Well, it’s been almost a year since I last posted to this blog. Quite a few interesting things have happened since then. I moved from Seoul, Republic of Korea to San Antonio, Texas, U.S.A. Let me tell you, there is quite a difference between the two places. I have also started a daily (or almost daily) video blog using my iPhone. It is called Slade’s 365 iPhone Video Project and you can find it on YouTube at http://www.youtube.com/sladewalters. Basically, I post a silly video every day using only the built in camera on my iPhone and the iPhone iMovie app. I’ve posted a few interesting videos IMHO, but lots of pretty dumb ones. When I look back over the past 234 video posts, I realize how much I’ve actually done in such a short time. Life is amazing. I can’t wait to look back at these videos in 20 or 30 years with my kids and grandkids. I’m sure there will be lots of clothing and haircut jokes. I think I’m going to look back over the videos I have posted so far and post some behind-the-scenes comments here, so that in the future I can remember what I was thinking about and doing in more detail. Speaking of the differences between Seoul and San Antonio, here are some photos I took in both places. Maybe you’ll see the contrast too.
One of the interesting things about Seoul is that there are many areas of town where vendors who sell similar types of items gather in close proximity. As an American, the idea of setting up shop right next door to fifty competitors seems counterintuitive, but it seems to work well for vendors here in Seoul. There is a large pet market in Seoul near the site of the city’s old east gate, Dongdaemun, where many different types of vendors set up shop. One of the most colorful and interesting to me is the Dongdaemun pet market area. In the space of about one city block there are 20 or more vendors selling pets of all kinds. They have many of the same kinds of fish, birds, dogs, cats and other small animals that you would find in any U.S. pet store. They also have pets that I haven’t often seen in the U.S. This weekend I saw chickens, roosters, pea fowl (peacocks and pea hens), hedgehogs, snapping turtles and the most rare and exotic pet of them all… chipmunks.
A few weeks ago our family tried a fairly new “Chinese” restaurant near where we live in the Ichon-dong neighborhood of Seoul. They have the best Japanese-style ramen I have found in Seoul so far.
Most American’s think of ramen as those freeze-dried instant noodles, but in Japan ramen is actually a great meal that is often made with freshly made noodles and a complex variety of different broths and other fresh ingredients. Ramen is a noodle soup that was supposedly originally imported to Japan from China, but I see it as very uniquely Japanese cuisine. Ramen is a very common meal all over Japan with an immense number of regional variations. Sapporo in Hokkaido, Japan is known for its tasty ramen. There is also a Ramen Museum in Yokohama.
Anyway, as I was saying; the restaurant, called Ruo China Dining, has the best Japanese style ramen I’ve found outside of Japan so far. They also have great Japanese-style gyoza (gyoza are little meat-and-vegetable-filled potsticker dumplings that are often also served with ramen at ramen shops in Japan). They even have amazing deep fried harumaki ( which literally translates to “spring roll” in Japanese). I’ve managed to get the family to this place at least once each week since we found it. It really reminds me of Japan.
I just wanted to share something I’ve learned to really like in Korea: 1/2 Calorie Maxim Instant Coffee. Basically, it is a little packet of instant coffee with creamer and sweetener with 25 calories per cup. It tastes pretty good. Coffee purists will hate this, but it works for me and it replaces my morning Chai Tea Latte from Starbucks, which was something like 300 calories.
I figured this would be a good place to post some interesting korenglish (korean+english) items that I have seen in Korea. This isn’t the best one I have ever seen, I just happened to snap a (bad quality) photo of it with my mobile phone while riding (not driving, riding) down the street recently.
The on-car advertisement reads, “ALL COMPUTER COME ON”. I wonder what that means? Is it a computer-based dating service for pushy people? Maybe it is a command for a voice activated system.
Case in point, I went to a place that serves a traditional Korean steamed/boiled chicken dish. The bowl is for the bones. The metal Korean chopsticks and long Korean spoon and scissors are the utensils.
The food was actually pretty good. It had a sauce that tasted like it had soy sauce and something sweet. The vegetables were potato, cucumber, carrot and onions. The only thing I didn’t like were the spicy red peppers that were cut up and mixed in. However, this is Korean food so those spicy red peppers are in pretty much everything.
Eating out in a foreign country when you don’t have good (or any) native language skills can be an adventure. In Seoul, Korea dining out as a foreigner is almost always an adventure and learning experience.
Outside of the really tourist-friendly areas of the city, it can be hard to pick a place to eat out in Seoul — and even harder to read the menu when you can’t really read Korean. Restaurants sometimes have pictures of each item, so you can point and smile. Many larger restaurants have English menus or their Korean menus have good English descriptions of the items. Some places have no pictures and no English, so we generally ask to see a menu before we go in. We briefly checked the menu of the place we ate last night in Yongsan-gu near the Seoul Electronics Market. Their menu looked like it had good English translations, so we went in.
This is the adventure part: we quickly realized that the English translations were a little bit off. Just enough to make it impossible to figure out what we would get (don’t get me wrong, I don’t expect people in Korea to speak English and I don’t expect them to cater to English speakers who won’t take the time to learn their language. I’m just explaining the difficulties of being an ignorant outsider). We ordered a few things. One was called “scorched rice with seafood.” I’ve eaten at many places in Seoul with very good chinese-style seafood fried rice. I took a leap and figured they picked a bad translation for the word “fried” and we would get seafood fried rice … nope. What came out was a strange soup with whole baby octopi, cut up cuttle fish, mussels, clams, whole shrimp (head and all) and strange, square, pressed rice patties at the bottom. I have come to really enjoy squid, octopus and cuttle fish after living in Japan and Korea for years, so the seafood options didn’t bother me, but I was simply amazed at how badly I misunderstood the menu.
We also ordered a “cheese egg roll” as an appetizer. I was assuming it would be something like string cheese wrapped in egg roll wrappers and deep fried. Kind of an asian-themed fried cheese. Boy was I wrong. What came out was a huge vegetable filled omelet with cheese inside, smothered in ketchup and mayonnaise. It actually didn’t taste too bad.
We also ordered smoked chicken. This was what we expected it to be. However, in Asia, they don’t generally cut poultry the way we do in the west. There aren’t really wings, thighs, legs and breasts. There are 10-12 small sections, bones and all, that result from forcibly hacking the bird apart with a cleaver. Unless you get the wing or leg, It is fairly difficult to guess exactly which part you are eating until you dig in. Everything tasted really good and it was totally worth the challenges of deciphering the menu.
Okay, I’m not actually going to be doing the reenacting but the subject of this post seemed boring otherwise. It’s gotcha journalism. Don’t hate the player.
Anyway, there is a big festival down in the southwestern part of the Republic of Korea called the 2009 Great Battle of Myeongryang Festival. Part of the festival includes a giant naval reenactment, a parade and more. It sounds like it might be fun.
Here’s what the promotional material says:
“Co-hosted by the province of Jeollanam-do and the counties of Haenam-
gun and Jindo-gun, the 2009 Great Battle of Myeongryang Festival (Oct 9-11) celebrates the miraculous triumph at the Battle of Myeongryang, when war hero Admiral Yi Sun-sin led 13 Korean ships to victory over an enemy Japanese fleet of 333 ships. The four-day festival, to be held from Oct. 8 to 11 in the area around the Myeongryang Strait (also known as the Uldol Strait), is highlighted by a spectacular recreation of the battle — the massive reenactment features about 100 boats owned by local fishermen, with a total crew of 3,000 men. While you’re in town, you can take in the wonders of the so-called Namdo region, which encompasses the far southwestern corner of the Korean Peninsula. Sites include the beautiful Buddhist temples of Daeheung-sa and Mihwang-sa and the scenic island of Jindo. Throw into the mix some of the finest food in Korea, and you’re set for an outstanding weekend. More Information: (061) 286-5251 or http://www.mrdc.kr. Getting There: Most of the festival activities take place along the Myeongryang Strait, near the Jindo Bridge. To get there from Seoul, take the KTX from Seoul’s Yongsan Station to Mokpo (travel time: 3hr 30min). There are shuttle buses to the venue from Mokpo Station.”