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.

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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).

Busan Adventure Part 1

This weekend was a holiday weekend (Memorial Day on Monday, basically the same concept as in the U.S.) so I decided I should take advantage of it and go on a trip.  Went with a meetup group to Busan, which is South Korea’s 2nd largest city right on the bottom right of the peninsula.  First off, we traveled by KTX which is a high speed train that travels throughout part of South Korea (around 200ish miles an hour).  So getting to Busan took only 2.5 hours, as opposed to perhaps 5.5 hours by car (if you’re lucky and get to drive in the bus lane, or if traffic isn’t bad). 

We had 8 people in our group so we were able to reserve 2 tables which featured 4 seats facing each other.  The leg room is similar to an airplane.  Actually so are the bathrooms and the guy selling food on a cart.  Some people are always going to be facing the backwards direction of the train.  Those prices are a tiny bit less than forward facing seats.

After arriving at a nice ocean view hostel (my first time staying in one), we decided to visit Jagalchi fish market 잘가치 시장 (part is inside part is out), which is the country’s largest fish market.  Let me say this- if you don’t like fish or can’t stand the smell, then this is definitely not the place for you!  However if you can tolerate it, you’ll get to see some pretty amazing varieties of fish.  Mostly ajummas’s (middle-older aged women) sell the fish while their husbands are doing the fishing, so you’ll see mostly women in this area.  There are also tables for you to sit down and pick what fish you want for them to cook right there.  We decided to eat at a large restaurant in this area that has traditional sitting (you have to take off your shoes and sit on the floor, raised platform).  We ordered some really fantastic sashimi and also some cooked fish and scallops.  The side dishes were pretty amazing too, including muscles, shrimp and other stuff.

photo of the inside portion of jalgachi fish market (these photos taken with my iPhone 4)

 

After dinner and wandering around the fish market, we took a short cab ride to Yongdusan Park (용두산 공원) to visit the 118 meters high, Busan Tower.  I am a little bit (or a lot) scared of heights, but had pretty amazing 360 degree views of Busan.  The sun was just beginning to set, which made for a pretty scene, lights coming up for the evening.  You could also see the port’s massive operations, which is pretty interesting.

With the sun down, then went to a nightlife district near one of the universities (forget which one). Went to this place called the Dugout, which was a nice little bar, lots of expats there.  The manager (perhaps owner) had perfect English and accommodated us nicely (which isn’t always the case).  Didn’t stay out too late since a lot was jam-packed in the next day.  More to come later.

The Duck’s Belly

So about a week or so ago I went with my aunt and her husband for a bit of a ride out in the country.  We were out there to see my aunt’s sister-in-law’s new house.  Here in Korea, when you visit someone’s new house for the first time, you bring a gift, which is similar to what most of us do in America.  In the U.S. we usually bring a plant, food, or sometimes liquor, right?  Anyway here you take something like toilet paper, paper towels, or laundry detergent.  Things that people will need and use once they move in.  Also, I read somewhere that Koreans give the laundry detergent and soaps to ‘clean out’ all of the previous bad chi, mojo, whatever you wanna call it, from the previous tenants/owners.  So we traveled with toilet paper in tow.

After seeing their new place we went to a local restaurant whose name pretty much translates to the duck’s belly.  Here is a picture of the statue outside the restaurant, although to me it almost looks like a goose.

Inside this quiet and traditional looking restaurant was a hopping place, with tons of people at waiting patiently for their chance to have some of this juicy duck.  Apparently the place is somewhat famous because my aunt said she saw a story about the restaurant on tv somewhat recently.  Anyway, we were lucky that we didn’t have to wait long at all, especially since I was starving.  After being seated, the servers bring the uncooked ducked and put it on this hot marble slab to cook.  We had two kinds, since we had two cooking stations at our table- one regular, one spicy duck.  The grease all goes to the edges and goes down this tube into a bucket.

Here’s some video of them cooking it:

After we had some of the duck they started cooking some fried rice on the same marble slab, but this was a little different from fried rice that I’ve had before.  Here they flattened it to the slab and burned it a little, then rolled it like a crepe and cut it into pieces. 

Video of the burnt fried rice

All in all it was quite tasty and we had a little bit of makgeolli (막걸리, korean rice wine) to go with it. 

WEll, this was another quick and lazy Sunday morning post for you all.  My brain isn’t quite awake yet so forgive me for grammar errors and whatever else.

Toilet Paper and Yellow Dust

Hope that everyone had a good weekend!  This weekend instead of joining in the St. Patrick’s Day festivities in Insadong (which looked fun from the pictures I’ve seen) I went and visited my aunt and cousin in Chungju (충주 first part sounds like “choose”) which is a small city about a couple of hours away from Seoul.  It’ located kind of in the middle of South Korea with a population of around 200,000.  My mom is from somewhere near here, but I’ll have to ask her exactly where she grew up.  Anyway, my point is, it’s a really small town as you can see:

Chungju city’s slogan is “Good Chungju” which just cracks me up.  It’s even more fun than “Hi Seoul”.  I don’t think cities in the U.S. have slogans, but I’m glad we don’t.  It would be hard to sum up what the city is about in just a few words.

We took a pleasant bus ride down to Chungju.  I’ve been here once before about 4 years ago when I came for my other aunt’s wedding.  This aunt has two kids- one boy and one girl, both around my age, both nurses.  Her son still lives with her but her daughter just got married a few months ago and live closer to Seoul.  Anyway, it’s always a good time when I see her (even though we can’t communicate very well) because she is a great cook and there’s always plenty to eat!  My aunt and I came bearing some gifts (fruit and some Baskin Robbins ice cream- which is pretty expensive here) and stopped by my aunt’s restaurant first.  (Her restaurant is about a 30 second walk from her house.)  She owns a sundae (순대 pronounced soondae) restaurant and I just now realized what I ate.  No wonder my English speaking aunt refused to tell me when I asked, haha….  

my aunt’s soondae restaurant

 Stop reading now if you don’t want to get grossed out, but soondae (sundae, whatever you prefer) is a dish made by boiling or steaming cow or pig intestines then stuffing it with stuff (maybe noodles, rice, kimchi, veggies, etc).  Really I had an idea of what it was, but I just chose not to think about it 🙂     The soondae in this picture is the darker looking stuff.  Not sure what part of the pig the lighter colored meat is and I don’t really care to know.

She still had a few customers there so after we ate and chatted it up a bit, my cousin walked us to their house.  Housing varies a lot here, just like in the U.S., but I think more so here because of the age of some of these buildings.  Compared to my other aunt’s newer apartment  (the one who I’m staying with), her house is very small, but felt like home nevertheless. 

My English speaking aunt reminded me upon our arrival to the house that I shouldn’t put toilet paper in the toilet, I have to throw it away separately.  There are many places like this in Korea (probably in other parts of the world too) that have to do this if they don’t have updated plumbing.  This was a much better option than using the squatter’s toilet at her restaurant so no big deal. 

We put down our things then watched my cousin popped in his sister’s wedding DVD.  Koreans really have an interesting system for weddings here.  I should do another post on that (dedicated to Tammy!) but they do a great job with the DVD setups and editing the photos… maybe too good of a job on the photos!  My aunt and recently wedded cousin arrived soon after and we ate.  Slept, then in the morning ate a huge breakfast of some of my favorites:

L.A. Galbi (갈비  marinated beef short ribs called L.A. galbi because the meat is in the shape of California) 

Doenjang jigae ( 된장 찌개 soybean paste soup)
Godeungeo ( 고등어 this really good fish)
bunch of Korean side dishes

My sister really likes galbi, so she missed out.  I don’t think in the U.S. we normally eat this big of a breakfast, but I stuffed myself yesterday morning!  She remembered all of the foods I liked 4 years ago and made them for me again 🙂

After we were done digesting, it was  time to get ready then went out and walked around some parts of Chungju and stopped at a coffee shop.  Here’s a short video of us and a look at some of the cute cakes we had with our coffee (yes, pretty much all we did was eat this weekend):

We decided to cut our outing short because on the taxi ride to town we heard a yellow sand/Asian dust/yellow dust/etc warning issued for that day and advised people to stay inside if possible.  This yellow dust is a seasonal happening in the fall, but worse in the spring.  The dust starts from the deserts of China and blows its way over to Korea, Japan, and nearby.  It makes the city look kind of yellow and foggy, makes cars dirty, but also is bad because it picks up some pollutants in the air and can really make certain people sick.  After my nap, I noticed my throat was a bit itchy but solved that problem with some honey tea.

I could go on and on the rest of the weekend about what we ate, jokes we laughed about, the lazy naps we took, and what juicy Korean dramas we watched, but I’m feeling lazy now.  Some other highlights were skyping with my relatives in Japan (first time I saw them since the earthquake and stuff, they’re ok) and also meeting my cousin’s husband for the first time (he picked us up and drove us back to the Seoul area).  My mom and other aunt in America met him for the first time over Skype.  Bowing is hard to do over the internet, especially on an iPhone 4!

Turtle ships and Tea

So this past Tuesday was a national Korean holiday- March 1st movement, aka Samil (삼일 운동).  For those a little rusty on your eastern history, Korean was under Japanese rule from 1910 until the end of WWII in 1945.  On March 1, 1919  at 2:00pm, a group of Korean nationalists read the Korean Declaration of Independence to crowds throughout the country.  (read more about it here)

Anyway, since it was a holiday, my aunt and her husband got the day off and we went sight seeing.  It was a little cold that day, so we started out in Gwanghwamun Square (광화문) and went to see the King Sejong statue.  It turns out that in the back of the statue is the entrance to the King Sejong museum, which recently opened.  King Sejong was a really important king, the guy who (with his scholars) invented the Korean alphabet which allowed Korea to have their own alphabet that people could use, instead of using Chinese characters.

Behind this statue, there are stairs that lead down to the entrance of the museum (Koreans seem to love building things underground- remember COEX?).  It exhibition hall/museum is partly about Admiral Yi, who on numerous occassions courageously battled against the Japanese navy, even when outnumbered.

Admiral Yi photo borrowed from Korea.net

 Inside the museum, I got one of those cheesy headphone sets that have a mini tablet connected to it.  It walks you through and tells you about the different exhibits.  There are some fun ones for the kids too.  You can shoot guns or canons at the Japanese navy ships too.  Here’s my aunt’s husband doing it:

The Kobukson (거북선) aka Turtle Ship was the first ironclad battle ship in the entire world, which the Koreans started to use in the early 15th century (other models were made in earlier centuries, I don’t know much about history).  The Turtle Ships helped Admiral Yi defeat the Japanese navy.

My mother got my grandfather (dad’s dad) a really cool cigarette, lighter, ash tray set when she came to America for the first time.  Her’s looked cooler, but here is what a Kobukson lighter looks like:

Here is some of my bad video skills inside the Kobukson (or Geobukseun, whichever you prefer).  I think I need to hold the camera steadier and go more slowly, in general:

Instruments- I think my aunt is playing with a Gayageum (가야금)

A gross photo of me sitting on some royal bench.  (note to self- buy more shoes without laces, all of the tying and untying has become quite cumbersome)

After the museum, we walked around some more in the the area and I saw a police tank.  Not a sight I’m used to seeing in Indianapolis.

Before we went into the museum that morning we saw this group of protestors.  Funny thing was that when we left the museum they were gone.  My aunt jokingly said they were on their lunch break.  Then we had some lunch and came back and saw them again.  She was right!

After all of that fun and excitement we decided to go to Insadong (인사동), a district in Seoul that has a lot of antiques, art, and other stuff.  I really liked this area, very vibrant, lots of old mixed with new.  The first thing we did after finding some impossible parking (my aunt’s husband is a master parker, seriously, the parking spots are tiny here!) was  get some hoduk (호덕)  which are these Korean pastries that you can get on the street.  Very tasty- one of my favorite sweet things to eat.  I took some video of them making it:

We did some window shopping in the antiques places.  Lots of pretty silks, beautiful ceramics, and pretty artwork.  We ended our trip to Insadong with a trip at a tea house (a little expensive but they give you a lot).  My aunt and I had this plum tea.  Here’s my tea:

My aunt shows what the plum at the bottom of the cup looks like:

Overall, we had a very fun and interesting Samil Day!  I started one of my new jobs on Wednesday, which is why it’s taking me a little longer to post stuff.  I’ll be moving into my own place a week from tomorrow.  I’ll definitely take some video of that too.  In the meantime, I’ll work on my video skills (all of my photos and videos were taken with my iPhone 4, quality ok?).

Toddler birthday party and Korean church time

Hope that everyone had a good weekend!  We had a busy one here.  On Saturday after making breakfast, my aunt and I got on the bus for a bit of a ride to go to the COEX mall in Gangnam of Seoul (which is most likely where I’ll be living).  COEX is the largest underground shopping mall in all of Asia with tons of shopping, 2 food courts, 16 screen movie theatre, aquarium, and Kimchi museum!  (borrowed photos again today, I’ve been lazy)

It was here that I finally saw some other Americans and foreigners, who my aunt’s husband calls “my friends”, haha.  We were here to look around, hopefully find me some casual, non-tennis shoes, and also get a present for my aunt’s husband’s niece’s 4th birthday.  Upon going into a department store, I nearly fainted because of the prices.  There are some parts of Korea where you can shop really cheap, but the toddler Burberry, Juicy Couture, and other Korean brand name clothes were absolutely ridiculous- several costing over $100-$200 for one article of  kid’s clothing.  This was much worse than the $23 dollar melon I saw at the grocery store the other day (out of season fruit is expensive here).  I tried talking my aunt out of this and going to E-Mart, but we finally found something somewhat reasonable for the birthday girl (who will probably just spill  kimchi on it or something).

After lunch and a bus ride home, it was pretty much time to go to the birthday party.  My aunt’s husband was working late so his sister-in-law picked us up.  At their apartment we met her husband, 3 kids, and my aunt’s mother-in-law.  It was all fine, not too awkward despite my poor Korean, and I read some children’s Korean books which were fun to read since I understood a lot of them.  For dinner we had miyeok-guk which is a seaweed soup, traditional for a birthday meal.  We also had some spicy pork that you wrap in lettuce leaves and it.  It was all very tasty though. 

Then after dinner, it was time for the birthday cake.  Korean taste buds don’t like things that are too sweet, like some of the terribly rich American chocolate desserts.  The cake was pretty and very light, with layers and had fruit in it.  We then sang happy birthday in Korean and afterwards in English because they thought it would be fun to do so since I was there.  It’s the first time their kids have ever spoken with a foreigner so I was part of the entertainment for the night.  All in all, the little girl had a nice 5th (really 4th) birthday party.  In Korea, when asked your age, you actually are supposed to say 1 year older than you are because they count the year in the womb.  Nothing to do with pro-lifers or hard-core Christians, I believe (I think only about 40ish% of the population are Christians) but I’m not sure why.  If anyone asks me though, I say I’m still in my 20’s.  No reason to be 30 yet!

Speaking of religion, on Sunday morning we woke up and went to Korean church.  For those other halfies reading this, you’ll understand my pain.  Korean church is a terrible Sunday tradition that halfies must endure.  Probably any kid growing up was antsy while having to sit through church, but it’s twice as painful when you don’t understand what the preacher is saying and also when the sermons are extra long.  We went to a methodist church where previously my aunt played piano and her husband conducted the choir for a couple of years while the choir head was on sabbatical in the U.S.  It was actually less painful than I thought it would be though.  This church had a better choir and also flat screens so I could follow along with the Korean.  I was able to sing the hymns with them, but the passages were read so quickly that I didn’t even bother.  The pastor did mention a few words I could understand (church and the news are difficult for me to follow) including mentioning George Washington in his sermon. 

Before church though, my aunt’s mother-in-law was with us and took us out for some seolleong tang (ox bone soup that is simmered overnight) which hit the spot with the rainy weather we had. 

After brunch and church, we went driving around through two different neighborhoods I would possibly be living in.  I was grateful for the drive because after viewing both, I changed my mind on where I originally thought I would want to live.  It will depend on a few factors, including where they place me for work, but at least I have a picture in my head now.

Now that I have my iPhone4, I need to remember to start taking more pictures of us doing stuff and not just food!  My P&S is acting up, but after using the HDR feature on the iPhone camera, I feel like I don’t even necessarily need to have one.  I’ll have my digital SLR if I’m going sight seeing or something, but otherwise for me, the 5 megapixels on the iPhone is more than adequate.

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