Monday, February 21, 2011

Kimchi Confessions

As I reach the halfway point of my time in Korea, I can't help but think of what I'll miss the most. I'll definitely miss the friends I've made, my students, the lifestyle. But the thing I'm going to miss above all else? The food.

Korean food may not be exceptional in comparison to other cuisines, but I have yet to try a dish in Korea that I absolutely despised. The fact that food is so cheap makes it all the much better. And to top it off, you get a never ending amount of sides (and we all know I can't seem to get enough kimchi).

I've briefly mentioned food throughout my entries, but here are the foods I am most fond of.

3) Kimbap 김밥

Kind of like sushi (but not) kimbap shops are on every street corner in Korea. You can get them in a variety of flavors. I like the standard kimbap rolls which include a plethora of items. Sometimes you'll get pickles, cheese, crab or hotdogs, but don't be alarmed. It's delicious. You can also order different food items at these shops, including ramyeon 라면, mandu (dumplings) 만두, kimchi jigae (soup) 김치 찌개 and about 30 other options I haven't translated yet. Food from these shops will cost you a whopping 2,000 - 5,000 won (or about two to five bucks).

2) Galbi 갈비

A food you have to work for but oh-so-delicious in the end, galbi restaurants are also common throughout Busan. There are different types of meat you can get at these particular establishments. I usually rely on the "point and order whatever your finger lands on method," and have yet to be disappointed. You get strips of meat (that you might have to cut up) that you grill yourself. This is when it's nice to have a man, the presumed grillmaster, so you can sit back and eat all the side dishes while he makes sure the meat is cooked to exactness. A galbi dinner that could keep you full and satisfied for 24 hours will cost you around 10,000 won.

1) Shabu Shabu

Having lived in Busan for the last six months, I'm disappointed I just now discovered the magic that is Shabu Shabu. Although I'm not sure this food has a Korean origin, I appreciate Korea's ability to stuff me to the brim of existence. Shabu Shabu comes in three parts. First, you put meat and veggies into a hot pot. Once cooked, you make your own spring rolls. Fill the rice sheets with meat, veggies, pineapple, whatever, and then dip them in any sauce that fits your liking. After you've stuffed yourself, it's on to the second course. Noodles are added to the remaining broth and you now get to enjoy a delectable soup. And if that wasn't filling enough, you then add rice and egg to what remains. Every part of the meal being somehow amazingly better than the last. This three course meal will cost you a staggering 11,000 won. Or to put it simply, 11 McChickens.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Snow Day!

I thought it was finally getting warmer here in Busan, but clearly I was mistaken. I woke up Monday to a few snow flakes, but thought nothing of it. It had snowed once earlier in the winter but it only lasted about 15 minutes and melted immediately. However after showering, getting ready and eating lunch, I noticed the snow was still coming down and was starting to accumulate just a bit. I went to Alix's room so we could walk together when I got a phone call from Jeff saying that school was canceled for the day. Nice-uh!

I was a little confused since it seemed to be an astonishingly small amount of snow. After all, everyone home was just hit with what seemed to be the "storm of the century," and even then some schools remained open. But Jeff explained to me that people just aren't accustomed to snow in Busan, and they're certainly not used to it mixed with ice. I figure there are no snow plows or ice trucks so it would be difficult for children to get to and from school. So our school, and several other schools around Busan, were closed for the day for what I'm sure amounted to less than 3 inches of snow. But I'll be honest, it was really slick outside and the ice that formed over the snow could be potentially dangerous. Enough so that I fell walking to school today. It never fails. I fall on the ice every single winter, sometimes when I'm holding a hot chocolate (not a joke, it happened). I thought I would get a break this year, but that wasn't the case.

On our day off Alix and I decided to get my fisheye pictures developed from Geoje-do and Hong Kong. I dig them.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

From Hong Kong, With Love

What an incredible week this was. I really didn't know what to expect from Hong Kong, but having spent a short time there, I am completely amazed and head over heels in love with the city.

I think it would be best to start off with a small history lesson about Hong Kong. Although HK is technically in China, it is a special administrative region, with its own government, rights and regulations. For instance, you can use youtube and facebook in HK although you wouldn't be able to in mainland China. HK was also colonized by the British and only in 1997 did they become independent. The colonization is so evident, it's almost frightening. HK felt, looked, sounded like London.

Hong Kong is an international city unlike any other I've ever been to. I feel it really gives its visitors the best of both worlds, offering both an Asian and European feel. When we were in London this summer, Andre took us to the "trendy" side of town, the East End. The west was always thought to be the swank part of town, but as of late it's become terribly posh and entirely too expensive. All the "cool" kids hang out on the east side of London and we saw this firsthand on our stroll down Brick Lane. I feel as if Hong Kong is the East End of Asia. As far as Korea is concerned, HK is definitely the hip kid in school. The young people in HK are so rebellious, they have free spirits, they aren't afraid to look and dress differently. Very rarely do I see that here in Busan (although I'm sure it's much more prevalent in Seoul) but almost every young person in HK dressed like they meant it. They had their own unique style. I really appreciated it.

HK had so much to offer. We saw skyscrapers and we saw beach and palm trees. The weather was absolutely goregous, about 70 degrees farenheit everyday. Compared to the brisk below freezing temperatures we've had of late in Korea, this was paradise. It was amazing to walk around with no winter coat.

Stacy and I went on this trip alone, not making any plans and just going with the flow. On her way to the airport, she found out that two other teachers we know in Busan, Jeff and Lauren, were also headed to HK. As it turns out, they stayed about three subways stops away from us. It's funny how things work out, especially when they are completely unpredicted. They stayed at the fairly famous ChungKing Mansions, a hostel that is absolutely sprawling in size (someone told us that it covers almost 5 blocks), though I must say I was much more satisfied with our accomodation. They said they saw a few cockroaches and the small rooms and shared bathrooms were less than desirable. Stacy and I stayed on Argyle Street, a very popular shopping area next to what is called the Ladies Market. We couldn't have asked for a better hostel. We paid about 20 dollars each night for our own bed and bathroom, central location, free internet and no bugs.

Being so close to Jeff and Lauren really worked out. We hadn't planned on hanging out in HK, but it was nice to have other people to go around with since we hadn't decided what we were going to do while on vacation. The first night there, we met Lauren, Jeff and his two friends from Chicago, Kevin and Mike. They both work in the city, but they had vacation time and flew to HK to celebrate. It was nice to talk to them about home and have conversations with people who actually know where Rantoul is on a map.

On the second day, we woke up early and had brunch at what I can only describe as an Asian Denny's. We ate cheap, delicious food then made our way to "The Avenue of the Stars," which is exactly like the Hollywood Walk of Fame, except with Asian celebrities. We recognized a few, like Jackie Chan, and took some hilarious pictures with the Bruce Lee statue. We also got our first view of the magniifcent HK skyline. Although disappointingly smoggy, it was still amazing to see. After this, we hoped to take cable cars to a tall peak for a grand view of the city and a gigantic Buddha, but once we got there we saw that the line was unbearably long. We were told it would be about a three hour wait which we attributed to the holiday, so we decided to skip on those plans. Instead, we headed to a park nearby and found solitude near the sea. The boys explored and found a small fishing village, while the girls laid around and basked in the sunshine. I laid under a tree and found my inner peace while enjoying the beautiful weather. That night there was a parade, but the crowds were once again incredibly huge. We got a few glances of the parade, but didn't feel like being smushed and pushed around. Instead, we went back to the Avenue of the Stars where there is a light show every night. It was a little cheesy with the 1984 synth-music, but it was remarkble to see, nonetheless.

The third day was my favorite in Hong Kong, without a doubt. I knew HK was a modern city, but I had no idea it was so green. Early in the morning, we took a ferry to an island named Lamma. The ride only took about half an hour and was calm for the most part. I think we were all pleasantly surprised when we stepped off the boat and onto the small island where there are absolutely no cars or roads. We saw seafood restaurants, small shops and marts, it was amazing. We got off at one port then walked around the beautiful island to the other port where we would depart. After walking around and browsing through shops, we ate right by the boardwalk and watched the sun go down on another beautiful day in Hong Kong. We quickly made our way back to the ferry and onto a bus that took us to Victoria's Peak. And when I say peak, I really mean we were at the peak of the city. The fireworks were that night and we were able to barely catch a glimpse over the crowd to see the magnificent display. But once everyone cleared out, we were really able to appreciate the view. I can't think of a skyline more beautiful than Hong Kong's from that summit. It was truly breathtaking.

Our last day in Hong Kong was a lazy one. We slept in and then took our time getting ready, finally making our way to an H&M to buy clothes that fit us the way they're supposed to. Good-bye paycheck!

We had a quick and easy flight home the next morning. During our layover in Shanghai, the man giving us our boarding passes asked us where we were going after Korea. "Busan is home," I said. It felt strangely comforting. I'm going to miss this country so damn much.

But aside from that, this trip was truly amazing in every sense of the word. It was so easy to navigate through HK and it seemed as though everyone spoke almost perfect English with British accents. And I mean everyone. People working in 7/11, waiters, strangers on the street offering to help when we were lost. The only part I had trouble adjusting to was money. Although everything was surprisngly cheap, the conversion threw me off a bit. To put it simply, one US dollar is equal to about 8 HK dollars. I would see a bottle of water for $8.50 and think I was going to go bankrupt after the first hour in the country, but it wound up only being a buck.

If anyone ever wanted to go to Hong Kong I would highly reccommend it. It's a truly international city with great people. The food was mediocre at best, but when that's your only "complaint," I think that really says something. We hadn't planned to spend vacation with the people we did, but I couldn't imagine it being any other way. They made this trip unforgettable and we had a lot of laughs and made memories that will last us all a lifetime. I'm so glad I got to experience Hong Kong for myself. When I first booked the flight, I thought I had made a mistake and was certain I spent too much for only a few days away. In hindsight, I would have spent double. This holiday was priceless.