Saturday, January 27, 2007

Belated Pics of Christmas Decorations

I took these pictures of some of the Christmas decorations in the Jongno/Gwanghwamun area just after Christmas. Cheonggyecheon in the holiday season.Sorry about the blur. I blame the long exposure time needed in this light.

Christmas in Jongno

These pictures are a few weeks old, but I never got around to uploading them. Christmas decorations outside bars and restaurants in Jongno:

Sunday, January 21, 2007


Apparently there was a minor earthquake last night.

I missed it.

I should be more observant.

Taiwan plans

I'm planning to move to Taipei at the beginning of March. The reasons include a desire to get to know another Asian culture in depth, and a growing realization that seriously learning Mandarin would probably be a good thing and perhaps I should start sooner rather than later.

My Korean's not that great, but I don't want to lose what I've learned while I'm down there, so I am going to proceed under the ever-hopeful assumption that I'll be able to put a decent amount of effort into learning Mandarin, and also put enough time into maintaining my Korean that I won't forget everything. And also work at the same time. Without driving myself crazy.

Before I leave for Taiwan I am going to teach myself as much Korean hanja - Chinese characters - as I comfortably can. I figure this will help reinforce my Korean, teach me some high-level vocabulary, and also prep me for studying written Chinese in Taiwan. (In this respect it's lucky I'm going to Taiwan, not the People's Republic of China. Mainland China uses simplified characters that often look quite different from Korean hanja; Taiwan uses the same characters as Korea though they often use them in different ways.)

Right now my main textbook for learning hanja is Fred Lukoff's A First Reader in Korean Writing in Mixed Script. This is a terrible, terrible book for people who are just learning Chinese characters for the first time. Maybe an absolute beginner who happens to have a perfect visual memory can use Lukoff's book, but for most people the learning curve is probably too steep. Fortunately, I read a user-friendly guide to 500 hanja first, so I'm no longer an absolute beginner. Lukoff's book may teach difficult characters from the very beginning (in chapter 2 you learn the Koreanized Chinese characters for words such as "horizon" and "national boundary") and may be incredibly dull, but it is rather intense and it is precisely what I think I need.

I won't learn actual written Chinese until I get to Taiwan, but hopefully this will be helpful.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

개고기 - Dog Meat

Let's talk about the most infamous bit of traditional Korean cuisine.

I've eaten dog once in my life (that I know of), when I was invited out to a boshintang restaurant. Overall I didn't find the taste of dog meat to be all that remarkable at all (it tasted something like lamb); I found the pepper mixture served in a side dish to have a far more interesting flavor to it.

I don't know many people personally who have taken a strong moral stand against eating dog. Of course, if you regularly eat cow, pig, and lamb, it's really difficult to say that dogs (or horses or cats or kangaroos) should be considered off-limits for food without sounding like a chauvinistic cultural bully. (Maybe if you are a committed vegetarian you'd be able to make a more persuasive moral case.)

But that said, it gets a bit more complicated when you bring up the allegations that people who slaughter dogs for food are in the habit of beating and torturing them first, because that will make the meat taste better (or something). I have heard from sources I consider reliable that this is only an urban legend. And I have heard from other sources I consider reliable that it is really true. So I'm not sure what to believe.

A lot of Koreans I know say they hate the idea of eating dog and never want to try it themselves. That said, no Korean person I've ever met has ever expressed disapproval of other people eating dog meat.

And I can't say I disapprove of it either, even though I'm not likely to try it again. Not long after trying dog soup for the first (and so far only) time, I was exploring a neighborhood near Dongdaemun when I happened upon a dog store. Not a pet store - a dog store, selling live dogs. Who were sitting in cages outside, panting in the heat. No question about what their eventual fate would be.

I know it's an illogical, irrational reaction (did the pigs and cows who produced the beef and pork I eat have lives that were any more pleasant?) but I haven't even considered eating dog meat since then.

Beef sundubu

My latest Korean food addiction is sogogi sundubu, or 소고기순두부, or beef sundubu. Sundubu is a common lunchtime Korean food, consisting of boiling-hot soup with soft tofu, spices, vegetables, and sometimes egg. If there's any meat in regular sundubu, it's usually clam or other seafood.

Lately I've been patronizing a wonderful sundubu-specialty restaurant near Dongdaemun for lunch, and they offer kimchi sundubu, mushroom sundubu and beef sundubu in addition to the regular old sundubu available anywhere in Seoul. With beef sundubu they add ground beef to the soup instead of shellfish, and I can't explain why but it greatly improves it. It's slightly greasy but the taste is wonderful. It's somewhat like ma po do fu.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

눈이 온다

It's snowing. Hard. And I think I heard thunder.
The view from my window, 11:18 am.

Monday, January 01, 2007

More Mokpo pics

This is in a park on Yudalsan in Mokpo. That walkway is meant to be walked on barefoot. The stones stimulate the pressure points on your feet in a way that's beneficial. Unless you've never had your feet stimulated quite in that way, in which case it's just uncomfortable.
Squid out to dry.
The Old Man and the Sea Restaurant. I believe it's the same one that Lonely Planet mentions as the Hemingway Restaurant. Interesting evolution. (The sea is directly to the left here.)
Mermaid sculpture.
There are places where you can rent motorboats and waterskis - presumably more popular in the summer months.

목포 전망

Mokpo's a harbor city in Jeollanam-do.
Reading this, it seems I missed the part of the city most foreigners congregate. I never made it to Hadang. But wandering around the old downtown area was enough for one day.
Yudalsan dominates the old city area. It's a great place to climb for views of the city.