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 again...shopping 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

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Money matters

About two weeks ago I was approached by my director and offered to do extra work in the mornings. Obviously, extra work equals extra money so I was sorely tempted.

You see, Oliver and I have not had as much money floating around as we had initially hoped for. Oliver has some debts back home so about half of his salary is sent back to SA to cover his expenses which means that my salary helps to fill the gap. Don't get me wrong, we are not starving or anything we have just had to be responsible with our money. This has meant that we had to start budgeting which is great is that our money lasts us until the end of the month...but not so great because we end up feeling like penny pinchers.

Don't misunderstand me....we are not penny pinchers because Korea is expensive. In fact it is because living in Korea is so cheap that we find ourselves going away ang out do often that our pockets get burned. The winter months in Korea are, however, naturally more expensive than the summer ones because you need to go shopping for clothing, etc. We would also like to engage in winter sports which are, unfortunately, very expensive.

So it is no wonder I was so tempted to take the job but I turned it down. I didn't want to look back at my time in Korea and say...what did I do? I worked and worked and worked.....bleh! When I gave the news to my director, he put forward another idea...I do two days a week and Oliver does two days a week! So we agreed. It is only an two hours in the morning and the extra money could really go a long way!

As much as we are reluctant to get up early and do more work I think it will be very interesting because we will be teaching adults, now that will be an intimidating experience but one that I think we can learn from.

Let's see how it works out! If we enjoy it and the work load isn't too much we will continue and if we just can't manage (or don't want to) we will pull the plug.

I hate double edged swords because either decision leaves you with doubts...hmmmmm....We start tomorrow so wish us luck and we will keep you updated!!!

Post by Claudia

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Autumn Amazement

Yes, yes it feels like not too long ago that I was bitching about how stinking hot it was in Korea....and believe me I was telling the truth! But it seemed to go from sweltering hot to rather chilly in the period of two weeks. Do I sound like a woman that is hard to please or what!

But seriously, I was flabbergasted by how quickly the weather changed and to what extent. I thought Autumn was meant to be this time of perfect weather, not too hot and not too cold. Turns out the perfect weather lasts for about a week and then boom, there is an unshakable chill in the air.

To people living in icy places like Canada this might all sound like I am being a pansy, which is probably true, but the fact of the matter is the weather in South Korea in Autumn is equivalent to the weather in South Africa in winter. Temperatures have been hovering around the zero mark (low) and 10 degrees Celsius.

Despite, the cold, this has been my favourite season so far! The mountains have all turned a beautiful shade of red, orange and yellow and the skies have been absolutely gorgeous. Only in the past week have the leaves started to fall and litter pavements and roads with their colour. It is so beautiful!

Just last weekend we were lucky enough to go to a botanical garden (The garden of morning calm) in Chuncheon (which is the most amazing place to be this time of year) and it was gorgeous!! Here are some of my snapshots:

Isn't is spectacular and just wait until your see Oliver's photos....mine just don't do the scenery justice. And with scenes this beautiful I better just keep quite and stop complaining because a little chill is totally worth it.

Post by Claudia

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Cover up or dress up.....ummmm

The coolest jerseys (sweaters) ever!!! I had never seen these jersey before I came to Korea and man-oh-man are they awesome!!

So if the picture doesn't make it it plainly obvious the zip of the jersey goes all the way up and over your head...how ingenious....who needs beanies, etc when you can cover your whole face with your jersey. Hilarious!!!

I bought a black and white one not too long ago, but alas it does not have faded eye bits so when I where mine I am literally sitting blind.

My kids are so cute with theirs! They have all sorts of characters and not only does it keep them warm it doubles up as a great toy. They zip themselves up and run around chsing each other. The shrieks of laughter show that these jerseys are revolutionary...needles to say I know really really want a cartoon one instead of my subdued black one. 

Sean as Sponge Bob Square Pants

Kevin, as Batman with glasses

Blue, as a monster

Sam, As some cool looking fly/kid thing

And if you think it is a thing only for winter, think again, in Summer they are available in short sleeves. And if you think they are for kids only you would be wrong once again. Here is a photo of Brock fulfilling all of his superhero dreams....

So folks back home...you better place your orders now...hahaha! It's a blast!!!!

Posy by Claudia