Friday, June 30, 2006

A link for hungry people

I want to add a link to ZenKimchi Korea Food Journal, an excellent, heavily illustrated blog devoted to Korean food. Makes me want to cook more seriously.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Post World Cup

Korea has been knocked out of the World Cup. A nationwide wave of depression has not come to pass.

I get the feeling a sizable percentage of the Korean fans staying up until 4am to cheer for their country's team are not huge soccer fans - and they're not even hyper-nationalistic Korea zealots that some of the more cynical expats here imagine Koreans to be. They're just interested in having a good time - and the World Cup is an excuse to let loose and party. Walking through Jongno last night at 10 o'clock, among the crowds of boisterous, happy people clad in red, it looked like maybe not one person in ten was over 30.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

The Standings Thus Far

On Sunday (Monday morning here) Korea played France to a 1-1 tie, a tie that Korea was much happier about than France was. I have not actually seen any World Cup games yet, but I am following things online so I can discuss Korea's situation intelligently.

Last night Togo played Switzerland, and all of Korea was (selfishly) hoping that Togo would emerge victorious. That's all because Korea, France, Togo, and Switzerland make up Group G, and out of those 4 countries 2 will go on to the next round. Togo was the weaker of the two teams, so if they had earned points by beating Switzerland they would not have threatened Korea's chances to advance as much. But Switzerland defeated Togo. Now Korea and Switzerland are at the top of Group G, with France lagging behind, and Togo already eliminated - though they still have to play France on Friday.

Everything will be decided on Friday (early Saturday morning here), when France plays Togo and Korea plays Switzerland. If Togo beats France despite their futile situation, then Korea advances to the next round, win or lose. If Togo ties France, then again Korea advances, win or lose.

But if France defeats Togo, then Korea will have to defeat Switzerland in order to advance. I think. If France beats Togo and Korea ties Switzerland, then Korea, France and Switzerland will be in a 3-way tie atop Group G, and (I think, I'm not sure) it will be cumulative margins of victory for each team that will decide who gets to go on to the next round.

It took Sudoku-like thinking on my part, looking at the standings, to figure that out. I think I'm right.

The two games will happen simultaneously - and at 4am Korea time. I plan to be asleep.

Friday, June 16, 2006

The World Cup Begins

It's World Cup time! I missed all the excitement when the World Cup was held here 4 years ago, but even though it's being held on the opposite side of the world this time the whole country is once again paying full attention to it. Living in America you tend to forget just how seriously half of the world takes soccer. Since two weeks ago Gwanghwamun intersection has been graced with a giant soccer ball ringed with TV screens and statues of a half dozen soccer stars. I'd almost been expecting Korea to be swept by deep depression if the national team failed to win any games. But most people I talk to have modest expectations for the Korean team, despite all the hype.

Korea played Togo on Tuesday, at 10:00pm local time. I'll be one person to admit that, despite being pretty good at that sort of thing, I don't think I could find Togo on a map of Africa. By evening on Tuesday, the whole Jongno and Gwanghwamun area downtown had filled with people, mostly young people, in red T-shirts and often wearing red devil's horns. The Red Devils. I'd thought about heading down to Gwanghwamun to check out the crowds after work (I got off at about 9:40), but I'd hurt my ankle earlier that day (it's better now) and decided instead to just head home. I took the bus rather than the subway because it would head right through the heart of Gwanghwamun; traffic slowed to a crawl there as the area had been comandeered by thousands and thousands of soccer fans in red, with a heavy police contingent keeping order, and the game televised the huge TV screens overlooking the intersection. Several energetic people were leading fans in chants of Dae Han Min Guk!, which is, basically, the Korean equivalent of U-S-A! U-S-A!

The scene at City Hall was apparently even more impressive.

I wasn't enough of a soccer fan to actively seek out a venue to watch the game, but I live in a small apartment and I could tell things were going well in the 2nd half when I heard my neighbors' cheering. The Korean fans did not go home unhappy; in fact, many of them apparently did not go home at all for some time. When I left my building just after 6:00 the next morning, two guys in red T-shirts and horns were stumbling in; when I reached a garbage-strewn Jongno there was still a sizable contingent of Red Devils.

The time difference will make Korea's next game interesting. Korea plays France on Monday morning at 4:00. Most Koreans who plan to watch the game (a sizable majority of the ones I've asked) are not getting up early on Monday - they're just not going to bed on Sunday night. If Korea wins, I wouldn't be too suprised if some people celebrated by getting smashing drunk at 7:00am on a Monday. Making the commute to work, whether by bus or by subway, will be very interesting. I am not optimistic about having full attendance in my 7:00 or 8:00 classes.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Cheonan Crossroads

Many of my Korean language readers have interesting sections that I want to try translating. Here's one I did a while ago. This story comes from Yonsei University's grade 4 Korean reader. Be kind, I'm new at this translation business. I'm struck by the traditional society evident here. The young women have no say, and while the young men do show some initiative, it's really the old men who decide everything.

From what I can tell, these days Andong and Cheonan are both somewhat dull mid-sized cities.

Cheonan Samgeori Iyagi (Tale of Cheonan Crossroads)

Mr. Kim lived in Andong, North Gyeongsang province, with his son Eul-dong and his older brother's son Kap-dong. He wanted both young men to marry. Eul-dong was a very handsome boy, and everywhere there was talk of finding a wife for him. But Kap-dong, without parents and not particularly handsome, found it difficult.

At last Eul-dong was betrothed to the daughter of Mr. Yi, a very rich official in the town of Cheonan, in Chungcheung province. Kap-dong came with him, en route to Seoul where he was to take the government examination, and Eul-dong's father accompanied the two young men. The three men traveled for three days before arriving in Cheonan, and as the sun went down they checked into an inn for the night.

When Kap-dong woke up the next day, Eul-dong was gone, with no trace remaining except for a letter on his bed. The letter read, "You are older, and I cannot marry before you. Please take my place. I will take your place at the examination." Shocked, Kap-dong showed the letter to his uncle in the next room. His plans in tatters, Kap-dong's uncle angrily returned to Andong.

At first Kap-dong did not know what to do. But at the same time, the son of a governor from Jeolla province was staying at the same inn. Kap-dong conferred with the man from Jeolla and made a request that they go on to the wedding. With the man from Jeolla preceding him, Kap-dong arrived at Mr. Yi's house pretending to be Eul-dong. He and Mr. Yi's daughter married. But the wedding night, Kap-dong could not bring himself to enter the bride's bedchamber, and instead got drunk with the man from Jeolla. The Jeolla governor's son finally passed out from drinking too much. Kap-dong fretted for a moment, then deposited the Jeolla man in the bride's bedchamber and returned to the inn.

The next morning, Mr. Yi's household was rocked by the scandal. The groom had vanished, and the man who had accompanied the groom had spent the night with the bride! When he became aware of the true situation, Mr. Yi had his daughter formally married to the son of the Jeolla governor. When the Jeolla governor came to hear of the distinguished family his son had married into, he was so pleased that he offered his own daughter to Kap-dong as a wife.

Eul-dong easily passed the state examination in Seoul. The test administrator was so impressed with Eul-dong's talent and handsome looks that he decided he wanted that man as his son-in-law. So Eul-dong married and lived in Seoul. In this way each of the three men married and lived happily thereafter.

One day ten years later, Kap-dong, Eul-dong, and the man from Jeolla gathered again in Cheonan. To remember the way in which the town of Cheonan had changed their lives, they each planted a willow tree in the direction of their cities of residence. Thus Kap-dong planted a willow on the road to Gyeongsang province, Eul-dong planted a willow on the road to Seoul, and the son of the Jeolla governor planted a willow on the road to Jeolla province. From then on Cheonan has been known as the crossroads to Seoul, Gyeongsang, and Jeolla, and has been called Cheonan Samgeori - Cheonan Crossroads.


Check out this picture of Haeundae on Tuesday. That's the beach I went to Monday afternoon. It wasn't half that crowded then - Monday was not a holiday for most people. I can only imagine what it will look like by August.


Busan has popcorn vending machines in the subway stations. I wish I tried the popcorn.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006


I am back from Busan. I kinda wish I'd taken a digital camera with me; it would have made these blog posts a lot more interesting. But then, there's something to be said for just living in the moment, without feeling the need to take pictures and decide what sights to commit to posterity. Kind of a free feeling.

I mentioned my hotel was somewhat overpriced (as was the coffee shop downstairs, even by Korean standards, as I found out Monday night), but I didn't mention the great view from my window. If I looked straight out from my window I could see the docked cargo ships and the cranes for loading and unloading cargo. I can't think of a more ideal view for Busan.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Busan: A Full Day

The morning began with a relaxed coffee & sugar pastry at a pastry shop across from Busan train station. Then I headed downtown.

Jagalchi Fish Market is supposed to be the largest seafood market in Korea - Lonely Planet claims you can even buy whale meat there. I did not see any whale meat (as far as I could tell) but I did see some real impressively large octopi, far bigger than the puny little specimens that inhabit the tanks in front of Seoul seafood restaurants.

Full disclosure time: I am not a big seafood fan. I'll eat practically anything that's dead if I have a reasonable expectation of not getting food poisoning. But it all tastes kind of the same to me, and I very rarely seek out seafood if I have other options (exception: I like hui dopbap, which is raw fish mixed with rice and vegetables in a bowl). So perhaps another person would get far more out of a visit to Jagalchi. For lunch I went to a little restaurant a few blocks inland from Jagalchi where I had sundubu with assorted banchan, and it was excellent.

This morning the seaside area was covered with impenetrable fog, which did not seem all that different from the polluted haze you see in Seoul. That ruled out any afternoon activites that involved going to some high point and looking out over the city. Lonely Planet declares the Buddhist temple of Beomeosa to be "perhaps the best sight" in the city. To get there I took the subway to the northern part of the city, and then a bus up a winding mountain road.

I dodged a bullet - just as I reached Beomeosa, about a hundred very loud schoolchildren were leaving. Nothing against children in small quantities, but they are not always conducive to the atmosphere of a Buddhist temple. Beomeosa is, as LP promised, very peaceful and quiet compared to the city of Busan.

After the temple I still had almost all afternoon, so against my initial plan I headed to Haeundae. Haeundae is the most famous beach in the entire country, and I have gotten used to pictures of it as a mass of people and parasols, too crowded seemingly for anyone to enjoy themselves. But apparently those pictures were all taken in the tourist season of July and August, and I arrived in early June, and although the beach was doing a healthy business it was not the crowded morass that I had expected. I walked across the beach for a long ways, and then went inland for seafood noodle soup. And it was very good. I've noticed a kind of inverse relationship between the quality of a Korean restaurant's decor and the quality of its food - although I've gotten some good meals from restaurants that were obviously trying very hard to look rustic.

I have one thing to add about the subway system in Busan. I realize that subway maps are under no obligation to reflect actual geographical relationships, but I wonder what the reason was for putting SOUTH at the top of most subway maps on Busan subway trains. Especially since all subway maps in the stations themselves have NORTH at the top. As I said, I am sure there is a very good reason.

Sunday, June 04, 2006


Although it's the country's second-largest city and the world's fourth-busiest container port, Busan has a cosmopolitan city-in-waiting feel manifest in its populace's gauche urban temperament and a quirky custom of banging into strangers in public places.

- Lonely Planet

With my school giving me both Monday and Tuesday as days off, I decided to take advantage and take the train down to Busan.

The KTX high-speed train is extremely comfortable and quick, and thus the ride itself is not all that interesting. Trains depart every 15 minutes on a Sunday afternoon, I noticed - and my train was full, more full than I expected.

Feeling tired after disembarking from the train with my backpack and bag, I intelligently checked in to the first hotel I saw off the plaza in front of the station, and thus ended up paying about twice as much for a room as I could have if I'd gone to a seedier place. Smart. My hotel is in Lonely Planet, of course - and it says it's "popular with female travelers." For some reason.

I immediately began exploring the hotel's immediate area on foot, growing ever colder and hungrier. For some reason, I'd figured that Busan, being south of Seoul, would consequently be warmer than Seoul. I was wrong. Maybe it's the sea climate? I finally sat down to eat in an ordinary looking restaurant, where I got what I honestly believe to be the BEST value for my money I have ever gotten in a Korean restaurant - for 4,000 won, I got a large bowl of dwaenjang jigae with six or seven LARGE dishes of various banchan. And the jigae had some serious punch to it.

Not far from the train station is Busan's odd little combination Chinatown-Russiatown. Mostly Chinese restaurants and Russian bars, coffee shops and knockoff goods stores, I also saw a Vietnamese store and some kind of African store (precise nationality not clear).

Tomorrow: Walk around downtown. Fish market. We'll see what else looks interesting.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

The Advance of Technology

First, I should amend my earlier post to say that Sirimavo Bandaranaike of Sri Lanka was a female Asian leader who was not the daughter of a big important man. She was, however, the widow of a big important man. So there is still a quasifeministic tradition for Park Geun-hye to potentially continue.

Now, on to technological progress. I have discovered something that may already exist in North America, but if it does I was unaware of it. In every convenience store here you can buy cups full of powdered instant coffee; just add hot water and you have cheap, low-quality coffee. I've discovered you can buy cups that contain, not low-quality instant coffee, but low-quality coffee grounds. And they come with little coffee filters, and you turn the sieve-like lid of the cup upside-down and put the filter in the lid and put the grounds in the filter and add hot water and you've got actual drip coffee! It's not all that good, of course, but it was still a concept that was totally new to me. Neat!

Also, this week I saw my first Segway here driven by an ordinary person. I'd seen them before, usually in heavily trafficked areas downtown as part of promotional campaigns, but never a privately-owned one.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Go look at Korea Life

Check out the Korea Life blog. I never met Shawn personally, but evidently he was very good at writing entertaining descriptions of totally ordinary things he photographed. Especially food. He photographed a lot of food.

He abandoned his blog when he went to China a while ago. I don't know anything about the personal spats that apparently led to all-out Internet warfare involving him and residents of another message board. I certainly don't know why he committed suicide a week ago.