Sunday, February 26, 2012

Herb Nara (허브나라)

Very long and unintentional hiatus from blogging (well, not that long- I've been absent for longer than that before) because of a variety of things. Mostly, I'm still in hibernation mode from the cold (it went all the way down to -12 Celsius the other day- I didn't know that my ears could hurt like that), but also, the company went on a little trip two weeks ago (on Valentine's Day, of all days) and then I went on a work trip to China last week (Beijing, again).

The company "fun" trip (which I will post about later, as I have a ton of photos) was good, and was mostly an excuse for people to go skiing or snowboarding. A friend (one of the two girls that I've become closest to at this company) and I opted out of the winter sporting and went on a mini excursion, just the two of us, while other people fell halfway down a very cold, very slippery mountain. Seriously, it's way too cold to ski or board in Korea.

We took one of the company cars to an herb farm, about fifteen minutes away from Phoenix Park. It was completely unplanned, but we had a great time.

Herb Nara

303 Heungjeong-Ri Bongpyeong-Myeon Pyeongchang-Gun Gangwon-Do
강원도 평창군 봉평면 흥정이 303번지

Telephone: 33.335.2902

There was a disappointing lack of snow when we went (Pyeongchang being the site of the 2018 Winter Olympics, I was expecting a winter wonderland), but there was still a lot more snow on the ground than I'm used to. The photo above is of a creek, frozen over and covered with snow.
Herb Nara (나라 (nara) means land) plays up the homemade kitsch factor quite a lot, with colorful signs and maps and very cutesy things all over the place (the gift shop, which I don't have pictures of, was like an explosion of cute).
Little birdhouses were everywhere. I like birdhouses, but it was a bit odd that, though there were dozens of birdhouses, there were no birds! We need to go back in the spring, when the little sparrows and finches are back. Only the hardy magpies were around, cackling and chirruping.
Tooth-achingly sweet. I'm not really one for frills and adorableness, can you tell? Still, cute has its place, and I think that Herb Nara is that place. Actually, I think the entirety of Korea might be that place.
Little benches (see the elephant-shaped one in the front?) and decorative sculptures, fountains, and doodads proliferate this place. It's sort of like taking a longish hike through a Korean interpretation of "Alice in Wonderland" during cold, cold winter weather.
There were themed areas, and I think this was in the Medieval Garden. There was also a Shakespeare Garden. I don't quite remember what the rest of the gardens were, and I should have known that I wouldn't remember, so I should have taken pictures of all the (cute) signs that labeled each garden.
More decorations! Why no, it's not weird to have a large wooden train plonked in the middle of a garden. There's actually an even larger wooden train that children can ride on (photo later in this post).
Romantic gazebo. With romantic little birdcages hanging from each pillar. With unromantic little stuffed birds in the cages. They might have been fake birds, I couldn't really tell. But it was still a little disconcerting.
The very large, very heavy stone table and chairs that I covet. They had a few tables throughout, all of them different, retaining most of the shape of the original rock.
I think this was in the "butterfly and bee garden," which is where I assume the butterflies and bees come flit and flutter during the spring and summer. There were no bee sculptures, but there was this enormous butterfly.
We're being butterflies. Yes, this was made for children and yes, my butt is sticking out- the stranger that took the picture was afraid of my DSLR and took the photo as fast as humanly possible.
I think this was the exterior of one of the two greenhouses. This one was covered with watering cans and ceramic plates- cute, of course!
Another train. I liked the metal and glass sculptural wall hanging in the back, and I loved all the teeny birdhouses hanging all over the place. And snow! Even though it was mostly melting and slushy!
Inside the watering can greenhouse, it was about 90 degrees and about 8000% humidity. Seriously, so hot. My camera fogged up, and has a bajillion pieces to it, so most of the pictures from indoors came out blurry, like those old 50's movies where they smeared Vaseline on the camera lens for super close-ups.
Strange flower.
Pretty orange color.
Random wooden sculptures. This reminded me of Splash Mountain, at Disneyland. All of Adventureland, really. Korean people have no idea what I'm talking about when I say things like "Space Mountain" and "Tomorrowland," they usually think I've gone insane.
There were quite a few of these bigger, more elaborate birdhouses (many of which I would gladly live in, if they were human-sized). It's a little dreary without greens in the background, only seeing dead plants and sad dirt, so I'm not going to post too many of these.
Okay, I'm posting one more- it's pretty! I couldn't resist. I really can't wait to come back in the spring, when everything is green and blooming and alive.
I'm sure there's a reason that I'm sitting in front of a windmill. The European Garden, perhaps? I don't remember what the name of this section was, but I'm sure it had something to do with Europe...
Cute friend, acting cute. She's four years younger than me- don't worry, I don't go around posing like this in my old age.
Have I ever mentioned that it's perpetually Christmas in Korea? It really is- last year, when I first came to Korea, it was July. It was hot and muggy. And there were Christmas ornaments dangling in almost every coffee shop that I went to. During Christmastime, things just get more Christmassy. When it's not Christmastime, things get slightly less Christmassy.
One of my favorites from this day. Shooting photos indoors was an ordeal because of the heat and humidity, so this is one of very few snaps that came out the way that I had thought it would. And what a weird flower.
One of the indoor areas. Complete with chandelier bedecked with tiny lampshades! And there's a little train that runs all through the garden, though it wasn't running when we were there.
This is actually the back view of the exact area that's in the previous photo. This place didn't feel like wintertime in Korea at all- it felt like summer in the tropics. I miss warmth ... though I know that once it's summertime, I'll be complaining about how hot it is and how much I miss snow.
Weird furry cactus flower! There were a few of these big cacti scattered around, but the shape of this ... bloom? ... was the most interesting to me. It really looked so soft and furry, I wanted to touch it. I resisted, but only because there were a bunch of employees milling about.
I imagine that this is what the outdoor gardens must look like when the weather is good. I hope it is, anyway, or I'll be quite disappointed. It was nice to run around in warmth for a while.
I loved these teeny little plants- they looked like they were fake, they were so perfect.
Close-up of the middle plant, my favorite one. So cute! If I was a plant person, I would totally have bought one of these and brought it home with me. Good thing I'm not a plant person in the slightest.
Laughing pig sculpture. It's missing a leg, but it's still cute! Nipples and all! They have an area where they do craft projects in Herbnara, and they seem to make a lot of little sculptures (Koreans love cute, useless knickknacks). I think this one was made by an employee- it's a lot bigger than the ones that a guest can make in the craft area.
They have a bakery and cafe inside, where they sell baked goods and various beverages. Seems to be a lot of herb teas (of course) but also a pretty big variety of coffees (don't get between Koreans and their coffee). We tried samples of banana bread (good!) and some sort of muffin (eh) and ended up buying a packet of garlic bread, a strange Korean invention that is nothing like American (or even Italian-American) garlic bread. Korean garlic bread is sold in most bakeries (like Paris Baguette or Tous les Jours) and is basically thin slices of baguette slathered with butter, sugar, salt, garlic, and parsley, and then baked until slightly crisp. It's weird and sweet and oddly addicting.
Really, really cute giraffes (which I suspect were made at Herbnara), which instantly reminded me of my friend Kim. Adorable little spots on these fellows!
I have a strange and inexplicable love of owls. It might be because of Owls in the Family, which I read and re-read in elementary school (and subsequently wanted to raise owls and bats inside my house- the bats could roost in the bunk beds!). It might be because of the sleepy owl in "Sleeping Beauty." Who knows? But I love owls. And these three are darling.
These three aren't cute, but they're cute, if that makes sense. I have no use for figurines in my house, and I don't like decoration for the sake of decoration, so I take pictures instead.
One of the gift shops was hung throughout with dried flowers. Each separate room had different flowers (more photos below) and they were all lovely. Instead of hanging just one or two bunches, hanging small bunches in neat rows really makes a huge impact.
Pretty, no? My nose gets itchy just thinking about how much dust these things would trap, but they're lovely to look at. I may be too practical to have pretty things in my house.
Very nice collection of glass and metal butterflies. I wish the colors weren't so harsh (orange instead of red, maybe a less brash yellow?) but they're still pretty. I don't know why I'm stuck on the word "pretty," I think my English vocabulary may be taking a downhill slide. (My Korean vocabulary, though, is doing quite well.)
I'm making sure the quality control on the out-of-season Christmas decorations are up to snuff. The fuchsia Christmas decorations.
Christmas in Whoville! She's standing on the tracks of the little train that kids ride around in (in warmer weather, that is) and quality-controlling the appropriately colored Christmas ornaments.
Whereas I like to sit in the train that's made for little kids. Actually, I'm more squished into the train- it's really made for teeny kids! I don't see how any child over six could comfortably ride around in this thing- I have short legs, and my legs didn't fit.
Ducks! Okay, they're wooden ducks, but still-- ducks! Much like owls, but to a lesser extent, I love ducks. Not Donald Duck, so much, but ducks in general. Koreans believe ducks are lucky and represent a long marriage. There are usually a pair of wooden duck figurines at Korean weddings, generally based on Mandarin ducks, to represent a long marriage. Generally, one duck has a blue bill and the other has a red bill. My parents still have their wedding ducks, and I love them.
Back at the front, about to leave. They gave us (steaming hot) cups of herb tea on the way out, thanked us for making the trip in the cold, and we set off.
On the way back to Phoenix Park, I was entranced by this frozen stream. My Korean friend pooh-pooh'ed it, saying that this is a sorry specimen of frozen running water.

More photos to come of the actual company "fun" portion of the trip!

I didn't take many pictures in Beijing this time, but I'll post what I have.

For now, trying to keep warm by drinking an inappropriate amount of coffee and trying to get over the fact that Viola David didn't win the Oscar for "The Help." I should probably watch "The Iron Lady" before saying Meryl didn't deserve it ... but I don't want to watch it. It looks slightly like a very expensive and well-lit Digital Short from Saturday Night Live in all its trailers!


Friday, February 10, 2012

Wing of Fish (지느러미), Ilsan

Wing of Fish
Second Floor
Janghang-Dong Ilsan-Dong-Gu Goyang-Si Gyeonggi-Do 864-12

Telephone: 031.905.9098

경기도 고양시 일산동구 장항동 864-12층

My new favorite bar in Korea is a Korean-style Indian-style place (does that make sense? It's Indian-style by way of Korea) that serves a rather eclectic menu and carries pretty much every single type of Absolut vodka that's ever been made.

There's incense burning, though its fragrance isn't as cloying and annoying as it can be at other places, and the lighting is dim, lending the large space a sense of coziness. The tables are rough hewn wood, set low to the ground, and there are big pillows all over the place, most shot through with gold thread.

I really like the ambience in the bar, but I really REALLY appreciate that this bar has actual, real margarita glasses.
The first time I've seen margarita glasses in Korea! They serve weird variations on margaritas that I've never seen in LA (grapefruit is on the left, mango on the right), but they had a reassuringly watered-down strawberry margarita that gives me pangs of homesickness.

The bar snacks are appropriately weird, as well- some sort of candied peanuts come in a small glass bowl (pictured between the margarita glasses above) with tortilla chips (did you know that Koreans refer to tortilla chips as "nachos"? Yup, it's weird) and strips of seaweed (김). Strange combination.
Even stranger is that every time we've gone to this bar (four times so far, I think) they always give us a plate of cheesecake with fruit as service ("service" is Konglish for "free stuff"). I don't know if it's because we tend to drink a lot, or if it's standard, but it's a nice touch. I would never have thought to combine cheesecake with margaritas or mojitos (that's a mojito special on the left up there), but it's not bad.

Koreans don't ever seem to drink without eating, hence the very evolved anju (안주, drinking food) culture. I've gotten used to eating while drinking, which I never really did in LA, but it's always jarring to me when the served food doesn't seem really instinctively well-paied with the type of alcohol that is being ingested.
We tried the red sangria (in Korean, it's pronounced "shan-gria"), but it wasn't very good. I did appreciate the fruit inside the sangria, but the drink itself was weak and just so-so. It didn't inspire me to try the white sangria, so that goes as yet untasted.

There's a company dinner tonight for production management, and there are a couple people in that group that I really do not want to spend my after-hours time with. I find that the longer I remain at this company, the more I realize that there are some cultural differences and barriers that I neither want to deal with nor even acknowledge.

I'm going to try to keep my negative opinions to myself tonight, though there will be copious amounts of booze involved. Hopefully, there won't be any drama- I've had enough drama for a good year, I think! Also, I hope we go bowling after dinner. I miss bowling!


Monday, February 06, 2012


I just realized that I probably need to update my labels (2011 Korea is really 2011 - ? Korea, after all- I'm not discounting the fact that I could possibly stay in Korea beyond this year).

Anyways, I'm going to try to go back to posting the way I used to, with photos. I like having pictures on my blog, even if it's just for myself- I want to remember what I did, who I met, and what I ate. There are lots of weird and interesting things that I've been eating, since I've become friendlier with some people that now feel comfortable taking me to the dive-y places that have good food, even if their methods are a little questionable. It's the food equivalent of dive bars. Yum.

So, before I went home in December, I moved out of the old place and into a new place. I didn't take a video of the new place (which is warmer, without those single-paned enormous windows that the old place had) but I snapped one photo:

Lame? You bet. It's teeny-tiny, this new place. I need to take a new picture soon, because I recently got a bed (with a tufted white faux-leather bed frame), a table (the top of which is bright orange) and two chairs (knock-off post-modern-ish). The windows also have roll-screens (what are they called in English? In Korean they're called roll-screens) now, which I actually acquired the day I landed. My cousin had to put them up for me- he suffered a lot that day, what with the shopping, the schlepping, the putting up with a cranky, jet-lagged cousin, and all that.

Anyway, it's much less sterile now, my little abode, so I'll try to take "after" pictures soon.

I've been going out a lot lately (A LOT) because for some reason, people keep wanting to go out during random weekdays. I went out every day last week and again yesterday, on a Monday. What is that about? I managed to rest up all weekend and catch up on sleep a bit, but man- I'm not in my early twenties anymore (kill me, I'm 31 in Korean age) and I don't know if I have the endurance to continue with this type of social schedule.
The above is a photo of 아구찜(ah-goo-jjim: agu is monkfish, jjim means 'to steam'), which is a spicy dish that consists mainly of bean sprouts and monkfish. I'd never had monkfish before. It's an interesting fish- lots of hard, sharp bones, rather thick skin, and surprisingly soft flesh. The consistency of the meat reminds me a bit of lobster- the way it comes apart is more like lobster than like fish. I liked the dish as a whole, because it's spicy and I love bean sprouts, but I don't think I would enjoy eating just the monkfish without it being a part of a hot, spicy dish.
That stuff up there is raw liver (ew) and some sort of innards (ew) of cow, I think. I thought we were going to grill the liver and I was all for it, because I like cooked liver (I like it overcooked and dried out, actually), but then I was told that we were supposed to eat the stuff raw. EW. Why do Koreans eat the weirdest things?? We had a company dinner for a film that premiered last month, and my co-workers tried their hardest to get me to eat raw, squirming squid. Why would I eat something that is still moving?? That sticks to everything it comes into contact with, desperately trying to escape?? EW. Needless to say, I didn't have the raw liver or the mysteriously spiky innards. Shudder.
After the raw liver and innards, which I guess are a sort of appetizer, we were brought intestines (I think these are small intestines) and a variety of offal. It sounds kind of gross, to be eating cows' intestines (they also sell pigs' intestines in Korea, but this particular restaurant was a 소곱창 (cow intestine) place), but it's actually really delicious. I love it- I'm really sensitive to the textures of food, and intestines have everything that I like- the crispness of the outermost layer that comes into contact with the grill, the chewiness of the outer walls of the intestines, and then there's this kind of mushy white stuff that's inside the intestines. Okay, that sounds super disgusting. But it's really good, I promise!

I've had pig intestine and cow intestine, and while Koreans seem very opinionated on which type they like better, I don't notice a huge difference. The biggest difference is size (pigs being smaller), and marination. Cow intestine tends not to be marinated, whereas pig intestines are (spicy, salt, barbecue, etc.), and I prefer the plain variety, as I like to be able to taste the actual animal, rather than just the marinade.

Also, while the photo above is small intestine, they do sell large intestine in the same manner. These types of restaurants tend to be very, very specific- this restaurant is just a cow small intestine place. There is another restaurant close by that is a pig small intestine place. There are restaurants that sell only cow large intestine. I find that this sort of very narrow specializing is quite common in Korean restaurants, whereas it's not nearly so easy to find in the States.

I like large intestine, too- I'll have to remember to take a photo the next time I have it.

Last night, we had bossam (보쌈), steamed pork, with oysters (I didn't have any) and soju. It's a wonder that I'm not gaining weight here- actually, it's a wonder that I'm losing weight here- what with all the fatty food and all the drinking. It's like the French Paradox, only it's a Korean Conundrum.

I'm glad that I'm making friends and all, but I do wish my newfound friends liked to do other things besides drink. I could really go watch a movie right about now...