's not Hawaii, but we like it.  DaeCheon Beach is a nice little beach on the west coast of Korea.  It's easily accessible by train or bus for anyone from Seoul to Daejeon.
We have been going a few times a year for 8 years, and we always stay in the same place: Gaemi Chon Pension (개미촌) - literally,  "Ant Village." But don't worry; we've never had problems with ants.  It's a quaint little family run condo with about 8 private rooms and one small house for groups.  The owner operator is a sweet old woman, and they always take good care of us.  You can stay late if needed, and they will set up the barbecue grill for you any time you want it.  Prices are very reasonable, and this is on the quiet side of the beach.  
We always try to visit in the spring or fall.  Summer can be kind of crowded unless you go on a weekday.
Also, don't forget to walk on past the ends of the beaches.  On the north end, there is a quaint little fishing village, and you can pick up all kinds of sea glass on the rougher beach there.  On the south end, you can hike over picturesque rocks with crashing waves.
If you like festivals and parties, you'll want to come during the Mud Festival.  But when we vacation, we're usually trying to get away from crowds, so we've skipped this one - despite the allure of a good reason to get muddy.  Instead, we hit up the bathhouse at the south end, where one of the options on site is a private mudding, where you can drench your whole body in the famous DaeCheon Mud and then let it bake in the sun.  You've got to get the sand off before making the trip back home, so you might as well relax in a hot tub along the way!
Good times.

Monday, January 28, 2013

100 Things I Love About Korea # 45: KTX

Faster than a small plane.  Traveling at 200 miles an hour while still on the ground.  Gotta love that.
The KTX (Korea Train Express) is Korea's high speed railway.  Currently, it only services about a dozen stations in the busiest parts of Korea, but that's good enough for me.  (And by the way, check out this map to see all of the new lines in the works.)
We can get to Seoul in under 40 minutes, to Daejeon in 15, and all the way down south to Busan in just over 2 hours.  That's some fast traveling.  Also, the whole travel environment is significantly nicer than a regular train and light years better than the subway.
Also, they've streamlined their reservation system, so you can reserve tickets online using only your credit card number and passport number.  Then, when you get to the station, you can pick up your tickets.  (This is much improved over the former system which basically required a DNA sample and a signature in blood.)

Saturday, January 26, 2013

100 Things I Love About Korea # 44: Cheonan

I'm not sure why it's so "Fast" - maybe because of the KTX high speed rail station - but anyway, I love Cheonan.  It is both a city that feels like a small town, and a small city that feels like a big city.
It is relatively compact, with sky-rise apartments funneling people into the same paths of commerce and transport.  So you end up seeing the same people and shopping at the same stores.  In that sense, it feels like a small town - especially as an expat.  Also, outside of the downtown areas, you don't get the swarming hordes of people that megatropolises like Seoul shove at you.  Mostly you can just go about your business
However, Cheonan with 600,000 people is large enough to avoid the feelings of isolation that come with living in the countryside.  There are plenty of good stores, restaurants, public transportation, and other conveniences.
Cheonan has been my home for the past nine years, and I'm going to miss it.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Killing our Hostility (Ephesians 2:11-22)

11 Don’t forget that you Gentiles used to be outsiders. You were called “uncircumcised heathens” by the Jews, who were proud of their circumcision, even though it affected only their bodies and not their hearts. 12 In those days you were living apart from Christ. You were excluded from citizenship among the people of Israel, and you did not know the covenant promises God had made to them. You lived in this world without God and without hope. 13 But now you have been united with Christ Jesus. Once you were far away from God, but now you have been brought near to him through the blood of Christ.
14 For Christ himself has brought peace to us. He united Jews and Gentiles into one people when, in his own body on the cross, he broke down the wall of hostility that separated us. 15 He did this by ending the system of law with its commandments and regulations. He made peace between Jews and Gentiles by creating in himself one new people from the two groups. 16 Together as one body, Christ reconciled both groups to God by means of his death on the cross, and our hostility toward each other was put to death.
17 He brought this Good News of peace to you Gentiles who were far away from him, and peace to the Jews who were near. 18 Now all of us can come to the Father through the same Holy Spirit because of what Christ has done for us.
19 So now you Gentiles are no longer strangers and foreigners. You are citizens along with all of God’s holy people. You are members of God’s family. 20 Together, we are his house, built on the foundation of the apostles and the prophets. And the cornerstone is Christ Jesus himself. 21 We are carefully joined together in him, becoming a holy temple for the Lord. 22 Through him you Gentiles are also being made part of this dwelling where God lives by his Spirit.

We have often read this text when we are talking about our church’s vision of being a multicultural community.  We want to embrace our differences as God brings us together through Christ.  The theological roots for this part of our vision are here in Ephesians 2, so we we have turned to this text again and again for encouragement and inspiration.
But as far as I can remember, before today, we’ve never preached directly on this text.  I expected to do some basic teaching and encouragement about being a multicultural community, breaking down cultural barriers and being one in Christ.  But I kept getting stuck on the middle part of this passage.
  • “... he broke down the wall of hostility that separated us.”  What was that wall of hostility?  How did it separate us?
  • “He did this by ending the system of the law with its commandments and regulations.”  Wait, huh?  How does ending the system of the law break down walls of hostility?  What is the connection between law and hostility?  And how does ending the system of the law make any difference in reconciliation or peace?
  • “... by means of his death on the cross ... our hostility to each other was put to death.”  The Greek here is that Jesus actually “killed the hostility” in his body on the cross.  How does that work?  How does Jesus’ death “kill” our hostility for each other?

Thursday, January 24, 2013

100 Things I Love About Korea # 43: Great Seasonal Fruit

Out of season, produce is crazy expensive here.  But in season, you get a little pay back.
As a fruit (say pears or strawberries) approaches its regular season, the first fruits appear on the shelves for outrageous prices.  But then the prices and quality make their slow march downward to rock bottom prices.
We just hit the peak of mandarine orange season.  One bag of 30 or so costs less than $5.  I can put down 4-5 of those little gems in one sitting.
But my favorite is strawberry season.  At its peak, there are so many strawberries that the stores are practically giving them away just to keep them from rotting on their shelves.  Our family can go through a few pounds a day - easily!  Strawberries are just starting to get reasonable now, so my mouth is already watering.
Oh, and by the way, avoid the big grocery stores for fresh fruit.  Their supply chains are too long, and their fruit isn't fresh (especially Lotte Mart).  Instead, hit up your neighborhood fruit stand.  The prices are better, and the fruit is fresher.

Friday, January 18, 2013

We Are All Orphans (Ephesians 2:1-10)

Once you were dead because of your disobedience and your many sins. 2 You used to live in sin, just like the rest of the world, obeying the devil—the commander of the powers in the unseen world. He is the spirit at work in the hearts of those who refuse to obey God. All of us used to live that way, following the passionate desires and inclinations of our sinful nature. By our very nature we were subject to God’s anger, just like everyone else.
But God is so rich in mercy, and he loved us so much, that even though we were dead because of our sins, he gave us life when he raised Christ from the dead. (It is only by God’s grace that you have been saved!) For he raised us from the dead along with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms because we are united with Christ Jesus. So God can point to us in all future ages as examples of the incredible wealth of his grace and kindness toward us, as shown in all he has done for us who are united with Christ Jesus.
God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it. 10 For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.

This week we will hear reports from our January trip to the Village of Hope in B., so I will keep my comments brief.  These beautiful children are a metaphor for us.  They are living parables explaining our passage today, and explaining our relationship with God.
These children, who are now so full of hope and joy, were once undernourished, homeless, and hopeless.  In many ways, they were dead - even though they had breath and blood.  They had no chance in life.  They had no dreams or hopes other than a full stomach.  Even if they were able to imagine some dreams of future careers, they had no ability to go anywhere or to do anything other than to scratch for daily survival.  Their only future was a life of hard work for little pay, giving all their efforts for survival until even that wasn’t enough.  In the great injustice of this broken world, the sins and failings of others had stripped them of the very resources necessary for living.  They had no life and nothing to live for.
In a very real sense, when Nazarenes in B. welcomed them into the Village of Hope, they were raised from the dead.  With nutritious meals, good education, and heaps of TLC (tender loving care), these kids have blossomed like desert flowers after the rain.  Their joyful faces and warm affection have captured the hearts of every person from our church who has visited.  

100 Things I Love About Korea # 42: An Expectation of Healthy Eating

Sure junk food and fast food are creeping into Korean society, and waistlines are correspondingly increasing.  But overall, Korean food is very healthy - lots of vegetables and fish.  And overall, Koreans expect to eat healthy food on a regular basis.  
Contrast this with the high fat American diet I know and love, and I am learning to appreciate a culture that values healthy eating.  Somehow, in the past year since our son was born, I’ve put on about 10 kilos (20+ pounds).  I guess it was a combination of less exercise (because of taking care of him in the morning) and more coffee and snacks (to stave off the fatigue from said taking care of him in the early mornings).  But I shudder to think of how many buttons I would have popped if I had gone through the same lifestyle changes on a standard American diet.  
And yes, by the way, I am now seriously starting to eat less and to exercise more - especially so that I can regain some semblance of control while my surrounding culture is working with me instead of against me.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

100 Things I Love About Korea # 41: Constant Progress

Progress is in Korea’s DNA.  In the course of one or two generations, they have emerged from deep poverty, rapacious oppression, crippling civil war, and repeated dictatorships to be a global economic power.  That doesn’t happen without change - and a lot of it.
I’ve seen this on the local scale in Cheonan, mostly in the form of improved logistical infrastructure - better bridges, roads, sidewalks, and whatnot.  But Cheonan has also made a host of improvements for quality of life.  Parks, hiking trails, landscaping, and outdoor art come to mind.
On the hyper-local scale, our little street keeps improving season by season.  They replaced the sidewalk tiles and curbs last year.  This year, they moved all the trees from one side of the street to the other side because there wasn’t enough room to walk between the trees and the wall with an umbrella (which is important in a culture where so many people do so much walking).  In addition, it seems that almost all of the apartments and storefronts in our neighborhood are continually making little improvements like remodeling, adding space here or there, or improving this or that service.
I guess it’s the progressive leader in me, but it just warms my heart to walk around see how things are getting better and better.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

100 Things I Love About Korea # 40: Paris Baguette

They’re like mushrooms after the rainy season.  They’re sprouting up everywhere.  And for good reason.  They’re awesome.

Paris Baguette has simply dominated the Korean bakery market.  

First of all, they have nailed the mixture of high end Korean baked goods, fusion baked goods (like ddok-bread), traditional western deserts (like knock-out cinnamon rolls), and fancy-shmancy foo-foo pastries like fresh strawberry cream-puff tarts.  Very often, I just want to try one of everything.

Second, they were the first (and best) bakery to capitalize on the coffee shop trend.  They have shrewdly layered expresso based drinks and small tables to turn almost every bakery into a European styled street cafe (except the tables are always inside).  

I’ve heard there are a few Paris Baguette’s breaking into US markets, and I fully expect to be googling them to see if there are any within driving distance when I start pining for a taste of Korean-esque memories.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

100 Things I Love About Korea # 39: PC Bangs

You know that frustrating moment when you realize you need a computer RIGHT NOW, but you’re nowhere near home or the office.  Even though smart phones and wifi are easing this pain, sometimes nothing less than a real computer (and printer) will do.  In Korea, the most wired nation on earth, a quick solution is always available.  

PC Bangs - or Internet Cafes - dot the urban landscape like spots on a cheetah.  For about $1 for every 30 minutes, you can send that email or print that document or hunt up those directions that you just remembered that you forgot.  

Or you can get some friends together and do what most Koreans do in PC Bangs - Starcraft, World of Warcraft, CartRider, or any of the million other internet based group games.  You can all play in the same room at the drop of a hat, with no supplementary equipment or set up necessary.

Monday, January 14, 2013

100 Things I Love About Korea # 38: Shille Bang Bang - Trampoline Center

You know those rainy days when kids have so much energy where they are literally bouncing off the walls?  Why not send them somewhere (else) to do that?
That is the brilliant idea behind Shille Bang-Bang.  You could walk right past it without ever knowing it is there.  The entrance to this basement underworld is hidden under a small sign in a mini-alley off a main street near our local Lotte Mart.  But it is a treasure well worth discovering.
With four separate trampolines, Emma and her friends can go bounce ‘till their hearts are content.  For just 2,000 ($1.75), Emma gets an hour of exercise (plus the fifteen minute walk to get there), and we get some piece and quiet.  Just one more reason, why I love this place!

Sunday, January 13, 2013

100 Things I Love About Korea # 37: Block-I Lego Cafe

I always envied my friends’ lego collections.  They always seemed to have the latest Star Wars or Ninja sets.  My only chance was to be invited over to their houses to play - or more recently to play with the kids when we go over to someone’s house.
But Emma hasn’t had this problem in Korea - thanks to Block-I, a “Lego Cafe.”  Block-I is a chain of small stores with a “library” of lego sets, puzzles, and board games.  Kids can enjoy safe, supervised, educational play for an hour or two at a time, and parents can get some super cheap babysitting.  For those who pay ahead for a package deal, the cost is only 4,000 won an hour (about $3.50).  
Rewind my life 10 years - before I had kids of my own to escape from - and I would be a regular customer myself!

Saturday, January 12, 2013

100 Things I Love About Korea # 36: Food - Bibim Bap

Bibim Bap (mixed rice) is a classic favorite among Ex-pats living in Korea.  Although each region offers different local varieties, the basic idea is the same all over Korea.  Take a big bowl of hot rice, add some vegetables (usually romaine lettuce, bean sprouts, julianne carrots and zucchini, mushrooms, and kimchi), some gochu jang (red pepper paste), a fried egg (preferably over easy), and mix it all up.  
For a change of pace, try chamchi (tuna) bibim bap.  If you visit Korea or a Korean restaurant, you absolutely can’t miss dolsot bibim bap - which is the basic bibim bap served in a hot stone (or iron) bowl.  The cooks to a crispy brown, and all the flavors of the sauce and the vegetables blend together into a lush warm mixture.
Occasionally, you may find other specialty varieties with: raw salmon, bulgogi (sweet beef), jaeyuk (spicy pork), or even ggot (flowers - yes, actual flowers mixed into the rice).
Bibim Bap - it’s fast, healthy, easy, cheap, and delicious.  What more can you ask for?

Friday, January 11, 2013

100 Things I Love About Korea # 35: Airport Busses

True to form with Korea’s public transportation network, you can take a “limousine bus” directly to the airport from any midsize city in Korea, even in the far south.  (For the uninitiated, a “limousine bus” has limited seating in comfy chairs almost as good as airplane seats.) 
Airport busses mean no tolls, no parking fees, and no rental cars.  They also mean you don’t have to ask someone to wake up in the wee hours of the morning to take you to the airport.  No fear about making connections with your pick up person; there’s a bus running every half hour.  Even better, after getting up at “dark-thirty” to catch that morning flight, instead of guzzling coffee and slapping your cheeks, you can simply lean your chair back and reclaim some of those lost Z’s as your bus driver safely delivers you to the airport.  Nicely done, Korea!

Thursday, January 10, 2013

100 Things I Love About Korea # 34: Food - Persimmon

I remember a neighborhood in Kansas called “Persimmon Hill.”  I had to ask what a persimmon is.  An answer of “Some kind of fruit, I think,” proves the persimmon’s fall from grace in America.  It is something akin to a living antique, a relic of settlers long past.  As far as I know, most persimmon “back home” rot on the trees due to a general lack of knowledge of what they are or how to eat them.  
Korea has cured me of my ignorance of this tasty fall fruit.  Persimmon look kind of like an orange colored tomato, but they taste like a spiced apple.  They even look as if they are sprinkled with natural cinnamon inside.  
In Korea, persimmon are eaten in four basic ways:
  • Fresh and slightly unripe - my favorite.  The texture is a bit harder and less grainy than an apple, but the cinnamon flavor is most pronounced.
  • Fresh and very ripe.  These are so soft and sugary that they are almost like eating straight jelly, and in fact, you basically have to use a spoon or fork for these.
  • Ripe and frozen - Put those same super-rich fruit in the freezer, and you’ve got a natural popsicle.  
  • Dried - I guess it’s the very ripe fruit that are dried, but honestly I don’t like these very much.  
Fall in Korea is marked by ancient persimmon trees barren of leaves dotting the sky with small orange globes.  They look somewhat forlorn, dangling precariously on black wiry branches against the gray wintering skies.  But harvest those same lonely fruit into bushels, and those fiery little orbs add joy to the season and to the table.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

100 Things I Love About Korea # 33: Incheon Airport

It’s the best.  
For seven years.
In a row.
To be the best in the world at anything is pretty amazing.  But to be the best for seven years running boggles my mind.   
According to Global Traveler, a US Based travel magazine, Incheon Airport (Korea’s main international hub) is the best airport on this big marble we call Earth.  Korea’s top airport consistently rates in the stratosphere on factors such as cleanliness, appearance, timeliness, organization, reliability, and supplementary guest services.  
I’ve been in dozens of airports around the world, and nothing touches Incheon Airport’s ease of use for large airports.  A few small airports are easier, but that’s like comparing 7-11 to Wal-Mart.
The whole airport is lined with beautiful Korean orchids.  These are actually really difficult to keep blooming, so they must have several full-time florists on staff.
Also, Incheon has loads of free cultural activities.  Just today, we passed a booth where people could pose for photos in Han-Boks (Korea’s beautiful traditional gowns).  On another trip, we were able to make key chain charms or Christmas ornaments using traditional Korean crafts.
It’s not particularly flashy.  It’s just a big, clean, nice airport.  But Incheon Airport does all the things an airport is supposed to do - and does them extremely well.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

100 Things I Love About Korea # 32: Workout + Laundry

Sarah and I just bought a short-term pass to the health club at our local Korean bath house.  For the low price of 6,000 won (about $5) a visit, we get access to the fully stocked gym and the bath house and the jimjil bang.
To top it all off into the land of "I love this!" - they even provide your work-out clothes for you.  When you're done working out, you don't have to pack those sweaty nasty things in a bag and take them home (or worse - to the office).  Instead, you can just drop them in a laundry bin and someone else will do the dirty work.
Just one more reason why I love Korea.

Monday, January 7, 2013

100 Things I Love About Korea # 31: Food - Kimchi

Kimchi is literally Korea's national food.  It's almost as important as the national flag.  It's combines the symbolic food power of apple pie, hot dogs, Thanksgiving turkey, and hamburgers & french fries.  According to Koreans, it will cure all that ails you (unless it's an ulcer that ails you).
When we came to Korea, Bill and Gail Patch said, "You need to learn to like Kimchi."  They were right, but it wasn't easy.  It's spicy (not a problem for me, but a problem for Sarah) and very sour.  Think hot pepper sauerkraut.
Honestly, for our first year or so, we had just one small piece of kimchi every time we ate out at a Korean restaurant - just because we "had" to, just because we knew that we needed to learn to like it.  It actually worked.  Slowly, we moved from hating kimchi ... to being able to tolerate kimchi ... to actually liking some kimchi ... to liking most kimchi's ... to finishing our kimchi dish and asking for refills at almost every Korean meal.
Oh Kimchi, how I will miss thee. 

Sunday, January 6, 2013

100 Things I Love About Korea # 30: JimJil Bangs

Why is it relaxing just to get out of the house?  Somehow, going to a public space and just lying around calms the mind and soul.
Connected to most Korean bath houses is a common area called a JimJil Bang (or this can refer to the whole bath house).  The Jimjil Bang area is for both sexes, and the bath house provides special clothing for this area - usually some funky color so you won't be tempted to take it home.
The common area usually has a mixture of large open spaces and smaller specialty rooms.  Our local bath house has:

  • salt room (where you can cover yourself in salt rocks)
  • a charcoal room (where the walls are lined with charcoal - supposedly making the air cleaner)
  • a super hot room (shaped like a cone, and so hot the area above the door is blackened and the door handle has an oven mitt permanently attached)
  • a cold room (basically a huge refrigerator)
  • a small restaurant
  • a computer room
  • massage chairs
  • a play area for kids
  • and a few different quiet rooms for sleeping.

We often bring a book and some snacks and just hang out in this room for an hour or two.  It's great with kids age 4 and older.  They can just run around and take care of themselves in a safe environment while the parents lounge, chat, read, or nap.

Friday, January 4, 2013

100 Things I Love About Korea # 29: Food - Galbi

Grilled meat.
Grilled right there at the table.
Enough said.

Well, almost enough.  For the uninitiated, let me explain the wonders of Korean Galbi.  Think fajitas with a healthier twist.
The meat comes out in strips on a big plate.  The two most common kinds are raw basic beef strips and marinated pork.  Both have their own separate deliciousness.
Using tongs and scissors, you put the meat on the charcoal grill at the table, and watch it cook to perfection before your eyes.  Next grab a lettuce leaf, and hold it in your hand like a tortilla.
Then, pick up some meat with your chopsticks.  (Grilled meat makes learning how to use chopsticks so much more motivating!)  Dip it in some sauce and/or salt.  Add some rice and vegetables.
She knows how to do it!
Then comes the best part, roll up the lettuce wrap into one huge ball and shove the whole thing into your mouth.  DO NOT try to take a bite like a sissy!  The whole thing will fall to pieces all over your lap.  Just shove it in - even if you have to bring in the other hand for reinforcements.
Then, enjoy the heaven that is galbi.
... that and keep your wet washcloth handy to clean up your hand in between bites.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

100 Things I Love About Korea # 28: Women Divers

Korea is a peninsula surrounded by countless islands.  People here "farm" both land and sea.  Korea's HaeYeon or "Sea Women" are beautiful and poignant examples of adaptation, strength, and entrepreneurism.
Diving without oxygen to up to 20 meters (70 feet) deep, these ladies pull up shell fish, seaweed, and all sorts of other food items.  I've done some free diving, and 30 feet is about my limit.  At 30 feet, my ears are pounding, and my lungs are burning.  Going down is fun, but coming up, it feels like the surface is never going to arrive.  I have all kinds of respect for these ladies.
Also, anyone who works into their 70s or 80s deserves props.  I'm just saying, I hope I can still walk when I'm 70, much less dive down as many feet as years I've lived!

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

100 Things I Love About Korea # 27: Food - Chamchi DopBap

Somehow, I didn't discover this delectable dish until halfway through my stay in Korea, but now Chamchi Dopbap - or Tuna Over Rice - is my favorite fast Korean food.  It's a spicy mixture of tuna, kimchi, egg, and other vegetables - naturally served over rice.
Not all chamchi dopbap's are created equal though.  Some don't cook the kimchi long enough.  Some add dry tuna after the vegetables have been cooked.  The best combo is definitely well cooked kimchi, tuna, and vegetables - with a runny egg on top!
It's healthy, fast, delicious, and cheap.  What more can you ask for?!

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

100 Things I Love About Korea # 26: Religious Diversity

Just behind Korea Nazarene University, there are a church and a Buddhist Temple literally side by side.  There they are: cross and lotus flower, Jesus and Buddha, both calling people to worship.
I am not a relativist.  I don't believe that all religions are the same, but somehow this overt juxtaposition of religious strikes me as poignant and beautiful.
Maybe it's because I come from a nation that still sometimes claims to have one religion - despite manifold evidence to the contrary.  Maybe it's because I like the open acknowledgement that we are in fact different from each other.  Maybe it's because I appreciate the colors and peaceful aura of Buddhism.  Maybe it's because I just like stirring the pot.
I'm not sure why, but I love Korea's religious diversity.