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.


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).

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.

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.

Happy Birthday, Buddha

So this past Tuesday  was a vacation today for me- no work!  It was a national holiday too- Buddha’s birthday.  Although it seems there are just as many Christians as Buddhists in this country, everyone gets to partake in the celebration.  A month prior to today, streets all over Korea have lanterns hung up, which are nicely lit in the evenings. 

On Saturday, I went to the Lotus Lantern Festival in Seoul.  During this festival weekend there were dance and music performances, vendors selling various Buddhist related items (bracelets, lanterns, etc) and more.  I chose to attend on Saturday to see the 2.5 hour long parade which featured all kinds of big and small lanterns.  Here are some photos from the event.  I took a bunch at the night parade but am too lazy to put those up here.  Maybe I’ll stick them on picasa or a facebook link or something.  What do most of you people use, flickr?

Also, a friend of mine took some video with my iPhone.  I stuck it altogether really quick.  If you’re bored you can take a look at some of the paper and plastic lanterns.  In the parade are adults, kids, monks, and even some pets too.  My favorite lanterns are the peacock, the dragon, and the turtle ship.

Spoiled Kids on Children’s Day

Many of you perhaps celebrated Cinco de Mayo yesterday (the one kind of food I miss the most is Mexican, having a hard time finding it here).  Here in Korea, yesterday was a national holiday- Children’s Day.  It’s a pretty big deal for the kids, almost like a second Christmas.  Pretty much everyone gets the day off, which gives parents the opportunity to take the kids to a zoo, park, museum, amusement park, movie theatre, or some other funtastical place.  Children get showered with money, candy, gifts, not always just from parents, but extended relatives.  And then there are those kids who complain a little the next day to their friends because of their lack of ‘fun’ gifts (just like Christmas!).  I overheard an eight year old whining to a friend how that all she got was a book.  Spoiled kids!

This coming Sunday is also Parent’s Day (same day as Mother’s Day in the U.S.) but I don’t think they may it quite as big of a deal as Children’s Day.  The reason why Children’s Day came about is probably explained by this quote from a 1951 Time Magazine article:

“Some 30 years ago, in the days of Japanese rule, the elders of Korea saw no hope of freedom for themselves. But their children, they felt, might be more fortunate. They began to observe May 5 as Children’s Day. Last week battered Seoul celebrated Children’s Day with a parade by the police, who marched 600 strong behind a brass band and a huge placard: ‘Children Are the Nation’s Flower.’

“The nation’s flowers emerged from caves and broken buildings. Beside the budding, shrapnel-scarred elms along the streets, they watched. Now & then a youngster clapped or smiled, but mostly they stood with wooden faces, like tired old people who have found life very hard and who take little joy in parades.”

The article noted that the band avoided the South Gate and the bombed Seoul Station where “the abandoned, the homeless, [and] the orphans prowled restlessly, begging, stealing, conniving to stay alive.” It ended by noting that the police handed out small packets of candy and food to the children, and those with parents then went on long happy walks, while those who were orphaned by the war and “had no parents to take them home melted back into their caves and cellars.”

This year, even Hillary Clinton sent best wishes for the holiday:

“Press Statement

Hillary Rodham Clinton
Secretary of State
Washington, DC
May 3, 2011

On behalf of President Obama and the American people, I am delighted to send best wishes to the children of Korea on Children’s Day this May 5.

On my visit to Korea last month I saw the promise of Korea’s future. Korea’s investment in education has given countless children opportunities and experiences considered impossible only a generation ago. The unique perspectives that your children now carry with them help cement our partnership for years to come.

We all share the responsibility to give our children a world that is cleaner, healthier, and more prosperous than the one we inherited. On this special day, as we reflect on the future of our children, know that the United States is your partner and ally in this important cause.”

So there you have it.  Doubt that any children now really think about the meaning of Children’s Day (like Jesus on Christmas, right?) but it makes a little more sense to see parents spoiling them now.