Tag Archives: East Asia

Making A Pilgrimage To The Baebang Buddhist Temple

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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?

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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…

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Unlike more elaborate inner sanctums that one would find in halls of worship in places like Seoul, Beijing or Bangkok, Baebang has kept things simple, with a small idol of the lord Buddha accompanied by offerings of abundance and sublime style elements.

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One thing I wasn’t able to figure out during my time in this country was the purpose behind altars built in the honor of seemingly prominent Koreans. Not sure who this guy was, but I’m sure he was integral to the building up of this nation, or at least this community.

Ever visit a non-descript temple, church, or mosque that captured your heart?  Let us know below!

Attack of the Engrish: South Korea Edition!

Optimized-IMG_0474For 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.

Of course, a culture with a different way of relating to self-expression is bound to come with a rather unique style of using the English language.  While this may include mistakes in grammar, most often, their use of metaphors and the like end up with light-hearted and humorous results, as shown above. Let’s go through a few more that I stumbled across during my 3 1/2 month sojourn in South Korea…!

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Every time I went to the PC Bang (gaming and internet cafe) next door to my apartment (due to my lack of stable wi-fi at my place), I’d buy one of these guys.  I certainly enjoyed my fruitful days, most likely because they would have quickly become my last, as these cafes are filled with cigarette smoke (yes, smoking indoors in many parts of Korea is legal)!

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Grammatically correct, but this phrase unfortunately has a negative connotation … so is it good.  SPOILER ALERT: it is!  Find it in the entertainment district of Cheonan (south of the Shinseggae department store in Shinbudong) and be sure to order one of their thin crust pizzas!

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Apparently this cafe is a meeting place for cannibals … I shuffled by rather quickly 😛 (just past this place in Buldong is a really awesome Mexican place called Cantina … check it out if you’re living here!)

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Coffee and pizza … such a killer combination, but I think I’ll stick to beer or Coca-Cola as my accompanying drink of choice, ok? 😛

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Ohhhh myyyyy …. I got nothing guys…!

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Bloody right I am … let’s get going! 🙂

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Found this on the subway. Note to self: avoid taking the train from 6 til 10 am/pm, lest I end up in the midst of a blood-soaked frenzy of Koreans taking their frustrations out in a homicidal fashion.  Mmmm, murder! 😛

What’s the funniest Engrish you’ve encountered on an overseas journey?  Tell us in the comments below!

Experiencing An Authentic Korean BBQ

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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.

As the summer began to get ever hotter, Sonya, who was one of my co-teachers, invited me to a family BBQ that would involve this meaty treat.  Needless to say, I simply couldn’t turn down an opportunity to experience an authentic Korean BBQ in a rustic setting…

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It wasn’t quite the idyllic park that I had had originally envisioned in my mind filled with Western memes and stereotypes, but the soju, beer (as shown in the cover photo) and the meat roasting atop the grill was very much what I was yearning for…

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The finished product, in its roasting, dripping state would not last long upon this grill.  It quickly found its way to the preparation table …

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… where it got mixed with a variety of ingredients, after which it was wrapped in a lettuce leaf and consumed in a marriage between vegetable and protein that any self-respecting paleo dieter would just adore!

Have you ever tried Samgyeopsal?  Did you love it or hate it? Let me know below!

Photo: Waegook Comedy Night In Cheonan, South Korea

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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.

One thing that went on here during my time in Cheonan was a comedy night.  Apparently, if you are crazy enough to drop everything and move to a foreign country completely different from your own, it also engenders a wicked sense of humor within you!

Despite the thin pool to draw from, most of the guys you see above are from the area (a few parachuted in from Seoul), and did a bang up job bringing the house down with guffaws, snorts, and all-out barrages of belly laughter.

It was certainly one of my most memorable nights in Cheonan, as I also went bar crawling with most of these gents after the show (many bars stay open until the sun rises in Korea on the weekends!).

Live(d) in Korea? If so, how is (was) the expat social scene in your city/town?

A Late Spring Outing To Hoseo University In Asan District, South Korea

Cool street art in Baebang Korea

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.

As such, I decided to explore Hoseo, a university town at the end of a dead end road in a valley just south of my town, Baebang, as some colleagues of mine had said it was quite beautiful down that way.  To get there, a bus needed to be taken, which I hadn’t done in Korea yet, so I was a little bit intimidated, but not deterred 😛

Cool street art in Baebang Korea

To get to the bus stop I needed to wait at, though, I had to walk for about 10-15 minutes through my community, which was looking rather fine on this late spring day, as you can see from the murals in the pictures above.

Hoseo University, South Korea

After attempting to mime a conversation with a Korean ajumma (old woman) for about ten minutes, I was finally on the bus, and after getting scolded by the bus driver for unwittingly shortchanging him, I was at the end of the line, at Hoseo University.  Some sort of ceremony, was ongoing that day, maybe graduation day…?  The crowd seemed to be a bit thin for such a momentous occasion, though.

Grape Coconut drink in Korea

In search of some refreshment on this baking hot day, I opted to forego my usual Coke and get a drink that was truly Korean.  Have you ever had a grape coconut drink before?  Neither had I, but as weird as it was, I can happily report that it was quite enjoyable, and it quenched my thirst to boot!

Building at Hoseo University in South Korea

After wandering around the grounds of the university for awhile, searching for mountain trailheads, and generally trying to get a feel for Korean campus life, I headed back through the townsite to see what was on offer for the kids there.  As per most Korean entertainment districts, there were many restaurants, hofs (Korean pubs), and games rooms.  However, it was soon time to seek out the bus again, so I could return to town to begin my preparations again for the coming week (I so don’t miss Sunday evenings now that I’m working for myself now…!)

Farmer's field, Asan District, Korea

As I have mentioned before, no arable or buildable land is wasted in Korea.  There are always growing something on land that isn’t built upon, in a feverish and admirable attempt to be as food secure as possible (something that we in the West could learn from). On this plot that I happened upon on my way to the bus stop, we witness the starting point of the Korean obsession with kimchi, as rows of cabbage extend out almost as far as the eye can see.

Traffic safety mirror selfie, Baebang Korea

Overall, it was a rewarding day.  Even if you don’t know why exactly you’re going somewhere, exploring somewhere you haven’t been is ultimately rewarding in itself.  After all, it beats just randomly surfing the internet on a gorgeous Spring afternoon, with an ever-growing dread for the coming work week building with every passing second towards bedtime!

Ever explored an area for no reason, except for the fact that it was there? Tell us all about it below!

Photo: A Park … In Korea?? With GRASS!?!

Park in Cheonan Korea

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.

This makes the green space shown above that much more striking, as it contains an abundance of the parkland we take for granted back home.  Of course, this is South Korea, so signs of urbanity are never far behind.

The towers in the background is the new, dynamic Korea showing its much prettier face, a breath of fresh air from the commie block style apartments that litter just about every town and city in this country.

Cheonan is a rapidly growing area 1 and 1/2 hours drive south of Seoul, so the relatively underdeveloped land here made for an interesting experiment in cutting-edge architectural design, paired with green principles.

Not only is there a spacious park with easy walking distance of this mixed use tower, there are wind turbines and sports facilities on the other side of the hill, making this place the leading edge of a healthier way of life for people in Cheonan, and hopefully in the long run, for all people in South Korea.

In Motion: A Rainy Night In Itaewon, Seoul, Korea

Itaewon Seoul Korea

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.

Below, I make my first foray into this vibrant district, on a moody and rainy night in Seoul

Have you ever been to Itaewon?  Have a favourite bar/restaurant/shop you frequent there?  Let us know about it in the comments!

Instant Korean Foodgasm: A Mandu Feast In Hongdae, Seoul, Korea

The perfect place for a Mandu Feast In Hongdae, a hip neighborhood in SeoulSteam 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.

Map to super secret Mandu shop

The restaurant can be found by taking line 2 of the Seoul Subway system to Hongik University Station.  Leave the station through exit 9, and after making a hard left, walk on the street you emerge at for about 200 metres until you reach the end of that laneway.  Turn left again, and continue past the first roundabout you encounter, and keep going until to reach the second roundabout.  Turn right on to Wasuwan-ro 29 gil, and stick to the right side of the street until you see steam billowing into the air from one of the shops.  This is the restaurant in question, my friends!

Mandu in Seoul Korea

After arriving, I promptly ordered a platter of modeum mandu (combination plate of Korean dumplings), which came with a whole assortment of mandus, which are ably described in a video by Simon and Martina of Eat Your Kimchi (I had attempted to do my own video, but I botched it badly … leave it to the pros, I guess 😛 ) in the video embedded below!

I will say that they were every bit as flavorful and enrapturing as I had hoped they would be.  The fried mandus were especially satisfying, with the ball dumplings and steamed ones following closely behind in the pecking order.

Simply put: you gotta check this place out, guys … it’ll make full-blown mandu addicts for life, and that’s not a bad thing, as there are a lot worse things to be hooked on out there!

Ever tried mandu?  Share your experience with us all below!

Cure For A Korean Hangover: Kimchi Jjigae. With Spam. It Works!

Kimchi Jigae is the cure for a Korean hangoverTruly, 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).

The work culture here has a lot to do with it. Competition for promotions, acceptance, and even to get into valued jobs in the first place is insanely intense. Many people work 12-15 hours a day, and the stress placed on them to “do their job perfectly” leads people to this outlet in order to release their stress.

Along with heavy drinking comes the dreaded hangover. Koreans have developed fixes for this, as you might expect. The 7/11 and GS 25’s have coolers packed with remedies such as Morning Care. They don’t taste very good.

One thing that DOES taste very good, and chases away your self-induced, throbbing headache, is a steaming pot of Kimchi Jjigae. Kimchi has been purported to heal or prevent many things, such as the Common Cold, for example. I can’t say whether it does that for sure, but I CAN verify that it heals the aftereffects of drinking WAY too much Cass.

After taking that in virtually, does it make you want to cook some up in advance of the next big night out on the town? Find a recipe for Kimchi Jjigae, or just stumble into your local Korean restaurant, where an expat Ajumma will be more than happy to cook some up for your throbbing head!

Optimized-IMG_0583The aftermath of a Korean food massacre…

What is your favorite cure for a Korean hangover?

Let’s Head To The Market: A Visit To The Outdoor Korean Food Market In Onyangoncheon, Korea

Optimized-IMG_0434Fuelling 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.

In order for the Kimchi, and the main dishes that it stars alongside to be created in the first place, the cooks, both household and professional alike, must first visit the local market. After catching word of an outstanding Korean food market in Onyangoncheon, the largest city in Asan, I had to check it out for myself…

Optimized-IMG_0451 A dizzying variety of produce, most of it from within the region, greets visitors to the market in Onyangoncheon

After taking Seoul Subway Line 1 to Onyangoncheon Station (visitors from Seoul will want to take an ITX train to the station [name is the same, as they share the same track] ), walk out onto the main street, and wander eastward for a couple of blocks. After this, cross the street and head south until you run into throngs of people, and an endless array of vegetables, fruits, seafood, baked goods, and people hawking crafts and other general merchandise.

Optimized-IMG_0452 A tantalizing array of Korean fast food (Ddeokbokki [spicy rice cakes in a red pepper sauce], Hoddeok [a pastry filled with brown sugar and nuts/seeds], sundae [Korean pork sausage], battered vegetables, etc) awaits those with a void to fill in their tummies (like me!)

Optimized-IMG_0453 An enviable selection of freshly caught fish waits patiently in their market stall, until a seafood chef comes by to arrange a marriage between them, some cooking oil, and a frying pan.

Optimized-IMG_0454 Awaiting a similar fate, a wide variety of shellfish are kept in good condition by constantly flowing water, until they find themselves in a stock pot later that evening…

Optimized-IMG_0457 Mmmmm …. Doughnuts!

After exiting the market, I came across a fountain just south of the train station. Before heading back to the terminal to catch the subway home, I found out quickly that this was no ordinary water feature

What’s your favorite thing about markets? The food? The atmosphere? The people? All the things you can buy? Talk to us in the comments!