Thursday, December 30, 2010

....and a happy new year!!!

I know its a bit early but HAPPY NEW YEAR everyone!

I hope that you have a cracker of a party and that 2011 is awesome! It feels like as I get older the years go faster and if that is anything to go by 2011 is going to be over before I know it. Soon I will be saying hello to more grey hairs, back pain, and bad eyesight!!! Bring on the future...yeah! year's resolutions. I have learnt to take better care of my body in Korea. I have lost weight not through dieting but through living a more active lifestyle. In South Africa we drive everywhere, in Korea we walk. I have also taken up gym and the healthiness of Korean cuisine also helped. So one of my resolutions for 2011 is to keep this up! I am terrified that once I leave Korea I will fall back into the same unhealthy routine. So here is to better cooking and living. My second figure out what the hell I am doing with my life!! Heehe! Oh, and my continue learning to speak Korea...even once I have left!

Hmmm, as for Oliver: I am not sure what his are...I will have to ask him. But if I know him at all....I think these will be among them. Get more of his photos published...and make more of an effort to make this a reality, also uphold his healthy lifestyle, master the art of snowboarding, and figure out what the hell he is doing with his life.

Feel free to comment and tell us some of your resolutions!! I love hearing resolutions because sometimes people say things that should really also be on my list.

As for our New Years Eve activities: Well initially we had planned to go and watch a sunrise on a beach. This is a tradition in Korea and hundreds gather on numerous beaches to celebrate the first sun of the new year...pretty neat idea. However, my hopes for this were dashed on two accounts. One, everybody thinks that it will be freaking cold...which it probably will be and I would more than likely be the first to complain. Number two....those festivals along with many others have been cancelled due to a recent outbreak of foot and mouth disease in Korea. Yikes! As if crazy neighbours weren't enough to worry about. Read here for more details on the outbreak.

Despite the festivals being cancelled because authorities are trying to avoid large gatherings f people...we have decided to head to the most populated city in the country which is bound to have tons more visiting for the new year celebrations. Yip, you guessed it Seoul!

And man oh man does it look like we are in for a party!

Check out some of these videos from you tube for New Years Eve parties in Seoul

I am not a fan of massive crowds where moving is a nightmare and finding a drink is even more difficult...I am sure it will be epic!

HAPPY NEW YEAR!!!! Korea style....whooop whoooop!

Post by Claudia

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Another nomination

Hey all,

Good news! Our little blog has been nominated for another competition on another expat website. This time it's on They contacted us today to say that our blog has been nominated by their website to go up against other Korean blogs and let their users determine which blog is best!

This is very similar to a poll we were in with  in which we came in fourth place (Not too shabby Nidge!).

Hi Expat would like to expose expat readers, especially those in Korea, to material written by expats in the country. Their team has put together a fanatasic selection of blogs including Eat Your Kimchi, Grrrl Traveller, Farm Boy and City Girl (fellow South Africans) and Chris in Korea. There are almost 30 blogs on their give them a look! You may just enjoy what you find!! Give a vote to the one you think deserves it (which I hope is us...wink, wink, nudge, nudge). The winner gets a night out in Seoul as well as a featured article and biography...which is amazing exposure!!!!

Voting closes on the 21st of January. Here is the link to what the contest is about. Be sure to check out the mini-profiles at the bottom and the comments/discussions!

There are some on the list that I have never heard of before...better get reading while the going is good!

A Christmas in the cabins...

I simply can't believe that Christmas has come and gone! Phew...

As you all know this year we spent Christmas in a small lodge (known as a pension in Korea) with a whole bunch of foreigners! And it was a blast. A lot more relaxed than I anticipated but really good fun.

This is the one we stayed in if you click past the introduction page. Click preview. Click  Then click

You will get an idea of how beautiful our little pension was! Unfortunately, I can't download the photos so I thought this would be the best way for you to see what it was all about. Oliver and I weren't too good with taking photos this weekend.

As you can see from the layout of the pension, there were no beds and no private bedrooms so for two days we had a slumber party of note. It was quite peaceful actually.

Our Christmas day was broken up into a series of "times". Breakfast time, snack time, nap time, movie time, dinner time, game time, drunk time and hangover time. It just happened this wasn't planned...I promise!

Friday night (Christmas Eve) ended up being quite a bender....we stayed up until 4am giving Santa no chance to drop off our gifts. The others finished of a bottle of Tequila (bleh!) and numerous bottles of Soju. So on Christmas day there were a fair share of hangovers to go around.

 Oh, did I forget to mention that we had a disco ball and randomly started a
trance disco on Friday night..Bizzare!

Once up we decided to talk a walk to get some good food....Alas, many restaurants were closed leaving us with very few options. So after a 20 minute walk in the freezing cold we opted for the first restaurant we came across which was Bosam...Yum! Slices of meat, with herbs, lettuces and numerous other bits. It wasn't what everyone was after but at least our tummies were full.

Yummy leaves and fresh herbs!

After realising how cold it was we unanimously decided that we did not want to leave the pension again and we wanted to stock up on everything we needed. So we stopped off at a Family Mart. There must have been about eight of us there (we left three hungover souls at the pension) all kitted out with shopping baskets. We went, beer, snacks galore...I simply couldn't stop myself. I am not sure if the lady behind the counter was horrified at having so many loud foreigners in her store at one time or of she was over the moon because she just made more money off of us than she could have wished for on such a slow day!

On the walk back home we came across a frozen river....a novelty in our eyes. Immediately we started picking up rocks and trying to break the ice...but it was the boys got more adventurous trying to walk on it while the girls settled for trying to get small pebbles into breaks in the ice. After about half an hour half of us started getting cold and went back...but some die hard boys (including Oliver) played on for another hour! Nothing like some good wholesome fun on Christmas Day.

The amazing frozen river...take note of brock in his Santa outfit...he wore that all day!

Once back I got hard to work to make some pancakes! Hmmmmm...I love pancakes. And I had a special ingredient from back home...Stroh Rum. Horrible to drink but fantastic to cook with!

The things started to die down as movie and nap time started...we got to watch some great Christmas flicks like Home Alone, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and Avatar (Ok, I admit this isn't a Christmas movie but awesome nonetheless).

With temperatures and wind chill factor leaving outside at -20 Degrees Celcius we decided walking wasn't such a hot idea and opted for pizza, chicken take aways and kimchi rice! Quite a feast!

 Our Christmas feast...mostly gone by now!

We then played a game to get Christmas presents which involved stealing gifts from others....Hmmmm...Let's just say some left happy and others not so happy. But then it was time for games....drinking games of course!We played everything from Korean drinking games like Bunny Bunny to classics like Sevens and funny ones like Obblydoobly.

Alas, despite our earlier shopping spree, our drinking supplies began to dwindle and the party faded at about two!

Thanks Friends for an awesome, chilled, and utterly funny Christmas!!!

The three South Africans (Oliver, Claudia and Stallone)

The two Brits (Natalie and Mike)

A drunk Korean (Aekyoeng) and a confused Canadian (Trevor)

My two favourite Americans (Brock and Lauren)

Everybody! Take note of Karolina's (the blonde at the back) very excited face!
and Matt (front). These two Americans very sneekily managed to dodge my camera in all other photos but this one!

Post by Claudia

P.S. If ever you decide to stay at this pension, the lady who runs it (a Korean hippie) is such a great laugh and will do everything in her eccentric power to make you comfortable!

Friday, December 24, 2010

Merry Christmas...Korean Style

Hello again!!!


We are about to head out on a train to celebrate Christmas with some friends in the bitterly cold weather in a lodge somewhere out there!!! But I just wanted to say Merry Christmas to all of you....Korean style.

Here are some Christmas songs done the Korean way (with all its kitschness, awkardness, and awesomeness):

Merry Christmas to all...and to all a good night! I have a feeling the jolly old man is going to spoil us this year!!!

From Sunny to Freezing

Hello all,

We are back from South Africa and we are finally starting to feel semi-human again. Two flights across the globe in under a week is exhausting!

Anyhow, we had a wonderful stop back home and were happy that we got a chance to see friends and family, even if only for a brief while. You will also be glad to know that the wedding was a huge success! Congrats again Carsten and Erica!

After basking in the awesome sunny weather in South Africa I realised two things. One, how translucent my skin has become as a result of being wrapped in clothing for the past three months...and it looks like it going to stay that way for another three. Have no idea how I am going to get a tan before my sisters wedding. Maybe before her wedding....powder, see-through white will be back in fashion (I doubt it).

Two, just how cold it is in Korea. I remember being told before we came that our little city of Wonju can drop to temperatures below -17 degrees Celcius. I thought no bloody way! Turns can. before we left to South Africa it dropped to -12 degrees Celcius. And today will be the same...but as soon as you factor in wind chill (which is significant) we will drop to -16 during the day and -22 during the evening. Brrrrrrrrrr!

If you don't believe me...check this forecast out:

It is going to be a cold cold Christmas!!!

And on that note MERRY CHRISTMAS everyone!!!! Have a wonderful weekend and I hope Santa spoils you rotten!

Post by Claudia

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Off for a week!

Seasons greetings everyone!

I hope that you are having a festive and happy season this far! Mine and Oliver's Christmas shopping is all done and...we are heading to South Africa today.

Two of our best mates are getting married and we couldn't miss it! So for a week we won't be in touch with all you lovely readers but I promise as soon as we are back we will be back in touch.

And Oliver has been working on a hoard of photos...we will have some beautiful pictures of Korea available for you soon!!!

Until then, have a wonderful time doing whatever you're doing!!

Saturday, December 11, 2010

The pride of Wonju: Dongbu Promy

There is not much to our little city Wonju......we have some beautiful mountains (which I am embarrassed to say we have not yet climbed), we are home to two fantastic festivals (the Hanji Festival and the Wonju Tattoo Festival), Korea's best female weightlifter Jang Mi-Ran is from here, and we have the Dongby promys who are both champions and have held several seasonal titles!

Dongby Promy...what the hell is that? Well, it's Wonju's basketball team!

Last night, I had my first ever basketball experience!!! And it was so so fun! Oliver finished work too late and had an insatiable snowboarding desire he had to have filled, so he wasn't at the game but boy am I happy I went along!

There were many people there to support their local stars....there were cheer-leaders and kiss cams, and free give-aways.

Before the game started

We tried our hardest to get in on some of the free pizzas, steaks, and ice-cream cakes but alas we are no longer children and we are not yet old so despite our best efforts at screaming and going blue in the face with energy.......we did not get any of the delicious food parcels that were handed out during ad-breaks. But don't you fret.....our little group of waygooks (foreigners) got their fair share of prizes.

Being a foreigner definitley comes with its fair share of good things. Being white, means that the local TV crews want you on TV. It sounds strange....but it's true!

First up, Lauren and Brock were spotted by the kiss cam and they gave the camera such a show that they were given 150,000Won's worth of beef. That's a lot of beef, and in the land of very expensive meat that is a fantastic prize!

Next, Steve was called onto the court to play rock, paper, scissors with a cheerleader....I am not too sure what happened because I was busy getting prepped for my time on court. Yip....I got to go on first time ever at a basketball game and I got to go on the court.....hahaha! YAY!

Before going on court

The Dongbu Promy Mascot

Once on court I had to pick a letter from the name Dongbu Promy....Then I was given a challenge. My challenge was to try and get a basket! So, I got into my best pose I could, bounced the ball a couple of times, tried my best to look like I had a blinking idea what I was doing, and took a shot...........I missed! Sniff sniff, weep weep. So much for all the months of playing with Oliver...when it counted the most and I was being watched by a stadium full of people....I missed...URG!

Then the announcer asked where I was from and I proudly announced I was from South Africa, I then proceeded to show him my South African Converse shoes. I totally forgot I was on national TV and acted like a nerd...I mean who shows off their shoes even if they are totally sweet because they are green and have the South African flag on them. What a turd!

My super cool shoes

Anyway, it was a good laugh and I got a prize!!! whooop whoooop! I got two day passes to Sungwoo Ski Resort which is super funny because just last week I bought a season pass for that resort! Haha! So because it is Lauern's birthday weekend I gave them to her as an early gift! Now I have someone who can spend the whole day falling with me which makes me happy!

And then, Brock and Lauren gave me a Dongbu Promy basketball with the team's signatures! Whoop Whooop! Who's the gangster now?

 The awesome Dongbu Promy ball

For the rest of the night I was super hyped up! I joined in the shouting and screaming to the extent that my throat is sore today! I love those environments and to top it all off our team won by a landslide!!!!

I will be going again!!!

Post by Claudia

Monday, December 6, 2010

Our first trips to the slopes: An agonizing and amazing experience

We have entered a new phase of our year in Korea, the winter phase!!!

We had our first snowfall just over a week ago which was great!! Snow is so magical. I know my one mates, Lauren, who is from Minnesota is not the biggest fan because of all the ice but then again she has lived with it her whole life and knows all the annoyances. I, on the other hand, can only see the magic of snow.....It reminds me of Christmas movies and romance...there is just something awesome about it!

After the first snow fall

Oliver being cute!

And with snow, comes a whole new outdoor experience! And by that I mean snowboarding, sledding, and skiing.

I love love love sledding. Yeeeeeah Ha! It is so fun and you do it with others which makes it social too. However, I must admit, I was a little apprehensive about skiing and snowboarding, that was, until yesterday.

We headed to the slopes to check out prices, etc. Hyperventilation appeared to be my only strategy for dealing with the huge costs of skiing for a season. Holy cow is a season pass expensive. It is a whopping 450, 000 Won  (which is roughly R2700 or 400USD). And that is just for the pass, then you have to pay to hire equipment, get the necessary clothing, and before you know it you have spent a fortune.

I sat agonising for a while as to whether I should just take the lunge, sacrifice the money, and get a whole new experience or be sensible and save the money. Man did I think and think and think! It was painful! In the end I took the lunge! Yikes!!!

When am I going to get the chance again to live in a country that is covered in snow and be as close as I am to a ski-slope? I don't know, so what the heck!

Rocking my gear

Oliver and his new best friend!
We made some adjustments, which means we will be living like peasants this month...but it also means we can do it from the top of a snow-covered mountain...which is a pretty sweet deal!

As for skill...hmmm...skill......ummmmm.....yeah....that is something that I need to work on. A whole bunch!

I went skiing yesterday...I have bad memories of snowboarding being bruised and frustrated so I thought I would give skiing a go. After falling, I really could not stand up....I kept sliding down the side of the mountain in absolute fits of laughter all by myself....I was a sorry sight. Eventually, I got back to my feet, only to fall again. This time in an awkward way that had my knees going in some weird direction which was bloody painful and must have been a ridiculous site! After some more sliding and the realisation that I had a lot more butt-sliding to do, a friend noticed me. Thank heavens!

Oliver (not my Oliver...another Oliver from Wales) taught me the to stand up, how to stop, how to manage my speed, and how to turn left and right. He was with me for about twenty minutes and boy did it help! For the next two hours I just kept trying and I could feel myself getting better and better. High Five!!!

While I was wading down the mountain in my slow, old lady, learning fashion. Oliver, Oliver and Eric were learning to do jumps, tricks and all sorts of crazy things. The boys were in such a happy place...pure joy!

We only ended up leaving the slopes at 23:10......CRAZY!!!

Oh, and can I just say, three hours of skiing really does make your bum and arms hurt. Ouch! I haven't been able to lift my arms above my head the whole day! I better look like a super model by the time the season is up!!! Hahaha....

So even though my pockets are dry and I cringe at the thought of how much money was spent I am super super stoked (happy) with my choice. Sometimes the reckless choice is the best one even if it means I am going to be covered in bruises for the next three months.

Post by Claudia

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Getting personal: Thoughts and questions about the future!

The life of an expat is a strange one. You feel so lucky and excited at the opportunity you have been given to explore a new land whilst at the same time feeling a little bit adrift from everything. It is an odd sensation. You have friends and family back home that have carried on with their lives whilst you forge new relationships abroad.

Yet, somehow, you feel detached. Detached from reality and detached from your life back home. I am not sure if it tis he same for everyone or even if everyone experiences these odd emotions I am trying to convey. It is not homesickness, per say. Sure, there are things and people from home I have missed...and I find that I have a longing for Africa that I cant quite place but I am also totally happy in the life I am living now. Confusing, I know.

As your time in one place comes to an end you find yourself looking to the horizon and asking questions about the next step. Staying is not an option for us. We love Korea and the lifestyle but we are not getting younger and life choices and decisions need to be made. But where to from here?

I have been accepted to the University of Sussex in the UK, which is fantastic, but there is no way in hell I can pay to go there. While I wait to hear on a scholarship I have to think about other options. And I must say, volunteering somewhere is Africa is very very appealing to me. Oliver, also needs space to further explore his photographic abilities. He might go to Ghana for a few months to stay with dad and explore that beautiful country.

Yes, this might mean that Oliver and I may have to spend some time apart but I think that is OK. Not easy, but necessary. We have been dating for six years and we find ourselves at a weird juncture where we need to set certain cogs into motion to secure our independent futures but at the same time we need to think about our joint future. Hmmmm......

We are not ready for marriage and kids but as friends start to get engaged, married, and have children we are faced with the realisation that although we are not ready for these things now (or anytime in the near future) we need to decide on where we see ourselves going. And by that, I mean location.

You see, we love South Africa, it is our home with our closest friends and family, It has people that smile and are amazing. In terms on landscapes, it has everything the world has to offer but there is one big black spot on this otherwise perfect country, and that is crime.

Crime in SA is high and violent. You become accustomed to living with it: looking over your shoulder when you draw money, crawling up to traffic lights at night, not walking on the streets, being aware of yourself and where your belongings are but when you leave and you get a chance to live in a country like Korea where crime is virtually non-existant you get a taste of how life is really supposed to live.

I love walking around in the evenings. I love that I can step out of work, walk across the street to get some groceries and make a few stops by foot before going home. Walking is great...and I don't feel afraid...not even a little bit. I have let my guard down completely and it feels so so good. Yet the thought of South Africa not being mine and Oliver's final destination, the place where we settle, hurts.

Man-oh-man. This entry started out as me wanting to tell how trusting people are in Korea, how honesty is just a way of life and instead I have delved into a whole bunch of thoughts that have been wracking my brain since I realised that we need to start thinking about the next step.

I want a Masters, and I want a PhD and I want to get them in different countries that allow me learn from people from across the globe. And I want to do that so I can take these skills back to Africa, my home! Oliver on the other hand needs to focus his photography and make a name for himself.

Hmmm, so where to, where to from here? Do we stay abroad and chase our dreams but feel afloat from our lives in SA, do we pick somewhere else and say this is it, or do we just keep floating for a little until we figure it out (probably my favourite option at the moment).

I am not sure any of this made any sense and I know it is quite different from our standard posts but here it is in all its glory. I think it gives a little glimpse into the minds of people who are torn between home and the excitement of outward travel or maybe it is just showing the thoughts of a twenty-something not quite sure on what her next step in life should be...who knows?

Post by Claudia

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Everyday life, conflict and snow

It feels like forever since I last touched base with my beloved blog. Sniff sniff. I am sorry that the blog has been a little neglected lately. There are two main reasons for this. One, since we have started teaching in the morning as well, we have even less time on our hands which means that the blog often suffers (weep weep) Secondly, as we continue to live in Korea less is as shocking or as news worthy as we thought it was in the beginning.

When we got here we were wet behind the ears and knew nothing about Korean culture so every dish, every place and every experience warranted a spot on our lovely little blog. Sadly, as ordinary day-to-day life continues things, naturally, have become no longer worthy of mention on out blog. We have told it all to you already (we wish!).

However, two noteworthy things happened this week. One, as I am sure you have heard, there are some tensions between South Korea and North Korea and two, it snowed on Saturday!

If you do happen to live under a rock, here is a very short clip about what happened six days ago.

Yip, the North is showing some aggression and they had targeted an island which was full of civilians. There has been quite a bit of political talk since then with the US and South Korea still doing their training exercises, Not saying that that is aggressive, and China saying it is not against the idea of a unified Korea. Hmmmm, there is a lot happening up in the blue house (parliament) at the moment. But, to be entirely honest, it has not changed our day to day lives in the least.

We have just kept going on as usual, enjoying the change of season and yes, the snow! YAY!

That said, we are prepared if things do go bad to take the necessary steps to get away from the heat.

But for now, we will just keep enjoying all the beauties South Korea has to offer!

Post by Claudia

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Missing the christmas vibe

It's that time of year malls are filled with people, Christmas carols are playing in the background, every shop window has Christmas wishes and pictures, and even icons and symbols on TV have some sort of Christmas memorabilia attached to them. Unfortunately that's not the case in Korea!

I love Christmas, it has to be my favourite holiday, although I am not particularly religious I love the feeling of good will and giving...and all the presents under the tree make it that much sweeter. I simply love the atmosphere that comes with Christmas and I naively thought that everywhere would have the Christmas festivity. Sadly, I was wrong.

Despite Korea having a very large Christian population Christmas it is not as big a deal (or should I say it hasn’t been as commercialised) as it has back home.

It only dawned on me how little Christmas festivity I have encountered when we were in Seoul last weekend and we stumbled across a Christmas display outside a large shopping centre. So there is some Christmassy stuff in Seoul and I have been told that as soon as December starts it will escalate, but that is not the case in Wonju (sniff sniff weep weep).

Brock and Lauren wanted to get some photos done for their Christmas greeting cards, so they graciously asked Oliver. Brock was dressed in a Santa suit and Lauren had some cute accessories. In the middle of a busy street in Wonju we tried to take the photos. They came out really well!

When we were taking the photos it was amazing how people lit up and all of a sudden out of nowhere I got my first..."Merry Christmas".....YAY!

Even though Koreans aren’t big on their Christmas memorabilia I am certain that this Christmas will be a special! One: because it will be covered in snow; two: because we are planning to spend it with a big group of friends at a ski-resort; and three: because it will probably be my only Christmas in Korea.

So even though there are no Christmas carols playing and I can’t see pictures everywhere....I am still excited! So I am going to take this opportunity to send out my first seasons greetings! Have a safe, fun, and awesome festive season wherever you are!

Post by Claudia

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

DMZ..timing is everything

I wrote the below post yesterday and had been planning on posting it this morning...As they say, everything happens for a reason! North Korea has fired artillery shells at a populated South Korean Island. Many news agencies are saying that this is the worst attack since the "end" of the war. Tensions are high and what makes this all a bit more crazy is that we were at the DMZ on Saturday.

For more on the attacks, check out the BBC article:

Here is what I had written earlier on today about my perception of the DMZ. It was so calm and I am sure if I went there today I would have a very different picture. Either way, I am happy I got a chance to see it!

OK, I will stop blabbing...this is what we experienced on Saturday:

It's and eerie place and your'e never quite certain if what you are seeing is reality. A country divided. Literally. Well, it is true which makes it both fascinating and sad.

On Saturday, Oliver and I together with four other friends made our way to Seoul to do a DMZ/JSA tour.

We set off in our tour bus at 08:30 and it took us only an hour to reach the border where the country is split. This was intriguing ...just an hour from the capital of Seoul lies a divide, the likes of which haven't been known since the Berlin Wall.

Our first stop was the third tunnel, a tunnel which was made by North Korea and which is 44km away from Seoul. This is one of four such tunnels discovered which has lead analysts to suspect that others may exist. The tunnel extends beyond the Military Demarcation Line (MDL) and was understood as a direct threat by North Korea to invade Seoul.

 before heading down the tunnel

After that, we went up to the Dora Observatory where you are able to try and see into North Korea. Unfortunately we didn't have a very clear day but regardless we were able to see the skyline of a city in North Korea. We were also able to see their infamous flag which is said to be the biggest and heaviest in the world.

 The best view we could get due to the fog

After lunch it was off to Imjin-Gak Park which has become a popular park for South Koreans to visit on the weekend. There is a small carnival, a couple of restaurants, and a generally nice atmosphere but if you look a little deeper you realise that there are messages written on small pieces of material attached to the fence bordering on the DMZ. Messages to people that family have lost due to the DMZ....cries of love and sorrow. It was really moving!

Then, it was off to the Joint Security Area (JSA) which was something else. We had to go through several security checks, have our clothing and cameras examined and then have a briefing. We were escorted by a soldier though-out the entire thing.

In lines of two we walked silently up a flight of stairs passed several soldiers which were intimidating in size and stature. Then, we were at Panmunjom, the place you always see on TV when people talk about the split between North and South Korea.

We had only five minutes in the room where officials meet to talk about politics and the Armistice. The extent to which the line is drawn is incredible. One side of the table belongs to the South and the other to the North. We were given the opportunity to cross the line, and for a brief moment we were in the most hermit country in the world.

What a strange and eerie feeling...

We then made our way passed the site of the Axe Murder incident and the bridge of no-return.

What an emotional day full... but totally worth it!

Post by Claudia

Friday, November 19, 2010

Honouring the Hanbok

Most Asian cultures have the most beautiful traditional clothing, especially for women. Almost everyone has seen a picture of an incredible Japanese woman in a Kimono dress which has the long sleeves and amazing patterns not many have seen the traditional clothing worn by Koreans, which is Hanbok.

Hanbok literally means Korean clothing but nowadays when something is referred to as Hanbok it almost always refers to the traditional clothing that was created during the Joseon Dynasty.

Like Kimono, Hanbok clothing is available for men, women and children. It is also generally made in very bright colours and is worn on special occasions, like weddings.

A Hanbok dress is different to a Kimono dress in many ways, most notably the cut of the dress. The Kimono is generally more tight-fitting where as the Hanbok dress flares out from straight under the bosom.

I know I have been referring to the dress as a Hanbok dress...but the actually a combination of a Jeogori which is the small jacket like item and the Chima which is the skirt like section of the dress.

There is so much history to this clothing. During the Joseon Dynasty and beyond different colours were symbolic of the different status or positions people held in society. The wealthy wore bright, extravagant colours where as commoners, by law, were only allowed to wear white Hanboks.

A young performer at the Andong Mask Dance Festival

At the Lotus Lantern Festival

Hanbok is elegant and beautiful and every festival we have ever been to we have seen woman, men, and children walking around in this amazing apparel. Many know of Chinese and Japanese garments and the Korean Hanbok is often forgotten about despite its beauty and unique history, so here is a brief tribute to the traditional clothing of this proud and cultured nation!

Post by Claudia

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Quintessentially Korean

This is a blog post that should actually have happened months ago. This is a post we should have done the day we came here, or at the latest, the day after our first restaurant visit. This is a post about a food item so Korean, so engrained in the culture and society, it makes K-Pop and Soju look like distant relatives. There can of course only be one thing I'm talking about. It is the spicy, the delicious, the fermented, the one and only...Kimchi (김치 in Korean).

Wait...what did I say in that last sentence? Delicious? Yes. Spicy? Yes. Fermented? A fermented food item. Sounds strange, doesn't it. And it is indeed strange. But it is incredibly delicious, apparently really healthy for you, and it is eaten at every meal in Korea.

So what is this phenomal food called Kimchi? Let me break it down.

Kimchi can be made from a variety of different vegetables, but for the sake of simplicity and understanding, I will talk about the biggest and most widely eaten type of Kimchi, the variety made from nappa cabbage (배추 Baechu).

Let me point out at this point in time that this time of year in Korea is the season for Kimjang (김장),which is the event or process of making Kimchi for the coming year. Due to a considerable amount of Kimchi being made (enough for a year), it is a pretty big event, that is often spread out over the course of several days or a weekend.

I am not Korean, and don't have first hand knowledge on the Kimchi making process but I have spoken to many Koreans about it, and this is what they've told me.

The amount of cabbage used varies from family to family depending on all sorts of things, from how much Kimchi they plan on eating to how big the family is, but to give you a rough idea, one of my co-teachers made Kimchi with her mother in law, and the made 50 heads of cabbage worth. Yes.50.

So the cabbage is rubbed down with a very course pickling salt, and left to sit for a while, so as to draw out some of the moisture. Once it has sat long enough, the cabbage is then rinsed under fresh water, to get rid of all the excess salt. After that (it might even be before that) the cabbage is then smeared full of a tasty, spicy, salty red pepper paste that has been specially made for the Kimchi.

The paste is made of several ingredients, the main ones being garlic, fish paste or fish sauce, sticky rice paste and Gochugaru (고추가루), which is a powder made from ground up red peppers (chillies).

The layers of cabbage with the tasty red paste

After the cabbage has been smothered inside and out with this spicy paste, it is then put into jars or tupperwares and put away for storage. The modern method of storing is not half as exciting as the old method, because nowadays, it is simply stored in a Kimchi fridge. Most families that have the space will have one of these, a fridge made especially to store Kimchi for the coming months. Whoohoo...excitement.

The old method is a little more involved and makes for a much greater story.

Back in the day (how far back I cannot tell you) after this whole process was done and dusted, Koreans needed a place to store their Kimchi. Outside was too cold, and the Kimchi would freeze, and inside might have been just that little bit too warm. What would happen is that the finished product would be placed in a kimchi pot and then buried to protect it from the harsh cold experienced during the Korean winter. If any was needed, it could be dug up. The pots are generally quite large, so burying one of these would have been no mean feat. There are of course still some families that try and stick to the traditional way of doing things, and they still use the pot method.

This is what the Kimchi pots look like

Whether it's being stored in pots or in a fridge, the months of storage after making allow the Kimchi to ferment and only increase in flavour and awesomeness!

This is known as a 'kimjang' bag. It is a very large (100x70cm) bag, into which the Kimchi is placed before being put into the pots for storage

Kimchi dates back pretty far; as early as about 3000 years ago, but I'm not going to go into the whole history of this Korean speciality. It is incredibly delicious, served everywhere and is also really good for your health.

As mentioned, Kimchi is eaten at almost every single meal, and I'd almost be willing to put money on (almost) that in all of our 'table covered in food' photos, there is Kimchi to be seen. It is a side dish that accompanies almost all food items. It is also often used to make its own dishes like stews or rice dishes.

All in all it is an incredible delicious food item that has an interesting and tedious making process, is eaten all over the country and is as ingrained in the culture and lifestyle here as bagpipes are to the Scots or cheese to the Swiss.

I for one know that I will most definitely miss this tasty morsel once my stint in Korea is over.

Post by Oliver

Friday, November 12, 2010

빼빼로 (Pepero)

Pepero is a Korean snack food that is made of a cookie stick that is dipped in chocolate. The thing is that it is not just any regular snack, there's a special story (or event) attached to this tiny staff of goodness.


Nude (chocolate on the inside)

These are some of the flavours.

Yesterday was 'Pepero Day' here in South Korea, and what this is, is a 'special' celebration day, along the lines of Valentine's day. The idea is that people give each other boxes or sticks of Pepero, so as to make the other person just that little bit happier. Most of the giving is done from boys to girls and vice versa as opposed to adults to adults.

Some people really like the idea of this day, as it gives people a reason to be-gift one another and it makes the day a little more special. Other people say that a day like this is nothing but blatant consumerism at it's best (or is that worst?).

Pepero is made by a huge company here in Korea, called Lotte. They really are massive, having their hands in everything from products, to housing, to theme parks, etc, etc. According to Wikipedia, Lotte says they had nothing to do with the creation of the day, so is it just a huge coincidence that they make over 50% of their sales in November..?

There are a few different stories as to how it started, but one fact remains, Pepero Day is on November 11, which is 11-11, which, in other words, is a whole bunch of straight lines, and Pepero being a cookie stick, resembles these lines, hence November 11.

Whether one agrees with it or not, it is what it is, and Claudia and myself decided to embrace Pepero Day, and bought a whole lot of the stuff the night before, so we could dish it out to our co-teachers and students (not me, just Claudia; she's a sucker for giving things to her kids).

Here is what we bought:

This was all redistributed, promise

Almond pack

Nude pack

Original pack

Some people might say we 'fell prey' to the out-and-out consumerism, others might say we are just embracing Korean culture and celebrations. Which ever way you look at we, we can say we had a lot of fun giving away the Pepero, and also receiving a whole bunch. We now have a cupboard full, which should last us for some time into the future...

...Long Live Pepero Day!!!

Post by Oliver