Monday, March 29, 2010

Blog 9 - 29 March

Hooray - the first buds of Spring have appeared this week and the weather is a balmy maximum of ten degrees Celsius. I've really missed birds and have noticed a few reappearing lately.

I want to work here! I spotted this napping room sign at Kotra while waiting for the lift to my Korean language class. The explanation is that many overseas investors from Germany, France, and Australia arrive to work in the business incubation area and have had insufficient sleep. The napping room is for them, not for other employees of Kotra, which is a government insurance and investment company, that also offers excellent language classes for free.

I went on a wonderful guided tour of the Korean Folk Museum with the international Dragon Circle group. This stone jar was made as a container to bury the placenta of royal babies. First the placenta was boiled and dried 100 times, then placed in this purpose made jar and buried under an auspicious tree with positive feng shui . The common belief was that a healthy monarch means a prosperous country.

These cloth figures were also in the Folk Museum - in case you lose your way with the needles!

Should we buy a car? This photo was taken at 5.00pm on a Saturday afternoon, not a particularly busy time. The lights are red, however this seems to matter little. Not driving here is no great sacrifice as it can take hours to drive somewhere, depending on the time of day and the weather. Jury is still out on the purchase of a vehicle.

Special delivery! You can always tell a fish restaurant as there is often an aquarium outside. I wonder if this means you can choose your own fish. Probably!

We came across this wood carving shop at the foot of Mount Gwanak. I wonder if there is a big market for these? I haven't noticed them anywhere in Seoul. Perhaps we could decorate our zen house with a sculpture or begin an importing business to Australia.

These tin cans are assembled on roof tops to scare predatory birds. They make a noise when the wind blows.

What could it be? Shopping is such fun as we don't really know what we are buying. Not sure if this is this a soaker, washing powder, softener, bleach,....?
This is our Faculty House get together. Every month there is a meeting for all the residents of our apartments. This is compulsory and we are fined 6,000 won (AU$6.00) for non attendance. Most people choose to be fined as it is so torturous and tedious. An announcement is made 10 minutes prior to the meeting via each apartment's intercom reminding everyone to go. (Yes - big brother is alive and well in Korea!) I was so excited the first time as I hoped it would be an opportunity to meet new neighbours. Although this is an international setting and everyone is fluent in English, the meeting is entirely in Korean! Two people sit at the front ( I have no idea who they are) and talk for 15 -30 minutes, then we are dismissed, but not before we sign the attendance sheet. There is no interaction and although there is some laughter, I can't understand what is going on so it is wasted on me. The question is do we just sign and leave, not go at all or continue to go and try to influence proceeding to be more inclusive. Watch this space!

Do you see variations of hair colour? Almost all Koreans dye their hair, men and women, young and old, even very old people. It is seen as a cultural matter of personal appearance and grooming.

It's not often you have happy birthday sung in 5 different languages simultaneously and spontaneously. French, Spanish, Ukrainian, Korean and English versions of happy birthday honoured our Russian friend Sophia as we cerebrated her birthday on Friday night.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Blog 8 - 22 March

This is a view of our local market. I have no idea how to cook some foods such as the green seaweed and the black mushrooms in the foreground.

Small trucks selling food operate on the roadsides and produce yummy food. These pictures are of a fish shaped snack with red bean stuffing. In Korean they are called ingebbang.

These small snacks cost 1,000 won (AU$1.00) for 4 pieces.

These snacks look different however have the same stuffing inside. These ones are called gukhabbang.

Below are photos of a cooking class I went to on Friday where we learned to make kimchi mandu (fermented cabbage dumplings) and Korean pumpkin soup. The teacher demonstrated while the young woman on the side translated. Then it was our turn to make and eat the food.

On Saturday night we went out with a friend to a new seafood restaurant down the road at Nakseongdae. First we ate raw seafood from the tank outside and then soup made from the rest of the fish that was still sizzling when it was served at the table.

We then went across the road to a bar where we had more beer, soju and mussel soup and snacks including boiled silkworms. Yum!

These mussels came with a gas hotplate with a bottle attached so the temperature can be adjusted to keep the soup hot. They tasted like they had just been caught and were just the thing for a zero degree night!

Damien and his former swimming mate, Giant Yo (Lee Hyun Sub) who had spent time with us when he lived and studied in Adelaide.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Blog 7 - March 15

This week saw the last snow (hopefully) before spring and cherry blossom. Snow is still a novelty however, we have been lucky in that we arrived early February towards the end of winter. Traditionally there are 24 mini seasons here. According to the Korean Lunar calender, each of the four seasons comprises six further subdivisions which are the climatic 'turning points'. For example,Usu is Feb 19 when the first spring rains come and the first buds appear, March 6 is Gyeonchip when frogs stir from their hibernation and April 20 is Gogu when spring rains fall.

The view above is outside our apartment.

My friend Seung Hee showed me a beautiful mountain walk a few minutes from home on Thursday. There was nobody around - bliss!

Getting away from it! These images were of Sunday climbing Gwanak Mountain with hordes of others escaping the city. This is the mountain we see from our apartment - the sun rises over it. We walked from home - it took about 4 hours to climb and descend. It was steep, very slippery and icy with snow melting and refrozen. I had heard of the crowds on the weekend but could not imagine it until I saw so many people. Next time will go during the week or begin at 6.00am!

The scenery was very beautiful and I can understand why so many people walk here. Off the beaten track, and if you got a chance to look up, instead of where to put your feet so you didn't tumble down the hill, the views were stunning. This reminded me of the stones on my website. Perhaps I could add this image when I update it.

Cups supplied for drinking from the mountain spring.

A dream come true! At the summit, 629 metres, we were amazed to see a coffee machine and an enterprising salesman selling hot noodles, beer and soju, which is the Korean equivalent to sake.

One of the main attractions is the holy temple that is towards the top of the mountain. Someone told us on the way down that the Buddhist monks provide free lunch, however we were too late .

Not free lunch - people having snacks at the temple. Damien on his way to find us a place.

The eternal search for coffee continues. Found an Illy cafe near COEX complex while waiting to meet Liz and Matt, colleagues from Adelaide, for dinner. We were so impressed we returned with them after our meal of garlic mushrooms, tofu soup, sushimi, shaved beef in pepper sauce and bean shoots. Sorry, we were having too much fun and forgot to take photos.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Blog 6 - March 8

Trees and plants are clothed in rice straw to protect them during winter. I've never seen this before but then I've never lived in a snowy climate before. I wonder if other cold countries do this. This photo was taken in the gardens of the Somerset Hotel on my way to a lecture given by the Royal Asiatic Society, which is an old and wonderful Korean institution. Here is the link

Our cultural experience this week was a visit to the Leeum Samsung Museum. Here is the link They also dress the bamboo!

This enormous and scary sculpture in the Leeum courtyard was by a french woman, Louise Bourgeois.

A typical Korean cafe in Gwanak Gu, our local area.

When shopping in the local street market I come across many unrecognisable foods. What could this be? Fermented soy bean paste, meju, is used to flavour Korean sauces and soups such as miso. With no car, while not working and with only 2 people to feed (what bliss!), I have time to indulge and shop every few days. It is also an opportunity to practice my few Korean words on the poor unsuspecting vendors. Actually it's fun getting to know the regulars and I've never seen another westerner there so far.

Local zucchinis are individually wrapped at 1800 won each (AU$1.80). Nothing else seems to be individually wrapped like this so I'm curious why zucchini. Yet another mystery!

Sunday afternoon persimmon tea with our Russian friend Sophia and Gali, who will be 9 months old on Tuesday.

Those who know me well, can testify to my love of a good pot of tea. Koreans drink delicious teas made from corn, barley, buckwheat, lotus leaf and dandelion, however, plain black loose leaf tea has been impossible to buy. I have asked every expat I met, searched in all supermarkets, especially luxury departments and yesterday finished the one packet of Lan-choo I'd brought with me from Australia. I had all but given up and put it on my list of things to bring back next time. It was not until we stumbled across an Indian supermarket last night that we unexpectedly struck gold! We also found curry powder, cous cous, falafel, lentils, olive oil and chick peas so look forward to some wonderful feasts.

An interesting juxtaposition of old and new at our local street corner.