Friday, August 10, 2012

Goodbye, Austin Teacher

My last day at school was a couple days ago, which was bittersweet, to say the least. I was sad to say goodbye to my fellow teachers and students, who I have become very fond of over the past year. In addition, I am very excited to be on the brink of some amazing travels (to Hong Kong, Bali, Thailand, and India), as well as to be closing in on my final destination, after 15 months away: home. To commemorate my leaving, one of my fellow teachers had a couple of the classes draw/write goodbye-cards, some of which were too precious not to be shared:


Along the lines of Chincha?!, another must-check-out: #KikinitinKorea. Same idea as #whatshouldwecallme, but exclusively about the experience of foreigners in Korea. Hilarious, and uncannily accurate. In fact, Chincha?! published an interview with the maker of this site (A fellow, Californian, represent!).


I had to give a shout-out to this awesome site, Chincha?!. Any foreigners living in South Korea, thinking about living in South Korea, or just curious about why anyone would possibly be interested in moving to South Korea, should check it out.

Here's the About:
"Chincha is a magazine-style blog created, written, and curated by expats living in South Korea. We show what life is really like in Korea by bringing you current information about people, music, gigs, and events. We give a positive point of view - with a wry spin -  on the weird and wonderful things that happen..."

Just as an FYI, "chincha?!" is a Korean word that translates to something like "really?!", and  is used VERY frequently among Koreans. It's one of my favorites. So much that I'm going to have to make a conscious effort to cut it out of my vocabulary once I return to the US.

Thursday, August 9, 2012


A few weeks back I attended the  Boryeong Mud Festival, a.k.a Mudfest, which is held in an otherwise sleepy beach-town and basically involves coating your body in mud and frolicking on the beach, while drinking. Yes, it's as fun as it sounds.
According to the Korean Tourism website, Mudfest is the most popular international festival in Korea. "During the festival period, tourists flock to the area to experience the beneficial properties of the Boryeong mud, and alto to have lots of fun. Fully immersed in both the mud and the festival's great atmosphere, visitors enjoy mud wrestling, mud sliding and even swimming in the mud mega tub. Visitors feeling particularly energetic can try the marine mud-training course, whilst those looking for something more chilled can relax in the mud massage zone. In the evening, music and fireworks continue the party on the beach" (Official Site of Korean Tourism).

Some pictures of my friends and I at Mudfest:

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Peanut Butter Sushi in Seoul

One of the things that I was a little disappointed about when arriving to Korea is the lack of cheap, quality sushi. I know, I know, this is Korea, not Japan, two very different countries with very different culinary traditions. An abundance of cheap sushi must have been simply wishful thinking on my part.  It also just occurred to me that this is probably very typical, ignorant, American thinking. Woops.
Anyway, I haven’t eaten much sushi here. While there are sushi restaurants, they’re usually more expensive and less tasty than I’m used to eating in California. Sushi used to be one of my favorite foods to eat out. And, while Korean kimbap initially resembled sushi to me, and I do like it, it’s really very different. So, last night I went with a friend to this “American Sushi” restaurant in Gagnam, Seoul, called Raw. It was advertised on the Korean Tourism website, as well as described on a Seoul food website,
I was curious to see what Korea’s take on American sushi would be like. And, the blog claimed that this sushi restaurant had FORTY different kinds of California rolls. Being from California, I was obviously impressed, and also curios about how one could possible create forty variations on the California roll (imitation crab, cucumber, and avocado).
After some confusion over the directions (typical), my friend and I finally found the restaurant just a little bit off of the main street in Gagnam. I scanned the menu, and while I did see a couple different “California rolls,” I didn’t see forty. Maybe they realized that this was just plain excessive.
Most of the sushi I saw looked familiar; the caterpillar roll, volcano roll, various sashimi, etc. There were also some very strange, very “American” sounding rolls that I have definitely never heard of, and highly doubt that we would ever serve in America. For example, a couple contained nacho-cheese, and the “Charlie Brown” roll was topped with peanut butter and hot-sauce. I mean, what is more American than nacho cheese, peanut butter, and hot sauce?
We ordered the caterpillar roll, because there aren't many opportunities to eat avocado here, and the Charlie Brown roll, just so we could say we tried it. They were both good, even the Charlie Brown roll. The portion sizes were also very large. America, represent! Would I go back? Yes. Although, I’ve had much better in Japan Town, San Francisco. But, I’ll take what I can get. Moral of the story, living in Korea, one must learn to embrace the full spectrum of their country’s stereotypes, even if this involves eating peanut-butter sushi.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Namhae "Treasure" Island

A couple weekends back, I went with some friends to Namhae Island, also known as the “Treasure Island of Korea,” which is located about 5-hours away from Seoul. According to Official Site of Korean Tourism:
“A bridge that was constructed in 1973 now is connected to the mainland, which makes it no longer an island in the truest sense. This small yet beautiful island has picturesque sceneries harmoniously juxtaposing the mountains and the sea. The jagged 302-kilometer coastline reveals strange rock formations that create a fantastic view reminiscent of ancient Asian paintings."
We went with a group called Seoul Hiking Group, which is run by a good-humored Korean man named Warren. There are a few groups that offer trips to various spots in Korea. I’ve also gone with WINK (When IN Korea). I liked going with Seoul Hiking Group because it was a very active trip. At some points it even felt a bit like bootcamp. You’ll see why.
We got on the bus to Namhae late Friday night, after everyone had finished work. Five hours and next to no sleep later, we arrived at Geumsan Mountain, the tallest mountain on the island. The goal was to make it to the top by sunrise, but the busses left a little later than planned, in typical Korean fashion, so the sun was up by the time we reached the temple at the top, which was nonetheless extraordinarily beautiful.

mountain peaks

almost there

Geumsan Temple

view from the top

After the hike, we migrated to the beach for some R & R. We also needed to set up our tents. Most of the foreigners on our trip were staying in a hostel, but my friends and I had opted to stay in a 6-person tent on the beach. The Korean campers all seemed to have these extravagant multi-room tents with raised beds, patios, and grills. Ours was more like a collapsing teepee, but it did the trick.

Sangju Beach

not our tents

our tent

We hung out at the beach for a while, and ate some sausage sandwiches (ew), before taking a bus to another beach to go kayaking. We had a few kayak-options available; 1-person, 2-person, stand-up paddle-boards, and canoes. We rotated in and out of these various flotation devices while exploring Namhae’s beautiful coastline.
After three hours of hiking and two hours of kayaking in the hot sun on next to no sleep, we were all pretty worn out. We went to a restaurant for some much-deserved Korean barbecue and beer. Afterwards, we returned to the beach for a bonfire, where we lit sparklers and drank makkoli (Korean rice-wine).
The next day, after another breakfast of sausage sandwiches (still ew), we went on a bus-tour of Namhae. They took us to a beautiful cliff overlooking the ocean, and a garlic festival, where we sampled various garlic concoctions, including “black garlic” (a cooked, sweet, gelatinous version), and got our chi cleansed with incense cones.

the cliff

garlic statue

chi cleansing

must be some sort of incense cone

Then it was back to the beach to pack up our tents, and for some of us to take a much-needed nap on the sand. We left mid-day and I got home late Sunday night. Luckily, the next day was Buddha’s Birthday, so we didn’t have to work and could catch up on sleeping and showering. What a glorious weekend! What a treasure of an island indeed.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

In Search of Doctor Fish

Today Jackie and I wandered around Hongdae, a district in Seoul is known for Hongik University (the most famous school of Fine Arts and Design in the country), and it’s nightclubs. Hongdae has a Brooklyn-like feel, with intimately tucked away shops, and trees lining the many small side streets. The design is one-of-a-kind, free and artsy, yet intentional, with every detail carefully considered. Our original intent was to go to a place called “Doctor Fish,” which offers a spa-like treatment where fish eat the dead skin off you feet. Some friends of ours had gone and recommended the experience.
With our out-of-date guidebook in hand, we wandered around in search Doctor Fish. It was chilly and rainy, but we were determined to get our feet fishily refreshed. We knew the subway exit that it was near, that it was on the second floor of some building, and it’s name in Korean. There aren’t really street names in Korea, so this information is usually what you have to go off of. Thankfully, a friendly Korean woman saw us looking at a map and took about 30 minutes out of her day to help us find it.
I’ve realized this magic trick if you are lost in Korea (which I often am)…Instead of going up to someone to ask for help, since many people can’t or don’t want to speak English, just stand on a heavily populated street holding a map and looking puzzled. Someone will come up and ask to help with surprising frequency. I’m not sure if this is a result of Korean culture, which dictates hospitality to foreigners, or perhaps many people just want the chance to practice their English. Either way, it’s helped me out on numerous occasions.
The woman eventually discovered via her iPhone that Doctor Fish no longer existed, so we thanked her graciously and parted ways. Perhaps a fish got a little too hungry? Since we were already in Hongdae, we decided to explore the clothing boutiques and cafes, which are numerous, and overwhelmingly adorable. Some shots of Hongdae: