Lie to Me on White Day

I’ve started watching a new Korean drama, called “Lie to Me” or 내게 거짓말을 해봐.  It’s about a woman in her late twenties who lies about being married, a rich guy gets involved in the mess, and then hilarity ensues.  Actually it’s not so much a comedy, but the drama is sometimes funny.  I’m addicted to this now (since my beloved Downton Abbey is done with their current season).  I’m watching it on Netflix, but if you are looking for a good place to watch Korean dramas with subtitles, check out this website.  I know several people who know absolutely no Korean at all, but are obsessed with some of these Korean dramas, so check some of them out.

lie to me

Anyway, Happy White Day!  In Korea, and Japan I think, March 14th is White Day, which is similar to Valentine’s Day here.  In Korea, on Valentine’s Day girls give guys presents and on White Day in March, it’s the man’s turn to reciprocate.  The usual gifts are excepted on both of these days- candy, stuffed animals, jewelry, flowers, etc.  Chocolates are only for Valentine’s Day though and non chocolate candy is given on White Day.

But what about us single people?  There’s a holiday for us too- Black Day on April 14th!  Single people on this day go out to eat jajangmyeon (짜장면), noodles in black soybean paste, and celebrate their singleness, or maybe wallow in their sorrow.  I’ve also heard that match making services do a lot of business on that day.  So if you’re feeling a little blue or a little bored because you’re single, fret not, for just a month away is Black Day.  Check out this cute blog post from another blogger about the 3 holidays.

Stretchy Jeans

I want some stretch jeans.  I’ll be able to dance like this, right?

Welcome, Black Water Dragon!

Happy Lunar New Year, everyone!  2012 is year of the Black Water Dragon.  Not supposed to be a great year for us dogs, but oh well.  I am determined to keep updating this blog, and what better time then at the start of a new (lunar) year!  Yesterday was the first day of the new year for many around the world.  Lunar New Year (some call it Chinese New Year) is celebrated by people in Korea, China, Vietnam, Taiwan, Thailand, Phillipines, and many other places around the world.  Korean New Year is called Seolnal (설날) and usually is a 3 day or so affair that consists of people returning to their home towns to visit their parents and relatives.  Often a type of memorial for their ancestors (I have a lot on this for another post).  Back in the day, families always wore a traditional hanbok for the holiday but now a lot of people just dress up a little.  Besides this, you’re supposed completely clean your house (can’t have any of that bad luck hanging over from last year) and make tons of food for the occassion.

On New Years, many Koreans eat a traditional soup called tteok guk or deok guk (떡국).  It’s kind of like thin rice cakes in a soup.  My family ate dinner together on Lunar New Year’s Eve and had mandu guk (만두국) which is like tteok guk with some added dumplings in.  Looks good?

Besides eating the traditional soup, another things many families do is sebae.  Basically the children are wishing their parents, grandparents, elder relatives, a happy new year by saying ‘새해 복 많이 받으세요’ (hope you receive many new years blessings) bowing all the way to the ground.  Here’s a blurry me on my way down to bow to my grandmother.

When bowing, you say this new year’s blessing thing and then afterwards your parents or whoever, reward you with some money!  I think back in the day, the elders gave them fruit or candy instead, but these days, kids are doing it for the cash.  My grandmother always says something to us too, like “Study hard in school this year” or in my case “Hope you find a good husband this year” (yeah, thanks a lot).  My family does this about half the time on lunar new years and half the time on January 1st, whenever we apparently feel like doing it.  This year we actually did sebae on Jan 1st but ate the soup twice.  Here’s a YouTube video showing how to bow (I did the small girl bow).

Koreans usually play a traditional game called yutnori (윷놀이) which is a board game that involves some sticks.  We have played that before, but my Korean grandmother wanted to play Sequence instead.  By the way, that’s a good game to play with those who have limited or basically no English skills.  Just matching cards pretty much.

So that’s pretty much it for this holiday.  One of the best part of being a halfie is getting to celebrate different holidays.  I of course celebrate New Years Eve/Day on December 31st-January 1st, but it’s great to know that if I’m a month or so in and my new years resolutions aren’t going as well as planned, that I can start over on seollal, which is precisely what I did this year (really every year).

Hats for Winter and Summer

Okay, I know it’s been a hot minute since I’ve updated this, but I’m back and settled into my new condo now, so I’m ready to get back into some of my other routines- updating blogs, exercising, normal sleeping hours, etc.  I didn’t think it would take months for me to settle back in, but it kind of has.  It’s not like I lived abroad for 10 years or anything, but I guess some people adjust more easily than others.

Anyway, recently with all of the black friday sale ads out there, I’ve noticed that some stores are advertising their winter gear, specifically, cute animal hats.  Koreans love their hats, and I’m not just talking about the kids.  Women, men, babies, dogs, and even pop stars.  Here’s the singing group 2NE1 sporting some animal hats:

 

And because my new little cousin is so cute, I’ll post a recent pic of him wearing a cute hat:

I just realized that alphabet blanket he has is full of English letters, not Korean characters!

Anyway, out of all the fun hats, the most intriguing is the ajumma visor.  (Ajumma is the term for a married woman.  Just because you’re married doesn’t mean you’re automatically an ajumma though.  Usually this term is meant for a middle aged woman but it’s really much more than that.  I could talk about the ajumma perm, attitude, clothing style, etc- but that’s for another blog post.)

All ajummas (like most Korean women) are very paranoid about getting tan.  They want to be as pale as possible and always take precautions to shield themselves against the sun, to avoid wrinkles.  When I was in Korea, in the summer I would often see young people with hats, some with parasols (yep, I broke down and bought a super lacy one, which I’ll probably never use in the U.S. because people will make fun of me), and then there are the ajummas with their visors.  These shield some hardcore rays, as you can see below:

 

They also come in slightly varying styles:

If you’re lucky, you’ll get to see a rare sight, that I only spotted twice in Korea.  It’s a combo of the visor above with one of these:

Sadly, I can’t find any photos I can steal off the internet, but when you spot one of these power walking ajummas wearing the visor and mask combo, you’ll know that they probably have some  amazing wrinkle free skin!

Independence Day and Comfort Women

Hello all!  I know it’s been a while since my last post, but that’s because I’m back in the U.S. now.  My fun days of living abroad are over and now I’m back home in Indianapolis.  Although I miss Korea a ton, it’s good to be back home and getting ‘back on track’ with work and stuff.  I still plan on updating this blog with some of things I did that I didn’t have to talk about while I was there.  Also, I think I’ll keep it going with posts about stuff going on in Korea, Korean food, Korean stuff here, etc.  Maybe I’ll need to change my blog title now, eh?  I probably won’t do that, but it might confuse some people!  I’ll have this blog and also will probably move my real estate one over to wordpress too now that I’m more familiar with using this thing.

Anyway, two days ago (August 15th) was a national holiday in Korea- Independence Day of sorts.  It’s called Gwangbokjeol (광복절) which translates to “Restoration of Light”, but basically that day in 1945 signified the end of Japan’s colonial rule over Korea (aka pretty much the end of WWII).  In Korea, a lot of people wave about their national flag proudly, and there’s also a song about the liberation too.  The colonial rule lasted 35 years and during that time because so many of the Japanese men were fighting in the war, they forced Korean men to work in mines and factories (in both Korea and Japan) to kind of make up for all of the workers who were gone.  If Koreans were allowed to go to school, they were forced to speak and write in Japanese only.

During this time, many Korean women were forced to work as ‘comfort women’ in Japanese brothels.  Many of these women were poor, from the countryside, or even kidnapped.  Some were lured in with the promise of working at a restaurant or factory, and then when they got to Japan or certain areas in Korea, they found out what the real deal was.  To this day the Japanese government denies that this took place and so many are still outraged by this.  Every Wednesday at noon in Seoul, in from of the Japanese embassy (which doesn’t look like a very pretty building, compared to those surrounding it) comfort women who are still alive come and protest.  I decided to attend one of these and see what it’s like.  Surprisingly, there were a handful of foreigners who showed up and they even have a few pamphlets in English.  Every Wednesday they bring out extra security in case these ‘grandma’s get out of control or something, ha!  Most of these women live at a place called the House of Sharing, which is half house, half museum.  You can read the stories of some of the halmoni (translates to grandma) on their website.  Below are a few pictures I took while at the protest.

At the end of the whole thing, everyone bows down and thanks the halmonis for coming out and telling their stories.

Baby Talk

Finally back in Korea!  I’ve been traveling for about the past month in Japan, Vietnam, and Thailand, so haven’t had much time for updating this thing.  I do need to put up some posts about my trips, but I’m not ready to delve into the task of looking through the hundreds of photos that I took  just yet.  So for now, I’ll just talk about something fun- my new baby cousin!  My aunt gave birth to him in May, so he’s getting bigger each time I return from a trip.  In Korea, after you give birth and stay in the hospital a couple of nights, a new mom goes to this sort of resort/hospital for two weeks.  Basically nurses take care of you and your baby.  Moms get massages, do crafts, learn how to breastfeed and bathe their baby, and they feed moms a whole bunch of that seaweed soup (it’s supposed to be good for you).  There are less expensive and more expensive types of these post birth spa things, it’s kind of like a very simple hotel though.  The only people allowed to visit during the two weeks there are the husband and grandparents of the baby.

These days apparently the number of young people having babies in Korea is quite low, so the government pays for the delivery (if you get a c-section it’s a little more) among other tax benefits.  Because my aunt is an American citizen, my cousin will soon get dual-citizenship, and then he will have to decide who he wants to pledge his allegiance to when he becomes 18.  South Korea has a mandatory 2 year military service for all able males.  Some choose to go before university, some after.  Recently a famous Korean star, Hyun Bin, just entered the marines so we won’t see him on tv for about two years (except for the commercials he did prior to leaving).  Here he is after getting his haircut and entering the military base.

Back to babies anyway, in Korea they don’t seem as obsessed as they used to be with having sons, although I’m sure some traditional grandparents might secretly favor the boys.  Koreans usually celebrate a 100 day birthday kind of thing (백일- literally means 100 days) which basically takes root from the days way back when the survival rates for babies were sadly low, so if they got to the 100 day mark, they were pretty much in the clear.

There is also the big deal of a baby’s first birthday (돌) where there is a bunch of food around and also the baby is supposed to pick one of several items off of a table to tell his/her future.  The items usually consist of money, pencil, spool of thread, etc.  If the baby picks up the money, then they will be rich.  If they pick up the spool of thread, they will have a long life.  In my case I picked up the pencil which meant I was to be a great scholar- yeah right.  Anyway, it’s a fun tradition as you can see from the random baby photo below.

I wonder what my cousin will choose!  His English name is Peter, Korean name is Joon-Hui (준휘).  Here’s a photo from the day he was born then one a few weeks later at home.

DMZ Tour- Part 2

Okay, onto the second half of my DMZ tour.  After visiting Panmunjom, we drove past the point of the axe murder incident and also the bridge of no return.  We weren’t allowed off the bus because this area is pretty dangerous still (maybe it’s the landmines?) but they slowed down enough for us to get some photos.

The ax murder incident happened in 1976 when a group of US and ROK people went in perform a routine trimming of a poplar tree, which blocked view of United Nations Command checkpoint center.  Then a group of 15 or so North Korean soldiers came and told them to stop trimming the tree because Kim Il Sung planted it (which is completely false).  During the incident 2 US Army soldiers were axed to death.

Memorial for Ax Murder Death

Bridge of No Return- used for prisoner exchange after the Korean War

The Military Demarcation Line runs through the middle of the bridge.  After the Korean War, prisoners were brought here and were allowed to decide if they wanted to go to the north or south, but once they crossed the bridge, they would never be allowed to return.

After this, we headed to the Third Tunnel, one of 4 underground secret tunnels dug by North Korea to have access to do a surprise attack on Seoul.

The North Koreans painted the insides of these tunnels black, in case they were found.  They could pass it off as a coal mine.  There are many theories on these tunnels, some saying many more are to be discovered.  Others say these are decoy tunnels and the real ones are much trickier to find.  Anyway, to visit the third tunnel, you have to be in good health and ready for a long walk at an 11 degree angle down this hallway to get to the actual tunnel (it’s a bit rough on the way up, even for those in shape).  Then you have to put on a hard hat to walk through the tunnel.  The tunnel itself is quite narrow, usually 2 people could walk on it, going in either direction, and if you’re tall- watch out!  I saw one guy in his 50’s turn around because of his back.  Unfortunately, photography was prohibited in the tunnel so no pictures, however afterwards at the tunnel gift shop, I took a photo of some DMZ rice.

After the exhausting tunnel walk, we got back on the bus and went to the Dora Observatory, where you can look through those view finder/binocular thingies at North Korea, including Kaesong village (where North Koreans are working for a large South Korean company).  Photos here were mostly prohibited too, but they allowed a picture of the observatory itself.

Thus ended our tour of the DMZ, however the tour itself wasn’t over.  We then switched buses, went just outside of the DMZ to have lunch, where I bought some North Korean beer for my aunt’s husband.  (South Korean beer isn’t that great, but I’ve heard Koreans and foreigners rave about this stuff).

After lunch, we headed to our last stop on the official tour which was Dorasan station.  This train station once could take supplies and passengers into North Korea, but these days Dorasan is the last station people can go to.  It’s mostly tourists there now.  I believe the decision to close off the station was a decision both by the North and South for political reasons.  There used to be tours that used the train to go up to the highest mountain in all of Korea, Baekdu mountain.  But a few years ago at Mount Kumgang, a 53 year old South Korean tourist was shot when she accidentally crossed a military border.  This tourist spot had been opened since 1998, with over a million visitors, but now pretty much all tourism to the north from the south has shut down.  I went off on a tangent there but here are some photos of Dorasan station.

I think everyone really enjoyed the tour.  It costs a little bit more than the other ones, but if you’re interested in history and have all day to spare, I would highly recommend the Koridoor USO tour for a visit to the DMZ.

DMZ Tour- Part 1

Before I came to Korea, one of the things that I knew I had to do was to go on one of the DMZ tours.  After further research, I decided on the USO (United Service Organization)/Koridoor tour, since it is the only one that can get you access to the JSA.  On Tuesday, I arrived at Camp Kim USO just before 0730 when the buses were to depart.  They check your passport 3 times throughout the trip, so do not forget it if you go!  (I think military ID works, but not any other kind of ID).  This tour also has a strict dress code that’s enforced- no sleeveless clothing, no tight stretch pants, no short shorts or skirts, no flip flops, no baggy pants, etc.

I made friends with a nice girl who works for Google and we chatted a little on the way up.  As we got closer to our destination, I started to see chain link fences with barbed wire.  Apparently this is to keep North Korean military from swimming their way down (not defectors, although some of them have probably tried it too) and sneaking into South Korea.  We start seeing these fences maybe an hour or less after leaving Seoul, reminding us that Seoul is pretty close to the border.

Once we get to the DMZ border, we are made to wait a little bit and two army guys come on the bus and inspect our passports yet again.  They are our escorts for the rest of the trip, until we leave the DMZ.  The DMZ (Demilitarized Zone) is a strip of land which divides the Korean peninsula in half(ish), it’s 4 kilometers long (2 belonging to the South, 2 to the North) and 240 km across going from coast to coast.  The Military Demarcation Line is the actual “line” that separates north and south.  So the DMZ is the barrier around the MDL.  I don’t want to bore you with a lengthy and poorly written history of the DMZ, but basically it started out like this- the 38th parallel came about after WWII, dividing the northern Soviet occupied space with the southern American occupied land.  Then of course the Korean War started and in July of 1953 an Armistice Agreement was made, creating the DMZ, stating the rules for the area (what weapons can be there, etc), and other stuff.  The armistice agreement is just kind of like a cease fire though, not a peace treaty.  Technically these two countries are still at war, and are still negotiating, making this the longest war in U.S. history.

Anyway, as soon as we arrive, the mood on the bus becomes more tense.  The bus driver knows his way around and is careful to stay within the lanes- no crazy driving here like in Seoul!  Everyone is to stay on asphalt at all times unless they tell us we can walk on the grass.  Usually the open grassy areas are fine, but other wooded areas have land mines everywhere.  In fact, the DMZ is lined with tank traps, electrical fences, landmines, and of course two armies ready to pounce at any moment.

Our first stop is at Camp Bonifas, which is a joint U.S. and ROK (Republic of Korea, aka South Korea) army camp where we were given a 20 minute briefing about how to act and what to expect.  We also had to sign a waiver saying that we would follow the rules and understood we could get harmed or possibly even killed while there- eek!  After our briefing, we board different buses to take us to the JSA (Joint Security Area) at Panmunjom (판문점).  We first walked into the Freedom House (built in 1998, used for meetings and exchanges), which we were unfortunately not allowed to take any pictures of due to security reasons (there were lots of points of the tour when this was the case).  The security reasons they gave were so that our photos of their camera placements wouldn’t get online, thus North Korea having access to their location.  Inside the Freedom House, we were told again (maybe this was the 5th or 6th time) to not point at, wave, make any kind of motions towards the North Korean soldiers in any way.  I wonder if some stupid tourist has ever tried it.  Anyway, here are some pics of the JSA!

The ROK soldiers here have to always be in that  modified Tae Kwon Do stance and have sunglasses on, so the North Korean soldiers can’t see what’s going on.  Also, we were not allowed to go around the table on the side of the flag.  I was standing on the North Korean side while taking this picture.  Mics on the table in this room record everything.  Official meetings are still sometimes held here.

North Korean soldier

Our Koridoor tour guide and one of our army tour guides said this is the first time they had ever seen this many North Korean soldiers out here.  I counted more than 10, less than 20.

The ROK soldiers have to wear the sunglasses and also stand halfway behind the buildings like that so the Northern soldiers can’t “read” them

They believed the reason for that was perhaps because of this above group of people touring the JSA from the North side!  Some guy did confirm that it was a tour group, but for some reason they were all wearing the same color.  Apparently the JSA tour in North Korea costs around $10,000 and that probably doesn’t even include getting to North Korea.

After the tour group went in the building a few of the soldiers started to do a very strange march, zig zagging or something weird.

There were also some soldiers on the top of the building looking down at us with binoculars.

Just to clarify, when no tour groups or people are out there near the blue buildings, only 2 soldiers stand out there.  The extra ones were for us.  Also, when a tour group from either side goes in JSA, the other door is locked so they can’t get in.  So that way only one “side” is in there at a time.  The JSA is the only area where North and South Korean soldiers face each other.  Another interesting fact is that South Koreans can’t go easily on this tour.  They have to file all this paperwork and it takes 3-6 months to get approval.

Our young and energetic Koridoor tour guide was as excited as we were about what we were able to see.  She called us a lucky group!  More DMZ stuff on the next post.

Busan Adventure Part 3

The last installment of this series.  During the weekend we had some good Korean bbq, had some fun at noraebang, and did a bunch of other stuff.  But one of the highlights of the trip for me was going to Yonggung temple (용궁사).  Yonggungsa was originally built in 1376 and is quite different from other temples because of its being situated on the coast.   You can check out the above website for all of the historical info, but this is one of the most beautiful temples I’ve seen in Korea.  Arrived in late afternoon, very serene and peaceful.  Here are a few photos:

throw coins and if yours reaches the bowl, a wish comes true. i’m 99% sure one of mine got in

golden piggies- always good for wealth luck

hundreds of tiny little buddha figurines

huge golden buddha that lots of people were taking their picture with

goddess buddha of mercy

 

Here’s a video that gives a better idea of how big the place is:

 

I’m trying to decide whether to put all of my pictures on facebook or elsewhere (flickr or picasa).  What’s the best way to organize digital photos?

Busan Adventure Part 2

Okay, day two of my Busan trip started with us moving to lodging with a view of Haeundae beach.  It was a great view from the 8th floor and there was even a Starbucks just a few steps away!  Haeundae is the most famous beach in Korea, attracting over 500,000 tourists each year (busy season is in August).  Lucky for us, this weekend was the Haeundae Sand Festival so we got to see some pretty neat sand sculptures.  So since I’m tired, I’ll just post a few choice ones for you:

(the  Shinsegae department store in Busan.  The biggest dept store in the entire world, even bigger than Macy’s in New York)

There was a hoola hoop contest on the beach.  This guy was interviewing people to try and mess them up.

I’m going a little out of order but on Monday, we did stop into the Busan aquarium.  Biggest in Korea, had some strange fish.  Lots of strange eel I hadn’t seen before.  One more post to complete this series.

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