Friday, March 31, 2006

김치 우동

First: Yay! I got paid. I won't be able to buy a digital camera for another month or two, probably (I need to remit money home this month for various reasons) but now at least I have the option of buying things that aren't food. As a friend recently wrote at the end of an email to me, "P.S. Get a cell phone."

Also, I finally had kinchi udong for the first time, and it was a lot better than I expected. (Kimchi udong = udong with kimchi in it, basically.) Nothing particularly special was added, I think, but the broth was absolutely delicious. If only I knew exactly what those mysterious fishy parts were...

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Me and Nutrition

How goes my initial plan to eat as much Korean food as possible? Well, I went out for Indian with a friend on Sunday, and I've been eating somewhat too much 7-11 type snack food, but overall I've been doing pretty well.

I'm trying to conserve money until I get my first paycheck in 2-3 days. I've been eating one big meal around lunchtime and one smaller meal in the evening. Breakfast and dinner have been heavily influenced by the Paris Baguette next door to my building, which sells baked goods which I suspect may be full of preservatives and starchy stuff. But I am also eating many bananas and oranges -the oranges are the small kind that Koreans call 귤.

On days when I eat lunch by myself, it's usually one of the following:

Sundubu - tofu-like bean curd in a boiling broth, with veggies and an egg, served with a bowl of white rice and various vegetables.

Bibimbap - white rice, vegetables, spicy sauce and an egg, and sometimes meat, served in a bowl, with soup and veggies on the side. Dolsot bibimbap is the same, served in a very hot bowl that makes everything warm and toasty. Hei bibimbap (or hei dopbap) is bibimbap with raw fish as the meat.

Jaeyuk dopbap - fried pork in spicy sauce with lots of onions, with white rice and various vegetables.

Udong - Noodle soup that contains unidentifiable fish pieces. It's considered Japanese food so the vegetable side dishes are fewer in number.

Mandu - Steamed dumplings containing meat and kimchi, served with ingredients (soy sauce, vinegar, chili powder, and a weird salt substance that I like to believe is pure MSG) with which you can make your own dipping sauce. It's considered cheaper food than any of the above, so it comes with fewer side dishes.

These are not all the dishes available at the cheap little diners, but they represent the stuff I've grown to like the most, so these days I'm getting the bulk of my nutrition from them. And when you go out with a group of people, of course, a whole new world of Korean dining opens up...

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Train to Cheonan

Some countries spend lots of money on public transportation. The USA does not.

I just realized today that Line 1 of the Seoul Metro extends down to Cheonan.

In terms of distance, this is roughly equivalent to the Washington, DC Metro extending the Blue Line to Charlottesville. If any line of the Seoul Metro extended this far north, it would hit North Korea.

Now I'm tempted to take the train down there when I have a free day. Hopefully it won't be standing room only on the train. I hear there isn't much to do in Cheonan (it's a city of half a million people, but it's not a terribly exciting place). But round trip fare all the way down there and back is less than $5.


From Time Asia: Asia's Overscheduled Kids.

Working as an English teacher for little kids in a Korean hagwon for a year and a half, I was a part of the system. Some of my students, who would come in for an hour and a half, two or three days a week, told me they had two or three other hagwons besides ours; they would go for art classes, music classes, math classes, science classes, and so on. This was IN ADDITION to regular school.

One little girl in another teacher's class (she might have been 9 or 10 years old) claimed to sleep 4 hours a night. She seemed wide awake and happy enough. Maybe it didn't bother her.

The article talks about the possible liberalization of the educational system in various Asian countries; I haven't actually observed much loosening up from where I am. Meanwhile it seems like American society is moving in the same direction as Asian society, especially among the upper classes who can afford it. Every so often, especially while living in the DC area, I heard about how people with money sign their children up for a full schedule of extracurriculars, beginning when the kids are preschool age.

I honestly can't speculate on whether this is a good thing or not.


This story about Chirac walking out in an EU summit because the French speaker insisted on using English has gotten rather more media coverage than you'd expect in the Korean media.

I think it may be because it kinda hits home for many Koreans - Korean government and business leaders are trying to improve the English competence of the whole country (resources are devoted to teaching Japanese and Chinese here too, but they're just ordinary languages - English is something rather different, a new way of life for the country), and I think some Koreans feel on the defensive about their own language.

Korean doesn't have the history as an international language that French has, but it is indeed being inundated with English vocabulary. I read a little piece in a 4th grade school reader all about how Korean has lots of perfectly beautiful words, and Koreans shouldn't be letting the English language ovverrun their own mother tongue. If you can sound out words written in Hangul, it's easy to find advertisements here that are almost entirely composed of transliterated (but not translated) English slogans.

I am a native English speaker, and I am making money off of Korea's mania for English, and even I find that somewhat weird and creepy.

Of course, Chirac (who is said to be capable of speaking excellent English, though not in public) was not trying to give a shout of support to languages everywhere... but he seems to have struck a chord over here.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Korean 공부방?

Taking Korean lessons would be a very good thing for me. There's only so much one can learn from self-study and there are times when I feel like my own conversational difficulties are holding me back.

Hangul Kongbubang - or 한글 공부방, I guess - seems like a good solution for now. They meet every Saturday, "fees" are just 1,000 won per class (and are apparently optional) and everything is very informal. The intermediate class looks like a good fit for me. At some point in the future, I'm going to want to start shelling out the money for a real class at a university (I know people who have studied at Ewha and say good things about it), just to have the exposure to a more intensive experience. But I think I'll go to this place this Friday or next Friday just to see what they're about.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Modern Conveniences

The basement of my building contains:

The laundry/dry cleaners where my clothes are cleaned.

A small handful of restaurants.

A few small consulting offices of some sort.

An "Occult Store" with dark windows - I have no idea what THAT's about.

A coffee shop.

A small convenience store.

A store selling (or maybe repairing) washing machines.

A copy shop.

A golf driving range, so I can practice my golf swing without going out into the rain.

A PC cafe, which is promised to open this month but is still under construction. Once it's open, I guess there will be no reason to go outdoors except to work. And if some sort of telecommuting arrangement can be set up, then I theoretically would never have to go outside again.

Seoul Underground: Ramblings

The Seoul subway system continues to change and evolve - much more quickly than I would ever think possible. There are already 8 subway lines (10 if you count the Incheon and Bundang lines, 11 if you add the national railroad line to that - they're all integral parts of the system) and yet it all somehow runs more smoothly and with fewer problems than the Washington, DC subway. And Line 9 will become a reality in the near future, the Bundang line is going to be extended, and 2 additional Incheon lines are under construction. The plan to extend the DC Metro's Orange line out to Tyson's Corner seems like baby steps in comparison. This is what happens when you dump 22 million people into a small area and have them expect efficient, reliable public transportation.

Seoul subway maps no longer show the national railroad line as part of Line 1 - it makes Line 1 look somewhat less sprawling and enormous. And Gimpo Airport is now Gimpo International Airport on EVERY subway map - seems like a lot of expense just to buff up the airport's image. They put little stickers over every subway map in every subway train in the system - how many thousands of little stickers is that? (And they only updated the English translation - the Korean still simply says "김포 공항.") Gimpo Airport was Seoul's primary airport for a long time - and it truly was "Gimpo International Airport." Then in 2002, Incheon Airport finally opened for business, and Gimpo was reduced to primarily handling domestic routes. It's still an international airport - I believe there's a passenger route between Gimpo and Tokyo, for instance - but it still seems a bit trite for them to go to the trouble to rename it on all those maps NOW, when it is less international than it ever had been previously.

Some of the bigger Seoul subway stations are enormous multi-level underground structures, teeming with people most of the time during the day. Jongno 3-ga, Dongdaemun Undongjang, and Wangsimni stations can be wonderous to behold, if you're used to dinky little Washington, DC Metrorail stations. They're not pretty, but what they lack in looks they make up for in sheer underground square footage. I swear that from entering Jongno 3-ga station from one of the enterances on the Jongno main street, to actually boarding a Line 5 train, you have to walk at least 3/4 of a kilometer. Most of this is AFTER you go through the turnstiles. The distance from one end of Dongdaemun Undongjang station to the other is longer than the distance from Dongdaemun Undongjang to any of the 5 stations adjacent to it on the subway map.

All of the above stations are places where 3 lines intersect. Jonggak station only services Line 1, but its exits are spaced incredibly far apart. This is because they lead into Jonggak Underground Shopping center, which sprawls under much of Jongno district. It's not particularly pretty (and it sells mostly jewelry and fancy women's clothes) but there is a LOT there.

Occasionally I see a very old woman sitting the floor of Jongno 3-ga station, selling adorable little fluffy bunny rabbits. I honestly have no idea if those bunnies are intended to be pets or dinner.

Sunday, March 19, 2006


Around noon today I heard a low, rumbling sound being carried on the wind in downtown Seoul. I immediately guessed what it was. Walking south towards City Hall, the crowds grew thicker. Giant TVs mounted on buildings, that normally were used to show ads, were instead tuned to the baseball game against Japan, broadcast live from Anaheim.

I'm not a huge baseball fan, but the World Baseball Classic has absolutely dominated the front pages of the newspapers here. The excitement is probably giving me a preview of what the World Cup is going to be like in a few months. As I strained to see the TV over the heads of all the people standing in front of me, I was able to make out all the important data: Japan 2, Korea 0, top of the 7th.

Then I went to Starbucks to read and study. The place is next to empty - apart from me, it's just one guy slumped in a chair and the 2 employees. This particular Starbucks has a history of being very quiet on weekends - it's a place I like to go if I just want to nurse my coffee with a book in front of me - but it's almost unreal how quiet it was.

After a while the stream of people walking away from the giant TV screens began to pick up. They didn't seem too happy. I guessed the outcome of the game.

Now I am in a PC room full of young guys playing computer games. They're probably the demographic who cares the most about achieving national pride through sports, and they don't seem too depressed. I guess Korea will recover.


I do not have a digital camera yet... but for the time being here are some photo albums for your pleasure and enlightenment:

This guy's a serious photographer. His stuff is beautiful. - his photos are the Korea I know. Sometimes beautiful, sometimes ugly, sometimes bland, sometimes incredibly interesting.

한글 쓸기

이 곳에서 한글로 쓸 수 있습니다.

그러면 자주 쓸게요.


The other day I went to Yongsan Electronics Market in search of a power cord that will be suitable for my laptop. Reaching Yongsan subway station for the first time in nearly two years, I was astonished - the station, which I had previously described as having the appearence of being built from scrap metal and held together by chewing gum, has been completely renovated and remodeled. It is clean, modern, and beautiful. I wandered into an electronics mart that was entirely clean, orderly, and modern. I stumbled out, disoriented. Looking around, it seemed an E-Mart was also present in the building - an E-Mart is a combination American supermarket and large discount store. This was not the Yongsan I remembered. Had the Yongsan Electronics Market of 2 years before been swallowed up by the relentless march of urban renewal? I left the beautiful new Yongsan Station building and wandered the neighborhood, making a circle around the station.

On the verge of panic, I found that I had merely had the misfortune to exit the station the in the wrong direction. Yongsan Electronics Market was still there, spread across several large buildings and (weather permitting) all the spaces in between. In the building I most remembered, I found a little computer hardware shop selling power cords - the exact sort I needed, I believe. I will return, with my power adapter, to ensure an exact fit before I buy.

I must explore my neighborhood some more, rather than just the main road (Maporo). I've been walking around and there is really some nice urban architechture nearby - although it's true that Seoul in general sets an extremely low standard here. I'm impressed by houses made out of brick, and when houses must be made out of concrete, I'm impressed when they do not look like they were designed by an computer program with no imagination, even for a computer program. I think the fact Seoul is so hilly is rather aesthetically appealing.

There are some rather nice looking churches near my apartment. Of course "nice looking" is a relative term - I live in a city where many of the Christian churches are in unattractive multi-story buildings that advertise the presence of a church by lighting a big neon cross. There's a domed Eastern Orthodox church behind my apartment that's pretty, in a modernist concrete sort of way.

Drinks at the Lotte Hotel

A student took me and the class out for drinks this week. I was expecting some generic Korean beer hof. Where you drink cheap Korean beer and eat fried chicken or squid as side dishes. The kind of place that's common as rain in Jongno.

Nah. My student led us on foot to the banking center of Seoul, about a 10 minute's walk away, and into the lobby of Lotte Hotel, where we found an ultra-nice Irish pub of the sort you'd find in a really nice hotel in the U.S. It wasn't just that the place had billiards tables (not a common sight in Korean bars; you'd normally have to go to specialized pool halls that don't offer drinks). It was also that they offered $350 bottles of whisky. And - I hate to say it but this really made an impression on me - there were a LOT of white foreigners around, and many of them looked like high-powered businessmen in suits.

I had just one beer (I had to wake up at 5:30 the next morning!) and snacked on some of the bar food we were offered, but more than anything I took in the atmosphere. I can honestly say I have not been to a place like that in the 1 1/2 years I've spent in this country.

But honestly, I think if I had the choice, I'd rather return to a humble ordinary Korean hof. Where I could drink Cass beer and snack on octopus and chicken.

But I have to say, I never imagined that the guy who took us to this place was so well connected. I swear the greeter at the door knew him.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Yay! First post! I'll be filling this space mostly with Korea-related stuff.

It's going to be mostly text for now, although at some point I intend to get myself a digital camera.