Thursday, May 20, 2010

A bit of randomness and a foody dream come true!

As I've meandered throughout my day I've been taking pics of stuff that just makes me say, "only in Korea". So here is a bit of randomness... than the real purpose of this blog...

Fizzy candy                                              Pine Bud Drink = Pine Sol soda

         Air Wash  AKA air freshener

What I spent the afternoon doing... cleaning out the incredibly disgusting window sills of our 3 windows. I quickly discovered I needed to use airway protection as a precautionary measure because I wasn't sure what I was messing with, literally it scared me. THANK-YOU Karen, the Asthma Network, and Allergy and Asthma Care of W. MI for stocking me with supplies!!!  Here is some evidence:

                                          Me-N-my N-95 ready for battle

This was the least dirty of the three.

Terrifying to say the least, this is the window directly next to your bed. EEEK!


For dinner we decided to try these delicious looking "ribs" from a semi-permanent street vendor. We walked past him for 2 nights debating if it was going to be good or not, if it would be too spicy or funky and than the words of a famous chef came to mind... "if it looks good try it" the words of Andrew Zimmern host of Bizzare Foods. Just after that thought my veins flooded with courage and it suddenly occured to me that this is what Anthony Bourdain, this is where he find the good stuff. So we did it. We sheepishly approached the cart and within seconds were overwhelmed with the smell of spit roasted pork... the man excited offered us a sample and from that bite on I'll never look back....

I kid you not, that was THE most delicious pork I've EVER had in my life!!!! I found it!!! I found THAT pork that Anthony always talks about, that mouth-watering, tender, succulent, tasty, fatty, crispy flavor trapping crust, rotisserie roasted in its own juices.... food heaven, I found it. Here in a small city in Korea in a street vendors cart a mere 75 feet from my very abode.

For just 10,000W (about $8.30) we got a chunk of succulent pork, probably about a solid pound of meat, sliced to perfection, chopsticks, packets of mustard and hot mustard, and a package of homemade Kimchee. Upon the request of my lovey I also made up a package of Pao de Quiejo (Brasilian cheese bread) and sauteed some fresh veggies to round out the meal. To say the least we happily stuffed ourselves to the brim than caught up on a few episodes of The Office, 30 Rock, and Parks and Rec. A perfect evening to say the least.

I have to admit also that since I've returned I realized just how much I missed good Korean food... including Kimchee! To take a piece of that pork layered with a piece of Kimchee, sheer perfection! The sweetness richness of the pork with the semi-crunchy, red-hot spicy, garlickiness (a foody word not found in Websters) of the Kimchee is just an incredible match. So Ben thought I took this whole pork thing a little too far but what he doesn't know is that I've been on the hunt for THAT pork, the kind that just pushes the boundaries of  amazing food  that you only find in random odd places. It was a personal sense of accomplishment and satisfaction, however superficial it sounds, it was a personal goal accomplished in such an unexpected way.

Sadly, I was so excited to inhale the pork perfection I failed to take any pictures... But trust me we'll soon have it again and I will count to 10 and slow myself down long enough to take a few pics to share.

Tomorrow is Buddha's birthday and we're headed to Gangneung and the beach, stay tuned for more pics and adventures!

Monday, May 17, 2010

RE:turn to Korea

Well... once again I find myself adjusting to Korea culture anew. I did have several advantages this time knowing what exactly I was getting into arriving in a different season is all together a new experience and a different perspective.

From the second the plane landed my heart began to race even more so this time because I knew what was waiting... the smells, the bus ride, my personal bubble being popped. Its all just assulting to the senses to say the least but this time SHOULD be easier.. right? or so I kept telling myself. Six weeks away and I find myself not half as excited to go through culture shock as I was the first time around. Six weeks is just enough time to re-adjust to old comforts as the not so distant memories of cold showers and crispy air-dryed clothing fade away.

So here I am, back in Korea. Lots has changed and yet other things remain. The colors and smells have changed. The winter was brown and bleak when I left. I have returned to a vibrancy I never knew existed. I hardly recognized our street which is now lined with lucious leafy green trees. The fields big and small have sprouted and the brown and death of winter has all but disappeared. Its just incredible. Even the people have changed. Everyone is much more cheery. Kids are happy to be outside even if it is just to walk between school, Taekwondo lessons, and English school. The girls play jump rope in the school yard behind our apartment. They sing, laugh, and dance to their favorite K-Pop (Korean pop music) songs.

Even the grocery store looks refreshed and renewed. They did a reset of almost ALL the merchandise ( thank-you Ben for providing me with the correct terminology here back to the Coke stock boy days). It was like day one trying to find my way around the store. The fresh produce has thankfully become much more plentiful but there is still a lot to figure out. 

Example... these yellow things were every where clearly being the latest seasonal fruit. They are sold by the 20lb box, basketful, or individually. Of course I had to pick one out and try it. Here's what they look like inside and out (the ones here all have the white stripes many other pics I found weren't:

I chopped one up and removed the skin w/ a peeler as its not as think a skin as a larger melon. It was an odd taste to say the least. I was desperately hoping for it to taste like a Honey dew or even a cantaloupe but alas it was very odd. Maybe it just my palate but it tasted like someone had dumped and exhorbitant amount of salt on a honey dew... juicy and crips as it was I just could not get past the sea salty hardly fruity flavor. I'll still try another one because maybe this one wasn't rip or something but I was quite disappointed with the flavor. I love the look of them though, they are small but so bright and cheery and fun size! 

Being back also made me realize how much I missed Korean food oddly enough. I didn't think I'd grown so fond of it but apparently I did. I did so much that I was craving a few things upon arrival including a nice fresh roll of Kimbap (a seaweed roll with rice, pickled radish, cucumber, carrot, egg, ham, and ferns)

 there are several varieties but I tend to stick with the original version. Next on the list was bibimbap (one of the best known Korean dishes)

 and finally Ddeokbokki, a dish I came to enjoy as a result of time spent at Mr. Lee's house. Mrs. Lee makes the best version I've had yet. I decided I wanted to make my own version today after some research. Here was my result:                                 The raw ingredients ( I decided last minute not to throw in the Enoki mushrooms).
Napa cabbage, garlic, Korean sweet potato, carrot, ground pork, and the rice 'cakes' are in the pink bowl on the left.

It didn't turn out as good as Mrs. Lee's but I altered the recipe a bit by adding a few more veggies and the ground pork to make it a little more substantial and for the extra flavor boost. The sauce just wasn't quite right either, I like how creamy and flavorfully spicy Mrs. Lee's is, mine was good but not like I'd hoped. More research and I'll give it another go another day. 

Another thing I learned I took for granted.... ice cubes. Silly as it is when you are all jazzed up ready to have a delightful iced beverage on a day when its 80 something degrees and there are no ice cubes to make it happen talk about disappointing. Here s a comparison:
                                          Korean ice cube tray.... these could hardly keep a Korean size drink chilled.

Amy's creative solution: Texas size silicone cupcake shaped ice cubes : )

So, thats about it for today.... 

Monday, May 3, 2010

A Trip To The Beach

Last night I awoke to a very troubling situation.  I think it was about 3:30 and I woke to this throbbing pain, but I was completely groggy and couldn't tell if someone stole my kidney or if I got punched in the stomach 7 times.  When I finally came around I instantly knew there was a lot on the line.  You see I have a streak going, a no throwing up streak.  It's been a really long time, 7 years approximately since the last time I experienced that sensation.  And I am convinced I never want to experience it again.  I laid in bed there for a moment, until the second wave came and this was not just pain.  It was like in Alien, only the Alien never popped out of my belly.  I can say that was the worst stomach bug I have ever endured, and I owe my blessed chicken tacos that honor.  Well you can take that off the menu for a while.  But as I sat there in a feverish sweat I quickly contemplated my plans for today, but thought I was in no mood for decisions, and I battled to catch some sleep.

When I woke up I felt a little better, but my stomach was still very very sore and on the verge of a cataclysmic eruption.  I was faced with a really tough choice.  The weather was suppose to be 75 degrees with blue skies, and I didn't want to miss this chance to go to the beach, but my stomach was threatening to ruin my fun.  I finally made a choice and took some Imodium just in case things got out of hand.  

I recently located a beach on the east coast, in Gangneung, that was accessible by train.  And whenever I get a really nice day I can think of no better place to spend it than on the beach.  That said, the train ride was 4 hours there and 4 hours back, and I wasn't exactly sure how I was going to get from the train station to the beach.  You might suggest taking a taxi, but the language barrier and being in a town I don't know at all made me leery.  Also, I kinda like to find it on my own, so I decided to just wing it.

The train was really pretty it ran through the mountains and than up the coast, so there was some beautiful scenery to be seen.  Unfortunately I didn't really think about taking any pictures until the later portion of the trip, because I figured they would be horrific in the train, but they turned out okay.

After I arrived at the station I was faced with a bit of a dilemma.  For some reason the train station can never get my debit card to work, and so I used all my cash buying my ticket.  Therefore, even if I wanted to take a taxi it wasn't an option until I found an ATM.  Which was fairly easy, but thats how it all started.  I would say I found an ATM 1/2 km into my hike to the beach, but than I was like, "maybe I should just walk," and so I did.  However, that short stroll to the beach turned into a different animal.  I just followed the signs on the road, but it turned out to be a lot longer than I thought it might take.  I saw this interesting solar powered fountain on the way, and I snapped a photo of the beach from a ways away, please don't be disheartened.

When I reached that line of pine trees I knew I had to be close to the ocean, and it turned out to be very close.  I followed this really neat path until I came to the edge of what I was hoping for.  It was beautiful I had never really seen pine trees integrated with a beach before, but it smelled amazing, and it worked very nicely.  The only thing that was separating me was a barbed wire fence, thank you North Korea.

But I knew I was close now, and the beach had to start where this cursed barbed wire fence ended.  Right when my Nanney sweat started to finally kick in, I spotted the end of the trail and than...

Finally, this was what I came 4 hours for, it was gorgeous and the sea was so calm it was very serene. The 4km (bout 2 1/2 miles) walk was worth it. The water was beautiful, it was so clear and quite.  And the salt water's smell was very refreshing.  I immediately tossed of my shoes and walked rather quickly (trying my best not to run, to save face) toward the water.  I stuck my toes in and realized rather quickly that there would be no swimming today.  While it was warm there was a strong wind blowing and it would have been death to swim in that water.  I would say it was just as cold as it was during our trip at Christmas.  Here's some of what I saw.

I had to finally return some love to my sweetie!

Than I realized how hungry and thirsty I was, because I had only eaten a few of these Korean cookies, that taste like the Koala Bears with chocolate in them.  I was trying my best to play it safe, because my stomach was restless and still rumbling.  So I went exploring and nearly lost my 7 year streak when I was reminded of my Christmas dinner.  Here are the death tanks, where you pick the innocent fish you wish to eat, and you eat it 5 minutes later, not cooked and with a texture you can barely swallow let alone stomach.   Amy you might want to turn away sweetie, this may bring back some bad memories of the fish flu.

After that traumatic experience, I saw this coffee house on the beach and decided it might be time for a smoothie, because there were no slurpees available, to my great displeasure.  So I walked into the coffee house and couldn't read the menu, but saw fruit.  So, like any good foreigner I pointed and said fruit, and received that what the heck are you talking about look.  However, I must have done something right because she responded with Kiwi, and I was shocked that it work and gladly accepted.


Next, I made my way to the main beach to see what it looked like, and I was greeted by a man on a horse.  But the beauty of it was that he was coming towards me like he was some serious hot stuff.  I guess thats a way to pick up the Korean ladies. If you got it you might as well flaunt it.  

The other beach had this really nice boardwalk, something I haven't really seen, but very classy.  Here are the other pictures I took of it.

Than I decided it was time to grab a Coke and head back to the less populated beach to do some thinking and praying and just turning my brain off.  I often have a hard time slowing down enough.  I just rush, rush, rush and sometimes its good to just sit and be still.  So thats exactly what I did.  In case you wondered what thats like I grabbed a picture and a video.

Oh and heres the barbed wire fence from up front and the sand on the beach.  Which was much more coarse than most beaches I have been to.

That's when something kinda quirky happened.  I was just sitting in the sand shooing sand flies away and sipping some Coke when a older Korean man and his wife approached me.  This is not too unusual sometimes they like to practice there English, and the longer Amys gone the more I find myself enjoying it (It's nice to talk to other human beings).  

So, we got talking and he introduced himself as James and his wife's name was Susan.  They spoke very good English and told me they lived in Vancouver, Canada for 11 years.  We talked about business, economics, health care, and other various things.  It was so nice though, because I hadn't had a face to face conversation like that in quite some time.  They were both very sweet and were shocked that I walked all the way from the train terminal and offered me a ride back.  So I walked back with them to there car and we drove over to the train station.  But unfortunately my train wasn't leaving at 7:00, but rather 10:10.  I was like oh my goodness what am I going to do.  But they were so kind and invited me back to there apartment and said we could grab some dinner.

Now to say I was nervous was an understatement.  I mean my stomach was on the verge of WW3 and I didn't need hot spicy food to make me miserable the whole way home.  But they insisted that these Potato Pancakes, that Gangneung was famous for, were safe.  So we went back to there apartment, which was beautiful because it overlooked the beach and a river that ran into it, and they got ready and we shared a cup of Starbucks.  Refreshing not to have to drink that over-processed chemically mutated Maxim coffee.  It is dirt cheap, but you just wonder what is in it.  

Finally, we headed to this Potato Pancake place and it was out in the country a little bit.  When we pulled up it reminded me of something the Food Network would find.  The pancakes were delicious and crispy, and just what my stomach needed.  We finished it off with some noodles and by the time I was done, I had eaten more than I had in weeks.

Than we had some time to kill so they took me sightseeing.  First, we went over this pedestrian bridge that crossed over where the ocean meets a river.  It was all lighted up and just beautiful.  Heres the best picture I got of the bridge, my camera is awful at night.

We than strolled along a nearby pier and the stars were shining so bright it was gorgeous.  And than finally drove over to this huge lake with a Pagoda in the middle, where people used to drink and write poetry.  But it was the company that was the real treat.  They were both so sweet and I had such a great time just talking with them and laughing.  Just before they dropped me off Susan said I was like her son.  I thought that was so sweet.  It's funny because earlier when I was exploring I was like, "I don't have a clue what I'm doing."  But than later on I met some kind and gracious friends and they showed me around.  

Today was so what my heart needed, as Amy's absence has begun to wear on me a bit.  Just thinking about today makes me so happy.  I'm so grateful for kind people, and a Father who engineers these things to pull me through.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Here I Go Again

Last weekend was so much fun, and so today I thought I would go looking for some more.  I have been looking on Google Earth, the new one thats like MapQuest on roids, and I found an area that looked like a second Urimji.  I kinda had an idea where it was, so I got up early, 12:00 (early for me), and headed to find this fabled land.  It turned out to be a lovely 65 degrees with sunny blue skies, so I knew only good things would follow.

After last week's flower bonanza I thought it would be best to not take any more pictures of any flowers.  Also, most of the flowers have already turned to leaves.   However, this turned out to be impossible, because the flowers just made it too easy!

While browsing Google Earth I found a short cut to the second Urimji through the original Urimji, so I started there.  And this is where I first broke my no flower policy.  I know, I am quite resilient.  I also, got the waterfalls involved as well, and a quick video because a still shot of a waterfall is quite boring.

Now I was a little bit nervous, because I used Google Earth once, and while it is fun, and quickly distracting, sometimes my memory isn't as keen.  Unlike MapQuest you can't print it off, so you go on raw memory.  And  due to an excessive use of Antiperspirant deodorant, loaded with Aluminum, my memory can be a little sketchy at times.  However, I was feeling particularly brave and so I winged it.

On the way to the second Urimji, the path followed a quiet little river.  The man-made walls of the river were built to an excessive height, I think due to monsoon season, so it took away from the natural feel of things.  But man made can be quite beautiful sometimes.

Than out of nowhere, I saw it under a bridge.  Something that in a strange way made me feel at home.  In my travels in Korea I had not seen any of this.  Honestly, I had quite a chuckle when I saw it.  Please enjoy this graffiti, it might be the only of its kind in all of Korea.

Also, I felt guilty for taking any pictures of dandelions, because I know that they are nasty little things.  I didn't want to gratify them in any way, but the sheer amount of them demanded a picture or two.  You think your lawn has it bad!

Along the way, I came across this cute little park.  It had some crazy trees, and some really really pretty flowers.  It was right along the river, and I could imagine it would be great for a picnic.  Also, I finally got a bumblebee in one of my pictures.  I can't describe how many are in the trees, but now you know that they exist, and in all likelihood plotting my demise as I type.

After all this excitement, I still had not spotted the second Urimji.  I began to wonder in my heart if Google Earth had failed me again.  Was this just mythical, or did the second Urimji actually physically exist.  In the very back of the park, I spotted a massive hill, and than shortly after that a massive flight of stairs that looked like they might lead to Heaven.  They looked endless and I didn't take a picture, because it might invoke tremendous terror on the kind and gracious readers of this blog.  However, I battled up those endless stairs and climb the last two to this.

The fabled, and once thought to be mythical, second Urimji stood there in all of its brillance.  It was very beautiful, and minus the crowds, a true hidden gem.  I sat there for a second, mainly to catch my breath, and took in the views.  I also, got a picture of Jecheon from afar and another picture of the second Urimji from a higher position.

You might ask how I got so high, and that is the twist in this story.  You see every since Amy and I failed to summit during our epic climb in the Seobaksan Mountains, I have harbored this summit fever.  I felt so defeated, and if Amy wasn't there I would have lost my life trying.  So, I also was looking up smaller mountains to climb around the second Urimji.

I was trying to follow a stream up a nearby mountain.  I guess I shouldn't really say mountain, maybe hill, but it adds to the story, sorry writer's liberty.  So, while I was looking around I saw this trail off in the trees.  Not really marked off real well, which made me nervous, but still a trail.  It was just calling my name, like we had been separated at birth.  So with no water, and no idea how high I would have to climb, I accepted its invitation.

Lucky for me it turned out to be fairly mild, but by the end I was huffing and puffing and sweating like a Nanney.  It amazes me, because I was sporting shorts and a t-shirt and the Koreans had pants and jackets and didn't sweat at all.  They must think I am some kind of monster, oh well.  Anyways here are some pictures of my journey up this mountain.

Make no mistake either, I thought I was about to summit three separate times.  The mountain was tricking me, and I think it was having fun doing it.   Each time I thought, "that wasn't so bad," but by the last time I wasn't thinking only sweating.  Near the summit, again I know this is a ridiculous word to use but please just humor me, it was quite intense, the terrain was really steep.  But just when I thought I couldn't go any more, or actually 15 minutes after I thought that, I saw the top.  I climbed with earnest and summited.  To be honest it was way to gratifying.  The climb was mildly difficult, but I saw a sign that said it was only 1km.  My pride balloon quickly deflated.  Here are some pictures of what I saw at the summit, and even a picture of me so you can see my delight.

This is Semyung University and its soccer fields.  They don't use grass, I don't know why, it is a little bizarre.

Here is Jecheon, can you see my apartment?  Don't worry I can't either.

This is a picture of the original Urimji.

Though I didn't want to leave the mountaintop, the flies were numerous, and so I thought it was time to head down.  But not before I did some pull ups, 7 once I was done with that bar.

On my descent I was quickly reminded that going down can be worse than going up.  The forest floor was real slick and I was holding my camera and sweatshirt.  I eventually realized my need for aid, and grabbed a stick to balance myself.  Just before I enlisted the help of my faithful stick though I saw the funniest thing.  A wild animal, and you have to remember that I have seen 0 squirrels and 3 bunnies since I have been in Korea, and that is all.  So I was really excited.  It turned out to be a mix between a squirrel and a bunny, my reasoning for this is due to the lack of wildlife the squirrels and the bunnies had no choice.  Don't worry I got a video.

There were a few scary moments, and some how I ended up on a different trail that took me back to the park, but by the end of my descent I was jogging just like the Koreans.  Honestly, it is so much easier to run down the mountain once the terrain becomes a little more forgiving.  I just used my legs and let gravity do the work.  I felt proud, like a mountain man, now I see the draw to this.  Here is a picture of a flower I took on the way down.  Also, a picture of  a tomb.  These are scattered all over the mountains, and yes it is okay to farm right next to them.

Finally, it was time to head back home.  Along the way I just wanted to show the magnitude of the dandelions so I shot a quick video, and some of the trees were so beautiful I thought that I might amend my no flowers policy a few more times.  Also, I found a coffee house that roasted its own coffee, and it was worthy of some pictures.

I ended my day with a trip to E-mart where I grabbed some essentials.  Barbeque sauce, M & M's (a big bag), a basketball (I found a court nearby), and something else but it must remain a secret.  Than I went to go see Iron Man 2, which was just delightful.  And now I'm making tacos and so I must go.  Though tomorrow I have something planned that just might trump everything so far.

To be continued...