It’s only Monday

On my walk home, I realized if I learn anything from Korea it will be how to entertain a group of people for an hour at a time on the fly. A new season of classes started today. For half of my classes, I knew what I was doing. Basically the same thing I’ve been doing just with new books or new students. A slight variation on the old. The other three classes are totally new and the product of my co-teacher and director. I will call these classes their brainchild. They gave me a few books and said choose some chapters then there will be a followup. So this afternoon was Monday and at 2:53, seven minutes before my first class of the day I was kind of freaking out. It seemed obvious that my director had a certain idea about how she wanted the classes to go. This much talking, this much speaking, this much writing. Asking questions led to being deferred to later after talking with a… someone else. As far as I know, I picked a few chapters and that’s that. I copied a chapter for each class and went to work.

It was a hellacious day; harder than I realized.

At 9:05 I headed home, planning the pasta dinner as I went. I’ve been wearing these adorable Tom wedges and miniskirts to work. I have a lot of fun watching my legs as I walk. I walk toward the street to pass a group of young men. They were saying goodbyes to a woman and three children. One of the kids is very young and grabs at woman’s arm when he sees me. As a foreigner, I have superpowers. I pay pretty close attention to things around me, but I look like I’m busy. This makes it easier for me, especially because children cry when they see me. It’s heartbreaking for me and embarrassing for them. This also helps me avoid troublemakers who are looking for a good time to practice English, specifically older men- you know who you are!

I cross the street getting a chance to see the full moon. It’s bright white and fills the sky. Black clouds linger around it but not obstructing it. How beautiful! How lucky am I! As I get close to my apartment I cross the street again making my way over a speed bump in the road up a little sidewalk that is half covered in cars and turn the corner for my building. Behind me I can hear tiny running footsteps. Children are a common occurrence in Korea. They are usually seen in herds with pockets overflowing with won and fists full of candy. Small footsteps make me smile so after some hesitation I turn to smile at the small creature giving me some happiness at the end of a long day. A skinny and seemingly very fast toddler decked out in an adorable heart tee, a diaper and sandals is excited to see… me?

Longing to put down heavy backpack and cumbersome dishes, I turn back to my path happy to be so close to home. Half way to my building stairs I hear a car. In Korea, I have developed a healthy fear of cars, specifically Jeeps. Why are Korean drivers in the Australian Outback? Are there giant rocks to drive over? Vicious predator animals ready to strike? Maybe they think a rabid croc is after them and that’s why they drive so fast. I turn to look and see the baby in the driveway as the Jeep (of course, it’s a Jeep– a little too fast and a little too tall) shines it’s headlights in my face. Time slows. My brain thinks two things The small child will be fine, It’s not my business. In one short lived moment, I turn back to the building. In all the time my brain took to recognize and weigh the variables my body took over. Before I knew what was happening my hand was stopping the Jeep and grabbing at a very small hand. I imagine myself in a movie, headlights casting me in shadow.

Somehow her mom also recognized what could happen and ran from four times my distance. Korean words poured from her; words of concern and fear then gratitude and love. The child was now terrified and screaming. As the mother grabbed her daughter up into a big worried mom hug, she thanked me and stared, eyes growing bigger at my face. I had no words, tired and emotionally drained. Wanting to get out of this staring contest I mumbled “No problem.” I felt very dazed as I turned back to make my ascent finally home. In the elevator, I recounted the event and thought of all the things I could have said like Omma- mother, I could have shouted across the parking lot to ease her nerves. All the language flowed from my body and I was left with a silly phrase from my youth. Dumbstruck, I stumbled out of the elevator; shuffling to my apartment door. Lights were on and so was the stove top. Oh, man I left on the stove, totally bummed. I didn’t leave the stove on. Wyll was home making boiled water, bless his heart. I collapsed in his arms. Oh, love.

Buddha creates a three day weekend and multiple parades!

I doubt that Buddha was born with the idea of lotus lanterns and decorated temples. Most of our students are Christian and few celebrate Buddha. Most students see it as an opportunity for additional sleep, food consumption, and TV with mom time. Taking this into consideration, there were many people at the festival we went to. The Lotus Lantern Festival takes place in Seoul. 300,000 people march the streets of Seoul with glowing lanterns and animated parade floats (there was a dragon that breathed fire!). 30,000 of these people are not from Korea. It was startling to see all the outsiders. Living in a small foreigner community I forget that there are hoards of us here, just not here in Gochang. (In Gochang, I often fight the urge to wave and smile at foreign tourists I see at the fortress.)

The following weekend (last weekend) was Angus’ Birthday so four of us headed to Busan. We go beach! Beach nice. Beach fun! After a five hour trip and one bus change we ended at the empty looking Dove Hotel Good Stay! Good stays are hotels that have received an award from the government about how awesome it is to stay there. Well I guess they got the award a few years back. It looked like they had a cafe at one point but it closed. This actually concerned me at first. It looked like the hotel had closed down- which would suck because we had paid for two rooms for two nights! Luckily it was not closed but there was some confusion about our rooms and what we had paid. I left this conversation to the boys and took a walk outside.

When I came back we all climbed into a half elevator, even with the attendant. When I got in the elevator doors closed on me, hard. These doors had it out for us. I believe by the end of the trip everyone had gotten smashed by the doors.

Busan was awesome. We went to the beach- I love the beach. Jim brought a baseball so we played catch! We went to a giant aquarium and shopping mall! We saw The Great Gatsby! The mall closed on us while we were at the movies so we had to get three security guards to help us get our stuff. We went dancing and bar hopping. We went to an arcade. We ate delicious food. We had a blast!

A whole Lotte party-ing going on!

I have to say the biggest company in Korea is Lotte. They own fast food chains (complete with squid burgers! YUM!), grocery stores, outlet malls, movie theaters- they make movies!, and on the weekend before last I was introduced to a whole new product- LOTTE WORLD!

This theme park boasts human size rodent mascots!

That’s not me or Wyll but I think you get the idea (Minnie and Mickey have been turned into squirrels or maybe chipmunks?)

Anyway we had a bunch of fun with a bunch of people and I thought I’d share some of the photos with you!

I would also like to add that we have been going to the bigger cities and seeing live bands. We also hit up a club with Angus and Jim! That was tons of fun. I’ve really started learning Korean vowels, so I should be able to read… any day now…. 🙂

Wyll also finished the beta version of his game and it will be play tested across the world in the next few weeks. The cherry trees are blooming and life is starting to out pace me again. Spring has sprung!

Making Kimchi

How can I describe the emotions surrounding  making kimchi?

When I was trying to convince Wyll that Korea was the place to be we watched Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservation. Bourdain gets a whorl wind tour of the country. At one point he meets up with some older women who are making Kimchi. They do NOT let him touch it. He waits, watches sadly and tells viewers what is happening. Watching the show I thought how sad for him. Kimchi is a process unlike most other fermenting cabbage dishes, hello fish! It could easily be the mascot of Korea. As it is a source of pride and eaten with EVERY meal, I can understand why they wouldn’t want to eat his poorly seasoned cabbage everyday for months. Then again I wished that I would have the opportunity to watch artisans make kimchi.

I knew before we came that November was kimchi month, prime cabbage harvesting time. At Y-mart down the street, the cabbages are displayed on pallets. Walking to work, truck beds piled high with cabbage drive past us. I have also noticed the arrival of very cute plastic food grade tubs with snap on lids and handles. Grace claims few cooking skills. I talked with her about kimchi season. She said her aunts do that sort of thing, when she was vacationing in Korea they sent her some. I knew that Sam and Mr. No (our off-site directors) were involved with farms. They had both brought us huge persimmons. One day I sneak attacked them. I stopped at work to drop off some things for later. They were there cleaning- how embarrassing! I think we were all surprised. I mean what was I doing there!?! Trying to smooth over the situation Mr. No and I were talking about farming and he invited us out to make Kimchi! I was like jumping off the walls. V is for VICTORY!

I was ecstatic. Rather impatiently, I waited. Toward the end of November I was beginning to feel like maybe it wasn’t going to happen. One day Grace would look up from her desk and say ‘No-can-dos-ville babydoll’. Then at least I would know. On Monday (Dec.3) Grace hung up her phone and said ‘it’s getting so cold- I hope we don’t have to make Kimchi’. I thought Oh, no here it comes. It was like she knew it was coming. Mr. No set the date for Friday. We would have to go in the morning and it would be outside. The way Grace talked about it we would be watching. Then we would eat and go to work. I was a little disappointed, but at least I would be outside at a farm surrounded by happy people making a ton of kimchi.

Wyll and I got ready according to Graces description. If we weren’t going to be getting dirty then we should dress nice. Dress to impress. Wyll (the smart one) wore jeans and a button up. I wore several layers, slacks, two new sweaters and went with my heeled boots. We headed put into the mini blizzard that put other areas on snow alert. Grace met us at the call taxi luckily moments before the driver had taken us to the bus terminal. (Being two of the 14 foreigners we are easily recognized- many times Grace has called ahead so the locals know what we are about.) The taxi driver didn’t want to take us all the way to the house. You can’t blame him really. The roads had snow and horrifying ditches on either side.

When we arrived we were taken past two dwindling pallets of salted and cleaned cabbages into the house and given gloves.

“What!?! Oh yes!”

Mr. No explained that we can’t have lunch and a bucket of Kimchi for nothing. This is a community event. This is the third and easiest day. If we are only here for a short time other people will get upset.

Oh man, AND we get to take some home! Too bad we were wearing such silly outfits. We walk into the green house where everyone is set up working in groups of three. I can tell that the expectations are low, we were given a much smaller bowl and pile of cabbage. However, this was a good move on their part. Mr. No’s brother comes over to give us a visual how to. I sit on my legs. Grace laughs and says I’ll be sitting for a loooong time. So I play around with some other way to sit. Mr. No’s brother brings me a Styrofoam cushion to sit on. This proves to be very difficult with the height of my shoes.

So I’m rubbing the red paste into my cabbage leaves. Each leaf is done individually and you have to make sure to get all the creases and folded parts even the very bottom. Mr. No’s mom comes by and tells us to make sure to get the diakon and onion in there. She tells us to taste it. The salt flavor will mellow and the pepper flavor will be the same. Then she sneaks some large chunks of diakon into our bucket. Wyll didn’t notice. 😛

Wyll and I are unsure how to taste the paste. (Well remember the lady hand feeding us at the farmers market, it seems that Koreans are unafraid of germs). I grabbed a diakon piece and chowed down. This is the fresh version of Kimchi. The cabbage is crunchy and you can taste the complex flavors in the red paste. There is no shellfish in it at this point. It was so freaking good. Grace is chowing away and really slathering the paste onto the cabbage leaves. Mr. No’s mom comes back and says we shouldn’t put on so much- why do one cabbage when you can do two?

Wyll and I fill up our bucket like pros. Grace’s bucket is full. They set them aside and bring over new ones. We passed the test so we get to make kimchi for other people! Let’s finish the radio flyer of cabbage!

When we first walked into the house we briefly met Mr. No’s sister. She is the family cook, head chief, also a professor. As we begin to assemble kimchi for relatives who could not make it, this stemmed pork is placed in front of us. Mr. No’s mom say wait I’ll get you kimchi. The smaller fresh leaves are put next to the pork. She then rolls the pork in the leaf and hand feeds Wyll. He tries to bite it in half. No she sternly tells him in Korean that he has to eat the whole thing. In one bite. Grace laughs as she translates then Mr. No’s mom feeds her too. She was a little surprised. So, I’m ready, but my mouth is small. I have to look at the ceiling to keep all the food in my mouth. Wyll tells Grace about how I look like a chipmunk when I eat. We laugh and eat the best food in the world. Mr. No is very excited to give us the best makgeolli he could find. He tells us a story abut how he had to try every kind at the supermarket. I think he had a lot of fun doing that. Then Sam came by and gave me soda! Thank you, SAM! Makgeolli is a Korean unfiltered wine. It was good with the food, but on it’s own it reminds me of banana peels (this is between you and me).

Before our dish was finished we were brought out more food. Grace and I gorged. It was the first time I had a home cooked Korean meal. Grace kept talking about how expensive it would be in a restaurant. I just kept thinking so freaking good, I may have danced a little in my squatting position. When we finished our extra cabbages (these were packaged with a plain leaf on top so they would know it was made by beginners), we headed inside for a little clean up. I think all three of us had red paste on our pants and arms. We cleaned up in the bathroom. Grace told us about the importance of finding a good man in Korea. Mostly it surrounds his mother.

Does he participate in kimchi making?

Will I have to make kimchi?

These answers are like a double edge sword. You want a man who will make kimchi instead of watching soccer. (GOAL!) You want a mother-in-law who will work with you, not steam roll you.

Mr. No comes in. I point at some crazy looking pickled ginseng…? Wyll and Mr. No think I am pointing at a picture of Mr. No’s son. The wall behind the TV is covered in family photographs. There are several recent ones a few older ones, there is one of Mr. No in his 20’s during his time in the Korean Military. Every man has a mandatory 2 years in the Army. They do not look forward to it. There are two large family portraits the women are all wearing hanboks (the traditional Korean outfits). As Mr. No heads back outside his sister sets up a table and lays out more food for us, fish soup and ten different side dishes. Everything tasted so wonderful.She is an amazing chef. I raved so hard we were invited back for lunar new year!!!!!!!  There was an acorn tofu jello thing, dried menos, cold sesame spinach, pepper soy sprouts, raw oysters, rice and of course kimchi. I can’t remember everything….

December Snow

When Wyll and I first arrived in Korea, the test prep period had just ended. Abby and Grace were beginning the evals for the students. These last two weeks Wyll, Grace and I have been muddling through test prep and hoping that it all makes sense when we get to the other side- meaning that our students do well on tests we have little to no idea what will be on them. Yesterday we saw the first results of student testing, our youngest student received all A’s! YEAH!!!!!! Granted he is an excellent student, but his dad was very impressed so we had a pizza party. If all our students do that well I’m looking forward to eating a lot! 🙂

 

This week has also brought with it the snow! Some might even say a blizzard. And with the attention I received about dressing warmly there are a few Korean outfits I noticed that I really want to point out here. Some of our students (the older men) wear sandals with socks. I’m talking Nike flip flops with colorful blue and purple socks. This student accompanies us home from school every night. Meaning he has to walk in the same freezing cold as we do. I am not supporting his decision to be so fashion forward. I will continue to wear my three layers of long fleece underwear, multiple sweaters, socks, even my ski hat and scarf (which has given me the title of little matchstick girl). I have noticed the girls bring fleece blankets with them to class to cover their legs sometimes the blankets are worn around the waist like a skirt. Most of the time they are carried over the arm or in a backpack- short skirts are the envy of all.

Best Restaurant

Last weekend it was very cold. As much as we wanted to venture out and see more of the unfamiliar we mostly stayed indoors. We did eventually go out as we were too hungry to stay inside. We went out seeking food and calm refreshment. You would think that would be an easy thing to do Saturday at 4pm. It seems to me that Korea has a night owl culture. Y-Mart always seems to be open while coffee shops open at 11 and restaurants open at dinner 5 or 6.  Friday and Saturday nights are also referred to as fire nights. This is due to the mass consumption of Soju. Korea is also known as The Land of the Morning Calm, I often get the idea this nickname is from sleeping in.

Five days plus a week, Wyll and I walk the same path to work. Over the month and a half that we have been here we have watched a garden/farm in all stages. When we first arrived it was the number one thing that blew our minds. Then we witnessed it being planted. We have also seen all the diakon be harvested and more recently the cabbage- it is Kimchi month btw. There is also a restaurant that we want to eat at, but it is always closed or too late for us to dine. We had seen the restaurant family making their own kimchi over a few days. One of the sons speaks minimal English, I was so bummed that I didn’t have a camera on me. Two and two = our favorite garden/farm is attached to our favorite restaurant. How cool is that?

Unfortunately, they were closed. We still haven’t eaten at our favorite restaurant.

We walked down to Y-Mart. It was getting really cold so we thought we’d walk over to restaurant street. There are two main streets that bring us to town. One has all the restaurants on it and our director called it restaurant street so forever it shall be named. The other one we just call main street or direct street. Anyway, there is this massive log cabin it has a Gochang Top sign that reads “Best Restaurant”. We have been intrigued with this place for a long time. It looks like something tourists are really into.  (For those of you interested yesterday Wyll and I went to the BIG supermarket and got coffee in tea bags- so much better than instant! I’m enjoying it right now). Wyll went into check the menu out. I’m silly and waited outside.

When he okay-ed the menu he came out to get me. There are a few things we look for on a menu, pictures being the main and price- if I can’t eat it, I don’t want to pay too much for it. Although, I should probably get over it b/c I’ve been able to eat everything except some of the ‘fast food’ like spicy ramen, tapoki- a outrageously spicy noodle dish. We sat down and our waiter was looking over the menu with us. He didn’t speak English, but was very interested in our process for picking out food. We decided to get a family style short rib stew. It was labeled ‘best’. It was also pretty much the only thing on the menu. Wyll tried to order the biggest one 30,000 won. The waiter refused. They had a comical finger pointing war. At the end the waiter won, secretly. Wyll thought he had won. When we got the bill they had compromised. 25,000 won.

I think if he could speak English he would have said:

“Kind sir that portion is for 6-8 people; how will you and the lady eat all of it?”

After the waiter left, the hostess returned with a mountain of Banchan- side dishes. (Pictures below). There was pickled quail eggs, some kind of seasoned mushroom, cold greens, spicy pickled diakon, salty kimchi, spicy kimchi, soy marinated kimchi… Wyll loved the kimchi so much he asked for the banchan to-go. Our hostess got a brand new one for us. When the soup arrived they also put a camp stove on our table. The stew continues to cook while you are eating it. This is problematic for me b/c it smells so good I always burn my tongue. I say always b/c the three times I have eaten boiling soup I have gotten over excited and burned my tongue. But not this time! I knew better! I put everything in my bowl, I pulled the meat off the bone, I put some soup on my spoon, I waited, I cooled… I ate! It was delicious!

Note: There are also a few pictures of a soccer competition.