Saturday, 30 August 2014

북촌한옥마을 | Bukchon (& Dongdaemun)

Going on a recommendation from an acquaintance we managed to bump into at Changdeokgung, we thought we'd go for a fairly relaxing walk around Bukchon Hanok Village. It's really cute and, to me, pretty hipster. A whole area of traditional wooden houses, and little indie cafes and trinket shops erupting from more modern (but still old) buildings in an oddly European way.

Being, essentially, a housing area, there are lots of doors to look at. Something I've noticed about Korea that I really like is the way older houses seem to have really wonderful, ornate front doors and gates.

Thursday, 28 August 2014

Culture Class | Fish and Freedom

So this week (ish, I'm behind, good start) has been dedicated to superheroes and fish. I'd mentioned to Nick a while ago that I do actually want to read Wonder Woman at some point so he went and got me the books for the current New 52 series, which has pretty pictures and scantily clad gods and goddesses. Cool.

Also, to my shame, we're continuing with our "Why do you like Avengers so much, the individual films are so much better" education. Having finished Captain America and Thor, we moved onto Winter Soldier this week.

I'm loving Wonder Woman. It's just the right amount of creepy and gory and superhero-y, and the designs are all weird and cool enough that I actually drew some fanart. So you know it's good by my book.

Captain America was pretty good, a nice balance of funny and "omg nooooo!", although the shine was taken off when a car chase/accident sent me into a panic after the slightly traumatic events witnessed in the summer vacation. [I'm not going into detail about that anywhere. I'll just say it was scary to see, and "road users on small vehicles, use your goddamn crash helmet and pads".]

Today's food is fish. Just fish. We decided to branch out and buy a fillet of what we thought was mackerel. I like mackerel. I don't think it was mackerel. There were a lot of bones...even on the outside?

But if you can get something a little bit more similar to mackerel, I just heated a pan with some oil in it, threw in some chopped onions and garlic, maybe a tablespoon full of soy, and fried it until they were nice and soft (can't tell about browning because of the soy).

Then I put the chunks of fish in, salted on both sides, skin side up. Not too hot, because I don't want things to stick and burn, but not too cool because I need this to cook quickly, haha.

Fish cooks quickly anyway, which is why it's good, so after a minute or so, if the colour of the meat has changed a bit fairly deep into the middle, I flipped it and turned up the heat to crisp the skin. Overall, I was cooking for about 25 mins, and the fish was in there for all of 10-15.

We just served it up with rice because, again, we're lazy ;p

Not many photos bc there wasn't much way I could make a pile of pan fried fish in a ricebowl look good. And nobody wants to see raw fish with bones everywhere. I've got a few more posts from vacation to do, so I'll get on that!

Tuesday, 26 August 2014

한국민속촌 | Yongin Folk Village

Looking through the photos for this post, I'm uncomfortably aware of the fact I didn't actually take many photos that weren't of us doing silly fashion poses. I like to think of it as just us having too much fun actually looking at stuff...? Maybe.

We busted out the 50mm for this trip, so enjoy a lot of blur and an unhealthy obsession with depth of field.

We got up early for a long train ride to Suwon and thankfully the weather looked like it was going to be pretty good for the day. There's a shuttle bus at the other end that we were certain we'd missed, but we caught the driver looking for stragglers and he wrote us all up a ticket, saving us a 10 minute dash to the ticket office.

It's then a long drive further south into Gyeonggi-do, until we reach the folk village. It's not what I'd expected. I was expecting a model village, maybe in the countryside somewhere, or possibly even an actual village, like Bukchon. What it actually was, was a sort of Korean History theme park.

Thursday, 21 August 2014

트릭아이미술관 | Trick Eye & Ice Museum

Accurate representation.
Back in June, I posted about the Trick Eye Museum in Hongdae, which ended up as a fail because we forgot to bring any money with us (Ah, the dark days before we had bank cards)

So, what with it being rainy and miserable, we thought it could be a fun indoor activity for the day to try again!

What I didn't realise is that the Ice Museum and Trick Eye are both included under the same ticket, so the price actually isn't as high as I'd thought it was. Unless this was a special event for the holidays, which is also likely.

We thought we'd head to the Ice Museum first, considering we felt hot and stuffy despite the rain.

They're not kidding about the ice. Upon showing our ticket, we were handed a very trendy looking poncho/raincoat hybrid, and guided through something that looked rather uncomfortably like an industrial freezer door (which, thinking about it, it probably was) and were immediately hit by a blast of freezing, dry air. Like the freezer section of a supermarket, or a broken air conditioner. Goodness me.

Pretty much everything in here - besides the walls and floor - is made of ice. 

One of the first things I saw was an igloo. Most people were, sensibly, ignoring the fact you could go inside, but as if I'm going to pass up the chance to do that. The shocked face you see above is my sudden realisation that a frozen floor with a small summer dress is so not the one.

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

창덕궁 와 반포대교 | Changdeokgung & Banpo Bridge

Google GIFmaker strikes again!
When you're on holiday with a limited amount of time, in a country as culturally and historically different to your own as Korea is to the UK, sightseeing tends to get pretty relentless, right? For me, anyway. I need to see as much as possible in the short time I have, drink it all in so I feel like I get my money's worth. Until someone gives me my own private jet, or invents cheap teleportation, I think I'll continue to live that way.

So here we are, onwards and upwards to Changdeokgung, or Changdeok Palace. I get confused when I see these places labelled as "Changdeokgung Palace", "Gyeongbukgung Palace", etc, because 'gung' means palace. So you're telling me we're at Changdeokpalace Palace? Same with the islands. Wolmido Island is, essentially, Wolmi-island Island. Hm. (Then again, English is no better. River Avon? Pfff.)

I digress. Let's not shoot the pedant. Changdeokgung is one of the Five Grand Palaces of the Joseon Dynasty. We didn't get to go on a tour because none of the ones available worked with our schedule, so we decided to wing it. The buildings are beautiful enough on their own, and we can look up the history later.

Sadly, this also meant we missed out on seeing the fabled "secret garden", but ho hum. Another day, another palace.

I really enjoyed this palace, because many of the buildings have the shutters opened so that you can peer inside and actually see what it's like. I'm a little bit in love with the intricacy of old Korean architecture and decoration, especially with those 5 colours to brighten every inch of the walls, ceiling, and maybe furniture too. The rooms are kept reasonably dark, presumably - like old stately homes in the UK - to protect the innards from light damage. But as your eyes adjust, more and more becomes visible and it's such a treat.

Monday, 18 August 2014

월미도3 | Wolmido Again Again

As a slightly more relaxing comedown for Nick's parents (having just come off a long haul flight, then up early for a pretty intense tour), we thought we'd visit Wolmido one more time. We'd been told to expect bad weather as the beginnings of a hurricane, or possibly the tail end of one from further afield, so we didn't want to go too far and risk getting stranded.
Wolmido's actually big enough and varied enough that this was our third visit and we still managed to find new things to do. We decided to go to the mini hanok recreation and potter around.

We were pulled in by some of the staff there, and encouraged to take part in a little arts and crafts session. Nick made a little spinning top while we made...some kind of cute decorated stick? I didn't really understand what the lady helping us was telling me. I thought my ears were failing me but I do believe we ended up making bejazzled...ear cleaning sticks?

I think I'll just wear them as hair decorations. They're cute and pink with bells on.

Anyway, this place is great for a little concentrated dose of South Korea's architectural history. They've recreated buildings from the northern and southern areas, for both the rich and the poor. They're fairly similar in style but there are subtle differences in layout and size, and there's some really great examples of how they were carefully designed to ensure coolness in the hot summer, but warmth in the freezing winters.

One thing I find interesting is that the living room almost always has only 3 walls, and is open to the outdoors on one side. With the exception of the palaces, where they could afford a screen that could fold down from the ceiling in the winter to offer some extra protection.

There's also a great cutaway example of how the ondol, traditional underfloor heating, worked in the days before gas and electricity. It's similar to the way the Greeks and Romans did it, with pipes working their way under the house (another reason for the raised structure). The pipes connect to the house fireplace on one end, usually in the kitchen for cooking with. Rather than waste all that heat straight up and out, the chimney basically extends under the entire house before emerging out of the opposite side. Mm. Nice warm floors to lie on!

We played tuho, a traditional game like a cross between darts and hoopla, where you have a handful of arrow-like sticks, stand behind a line, then throw them into a narrow container (think of an umbrella stand). I was terrible at it, haha.

Sunday, 17 August 2014

강화도 | Gangwha Whistle-Stop Tour

It's vacation time! \o/ We have two weeks off school for summer vacation, and after the stress and pain of Summer Camp week (my body picks the best times to mess up) I was very ready to just kick back and get on with some good old-fashioned exploring.

Nick's parents visited for the first week of the holiday, so we packed in a LOT. Day 1 was a tour of Gangwha, an island near Incheon and the place where one of Nick's co-teachers grew up. He picked us up bright and early and very kindly drove us around. A personal tour! It was so wonderful and we probably learnt a lot more than if we'd just tried to go out there ourselves (although we probably would never have even thought to go). It's a wonderful island, so different from the packed streets of Incheon and Seoul that we've seen so far. It's much more similar to the countryside I'm familiar with at home.

It's got a long, sad, hardworking history, like much of Korea, and definitely a great place to visit if you have the chance, and are interested in gorgeous scenery and extensive history.

First stop on the tour was , an old fortress that saw a terrible battle with some American troops in 1871. For a military area, it's strangely beautiful.

Forever finding doorways that are too small.

Friday, 15 August 2014

Seoul Food | The Beastro

Dinner time with friends! In Hongdae once again, we ran to The Beastro after school. With a pun, they're off to a good start already, and they're serving up big ol' American meals. It's a pretty fancy looking place, really clean and modern in the sort of way I'd want my future kitchen to look. Warm wood tones on white walls and black metal. Simple and clean.

Similarly, the menu is pretty simple. A handful of choices in starters, sides and mains, and yet it still took us an age to decide. It reminded me of Honest Burger at home. They have a small selection, but gosh darnit do they do that selection well.

First things first, drinks. I went with the artfully named "Piss and Vinegar", and, well, it tasted like just that. I kid. It was honey and vinegar and whiskey, and reminded me a lot of the "Witches Brew" my nan used to make for me whenever I had a bad cold when I was little. Pretty tasty and good for sipping at slowly. I was pretty blown away by Nick's choice though. "Pretty in Pink" was a cutesy pastel pink affair in a martini glass, with some lovely lychee flavours. I can't quite remember what was in it, other than this incredible witchcraft jelly. The witchcraft being that there were little pockets of fizzy drink INSIDE the jelly. I don't understand how. But I want more.

Thursday, 14 August 2014

Singin' In The Rain

This is just a quick post about the fact Nick and I managed to get tickets to see Singin' in the Rain live a week or so ago, and went on a night where both Sunny (Girls Gen) and Baekhyun (EXO) were performing! Too exciting.

[Sadly (but understandably) there was a strict "no cameras" rule in place, so I couldn't take any photos of the show. Large blocks of text are generally dull, especially with my writing, so I've nabbed some photos from google. In my rush, I've forgotten to take down any photo credits, so if a photo is yours and you want me to take it down or add credit, let me know!]

I'd never actually seen the original, and we weren't sure how much of it would have been translated into Korean (watching some clips of Wicked in Japan, it was a really interesting mix of English and Japanese), so the night before we just stayed up to watch the film, so that if there was a lot of Korean I wouldn't be totally lost.

Can I just say, I want to watch the film over and over. It's just so wonderful. All the dances and songs make me so happy, I'm really glad I've found it, haha.

Anyway, it's a good thing we did that, because it turns out that other than the character names, and vital lines in songs like "I'm singin' in the rain", and "Good morning", pretty much all of it was in Korean. Even Moses Supposes got translated into a Korean equivalent, which was fun to see. It was so nice to watch though, and because it's a very visual format I wasn't too lost anyway. I guess if people can watch Italian opera and get what's going on, there's no reason why this shouldn't work either!

We had a very cute encounter with a Korean boy in front of us in the queue, who seemed very excited to find foreign fans there, and was eager to talk to us about Baekhyun.

Some highlights for me were moments like when Sunny runs out into the audience near the end, and pretty much everyone gasped and sat up SO straight to see her better. I'm not sure what they thought she was going to do, but the excitement in the room was adorable.

Wednesday, 13 August 2014

School Bonding Time

I'm really behind on posts! For the last two days of the final week of school, we had "teacher bonding" time. I think most, if not all, schools do this, because Nick also had a similar event with his school. These dinners might as well be compulsory. They're pretty important as a social event, and are seen as a treat from the principal and vice principal, so to refuse would be pretty rude, right?

The idea is you eat, drink, and be merry with your coworkers, in order to strengthen friendships and sort out any misunderstandings outside of the workplace. It's a really nice concept and I wish we had something like this at home.

Anyway, I only had a few lessons on the Thursday, and nothing else to plan, so I was dozing until it was time to go. We were roughly assorted into teams, piled into any available cars, and drove to a nearby barbecue house. I feel like we ended up booking out the entire place.

Can I just say, Korean BBQ is my new obsession and I want it forever. You can't really recreate it at home and just the casual, chatty, social aspect is so relaxing!

*Homer Simpson noises*
Now, this is Korea. So there's also bound to be a lot of drinking involved. Again, it's part of the social aspect, so generally it's encouraged to join in as much as possible. My school was quite partial to a "one shot!" of beer or soju, (essentially, DOWN IT) which quite pleasantly led me to discovering that I much prefer Cass and Hite to any of the beers we have back home. They're lighter and milder, which I guess is why so many people DON'T like them. Even my coworkers were surprised when I said I preferred it, because they all seemed to prefer Western beers.

Once we'd all stuffed ourselves and quite possibly depleted the restaurant's entire supply of 쌈 (leafy vegetables such as lettuce that you use as a sort of burrito wrap vehicle for all that meat), half of us moved onto "round 2", a nearby bar, whereupon the drinking continued.

Here, I had my first experience of "strange food". For the uninformed, about 4 years ago I made a promise to myself to try everything once. I heard people saying "번데기" a lot, but assumed they were joking around. But then the crockpot of soup appeared and, oh.

For the uninformed, 번데기is "silkworm pupae". Yep. Bugs.

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

Seoul Food | Sushi in Sushi

So a couple of times now, we've walked down one of the main roads in Bupyeong and I've spotted a sushi restaurant on one of the upper floors of a building, descriptively named "Sushi in Sushi". It turns out that it's an all-you-can-eat sushi buffet, and for a weekday dinnertime meal, it'll cost you 14,900₩ per person. That's about £9 per person, and on a busy day you have an hour and a half to stuff your face with as much food as you like.

We just went in, asked for a table for two (and by asked, I mean they made a face that said "how many?" and we held up two fingers), and were seated in seconds. A few moments later, one of the assistants appeared with a little green card.

Too cute!
But yeah, there's a machine for coffee and water on one side, and a fridge and soda machine on the other (we didn't spot this until we were leaving, sadly.)

There's a great range of traditional and creative nigiri and maki creations, and it all tastes a darn sight better than any of the stuff I've had in restaurants (or god forbid supermarkets) at home. It's not a patch on the fresh and expensive stuff I had in Australia, but then again, look at that price.

In addition to the rows of sushi, there's also a nice salad bar (overlooked by a cute little bowl housing two tiny terrapins), and some hot food including the best potato wedges I've had since moving here, and some very spicy chicken. All of it is constantly being replenished by a pair of chefs in an open kitchen area in the middle, in small batches so it's never been sat out for too long.

To top it all off, there's a waffle station at the back, and a row of wonderfully soft and fluffy cakes, and ripe fruit for dessert.

I'm definitely going back again!

Culture Class | Starting Something New

To my shame, I'm actually quite a culturally uneducated person, in terms of music and movies. When I reached the age where most kids start exploring music, old films, and interesting TV shows, I discovered anime, J-pop, and asian dramas. And I stayed there.

For a long time.

As a general rule of thumb, if you have to ask "have you seen/heard...[insert very popular thing here]?" my answer will most likely be no.

Until about a year or so ago, I hadn't seen the original Star Wars trilogy, I've not seen Jurassic Park (that I can actually remember), Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, The Sound of Music, Singing in the Rain, When Harry Met Sally, any Batman films (new or old), and other than the bits of Casino Royale we had to watch at A-Level...I've never seen a James Bond film.

So, with all the spare time we have in the evenings, Nick and I have decided to start a sort of "culture swap", largely inspired by Polly Adams' Culture Coach project, where every week a classic book, film, and album are doled out in a sort of book club for people who've been living under a cultural rock for their formative years.

This week, we watched When Harry Met Sally (so good), and I finally watched Dark Night Rises (REALLY good), two in one, aw yiss. I also listened to Bloc Party for the first time ever, and am very much sold on them.

"Oh! They sound kind of like Two Door Cinema Club. I like it!"
"No, Two Door sound like THEM. But without any of the conviction."
"Ah. Yes."

월미도2 | Wolmido Deux

Quite a while ago now, one of the teachers in my school took myself and Nick out for a trip around Wolmido with his family. He broke me out of Summer Camp deskwarming (classes finish at around midday but I can't leave until normal school time of 4:40pm, gah) by asking 교장 himself if I can be excused early. Then we hopped into the car, greeting his lovely wife and daughter, before speeding off to Nick's school, grabbing him, and continuing on to Wolmido.

I think there was originally some misunderstanding or miscommunication, but it turns out that the reason for the rush was because we were due to get a ferry! Just a little chain ferry across the water to the Airport Island, but as the last one was at 6pm we had to get a bit of a wiggle on.

We were handed a large bag of shrimp crisps, which are great (popular with the Filipinos back home) but a bit too fishy for my liking. But we were told "for the birds". Hm?

Turns out the tradition with this little ferry is to lob these snacks into the air for the seagulls to catch and fight over. A braver man than me, 김 선생님 would hold one between his fingers for the birds to snatch right from his hands. They did it very delicately and with great accuracy, but I value my fingers a little bit too much to risk it ;p

blogger template by lovebird