Thursday, December 30, 2010

Orphanage visit

Mark joined this volunteer organization, Bean, here in Seoul. They do a lot of great things, one of which is volunteering every few weeks at an orphanage. Mark went the first time by himself, and convinced me to go with him the second time.

It was a really different feel than the orphanage we visited in Busan. At Sung Ae Won Orphanage, the kids lived there all the time so it just felt sadder. But at this orphanage, all the kids live with foster families during the week and just live at this orphanage on the weekends. These kids seemed a lot more well-adjusted and less attention-starved. It was nice (and definitely better for the kids). But being there, it felt less important that we were there playing with them.

There were kids of all ages -- ranging from 3 to 16. Bean had some arts and crafts set up, but there were too many volunteers for the number of kids, so we opted to hang out with the littlest ones.

We had some Christmas worksheets for them to color.



Look at this little one with the big thick glasses!!!! TOO cute.


Then, we just kind of played with them and chased them (endlessly). There was one little boy who was like 5 or 6 who loved to be chased. He was definitely my favorite of the day because anytime you'd give him attention or go near him he'd smile from ear to ear.

Afterwards, BEAN provided pizza, cookies, and drinks for the kids. We served them and hung out with them. Then we all went outside and played. It was cold, but the kids managed to have fun.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Snowy seasons greetings!

Today Mark and I went to Coex Mall to buy each other Christmas gifts. And walking into the mall, we finally got our (albeit somewhat belated) white Christmas.

Snowy seasons greetings

Big, fat, fluffy flakes... loved it. Since this is Seoul, it'll all be melted/gray slush by tomorrow, but definitely enjoyed the beauty today!

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Christmas in Korea, Round 2

Though we missed our family and friends back home, Mark and I had a really nice second Christmas in Korea.

Our last day of class before the holidays was on Thursday. After that, we get a week and a day off for the holidays. So we won't be back in class until a week from today! To celebrate, we brought Dunkin Donuts to class.


Then, since we were off for Christmas eve, we set out early in the day for some 떡복이 (spicy Korean rice cakes). I had read about a place that serves the best ones in Korea online, so since we had the time, we decided to make the trip. Totally worth it, plus the little old lady there is really adorable. It was SO cold, so when we arrived, she had us sit on a heated seat and pointed her little space heater directly at us. And then she went out in the cold to make our lunch.


I mean, seriously look at it. Obviously the red ones are spicy and the other ones are glazed with soy sauce. The green things are tofu wrapped in green leaves and pan fried. Amaaazing.


The 떡복이 restaurant is actually located off the the 경복궁 exit, and there was a big tree in the station. So I made Mark stand in front of it totally against his will. (Can you tell by his body language that he is not happy with me at all? Haha.)


After our lunch, we went to a "sweet cafe." Basically it is a private room where you can watch movies, listen to music, play Wii (if you pay a little extra--we didn't), and drink coffee. I am convinced that teenagers go there to hook up, but Mark and I being almost 30 (wah!~) instead opted to rent a movie. We watched Salt and (again proving that we're officially an old married couple) dozed off halfway through it. :)

Then later that night we met our good friends, Kerry, Ryun, and Ellen at Noryangin for some sashimi, shrimp, scallops, and soju. Then we headed out for some 막걸리 (Korean rice wine) and more.


On Christmas morning when we finally woke up, we opened some gifts from our parents. It's so much fun having packages to open! In these pretty packages were clothes, a pretty toiletry organizer, books, gym memberships, and key chains.


We also got some home-made Christmas cookies!


Hope your Christmas was such as wonderful as ours!!!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Happy Holidays!


즐거운 성탄절 보내세요!
새해복 많이 받으세요!
Merry Christmas and may you have lots of good fortune in the new year!!!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Now THAT'll put you in the Christmas spirit

S. Korea Stands Guard Over Christmas Tree at the DMZ

By Seonjin Cha

Dec. 21 (Bloomberg) -- A 30 meter (100 foot) tower that’s been hung with lights in the shape of a Christmas tree will be defended against possible attack from the North, Defense Minister Kim Kwan Jin told lawmakers in Seoul today.

“We’ll retaliate decisively to take out the source of any shelling,” Kim said at a National Assembly defense committee meeting.

A South Korean church turned on Christmas lights covering the metal tower, near the border between the two Koreas, before 6 p.m. local time, Kim Han Soo, a pastor and spokesman for Yoido Full Gospel Church, which organized tonight’s ceremony, said when contacted by telephone. About 400 people were watching the event, guarded by about 80 soldiers, he said, with an ambulance and fire engine also present.

“Those soldiers seemed to remain on alert,” said Kim. “By the time we left the site, those soldiers were still there. I didn’t notice any unusual move on the other side.”

The lighting of the tower near the border is part of “psychological warfare” between the two countries, South Korea’s JoongAng Ilbo newspaper reported on Dec. 15. Kim said the significance of the tree, which was decorated by a South Korean church, is religious, not political.

The tower hasn’t been lit up since 2004, according to the Korean-language newspaper report. North Korea, which suffers from energy shortages and relies on outside handouts to feed its 24 million people, had demanded the tower be demolished, JoongAng said at the time.

Religious Move

The church requested South Korea’s military authority to carry out today’s event after a seven-year suspension, said Kim. “We decided to resume this ceremony to spread God’s love and peace to brothers and sisters in North Korea,” Kim said.

The annual ceremony began in 1954, though it was discontinued when the South and North Koreas agreed to halt acts of “propaganda” in 2004, according to Kim reading the Church’s statement.

South Korea in May began radio broadcasts that can be heard in North Korea, ending a six-year moratorium on propaganda, after an international panel concluded the North torpedoed the warship Cheonan, killing 46 sailors.

North Korea yesterday held back from acting on a threat to retaliate against South Korea artillery drills held on an island in disputed waters along the two nation’s western sea border.

International snacks

Some of our friends from Level 2 at Sogang brought us some treats from their respective countries.

From our Japanese friends...


Haven't opened any of it yet, but we're told the stuff in foil is to be eaten with rice. And in the plastic bag are some sort of cucumbers. And then there's Japanese style ramen. Excited to try it.

And then from our friend from Taiwan...


Uh, these little cake-like pastries were amaaaazing. Especially the big round one on the top left. It was kind of flaky with caramel in the middle. I'm told it's called a sun snack (or something like that in Chinese) because the shape resembles a sun. I want to travel to Taiwan for the snacks... and the bubble tea. Someday...

I want to put together some sort of American snack pack for these friends, but have no clue what to put in it. These countries have such unique foods that aren't found anywhere else. Anyone have any suggestions of special little "American" snacks I can share with these friends? I don't have an oven, so baked goods are next to impossible...

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Next stop... Russia

I kid, I kid.

But seriously, in class today were were talking about major holidays with our classmates. Our Korean-Russian classmate was telling us that in Russia the major holiday is the new year. Basically, for 12 whopping days (Dec. 31~January 11) everyone takes off work and parties. And since it's Russia, I'm sure you can imagine the amount of vodka that is consumed. :)

And then I had to follow that with a description of Christmas that included getting together with family, eating, and exchanging presents for one day only. Lame. Maybe we should do it Russian-style and start extending Christmas over a week at least....

Friday, December 10, 2010

A Linguistic Peephole

"Learning a foreign language not only reveals how other societies think and feel, what they have experienced and value, and how they express themselves, it also provides a cultural mirror in which we can more clearly see out own society."
Chancellor Edward Lee Gorsuch, chancellor of the University of Alaska, Anchorage
(retired in 1994), member of the Arctic Research Commission

We've successfully started Level 3 Korean. Woop woop! This level means we are officially "intermediate" speakers.

As we're getting further into the language it's becoming more apparent to me how truly impossible it is to understand Korea and its people without an understanding of the language. So many things that seemed strange or frustrating in our interactions with Koreans make so much more sense now that we're seeing how their language is set up.

At lunch we were laughing because today's lesson was just SO Korean. When we first arrived here, one area of frustration (with my birth family especially) was the vagueness and inability to fully commit. It was always "maybe this" or "maybe that." Of course, as Americans, we're used to the straight facts. But today in class, we learned an entire grammar structure based around that exact vagueness. For example, "I can eat kimchi, sort of." Or, "I am kind of tall."

And then the second part of the lesson once again emphasized how important saving face and not directly disagreeing with someone is here. (Once again, totally explains how put off the Korean staff would get last year at Poly when we'd straight up tell them they were doing something inefficiently, or we didn't like how something was done.) Basically, this grammar structure is agreeing with what someone said so as not to hurt their feelings, then turning around with a big BUT. For example:

Q: Wow, it's a really nice day today, isn't it?
A: Yes, it's a nice today, BUT it's actually really cold.

This linguistic peephole into Korea's culture has definitely made this year in Korea infinitely more rewarding than our first. When I applied for the language scholarship, I think I made an analogy comparing learning Korean to opening a door. Before I knew the language, I was truly an outsider looking in. I'm proud to say that while I'm not where I need to be yet, the door is halfway open. My birth father is talking to me more with every visit and I'm finally able to respond somewhat intelligently when people ask me questions in restaurants, in the subway, and on the street. And best of all, learning the language is providing me with some insight into the country I was born.

Though we had to veer from the original 1 year game plan to make this experience happen, I can't even express how glad I am we made that choice.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Making Kimchi!

Back at SangKwun and ChunPing's wedding, I asked my aunt (who can cook like a rock star) to teach me how to make kimchi. At the time, she kind of laughed and said that it's really difficult to make.

But then I got a text from my cousin inviting me to their house to make kimchi for the winter. Apparently, in the fall, Koreans make a ton of kimchi to last them through the winter.

So early Sunday morning I got on the subway for the hour and a half ride to my aunt and uncle's house. I originally thought I would be able to learn how to make it and I could recreate the process when I returned to the States. Um, not even possible since it involved a lot of guesstimating, tasting, and adding random ingredients and sauces I couldn't name if my life depended on it. But what an awesome day, especially since virtually no one could speak English. Awesome opportunity to work on my Korean skills, though the day made it evident that I still have a loooong way to go.

We made the kimchi outside my aunt and uncle's restaurant. Their restaurant is very small and they serve just a few dishes. Here's one. I think it's cow intestines or something... I have not yet tried it. But I really think I would because everything my aunt has made has been phenomenal. No joke.


Here's a shot of the inside of the restaurant. Can you see all those cabbages waiting for us outside?


Want a closer look? That's a LOT of cabbages. And notice the radishes to the side as well. We made both cabbage AND radish kimchi.


Apparently the family had spent most of the day before washing all the radishes and cabbages.

We started by watching my uncle cut up all the radishes.


We started with a brown sauce base. Here they are adding the chili power to make it super-spicy.




Next, some radishes were added.


After that, garlic, and other spices were added.

Then they added a secret ingredient that I had no clue went into kimchi... lots and lots of shrimp.

These teeny tiny shrimp...


And then some raw pureed shrimp. Tails, heads, shells and all. How far I've come because a year ago this would've totally grossed me out. But I figure now, it's all mixed in and I've eaten kimchi for a long time and been fine, so might as well just go for it.


Next, some green leaves and onions were added.



Ta-Da! The sauce is ready.



Unfortunately I didn't get any pictures of myself making the kimchi. But I put some gloves on and smeared that sauce all over the cabbages. Clearly it was my first time, as I finished about 8 in the time it took that older lady to finish about 20. It was kind of cute though because they packed up the ones I made so I could take them home with me. They're in fridge ready to be eaten. Mark said it's the best kimchi he's ever tasted. :)

Here are the ladies finishing up the last of the cabbages.


Then they used some sauce to make radish kimchi as well.


Here's the final product... that's a LOT of kimchi!


It was kind of funny to me how many random older people just came over to watch us work. They would just stand around and chat and eat pieces of cabbage with the sauce on it. And the older ladies would randomly squat down and get to work. Korea is so funny to me in that way. It seems like people aren't that friendly on the subway and on the street, but older people will come right over to a neighbor's house and dive right in to help make kimchi and stay for lunch without a second thought.

After we finished making the kimchi we all sat down for some kimchi and bossam. Bossam is a steamed pork that is eaten with kimchi. Koreans believe that fresh kimchi tastes best with bossam, so it's kind of a traditional meal to eat when kimchi is made.


After that, I headed home with a ton of (very heavy!) kimchi and very specific instructions on how to store it. Hooray for kimchi!

End of Sogang Level 2

I've read online that with each level, classes tend to get closer. Probably mainly because everyone's ability to communicate improves, and as the levels get harder it's more important to support each other.

I think I've mentioned this before, but Mark and I were in separate classes in Level 2. It was good, and bad. It gave us the opportunity to meet new people, but when we were in the private class together this break, I'd forgotten how much I like being in class together. It's really fun to see each other make progress, and to see Mark say a really difficult sentence well is such an awesome experience. So we'll see what happens next semester... but I'm secretly crossing my fingers that we'll end up studying together...

Anyway, I was really lucky to have a class of people that I absolutely LOVED. They were so supportive and fun. So on the last day of class, a couple of the girls organized a big last day party (and thank you party for our speaking teacher).


We all contributed money, so we were able to buy her a watch and the girls who organized the party put together a really cute photo book of the class this semester.


Our teacher was probably one of the sweetest people ever. She is extremely patient and was enthusiastic about teaching every single day. Here's a shot of her and me.


In December, she's actually going to be moving to America... University of Illinois Urbana Champaign to be exact. She's going to be studying English as a Second Language. She never really let us know when she taught us, but her English is really good.

Later that night, a girl in Mark's class had a party, and my class met up for dinner and drinks. A few of the students won't return next semester, so this was our opportunity to say goodbye.


As I was typing this, I am feeling kind of disappointed that I don't have more pictures of Mark with his class. I have given him the camera several times, but it always came back empty. Ah well, now I really have to hope we end up in the same class so I can document Mark's classroom experience as well. :)

Anyway, Level 2 was fun, difficult, exciting, frustrating, and ultimately rewarding. I hear Level 3 turns up the heat even more, so I'd like to apologize in advance for any freak-outs I may have on this blog or otherwise. :) But right now, I'm kind of looking forward to the challenge.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Halloween travels

Well, since the next semester will start in T-minus 3 days, I should probably get a post up about some Halloween traveling we did with some friends in my Level 2 class. Over Halloween weekend, we traveled to the countryside of Seoul. Never actually did find out where exactly we went... but it was about 2 hours outside of Seoul.

The fall scenery was absolutely GORGEOUS. I mean, the different colors on the mountains made the trip worthwhile in itself.


This was kind of a fun group to travel with because everyone was very active and we did a lot. The first day, we arrived at our pension and immediately set out for bungee jumping. I initially said I was going to do it (with some convincing from Mark), but once I saw it I backed out immediately. Yep, that's jumping off a bridge toward a small rocky stream below... Mark wasn't really giving up on me, so you can imagine my relief when we found out that bungee jumping was closed for the season. Too bad so sad.


Then we all decided to go 4-wheeling. I know, I know, it's dangerous in the States... But in Korea, it was a whole different story. (This is a country that wears helmets for ice skating -- no joke.) So we wore helmets, were on special courses designed specifically for this, and were constantly supervised by someone. But hitting those bumps... SO MUCH FUN!


We also visited a spa resort to drink coffee and hang out on the deck. The view was awesome.

Here I am with the girls...


And Mark with the guys... he had a blast with these guys. They're quirky, crazy Japanese guys. So Mark fit right in (of course).


Also, one of our classmates brought her 5 year old daughter along. She was really cute, and craaaazy about 큰 오빠 or Biiiig Brother (as she called Mark).


That night we grilled some meat and shrimp and had a Halloween party. Most of these people really don't celebrate the holiday, so we got to introduce them to one of the most fun holidays of the year. So we broke out a few costumes, props, and played flip cup and beer pong. You know, cuz that's what the holiday's all about. :)


A pirate and the scream guy fought...


The next day was pretty relaxing. We rented bikes and spent a couple hours riding around the town. Again, SO PRETTY.




Oh and that last picture is Mark with two of the cutest Japanese girls from my class. Their personalities are hilarious, and they wanted English names, so Mark named them "Paris" and Nicole." Because the shop all the time and are never apart. "That's hot."

All in all, a great weekend with some great friends. Looking forward to reuniting with all of them in Level 3 and I really hope some of them are in our classes again!

Our Second Korean Thanksgiving

Last night we celebrated Thanksgiving with some friends. Didn't know it was possible, but we got to stuff ourselves with a real, authentic Thanksgiving meal. And didn't have to go into debt for it. Bonus.

Remember last year's Thanksgiving dinner? Well, (besides the friends we shared the meal with last year) this meal was a million, trillion times better.

One of our American friends, Jenny was able to set this up. There were about 15 people who attended. Here's the table. (Jenny's the one on the end on the cell phone. Probably giving someone directions. Ha.)


Jenny got the turkey from the US military base.


As for the rest of the sides, Jenny had gotten to know a little Korean lady who owns a tiny brunch restaurant. This lady happened to live in Boston for awhile, so she cooked the rest of the sides for us. And they were just like home. As in, stuffing, mashed potatoes, green beans, corn, pasta salad, caesar salad, mac and cheese (with bacon!), cranberries, and even stuffed mushrooms. It's making me hungry just to think about it.


And here was my plate this year...


And the best part was, all this food cost us $15 per person. Half the price of last year and twice the food.

Here are Mark and I, both very happy after such a great meal.


And last night reminded me of one more thing I have to be thankful for this year. Being so far away from our family and friends back home makes me really grateful for the people who have helped to make our lives here in Korea so great. When we first arrived in Korea we had no idea who or what was in store for us. But almost 2 years later, I can safely say Korea has brought some people into our lives that we will call friends forever.