Tuesday, May 31, 2005

postscipt on falafel & swedish meatballs

i'm pretty sure that "you can't always get what you want . . .", but it's raining, so i'm feeling pretty happy. i don't even crave that soggy burrito. bring on the monsoon season!

falafel & swedish meatballs

despite a solid week of martial arts training, an adventurous weekend out with new people, and serving alex a handy ass-whooping playing cards, I’m feeling a bit low this week.

homesick? well, i do miss the diversity of people and FOOD, and i do miss my families, but I haven’t the desire to leave Korea. is it homesickness if the want to return home is absent? i’m not sure if it qualifies. besides, sometimes all i want is garlic bread that doesn’t have sugar on it. and one of these days, i’ll break down and buy butter or tomatoes ($$$).

no job? alex is concerned that my lack of employment is dampening my mood, but work would just interfere with my script. i haven’t had this type of freedom to write since early in college, and the results have been more than worth the “unemployed” status. besides, i’ve never been the type to allow a job to define me (obviously).

insomnia? i have been suffering a bit from lack of sleep, which i attribute to the population density (like sardines) and building materials (concrete). every sound is amplified and reverberates at lightening speed. especially construction, which begins at 6:30 am. koreans are also late, late, late night people (out until the construction begins). there are always lights flicking on and off, and drunk girls in high heels plodding up the stairs with yapping ankle-biters (aka lapdogs) at their feet. then again, haven’t i always had trouble sleeping? this weekend the quest for earplugs is on.

the weather? it is effen hot! what i wouldn’t give for a solid week of rain!

so, there you go. i guess, it boils down to a need for a soggy burrito before a good night's rest. thanks for listening. sometimes that’s all it takes to sort this type of mess.

Monday, May 30, 2005

gin rummy

just your typical saturday night of soju, gin rummy, and dried squid tasties.

Saturday, May 28, 2005

memorial weekend bbq (korean-style)

if you’re looking for an alternative to your usual grilling routine, i recommend a nice heaping plate of bulgogi. It’s a delicious meal, and is the primary way meat is consumed in korea. bulgogi restaurants are like the starbucks of korea, one on every corner. by the way, there are starbucks in korea.
necessary equipment: a grill of any kind (i guess, you could cook it in a skillet, but it just
wouldn’t taste the same.)

servings: 6
calories: ?
1.25 lbs sirloin or rib steak
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon + 2 teaspoons sesame oil
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
4 scallions, white part only, cut in 2-inch long julienne strips
3 tablespoons soy sauce
1 teaspoon Korean red pepper powder
1 teaspoon sugar
1 tablespoon sesame seeds
10 large lettuce leaves
3 cloves garlic, sliced thin

cook: cut steaks into thin slices, 3 inches long and 2 inches wide (easier if the steak is
half frozen). mix steak with salt, 1 tablespoon sesame oil and the pepper; rub
seasoning into meat. set aside for 15 minutes.
soak scallion slices in ice water for 15 minutes and drain well. mix together
remaining 2 teaspoons sesame oil and soy sauce, toss with scallion slices.
set aside.
mix red pepper powder, sugar and sesame seeds together. rub this seasoning
on the inside curl of the lettuce leaves. set aside.
Grill steak according to taste.

eat: take 1 lettuce leaf, put several slices of steak in the center, add about 1 tablespoon
of seasoned scallions, a sliver or two of garlic. fold the lettuce like a taco and
eat. usually served with rice and a couple of sides.


p.s. works with ground meat, too.

the cuisine

on the stove: a large skillet or wok
ingredients you’ll search for: doenjang (soy bean paste), small ginger root and tilefish
(can substitute whitefish)
what you’re doing: making 2 tasty side dishes (pan chan) and one incredible soup to
serve with rice or with a simple main course

fried green peppers
servings: 2
calories: 77
1.5 teaspoons sesame oil
2 green bell peppers, cut into strips
1 white onion, cut into long, thin strips
1/4 teaspoon grated fresh ginger root
1.5 teaspoons soy sauce

cook: in your wok/skillet heat oil over high heat. add green pepper strips, onion
strips, and ginger. stir-fry for 2 minutes. add soy sauce and stir-fry 1 minute
more. serve hot or cold.

fried red pepper potatoes
serves: 4
calories: 181
1.5 tablespoons vegetable oil
3 large or 4 medium potatoes, peeled and cut into bite side cubes
1 large red bell pepper, chopped
4 green onions, green and white parts chopped
2 teaspoons sesame seeds
1.5 tablespoons soy sauce
1 teaspoon korean red pepper powder or 1/2 teaspoon cayenne
1/2 teaspooon salt

cook: in your wok/skillet heat oil over med-high heat. add potatoes and stir-fry until
the potatoes are a light golden brown. add onions, bell pepper and sesame
seeds, and stir-fry one minute more. In a small bowl mix together soy sauce,
korean red pepper powder and salt. Add the mixture to the skillet, and cook
until all the liquid has been absorbed, about 1-2 minutes. serve warm.

fiery fish and tofu soup (one of alex’s favorites)
serves: 3-4
calories: ?
6 cups water
1 cube beef bouillon
2 tablespoons doenjang (soy bean paste)
1 medium-size tilefish, cut into steaks
8 ounces watercress
2 teaspoons crushed garlic
1.5 tablespoons red pepper flakes
1 pkg. extra firm tofu, drained and cut into cubes
1 bunch green onions, green and white parts coarsely chopped
salt/pepper to taste

cook: in a large saucepan, bring water to a boil and add bouillon and deonjang paste
stirring until both are dissolved. next add tofu, onion, garlic, watercress, and red
pepper flakes, and bring to a boil. finally, add fish steaks and bring to a boil,
again. lower heat to a simmer and cover. cook another 15 minutes, giving the
fish time to cook through and the flavors to blend. serve hot, salt and pepper to

i always add more red pepper for a spicier soup. simple enough, wouldn’t you say? have a nice dinner.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

caucasians with mokkums

nestled into a modest studio three stories from the streets of chipyung-dong, we cautiously tapped the frosted-glass doors of Master Lee’s dojang for Haedong Kumdo. both of us admittedly nervous, with a desire to resume training that outweighed all else, entered the school.

Master Lee rose from his small, over-furnitured office with a curious look that snapped into a smile. he nodded . . . that means we should speak. (panic) what do we say? would he understand us? will we offend with our directness, a characteristic "fault" of americans? we said nothing, following our gut instinct to bow instead. not that our speaking would’ve upset him in any way, but bowing definitely makes a favorable impression especially on a master.

after a slow, hobbled discussion in broken english/korean of our want to train, Master Lee agreed to take us on. he then gave us the grand tour of his school. the main room’s green floors and fluorescent lights are lined on one side by a cracked, mirrored wall, on another by rack upon rack of swords, and finally a wall of windows facing the street. the closet-esque locker rooms, packed full of students' uniforms, are stuffy from the lack of air circulation. overall, i’d say it was pretty homey.

what does it cost to train in south korea, you ask? for the opportunity to experience the culture of training in a martial art in its native country, a whopping $60 per student/month. amazing. simply amazing.

Sunday, May 22, 2005


new pictures posted of a2's trip to Mudeung-san (05/22).

click on photo

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

certifiable alien

it's official . . . look, i have a card and everything.


Tuesday, May 17, 2005

E*Mart= Meijer + Crack Cocaine

Packed into a four-story megaplex complete with underground parking, kids’ playland, a flea market, an eye doctor, a photographer, a pharmacist and a Lotteria (Korean McD’s) is our friendly, efficient, local one-stop shopping.


The E*Mart squats like a dumb, yellow dog of unimaginative architecture stretching out to the pathways of Jungwoi Park. Windows framing a crisscross, hatch-weave of escalator ramps, allow a brief bit of sun into its maze of bellowing saleswomen, brightly lit produce and people unable to control their shopping carts. It is a quintessential homage to the western capitalist world complete with super-happy, la-la music.

The women bookend grocery aisles. These saleswomen are disturbing caricatures of their former Korean selves. Theatrically dressed as housewives, schoolgirls, anime cartoons, or whatever will sell the product, they throw themselves at you with a form of pressure sale that would make an American blush (and does). Power struggles between various women and products . . . who can yell louder, who will try to put an unwanted product in a cart, or who will continue talking to you even though she knows you have no idea what the hell she’s saying? Above the sales’ wars and customer assaults, a bouncy chorus of “LA, LA, LA’s” strive to lull you into a prozac-esque coma, but fail miserably. Instead of the senses being numbed, the shopper is introduced to a form of bi-polarism that has in the past created killers for clock towers.

Fortunately, I’m possessed by a bit of madness, so I enjoy my trips to E*Mart. I long for the quiet, humming therapy of the frozen pizza freezers at Jewel sometimes, but how often does capitalism-via-circus come to America’s grocery stores? So for now, I’ll relish the squid-pushing fish guy, the Dove girls in legwarmers, and the chili paste lady in mother’s kerchief.

Monday, May 9, 2005


Usually so rebellious
usually so reckless with laughter
so quiet in a declaration
as cautious in a place
understated is an understatement
minimalist . . . a word is not on the agenda today.


Alex and I have taken to walking for literally hours on Sunday afternoons. Sporting a camera and our sparse knowledge of the city and the language, we navigate through the maze of downtown Gwangju. We wander quiet stretches with vendors pushing squid, through concentrations of schoolgirls crushed onto narrow streets to scream at a beautiful celebrity, and past trendy fashion stores blaring American hardcore rap.

We sit. We have iced green tea lattes. We try to blend in. We fail.

I feel like I ought to be doing more than being pale and tall to attract such attention. If only I was a contortionist, maybe I could engineer balloon animals, or perhaps, just blend in. I do not do any of these things, although I think I could make a mean giraffe some day.

Seoul is for wussies

Over my first weeks here, the books purchased in preparation for my initial months of settling have been rendered nearly useless. Unfortunately, it isn’t because I’m that shockingly intelligent, but rather that these guide books rely on a Korean familiarity with the English language and its speakers.

The books are considered an asset to any English speaker in Seoul, a city the traveler is assured English is spoken or understood virtually everywhere. Seoul also being where Americans tend to visit and live. In Gwangju however, where the majority of the population rarely even sees an American/ Englishmen, our language is a scarce probability. I’m not implying that I expected it to be easy, or that I wanted it to be, but I also didn’t expect every trip to the corner market, bar, or restaurant to require a crash course in pertinent phrases or hangul. I feel lucky when the restaurant has a picture menu. If it doesn’t have pictures, we sound out the hangul and go with the most familiar of food names. I truly thank Master Cheon for lunch at the Korean BBQ in Chicago, or I would be totally lost as to what Korean food is or what it looks like.

When it comes to tasks outside of food, the Lonely Planet phrase book for Korea has proven itself as a decent escort for pronunciation, vocabulary, and one-sided conversation, equipping a traveler with useful phrases to begin interactions. I’ve used it to ask questions, which are in turn answered in Korean. Do you see where I’m going with this? That’s right, I don’t know what the sweet, Korean, Kim’ chi saleswoman is saying.

I won’t lie; it can be extremely frustrating and can definitely make me feel helpless. However, it also acts as a great catalyst to learning the language. I think of all the things I could miss if I don’t try to learn/use Korean. Progress is slow, but I know I’m learning. I purchased Kim’ chi today without too much confusion. Yeah me!

Tuesday, May 3, 2005

da' plane

Though relatively settled, insofar as general comfort while going about my daily tasks, one thing has thrown my nerves in this first week . . . the planes. Not airplanes as in 747’s flying into Seoul or prop planes bouncing along on smaller voyages. In America this particular type of aircraft flies exercises while here in Korea they fly patrols.

The surrounding beauty can at times make you forget that this country is bordered by a hostile nation to the north, and though N. Korea’s missile test last week would suggest they are aiming for Japan, they are a unfriendly neighbor nonetheless. Imagine Canada if the NHL or some other organization doesn’t have hockey on its feet in a year. Yeah, that hostile. Anyway . . .

It can be oddly comforting to see these pilots fly their patterns every day, but when the pattern is low enough that the windows shake, the sound will move your eyes skyward just to be certain it’s not going to rain fire. I sat on a hillside today, and observed fighter jets flying with payloads over the city and bordering mountains. As dusk approaches, the setting sun highlights the jets’ ascension to higher altitude patrols, thus allowing Gwangju to sleep.

Whether a sad or fortunate fact, I recognize the sound of a military jet from random sightings during childhood and air shows on Chicago’s shoreline, while the citizens of this city recognize the reverberations from years of necessity.