Saturday, April 24, 2010

Last Korean Post!

After spending some time at a friends home, I came home and was rummaging through a suitcase to find some cards friends had given me before I came to Korea. In the farewell card my former coworkers gave me someone had written "don't forget to update your blog" which got me to thinking it had been a while. I've been meaning to write but have just been unable to either because of writer's block or being busy, so I am making an effort to write a little update for you guys. With that said, I've decided to write just a little about my current status and let you in on "Everything Chris".

So as some of you may or may not know, I am leaving the Republic of Korea in some 3 weeks (change that to some 4 days, started writing this a couple weeks ago). My impending departure has brought on various feelings. First of all, I'm excited as I'm planning on taking some time off to travel a bit. So finishing contract equals new and more exciting travels. Hooray! Currently, Malaysia (Kuala Lumpur) and Sumatra are on the itinerary but the rest of the trip is still to be decided. Possible sites include Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia.

Coupled with the excitement travels, my excitement has been multiplied by the idea of moving towards something more aligned with what I want to be doing with my life. Don't get me wrong, I have had lots of great times here in Korea, lots of good memories, but at the end of the day, being a baby-sitter to Korean kids just doesn't seem like the career choice for me. For those that read my "what am I doing with my life" post in November, just to update, nothing concrete after Southeast Asia trip has been planned. I am still looking at universities overseas and also looking at possibilities in the stateside. I think if one were to put a gun to my head now and say pick and make some decisions, tyler durden style in "fight club", then I would be in some masters program in a spanish speaking country come autumn of 2010. With that said, my bank account just threw up in its mouth.

Sandwiched with the high is the sadness of leaving Korea. In the past 18 months or so, I've come to love lots of things about Korea. For one, I've met lots of great people, both Korean and foreigners, here. Furthermore, I've gotten accustomed to a lot of things Korean and it will definitely a bit reverse culture shock going wherever I go. Eating with forks again? No kimchi with my meals? Not being able to walk/ride a bus to everywhere? What am I to do? It saddens me even more to think of all the marvelous people I will be leaving as I go off to new things. I've met so many fine people in my stay here and I honestly can say that without them I may have been lying face down in a ditch somewhere. Or maybe, because of them I did end up lying face down in a ditch somewhere. Anyway you slice, all of my Ulsan people (if you're reading this and have spent time in Ulsan while I was here, this means you) thank you for the good times and memories.

Lastly, the preparation for my exit from Korea and the uncertainty that follows has brought on a load of stress that would trouble even an air traffic controller, or so I make it to seem. In true Chris fashion, I have left as much as possible to the last week just to make my life even more fun. Even this post was started 3 weeks ago and is now being finished days before I'm supposed to leave. I am that awesome! I will say that I have been trying to enjoy my last days with friends as much as possible. Ok, that's an excuse for me being lazy, you got me. Anyways, I'm now sitting in my half clean apartment (which means dirty for normal people) thinking how I am going to finish everything before I'm supposed to be leaving. One of these days I will learn.

Ok, so to sum up, I'm still as crazy as I ever was, still as unsure about things going forward, and still trying to maximize the fun quadrant. That is all for now, will catch up soon.....maybe...

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Doenjang Jjigae: running diary

No doubt about it, I really like Korean food. It is one thing I surely will miss when I get back to the states. I usually eat out because the food is so good and it's inexpensive, so why not eat out. I'm sure the Korean women here can do Korean food much better than me, so why try right? With that said, I won't be staying in Korea, or so I think, so what happens when I'm back in the states. Where will the Korean women be to make my favorite dishes? They won't be there, so I've decided to take it upon myself to do it myself.

My first attempt with Korean cuisine is going to be doenjang jjigae, or soybean paste stew. Think of it like a Korean version of Miso soup but with lots of goodness inside. It's very a common dish and is also commonly served with rice after eating barbecue. I chose doenjang jjigae because it's supposedly easy to make, although I wouldn't put it past me to mess it up. It's also pretty healthy, like a lot of Korean foods. One thing I like about it, and a lot of other foods here, is that it varies quite a bit from one restaurant to the other. Some places put shrimp in it, some clams, some both. I remember for my trip to Namhae with Carmen, they put clams, crab, shrimp, and all sorts of stuff in it.

With my first attempt at Doenjang jjigae, I thought it would be cool to do a running diary of the experience as I expect it to be hilarious and much calamity to ensue (cue the Benny Hill music now. As a matter of fact, I just started it up). Here it goes, my attempt at doenjang jjigae:

Ok, so some 3 months after Gyun Tak (see previous post) gave me the recipe for Doenjang Jjigae, I'm getting ready to make it. I went out to the store and most the supplies I needed, including red and green chili peppers, tofu, doenjang (soybean paste), one zucchini, and mushrooms. I held off on buying this small fish called myeol chi (similar to anchovies maybe) cause I wasn't sure which ones to buy. I consulted Gyun Tak this morning and he gave me some advice. One piece of advice he gave, remove the black stuff (aka fish poo) from the fish or it will taste a little strange. Awesome!

All right so it is now 10:35 and I'm in the process of de-pooping the fish. I must say that it has become a bit time consuming very fruitless. The fish are small and about half of the fish is shit. It's like I spend so much time and only end up with half the product. quite frustrating. If I only had the dexterity of a Korean old woman........

10:52: some 17 minutes have passed and I may have a few 3 fish in my ready pile from before. It's looking more and more likely that I will either scrap the fish and go with the 10 I have, or go with the soybean paste/fish poop stew. Probability of failure is at an all time high, along with the probability that I end up eating out or making a pb and j sandwich for dinner. Morale is low but not broken.

some 10 minutes or so just past, looking at 11:06 right now. I drifted here and there and then came back to the de-pooping station. With that said, I have now decided to move on and stick with the small amount. Maybe will throw in a dash of salt to flavor along with the fish. Onto the vegetables.

11:15: Onion and zucchini cut up, mushrooms washed and separated. Whenever I cut up onions, I often find myself eating some of the onion. Apart from my sister-in-law, Kate, I don't think I know of anyone else that does this. And in unrelated news, I think we find one of the reasons why I'm single......

11:36: Tofu is cut into reasonable pieces and really about to get things started. About tofu, I have to say this is my first time cooking with tofu, which isn't saying much considering the little i cook, but is cool none the less. I think I ate tofu once before I came to Korea and now I have it probably a couple of times of a week it. It was quite good, goes well with soups and is quite healthy. This message has been brought to you by the soy farmers association of America.

11:40: Ok ready to approach the fun stuff. Comments from here on out posts might be scarce because my ability to multitask, well, is nonexistent. Comments would be probably more abundant if I didn't have my facebook page up. Ah, sucking at life.....

11:52: So after a brief emergency scare there, I've got my only two burners going. One has got the stew, the other with a pot of rice. What was the emergency you ask? Well the pot I use for cooking the rice has some plastic handles so that it won't be incredibly hot to hold. Well the flames must have come up and lit the plastic part on fire. Nothing like that has ever happened to me before, but the time I decide to do a running diary......

11:59: everything is going ok, or so it smells. The jjigae (stew) smells like it should but looks like it could thicken up a bit. Hopefully the next few minutes of boiling will do the trick. that or maybe some tofu?

12:08: It's getting hot in here!!! No I don't like that stupid song by Nelly, it's crap, but have you ever been in a tiny, studio apartment with the gas stove on medium high- high for a good 10 minutes? It gets hot really quickly. Almost done.

12:16: Food has been transported to food vessels (aka bowl and smaller rice bowl) to be transported to mouth. First tastes, not too bad if I do say so myself. I must say the end product is a lot better than what the beginning may have indicated.

12:33: Bowl licked clean. Overall verdict, I don't think it came out too bad so that's a good note. Probably not the best I've had since being here, but I think Korean women that have years of experience of making this would be better than me, random white dude who has never made it before and rarely cooks. I hope to improve on it and then maybe make some changes to it (shrimp? clams? potatoes? bell peppers?)

Monday, February 15, 2010

Who needs a valentine when you've got food?

Don't be alarmed by the post's title, I didn't spend Valentine's Day (or VD) on the couch with cartons of Ben & Jerry's while watching countless cheesy Meg Ryan films (talking about you "Top Gun"). No, I decided to go and do something positive and soak in some culture, but let me back this up and give you the full run down.

See this weekend, the 14th specifically, is Seonal, or what we would call "Chinese New Years" or "Lunar New Years", in Korea. It, along with Chuseok (Chuseok=Harvest Festival, aka Korean Thanksgiving), are the biggest holidays in Korea and are days where everyone goes to their hometown to be with their family.

Usually I would try and take advantage of an extended break to go somewhere, but we were only given a three day weekend which dampened my traveling spirit. Couple that with the fact that I am currently operating on a single entry visa, which means I'd have to pay to get a multiple entry visa so I could leave Korea and enter again, and my sense of adventure was crushed. I will say though, my school decided to close for Tuesday (as opposed to just Monday) 3 days before the weekend, which was awesome. If I had known that maybe I would've looked into changing my visa and flying out to Thailand to meet up with my cousin, who is vacationing there right now. Well played my school! It's all good though cause everything worked out fine, but some heads up would be nice, that's all.

When I told my friend Gyun Tak that I was going to stay in Ulsan, he didn't hesitate a second to invite me to his family's home to spend Seolnal. His main selling point, good, traditional Korean food. Yeah, wasn't too hard of a decision for me. For a little history, I met Gyun Tak when I first moved here and we became friends through playing on the same soccer team. Gyun Tak has also been teaching me the Korean language and lots of things about Korean culture. I feel like I know a good amount about both (the language and culture),which has definitely helped my experience in Korea immensely, for which I am extremely thankful. Hooray for good people across the globe!

Back to Seolnal, because the Korean ceremony starts early in the morning, Gyun Tak thought it would be a good idea if I showed up for the midday ceremonies. It was probably for the best, not only for the being early in the morning, but also because it would've been in Korean (and possibly some Chinese, maybe?) and while I can speak some Korean, Koreans speak a lot of Korean, and speak it really fast. I most definitely would've been out of it in 10 seconds.

So I arrive around midday and enter his house only to feel like the trap has been sprung as I'm trying to take off my shoes while 8 sets of eyes are sizing me up. What did I get myself into?!?!? Gyun Tak starts introducing me to everyone (only his nuclear family which consists of him, younger brother, mom and dad, along with his grandma and aunt, uncle and 2 cousins). To give you an idea of what that was like, well my friend told me that when I speak Korean my voice is a lot more quiet and softer than it is in English, well my Korean at this point was probably not audible to even a dog's ears at this point. In all fairness, my timidness was matched by some of his family members (Grandma excluded). Case in point, his younger cousin had wanted to talk to me once he found out I was coming, only to freeze up when I was there.

Things were sorted out as the table was laid out and we got ready to eat. The table was set with plates with foods used for the ceremony, which included crab meat, several kinds of fish, some beef, tofu, not to forget the beef soup, vegetables, rice and kimchi. That there is some good eating. Oh and then I had to ask about the rice cake soup because I was told that rice cake soup is a traditional Seolnal food. I was then told that it's usually eaten in the morning but Gyun Tak's mom quickly heated some up for me. Oh me and my big mouth (works on multiple levels here).

Once we finish the main stuff, some fruit and rice cakes are brought out to snack on. With round one in the books, the table was removed so we could play yutnori, a traditional Korean game played on Seolnal. You have four sticks which you toss and depending on how they land, that's how many spots you can move your game piece. If you catch up to the other team, then their pieces have to go back to the start. First team to have all 4 pieces end up at the "homebase" is the winner. I thought it was kind of similar to "sorry" the board game. I must have had some beginner's luck because my side won some 3 or 4 times and never lost. Gyun Tak wasn't too happy to see me beat him, but all of the relatives seemed to enjoy the "waegookin" (foreigner) get into the game.

Gyun Tak must've been sore from the beating received in yutnori, so we decided to change it up and go play some pool. The four of us, Gyun Tak, his brother, younger cousin and I, went to a pool hall where my pool woes surely eased the pain of yutnori for Gyun Tak.

We then returned back to his house for some more snacks, which consisted of rice cakes and some more fruit. Shortly after, his cousins had to embark on their journey back to Seoul. To give you an idea of the importance of the holiday, their journey to Seoul, which is usually a 5 hour trip by car, had turned into an 8 hour trip because of all of the traffic. Yowsers!

The snacks were then replaced for round 2, which consisted of Mandu Guk, or dumpling soup (Mandu is dumpling and Guk is soup). It was really interesting because Gyun Tak's mother's family is originally from around Pyongyang in the north, but emigrated south because of the war, so she (Gyun Tak's mom) prepares the dumplings in the Pyongyang style. So although I was eating something I eat maybe once a week (dumplings), it was something totally different at the same time. Throw in some rice and kimchi, a second bowl of mandu soup, and you've got one stuffed piggy.

My day at the Nam household (Gyun Tak's surname) came to end shortly after round 2, as Gyun Tak and I went off to watch the Korea/Japan soccer game. A good day and a way to show that Valentine's Day doesn't have to be torture if you're single. Once again thanks to Gyun Tak and family for inviting their home up to me.

On a side note, I put up some pictures here for you to see my day. I was a complete div and forgot to take out the camera for round one of food but I got it out for yutnori, where we took some totally staged yutnori pics. One is with me and Gyun Tak's cousin, the other is with Gyun Tak and his cousin. Also, took a picture of round 2 bowl 1 of mandu guk, and then the remnants of bowl #1 after it's quick annihilation. Sae Hae Bok Man-ee Bah-duh say-yo (Happy New Year in Korean, well westernized)!!!!!