Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Bear Soup

Contrary to the title of the post, I did not have soup made of bear. However, I did have gomtang (곰탕), which I'm calling "bear soup" because literally, 곰 means bear and 탕 means soup. There are lots of funny Korean words in this manner, which I'll explain as I blog more about Korea.

On Saturday, after lunch and tea with my cousin, we took the subway to Uljiro Station (을지로) so I could meet my family friend and we could dash off to Myeongdong (명동), a.k.a. get-me-out-of-this-unholy-crush-of-people.

When I went to Myeongdong last year, I had a LOT of trouble. I went with the same cousin that I met for lunch and tea, and he did not adequately prepare me for the sheer number of people that would be crunched into a rather small space. I am not a fan of strangers invading my personal space. AT ALL. I don't like it when strangers, no matter how good looking they may be, touch me even casually. I hug and kiss my family and friends, but if I don't know you, I don't want your germs.

Myeongdong last year was a big mistake. I was not only unprepared for the sea of people, it was also Lunar New Year when I went. Unbelievably crowded. (I eventually went back to Myeongdong with my sister and cousin last year, and I was fine, mostly because I was emotionally prepared for strangers to be all feelin' me up.)

This year, I knew to grit my teeth and bear it. So we went to Myeongdong ... and it wasn't that bad! Maybe I've gotten used to living in a busy, crowded city (heaven help me, am I actually adjusting to Korea??) or maybe my expectations were just worst-case scenario, but I wasn't horrified.

We had (a really, really early) dinner (bear soup!) and then wandered around Myeongdong and did some shopping. I (shamefully) bought a top at Forever 21, some face masks at TonyMoly (I am addicted to face masks now, what with the Face Shop, Skin Food, and Missha being ever so populous), and browsed through some phone cases (there are adorable iPhone 4 cases in Korea).

Bear soup is pretty similar to seollongtang (설렁탕), one of my top five foods of all time. Seollongtang is a little more opaque, whereas gomtang is a little bit more transparent. I am used to eating seollongtang with thinly sliced brisket; the gomtang that we had contained all kinds of different animal parts.

I didn't eat any of the animal innards that I didn't recognize. The slices of mystery meat edged with black? I had no bloody clue what part of which animal those might be. I didn't touch them.The kimchi was really good (especially the radish (daikon) kimchi, kkakddoogi), the soup was delicious in the way that can only be had by stewing cows for endless hours, and because we went between lunch and dinner, there weren't too many people.
I probably mentioned this in some previous post raving about seollongtang, but I'm not a big fan of green onions, except in this sort of soup. Then, the green onions are perfect- they wilt just very slightly in the hot soup, taking the edge of that onion-y sharpness that they can have, and they provide a nice contrast in texture to the silky soup and the soft, fall-apart meat.

The more I go to Seoul, the more I discover reasons that I like Korea. This is problematic, as my time in Korea is almost half (!) over. I can't believe I've been here for a month and a half- where in the world does all that time go??

Work's been picking up lately (finally), and I am feeling more like I've adjusted to my working life here. I've realized in my weeks here that the shy little girl that I once was is not as far beneath the surface as I had previously thought. Being in a foreign country, even if it is my homeland, has shown me that there is a huge difference between knowing a language and being a native speaker. I am not comfortable working in Korean, though I am adapting. I am struggling to get that shyness back under the surface and let my assertive (English-speaking) self rise to the top.

My mother says that my Korean's gotten better in the time that I've been here, that I speak more confidently and more quickly. I don't yet sense a difference, but at this point, I think it's a vocabulary problem. My Korean vocabulary is pretty crap, even colloquially, and it's never more apparent than at work, where technical jargon and slightly formal words (surroundings, atmosphere, internal, external, etc.) are lost on me. I know that the best way to improve my vocabulary is to read, but reading Korean is still too uncomfortable for me to do it easily.

Here's hoping that the longer I'm here, the easier things will get!