Thursday, August 07, 2008

Who Needs an Alarm Clock?

I don't need an alarm clock- but this isn't just because I don't have a job anymore. My parents keep chickens and a couple of roosters. Haley, it looks like you're not in Korea anymore...

My flight was long and somewhat miserable and I never want to see LAX again, but I'm not dwelling. It's nice to be home. The smells and sights are familiar and it's so green here. The last time I saw so many trees line the road was probably when I was driving to the airport on my way to Korea. I love seeing gardens, front lawns and grassy playing fields. The sense and scope of open space is calming.

How lucky we are.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Good Bye Korea!

By this time tomorrow I'll be in Tokyo! Am I sad to go? Unfortunately, that question is tied to the considerable stress I'm feeling about not having been paid yet. My boss emailed me this morning threatening to withhold a good chunk of change. Great. Way to make my last day all the more special!

A last look at Cheongju:


I don't think this store would be very popular in America

Green tea yogurt from my favorite cafe

Side entrance for the open market

Old women selling produce

The road on the way to my apartment from downtown

Chungdae- popular going out area in Cheongju

Fried potatoes and onions with cheese served along with tomatoes, pickles, canned corn and hard boiled eggs to accompany soju

I'm ready to go home.
Bossam (Boiled Pork) Lunch Set

Another favorite!

Main meal: boiled pork with kimchi

Half the side dishes


Tofu soup

Little shrimp

Dried fish and veggies

Because you always need more raw garlic

Cold kimchi soup

Marinated raw onions

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Images of Seoul

I'm organizing all of my pictures from Korea and I found a random assortment from Seoul that I haven't put up yet:

New apartment complex near the express bus terminal in Gangnam

outside the National Museum of Contemporary Art



Seoul Auction House



Monday, July 28, 2008


To say that my relationship with Korean food has had its ups and downs is a bit of an understatement. I love food and considered myself an open-minded eater before I came to Korea. It took a long time for me to adjust to eating Korean food daily and an even longer time to actually appreciate it. Now I realize that there are many Korean foods that I honestly enjoy and will miss not being able to have regularly (and as cheaply) in America.

When I'm in Seoul I normally avoid Korean food, since I eat it every day in Cheongju. Well well. I found that I missed it during my week in Seoul, so I went to a couple of Korean restaurants to satisfy my (new and surprising) cravings.

This was my 8 dollar Thursday lunch at a small restaurant in Insadong, the traditional culture area of Seoul.

Yes, it's boiling when brought to the table.

This is a marinated beef soup with mushrooms and spring onions.

The side dishes in detail:

Pickles with a spicy sauce

Lightly steamed sprouts and greens


Zucchini sauteed with onions

Ome-rice is actually a Japanese food, but it's caught on big in Korea. This was my 6 dollar Sunday lunch from the food basement of the Hyundai Department Store .

The side dishes include pickles, pickled radishes and cold kimchi soup.

It's basically a fluffy omelet filled with rice and served with curry sauce. This is just one type of omerice; others have cream or other type of sauces.


Pat Bingsu is a perfect summer treat. There are many variations and I think they're all delicious!

Shaved ice, sweet black beans, fruit and a small dish of vanilla ice cream.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Updates: Me!


According to my cellphone organizer's "D-Day" function, I have 28 more days to spend in the "Land of the Morning Calm". After spending 507 days in Korea, I could make a good argument that this is not the most appropriate nickname for the country. I will refrain from doing so right now, however, because I am focusing my energy on anticipating my return to America.

July 4th

Celebrating a distinctly national holiday in a foreign country is challenging and often inspires ambivalence about one's own country. One is expected to show dedication to and enthusiasm for the same country that one deliberately left. Any trouble one has in adjusting to the foreign country only accentuates the awkwardness.

My troubled relationship with Korea and impending return to America made this July 4th no easier. Although I am excited- okay, practically giddy- about being back in America, anxiety about the economy and political issues is casting a shadow over my return. From afar, America seems broken. What is it going to be like for me when I'm back? My impatience to return is based on more personal concerns, like family, friends, open communication, and food. (I anticipate that my blog will become a showcase for all my cooking and baking exploits.) But just as much as I am eager to return to America, I'm also eager to leave Korea. I've had enough. I find the continued protests against American beef in Seoul aggravating; they compound my feelings of alienation and disconnect. A holiday like July 4th is supposed to promote unity and counter feelings of disconnect by emphasizing shared values. This Independence Day highlighted my ambivalence towards both America and Korea, but it made me think that I'll find satisfaction in working on a way to connect with America and American society once I return.


I managed to find an "apple pie" for July 4th. It was actually more of a galette and I bought it at a French pastry shop, but it served its symbolic purpose.

On Saturday, we went to a baseball game in Daejeon. For some reason, all the tickets were free and the stadium was packed, so we had to sit on some stairs in the outfield. The 3rd base coach was blocking our view of the batter and it was an incredibly humid day, but we still had fun!

On Sunday, we went to Hwayang Valley to go swimming at a river. Koreans don't wear bathing suits. They go into the water fully clothed. Only a couple of men took off their shirts. It's very strange. The water was lukewarm, but we were just happy to have access to water on such a hot and humid day.
Update: Minimum Wage

Although the Minimum Wage Council was petitioning for a 26% raise in minimum wage, the new figure for minimum wage will be 4,000 won (approximate $3.80) an hour. This is only a 6% increase. According to The Korea Times, about 2 million people live on minimum wage; this figure represents 13% of employees in Korea.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Minimum Wage

The current minimum wage in Korea is 3,770 won per hour (~$3.60 by today's exchange rate) or 787,930 won per month (~$754) based on a 40 hour work week.

Let's put this into perspective:
A bibimbap is 3,500 won.
A can of soda is 700 won.
A latte at Starbucks is 4,000 won.
A liter of gas is almost 2,000 won.
An apple is 1,000 won.
An hour of private English tutoring can be between 30,000-60,000 won.
A month of tuition at a private English academy is well over 200,000 won.
A 6 week summer writing class, like the one I'm teaching, at an elite private academy in Seoul is 5,000,000 won.

My students all cite the need to get into a good high school to get into a good college to get a good job for why they have to work so hard starting in elementary and middle school. Many of my classes will be cancelled in the upcoming weeks because my middle school students need to prepare for their final exams. American middle school students don't even have final exams! If they did, I doubt they'd be preparing weeks in advance and dropping out of their extracurriculars in order to study.

America has the Ivy League and a score of top-tier universities that practically assure students a decent (if not outright successful) future. A college degree from any other school still opens up opportunities. In Korea, students aim to get into Seoul National University and a couple of other top schools. Competition is fierce for spots at these few prized universities. Without a degree and the connections from these schools, the best jobs are hard to come by and one's career may be limited.

Most of my students won't ever have to worry about taking a minimum wage job. But for those that don't take their studies seriously and don't have parents that can provide them with additional educational opportunities outside of public school, the bottom rung is quite low.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Seoraksan National Park

My destination this past weekend was Seoraksan National Park, the largest of the Korean National Parks. Although it doesn't include the highest peak in Korea, the Seorak range is acclaimed for its series of dramatic rocky peaks and flora and fauna. Many rare animals and plants are found in the park, especially in the lesser visited areas. UNESCO designed the park a Biosphere Reserve in 1992. The park literature identifies three sections of Seorak and the highest peak is nestled in the middle of Inner Seorak. My target was Outer Seorak, the most accessible and popular part of the park.

Although there were a number of a serious hikers out, recognizable in their uniform of performance tops, black pants, real hiking boots and hiking poles, plenty of women opted for heels or backless sandals and cute tops. One might suppose that they were not there to hike, and just had plans to enjoy the fresh air and refreshments, but I did see some hobbling down trails. Seorak is one of the most beloved mountain areas in Korea and is consequently quite busy. Many school groups take trips here and actually several of my middle school students visited Seoraksan just a few weeks ago with their schools. I was visiting over a three day holiday weekend, so luckily I didn't encounter any boisterous school groups, but I did feel surrounded by people pretty much the whole time.

Without a plan, I decided to explore the temple area first and then figure out what to do. The temple lay just beyond this statue of a large seated Buddha.

From the well-kept temple, there were picturesque views of the nearby peaks, leading one to hope that the residing monks are satisfied with their location.

Since I have found the hiking trails in Korea to be generally quite steep, I was excited for one feature of the park in particular: a cable car. A quick ride on the Kwongeumseong cable car brought me to an elevation of 2198 feet. After a short 10 minute walk, I was on the top of Biseondae, Flying Fairy Peak, and had beautiful views of the surrounding peaks. Each cable car could hold 50 people (but I don't think they filled the cars to capacity each time) and the cars ran every 5 minutes. The cable car cost $8 for return for adults and $5 for children; so in addition to the $2.50 park entrance fee, the park is taking in quite a bit of money!

In a lot of my pictures, I may give the illusion that no other people are around. I don't like random people in my pictures, especially if I'm not trying to take a people picture. However, as you can see, there are always lots of Koreans around.

I thought I could access the waterfall trail from trails near the cable car, but I was mistaken. I took the cable car back down to the bottom of the park and connected with the waterfalls trail. After an easy couple of kilometers, I found myself face to face not only with this waterfall but also with a couple that I know from Cheongju! Considering I know so few people in Korea, I thought it was a lucky coincidence to run into people I know.

I was feeling unusually lonely and out of sorts since departing from Cheongju, so I was happy to some company for awhile. We enjoyed a snack in the shade before moving on to a spot by the river (this is quite a generous term for the meager flow between all the rocks on the river bed). We all wondered whether the woman in the boldly printed "Fuckin' t-shirt store" t-shirt knew what she was wearing. (I was perhaps even more curious about the woman in Seoul who had a bag with thankfully smallish lettering repeating "We are baby poo".)

Jena and Alan had tickets for the cable car, so we parted ways. I found myself a quiet place along the river bed and enjoyed the cool water and the impressive views.

In terms of natural beauty, Seoraksan is probably the most impressive place I've seen in Korea. I didn't do much hiking, but I more importantly had a relaxing and pleasant day outside.