Sunday, February 27, 2011

Hiking Bugaksan & Bukhansan

Near the top of Bugaksan.

The weather on Saturday finally was sunny and in the 50s F -- perfect weather for the first hike of the year. We set out from our house to climb Mount Bugaksan and then continued on to Mount Bukhansan, the northernmost mountain in Seoul. It was a long and tiring day, but full of great views of the city and surrounding mountains.

An abandoned bomb shelter on Bukhansan.

Yeoraesa Temple for martyrs of the Japanese occupation on Bukhansan.

Finally at the peak of the mountain.

The view of Seoul from the south ...

And the rest of the national park in the north.

The shopping area near Sungshin Women's University.

After hiking, we went to the shopping area near Sungshin Women's University, not far from our apartment. It was pretty jarring to be among so many people after spending the day in the mountains. But the galbi (marinated grilled pork wrapped in lettuce leaves) we got there was well worth it.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Maedeup: The art of Korean knotting

Maedeup knot at Dong-Lim Knot Museum in Seoul. (Taken by Aren in 2009)

Ever since we visited the Dong-Lim Knot Museum in Seoul with my family and Kavitha, I've wanted to learn 매듭 (maedeup), or the Korean art of knotting. The knots were traditionally used as accessories on everything from tools to clothes in Korea. In the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1897), aristocratic women wore maedeup charms with a tassel and sometimes gems on their dresses. The art faded in importance during the Japanese occupation (1910-45) and Korean War (1950-53) and has only recently seen a revival.

This month I was finally able to go to a series of maedeup classes at the Seoul Global Village Center in Seorae Maeul, the French neighborhood in Seoul. While my classmates were all housewives, it was a pretty diverse crowd: several French and Spanish women (plus one of their infants who attended every class), a couple of Indian ladies and a Korean. I was the only North American there, though the director of the center thought I was Czech the entire time and she approached me to teach a Czech cooking class for the area's residents. (I'm guessing she was going on my looks alone, since she didn't know my middle name is Czech. Needless to say, I turned down the cooking instructor job, though it made me realize I should probably learn how to cook some Czech food one of these days).

The first day of class we learned how to make a simple maedeup necklace with knotted beads. While mine wasn't perfect, it was pretty easy to make and a good warm-up for the following projects.

My first maedeup creation, a necklace.

In the next class we learned how to make a bracelet with a stone charm. Our teacher only spoke Korean and I was pretty proud that I was able to easily follow her instructions.

My second maedeup attempt, a bracelet.

Today we had our last class and we did a much more challenging knot than before. It took me at least an hour to master. The end product was a bouquet of maedeup flowers.

Today's project, a brooch.

There's some stores in Dongdaemun Market in Seoul that sell maedeup cord, so I hope to keep practicing and learning new knots. With only a few months left in Seoul, I want to take in as much culture and history as I can before we leave.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Sunset over Namsan

The view from our porch.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

The Spicy Master

Left: Bibim Naengmyeon, Right: Mul Naengmyeon

One of my favorite foods in Korea is a tangy, cold noodle dish called 냉면, or naengmyeon. It's essentially sticky buckwheat noodles in either a beef and vinegar-based broth (above right photo) or a thick, chili paste-based sauce (above left photo). My mouth is watering just writing about this.

Naengmyeon is usually only available at restaurants in the summer and fall, but there are specialty houses that serve it year round. The weather's actually been warming up just a tiny bit over the past week, and since it was such a mild day out yesterday I got the craving again for some cold naengmyeon. Nissa and I found a good-looking restaurant near the Sunghsin Women's University subway stop and stepped inside to give it a try.

Now I've been to places before that serve up an incredibly spicy version of this dish, so when the menu gave a range of choices from mild to spicy, I went with the mild mul naengmyeon. Nissa, however, was a little more adventurous. We used to argue about who could eat spicier foods but I have totally conceded defeat. She is a spicy master. She regularly orders the spiciest version of dishes at restaurants, only to have the waiter or waitress inevitably warn her they're not joking around, to which she politely answers back in Korean, "That's OK." And then she scarfs the whole meal down with just a few beads of sweat on her nose.

This case was no different. I had about two bites of her spicy bibim naengmyeon and told her she was crazy. Even after watering down some of her noodles in my soup they still had a tongue-splitting kick. She wasn't able to finish the whole dish this time (midway through she mentioned her ears were ringing), but it was still quite a feat.

You win, Nissa. You win.

The spicy master at work.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Happy Lunar New Year's

We went down to the Namsan Traditional Folk Village this afternoon to see some of the festivities going on for the Lunar New Year. It was packed. And there was a lot going on -- dancers, musicians, games, crafts, free food (some people stood in ridiculously long lines to get tiny plates of rice cakes or soup).

Near the end of this video you can see the dancing woman spinning around with a sword in each hand. On one of those swords she's balancing a handful of rice (pretty nifty trick), which the announcer refers to as "lucky rice". The tradition appears to be to pour this rice down a person's shirt so they have a prosperous new year. Or something like that.

So, here's to the Year of the Rabbit!