While Christianity has a significant presence in Korea, Buddhism also has a large following as well. On a typical weekend off from teaching in Baebang, I decided to seek out out local temple. After hiking into the hills above my town through rice and kimchi farms, I finally reached its hallowed grounds. When you are faced with a view like the one displayed above, how could you not build a shrine to your deity of choice?
Despite arriving at its doorstep on a weekend afternoon, all was quiet. Perfect for a spot of exploration and a rare moment of serenity in a nation as crowded as South Korea…
For those that can’t see through the glare on the can: My fighting time! Let’s be cafe time!
In countries where the first language isn’t English, the populace has often attempted to insert education of the world’s most spoken language into their curriculum, with varying results. Korea is one of those countries that has pushed hard to get their citizens educated in the use of this often confusing form of communication (2nd hardest in the world to learn after Mandarin Chinese), and for the most part, it has resulted in its economies’ rapid rise.
During my time in Korea, one of the things that interested me most was getting acquainted with this nation’s unique cuisine. Kimchi, Donkastsu, Kimbap … all had their turn in my mouth, with interesting results at minimum.
One thing that I had yet to try at the point in time when the events in this post occurred (June 2013) was Samgyeopsal, or Korean-style grilled pork belly. I preferred to call it a pet name, Mutant Korean Bacon™, much to the amusement of friends.
When you’re in a homogeneous place like South Korea, where less than 1% of the population are foreigners more or less like you, sometimes you gotta band together to avoid feeling overwhelmed sometimes.
Don’t get me wrong, cultural immersion is rad and all, but sometimes you crave the company of people that share your collective societal experiences and that speak your language. Cheonan, despite being a smaller city by Korea standards (600,000), has an expat community that is larger than normal, making for a lively community.
With my free time winding down to the end of yet another weekend, I wanted to do something with my time that was new and exciting, lest I feel that I wasted it. Time to explore is at a premium when you’re a hagwon teacher in South Korea, so you need to use the time that you aren’t teaching, lesson planning, cooking, cleaning, and sleeping to the best uses possible.
Throughout much of Korea, land is used to the maximum extent. There are 50 million people living in a country that is smaller than the State of Ohio (or the island of Newfoundland, for my Canadian readers).
These people need a place to live, food to eat, and places to work. Complicating things further is the fact that 70% of the land in South Korea is mountainous, severely limiting what can be built or grown there.
Parks as we know them in North America or Europe are very rare in South Korea for the reasons stated in the previous paragraph.
Standing out like a patch of North America in the middle of South Korea, Itaewon is the preeminent foreigner hub in Seoul, and by virtue of this, the biggest gathering place for expats in the entire country. Western-style bars, restaurants, and stores with appropriately sized clothing are all available in relative abundance, leading to frequent trips to this area by desperate teachers from the provinces. Also, many Koreans find it to be the best place to experience foreign cultures in the whole country, made all the more significant by the fact that this country is very homogeneous (Korea is 98% ethnic Korean), making it hard to connect with all things international outside of this area.
Steam escaping from pressure cookers make this mandu shop in Hongdae easy to find
Prior to arriving in Korea, I had heard many great things about the food, so I was eagerly awaiting my arrival in Seoul to wander through an infinite selection of Korea’s culinary offerings. A particular restaurant in Hongdae had my rapt attention, after being featured in a video on the K-Pop and culture blog, Eat Your Kimchi.
Truly, a sight for sore, hungover eyes: a pot of bubbling Kinchi Jjigae, with accompanying side dishes (banchan) about to will me out of my moribund state.
Drinking features heavily in Korean culture. There’s no escaping it, anywhere you go. Hofs/Pochas (Korean pubs) are on every corner. Bottles of expensive spirits are on the convenience store shelves next to the potato chips. On the way to school, one has to be careful, lest you step in Kimchi blossoms (that is, red hued vomit, made so by the famous Korean side dish).
Fuelling up on Don Katsu (breaded pork cutlet), smothered in a zesty garlic sauce, accompanied by all the usual banchan (side dishes), namely rice, tater tots (which I ate already, tee hee), a salad dish I can’t identify, plus some yellow radish and Kimchi…
Korea is a land of many unique foods. Kimchi stands chief among them, a fermented, spicy side dish of raw cabbage that many shy away from. Having indulged in it many times however, it is a taste that you grow to like in my opinion, and the spicy zing adds life to many meals without overwhelming them.