Monday, July 21, 2014

Falling in Love with Korean Food Again

It'd be hard to say that I had completely fallen out of love with Korean food, but ever since we moved back, it hasn't tasted the same. Our first home in Jeollanamdo (southwestern province) is famous for its food and from what I understand the cuisine from our new home in Gyeongbuk (southeastern province) is infamous. I'd have to agree. One of the first plates of kimchi I got at a restaurant here was frozen. An absolute abomination to a centuries old food.
Fresh food and packed with flavor seemed to be unique to Jeolla province. This is kimchi stew with side dishes.
But the other day between my summer classes here at Yeungnam University,  I went to a restaurant behind the main administration building that caused me to fall back in love with Korean cuisine. For 5,000 won, I ordered a  (된장 찌개) dwenjang jjigae served with bibimbap (a surprise addition to me) served with delectable side dishes. I felt like I was having a lunch straight out of Jeollanamdo.  I went back the next day after a swim and split kimchi jjigae (김치찌개) with my wife.  Again, they nailed it.

The menu is standard Korean fare. 
The sides are fresh, the stews full of goodness and the kimchi is fishy. It's everything I've come to expect in Korean food. It's among the best lunch experience I've had yet in Gyeongsan. 

The outside looks awful, but the food more than makes up for the aesthetics. 

If you find yourself at Yeungnam University check out 우리들 식당. It's to the left and behind the main building down a hidden path. It's worth the visit. It doesn't look like much from the outside, but the chef more than makes up for the aesthetics. She's a young, female that takes great care of each dish. It shows in the taste and the presentation. Her food has made me get excited again about a food I'd come to take for granted.

Don't make a special trip here, but if you are in the area for lunch, definitely give it a go!

Friday, July 18, 2014

Korea's Low Birth Rate

The birth rate in Korea is incredibly low. According to the CIA World Factbook, South Korea ranks 219th out of 224 sovereign countries with a staggering 8.33 births per 1000 people. Niger ranks first with 46.84, the US 147th with 13.66 and Monoco last with 6.79 per 1000 people. 

Source the Korea Herald.
I hadn't thought much about the repercussions of low birth rates, but it can create a shaky foundation for some parts of the economy. For example, universities, like mine, are scrambling on how to deal with a much smaller pool of students in the next 5-10 years. Many smaller universities are expected to shut down or suffer from a sharp decline in the number of students. 

One cause for the low birth rate seems to be that Korean society continues to put traditional pressure on their women to be mothers and wives first. But Korean women today are beginning to think beyond Confucian ideals and think differently about their future. Being married and having children in Korea's traditional family structure makes a future in the work force near impossible. 

Not only has the birth rate declined, but, according to a government survey, less than half of Korean women between 9 and 24 feel that they need to get married. And why would they? In today's world, what is attractive about being denied at least the option of working outside of the house? Or what looks interesting about being subservient to your husband and his family?

One thing is clear, there should be more Korean women in the workplace. They have been among the best doctors, professors and government workers I've encountered. They are smart, kind and work hard. You can even see it in the old women who are permanently hunched over from a lifetime of work in the rice fields. This country was built and continues to thrive on the hard work and intelligence of its women.

To help with the birthrate, the Korean government gives expecting mothers 500,000 won to help cover any hospital bills. This is indeed a nice gesture. But if the country really wants to increase its birthrate and stay proficient in the workplace, they need to find a way to change their idea of motherhood. Throwing money at the problem isn't going to work. Korea is a country caught dead in the middle between tradition and change and for the sake of its population it needs to continue to evolve with its 21st century woman. 

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Swimming in Korea: The Ultimate Test

How Korean are you?

Perhaps the best way to find out is to go for a lap swim at your local swimming pool. It separates the locals from the waygooks.

Imagine traffic in Seoul and scale it down to a swimming lane. You might get cut off, bumped or have the person in front of you come to a dead stop. For a North American used to empty swimming lanes it can be incredibly frustrating (not a quality I'm proud of). For Koreans, it's all in a day's swim. Koreans tend to have an uncanny ability to not be bothered by crowds. Because life can be one big crowd for them, they have dealt with it by perfecting their tunnel vision. It is a trait that I have come to both despise and admire.

Photo credit The Malay Mail Online
Sometime late into my Gwangju years, I came up for air after swimming into a walking ajumma and came unhinged. I slapped the water, made a noise through my throat verbalizing my disgust and stormed out of the pool. All the kimchi, makkeoli and Korean vocabulary in the world could not prepare my body or mind for lap swimming in Korea. I must have looked like a complete ass. I swore off swimming in Korea. If I couldn't be civil on their turf, I felt it was best to avoid the situation altogether.

But on Friday I had to swim. I went to a lap pool in Gyeongsan, Korea and I was met with a familiar scene. Crowded lanes, ajummas swimming slowly, group stretching and close calls. This time I tried to take the lead from all of those around me. I continued to swim completely oblivious to the madness and disorganization. I put on my tunnel vision goggles and did what I could, and let that which I could not control float on past me. It wasn't the greatest swim session I'd ever had, but it sure felt good to not give a shit.

**If you made it this far here's a tip. 12 noon is magic hour. Koreans split for lunch and the pool empties out. Yesterday, I was in a lane with 2 others. Just perfect!**

**We've written a lot about lap swimming in Korea. One about mandatory stretching, one about swimming types and the need for an aquatic director and one about a pleasant swim session with a Korean friend.**

Taj Mahal in Korea

Taj Mahal in Korea is a new Indian restaurant in Daegu near the Shinmae metro stop. We've been twice now and have enjoyed both of our visits. For a family, we can get out of there with a half order of tandoori chicken, 2 curries, 3 orders of naan and 2 alcoholic drinks for just around 45,000 won. That's a big meal for a hungry family. It's more expensive than a Korean meal, but also a nice and welcome change from rice and kimchi.

Chicken Curry and Paleek Paneer. 

If you like Indian food, I'd certainly give it a try. With an Indian chef and an owner eager to please (all non-alcoholic drinks are complimentary this month) you'd be crazy not to try it soon. We'll be going back from time to time because of its proximity to us and because it's quick, delicious and a nice experience with a kid. They immediately brought naan and a lassi for our normally fidgety 3 year old. He was fed and hooked right away and we got to enjoy our meal without having to chase or tend to our hungry kid.

They know how to cater to the kids. 
How to get there
From Shinmae metro stop take exit 5. Walk to the end of the block. Taj Mahal is on the second floor above Dunkin Donuts. If you are driving from Daegu, it will be on your right hand side on the same block as Siji Square.

You can find Taj Majal at the blue 도착 (arrival) flag above Dunkin Donuts.

Check out the menu below.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Food Truck Nostalgia

Today, I woke up to a message from a friend telling me that my old Korean taco food truck got some love in a local online publication. I read it and for the first time felt nostalgic for my brief food truck venture. I've tried to completely wipe the experience from my memory, but the column made me look back on it with a little fondness. I guess we did have a little bit of fun.

My sister-in-law designed our logo and my wife insisted we put fresh flowers in the window. We served good food and looked good doing it. 
Our only blog from 2012 made mention of our idea, but then we never spoke another word about it. Which is surprising considering all of the blood, sweat and tears that went into it. In April of 2012, we opened Taco Sherpa in Chattanooga, TN. We served Korean tacos and rice bowls that married the best tastes of Korea with those of Mexico. We were determined to take our Korean experience and apply it to our life in the States.

The Purchase
We drove to just outside New York City to buy what was once Bubba's food truck, a greasy extension of Bubba's Doghouse a well-known establishment on the Jersey Shore. His claim to fame, besides his food, was he sometimes would party with Snooki and the Jersey Shore cast.  

Over two days we drove Bubba's truck back to Tennessee with shot springs on one side of the truck that caused it to lean heavily to the passenger's side. The exhaust nearly asphyxiated Lindsay who was following close behind to block the expired New Jersey tags. How we didn't pulled over and arrested somewhere on Interstate 81, I will never understand.
We served Korean style meat/tofu on a corn tortilla with veggies and Sherpa sauce.
The Robbery
We cleaned it for about a month and then took it to get our logo wrapped on it. When I went to pick it up early one Saturday morning from the print company, it was gone. The owner thought I had an extra key and had picked it up the night before. The police were called and the staff at the printing company joked about how it was probably parked behind the shady motel across the street. We were certain we had just lost everything.

The Recovery
Where was it? Behind the shady motel, just a few hundred yards from where it had been. Lindsay actually found it as she looked around from the driver's seat of our car on the way to our niece's birthday party. I had just chided her for her naiveté. How on Earth were we going to spot it? Certainly it would be in a garage being stripped of its parts. But there it was behind a tractor trailer with a stripped ignition from where it had been hot wired. Seemingly a prank by some bored locals. For us, it proved to be good publicity.

Just hours before it was stolen. This was our only photo to identify our newly wrapped truck.

The Season
Cut to opening day a few weeks later. We sold out in an hour. But I knew from that day I was in over my head.

We had a busy summer. We made a few fans, served (in my opinion) good food, and plugged into the amazing food truck community in Chattanooga. But by winter, it wasn't worth going out. People weren't eating off food trucks in December, and we had lost our will to make it work. We were done.

The Sale
From Korea, we sold the truck to a gentleman from Ohio where it continues to serve Korean tacos. From what I can tell, it's doing well. But until today, I have barely checked up on them. For some reason, I just didn't want to see that truck again.

That's the short story. Running a food truck is a labor of love. I just wasn't passionate about cooking for people.

But that's not what I am remembering today. I'm thinking about the brand my wife and I built, all of the support I got from friends and family and the kind people I met. I am also remembering the delicious and well-earned beer with my co-worker, other food truck owners and my wife while my kid toddled around at the end of Chattanooga Market as the sun was setting. I was exhausted and thrilled to have had a good day and we all simply basked in the glow of a beautiful Tennessee sky. In that moment, I was exactly where I was supposed to be.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Your Momma's Radish Kimchi

I love kimchi. I especially love radish kimchi (깍두기). Thanks to Maangchi's website now I can make some ajumma-grade kimchi at home.
You should have no problem finding these ingredients at an Asian market in the west.

Unfortunately, I ate it at my desk today in my office full of other foreign teachers. I'd venture to say they all love kimchi too, but they've been less than impressed with the smell. Even I thought someone had forgotten to take out the trash after leaving and returning to the office 2 hours later.

But the recipe is easy and here. I encourage you to try to prepare it yourself, but be sure to eat it at home.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Taegyo and toe sweat: This mother's guide to learning Korean

As you may or may not know, we are now expecting baby No. 2 in our family--due to arrive in October.

Pregnancy in Korea as a foreigner is nothing new to me--in fact, as an American expat, I know more about prenatal, birthing, and postnatal health in Korea than I do in America. And, despite any bumps in the road with the first experience, I wouldn't want to have my second child anywhere else but here, once again.

One thing I really love about Korea is their care for pregnant women. For these precious ten months, women are encouraged to turn their bodies into watchful, caring, healthy vessels for these coming additions.

And just as important as the mother's health is the baby's health. As I've written about before in the past, the Korean practice of "taegyo" is a common exercise.

Taegyo (태교) is a very interesting concept. It basically translates to "prenatal culture," or the education of your baby while in the womb.

I did this plenty when Finn was in the womb. Reading books, trying to avoid violent or crude TV shows, etc.

This go around, I'm taking my first Korean language class since the one I took when I was pregnant with Finn four years ago. This time, though, it's an intensive course offered by the local university. Three hours every night, Monday through Friday.

Finn is basically at an utter loss at what I could possibly be doing in this so-called class ("Do you go to gym school, too, and play with balls?"

I love it. It's three hours where my brain dusts its cobwebs from the corners and hangs new words and rules like colorful flags and decorative pendants. The neurocircuitry of my brain is re-wiring, and it makes my body happy (just like exercise, food and general happiness). BTW, read this cool article on what happens in your brain when you're learning, or practicing, something new.

I know all this learning and re-wiring is making baby happy too. It's funny how we adults can get in a life rut, where we don't challenge ourselves to be uncomfortable enough to actually learn something new. I'm just as guilty of it as you. But for these three hours a day, Monday through Friday, my toes sometimes sweat as I mumble my way through a response to my teacher about what I like to do in my free time, in Korean.

And I know this toe sweat is more than a result from the current stickiness of changma (장마), or rainy season. It's pure, unadulterated, uncomfortable learning.

If you're interested in learning some Korean, we highly recommend Talk to Me in Korean, a great online curriculum with free podcasts, videos and learning materials. And, of course, you should definitely check your local university or international center for actual Korean classes.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Lee Min Ho: Still Hot

Since we returned to regular blogging, I've been checking in with our stats. Our all-time most hit blog? The one about Lee Min Ho. Not only is it the most hit, it's the most hit 10 times over from the second most hit blog: Pregnancy in Korea.
Sad truth: Lee Min Ho has brought more people to our blog than our thoughts on Korean life. 
I have to admit, I thought he was a one hit wonder. But he is still getting it done.

He's starred in 4 dramas since his big hit, Boys Over Flowers, released an album, has been the face of nearly every product in Korea, has a wax figure at Madame Tussauds in Shanghai and is currently working on his first lead role in the movie Gangnam Blues. And the offers just keep rolling in.

Back in 2008 and 2009, we couldn't help but watch Boys Over Flowers and Personal Preference every week with rapt attention. My wife later admitted to me that she crushed on Lee Min Ho, proving to me that no woman is safe from his sex appeal. She even demanded I get a pair of capris after he wore a pair on Boys Over Flowers.

I took to the internet this week to catch up with our old buddy/crush. Here were some of my favorite articles I found on him mostly for their bizarre nature. If you want more substance there is no shortage of information on this Korean heartthrob.

Fans Of Lee Min Ho And Kim Soo Hyun Argue About Their Idols - Fans argued about who is taller and has a smaller face. Lovely.
Not even close. Lee Min Ho is virtually a giant at 187 cms.
What Lee Min Ho Regrets About Kissing Park Shin Hye - This one is all about kissing his co-star who was unaware that it would be a passionate kiss and not the standard lip touch seen in most Korean dramas.

Lee Min Ho illegally stalked by extreme fans in China- China loves Lee Min Ho. Tsingtao reportedly spent nearly 1 million USD to bring him over. The video is worth watching to at least see the Chinese reporter's microphone if not for seeing Min Ho's gangster swagger.

It seems to me that Lee Min Ho is disappearing no time soon. Thankfully, though, his style is evolving, and I don't have to go around calling my "capris," "man-pris" anymore.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Wordless Wednesday

We celebrated 8 years of marital bliss this week. Most of that time has been spent in Korea. This is at Imjado. (4/2009).