One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.” –Henry Miller

Friday, July 22, 2011

Korean Expression of the Day

I've decided to start writing some of these down. They're so interesting!

1. When it is raining but the sun is out:
"It's like the fox and the tiger got married."
It means that it's an unlikely pairing. 

I had one of those, "Wow, I'm really living in Asia" epiphanies when my co-teacher told me this one the other day. Since tigers are not indigenous to North America any tiger metaphor gives me a profound sense of where I am in the world. 

2. "A man can only cry three times in his life:  when he is born, when his parents die, and when he loses his country."
It means that men really can't cry in Korean culture. "When he loses his country" is pretty poignant for a country that has been occupied and invaded by China and Japan throughout the centuries.

English as a Foreign Language

Have you ever tried saying a word repeatedly until it sounds foreign?  As English teachers in a foreign country, there are certain English phrases that have been drilled so pointedly that they have become cliché and at times, foreign. Every subject has a standard curriculum so it’s only natural that English would do the same.  The text books we teach from bring an… unique... perspective to the list of vocabulary that is deemed necessary to learning the English language. You might be interested to learn that this is a compilation of some of the commonly used phrases (both correct and incorrect) and some of the commonly taught English phrases in Korea
* A: How are you? B: I'm fine thank you. How are you? -- My students say this greeting like automatons. They don't wait for a response.  It goes like this:  "howareyoui'mfinethankyouhowareyou."  Granted, students are a reflection of their learning environment.  Since they have been asked to give this response at the beginning of every class since the time they were 9 (or younger), it’s only natural that they can’t understand the relevance of the question.

*nowadays--   I had a co-teacher that used "nowadays" to express ANY event that was current.  "Last year I went to the movies a lot, but nowadays I don't have the time." "Nowadays I like yoga better than pilates."   "Nowadays my school work keeps me very busy.” Nowadays. Nowadays. Nowadays.  I don’t remember using this word often, but nowadays I avoid it like the plague.

* So so – I’ve tried desperately to eliminate this response from my students’ vocabulary when I ask them, “How are you?”  I hear it so frequently that it sounds unnatural to respond, “I’m so so.”  I suppose it’s easy for them to remember.

*... a kind of..  – as in “Ja ja myung is a kind of noodle.”  I’m not sure if this is even proper English… it sounds strange to me now.

* I know it well / I do not know it well
*losing your weight—this is not a phrase that is taught in English text books, but every Korean I know says, “Have you been losing your weight?” when they mean to say, “Have you been losing weight?”

*That's too bad!  Entirely over used in Korea!  They don’t use it sarcastically as we do.  When you tell them that your puppy died and they say, “That’s too bad” they really do mean, “That’s too bad. I’m sorry to hear that.”  

* A:Where's ABC Bank? B: Go straight and turn left at the corner. It’s next to the school. You can’t miss it!—I can’t give directions without saying them in a pleasant standard English accent like the one our text book CD Rom uses.  It sounds like a car GPS.  Again, it’s so automatonic.

*Take a rest – As far as I know, this is not taught in textbooks, however, it is used far too often.  I’ve heard some Brits and Canadians give the okay on this expression; it sounds a little unnatural to my ears to use rest as a noun.

*It's difficult/good/interesting/nice— As of lately, I’ve been guilty of using these general expressions because I know that nearly anyone with beginner English can understand. Obviously, Koreans use them because they are simple and they express a very broad idea.  The problem: they are too broad!  I had a Korea friend tell me, “He is good.” … How is he good? You mean that he is kind? He is intelligent? He can ride a bike a tie his shoes at the same time?

*diligent— They use it all the time, so I use it all the time.  The word “diligent” is not misused, but perhaps overused, which, I think, reflects its value in Korean culture.

* I have an appointment or I made a promise… with my friend – Misused in any situation to express general plans. What they mean to say is, “I have plans.”

* He/She said to me—It might just be me, but this phrase could do without the “to me” part.

*In my case – This one sounds weird to me now.

*How about___? Let's ____ -- The 5th grade curriculum has a whole chapter devoted to these two phrases.  They sound a little robotic

* I’m sorry to you/him/her—not taught, but often said incorrectly. What they mean to say is “I’m sorry that I …”   

*I’m expecting—Nope, not pregnancy.  Many Koreans say “I’m expecting…” when they mean to say “I’m excited about…”

*I recommend to you – just take out that “to you.”  Prepositions are hard! With every verb, you have to memorize, first, whether it takes a preposition or doesn’t and, second, which one!  in, to, with, for, on,…,??

* “You are boring” when they mean, “You are bored.” Or “It was funny” when they mean, “It was fun.” It wasn't until second thought that I realized that my co-teachers were not trying to insult me when they said, "You must be boring." 

*try this

* Style – The word style is highly overused!  “That’s Korean style.” “That’s my style.” “He’s my style.” “Those shoes are my style.” “That shirt is American style.”

Again, just a little light hearted fun.  I can't say half of these expressions without a smile on my face.  Unfortunately, I've adopted many of these expressions because I know that A) Koreans know them and will, therefore, understand what I'm saying and B) I hear them so frequently that I can't help but saying them. Either way, they've taken on a new identity-- a Korean identity.  It's a funny sensation to say certain phrases in my native tongue and all the while be thinking, "this sounds mighty foreign."

Sunday, July 10, 2011

A Korean meal for Sweltering Temperatures

Summer has introduced some excellently refreshing and delicious summer dishes.

Mul Naeng Myeon—a spaghetti hybrid (minus the tomato sauce) is served in ice water with shredded cucumber, radish, a hard-boiled egg, and some spicy chili sauce.  Granted the noodles are not quite spaghetti noodles, but you have the idea.   

Before you right this off and place it with kimchi in the “Not-So-Delectable Korean Cuisine” category (though I happen to like kimchi) let me just say that it is a relatively hearty dish while staying as refreshing as dinner can get.  Refreshing is really the key as temperatures are rising into the 80s and 90s.  While you think, “well, okay, here too,” I could guess that you are probably looking onto those harsh summer temperatures from the other air conditioned side of a window. 

Before summer in Korea hit, I genuinely thought that those traditional folded fans you buy in Asia served purely as tourist souvenirs.  They. do. not.  While my pretty traditional folded fan will soon be hung on a wall at home, it is busy at work in Korea.  I break that puppy out in every classroom and in most buildings because the truth is that a lot of buildings don’t have AC and the ones that do simply don’t use it.

Pat bing su (which sounds a lot like “pot bing Sue”) is snow cone meets ice cream sundae.  I can make it quite easily at home here, but I hope to recreate something close to the real deal in the States.

Step 1) crushed (or if you can get your hands on it) shaved ice

Step 2) sweetened condensed milk. I actually think it’s too sweet with sweetened condensed milk so I use regular milk

Step 3) sweetened red bean paste. Sweetened red bean paste is used in a lot of Korean desserts—in everything from ice cream bars to pastries— I don’t remember seeing anything similar to this in the States.  I hope to find it in a specialty store at home.  All the same, I don’t think it would be hard to make.. . i.e. smash red beans (into the consistency of refried beans) and add a little bit of sugar. Easy, right? OR, and here is where a modification could be made (I’ve never personally tried this, but if you’re feeling adventurous, then please give it a whirl and let me know how it turns out), do use the sweetened condensed milk and use unsweetened red beans.  But whatever you do, don’t forget the beans!! You need your beans!


Step 4) Add whatever other goodies you’d like. My favorite ones are made with fruit and deok (gummy rice cake), but I’ve seen ice cream, yogurt, little candies, corn flakes.. . really.. sky is the limit.

Add it all. You can’t go wrong.
Step 4) Consume and cool off


The Start of the Goodbye Song

Korea has come alive with the warm weather (and so have I).  I’ll admit that the desolate winter-scape, dirty and gray, threatened to give me the winter blues.  Then came spring, whispering at us.  If not for a quiet, “hello” from the azalea, Japanese cherry tree, and magnolia it might have been missed all together.   Now the yucca and rose are in bloom and the parks are speckled with couples.  The rice paddies, brimming with water and neon green, mirror images of hunched men in cone shaped hats.
The ever rising temperature is a reminder that my time here is coming to a quick end. 

**Note: I wrote this a few weeks ago.  It was a beautiful day. I was laying in the park with my computer. We also hadn't hit monsoon season yet. I can't eloquently describe this time of year.  Simply put: some days it rains ALL day and getting wet is unavoidable**

Blog post ADD

I must have a unique and very selective form of ADD. I recently looked through my files and found 4 or 5 half written thoughts on Korea.  I’ve been doing the same with books recently.  A quick scan and hmm.. Let’s see.. 5 books dog eared on pages 52, 16, 43, 120, 213… I can only explain it with this monologue:  “Look, it’s so pretty and shinny! OoOo, this one is nice. But wait! Look at that one!”  The same thought progression must apply to my experiences/observations in Korea.  Having not posted much recently, a friend asked if things had become habitual. In a lot of ways, it has.  I’m comfortable, there are fewer surprises; but even daily life in Korea is so very different from daily life in the States.  Honestly, Korea, it’s not you! It’s me!

The next couple of posts will be a simple copy and paste from my files. They are rough, incomplete, and even a little directionless.  Sorry :-/ … I’ve got to clean out the cupboard before I can start fresh or I might never stop this meandering writing sequence.  

Monday, May 30, 2011

Petite Atlantis: UNCOVERED

If you're looking for a transient escape from Korea (as some friends and I were) then "Petite France" in Seoul can certainly satiate that appetite, both in a figurative and literal sense of the word.  While most restaurants advertise French and Italian cuisine, don't let the combination throw you. We ate at a restaurant called "La Trouvaille" and shared a Camembert and apple pizza (a sweet and savory flavor that was outstanding!), Shrimp Spaghetti Rose, and a ham and emmental tarte flambee.

Prior to leaving, I had scoured google search results (in vain) to find details or directions for Seorae Maul (서래 마을)- the allusive French village in Seoul.  There isn't a wealth of information about the area- a strategy, I'm guessing, to keep this intimate side street village from becoming a tourist mob scene.  

What I knew:   From what I could gather online, there was a fairly sizable French population living in Seoul (supposedly 60% of the French population in Korea lives in this one neighborhood)... and as you know, where the French are to be found, so is good food and wine.  And that, my friends, I was willing to scour all of Seoul to find. 

What I thought I knew:   Getting there would be a cinch!  After all, the directions online were rather easy.

What I found out:  The directions online were rather vague.  I began to question if it existed at all.  But alas! We found "Petite Atlantis: the Lost Village of Culinary Supremacy."  A nice man who spoke some English pointed us in the right direction. I'm afraid that we would have never found it without his help. 

The ambiance, though subtle and not entirely French, was not Korean.  So what is it about this area that gives it a uniquely French identity? We saw only a handful of people speaking French so I couldn't attribute the ambiance to that necessarily.  Some street and restaurant signs were written in French; but even that was such a small detail that if you didn't know to look for it, you could very well miss it.  There's a school, Lycee Francais de Seoul, for the locals, but it was closed and dark while we were there.  
Example of one of the street signs we saw. Watch out! Don't get towed!

I tried to put my finger on it and I believe it boils down to one word: leisure.  As Americans, we don't truly understand leisure.  Koreans understand it to an even lesser degree.   There was a slowness to Seorae Maul.  The air wasn't as thick with people rushing about; and as they ate and drank they did it, not as a means to an end, but as an end. 

Several reviews online said they were disappointed to find that this neighborhood didn't offer much.  I have to wonder what they were looking for.  Perhaps a minature Tour D'Eiffel or a French painter wearing a barret? I was pleased enough to sit on a terrace on a warm night, eating good food and wine, and sharing it with good company.  


Directions:   can take subway lines 3, 7, or 9. Get off at the Express Bus Terminal Subway Station. From there, take exit 5 (It's a long walk in the subway). You will walk straight out from the exit, on this nicely shaded walking path, tall apartment buildings will be on your right and the "river" (dried up) will be on your left.  You'll walk for about 10 minutes until you see a pedestrian crossing bridge on the left. It's big and tall. You can't miss it. Cross the bridge and take the stairs down to the left. Once you're at the bottom you'll take nearly an immediate right at the light. Walk about 100 yards and you'll begin to see signs in French. 

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Everyday I'm Shufflin'!

Shuffling like this is cool....

I've been rocking a more geriatric shuffle....

because ....

I have three lovely blisters on my right foot, one on my left, and calves that resemble rocks. Yay! ...

Last weekend Daejeon hosted their annual Barefoot Masai Marathon at Gyejok Mountain (note: they call any race a "marathon."  It wasn't actually a marathon, but a 13k. That's about 8 miles, my American friends).  

It was my first and, quite possibly, my last time running in a barefoot race .  The course itself was not terribly difficult.  A few stretches were uphill (as it was a mountain...) but there were quite a few long down hill reprieves.

What killed my poor feet was the path!  In the shade, the cool damp mud felt great!  But while the path was supposed to be comprised entirely of mud, sections of it more closely resembled sand paper. That, in combination with not being conditioned to run without shoes did a number to my feet. 

I don't know exactly how I faired in the race.  I was happy to have run it straight through.  But if I were to guess, I'd have to say that I probably placed in the top ten percent ...of the last three quarters. 

In Korea, whether you are in first or last place (and as you know, I was closer to the later), everyone is treated like an Olympian god.  Adjumas showered me with rose petals as I ran across the finish line. Then they gave me a medal.  I had flashes back to Mrs. Cathcart's 3rd grade class, "Good job, Jessie! You get a gold star for your effort!" 

I had heard that running without shoes changes your form. It's true.  At the start of the race I was bounding like an antelope.  My feet were free!- unburdened by my heavy, cumbersome running shoes.  I wanted to run down the trail with my arms flailing (I refrained to spare others a likely slap in the face.) Around mile 6, the spring in my step took a fleeting exit.  My calves felt like lead.  Running on the balls of my feet had taken its toll on my unaccustomed calf muscles. 

Sore calves and feet aside, it was still a really cool experience. Korean's make races into quite a production.  They had several performers before and after the race: a Nanta performance (stomp meets drum line), musicians, hip hop dancers, and a really cool taekwondo performance.  Black belts obliterated pieces of wood and apples on the ends of knives with their jump kicks and punches. It was amazing! 

I'd like to run another race again soon (maybe with shoes on this time). Now to only recover.. until then .. everyday I'm shufflin', everyday I'm shufflin', shufflin'!

Mud covered feet post run