Sunday, December 19, 2010


It's a HardWorld, HardWorlders. And things get more HardWorld when Korea is lacking their blessed Napa Cabbage so they can make their kimchi. Yes, it was kind of a Hard year for kimchi eaters Korea at least. Some failed crops meant the cabbage was more expensive than usual, and, in my high school, that meant less of the cabbage kimchi and more of the radish kimchi, which I am not much of a fan of. Kimchi, of course, is any kind of fermented vegetable. Not just cabbage. But you wouldn't know this from the school lunches which daily only featured radish kimchi as their kimchi side dish. No cucumber? No, my personal favorite, mustard leaf kimchi? It was a sad state of affairs in our lunch cafeterias, to say the least.

UNTIL one day - a snow day at that - as I was walking down the hallway after I had just finished my lesson. I smelled something. It smelled delicious. "Aromatic" even. Where is this heavenly aroma coming from? Well, god damn! As I passed the "cooking" room I peaked in to see my principal and about 20 married women making CABBAGE mother fuckin' KIMCHI! Damn, this is some Gimjang going on.

Gimjang is this time of the year when people make kimchi. Families get together for it, and apparently they do it at the school as well. Lucky for me, I had my camera that day, and I found a student to take pictures of my ass making kimchi. So, here they are! And hopefully I will be seeing tons more cabbage kimchi in the lunch line for at least a couple of weeks. A pat on the back would be nice. A handshake the next time I meet you would be great too. These are hands that touched a head of fermented cabbage and place spicy gochujang paste infused with other vegetable pieces or whatever onto each leaf of that head of cabbage. I did it. And you didn't. I'm sorry...for you.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Fry Them Feet!

Kimchi, bulgogi, barbecue, bibimbap. Korea's most famous foods. I would like to add one more: fried chicken. Fried chicken is damn good in this country. I can't really explain why. It could be the batter. Probably the batter. Could also be the chickens as well. Whatever it is, it rules. However, it could also be the ubiquitous draft beer that is served with your plate of deep fried bird. It's one of those things where you think, "why doesn't America get their shit together and open up chicken and beer restaurants." How hard can it possibly be? It's two great things made even better by being together. An ice cold frosty mug of draft beer and golden deep fried chicken.

As mentioned before, I live in Suwon, South Korea. It's home to about a million folks just south of Seoul, and a shit ton of restaurants. It can be daunting in Korea because of the sky rise apartments and the flashing neon lights. I still discover things in my neighborhood that I never saw before because things look very different at night than during the day. So, I constantly rely on word of mouth to discover the jewels of Korean cooking.

A recent discovery comes from an ex co-worker and friend named Pil Young. Pil Young has already turned me onto one great restaurant which I will probably post on here at some point, and recently I met up with him to try a famous fried chicken restaurant right here in Suwon.

I met up with my man on a cold ass night at Paldalmun (팔달문) or the South Gate of Hwaseong Fortress. At the time it was the coldest night of the year until this past week when it hit a low of 9 goddamn degrees (fahrenheit). The bus ride was a bit longer than I thought, so it took me almost an hour to get to the stop where Pil Young was anxiously waiting. Luckily, the chicken joint was only a street up and a turn into a narrow crusty old street. On both corners were chicken hofs. Chicken smoke was billowing up from both sides. As we approached, I noticed that the middle aged ladies there were frying the chicken right there on the street, and then bringing the plates inside for the hungry customers. Pil Young told me that both chicken hofs were famous.

Inside was warmer, but not warm enough to take off my coat. Like many Korean restaurants, there's too many goddamn lights on, but I'm used to it by this point. The only seating was floor seating which is okay by me cuz I like to keep my ass warm on a cold day. Pil Young orders the chicken and the 500cc of beer mugs.

AHHHH. The beer tastes great. Usually Korean beer is not impressive EXCEPT in chicken hofs where you can get the draft beers. Not long after, out comes the fried chicken. Impressive. A nicely stacked plate of chicken with all the necessary parts PLUS an extra mini plate with gizzards and deep fried chicken feet. That is a first for me. I never knew they deep fried the feet in Korea, but there it was! I rubbed my eyes to make sure I wasn't dreaming, but this was no dream! It was reality! A beautiful reality.

Usually the chicken feet you get in Korea is drowned in super spicy red sauce, and is quite tender. However these were much tougher, and chewier, but good. The chicken was, of course, crispy on the outside, but also nice and tender on the inside. Gobbeldy good. We ate the whole damn plate of bird, and there was a lot of bird, and we downed 2 mugs of beer.

Success! Pil Young is not wrong in his food choices. I look forward to the next time he takes me on a food hunt. God bless the man, and the tongue that the Lord built for him. And God bless fried chicken and beer!

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Teacher "Workshop"

As you all know (and by "you all", I mean Scott and Joel....maybe other folks), I live and work in Suwon, South Korea. It's about an hour south of Seoul. In many ways it feels the same as Seoul cuz it's super busy and stuff. But in other ways it's different. Depends on the area, really. I live in Mangpo-dong which is in the south, and kinda country. There's some farmland right by the school I work at which is just a 20 minute walk. The school I work at is called Mangpo High School (망포고등학교, for those "in the know"). It's not a big school, and it features some of the city's so called "worst" students. They're not too bad. They kinda run wild, but the school doesn't do anything about it, so....what can an alien like myself do? Right? Where am I going....okay. Enough about the school for now. I want to get to what I did with the teachers from the school this passed weekend. Not an orgy! Not. an. orgy.

Here's the thing, when the year end school tests are finished (the school year starts in March and finishes in December), the school takes all the teachers to a teacher "workshop" somewhere in Korea. When I first heard about these "workshops" I thought it would be, like, sitting in a conference room listening to lectures about teaching and the next year and all of that. But, one of my co-workers clarified things. It's only an excuse to get wasted and relax on the school's dollar. Well....why not? Let's see what this is about.

The day of departure was Friday at 12. Students finished their morning tests, and then we were all hustled on board. Of course, I was the last one cuz I couldn't understand the Korean on the intercom that said we're leaving earlier. But, everyone loves a late foreigner, and I happen to be a foreigner so fun fun fun!

The mood of the bus was set early on when my tenth grade co-teacher (name is Joe) started walking down the aisle with beer and soju shots ready. Yes, I have no problem with these things. I like that very much. Off we go! Destination: Byeonsan Bando (변산반도 one of the national parks) in Jeolla province (전라도 this province has a reputation for protesting the government and food). From Suwon it's maybe 3 hours or so, but we make a stop at another high school for a quick lesson on the history of the school, which I couldn't understand, and I took a quick nap. Then back on the bus to ride down the famous causeway of Korea. I don't know how many miles it was, but I guess they put a lot of money into it. Kinda neat. It's right on the ocean. Probably destroyed marine life making it, but maybe not.

Then we hit Byeonsan, and we do a quick jaunt through a small hill, and stand by the ocean and pictures and things happen very fast in Korea. Something like that might take an hour or 2 in America, but because Korea likes to finish everything too goddamn fast, it only took maybe 30 minutes. I got some neat pictures of all this for your enjoyment (see above. this is the town). Please....ENJOY!

Finally, it's dark, and everyone is ready to get down to some serious eating and drinking. Koreans do not fuck around, for better or worse, and eating n drinking is one area that they DEFINITELY don't fuck around in. Okay, that's not totally true. Koreans do fuck around. I have noticed that they will look busy at work, even if they have not a thing to do. I usually just kick back with book or something. Okay! Back to the story! We are at a seafood restaurant, and booze and food is practically falling off the table. There's a shit ton of raw shit, and tons of side dishes because we are in Jeolla-do which has a reputation for covering your table in side dishes. I meet folks I rarely get to talk to. Turns out some of them know more English than they were letting on. Some people start to go down early, though, including the guy I rode down with. I knew from talking to him on the bus that he would be the first one down, and I was right. He was screaming and yelling and slobbering, and later he told me that he thought he said some bad shit to some of the girls. Maybe he did, but I didn't hear it. I consoled him by telling him that most people on the bus has probably done that. He's catholic, so he kinda likes to feel guilty about everything. I would also like to point out that, through all of this, the principal and vice principal are there getting drunk, too.

After a couple of hours, we spill out into the street. Bloodlust. I'm getting hit on by a married woman. Everyone else is yelling for the singing room. But the singing starts early, cuz as it turns out, there's a goddamn singing room ON the bus. So, Joe starts belting out his favorite Trot song, and then another co-worker gets on and starts slurring his way through another. The scene is set with flashing neon lights. Here's a picture. It's a strange thing.

Last stop: our hotel and a singing room inside the hotel. More beer. More food. Lots of singing. I sang Bizarre Love Triangle but it was pulled cuz it's too slow. Sad. And then I try 9 to 5 which is still pulled cuz I keep laughing during it. Super sad. So, I leave that crew and go to another room where I eat some extrodinarily hot n spicy soup. Burned so much that I was pouring tap water through my mouth, and then....I guess I stumble back to my room and pass out.

Next day, out the door and to a restaurant out by the sea. Excellent view. Delicious rice porridge. Good hangover remedy. And back on the bus to head back to Suwon. BUT, we stop at a great temple called Naesosa (내소사). For once, I had kinda of a tour guide. One of my co-workers is a Buddhist and she explained the meaning of different things around the temple grounds.

After finishing, we loaded back into the bus and did one more stop. As said before, Jeolla-do is famous for food. One food they are famous for is jeot (젓). Jeot is salted and fermented fish and shellfish. After it has rotted enough they mix in a spicy concoction with it, so it gets a nice bright red and slimy appearance. It's not a side dish, and you usually eat it with rice. The principal is from Jeolla-do, so that explains why he gave us an allowance to buy this slimy stinky stuff. I bought an extra jar. There were many varieties, but I ended up getting changran jeot which is fish intestines and bibimnakji jeot which is octopus. I almost bought the oysters, which I love, but this was so incredibly salty and rich, that I couldn't do it. C'est la vie.

Not much to say after that. It was pretty uneventful the rest of the way back to Suwon, but my appreciation of Korea had been lagging for quite some time. It was nice to take a trip to remind me why I really love this country. Sure, these fuckers work hard, and that keeps them from appreciating some important aspects of living. But, it really is a great country, I'm happy to call it my second home. Keep rockin' Korea.

Here's 2 more pictures:

Jeot galore!!!!

And the singing bus: