Friday, November 25, 2011

Bits and Bobs

My brain is a little loose in my skull right now. I think I can hear it sloshing around in my cerebral fluids. A combination of lack of sleep, nonstop working, random drinks with co-workers, and quick trips to China tend to take a toll. Whew.

The movie is almost done. Not quite yet, but I'm hoping that late tonight or early tomorrow will see this thing through. I'm ready to stick a fork in it, that's for sure.


I leave for LA next week, on Friday. Goodbye, Korea.

More news!

I come back to Korea in January. Goodbye, LA.

Because my mother is in Korea, I requested that I get to leave the country when she does. This means that I have a very whirlwind week ahead of me. I need to find a new place, move in, pack for LA, buy presents for people (or maybe just do that at duty-free), return my (stupid) Korean phone, see some people to say goodbye (or see you later, I guess), and try to catch up on sleep before getting on a very long plane ride. I'm tired just thinking about it ... though I was tired anyway, so that can't be helping.

Who knows how blog posting will go? Probably scarce until I get back to Korea in January, though I may have a bout of inspiration in LA (I'm betting not, as I will probably be dashing around seeing people and Christmas shopping in the short month that I have). I also need to buy winter clothes, because I don't know if you know this, but Korea? It has real winter. Sub-zero temperatures, freezing cold wind, and snow. I am not at all prepared for it. It's already too cold for me, and I'm told that it's only going to get colder. I was tempted to stay in LA until March, but that just seems excessive.

Also, I totally missed Thanksgiving because nobody in Korea cares. I want turkey and mashed potatoes! Happy belated Thanksgiving. And happy early Christmas!


Saturday, November 19, 2011

Bits and Bobs

I cannot even really begin to describe the hellishness of the last few weeks, in that I've gotten so little sleep that I've become delirious. Stark, raving mad. It's a constant struggle to remain upright, and an even bigger struggle to remember what day of the week it is. (Today's Saturday, I checked four times.)

Sleep, for me, is the single most important item while I am working. If I get enough sleep, I am generally okay. I may be cranky that I don't have a life, I may hate everyone, but I won't go ballistic. If I don't get enough sleep for a couple days and then make up for that lack of sleep, I'll be a little bleary-eyed, but not too bad. The past several weeks have been consistent. Consistently sleepless. I'm beat.

It's Christmas at Western Dom. Kind of. They just put up these decorations this week (I'm pretty sure it was this week ... but my brain isn't functioning all that well, so it may have been last week), which seems ridiculously early to me. Then again, Koreans think nothing of having Christmas decorations up all year round (Angel-in-us Coffee, I'm looking at you and your glittery gold ornaments).
My first taste of 족발 (usually spelled "jokbal" but pronounced more like johk-bahl), which are pigs' feet (or ham hocks, I suppose), cooked with spices and sliced thin. I was always wary of this dish, because DUDE. PIGS. FEET. Sounds gross.

Not surprisingly, I love jokbal. It's really good- it's just pork, eaten with varying accompaniments (seen in the photo). It can be dipped in one of the sauces, wrapped in lettuce with garlic or other vegetables, eaten plain, whatever floats your boat.

We had jokbal with 막걸리 (usually spelled "makgeolli" but pronounced mahk-gull-ee), which is pretty traditional. That white bottle is the makgeolli, which is sweet and only very slightly alcoholic. It's generally referred to as "rice wine," which I think is a little deceptive, because it's much weaker than wine. I think it's pretty much like soda (7Up or Sprite) with a little bit of booze mixed in.

No, I don't have much free time. We had jokbal and makgeolli for dinner one night, because the place we wanted to go to was full. There is a strange (to me) Korean tradition of eating green onion pancakes (파전, pajeon) with makgeolli on days when it rains. It was raining, so for dinner, three of us trekked over to a jeon (Korean savory pancake) restaurant. The place was totally full and not looking like it was going to clear out anytime soon, so we went to the jokbal place a few doors down.

I haven't eaten a meal at home in forever, so one of the few good things that have come about from my endless work hours is that I've become closer to my co-workers. A couple of them in particular. I've also realized that a few people that I work with are completely asinine and should be avoided. Good things to know, in any case.

I have written this blog post in about ten minutes, waiting for a review to start (that will probably last for at least two hours). I think they're about ready, so I'm off!

Also off to China tomorrow ... the upside is that I get to sleep in the plane...


Friday, November 11, 2011

Happy Pepero Day!

It's November 11, or 11/11 today, which means it's Pepero Day.

There are giant displays all over the place with Pepero. It's really very much like Valentine's Day displays in the States, except there's only one type of snack being used.
I guess it's extra Pepero-y because this year is 2011? Two more 1's to add to the mix. Honestly, it's a silly day that just gives people an excuse to eat chocolate covered biscuits and give each other a little present.

I think it's kind of nice- an excuse to buy a gift for someone for a dollar, and an excuse to receive a cheap present. Sure, a buck isn't much money, but it's fun and seems to make people happy (at least for a few minutes).

Work is so incredibly busy that I haven't had time to sleep, much less blog. Back to China next week. This should be my last sleepless week before I get to pass out to my little heart's content. Just ... keep ... swimming...


Thursday, November 03, 2011

Bits and Bobs

I've been working very long hours lately, generally getting home around 3:00 in the morning. This means that I've been heavily abusing caffeine (Red Bull, thank you for FINALLY coming to Korea!) and sleeping lightly. I'm a little high from fatigue, which is not the fun kind of high. It's sort of like a weird, sluggish dream state.

Two more weeks and then this movie should (crossing my fingers) be over. Two more weekends of non-stop work, a few more meetings with the director, eleven or twelve more sleepless nights, and then I can pass out and sleep for 15 hours! Can't. Wait.

Random photos from my phones:

Beef sashimi (육사시미), which is literally sliced raw beef. Those little dishes off to the upper left side? Delicious, delicious dipping sauce that was a little spicy and quite garlicky. Yum. (Sorry, I didn't take any other pictures from this dinner, which was last night. Everything else was standard Korean beef grilling, nothing out of the ordinary.)
It's autumn, y'all. I took this photo in my building this morning, waiting for the elevator. That little hill is Jeongbal Mountain (정발산), which is what the subway station next to my place is called. The surrounding neighborhood is all called Jeongbalsan. I need to try to escape during some daylight hours to go up the mountain and snap some pictures before the leaves all fall off the trees ... hoping that winter doesn't come in the next two weeks.
Another photo from this morning, as I was waiting for the elevator. I absolutely love that shade of red that some trees transition to. It's so beautiful, and a color that I never saw on trees while I was growing up. Remember what this little garden looked like in the summer? It was nice and lush and green then, but I love the yellows and reds in this autumn photo.
Snapped on the way back to the office from lunch today. Those plastic chairs are common in front of almost all convenience stores in Korea. Generally, older men sit in them, reading newspapers during the day and drinking at night. I find it hilarious that these three chairs are grouped around this tree- what were they doing, communing with nature while smoking their cigarettes?

The trees have already started shedding their fall foliage, which makes me sad. I want autumn to last longer!

Geeky side note- the first and last photos were taken with my Samsung Galaxy SII. The middle two photos were taken with my iPhone 4. I have to say, the iPhone has a much better camera. Nothing really wrong with the Galaxy's camera, of course, I just think the iPhone's produces nicer photos. I've heard that the iPhone 4S's camera is even better ... but I'm not getting a new phone anytime soon. I'm already on my third (!) Galaxy S2, I don't need to blow all my money on getting new phones all the time. Sigh.

There is some drama (oh, drama, I have not missed you) at work, because politics are always present in any workplace, but coupled with Korean passive-aggressiveness, the politics are staggering. I've been quite blunt about it, and using my Americanness as an excuse to be aggressive and circumvent or just plain crush the drama that comes along and tries to bite me. No, thanks.

Still no change on my employment status. No idea where I will be working next month. Tick, tick, tick, tick...


Monday, October 31, 2011

R.I.P. Christopher Ryan Smith

I was, for a while, so perplexed about this ... person ... that I didn't know if I wanted to blog about him. I didn't know if I wanted to add more words onto the internet about this man, who saddens me and angers me in turns.

I thought about it for a while. I talked to my mother about it. (She was at my place for the past two nights. I put her (and all seventy pounds of her luggage) into a cab this morning, packing her off to our hometown of Jeonju (전주)). I dwelt on it for longer than would be considered healthy. And I decided to write about it.

Writing and blogging is, in my opinion, one of the healthiest ways to express one's viewpoint. I like writing because nobody interrupts me; nobody can interject and make me lose my train of thought. I can go back and revise (though I rarely do). I can write something up, save it, and re-read it before posting. I can put as little or as much thought as I want into a blog post. Don't come back and yell at me if you have a fanatical point of view and put it up on the internet, though. People will always respond to fanaticism with a corresponding amount of vitriol.

So, here goes!

I remember seeing his picture, though I couldn't say where or when that was (I think it was while I was in Korea, and I think it was via Twitter). I remember thinking, what a ding-dong, and moving along with my day. There are a lot of news articles that enter my brain in snippets, thanks to Twitter, Facebook, and the internet.

This particular case was about a murder. I only recalled the case very vaguely until my mother told me about it yesterday and I investigated it a bit further today, and now my head is reeling.

First off, here's the blog post he wrote on June 23, 2011, just a few short months ago:

For those of you who have known me a long time, you'll agree that my life has been nothing short of a roller coaster ride. Though most of it was self imposed through a series of bad decisions guided by bad judgment, I can safely say that I am happy to be here. Regardless of the outcome, at the end of the day it's only about two things: 1. Your family and circle of friends and 2. Your faith.

1. My Family. I have three beautiful children, an amazing wife and another baby boy that's due in August. There's nothing more I could ever ask for as a human being other than the salvation of God's grace and His son. My kids are wonderful and despite the challenges of raising three kids that are seven and under, I couldn't imagine ever letting this get away from me as I have tried to let happen before.

2. My Faith. I will publicly admit all of my wrongdoing. I have made many mistakes in life, most of them in business and lot directly against my wife and family. I can't argue that God has blessed me with tremendous talents, but the issue hasn't been about execution or growth. It's been about taking shortcuts and looking for shortcuts when in trouble to get out of it. Additionally I think the whole "isolationist" perspective is not a good one to have. When you are on the top by yourself, it's very lonely and when you are immature and ill equipped to handle conflict because of character and under-developed integrity issues, you make mistakes, and in my case, more often than not. In the end, as I look upon my life and live it with a heavy heart knowing the people that I've hurt along the way, I can only hope to try and rectify everything in some small measure and know that in God's eyes that was good enough and that I'm good enough for him. My salvation through Jesus Christ is the ultimate gift, because no matter what, no matter if you are a hardened killer hanging on the cross just a few hours away from your death or born into a good Christian home whose family guides you to Jesus before you even commit serious sins, we are all people. People worthy of being saved by a higher power who was our Creator. Someone who "so loved the world that He gave his only begotten son..." So yes, I'm sorry. And yes, one day I will make good the best way that I can on the things I've done. I can't say when, but hopefully sooner than later.

The irony of all of this is that I could have chosen a different path or train of thought. However, in the end, I have to accept the fact that it isn't my power that has brought me here to where I can still have my family and love others, it's God's power. So because of that, I will take no credit and only offer my thanks and praise to God.
So. He's pushing the Christianity a bit hard, but nothing that stands out and screams that the author is a complete psychopath, right? I was a little surprised at how remorseful and sentimental the author seemed to be in this post, the only post on his blog, titled Mr. Shincredible. I fully expect that blog to be taken down shortly, which is why I've added the entire blog post above.

Mr. Shincredible is, in fact, Edward Younghoon Shin. He murdered his business partner, Christopher Ryan Smith, and covered it up for a year. A YEAR. There are two articles in the LA Times online, one on September 1, 2011, and the other on September 7, 2011. I am all for "innocent until proven guilty," but the man confessed. He killed his business partner, most likely because he didn't have the $1 million to buy out his partner's half of their marketing business.

I am perfectly aware that one million dollars is a very large amount of money. My life, the average life, is worth far more. To Christopher Ryan Smith's family, Chris is worth much more than one million dollars. They still don't have his body, because Edward Shin hasn't told the police where to find it.

The fact that Edward Shin had enough humanity in him to write that blog post? That's what makes me pity him. The fact that he killed a man because of financial gain? That's what makes me hope he gets a tough prison sentence. The fact that he has four children? That just makes me sad. For his wife, for his kids. Especially for the kids- their only wrongdoing was their inability to choose their own father, after all.

To recap the murder, here's what I've gleaned, sorted chronologically:

May, 2010: Edward Shin is convicted in Riverside of embezzling money. He is fined $700,000 and put on probation.

June 4, 2010 (or thereabouts): Edward Shin kills Christopher Smith and disposes of his body and some of his belongings, including his car.

June, 2010 (post-murder): Edward Shin hijacks Christopher Smith's e-mail account to e-mail Smith's family and friends about going on an African adventure. These e-mails continue for some time.

December, 2010: Edward Shin sends the last forged e-mail from Christopher Smith's e-mail account, telling Smith's family that he's on his way to Congo and Rwanda. This e-mail is vague and probably purposefully worrisome, seemingly because Shin wants Smith's family to believe that Smith died in Africa.
June 23, 2011: Edward Shin writes his only blog post. Possibly feeling the noose tightening as police are investigating him?

August, 2011: Christopher Smith's Range Rover is found in San Jose, about 400 miles from where he was killed.

August 28, 2011: Edward Shin is arrested on board a plane bound for Canada, taken into custody, and confesses to murder.

There's some inconsistencies in information about whether Edward Shin has three children or four (his blog post seems to indicate four, in my opinion, but most news articles seem to say he's a father of three), but regardless, he's definitely married and has kids. According to his blog, his youngest is a boy that was born in August. He's religious, obviously, and attends one of the mega-churches in Southern California that is predominantly Korean and Korean-American. (Reading that Wikipedia article, by the way, may shed some light for those who need examples of the lemming mentality that Koreans have.)

I understand, in my little brain, what might motivate a person to murder someone. Really, I get it. People can be stupid and infuriating, and I've said, "I'm gonna kill him/her" more than once in my life. Some people seem to defy Darwinism, in that I don't understand how they're still alive and breathing.

What I do not understand, will never understand, is actually being able to perform the deed. Can you imagine pointing a gun at someone, a real gun, and pulling the trigger? Holding a knife to someone and applying enough force to literally tear their flesh? I really doubt that, no matter how angry someone makes me, I would be able to do more than hit them (I've never punched anyone in my life, but I have hit people, mostly in jest). I don't think I could even put Visine in someone's drink, much less poison.

I am writing about this because of his blog post. There are murders on a daily basis- an hourly basis. I don't think I've ever read something that a murderer has written before he was incarcerated. I know murderers (and other criminals) tend to write letters and appeals once they're in prison and want support or public understanding or whatever, but I've never seen a criminal's blog, written of their own free will, before the public knew anything about them or their grisly crime(s).

They say (I don't know who "they" is, don't ask me) that people tend to become deeply religious on their deathbed, scared of dying without forgiveness, willing to try and ask for redemption before their bodies give out on them. This blog post seems like that sort of thing. Edward Shin is preemptively confessing his sins, hoping that putting his thoughts out there in the universe will somehow lessen his guilt. He compares himself to the two criminals that were crucified alongside Jesus- though to my knowledge, the two were thieves, not murderers. I'm sure he's hoping that he will be the "good thief," the one who was forgiven by Jesus, rather than the "bad thief," who mocked Jesus to the end.

I'm not going to further dissect this. I like analyzing things, but I have a feeling that dwelling on this for too long isn't going to do good things for my mental health, which is already teetering due to long, blood-sucking hours at work.

It's Halloween in Korea today, which means that it's just another autumn day in Korea today. Sadly, Halloween isn't much of an event here. I only remembered that it was Halloween because I went out with a few co-workers on Friday and I took them to a couple foreigner bars, where people were in (half-hearted) costumes. There was even an apple bobbing tub in one bar, which was a funny thing to introduce to Koreans (they think it's a weird game, which is perfectly understandable).

Nobody is dressed up at work today, and nobody's handing out candy. Sigh.


Friday, October 28, 2011

우마이도, Ilsan

우마이도 (pronounced oo-mai-ee-do, Anglicized to Umaido) is a Japanese ramen place just on the outskirts of Western Dom (웨스턴돔) in Ilsan (일산). I've been a couple times now, and tried all two main dishes that they offer there.

I usually feel that restaurants are best when they concentrate on their signature dish and refine it. This place takes that notion to an extreme, literally only serving gyoza (potstickers) and ramen. Even their ramen only comes in two flavors- regular and spicy. They don't mess around. They don't even serve rice, so if you're hungry, order some extra noodles (for 1,000 won, or less than $1). They do sell their chashu (the pork that is usually served in slices on top of ramen) by the dish, if you need more meat. Chashu is part of Japanese ramen cookery, as are half-boiled eggs (hanjuku eggs), so I don't consider them to be separate dishes.

True to form for me, I prefer the spicy ramen. It's a little more interesting, and the spice cuts the heavy greasiness of the broth. Both are quite good, and if I was looking for something comforting, I might go with a bowl of the regular, but I think that most days, I prefer the spicy. They have the same base, and it's a good base. I believe that there's a reason that they charge you a whole extra 1,000 won for the spicy bowl, though.

Sadly, their gyoza is a little lackluster. I don't think they make their own, which I completely understand, but I wish they would buy tastier dumplings. Not that they're bad, they're just sort of typical dumplings that one could make at home. I think they make their own gyoza. Shame that their noodles are so good but their gyoza are just so-so.

I usually can't finish a bowl of ramen at other establishments, but I find that I actually eat the entire bowl plus a few gyoza at Umaido, so big eaters should really get the extra noodles added right off the bat. I almost never finish an entire rice bowl of rice at restaurants in Korea, so I wouldn't say that I eat a lot- I actually don't eat as much as most girls that I work with, especially when it comes to rice or noodles or ricecakes.

Just as Koreans differentiate between Japanese (and Korean) style curry (카레) and Indian curry (커리) with slightly different pronunciations and spellings, the difference between Korean ramen (라면) and Japense ramen (라멘) is very slight, probably not easily discernible to a Westerner.

One thing that is unique about this place that I've never seen before is the presence of raw garlic cloves and a garlic press at every table. You pop a clove or two (or three or four) into the press and squeeze freshly minced garlic into your ramen, stir it all around, then dig in. Koreans love garlic, of course, so I wouldn't be surprised if this is a Korean addition to a Japanese dish. I, personally, can't really taste garlic all that much, probably because I grew up on garlic-heavy Korean food. I think I had about a clove of garlic in my ramen today and I couldn't even tell it was there.

With the very simple menu of ramen, gyoza, and beer (no sake, as far as I know), this place is almost austere. Their decor is stark, and they seem to stake their reputation on their ramen. Frankly, I've had ramen in LA that I actually preferred to this (I love opaque white shio ramen), but I know that I'll be back for at least one more bowl of spicy ramen at Umaido before I leave Korea.

Their prices aren't bad at all, though pricier than having "normal" Korean food (and more of it):

7,000 won ($6.33) for a bowl of regular ramen
8,000 won ($7.24) for a bowl of spicy ramen
2,500 won ($2.26) for six gyoza

I have no idea how much the beer is because I didn't take note, since I don't care for beer. I'm sure it's not exorbitantly expensive, though.

That's it for today, I'm too tired from work to write anything with thought and opinion, too tired to attempt any type of wit. Hopefully, leaving work a bit early today (before 10:00 would be swell) to have dinner with some co-workers so we can whine and moan about how much our jobs suck. It's a necessary part of life in this industry.

My mother's back to my house tomorrow afternoon, yay! I have to work tomorrow, but I'm going to try to take off early and take her somewhere yummy for dinner. Have to work out where exactly that might be...


I took my mom to Umaido for dinner! She had never had Japanese ramen before, so off we went. I took the opportunity to snap a picture of the spicy ramen:
The gyoza were better this time around. I actually paid attention this time and saw one of the guys making the gyoza, so I can confirm that they are actually made on-site. I think the skins of the gyoza are mass-produced and shipped, though, as they were in pre-packaged little containers, while the filling looking to have been put together by the people in the restaurant.

So there you have it.


Thursday, October 27, 2011

Dongcheng District, Beijing

All of the photos below were taken in various areas of the Dongcheng district of Beijing. To get all the links out of the way, let me list off the places that we drove or walked by:

Houhai, which means "back sea," as it's in the 'back' part of Beijing. This is a park with a lake.

Beihai, also a park with a lake, means "northern sea" and is very close to Houhai.

We walked by Gulou and Zhonglou, I think, which are the drum and bell towers of Beijing.

We drove by Tiananmen Square, Mao Zedong's mausoleum (I still want to spell his name Mao Tse Tung, because that's what my textbooks said when I was a child), and some other places, but it was so foggy the night that we did the drive that taking pictures was pretty much useless. Of course, since I didn't take pictures, I don't remember exactly where we went. Sigh.

What I did take pictures of would be food. I don't know why, but this trip to Beijing was basically just an excuse for me to take ridiculous numbers of photos of food. We really ate quite a lot this time around.

So here was our adventure on our last night, after our meetings and review with the director. We actually left Wangjing and went out and about, taking in a nighttime market, eating, drinking, looking for cute knock-offs (some of the stuffed animals were hilarious), and just generally enjoying Beijing.

We started off at some tiny little restaurant, in a tiny little alley. I will never be able to find this place again, but one of the guys that we went with used to be a regular when he was a student at a nearby university. The owner greeted him cheerily and made us feel right at home.

The dish above was the first one out. I don't like mushrooms, but these mushrooms were delicious. Mostly because they didn't taste anything like mushrooms (or any mushroom I've ever had, anyway). I usually can taste the mushroominess even when they're deep-fried, but these were not mushroomy at all. Really very good.
Next came a tower of fried potatoes. Basically crispy-fried French fries with Chinese seasonings, piled high into a haphazard tangle. There were bits of cilantro in this, and one of my co-workers absolutely hates cilantro (as do a lot of Koreans).

I don't mind cilantro, though I used to really dislike it. I think pho pretty much wore me down and made me accept cilantro. Pho and Mexican salsa got me accustomed to the taste, and I didn't mind it in this dish. It was actually nice to have the sharp cilantro to cut through the deep-fried-ness of the potatoes. I never knew Chinese food involved so much frying until I went to Beijing.
Chicken with mushrooms and bamboo shoots and ... carrots? Something like that. These types of mushrooms, I hate. I avoided these like the plague. The bamboo shoots were actually nice; I didn't think I'd like them, but I did. This chicken was rather sweet and reminded me of Andong jjimdak (안동 찜닭), a popular Korean dish.

I personally like spicy food, and my problem with Andong jjimdak (jjim = steam or braise, dak = chicken) is that it's too sweet. I feel like it's just sweet, without any other flavors. This dish was not as sweet as Andong jjimdak, but still a little boring. I ended up picking out most of the bamboo shoots and leaving the mushrooms and chicken to everyone else.
This is supposedly a great dish that is done really well at this restaurant. I am still skeptical. It was essentially a giant bowl o' fish stew. Those little floaty things? That look like red peppercorns? They are Sichuan peppercorns, which kind of numb the mouth if you accidentally eat them.

I accidentally ate about five little peppercorns and had a couple minutes of pleasant tingling, then realized that the soup contained the greasiest broth that I'd ever tasted. I've had lobster bisque that wasn't as rich as this soup. How they managed to make a clear broth that is richer than bisque is completely beyond me.

There were bean sprouts, large slivers of fish, and some other vegetables in the dish. I took a couple bites, one sip, and I was pretty much done with this. I don't feel the need to ever try this again. Meh.
This looks kind of gross, I know. Like some large blob suspended in mysterious goo. It didn't look appetizing at all, but it was strangely addictive. Basically, it's an omelette wrapped around julienned cucumbers, sitting in a pool of a sauce that was similar to sweet chili sauce.

Okay, the description doesn't make it sound that appetizing, either, but it was actually good. I would've liked it even more if the sauce had been slightly spicy rather than just sweet, but that's just me and my personal taste.
Mysterious meat! I think it's pork, but I forgot to ask. I ate all the bell peppers in this, because I was acutely feeling the lack of vegetables in our dinner. This was really good, but very ... common. Does that make sense? It wasn't unique or anything, it was just sauteed stuff in a typically Chinese sauce. I'm not knocking it or anything, because I really liked it, but I don't know how else to describe it.
A very palate-cleansing, refreshing soup of cabbage and all kinds of mushrooms. This was divine. I don't eat these mushrooms, but I love cabbage (why do people think it's weird that I love cabbage?) and this soup was so blessedly clean, without the grease of the fish stew thing that we had earlier.
Dessert (I don't know if it's really meant to be dessert, but it was sweet, so I'm calling it dessert) was homemade bread. The paler buns are steamed and cooled, so they're slightly chilled. The darker buns are fried, I think, and were ridiculously hot. They came with a little dish of sweetened condensed milk, which I found hilarious. I preferred the fried buns, without the extra sweetening (I ate two!).
We actually starting drinking before we started eating, but that's neither here nor there. China means baiju, since I don't drink beer, and we all ended up drinking it, since nobody really felt like beer. This brand sold these glass cups of baiju, sealed with a thin metal cap and seal that were actually really difficult to remove (heaven help the person who's already had a couple, he'll end up cutting up his hands quite badly), which is probably why we switched to a different brand that came in bottles, with handy screw-top lids.

The nice thing about the little cups was that they were a little less strong than the bottled variety. I think the cups were something like 46% alcohol, whereas the bottle was 58%, which is basically like drinking rubbing alcohol. Blargh.
One of the many, many little alleyways that we traversed to get from the car to the restaurant, then get from the restaurant to the night market, then get from the night market to the bar. These alleys are scary, because people, scooters, cars, and even trucks all use them.
Characteristic Boiled Fish. Yum...? I appreciate that there are so many signs in English (all the larger street signs, especially on the highways, are in both Chinese and English) but some of the English names that shops and restaurants choose are just silly.
I think Special Dishes, Delicious & Cheap was where we had dinner, but I can't be sure. There were so many signs, I don't remember where I saw each one. Pretty sure this was where we had dinner, though. I can't speak for the "Cheap" part, because I didn't pay and had no bloody clue how much anything else, but it was "Delicious."
I can't believe I only took this one measly photo at the big market that we walked through. In my defense, I was busy eating these. I don't know what kind of fruit they are, though I was told definitively that they're fruits, but they were yummy. Candied to a crisp with a slightly sourish flesh. I ate three, I think, everyone else had one, and we ended up throwing two of them away (we'd already had four by the time I remembered to take this picture).
Another sign. I love owls, so I had to take a picture. We peered into the window of this place, though, and there were no owl decorations anywhere. I was disappointed- I had expected the place to be plastered with owls, kind of like how the Hello Kitty Cafe in Seoul looks like Sanrio threw up in there.
This dog was sitting on a stump outside the owl place. The stump actually had owls carved into it, which didn't turn out very clearly in this picture. There were a lot of little dogs in China with these types of haircuts, giving them disproportionately large heads on wee bodies. I have to say, though, all the dogs that we saw were very well behaved. Not a single one of them barked, even in the chaos of a night market.
Our last stop of the night was at Bed Tapas & Bar, where they have lounges and tables set low to the ground, with pillows all over the place. We, of course, elected to sit outside at a table with chairs, because we were not there to experience the "bed" portion of the place, nor even the "tapas" portion- we were strictly there for the "bar."
Everyone had a mojito. Everyone liked their mojito except for me, because I think the mojitos that I've had in LA were better than this weak little beverage. I need to find a place that will make real mojitos in Korea so I can take my co-workers.
At Bed, we were total nerds and played games on an iPad. This game was sort of weird. Type in your (Korean) name and it tells you what your brain thinks of. The majority of my brain, apparently, thinks of vacationing (not true).

We played air hockey on the iPad (well, I didn't, because I was busy downing my mojito) and then we all got addicted to this quiz game. I did quite well at English (of course) and world geography (surprisingly, the Koreans and Korean-Chinese do not know their world geography very well), but then failed miserably at Korean public transportation (which of these colors is not one of the bus lines in Seoul? Who knows that kind of thing?), but we had so much fun with all the different types of quizzes. I have to find that app.
Doesn't this look like jail? It was the view from my hotel room. The previous day, there were students in gym clothes swarming the field. I tell you, Wangjing is not a very pretty part of Beijing.
Unlike our Samuel from last month, October Sammy was alive and swimmy and cute! Hooray for energetic fish that cheer me up. Also, side note: isn't the iPhone 4 camera really amazingly good? It's inside a phone, for crying out loud, but takes very good pictures. I mean, look at Sammy.

It's almost midnight and after a day of assembling this post in bits and pieces while working like a crazy person, I am finally going home. Whew. Sorry for the long, picture-heavy, scatter-brained posts, but it's all I can manage for now!


Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Peking Duck

I was going to title this post "Peking Duck in Beijing" but realized how stupid that would be. As my brain is not at its best currently, it'll be amazing if I make it through this post without spelling, grammar, and logical errors.

Last week was sleepless (a few hours a night) and mentally exhausting. We were running so late that we rescheduled our Thursday afternoon flight to early Friday morning, which meant that I got home around 3 a.m. and then had to be out the door at 6 a.m. to make my flight. Ridiculous.

Got to Incheon Airport around 7, had breakfast with my co-workers and fellow travelers, got on the plane, and conked out for an hour. Because our flights were last-minute, we ended up all sitting in center seats. Not that it mattered, because we didn't have the wherewithal to make conversation with each other anyway.

That would be Incheon Airport, a photo that I took very groggily. I rather like this airport. We landed at Gimpo Airport upon our return to Korea. I haven't been to that airport since I was a child, and it was a little bit weird to see how small the airport was. I had always thought it was massive, since I'd only seen it as a child.

Orange Hotel, our hotel- it's in the Wangjing area of Beijing. Wangjing really is the Koreatown of Beijing. There are tons of signs that are in Korean, lots of businesses that accommodate Korean speakers, and it's easy to find Korean food.

We landed in Beijing on Friday morning, went into the post-production facility for a bit to get some work done, went to the hotel to drop off our stuff, and then went out for lunch. There are a couple guys that work in Beijing that are Korean (one is Korean-Chinese and one is Korean, but has lived in China for several years now). They both know my co-workers that I went with, because the visual effects industry in Korea and China is tiny and everyone knows everyone, so the Korean-Chinese guy took us to lunch, insisting that we have Peking duck because I've never had it before and because it's obviously something that one does in Beijing.
You know how people use red and gold as symbolic colors for China? I thought it was always overwrought and people should stop being so stereotypical ... until I actually went to China. Red and gold really are used almost everywhere.
Before the duck came all kinds of yummy things. This was pretty much kung pao chicken, but better and with more complex flavors. Chinese food in China is a very different experience than Chinese food in the States or in Korea.

Then came a fancy salad. I think I was told that it was a peach pit salad (?!) but I didn't taste anything pit-y. I had no idea what I was eating, but it was good. Too much dressing, perhaps, though over-dressing salads is so common in Korea that I'm getting used to it (and don't ask for dressing on the side, they'll think you're weird).

Sizzling hot eggplant. This was quite good. I like eggplant, but I really like eggplant that is seasoned well and not cooked into mush. I find that I seek out vegetables more and more (I don't know why that is ... my old age?) and this was really a good vegetarian dish.

Our little ducky came with his own carver. She was really fast with that huge knife, efficiently cutting up little ducky into thin slices and then taking his carcass off to be turned into soup. She shimmied off some of the crispiest bits of skin first and handed them over to us. I personally like duck fat (I don't like pork fat), but that skin is just a mouthful of oil. Yes, deliciously duck-flavored oil, but I like duck fat and duck meat together.
Ducky also came with a certificate. He's a special duck. He was a quite delicious duck; I have no complaints.
The carver handed over two plates of neatly piled duck, which were almost too pretty to eat (almost), and then our Korean-Chinese friend explained how to eat the duck. It's pretty much a tiny duck burrito, or maybe a tiny duck spring roll.
Lay down one of the crepes (or pancakes or tortillas or whatever they're called), dip a slice or two of the duck into the sauce, add a couple matchsticks of cucumbers and spring onion, roll the whole thing up, and eat it. These little rolls were a perfect two bites for me, and very good. The wrappers were a little odd, because some of them were thick and some of them were very, very thin (the thin ones were better).
Here's our little ducky's head, cleanly halved, with some of the crispy skin. I tried the brain and it was okay. It had the consistency of beans and not much flavor. Now that I think about it, I probably should have had the brain and the skin together, that would have been much better.
Duck soup, which was very, very, VERY greasy and not refreshing in the slightest. I could see how this would be really good as a base for something, but it was a little odd and one-dimensional the way we had it. Besides, by the time the soup came out, we were all stuffed and ready to pass out from full bellies and lack of sleep.

Actually, passing out is exactly what we did. After lunch, we went back to the hotel, crawled into our respective beds, and look naps before our afternoon meetings started. The nap only made me want to sleep more, so it was not, perhaps, the best idea, but we were wiped out and needed whatever rest we could get.

This trip to Beijing was much better than the first one, mostly because we had a little bit of time and were actually able to go to some different places, rather than being trapped at the post-production facility during all our waking hours.

In non-China related news, my mother's here! Yay! She arrived (arrove) early yesterday morning. My aunt (my mother's only sister) went to pick her up. They had coffee and then came to my house just after 9:00, where I was sprawled in a stupor because of a hweshik (회식) the night before. During said 회식, I managed to drop my phone and crack the screen, meaning that I cannot use the phone at all. I am full of smart moves when I drink, let me tell you.

My poor mother saw me at my bleary-eyed worst as soon as she got here! We both struggled to stay awake yesterday. Mom managed to stay up until 9:00, after which I gave her permission to sleep (she passed out SO FAST), and I stayed up a while longer, waiting for an e-mail from work. I only came into work for a few hours yesterday, thankfully, but have been here since 9:30 this morning and am ready to go home (it's only 4:30).

More posts about Beijing coming soon- we went to a 24-hour restaurant-ish place that night, a nighttime market-ish place the next night, and managed to have fun. My Chinese visa is kaput now, so here's hoping that if I go back to China again, it'll be for fun and not for work.


Monday, October 17, 2011

Korean-Style English

Because even English is just a little bit different in Korea:

contact lenses = lens, not contacts, not lenses, just "lens"
Coca-Cola = cola or Coca-Cola, nobody says "Coke"
Sprite or 7Up = cider (there's no apple cider here, by the way- there's Martinelli's and such, but nothing like real apple cider)
microwave = range (because the appliance is actually a 'microwave range' and Koreans apparently like to use the second word rather than the first)
app (as in, that app for my smartphone) = appil (which sounds just like 'apple' to me), a Korean-style shortening of 'application'
harddrive = hard (rather than 'drive', as in the States)
laptop = notebook

There are so many more, but I can't remember them when I'm trying hard to think of some examples. I should probably write them down as I encounter them. That's what the memo app is for, after all.

Blogging's been terrible lately, I know. I've been working until quite late every night, and then going home and having trouble sleeping. I don't usually sleep until 3 or 4; it's been an ongoing struggle for the past couple weeks.

Back to China this week. We're leaving on Thursday evening, which means that it's going to be a sleepless week as we prepare. We're staying until Sunday this time. I'm pre-upset because this means that I won't get any kind of weekend at all before I have to come back into work on Monday. Then on Tuesday, early in the morning, my mother arrives (hooray!) and I get to see her for a couple hours before I have to come into work.

It's going to be a long few weeks until this movie delivers, as we're already burning the midnight oil (I've had meetings that didn't begin until past midnight!) and burning that candle at both ends, all at the same time. Lots of burning going on.

My Chinese visa is done after this trip, so maybe I won't have to go back. I like going to new places and visiting foreign countries, but the part of Beijing that we stay in is not fun. Plus, the fact that I'm stuck in a building where everyone smokes indoors means that I really do not enjoy my working hours (of which there are many).

Alarmingly, it's gotten quite frigid here. I'm told (repeatedly) that Ilsan is colder than Seoul, which is disheartening. It's already cold, colder than LA winters, and I actually debated breaking out my puffy parka this morning (I didn't). My mother sent me some winter clothes a couple weeks ago when the temperature starting dropping and I realized that I wouldn't be able to avoid winter in Korea.

I am debating what to do with my professional future, and what would be the best course of action for me. No decisions yet.

There will probably be more random pictures of Beijing next week. I still have photos to post of the family get-together a couple weeks ago, plus the museum I visited, plus some other photos from Busan. So much to do, so little time! My mother arrives next week, so I'm sure I'll be occupied for a few days while she stays with me (I'm hoping I can work normal hours while she's here, otherwise that would suck).

I know that I'm in a strange place right now, in between a lot of things. The company for which I currently work has not really made me feel like I'm part of the family. I'm still a guest here, and I don't really like that feeling much. I am freakishly hermit-esque about my personal life at times and it takes me a long time to feel comfortable bringing people into my house, but I seek acceptance and approval at work. Feeling like I'm an outsider at a place where I spend nearly all my waking hours is crap.

More than ever, I also feel like I'm see-sawing between my Koreanness and my Americanness. I'm getting more Korean in some ways, in day-to-day ways, but I feel that I'm getting more resolutely American in other aspects, things that I see and don't like or don't agree with in Koreans. That hyphen between Korean-American is getting more and more jagged.

After I've gotten a consistent amount of sleep (sleep like a dead person for a week or two) and I'm not a zombie anymore, I'll give this all more thought.


Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Bits and Bobs

It's been an exhausting week. And it's only Wednesday!


- Got my hair cut yesterday (for the first time since I've been in Korea) because I was looking like a bedraggled mop. The guy sitting next to me in the salon was getting a perm. He was in the salon for hours, I think, and left at one point while I was there so he could smoke a cigarette. He went outside in a burgundy gown with colorful pastel rollers all over his head. I love Koreans.

(My hair is quite short now. I wish I could have longer, more feminine hair, but I neither have the face nor enough hair to pull off anything but quite short cuts.)

- I got three moles removed today. It was shockingly fast and yet I wasn't frazzled much. I went with a co-worker, we just waltzed out of work in the afternoon, walked to the skincare clinic, then filled out forms with very basic information (name, birthdate, phone number), got our moles zapped, then went back to work after a quick stop at Coffee Bean.

We were sitting, having coffee and chatting in the lobby of the skincare clinic (which are very numerous in Korea), when a girl came by with a topical anesthesia. She dolloped some on our moles, covered the cream with bits of tape, then told us we had to wait about 20 minutes.

My co-worker went first and came back out in less than five minutes. He said it didn't hurt, it was like someome rubbed his skin. I went in for probably ten minutes, came out with three less moles and some sort of cream that's supposed to aid in the healing.

We have to go back in two months, which I managed to shorten to six weeks (I'll be in the States in two months).

It cost me 30,000 won per mole because mine are (were?) quite large and deep-rooted. Including the healing cream, I paid a total of 105,000 won (less than a hundred dollars), which includes the follow-up visit. Totally cheap but the clinic was spotless, the service was great, and the dermatologist was very kind.

Bad news, I have these bits of tape or bandages covering my ex-moles and I can't wet them for at least two days. How am I supposed to thoroughly wash my face??

One of the moles I had removed was just under my eye, which is very delicate skin. That one aches a bit, but I think the bandage is tugging the skin. There is no real pain, though I bet I'll have some nasty scabs.

Work has been quite busy, and I have been having a lot of trouble sleeping. I find that I'm distracted and listless without sleep, so I have a feeling that blogging will be quite awful until my sleep schedule's back on track.

I also still don't know where my next job is, and that is making me antsy and irritable. For the sake of NOT venting anger all over my blog, I'll refrain from talking about that whole ball of wax.

Good night. I really, really hope it's a good night of sleep!


Monday, October 10, 2011

BIFF and Bobs

It's been a while, blog! I didn't mean to neglect you, I just got caught up in all kinds of different things that conspired against blogging. I think there's some tomfoolery afoot.

Last week was chaos, what with a family get-together, a director review (which means late nights prepping for the review), a new project to bid, international phone calls to make, preparations to go to the Busan International Film Festival, and just ... stuff. Not an excuse, sure, but it's the only one I got!

Monday was a holiday (개천절, or Gaecheonjeol, with is National Foundation Day) that falls on October 3 each year here in Korea. Since the anniversary of my maternal grandmother's death is October 5, the family had agreed to meet on the third for her memorial. 

This meant that while others would be working on Monday, I wouldn't, since I was hoofing it down to Seoul to see my family. So I worked on the weekend, tried to get everything in order so nothing would go awry in my absence on Monday, and then went to see my family (I have photos which I will post at some point). A lot of us gathered (17? 18?), the first time I've been with so many family members at the same time. It was nice to take the time to remember my grandmother, and it was even nicer to see my grandfather saying loving things about his wife. 

We ate a ton of food, had espresso, lots of dessert, including rice cake (떡), then the out-of-towners left. I went to a museum on the way home, just because I could, took a bunch of pictures (haven't even looked at them yet), then went home, exhausted.

Tuesday was an all-nighter to get things prepped for the director review on Wednesday, then an even later all-nighter to get the bid for the new movie squared away. Wednesday, director review day, started late because we didn't go to dinner (with the director and stereographer) until nearly 8:00. The review didn't start until 9:00, went past midnight, and then we had another meeting for the new project at 1:00 a.m. (Who does that, by the way?!)

Thursday was spent in a daze. I was in a fog all day, after getting to work around 2:00 in the afternoon, and didn't even try to do much. I knew that we had to leave for Busan on Friday, pretty early in the morning, so I was really glad when I heard that our departure time had been changed to 10:00 (the other car left at 6:00, so glad I wasn't in that one). We had dinner at a really cute place, took a couple half-hearted stabs at work, and left before 9:00, the earliest I've left work in a couple weeks. 

Friday morning, five of us got in a company car and went to Busan. The drive should take about four to five hours but ended up taking six because we got stuck in traffic. We got to Busan in the afternoon, after stopping three times for snacks, lunch, coffee, and bathroom breaks (rest stops in Korea are SO AMAZING, I love them! America, why are your rest stops so scary?!). Milled around Busan, doing the typical Korean "hanging out in the parking lot next to our cars because we can't decide where to go."

Eventually, we made it out and about the city, mostly Haeundae (해운대), the famous beach. We basically didn't do anything in Busan except eat (and then eat some more), drink (and then drink way too much), and sleep (not enough sleep). 

First stop was at a place called 매떡 (Mae-Tteok or Mae-Ddeok), an abbreviation (acronym?) for 매운떡볶기 (spicy tteokbokki, sometimes spelled ddeobokki). Those are fried dumplings (만두, mandoo or mandu) in the bowl closest to camera. We sat on little plastic chairs at little plastic tables next to this hole in the wall shop, practically receiving third degree burns in our mouths from the spiciness. It was good, I have to say, and I didn't suffer nearly as much as some of the other people (three of them got hiccups, it was so spicy). 

We played a game on the street, throwing darts at a wall of balloons. All of our popped balloons combined got us a pink Angry Bird, which one of the girls hung off her purse. She had it on her for the rest of the trip- it was funny because her purse was tiny; the plush stuffy was bigger than her purse!

After the street fun, which I suppose is what one does in a beach town, the guys wanted to shoot pool, a very popular pastime in Korea. Actually, guys here prefer carom, which is played on a table without pockets (pool is called "pocketball" here). I think carom is what the Brits calls snooker? I have no idea, I'm terrible at all those kinds of games.

I learned the proper way to hold a cue and made a few good shots (and a lot of terrible ones). The girls played pocketball while the boys played carom (which is colloquially referred to as "three color" because there are three colors of balls), which has some sort of crazy scoring system. We were basically playing to pass the time, which we did quite well. It was surprisingly fun. I say it was surprising because I usually don't have fun with things that I'm bad at, but I did all kinds of things that I'm bad at (throwing darts, playing pool) and managed to have a good time.

We had a company function at Red Beard (붉은수염), a Japanese-style izakaya that's supposed to be famous for some reason or other (I wasn't paying attention). Once the boys were done carom'ing to their hearts' content, we walked the half-block to Red Beard to eat, drink, and be merry.
I don't drink beer, because I think it tastes awful. So we ordered beers for everyone except me- they ordered a bottle of soju for me. The waiter brought six glasses, thinking everyone was going to be drinking soju. One of my co-workers made me a pyramid of soju. We discovered that one bottle of soju is exactly seven glasses (useless facts, I'm full of them!).
These were tiny little prawns, with heads and tails and shells and everything, battered and deep fried. They were delicious! I thought they wouldn't be good because, you know, who eats shrimp shells?, but they were really good. A little salty (the food was overly salty across the board), but yummy.
Broth with fish cake (오뎅), vegetables, tofu, and some weird thing that I think was made of fish (it was fine, it was just weird because it looked like firm semi-opaque white Jell-O). Koreans really like some sort of hot soup when they're drinking, and this was a nice one. 
Octopus "sashimi," which isn't raw. I think the octopus is boiled or steamed and then sliced thin. It's served cold, which is a little weird at first, but it was quite good (if my sister is reading this, she will be all, you ate octopus and liked it?!), especially with the spicy red dipping sauce (which isn't in the picture).
This was foul. It was some sort of raw fish with some sort of seafood paste on top, then decorated with thin strips of seaweed (laver) and watercress. The garnish is lovely, but the fish was gross. I tried a little at the insistence of my co-workers, and ewwwwww. Never again.
We switched to sake after two bottles of soju (no, I didn't drink all that soju by myself). The sake was good- I find that I usually really like the sake here, though I like soju better in the States. We were laughing about this picture because it doesn't look like I'm actually holding the carton, it just looks pasted in front of my face. 
Skip forward a few hours. After several cartons of sake, several bottles of soju, and more food at the izakaya, we went down the block to a Korean street vendor (포장마차, pojangmacha) to have more soju and these little creatures. I don't know what they're called, but you basically take one, hold it to your lips, and suck out this tiny little sea creature. It tastes like mild salt water and is a little gritty, a little chewy. I didn't mind these suckers, but I had also had quite a bit to drink by this point.
Saturday morning (um ... noon-ish) we gathered, everyone looking a little haggard, went to have noodles (밀면), tease each other about the previous night (well, tease me about the previous night), and then figure out who was leaving, who was staying, and all that. 

The group of us that were going to come straight back up figured out that one car had a zoom lens and the other car had a DSLR, so we detoured to the beach, near two lighthouses, took a bunch of photos (of each other- I looked at the pictures last night and there are none of the actual landscape!), then got in the cars and took off, agreeing to meet for dinner somewhere. 

I couldn't stay awake in the car on the way up (thank goodness I didn't have to drive), so I nodded on and off the entire time. When I came to, it was dark and we were in Gwangju (광주), to have dinner (닭도리탕 and 백숙, two chicken dishes, and 감자전, a sort of potato pancake) and then drive back to Ilsan so we could all go our separate ways. (That's the restaurant, in the photo above- it was a really cool place, where each party is seated in a separate room. All the rooms are old-style Korean, with paper-covered doors and windows, tables on the heated floors. I bet it's amazing during the day, when all the doors and windows can be opened to look out at the surroundings, which are very country-esque.)

Not surprisingly, I couldn't stay awake in the car after dinner. I woke up when the guy that was driving started telling me to wake up because we were almost at my house. I opened my eyes just as he pulled up in front of my building, I hopped out, went up to my place, vegged out in front of the TV for a couple hours, then collapsed into bed, dead to the world.

It was a fun and exhausting weekend, and I'm almost completely recovered now. Still a little tired, but I think it's because I had coffee and tea quite late yesterday, so I didn't sleep much. I met my aunt (my mother's sister) and my uncle for dinner last night in my neighborhood. Then we went to Lake Park, where they were having some sort of show, watched a bewildering show (I think it was trying to be Cirque du Soleil, re-enacting the sinking of the Titanic?) during which we really wanted to leave, then were really glad we stayed when we got to see a ton of fireworks. I think there were about twenty minutes worth of fireworks, quite well choreographed to the music that they played. I thought American did public displays well, but Korea really spends a lot of money on these kinds of festivals (apparently, there was a festival all weekend) and public concerts (there's at least one public concert in the little park in front of my building every weekend). 

The ten of us that went up together have become closer as a result of this weekend, and I feel like some of my co-workers are finally comfortable with me, rather than afraid of me. It was a good bonding experience. I think if we had another mandatory night out, it would be much less awkward and much more fun. 

I have lots of pictures of post, but haven't gone through any of them. I have tons of work to do before I can even think about leaving work today, so I'm going to hop to it. A lot of things are making me cranky, and I need to stop typing before my blog becomes an angry, angry place of anger.