Thursday, April 29, 2010


Another quick post for you all. I've been kind of slacking this month in the post department. I got ddeokbokki this past Sunday at a tiny little hole in the wall kind of restaurant near Wangsimni. This was kind of a deluxe ddeokbokki with noodles, ramyon, egg, odeng, mandu, and of course ddeok (rice cake). Mmmmm I love ddeokbokki...



Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Screen Golf

Ok, very quick post. I've always been curious about the whole screen golf thing. I'm not a golfer, but I seem to get dragged into golf thigns way too often because of my boyfriend. Friday night my boyfriend met his friend for a round of screen golf. I stopped by for a while to say hello before hitting the sack early because of a work retreat Saturday morning. This is what it's all about:

Here is the practice screen. You hit a real ball with your own clubs (or the clubs provided) into a cloth screen projecting a driving range. The computer can show you all sorts of things that I don't understand about your swing, including a video image of your actual swing so you can see for yourself.

Once you've had your fill of practice, you can go to the actual (virtual) golf course. You can pick from various real courses from around the world of varying difficulty. Then you play your game.

Mystery solved.

p.s. Sorry lefties, you're out of luck here. A co-worker of mine was very distressed by this detail...

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Make way for more apartments.....

It was about a year ago that I just happened to cut through the backstreets of the city block across the street from my old apartment when I realized that the entire neighborhood was one giant ghost town. Walking through was just one street after another of vacant villas (small brick apartment buildings) and businesses. All I could think of at the time was why it wasn't full of squatters, but I guess things don't work like that in Korea. It wasn't until later that I stared to think to myself why an entire neighborhood would disappear overnight like that.

Upon my return to Korea, I moved into a villa that was also quite close to this area and I noticed every day that more and more buildings were missing. Two whole city blocks are in the process of being demolished to make way for an enormous (is there a word that is bigger than enormous? I really want to emphasize the size here) apartment complex. Just Imagine two entire city blocks... basically the distance between two subway stations (Sindang and Sangwangsimni stations) being torn down, residents relocated, and probably hundreds of new apartment high rises built instead.

This area is probably considered prime real estate due to it's close proximity to the Cheonggyechong (stream through central Seoul), Downtown and Wangsimni Station, which will be a hub of 4 subway lines somewhere in the foreseeable future.

Every time we drive through this area, all you can see is the cloth fencing that hides the actual construction site, but we've stopped curiously several times to try to peak through the cloth to get a better look. Sunday, on the way home from some shopping in Kyungdong Market we decided to actually walk through the area and see what we could see. Here is what we saw:

One of the small alleys that cut through the construction. It's lined with a cloth fence that is very typical of Korean construction sites. This fencing just goes on and on in all directions.

They left this big beautiful tree intact.
This building is half torn down. It kind of looks like a bomb went off and tore it up...

We actually managed to peek inside that half torn down house. It was covered in glass and trash. It looked like it was probably a pretty nice place before they decided to tear it down... I was too scared to go in any further than this though....

More streets lined with fences.

The size of this area is a bit of an extreme example, but it's basically what's going on all over Seoul. It's hard to go anywhere without seeing some construction going on. Usually apartment buildings. It's hard to imagine, coming from the States, that the housing market could still be pumping out so much housing every year and still have buyers. I'm just waiting for the housing market to collapse here, frankly. There's no way you can construct so much new housing and have people who can actually afford to live there. I just don't know how long it will take for the Korean housing bubble to burst...

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Doosan vs. Lotte

Sunday I went to my second baseball game in Korea. We were a bit late due to traffic coming home from another Sunday at Halmoni's house, but fortunately, we had some friends who were able to get us tickets before we got there.

Baseball games are slightly different from home. The fan base is crazy, most bearing long, plastic balloon like objects that you can beat together or wave in a synchronized manner following the cheerleaders for each team.

I'm also a big fan of the lack of security checks which allow you to bring basically anything you want into the game. We bought our beers in the convenience store outside the stadium and carried them into the stadium in the plastic bag with no problem. Other people brought in full pizzas or boxes of fried chicken. No problem.

In fact, usually in the US there is a no re-entry policy, I'm fairly certain, so if you leave you can't get back in. Here, my friend came out to find us and give us the tickets and then strolled back in... with his ticket of course.

Then the last big difference is the price of tickets. I come from Boston, and from what I hear, ever since the Red Sox won their first World Series to break the curse, tickets have gone from sort of affordable to outrageously expencive. Here in Seoul, we paid 4,000 won each (less than $4.00) for our ticket. Of course, there is no assigned seats, so paying money doesn't guarantee you get a chair. But, for less than $4.00 I don't mind sitting on the stairs until someone decides to go home early. You can always pay a bit more to get into a better section I suppose.

Anyway, we had a good time, even though the Doosan Bears lost. It's not like I have any real loyalty to any team. I just seem to root for whatever side I'm sitting closer to....

Monday, April 12, 2010

Springtime at Halmoni's house

Sunday morning we took another trip to Halmoni's house in Yangsuri. As I've mentioned before, Yangsuri is about as polar opposite from Seoul as you can get, even though it's only about 50 mins by subway from downtown. Our day started out like this: We arrived around 11 to find no one home and we couldn't get in the house. So we decided to drive into the town center (which doesn't cope well with the recent influx of people and traffic and is always congested) where we passed Halmoni and the boyfriend's father walking out of a market that was set up in the center of town. We entered the market trying to find them and found all sorts of interesting things.

All the socks you could ever want or need... as long as you like overly cute things...

Adorable puppies for sale... but in a cage way too small...

Checking out the chickens... only 4,000 won each... can you believe??

튀김- basically anything you can imagine, battered and deep fried... you can see some shrimp, zucchini and squid here. We had the squid. I usually avoid squid, but if it's cooked right, it can be quite tasty. Deep-fried squid, for future reference, is quite tasty. I think it needed some sort of dipping sauce, but otherwise it was quite delicious.

Korean popcorn. This is the first time I've seen this. They put it into some sort of pressure cooker, and when it's done, it pops and makes a sound more or less like a canon shot. I don't suggest standing right behind one if you're not expecting this sound...

Finally, after walking around for a while and not finding them we headed back to the house. There we found what they went to the market for. Halmoni was in the backyard planing lettuce seedlings she bought at the market. The chicken coop, which had been empty for the past few months was full of chickens again.

I didn't expect to be doing gardening, and I wore a skirt and shoes, so fortunately, the boyfriend had some clothes there that I could wear so I could do some gardening. I'm not sure how I feel about his clothes fitting so well....

The boyfriend made fun of me for wearing my sunglasses while I was gardening... but if the ajummas wear visors to do this sort of thing, I need something to protect my eyes too...

Running around the yard was Meri, the cute little dog that lives outside under the shed, along with one of her puppies (I think the other was given away). The puppy is less than two months old, so she's going to be a bit bigger than her mother I expect....

Anyway, the last sight of the day was some men playing jokgu (족구), that strange sport you see around which seems like a strange combination of volleyball, soccer and maybe hackysack. I'm not entirely sure how to play, but it looks like it's similar to volleyball, but you need to use your feet instead of your hands. The ball bounces like a basketball and looks about the same size too. I'm curious if anyone has seen this game outside of Korea...

*Note, Halmoni is Korean for grandmother.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Curry, Curry, Everywhere...

There seems to be an abundance of curry in my life lately. Which is nothing to complain about, of course.

The first exciting curry story is that my boyfriend, while driving around north of Seoul in Pocheon, found a Thai grocery store run by a Thai gentleman that couldn't even speak Korean. (I don't mean that as an insult, it's just that you find non-English speaking foreigners often speak excellent Korean due tot the fact that they tend to need Korean more than folks from English speaking countries.... I just mean that you know this is really a grocery store for Thai people, not Koreans if they don't speak Korean there) At this little grocery store, the boyfriend found lots of exciting Thai foods for us to eat, including some Thai curry mixes and coconut milk to make them with, and some Thai ramen too. I guess my boyfriend tried to communicate in his elementary Thai skills that he picked up over various trips to Thailand.

Then, Sunday night, we decided to take a trip to the amazing Everest located near Dongdaemun Station. This is a Nepalese owned restaurant that specializes in Nepalese and Indian food. I ordered an amazing Mali Kofta, some basmati rice and naan.

After another amazing meal at Everest, we decided to try to find a store in the area that sells Indian spices, since they tend to be so expencive and hard to find at normal grocery stores. We found a few stores down the alley where Everest is located, but as they don't look like normal Korean stores they are rather intimidating to enter. When we opened the door to the tiny shop we were greeted with the strangest looks. There were a few people hanging around there plus the owner of the shop. When my boyfriend asked in Korean if they had curry, all she understood was curry and tried to send us back to Everest. Finally she understood that we wanted curry powder. We found that English was a much better mechanism for communicating here and we finally decided upon some basic curry powder.

We followed the directions on the box to mix it with yogurt and make it with some meat and veggies, but it was definitely lacking something. It was also a bit on the sweet side.

Here's my question for my readers: Do you make Indian food in Korea? As spices are hard to come by, what would you consider essential for making a good curry and what can you skip on? Do you use the plain yogurt that is sold in the regular grocery stores? It seems much sweeter than I remembered plain yogurt being at home.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Crazy Hair Day and Preschool Art Class

Here is Boston Class. All our classroom names are named after world cities. These are 7 year olds (5-6 international age) who have studied at our school since age 5. Therefore, they are starting their 3rd year of preschool with complete English immersion. Their English skills amaze me some days. I teach them once a week for their art class. I am one of the 7 year old art teachers. Just to give you an idea of their English skills, we had an art assignment that was to draw a construction site. I asked the kids to name some construction equipment. All of a sudden, all hands were in the air, shouting out answers like "bulldozer!" "dump truck!" "crane!" and most impressive of all was "CONCRETE MIXER!!!". My other classes were lucky to get "truck" and "block".

Art usually consists of a drawing/ coloring component and then some sort of project. The project usually being too complicated for most of the kids, meaning Teacher makes 10 projects for the students.

This particular week was draw "line up!" aka, lets think of where we line up in the community and at school and draw a picture. Kind of lame, but whatever. The project was much more fun, and totally do-able for the kids. Making Easter eggs. While the manual said to use hard boiled eggs... any preschool teacher is smart enough to see the dangers in letting ten 7 year olds loose with hard boiled eggs. So, fortunately, someone from corporate was wise enough to send all the schools some styrofoam eggs. The kids got to color these up with markers and decorate them with stickers. Then they put them into little cups with fake Easter grass.

I brought my camera to class this particular day because, not only was it Easter egg making day, but this day was also "Crazy Hair Day". All the kids wore their hair in interesting styles, and a lot of the girls dressed up too.

I'm not quite sure what this one has in her mouth. I guess that makes me a bad teacher...

Here's Jong Ho and Yu Chan. Jong Ho (the one with the pointy hair) has incredible English skills. He has no accent and the mistakes he makes sound more like the mistakes a preschooler in America would make, not a Korean preschooler's mistakes. Yu Chan also has excellent English skills. I'm guessing from hanging around Jong Ho so much.

Anyway, Art class can stress me out some days. dealing with 7-10 preschoolers at once can be trying on a good day. Not to mention, I've just never connected with this age group. And it's every day from 1:40-2:30. There's no days without it. Anyway, three of the 5 classes I teach are great kids. The other two... well... the teachers are trying to make them better classes... hopefully they'll get better, not worse as the year progresses....

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Best Cafe in the City

You wouldn't expect to find the most amazing pizza, coffee, salad, and smoothies all in the same place, would you? Nor would you expect to find it in a little known (yet becoming a big hub) part of the city called Wangsimni. But, yet, it's there. Who would have thought?

Part of the menu.. hope it's readable, the lighting wasn't very good here for photography...

A tiny hole-in-the-wall known as La Caffe in Lemon Plaza has all that and more. In a relaxing atmosphere with soothing Jazz or New Age music lightly playing in the background, you're invited to indulge. This Cafe has an excellent choice of coffee, or so I've been told, since I don't drink coffee. From what I hear, most coffee in Korea is quite poor to say the least. But here, the barristas compete every year in barrista competitions... and even win, so you know that they know a good brew when they smell one.

What? Fair Trade coffee in Korea? No way!

The smoothies here are my weakness. On those stressful days teaching preschool, I was here several times a week ordering "Banana Monkey Shakes" or "Blueberry Shakes" or Green Tea Shakes" or "Mocha Shakes".

Once or twice a month, my co-workers and I from Seongdong used to get dinner or lunch here. My favorite combination was the Caprese salad (with amazing, fresh mozzarella, belive it or not) and one of their amazing thin crust pizzas. My preferred choice usually being the Aglio pizza or the Pomodorini pizza.
Aglio Pizza

Now that I've convinced you all of the amazingness of this place, you need to visit. From Exit 9, turn 180˚ and walk down the main road in the Hanyang University Direction. After walking for about 2 minutes, you'll see a park on your right. Pass the park and turn right at the first street. Walk for about 1 more minute and you'll see a large building with many different businesses on the left side of the road. This building has a LotteMart, SLP and Olympiad among many others. Enter this building on the far end, not near the supermarket. La Caffe will be on the 1st floor, across from a hairdresser. The owner speaks near perfect English, though much of the staff doesn't speak much English at all. Though, they are well accustomed to foreign clientele, as there are SLP and Olympiad hagwons in the building as well. Also note, they are usually closed on Mondays.