Monday, July 24, 2006

Korea.. Random Thoughts after Almost One Year!

Wow, less than a month and it's over already?!! The second half of this year in Korea has gone by in the blink of an eye. The weekends of the last few months have more or less been spent on the beach in Pusan, or clubbing till daylight. I still find that a fascinating thing, clubbing till daylight. I think I might've done it once or twice in Vangroovy, but it's definitely a hard task to accomplish, considering most clubs close at 2 or the latest 4 am.

I'm really going to miss clubbing/barhopping here, despite the questionable music. I'll miss the flyers strewn so thickly you can barely see the streets, the easygoing crowd, the ridiculous black clubs-on-wheels (modified buses) that drive by to promote their venue, the abundance of stages to dance on and poles to swing around. I'll miss how everyone in the teacher community knows everyone by one degree at most. I'll miss strolling home at 7 am on a Sunday morning while the odd adjuma passes by, smiling as she reminisces her younger clubbing days. And hearing the birds chirp in a quiet, foggy, hazy city that would normally violate all sorts of sound pollution bylaws back home. Something else I appreciate is how the weigooks here are always ready to hang out or try new things.. I've met a lot of adventurous and inspirational types here. Of course, there are lots of adventurous and inspirational types in Vancouver too. One month before I came to Korea, I was missing Vancouver so much already, and enjoying life so much.. now it's the exact opposite.. missing Korea already, having a great time.. though if I knew I had a whole year ahead of me I'd probably want to be in Vancouver.

Just a few random pics I uploaded.. here's some galbi (sambap style.. aka with rice, wrapped in leaves) I cooked tonight! I'm gonna explain how to make it! First, go to a Korean supermarket and ask for 'dwegi galbi.' It's thinly cut meat attached to the rib, very flavorful. Grab some galbi marinade (I'm using asian pear variety now) and pour it on, with salt and pepper. Sear the galbi in a frying pan at high temperature, then slow cook it a bit more. Drain the juice as you cook it. Then, cut some garlic into large pieces, and roast in the pan. Stir fry some veggies. Grab a thick stack of sesame leaves and some samjang (this is salty soybean paste. It is crucial, in my opinion, because I'm such a diehard fan/addict) MMMM. This is where it gets good.

Pile in rice, lots of garlic (don't be shy.. Korea is the biggest consumer of garlic in the world... you can't out-eat them when it comes to garlic.. in fact, that's the story of how the Korean race was started. To make a long story short, a bear ate garlic for 40 days and became human, procreated with a god, and the first Korean was born.) Add galbi, samjang, raw white onion, kimchi, etc, to the leaf and stuff it in your mouth. You must insert the full leaf for the best effect, so that all the flavors combine! :D

I will never ever be able to make galbi as good as Mijung does it. But it satisfies. If I ever come back to Korea, I'll definitely come to Daegu for the galbi alone.

As much as I love some Korean food, such as galbi, I also have bitterly missed other food this year, such as Chinese food. Hell, I've missed Chinese culture a lot. Who would have thought Vancouver would have way more Chinese culture than Korea does? I was CRAVING congee the past few months (Hong Kong style, not the gross prisoner gruel that Koreans call congee) and have nearly perfected the recipe. Actually, coming to Korea may have been a good thing in that I never bothered to try making my own congee at home, since it was so readily available. Anyway, I put in chicken, seafood, green onions, lots of ginger, dried fish.. mmmm it was good! I have to figure out how to add flavor (ie. chicken broth) without turning the whole thing brown though.

Here are some first attempts at Chinese watercolor painting during that 'homesick for Chinese culture' weekend as well:

To be honest, part of the reason I came here was to try and discover more about the 'asian' side of my family. Because.. you know.. Asia is one big homogenous blob! Hahaha.. WRONG! I can't believe how much Korea has managed not to fit into my stereoptype of 'Asia!' It's got the small spaces, the busy city, the noise.. but it didn't have the mooncake, the dimsum, the gaudy red and gold dragons, the dragon dance, the raucous businessmen screaming about money, the extravagence, the gambling, the savory and methodical blending of flavors to create food that takes on an art form, and the international awareness I was expecting.

But don't get me wrong.. as much as I have been assured of my cultural preferences, I have come to love and appreciate certain things about Korea. Korea is one tough country. Every country around it has tried to conquer it at some point.. China, Japan, North Korea, Stalinist Russia, and of course now it's filled with American troops. But Korea withstood all of that and is developing SO FAST. It's amazing to be in a country where people work so doggedly, and this mindset is reflected in every part of the culture. Korea may not have gaudy gold art, but that's because it's humble and too busy working 12 hours a day to dabble in fine arts. Even it's food reflects it's hardworking, survivor nature. It's simple, unprocessed, and healthy (the real meals, like galbi.. not the street meat). I can just picture the Koreans saying "Quick, Japan's attacking! Throw all your food in this sesame leaf! Let's call it sambap.. but first, run for your life! Or.. let's throw this rice, tuna, and radish into some seaweed and wrap it up! A hearty meal for the battlefield.

I'll miss many other things about Korea than solely what I wrote here.. for example, the feisty adjumas, all the kind shopowners on our street, the language, the customer service, the low taxes, the excellent transit system, and just the excitement of being part of a rapidly growing country. I have so much more to say about Korea.. perhaps I'll make another entry later, with a big pro/cons list. In short, I could see myself coming back to Korea in the future to work.. the jobs are good and plenty. But right now, time to search for some info on Japan nightlife, in time for this coming long weekend!


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