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Monday, August 29, 2011

Everybody Was Kung Fu Fighting

One more birthday has passed and it was a good day. My coworkers presented me with a pink princess cake, friends came in town for my birthday dinner (which I was an hour late for... sorry folks who came out but I barely got to see...) and I danced the night away afterwards.

Cake #1 from work

Cake #2 from my friend Teddy


Birthday shot with the JSD girls!

Dancing at TILT

My birthday, however, was just another day that got me closer to seeing the most important person in my life: My mom! She'll arrive to me in Korea in 11 days (who's counting...) We've been waiting for this day since June 23rd, 2010!

Mom and I have decided to make a list of seven places in the world we want to visit together. Well, we've made a list of three places so far... China is #2. So we're heading to the land of Kung Fu, communism and a wall you can see from space! After waiting for three weeks on an answer, I finally cornered my boss and demanded a yes or no to my vacation time (even though our flights and private tour is already booked...) and the strange man looked at his calendar for about 30 seconds and said, "Okay." I've gotten three weeks of, "I'll tell you as soon as possible," and in less than a minute I get, "Okay." *rolls eyes*

Our private tour will include eight days in three cities: Beijing, Xian and Shanghai. We'll get a chance to see Pandas at the Beijing Zoo, climb the Great Wall, eat some duck and many other things. In Xian we'll also get to take a Chinese cooking lesson! 

After our adventure in China, mom is coming back to Korea with me for a week which will include a trip to the DMZ. 

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Foreigner Card

It's the best card to hold up your sleeve in Korea. Allow me to explain, but first, here's the situation that gave me the idea for this post.

I'm driving on my scooter and there's a red light. I notice there are two old Korean men in the intersection then one whistled and yelled at a van that drove through. Hmmm... Then my side gets the green light but no one moves. We wait and wait and wait. Obviously these guys are blocking traffic. Why? Who knows. They aren't in any type of uniform. They have a yellow velcro arm patch and a whistle - one of the men is even carrying his umbrella. I know I probably should have just waited but I had places to be! I took it as an opportune time to play my foreigner card and scooted right through the intersection. They blew their whistles and looked as a drove by and, "Oh it's a foreigner...." I didn't know better...

If you're ever in a situation where you don't understand something or do something wrong (and get yelled at by an ajumma or ajashi), just play your foreigner card. For example, at gimbap restaurants (Korean fast food of sorts. They sell varieties of gimbap - kind of like a Korean sushi roll with no fish - and other popular Korean dishes) you're typically given an order form where you mark what you want. I can't read Hangul (Korean language) therefore the sheet doesn't help me. I give my order verbally to the ajummas. The ajummas who work at the little place by my house love me so it's no big deal. Others find it annoying. Sorry, I'm a silly waygookin.

I asked around on Facebook for situations where my friends have used their foreigner cards. Anna said she uses hers with cops. Suddenly she doesn't even know how to say hello in Korean.

Anthony uses his whilst taking more than one free sample at stores. I guess we hope that Koreans will think, "Oh they must be able to take as many as they want in his country." Yep, that's right!

Another situation that happened to me last weekend.... I was on my way to the beach and stopped for some food. I was wearing my swimsuit (low cut) under a dress (also low cut). The ajumma at the restaurant took it upon herself to physically show me that my swimsuit should come together more in the front. I pretended to not understand and continue eating, thus playing my foreigner card.

If you ever have your card ready to throw and a Korean speaks English to you, no problem. "No hablo Ingles."

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Baking: Discovery or Disaster?

A good friend went back to Canada and I inherited a lot of her baking supplies (because I bake so much... NOT). Since I've had my oven I've pretty much stuck to toast for the most part. Here are some other things I've baked:

  • Stuffed pretzels. Some of them turned out decent, others, not so much...
  • Rosemary bread. The recipe said that if you want a hard crust on the outside and soft bread inside, you should spray water on the loaves while they're baking. I don't have a spray bottle so that consisted of me holding a cup of water and splashing the bread. Not the same... Oh and I made a huge mess in my kitchen.
Note all of the water drops all over my oven...

It wasn't terrible but not as good as Macaroni Grill.

  • Banana nut bread. FAIL. We (Lauren, Frances and me I think) had probably been drinking. I decided it would be a good idea to make banana nut bread to accompany our roasted chicken dinner. At the grocery store I bought the ingredients I thought I might need (bananas) but left out some important ingredients like baking powder or soda. Oops. I didn't feel like going back to the grocery store or spending who knows how long trying to look for what I need or trying to test my Konglish and ask someone to help me. I mean, how back could it be if you just left out the ingredients that make the bread rise? Answer: Kind of bad. Frances still claims it wasn't that bad but I know my friends threw out their doggy bags of Christmas fruit cake type banana nut bread. 
  • Pizza. All the toppings fell off when I tried to take it out. FAIL. 
So now, months later, I've put on my Betty Crocker apron again and attempted to make zucchini bread. I googled a recipe (and googled whether or not I had to peel the zucchini before I grated it). Luckily I had all the ingredients, including vanilla! Whether two teaspoons of vanilla and two tablespoons of vanilla are equal or not (I know they're not equal), I suppose my lucky taste testers will soon find out!

**UPDATE** My zucchini bread turned out surprisingly well, if I must say so myself. Still waiting for other brave souls to test it!

Monday, August 8, 2011

Bad start. Good ending.

As my third ride, I decided to ride my scooter to the bus terminal. I had a trip to Uljin (about an hour and a half away from Pohang) planned and I bought my scooter so I didn't have to rely on the bus. Even though I was a little afraid of riding it at a semi-busy traffic time, I had confidence in myself.

So I'm scooting, scooting, scooting... then it starts going slower, slower, slower. And then stops. In the middle of a busy road, where inconveniently there are no places to get up on the sidewalk. [Enter several obsceneties...]

I've only broken down on the side of the road one other time in my life and that was a horrible experience (long story short, it included a ride in the back of a cop car and three hours at the Gerald, Missouri police station with Officer Joe...). At least this time I knew where I was and had cell phone reception (and didn't cry).

I called a friend who had no idea how to help me (thinking back on it now, not sure why I called you, Jenn!) Then I called the guy who sold the scooter to me, who of course, was of no help as he didn't speak English. Eventually I got a call from a Korean who spoke English to translate the problem/solution between Buddy (scooter salesman) and me. I was told to leave my scooter on the sidewalk with the keys in the seat (Hopefully it wasn't stolen...) and take a taxi to where I was going. Remember, I was going to the bus terminal to catch my bus at 9:30.

I got in my friend's car at 9:23 assuming I'd miss the bus and I'd either catch the next one or leave the next morning. She drives (illegally) to where the buses depart from and tells me to run. I run. I say "Uljin" in Konglish to the first worker I see and I get waved to the bus in front of me. I tried to explain that I didn't buy a ticket yet. I get waved onto the bus... Okay. So I get my wallet out to pay the driver who also waves me to the back of the bus. Alright...

I'd never been to Uljin but my friend told me that the bus I was taking was an hour and a half ride, straight there. Nope. It made about 20 stops along the way. I had no idea when I was supposed to get off. I asked these middle school-looking boys if they spoke English. No. One of the boys mustered up enough courage to try to tell me that my stop was the last stop and it would arrive at, "Eleven hour, forty minute." I applauded his effort. And a little later a woman looks at me and says, "Uljin. No." (The middle school boy had informed everyone else on the bus that the silly waygookin didn't know where she was going and to help me get to Uljin.)

I made it, finally, hungry and with a headache. To much avail, my friend Angela had a lot of yummy leftovers in her fridge and fed me American food that night and the rest of the weekend. The blueberry pancakes Saturday and Sunday morning made my day, week, month and probably year!

The rest of the weekend was spent hanging out with good company at the beach, an outdoor jazz festival and more sun and beach! I was asleep before midnight every night but had so much relaxing fun doing practically nothing. You need those weekends sometimes.

I guess I was (abnormally) cheerful today during my first class (and may have broken out some show tunes). One student asked me, "Teacher. Why you sing? You happy?"

"Yes, Miki, I am happy."


"I had a good weekend."

And then William says, "Teacher. Stop the music," and covers his ears.

Playing cards on the beach because it was raining (note the umbrellas..) 
We were determined to enjoy the beach in spite of the not-so-great weather!

Friday, August 5, 2011


As my birthday is coming up in two weeks, I thought it was appropriate to buy myself a new present. (Truth be told, I've bought myself several birthday presents recently...)

I don't live in town, so it gets really expensive to take a taxi to meet friends or just go anywhere in general. I do take the bus but they aren't always the most reliable mode of transportation or quickest. So to solve my transportation issues, I bought a scooter. 

My beauty is close to new (has a about 500 km on it) and I got a really great deal that included a helmet and lock! Max speed is around 65 km/hr (about 43 mph) which is generally less than the speed limit but that's okay. North American friends, you probably know about my not-so-great driving history. I assure you, I'll be safe. A scooter is small so it's not as easy to bump or hit things. And there are no corn fields in Korea (props if you know this story...).

When I got on it to test drive I thought, "There's no way I can ride this thing," as I jerk forward and nearly fall off. "Slow. Slow," says the Korean man holding the back as if I'm riding a bicycle for the first time. After my first solo 100 meter ride I look back to see Koreans watching (I pictured them cheering me on but it probably didn't go exactly like that) a 5 year old riding without training wheels for the first time. 

I am proud to report that the road was actually much easier. On my way home later, I almost experienced running out of gas. Luckily, my scooter shut off just as I was pulling into the filling station. Let's hope there won't be a repeat of that... ever. I went for a ride around my little village this morning and it went quite well. I still need a lot of practice but I'll get there! I opted not to get the elbow and knee pads as it's sweltering outside right now but if you all could say a little prayer for me (everyday, please!) and the other Korean drivers on the road that would be great!

Tuesday, August 2, 2011


Korea is always filled with cultural experiences. After all the MudFest fun, my body felt quite rough. To soothe my aching muscles I decided to brave a Korean bath house and sauna I'd heard so much about. I was always very nervous and hesitant to go, mostly because of my modest, Western upbringing. What I really mean is I didn't want to walk around naked in front of a bunch of Koreans. The results were quite surprising.

I went with Su Jung for our weekly Tuesday outing. Korean bath houses are everywhere and there's a famous one quite close to my house, but luckily we went to one that was further. I probably would have been mortified if I'd run into one of my students with their mom...

We pull up to this building that sits on a cliff overlooking the East Sea. Beautiful. We go in and pay and get two towels and an "outfit." First we put our outside shoes in a little locker then walked up to the women's floor. We strip into our birthday suits and walk around for a while waiting to get our little hand scrubbers. There's nothing like walking around naked with a bunch of ajummas. Surprisingly I wasn't judged. My biggest fear was that I'd be gawked at because let's be honest, I don't exactly have an Asian appearance...

My scrubber is pink.

Scrubbers in hand, we journey into the bath area and wash off first. Then we make our way to the tubs.

This is a picture I found on Google but it closely resembles the one I was in, minus the men of course.

There were like five pools of water with different minerals and temperatures. The temperatures ranged from 60 degrees to about 100 degrees. So we just chilled in the water for a while, hopping pools when the water was too hot or cold. Then it was time to shower. Next, the sauna.

We put on our little outfit we were given and go to the co-ed sauna floor. There were five saunas with different minerals and temperatures again. My favorite room was the "Mud ceiling" one which was set at 130 degrees. It was nice and relaxing. I showed Su Jung some of my hot yoga moves but she wasn't having it. No hot yoga for her. 

Tubs once more and another shower and we were ready to leave. Going to a bath house/sauna is a regular thing for a lot of Koreans and I can definitely see why! It was such a relaxing, serene experience.