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.

Shaolin Temple Kung Fu Show

Here's the promised video from the Shaolin Temple Kung Fu show. Simply amazing. Enjoy.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010


I actually didn't plan it this way, but this post is a perfect reminder of how much we have to be grateful for this Thanksgiving Day.

Our last day in China, ChunPing's Father wanted to take us to the village he grew up in. It was about 45 minutes away from the town we were staying in, and we were told it was a poor farming village. He mostly wanted to take us there because many of these people had never left the village and had never seen a white person before. So it was basically a trip to show off Mark. Good thing I married such an easy-going guy!

When we arrived in the village, the first stop we made was at an elementary school. Here's the front gate.


Here are a couple shots of the outside of the school.



Sorry it's so blurry, but here's the only pic I got of the kids in class. Can you believe how many kids are in this classroom? This is only about half the class, the rest is behind the wall.


Then the kids were given the opportunity to pose with Mark for a picture. They were all keeping a safe distance from him until one was brave enough to touch him. After that, all hell broke loose and kids swarmed him.


My camera died after visiting the school, so those are the end of my pics.

After we went to the school, ChungPing's father took us to the actual village he grew up in. It was like stepping into another world. America has its poor areas, but I've never seen poverty quite like this.

We first went to the house of some relatives of ChunPing. They lived in a small house surrounded by a fenced in yard. We never actually went into the house, as they brought out tiny stools for us to sit on in the yard. But from the outside of the house it was apparent that there was no electricity or heat. When ChungPing's sister had to use the restroom, she was directed to an outhouse. There were sheets hung over where the windows and doors should be. This is not a warm area -- it's weather is comparable to that of St. Louis with 4 seasons and snow.

After we sat at their house, ChungPing's father walked us through the rest of the village knocking on random people's doors to show off Mark. Pretty much every house looked about the same as the first. We saw children with dirty clothes and no toys.

But the thing is, these people were happy! They all seemed completely content with their lives and though they didn't have much, were pleased to see ChungPing's father and receive the cigarettes he was handing out. Actually, ChungPing's father gave his relatives some money, and they tried to refuse it several times. And then, as we were leaving, came running out with a dozen boiled eggs for us.

Kind of a wake-up call for we who have so much. It's so easy to get caught up in consumerism and the feeling that there are so many things we need. But really, seeing the contentment in these people was a strong reminder of the things we should be most grateful for this Thanksgiving.

I'll go first. Above all, I'm grateful for my loving and supportive husband, family, and friends. I'm grateful that I have been given the amazing opportunity to live in the country I was born in and to learn the language. I'm grateful that I've always had enough to eat and for a warm house.

How about you?

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Shaolin Temple

The day after the wedding extravaganza, we took the hour-long trip to the famous Shaolin Temple. This is the birthplace of Chinese kung-fu, so Mark was especially really excited.

Here's the whole group.

We had the opportunity to light some incense to send up to the Buddhas. We also walked through a huge museum containing hundreds and hundreds of Buddhas.


We had a guide, but she only spoke Chinese so we didn't really get much of the history. But I DID understand that this tree has finger holes from people practicing kung fu. That's hard core.


The highlight of the trip was definitely the Kung Fu show. I have some video that I will post once I get it cleaned up a little. Though it was completely commercialized (with people hawking the opportunity to get a picture with some Kung Fu fighters before the show), the actual show was absolutely impressive.

We're okay!

Just to preempt any worried emails or calls, we've heard about North Korea's aggression on South Korea. It's actually pretty far from Seoul, so we haven't seen any real effects. Got an email from the US embassy and it appears that everything's settling down, though they're watching the situation closely. We're registered with the embassy and get regular updates. If anything happens, we'll be the first ones out. :)

Sunday, November 21, 2010

China Wedding Video

Here's a quick video of some highlights from the wedding. I apologize in advance for the narration.

Friday, November 19, 2010

The Actual Chinese Wedding

Since moving to Korea, Kim and I have had our fair share of unique experiences but our past trip to China for SanKwun's wedding was by far our biggest "You're a bit far East" moment. The events I am about to describe are based on our actual experiences and have not been fabricated in any way. To support these claims, we have provided photo evidence. In all seriousness, while the wackiness of the day made us laugh (a lot) the trip was still extremely special and we feel lucky to have been there to share the day with SanKwun & ChunPing.

Let's get started.

The day started off pretty normal. The wedding started at 10:00AM. So after a quick breakfast, Kim and I headed back to our rooms to get ready. We were told to meet in front of the hotel at 9:45AM. During breakfast I asked SanKwun what a Chinese wedding ceremony is like and he told me that he did not know and was not sure what would be happening throughout the day.

In Kim's last post, she showed the billboard sized picture of SanKwun and ChunPing. A little strange, right? But not half as strange as walking out to see this as we came through the front doors of the hotel.


A red carpet AND a marching band. At this point we knew without a doubt that this was going to be an awesome day. And it continued to get better and better as we discovered that ChunPing's cousin, a wedding planner who was responsible for planning most of the wedding, spared no expense for this momentous day.

I heard that there might be fireworks at the wedding so I was pretty stoked, especially when we noticed these cannons lined up 8 in a row on each side the the red carpet.


There were also large inflatables everywhere. The one below was Kim's favorite.

Lined up in front of the hotel, was a fleet of Mercedes and 2 stretched limos.
When we asked what they were going to be used for, we were informed that
SanKwun, his friends and family needed to go to ChunPing's house and pick her up.

Well, that makes sense.

Before we got in the cars to begin the 3KM trip down the street to pick
up the lovely bride, ChunPing's little brother took me aside to show me his
arsenal of fireworks that he had stashed in his car. His plan was to was to
lead the motorcade while his cousin sat in the back lighting these fireworks
and throwing them into the street.

Well, I guess that also makes sense.


As we made our way through town, the camera zoomed around in the convertible capturing every moment.


I was still a little curious as to how they were planning on using the marching band. Once we arrived it finally all became clear. The marching band would lead SanKwun through the courtyard and up to ChunPing's front door, setting off every car alarm along the way. SanKwun was just as perplexed as we were, if not more.


Arriving at the apartment, we found ChunPing and some 3o+ members of her family waiting for the groom. There were some rituals performed, such as knocking on her bedroom door and asking her to marry him. Then they received the parents permission by bowing.


Finally, we got back on the rode for a 30 minute parade through the rest of the town.

The girls in the picture below are not ChunPing's friends, but instead hired assistants to help her throughout the day. We are still not sure why they were wearing angel wings.


The bride and groom made their way down the red carpet amid fireworks, confetti, balloons and other various explosions. Our Korean teacher would later explain to us that every Chinese wedding has explosions and loud sounds to ward off evil spirits.


We made our way into the ceremony/reception hall which seemed fairly normal except for this large fluorescent-lit walkway, complete with gold fish filled columns.


Arousing the curiosity of the guests as they entered and made their way to their seats was a rock-n-roll all-girls violin band decked out in their classiest short skirts and high heels.


After a surprisingly impressive 10 minute performance by the violinists, ChunPing and SanKwun made their way onto the stage. That's when the smoke machines also came out.


Obviously, the ceremony was in Chinese but I think that I can confidently say that there was not any religious significance behind any of it. They did play some romantic love songs like, "When a Man Loves a Women" to highlight the important moments. Later, the parents were introduced and told to come up on the stage. As they came up the walkway, the DJ played the Star Wars theme song.

The fathers then proceeded to each give a speech. Mr. Kim had his translated into Chinese by an interpreter.


After that, the angelic assistants made another appearance when they presented the bride and groom with this gift. No was ever able to explain what this was for.


When the ceremony was finished the newly married couple made their way back down the walkway with a hand full of paper airplanes that they tossed out to the crowd.

Notice the camera crane that filmed the whole event. That was actually pretty cool.


The meal was composed of various Chinese meat and vegetable dishes. There was a bottle of Chinese liquor on every table as well.


While we were eating, the waitresses passed out plates of cigarettes to everyone. I thought smoking was bad in Korea, but they literally smoke everywhere in China. At our table, there was an ash tray for every two people.


ChunPing and SanKwun went around to all of the tables while we were eating and took a shot with each person. ChunPing took shots with SanKwun's guest and vice versa. Since we were in China, SunKwun got the short end of the stick.


All jokes aside, we enjoyed the entire day. It was probably one of the most entertaining weddings I have ever been too. Coincidentally, my best friend, Joe, got married the following week. Unfortunately, I was unable to attend but from what I hear, it was a blast too. (Although as far as I know, there were no angels, fireworks, or inflatables...)