Thursday, December 16, 2010

Kimchi making

Making kimchi in Seoul.

A couple of weeks ago, our friend invited us over to her house to help with the annual kimjang -- or kimchi making. We gathered on her living room floor and her mom and aunt instructed us on the messy art of creating Korea's most famous dish.

The post-kimjang feast.

After we packed all the tuperware in the house with fresh kimchi, we sat down for a homemade feast of boiled pork, green onion pancakes and, of course, kimchi.

Eating at home.

The kimchi was some of the best we've had in Korea. We've been eating it one cabbage head at a time and it's only getting better with age. Whether that's from the recipe or just because we had a hand in making it, I don't know.

The Korean government has been trying to globalize Korean food quite a lot lately. But it seems that their efforts will get a boost early next year when chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten and his wife launch their 13-part PBS series on Korean food, "The Kimchi Chronicles." The NY Times recently posted a preview of the show and I'll be interested to see how it turns out.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Music Supply Heaven

I've been working on some music these days and naturally was drawn to the Nakwon Music Arcade for my instrumental and music supply needs.  This building, located adjacent to the famous Insadong shopping street, is packed with multiple floors full of just about any music-related item you can think of.  That means pianos, synthesizers, violins, guitars, drums, monitors, mixers, microphones, cables... the list goes on.

Once you're inside, the corridors are lined with instrument vendors down the middle and countless small shops down the sides.  It can get pretty confusing as there really doesn't seem to be any organization at all to how the different supply categories are laid out.  But that's part of the fun of spending a couple hours at the arcade -- wandering about its various nooks, alleys and dead ends, and hopefully finding that one piece of equipment you're looking for (in my case, a brass jingle tambourine)... or maybe something you didn't even expect.

A classic Moog synth

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Bizarro Breakfast

Something is not right here.

Not right at all.

(But if you close your eyes and eat them, they taste just like home -- full of sugar and delicious artificial flavoring.)

Friday, November 19, 2010

Fall colors

Ginkgo tree in front of our house.

Winter has come to Seoul in the last week, and everything is gray and barren. Just last weekend the trees were full of leaves and we were able to enjoy some of the fall colors. Here are some photos from around our neighborhood at autumn's height.

Gilsangsa temple in Seongbuk-dong.

The temple's entrance.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Seoul putting developing countries on G20 agenda

We've got G20 fever here in Seoul! You can't got anywhere in Seoul without being reminded of the summit or it's importance for Korea.

While Mike's been busy talking about the summit with scholars and diplomats for the last couple weeks, I wrote an article for The Christian Science Monitor this week on the role of developing countries in the G20 Summit. You can check out the article here.

Happy Pepero Day!

The Pepero cookie display at Home Plus in western Seoul includes Pepero-shaped balloons.

November 11th is Pepero Day here in Korea, a made up holiday akin to Sweetest Day in the U.S. The whole holiday is based on the selling of cookie sticks like the Japanese Poky line or the Korean version, Pepero. The date was chosen because it looks like four Pepero cookies lined up: 11/11.

While I can't say I condone holidays based solely on the selling of products, I do enjoy getting free cookie sticks at work for Pepero Day. And you can bet I'll be shopping the sale racks next week for discounted cookies.

Monday, November 8, 2010

FC Seoul vs. Daejeon Citizen

We went to the Seoul World Cup Stadium on Sunday to see FC Seoul play Daejeon Citizen for the K-League title.

It looked like the game was going to end in a tie until the last three minutes when FC Seoul sneaked in a final shot.

When the score board lit up, so did the flares. One big difference we noticed from games in the United States was the total lack of entrance security here. No bag checks, no metal detectors, nothing. Good thing Korea is so safe.

By winning Sunday's match, FC Seoul finished the regular season at the top of the K-League. Accordingly, they were given a certain amount of pomp and circumstance after the game. I think it will take a few days for our ears to recover from the celebration.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

North Gyeongsang

My aunt has been telling us for about a year now to come down to the area where she works because it's beautiful in the fall.  Well, last weekend we finally made the trip down and it really was worth the visit.  For two days my aunt and uncle drove us around North Gyeongsang Province to see just about everything there is to see in the region.  That included the school where my aunt works that is practically in the middle of nowhere (and is home to about a dozen students... total).

Our first stop was Buseok Temple, which is one of the oldest wooden structures in the country.  Nestled away in a corner of Bonghwang National Park, it has a great view of the rolling mountains and is supposed to be an excellent place to see the sunset (too bad we were there in the morning... still good, though).

We then made a stop at Bulyeong Temple, about an hour's drive east, where there was a fall harvest feast going on and hundreds of people from around the region had gathered to load up on free, delicious temple food.  We got pretty caught up in the crowd that was piling up their plates as much as possible for fear of the food running out -- which was ridiculous as there was plenty to go around -- and were left half-an-hour later with painfully full bellies.  We walked it off with a stroll around the temple grounds and were then treated to a bizarre concert of pop music sung by a pair of colorfully-dressed twins and then some more traditional Korean folk numbers sung by slightly more modest performers.

Bulyeong literally means "Buddha's Shadow".  There is a stone structure that resembles a Buddha figure on the mountain adjacent to this pond that can be seen in its reflection from a certain angle (but not this one).

The next day my uncle took us over to Hahoe Village, which is about 600 years old and amazingly, still is home to a little over 100 people.  Most of the thatched roof houses have been modernized, so to speak, to the more common, hanok-style tiled-roofs, though many of the older style homes still remain.  It seemed to be a big deal that Queen Elizabeth visited this site a few years back, and even planted a tree to mark her visit (but I think you have to be either Korean or English for this to really matter).  I think the strangest thing was seeing all these very old homes with all kinds of modern enhancements -- some even had satellite dishes attached outside.

Hahoe is known for its masks.

Thatched-roof home with a jolly greeter
One of the things my Dad told me when we moved here was to try and visit every province before we left.  So far we look to be on track to do that.  Though both of us separately have been to the Jeolla region we haven't spent much time there.  That may be something to do when it gets warm again (it suddenly turned into winter temperatures in Seoul this week).  Same goes for the Chungcheong area.  There is also, of course, the famous Jeju Island (Korea's tropical paradise).  Suffice it to say, more to come.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Pusan International Film Festival

I'm a little late with this post, but two weekends ago we got to go to the Pusan International Film Festival -- Asia's largest cinema event. We saw some really interesting films from all over Asia including Thailand, China and Korea. But our favorite film of the festival was Raavan -- a Bollywood action film featuring "the most beautiful woman in the world."

I went to a press conference for the film and took some photos of the film's stars Aishwarya Rai, Abhishek Bachchan and Vikram. I have to admit I was pretty starstruck. We also saw Kim Ok-bin and Kim Yun-jin (from Lost).

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Kimchi crisis

My first piece in The Christian Science Monitor was published this week. You can read it here.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

'Your Republic is Calling You'

I just finished reading the North Korean spy novel "Your Republic is Calling You" by Young-ha Kim. I really enjoyed it and thought it nicely delved into some of the key identity issues the Korean Peninsula faces.

The story follows a North Korean spy in Seoul who, after living 21 years undercover, must choose between his homeland and the South. One of the ideas that struck me in the book was that of there being three Koreas -- North Korea, the South Korea of the 70s and 80s, and then the South Korea of today. The author argues that the South Korea of 30 years ago is closer to North Korea than today's South Korea. I think that's an interesting way of seeing the peninsula and why the Koreas are so vastly different today.

The BBC "toured" North Korea this summer and had some interesting -- if not, very BBC -- reports on it. After reading Your Republic, I've been thinking about the last video in their series, which you can watch here. (For those of you who have been to Korea, be sure to check out the "cake shop" scenes in Seoul. Priceless parachute reporting!)

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Bird's-eye view

If you go up the stairs that run alongside our house you'll come to the top of our hill. It's perhaps five or six flights up -- not a bad walk on a sunny day. From there, you can see Namsan Tower (top photo, on top of the far mountain), parts of downtown Seoul, and of course our beloved Mount Bugak (bottom photo).

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Walkin' in the rain

The rain has been brutal this summer. Nearly every day we wake up and it's cloudy or drizzling. The weather has meant that we've been spending a lot of time cooped up inside and haven't been able to hike in a long time.

Well, today we decided we'd have enough of that. Despite the rain, we climbed up Mount Bugak behind our apartment. It sprinkled for the first quarter of the hike -- then poured for the rest. We still had fun though; it's great having miles and miles of trails basically in our backyard.

Here's a few shots I took in between the showers. The building in the second photo is Samcheonggak -- an old kisaeng (기생) house that now is a traditional restaurant and tea house.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Ethnic nationalism on the Korean Peninsula

For those of you interested in learning more about North Korea, I highly recommend B.R. Myers' latest book "The Cleanest Race: How North Koreans See Themselves and Why it Matters." Professor Myers looks at North Koreans through the lens of their own propaganda and folklore, and he offers a nice counterweight to the perspectives of scholars like Bruce Cummings.

I got to talk with Professor Myers for TBS eFM's "This Morning" show recently. We mostly discussed the role of ethnic nationalism on the peninsula and why so many South Koreans have sympathy for the North. It's pretty fascinating stuff ... you can listen to the interview here.

Terminating trade barriers

As part of my work as a freelance reporter, I got to attend a breakfast with California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger this week. He was in Korea as part of a trade promotion trip in Asia and spent most of the breakfast voicing his support for the Korea-U.S. Free Trade Agreement.

I have to say I was impressed by the governor. While I don't agree with all of his political stances he was funny and charming and I can see how he got elected. But I don't think I've ever seen someone so orange! Talk about a fake tan!

Monday, September 6, 2010

Calm before the storm

Rain clouds over Mount Bugak outside our house.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

A sunny afternoon in the park

In what has been the rainiest summer in 100 years, the sun came out long enough yesterday for Mike to play a set at Hongdae's Free Market.

By the way, I took the above photo using Mike's birthday present to me: the very cool Canon G11.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Atomic tuna & Godzilla

While we were in Tokyo last week, I was able to visit the resting place of the Daigo Fukuryu Maru -- or Lucky Dragon the 5th. This Japanese fishing ship was damaged in the fallout of the United States' H-bomb explosion on March 1, 1954 in the Bikini Atoll. The bomb was the most powerful nuclear weapon ever detonated by the United States.

When the test was held, the ship was outside the "danger zone" established by the U.S. military and 100 miles form the test site. But the bomb tested was twice as powerful as expected (and 1,000 times the strength of the bomb used in Hiroshima). The fisherman were exposed to nuclear radiation as "death ashes" fell from the sky for several hours while they tried to retrieve their fishing gear from the sea.

Upon returning to Tokyo, the fisherman complained of burns, headaches, pain their eyes and other symptoms of radiation poisoning. The chief radio operator died six months later from blood and liver damage. The rest of the 23-man crew were hospitalized for a year.

The Daigo Fukuryu tragedy sparked a global anti-nuke movement and inspired a series of famous monster movies in Japan -- starting with "Godzilla" which came out later that year.

Here's some photos of the Daigo Fukuryu and the nuclear museum in Tokyo.

The Daigo Fukuryu in its current home in southeast Tokyo.

Chains of origami cranes for peace.

Some articles on board the Daigo Fukuryu melted after the blast.

Atomic tuna. In addition to the Daigo Fukuryu, 856 smaller Japanese boats were affected by the blast and ensuing radioactive rain. In all, 485 tons of tuna had to be discarded because of nuclear contamination from the Bikini blasts.

"Death ash" made up of radioactive coral found on board the Daigo Fukuryu after the Bikini atomic tests.