Saturday, March 28, 2009

The Sights, Sounds and…Smells?

With the recent poll on the blog I thought I would be the eyes, ears and nose of of your experience here in Korea.  I really can’t give you the whole experience, but I can give you a small *snicker* taste of Korea.


From rolling out of bed to breakfast there is really no difference here than in America.  However from moving from breakfast to the first step into the cold shower does bring its surprises.  You see, the floor in the bathroom is one of only three places in the apartment that doesn’t have floor heating.  The only comfort from cold feet is the seemingly endless hot water pouring from the shower head.


Again, nothing really new or exciting between the shower and getting dressed. 


Upon opening the door to our apartment onto the stairwell, the first smells hit.  Sometimes it is the smell of fish and rice being cooked from across the hall.  Sometimes it is the musty odor of all the wet ads laying on the floor close to the entry way.  Yet other times it has no smell at all (which I find in some ways to be very comforting).


Stepping outside the apartment for the first time in Korea almost made me gag.  If you haven’t lived in a city then you don’t know what kinds of smells are associated with city life.  I lived in Toronto and got used to many of the smells locally in Toronto.


Korea is no different.  However, the smells here have different mixtures behind them.  Everything from the cleaning products to the foods, even to the containers products come in play their roll in cornucopia of aromas meeting the nostrils.  The open sewer at the road in front of our apartment always brings its own major wave of smells. 


The walk to school is a short one, but the road is far from the even, nicely paved roads on the highways and suburban streets  in the US.  It is an uneven, pot-hole-ridden walk to school (or to any traveling over non-main roads). 


Now a walk down the main road is a slightly different story.  There is nothing inherently wrong with the sidewalks.  In fact a stroll down the main road provides many sensory stimuli.  The smell of the squid, octopi, shellfish along with various other fish being sold at the fish market.  The smell of diesel fuel hanging in the air lingers in the nose(most of the cars seem to be diesel).  The sound of the scooters and extremely small delivery “trucks” passing on the road as they dart and weave through traffic.  If you ever have the opportunity to smell silk-worm larva being cooked (they seemed to be eaten much like popcorn…) you will never forget the musty, sickly-sweet smell. 


Also, an interesting thing happens as people in Korea pass each other.  Now, Koreans drive on the right side of the road as does US.  The crosswalks likewise are marked to pass each other on the right.  The funny thing is many Koreans naturally want to pass each other on the left.  This gets awkward at time for yours truly.  I find it best to simply stay towards the left and hopefully there won’t be this “no-touch” dance as we figure out how to pass each other.


Last, but certainly not least, is the subway.  I will attempt to pull all the stops to describe the complete helplessness that comes with participating in the subterranean, human mass-transit system.  Now, please don’t think it is like this all the time, but there are time its seems the green line (the subway line through Bongcheon) is this crowded.  I don’t think I will ever forget stepping onto the green-line subway one day and completely losing—for about twenty minutes—any preconceived personal space boundaries.  I stand between 6’ and 6’2” depending on what shoes I am wearing that day and how tall I decide to stand.  Needless to say, I am Goliath to about 11 million Davids.  I stand easily a head and shoulders above the average Korean.  This height difference makes for an interesting ride as I attempt to keep my face out of the head of hair in front of me while also keeping my 230 lb. body from turning the people closest too me into the first to fall in a long line of human dominos and making sure that I do not take up more than my allotted space and encroach upon the boundaries of any other person on the subway.  Fun, fun. 


Honestly though, it costs usually no more than 1,200 Won (currently, less than a dollar) to go from Bongcheon to anywhere else in Seoul.  Also, if we didn’t use that mode of transportation, then it would be nearly impossible to meet some of the nicest people Korea has to offer.




I would like to take a break and ask those of you that pray, that you would pray for Charity.  She has had some difficulties adapting to some of the food and lifestyle changes and somewhere along the way has picked up an ulcer in lower opening of her stomach (at least that what Dr. Cho said when we went to visit him).  I do not believe it to be a serious health risk, but it is giving her no end of grief and he pain is my pain (or at lest I wish it could be…).  There is a chance that she will have to go in for an endoscopy and I think the thought of that procedure is more frightening than it actually is.  For those that have been reading this blog regularly (and even those that haven’t) I would ask that you might leave a comment of encouragement to her as I know that would mean a lot.  Besides, I always love it when people leave a comment on my blog. :o)



Lastly, I would ask for your prayers over our testimony.  I do not know if all my students are saved and those that are, may not be living up to their full potential (who really is).  For some of them, I do not think there is a desire to even seek after God.


More to come…

Monday, March 23, 2009

떡… or Rice Cake to You and I…

The Korean above is pronounced "ttŏk" or “teok” if you say it with a hard “T”.  To call simply rice cake is like calling chocolate a minor form of candy.  Just like chocolate has so many forms and so does the Korean rice cake.


Now, according to the recent poll that I added to this blog, the two top things the readers want to read about are customs and foods.  Well lets just say that I plan on answering. 


I am not able to tell you all about the many types of , I will tell you about the ones that have left the greatest impressions on me.


To start, you must understand that while comes in many different forms, there are really two main types that are prevalent—at least in our area that is. 


First up is a dessert .  There are loads of dessert rice cakes out there.  Some of the main kinds either look like some form of doughy candy or in other cases like white colored fruit cakes.  The first time that I had the dessert form of , I really thought that living in Korea was going to be tougher than I once believed.  It had the consistence of slightly cooked bread dough and a taste like sweet rice.  I immediately missed my mom’s cake…  However, I have tried many other forms of and have grown much more fond of a few of the other types. 


I currently have two favorite kinds.  Both of them have red-bean centers and both have some form of color palette and coating.


This is an example of my new favorite.  I really have no idea what the powder that coats them is, but I know they taste really good!   Each of the colors has a slightly different taste.  For instance the yellow ones taste distinctly lemony and the green ones like lime.  


My other favorite looks just like the others only bigger and coated in coconut.  Both types have a red bean (Azuki bean) mash center.  It sounds a little strange, but it creates quite the taste experience.  


A couple of others in the desert category are 호떡 (Ho-tteok) which is basically a pancake with the syrup on the inside and the one I will never purchase again…green tea .  The reason I won’t is because when you put them in your mouth and bite down they pop like oversized caviar.  I do like green tea by the way, but those seriously put a damper on my desire.


Now lest you think that rice cakes are relegated only to dessert foods, let me tell you that rice in this form reaches far and wide. 


One of the most popular dishes in Korea being sold at every street corner (or so it seems) is  떡볶이 pronounced “tteok-bok-ki.”  It is better not to think of it as only one dish, but rather several dishes made from thick, short rice noodles.  I have yet to acquire a taste for this dish even though it is really spicy hot and I do enjoy a mouth burn every once in awhile.


Sadly, I can think of very little else I know about these dishes and I have been borrowing heavily from my reading on some of the 떡 that I have not have. 


By the way, I do not use Wikipedia as my only source, nor do I think it is always the best source.  It does, however, provide its information freely and it usually can give some info about whatever I am trying to talk about at the moment.


FYI: I am adding a google map on the right side of the blog that shows you some of the places and interesting markers that you can see about life here in Korea.


So, until the next time. 


More to come…