Friday, December 28, 2012

Getting a driver's licence in Korea

 My new license, with some obvious redactions

I've finally done what the boyfriend has been bugging me to do for the past 3 years... gone and gotten my Korean driver's license. I really should have done it earlier, it was so simple, but it is slightly time consuming as well, which is probably why I put it off for so long.

If you want to get your license in Korea, as long as you have your license from your own country, it's quite easy, as long as your country as approval of the Korea government (Click here for a list). You just need to exchnage your foreign license for a Korean license. The Korean government will hold on to your foreign license while you have the Korean license. If you want your foreign license back, you can just go to the office, with your plane ticket as proof that you will leave the country and you can get your license back.

First of all, you must go to your embassy and get some proof that your license is real. For US citizens like myself, that requires obtaining an affidavit which is $50.00 USD. Just as a tip, they don't accept most Korean debit cards so I had a rather hard time paying the bill. Either bring lots of cash with you, or a US credit card.

 The entryway into the Driver's License Examination Office

The next step is to take your license and affidavit to a Driver's License Examination Office ( 운전면허서비스). The closest location for me was near Seolleung Station.

You will need to bring
1. 3 passport sized photos (3cm x 4cm) (Can be obtained on the second floor in the Gangnam Branch for 6,000 won)
2. Your passport, showing your latest entry dates to Korea.
3. Your license and affidavit/proof of validity.
4. Your ARC (Alien Registration Card).
5. 10,000 won for processing

 Gangnam Driver's License Examination Office

I was a little worried about knowing what I had to do when I arrived, but fortunately, it was quite straight forward. As soon as I entered, the "Changing Foreign License" desk was directly to my right. I had to fill out four forms, paste my photos to them and then the woman at the desk sent me off to get an eye exam in the basement.

"Changing Foreign License" desk

The eye exam was quite easy, just cover one eye and say the numbers on the board. I've heard from others that they had to do some other eye checks, but this was all I had to do. This cost 4,000 won.

I thought that I had to take a writing exam, but when I brought my paperwork back to the desk she said that was all I had to do, and put my paperwork through. I talked to several people who got their license last year who had to do a written exam, but I found another person who got their license this year and apparently they didn't take any written exam either. Perhaps something has changed in the past year. But, just in case, I would look over the traffic signs just in case they make you take a test. The cost for the license processing was 6,000 won.

All in all, the process took less than an hour. It probably would have taken less time if I hadn't kept going to the examination desk asking if I needed to take a written exam and if I hadn't had to get my photos taken. It was amazingly fast. For your nearest Driver's License Examination Office, see here.

But, why get a Korean license rather than an international license, you ask? Well, an international license is generally only good for one year and then must be obtained again if you want to keep driving. The Korean license is good for 9 years and is recognized in a long list of countries, including the USA, so even if you go home for a short time, you can drive on your Korean license as well, plus in a long list of other countries if you happen to be traveling.

According to Korea4Expats, the Korean license is valid in the following countries:

Africa: Algeria, Angola, Botswana, Burundi, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Cape Verde, Cote d'lvoire, Republic of the Congo, Demoractic Republic of the Congo, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Guinea-Bissau, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Lesotho, Liberia, Libya, Madagascar, Malawi, Mali, Morocco, Namibia, Niger, Nigeria, Rwanda, Republic of South Africa, San Tome and Principle, Senegal, Seychelles, Sierra Leone, Swaziland, Tanzania, Tunisia, Uganda, Zimbabwe
Americas: Barbados, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Grenada, Guatemala, Guyana, Nicaragua, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Haiti, Panama, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Uruguay
Asia:  Afghanistan, Bhutan, Brunei, Cambodia, East Timor, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Japan, Laos, Malaysia, Maldives, Mongolia, Myanmar, Nepal, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea, Philippines, Samoa, Sri Lanka, Taiwan, Thailand, Tonga, Vietnam
Europe: Albania, Austria, Belgium, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Estonia, Finland, France, Georgia, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Kazakhstan, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Moldova, Poland, Portugal, Russia, Romania, San Marino, Serbia and Montenegro, Slovakia, Switzerland, Spain, Tajikistan, Turkey, Turkmenistan, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, the United Kingdom
Middle East: Bahrain, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Oman, Qatar, Sudan, the United Arab Emirates, Yemen

If that's not enough reason for you to get your Korean license, I don't know what is.

**Update 12/31/2012**

Just got the following update from the US Embassy newsletter for January 2013:

Please be advised that starting January 1, 2013, the U.S. Embassy will no longer provide notary certifications for U.S. issued driver licenses.   Republic of Korea is a member of the Hague Conference on Private International Law and recognizes apostilles issued by foreign authorities.  To have your driver’s license apostilled, please contact the issuing state’s office of authentication for an apostille.  

For more information, please visit the Korean Driver’s License Agency’s website.  Please note that you must take a written exam before you can obtain a Korean driver’s license except for those who hold driver licenses that were issued by a State that has a reciprocity agreement with Korea; namely Alabama, Florida, Iowa, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Texas, Virginia, Washington, DC., and West Virginia.  This written exam can be provided in English.  

For more information on how to obtain a Korean driver’s license, please visit the Korean Driver's License Agency's Website.  

... This explains the fact that I didn't need a test, and also suggests you will now need to obtain an official apositille rather than an affidavit. Check with the embassy website for more details and current information. 

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

White Christmas in Seoul

 View of our madang

We woke up to a surprise this morning, a light coating of snow was covering everything! Merry Christmas everyone! 

Our roof

Monday, December 24, 2012

Movie Review: Please Teach Me English

I was recently lucky enough to catch the 2003 Korean film called "Please Teach Me English" (영어완전정복) on TV several days ago. It's definitely a must see for every English teacher working in Korea. It gives a little insight into how Korean adults feel as they attempt to conquer the English language.

It's the story of a Korean man and woman who sign up for an English class at a hagwon (actually filmed at YBM Jongno). The girl, named "Candy" works in a government office and often needs to deal with foreigners who have problems. The man, named "Elvis", will soon meet his sister who was put up for adoption as a baby and grew up in America. Both want to speak English badly, but both struggle something terrible with the language. Their native speaker teacher isn't much help to them either and quickly gets frustrated with their lack of progress.

Elvis is a bit obsessed with the beautiful English teacher, but Candy has eyes only for Elvis. Unfortunately, Candy is a very awkward, geeky gal with no coordination or tact... her every effort to catch the attention of Elvis goes unrewarded. However, he does discover that while he's totally unattracted to her, he can actually think of her as a friend. The two of them try to learn English and deal with their own personal problems together.

This movie is an oldie but goodie. It's worth tracking down and watching if you can. If you've got some basic Korean skills, you may not even need subtitles since the characters spend most of the movie trying to speak English (however, sometimes being able to read the Korean subtitles is useful to figure out what they are trying to say). Anyone who has taught English in Korea will definitely relate to the characters, particularly one side character who has a problem with his electricity bill.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Reiley's Taphouse

Riley's Taphouse in Itaewon just opened about a month ago, but it's already a huge hit among ex-pats and Koreans alike. Their specialty? A huge variety of brews, domestic and import alike and a food menu pairing their beers with their amazing cuisine. 

Oh, and when I say domestic and import beers, I'm not talking about Cass and Heineken, I'm talking about craft beers from Magpie, Craftworks, Indica, Lost Coast Brewery, and Alley Cat among many many others. They advertise that they have 20 beers on tap at the moment with another 20 more taps that may be opened in the future.

Their menu seems to be expanding every time I visit. This past weekend I saw a new menu, "Beer Cocktails" including "beergarita", "gindica" and "brussian". I'm a little curious, but also slightly afraid...

If you're into high end Japanese beer, they have a huge selection of beers from the Japanese brewery Hitachino. They're a little out of my price range (9,000-34,500), but the bottles look quite cute, so if you're willing to splurge, it could be worth it.

The other thing I liked instantly about this place was the atmosphere. Lots of tables, a nice long bar... it feels like a proper pub. The music (at least early in the evening when I went) was not too loud. The thing I hate about drinking in Itaewon sometimes, is the blaringly loud music that prevents me from having a conversation with my friends. The music here is tasteful and at a reasonable volume for socializing. I hope it stays that way.

Reiley's Taphouse is impossible to miss. It's on the main drag of Itaewon on the 3rd floor across from KB Bank. From Itaewon Station, exit 2, walk straight and it will be on you left.

Reiley's Taphouse
123-32 Itaewon-dong 
Yongsan-gu, Seoul, Korea 

Monday, December 17, 2012

Snow and Cold

I don't usually write mindlessly on this blog anymore, but here's a little freewriting to brighten (or kill) your spirits.

 Around the corner from my house

I'm a little behind the times this year, but, yes, in case you missed it on every other blog and Facebook page from Korea, winter has arrived on the peninsula. And it's been a cold one.  We're only half way into December and I've already seen more snowfall than I've seen in my whole time in Korea over the past 4 years (albeit, there have been large snowstorms, but I always seem to be out of the country when they happen). Temperatures these low bode for a long and cold winter... or perhaps the new ice age I've been waiting for since high school.

 In my neigborhood

On day one of the snowfall I was far too busy working on my final project for my Curriculum Design course for my Masters to be out in the snow taking photos like everybody else . But... people's photos did come out awfully nicely... 

 In my neighborhood

On other topics of coldness... hanoks are notoriously cold in winter, and ours is no exception. The boyfriend bought me a new pair of fuzzy pajama pants so at least one part of my body can feel warm. Actually sleeping is the warmest time of the day since we've moved to the floor mat for sleeping. It's nice and toasty warm down there... sometimes too warm if the boiler stays on for too long. However, we usually make sure that doesn't happen. The house being drafty is only half our problem. The other half is that heating a house this big (we guess about 40 pyeong) is rather expensive. November alone was over 100,000 won, and we didn't think we even had it on that much. We're constantly playing with the thermostat and adjusting where to send the heat in the house. The cool thing about a house this big is that you can shut off (or partially shut off) the heat to rooms you're not using. So, we keep the heat in the kitchen and second bedroom to a minimum and try to heat just the living room and the bedroom. We'll see how well we're doing when we get December's heating bill... 

 Around Jongno 5 ga somewhere...

Speaking of cold and snow, however, that means it's ski season. Wednesday night we went to Konjiam ski resort for a few hours of night skiing. The conditions were great and all the slopes were open. Unusual, I think, for this early in the season here. I'm severely out of shape, however. I promised myself I'd do sit ups and stretch tonight... but have I done it? Of course not...

 Near my favorite 닭한마리 restaurant in Jongno

Anyway, I know posts have been sparse here lately. I have no excuse now that the fall semester is done and my Curriculum Design project is done. But, it's hard to get the motivation to write again after spending a whole semester glued to my computer typing up things for school. I've been craving other forms of stimulation such as watching movies, cooking and studying Chinese. Did I mention that I'm studying Chinese? Perhaps not. That will be a post for another day... because that's a good one. 

Dongdaemun Gate in the snow

The end of this rant has finally come. Oh, and if you're wondering where all these photos from the snow came from when I said I didn't go out in the snow to take photos? This is from snowfall number three... the less exciting one because it wasn't first. I walked from Jongno to Dongdaemun in the snow, but, it was kind of nice....

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

More publications and whatnot...

 This week there's been lots of me all around. First, I received this month's issue of 10 Magazine in the mail where my review of the restaurant Potala was published, and in addition they selected me as one of their featured contributors. January's edition will have a review of Chang Su Rin and February will feature Pyong Ga Ok. Who know what will be next? Perhaps Chinese?

Then today I noticed that The Korea Blog published my post about my Kimjang experience. So, even though blogging has been light here lately, it doesn't mean that you can't find me here and there.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Chang Su Rin: Thai Food Take-Out

Outside the Restaurant

Thai restaurants in Seoul tend to be pricey sort of restaurants that would be nice for a date, however if you just want to grab some Thai food and eat in front of your TV at home it's not always so easy. Fortunately, Chang Su Rin: Thai Take-Out has opened to fulfill all your Thai food cravings.

English Menu, don't forget to ask about the daily lunch specials

The menu, while not huge, has everything you could want from curries to noodles to fried rice... and of course, you can't forget my favorite: Thai ice tea. The prices are a little higher than what you'd see at a take out restaurant at home, but far cheaper than a lot of Seoul's more famous dine-in Thai restaurants. Plus, portion sizes are quite big so unless you're starving, you could probably share one dish between two people or get two meals out of each dish.

A view into the kitchen

As any take out restaurant should be, it's pretty tiny, even the kitchen is small. You can eat here, and actually, I usually do, it's a bit of a squeeze to come with more than 3 friends. The other great and terrible thing here is that everything is made from scratch so, things take a little while to make. Usually dishes come out one at a time. Great for sharing food, but if you're a typical American who expects all dishes to come out at once you could be disappointed.

The whole seating area

Thai Ice Tea

Red Curry

Pad Thai

Lad Nah

Tapioca and Corn

The past two times I've visited, I've been lucky enough to get some "service". "Service" here meaning free deserts. The desert above is a corn tapioca pudding, not terribly sweet but a nice after dinner touch. Below is a carrot cake (!!!). One of the Thai staff members spent some time living in the states and learned to make this... it was the best cake I've had since living in Korea... I tried making one a few weeks later, but it wasn't nearly as moist as this one and my frosting wasn't nearly so cream cheesy as this one.

The most amazing carrot cake EVER

-->Chang Su Rin is operated by an all-Thai staff which speak both English and Korean. Menus are also available in both Korean and English. Order in person or by phone.

Chang Su Rin
194-15 Huam-dong (55 Duteopbawi-ro)
Yongsan-gu, Seoul, South Korea
Hours: 11am-10pm daily

The closest subway station to Chang Su Rin is Sookmyung Women's University. From exit 2, walk straight for 400 meters. Chang Su Rin is on your left at the four-way intersection. Chang Su Rin is also easily accessible from Haebangchon as well. Walk down the back side of Haebangchon all the way down to the bottom of the hill. Take a left at the rotary and walk to the four-way intersection. Chang Su Rin is on the right after crossing the road.

View 창수린 in a larger map

Saturday, November 24, 2012

평가옥: North Korean Restaurant in Seoul

After reading a blog post on "Bobby's Awesome Life", I was inspired to check out a North Korean restaurant recommended by him: 평가옥 (Pyeonggaok). This restaurant serves food in the style of 평안도 Pyeongan province of North Korea. For a geography reference, South Pyongan province is located just north of Pyeongyang (the capitol of the DPRK) and North Pyongan province is just north of that, reaching the border with North Korea (see the map below).

Since I've never had North Korean food, and since I'm always excited by the prospect of trying new foods, I sent out a facebook message asking if anyone would try it with me. I actually got two different responses, one from my coworker John, and one from Jo and Steve Miller (aka the Qi Ranger), and so, last week, I made two trips to Pyong Ga Ok and, over the two visits, got to try a fairly wide selection of what they have to offer.

When you enter the restaurant, there is nothing that looks particularly North Korean, the interior looks like any other restaurant you'd enter. The menu too looks basically familiar at the first glance, but upon further inspection you'll see a few new things. A stew cooked in a 뚝배기 (stone pot bowl) called 온반 (Onban), naengmyon called "평양냉면" (Pyongyang naengmyon), and some large dishes cooked in the center of the table filled with a variety of things I've never seen mixed together in South Korea such as mandu, noodles, and sea food. I was really curious about the big dishes for sharing, but they were quite expencive so we just stuck with the normal 식사 menu.

First were to come out was the banchan. Kimchi, radish kimchi, white kimchi and pickles. All were quite nice, though we couldn't find a big difference between the kimchi here and the kimchi we're used to eating.

On the first visit we ordered these mungbean pancakes. They were quite nice. Similar to bindaedeok, but a bit less greasy.

We also got one 닭고기 온반 and shared it between the two of us. Between this and the pancakes, it was quite enough for two people. The soup bowl is a bit bigger than your average kimchi jjigae bowl. The soup was quite nice, but the best part was the giant mandu (hiding under bubbles in the photo above) in the soup. We just wished there had been two, we had to split the mandu two ways. Fortunately, it was easily the size of two small mandu.

On the second trip, later in the week with Steve and Jo, I brought along the boyfriend as well to help us understand the menu a little better. The boyfriend ordered the same 온반 that John and I ordered earlier in the week and agreed it was quite worth it. Jo tried the 소고기 온반 and she really seemed to enjoy it. The meat was apparently pre-fried in batter and they even put some of that mungbean pancake into the soup, too! Certainly nothing I've seen before.

Steve went with the manduguk which I had steered away from thinking "I've had manduguk before", but when it came out, boy was I wrong. Typically manduguk in Seoul is served in a normal bowl, but this came out in 뚝배기 and was filled with chunks of meat and, again, huge mandu! I was a little jealous looking over at all his mandu...

I decided to order the 평양낸면 (Pyongyang naengmyon). Actually, naengmyon isn't my favorite food. It's one of those foods I will eat once every six months and not crave it again for another six months. But I decided to try it since it is basically the most famous North Korean dish in South Korea. If you ask a South Korean what they know about North Korean food, the first (and possibly only dish) they will name is this one. So, I figured I had to try it.

The noodles to me tasted softer. Usually when I eat typical naengmyon, I find myself struggling to cut the noodles with my teeth. These noodles seemed much softer, but perhaps it was just my imagination. I also really liked the 애호박 slices and beef thrown in. There was also half a boiled egg, but you can't see it in this photo.

As I was leaving I caught the mandu making table and snapped a photo. I'm still amazed by the size of these mandu! And they're all handmade too!

Pyong Ga Ok has six locations in and around Seoul, Samseong Station, Gangnam Station, Sincheon station, Yangjae-2-dong, Bundang Station and Gwanghwamun Station, where I ate. The Gwanghwamun location is just a short walk from exit 1 of Gwanghwamun Station. From Exit 1, cross the street and take the first left (across from exit 1). Walk down the street about 1-2 minutes and you will see the restaurant on the first floor of a building to your left. When I went, the building was under construction, but you could just make out the sign, written in the Chinese characters which are pronounced Pyong Ga Ok.

To read more about Pyongan cuisine, check out this fairly good wikipedia article:

Below, you can see Steve's video about our meal: 

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

'Tis the Season for Kimjang

Kimjang (김장): The Korean tradition of gathering together to make large quantities of kim chi just before the winter months.

This year, since we are living in a hanok with a big madang (courtyard), I figured it would be only appropriate to have our own kimjang, or kim chi making party. Traditionally, Korean families get together around this time of year and make huge quantities of kim chi. 20-30 heads of cabbage would be considered normal, but a large, extended family may come together and prepare 100-500 heads of kim chi to last throughout the winter.

I didn't plan to make nearly as much myself. We originally planned to buy 20 kilos of pre-preserved cabbage to make kim chi (about 10 heads of kim chi), but then a friend offered to bring some fresh cabbage from her parent's organic farm outside of Seoul. While this was a little more difficult, we decided it was the better option, and so Saturday night our friend showed up with a car full of 30 big heads of cabbage and about 10 radishes.

A lot of cabbages. And the white bag is full of radishes

We set straight away to preserving the cabbage for the next day's kimjang. My house became a fury of cabbages, leaves were flying everywhere as the cabbages were quartered, washed and placed in my bathtub which was full of salt water.

Expert cabbage chopper

My bathtub full of cabbages. Not sure what we would have done if we hadn't had a bathtub...

That was just the beginning, though. Next we preserved each individual cabbage by rubbing salt all over and between each leaf. We added them all to a bag and then added more salty water for them to soak overnight. In the end, though, we only wound up preserving 20 heads of cabbage. 30 would have been just, plain, too much.

Cabbage with lots of salt

First thing the next morning we headed out to Gyeongdong Market to buy our supplies for the event. We had no idea how much we were going to pay but we had our first shock at the price of garlic: 10,000 won for one kilo. The sticker shock continued, 30,000 won for 2.5 kilos of (Chinese) red pepper powder (if we had bought the Korean red pepper powder it would have been 20,000/ 500g), 10,000 won for a kilo of fermented shrimp, 6,000 for 500 g of oysters. It suddenly gave me an appreciation for how much Korean families spend to make/buy kim chi every year. And we didn't even have to buy the cabbage and radishes.

Buying lots of red pepper powder at the market

Most, but not all of the ingredients for the sauce

We brought all the supplies home and the friends started rolling through the door to help. It was time to prepare the ingredients for the kim chi sauce. We started with the green onions and moved our way through radishes, onions, garlic, ginger, and even some regional additions like sweet potato, carrot and sea weed. All these were added together along with red pepper powder in a big bowl and mixed to created a huge bowl of chunky, red, spicy sauce.

preparing spring onions

Shredding radishes and carrots

Chopping sweet potatoes

Chopping more radish

Having some fun while mixing the sauce

Close up of the sauce

As some of us prepared the sauce, others were out in the courtyard washing the salt off the cabbages to prepare them to be made into kim chi. 

Washing the salt off the cabbages

Finally, after nearly 3 hours of preparation, it was time to do the part everyone was waiting for. Turning the cabbage into kim chi. While it would have been better to do it outside, it was so chilly today that we kept working in the kitchen, despite the lack of space and the mess.  You must be very careful when adding the sauce to the kim chi, you need to make sure that each leaf has got enough sauce, and you need to make sure that there is enough sauce, even at the base of the cabbage.

Turning the cabbage into kim chi... 

And having a little fun too...

Despite having 20 heads of cabbage to add sauce to, this part of the afternoon seemed to fly by. Before we knew it, we had all 20 cabbages done. 

(Some of) the finished product

We added the finished product into various containers for folks to bring home and we put all of ours into a 항아리 (hangari) which most foreigners know as "kim chi pots". Actually we've had these pots for months and have used them for everything but kim chi,  but finally we were able to put them to use for their most well known use.

Hangari filled with kim chi

At long last, we were able to sit back and relax, and of course, what better way than with some bossam? Boiled pork wrapped in cabbage leaves (both fresh and preserved), spicy sauce, oysters and fermented shrimp. 

Bossam for dinner

While not everyone has the time/ energy/ budget/ space to do their own kimjang, everyone should try making their own kimchi, at least once. There's many recipes online both in English and Korean, but when it comes down to it, you need to follow your own taste buds. Each region and even each family has their own recipe, so there's no right or wrong. I will not use measurements here because it all depends on how much you make and your own taste.

The following ingredients are the most basic: 
  • Red pepper powder 고추가루
  • radish 무
  • rice porridge for thickening 찹쌀죽
  • garlic 마늘
  • ginger 생강
  • fermented shrimp* 새우젓
  • Anchovy sauce* 멸치액젓
*can be omitted for vegetarian kim chi

however we got creative and combined several family recipes by adding:
  • apple 사과
  • carrot 당근
  • sweet potato 고구마
  • sea weed  청각
  • green onion 쪽파
  • 'gat' (a green leafy vegetable) 갓

Have you ever made kim chi? What special ingredients did you add?