100th post!

(Well, 102nd really, but I didn’t notice I’d already gone past 100!)

When I started this blog it was only ever supposed to be a way to let my family know I was still alive and well in Korea and to save me having to email them all individually! I never imagined two years later I’d have come to love it so much, or that it would have given me so many fantastic opportunities. I’m pretty sure that my mum is responsible for the days where 250 page views come from the UK alone, but when I see so many far flung countries appearing on the stats I often stop to wonder who you all are and what brought you to this blog when there are so many out there. So whoever you are and wherever you are reading this, thank you!

My South Korean Bucket List

With my time in Korea rapidly coming to an end I need to get checking things off this list!

  • Eat sannakji (live octopus) 

I’ve yet to get my head (and stomach) around this one but it will be done!

A vile experience that I plan on never repeating.

Again, a one time only occurrence!

  • Eat bosintang (dog soup)Korean chicken feet

Controversial I know, but it is one of Korea’s most well-known delicacies.

  • Learn Korean

While I am nowhere near being fluent I can at least hold a decent conversation in Korean so I’m going to count this one!

  • Visit EverlandKorean baseball game

We’ve visited South Korea’s largest theme park, albeit on the wettest day of the year.

  • Watch a Korean baseball game

Woo SK Wyverns!

  • Leave a padlock at the top of Namsan MountainNamsan Tower Padlocks

In true K-drama style I have left one padlock with my boyfriend and one with my Mum.

  • Sing in a norebang

I never thought I would enjoy singing in any place other than the shower but there is something about norebangs that makes it okay to grab a microphone and a tambourine and bust out your best rendition of Sweet Caroline!

And what an unforgettable experience that was…

  • Haeundae Beach, Busan

Way down on the south east coast, Haeundae is probably Korea’s most famous beach and I am determined to get there.Pajeon

Just one of Korea’s latest beauty fads, but I am now a convert!

  • Drink makgeolli and eat pajeon on a rainy day

Had plenty of opportunity to do this recently during Korea’s rainy season.
Makgeolli

  • Wear a hanbok

Korea’s traditional dress.

  • Do a Temple Stay

Still trying to find time to get in touch with my spiritual side and do a temple stay in Seoul.

  • Appear on Korean TVBoryeong Mudfest

I think I might have walked behind someone being interviewed at Mudfest last year but I’m pretty sure that doesn’t count.

  • Get a photo taken with a Korean celebrity

Still working on this one, too.

  • Swim in the East Sea and the West Sea

Paddling counts right?Eurwangni Beach

  • Haggle at Namdaemun

Still need to work on my bargaining skills with the ajummas in this huge traditional night market in Seoul.

  • Watch a K-Pop concert

We saw Psy perform in Seoul last summer just as Gangnam Style was at its peak and it was epic!PSY concert Seoul Plaza 4/10/2012

  • Peer over into North Korean from the DMZ

Described as the most dangerous place on Earth, no trip to Korea is complete without going here.

As with most things, weddings in Korea are totally different to weddings at home, and we’ve been lucky enough to go toKorean wedding four of them.

  • Visit Jeju Island

South Korea’s answer to Hawaii and a favourite with Korean honeymooners, Jeju was recently declared one of the New7Wonders of Nature, and an absolute must-see.

  • Visit all 5 of the great palaces in Seoul

One down…four to go…

  • Visit Seoraksan National ParkSeoraksan National Park 

We went nearly two years ago in autumn and it was just so beautiful.

  • See the Lotus Lantern Festival in Seoul

This festival is held every May around Jogye-sa Temple in Seoul in honour of  Buddha’s birthday and is hands down one of my favourite memories of Korea.

  • See the Cherry Blossom Festival

Every spring Korean parks become awash with beautiful pink and white cherry blossom, and Yeouido Park in Seoul is one of the best places to see it.

  • Do the Gangnam Style dance in Gangnam

Many a time!Korean cherry blossom

  • Try kimchi soda

Yes, this actually exists. Along with kimchi cookies, kimchi ice-cream and kimchi cake.

How to survive a Korean night out

To survive a Korean night out you will need to come equipped with three things; a liver of steel, an expandable stomach and a good set of lungs. Drinking with Koreans requires endurance.

Koreans bar-hop in a way that would put most university pub-crawls to shame. A typical night out will involve stopping off at several different bars, and each bar is called a ‘cha’. The stops are counted off as il-cha (round 1), i-cha (round 2), sam-cha (round 3), sa-cha (round four) and so on until, no matter how much you protest, you end up swaying and slurring along to Hey Jude in a norebang (karaoke).

The night will usually start with dinner, and the first few bottles of soju. Round two will most likely involve more soju or beer at a hof or a Western-style bar. Round three will be more of the same but maybe with some drinking games thrown in. Most hofs require you to order anju, food like fried chicken, fruit or dried squid. Many Koreans believe that eating salty or spicy food helps the body digest alcohol quicker. I’m yet to see proof of this.

Round four or five is invariably a trip to a norebang for a sing-along and yes, you guessed it, more booze and food. Then for those still drinking, or standing, a nightclub is usually the last destination for some dancing until the wee hours.

Make sure that you observe the rules of Korean drinking etiquette and remember, what happens on a Korean night out stays on a Korean night out!

IMG_6655

Magpies, moths and memory loss: Korean superstitions

Every culture has their own superstitions; The British won’t put new shoes on a table, the French believe stepping in dog poo will bring them luck, and Indians refuse to get their hair cut on a Tuesday. Here are some of Korea’s most bizarre beliefs!

  • On the day of a big exam you shouldn’t wash your hair, as it will wash away everything you have learned. It’s also best to avoid ‘slippery’ foods like noodles or seaweed soup as they will cause information to slip away, and instead eat sticky foods like rice or sticky Korean candy.
  • It is said that if you give shoes as a present to your boyfriend or girlfriend they will break up with you and use the shoes to run away. If someone does give you shoes you should give them a tiny sum of money, like 100₩ (5p/10¢), so the shoes are considered a ‘purchase’ and not a gift.
  • Similarly, a woman should never feed her husband or boyfriend chicken wings, in case with a stomach full of wings he takes flight and leaves her. Especially if he’s wearing those new shoes.
  • It would seem that the Tooth Fairy doesn’t visit this part of the world. Instead lower teeth should be thrown onto the roof, to encourage the new tooth to grow upwards, while upper teeth should be thrown under the house to encourage the new tooth to grow downwards.
  • Don’t cut your nails at night, as Korean folklore says that mice will eat the clippings, become human and steal your soul. This one comes from the days before electricity so if you cut your nails at night, you wouldn’t be able to see to clean up, and the room would become dirty.
  • You should also avoid whistling or singing at night, as it can attract ghosts or snakes to your house. Apparently no one told our neighbour this one.
  • When moving house it is important to ensure that evil spirits don’t follow you to your new house. You should choose a 손없는날 (a day without uninvited guests), and moving companies often give a calendar for each month showing which days are ‘safe’ to move on. You shouldn’t sweep up before leaving the old house, because it tricks the spirits into thinking you’re still there, and by the time the new people arrive and clean the place, it’s too late for the spirits to find you.
  • In Korean culture the number 4 is considered to be unlucky, because the words for ‘death’ and ‘four’ have the same pronunciation. In Korean elevators the button for the fourth floor is often labelled ‘F’ or sometimes missing altogether, and you should never give gifts in sets of 4.
  • White is the colour of mourning and funerals, so wearing white ribbons in your hair is an invitation for death. At funerals the name of the deceased was traditionally written in red, to ward off those pesky evil spirits, so writing the names of living people in red is seriously unlucky, and can even be taken as a sign that you want that person dead!
  • Many Korean girls believe that cutting their hair short will make them grow taller, and if you jump over a baby (not quite sure why you would!) the baby will always be short.
  • On a baby’s first birthday people often present them with a pencil, some string and money. Whichever one the baby goes for first is a sign of their fortune. If they reach for the pencil they will be a good student, the string symbolises a long and healthy life and the money, of course, means they will be rich.
  • If you see a crow or a raven when you leave the house in the morning it means you will have bad luck that day. However, if you see a magpie in the morning it’s a sign of good luck.
  • If you catch the bouquet at a Korean wedding you have six months to get married, or you never will. For this reason Korean brides usually choose one of their friends who is engaged beforehand to catch the bouquet.
  • Apparently if you touch a butterfly or a moth and then rub your eyes before washing your hands you will go blind. A similar thing is said for orange flowers.
  • And lastly there’s every foreigner’s favourite…fan death. The genuine belief that sleeping in a room with the fan running overnight will kill you. According to the South Korean government this silent killer claims around ten lives every summer. There are several theories behind this one, including hypothermia, the fan creating a kind of air vortex around you causing you to slowly suffocate, the fan motor converting oxygen into carbon dioxide, and my personal favourite, the blades chopping up the air molecules making them un-breatheable. I’m no Einstein but I’m pretty sure that’s not how it works. The origins of this myth aren’t very clear as electric fans had been used in Korea for 80 years before the first reported case of fan death, but some people think the government started this rumour as an attempt to reduce energy usage at a time of limited supplies.

10 Things I’ll Never Understand About Korea

Korea is a truly fascinating country, and I defy anyone to spend time here and not fall in love with it. However, there are some little quirks and oddities that even after 15 months I still struggle to get my head around.

1. The road rules. Or perhaps, the lack of road rules would be better. Red lights, pedestrian crossings, and giving way seem to mean nothing here. Scooters, motorbikes and sometimes even cars, freely drive along the pavement beeping at you for being in their way. As for parking, the general rule seems to be that anywhere is fair game if you can fit your car there. And there’s this strange rule that means you can turn right at a crossing, regardless of the light being green or red, which has resulted in more than a few near misses!

South Korean driving

2. The lack of queues drives me crazy here. Yeah, yeah, I’m a Brit, and all Brits love queueing, I’ve heard it all before, but seriously Korea, learn to wait your turn! Koreans seem to have this bizarre and frustrating idea that if they only have one thing in their basket or they just want to buy a packet of cigarettes, but you have several things to pay for, they can cut in front. Ajummas (see point 7) are the worst for this.

3. Koreans have an incredible ability to fall asleep anywhere. With or without the help of several bottles of soju. Businessmen kicking off their shoes and settling down on a park bench for a cheeky power nap, builders having a kip in the middle of a building site, falling asleep on the subway yet somehow always waking up in time for their stop, and in class, hopefully not a reflection on my teaching! Koreans have perhaps the longest working hours in the world, and many of my students only get 4 or 5 hours sleep a night, so it’s not really surprising that they need some down time.

2012-04-06 15.27.57

4. Every culture has their own superstitions, and Korea’s are no stranger than our fear of black cats, broken mirrors and walking under ladders. For example, the number 4 is considered unlucky here as the words for ‘death’ and ‘four’ have the same pronunciation in Korean. When you get in a lift the button for the fourth floor will often be F, instead of 4, or sometimes skipped altogether, and you should never give sets of 4 as a gift. Writing someone’s name in red is also reserved for the dead, which has on more than one occasion led to a slow motion style ‘nooooooo’ from the kids as they dive to take the pen out of my hand. And then there’s fan death, the widely held belief that sleeping in a room with a fan on overnight will kill you. There are several theories behind this one, but the most common one is that the blades of the fan will chop up the air molecules making them un-breatheable. No, really.

Fan death

5. Along with several other East Asian countries, Korea uses a different way of age reckoning than the Western world, meaning that your ‘Korean age’ will be either one or two years (depending on what month you were born in) older than your ‘Western age’. Babies start life at one, as you are considered to be one in your first year of life, two in your second year of life, three in your third year of life and so on. However, in Korea everyone ages up on the Lunar New Year (Seollal) in February, and not on their actual birthday. For example, a baby born in January would be one year old when they were born, and would then turn two on Seollal in February, even though they would only be a few days old according to the Western system. This system is used in every day life in Korea, although the legal system uses the Western reckoning. Confusing I know!

6. Writing and reading the date can also be a source of great confusion here. While American English uses the month-day-year format, and British English uses the day-month-year format, Koreans usually (depending on their education) go for year-month-day. So 10/9/12 could be October 9th 2012, September 10th 2012, or September 12th 2010. Frankly it’s anyone’s guess and it makes sell-by dates an absolute nightmare.

7. Ajummas. That one word is enough to strike fear in the heart of even the most seasoned expat. Kitted out in clashing animal prints, more diamanté than the entire cast of TOWIE, and of course, the obligatory visors atop their standard issue perm, this army of elderly women that roam the streets of Korea is a force to be reckoned with. They will push, jostle and elbow their way to the front of the queue or to get on the bus first. Although they are painfully slow when walking down the street, don’t be fooled, as soon as that subway seat becomes free they pounce. The last thing you want is to invoke the wrath of an ajumma. Do not mess with them.

ajummas

8. This bizarre, and slightly disturbing game is unfortunately very popular among Korean kids at the moment. Where they learned it, and why no one stops them is completely beyond me. The ‘game’ involves the kids putting their fingers together like a gun, waiting for the opportune moment before jamming their fingers up your bum shouting DONGCHIP! You have been warned.

9. Coming from the land of the eternal tea-break, the rate that buildings appear and disappear in Korea is nothing short of astonishing. One week you’ll walk past a hairdressers, and the next week it’s a fully refurbished restaurant. It’s like living in some kind of time-warp.

10. The national obsession with kimchi. I mean seriously, it’s fermented cabbage.

Seoul International Fireworks Festival 2012

Last night saw over a million people line the banks of the Han near Yeouido to watch the Seoul International Fireworks Festival. The teams competing this year were Italy, China, America and Korea and they certainly did not disappoint; it was incredible! (For more amazing photos from my even more amazing boyfriend check out his Flickr page!)

Happy 4344th Birthday Korea!!

Today (October 3rd) is Gaecheonjol in Korea, often referred to as National Foundation Day. This day marks the creation of the state of Gojoseon, the first kingdom of ancient Korea.

According to Korean legend Hwanin was the Emperor of Heaven, and every day his son, Hwanung, would gaze down to earth and cry. He was worried about the fate of the humans and wished to bring peace, justice and order to them. So Hwanin allowed his son and 3000 followers to descend to earth. They arrived at Mount Taebaek, in modern day North Korea, and founded a thriving city. It was there that a tiger and a bear approached him, asking if he could make them human. Hwanung is said to have given them 20 cloves of garlic, telling them that whichever one ate only this garlic for 100 days would be granted the wish of becoming human. The tiger soon became impatient and gave up but the bear persevered, and on the 101st day the bear became a woman. Hwanung made the woman his wife, and they had a child named Dangun Wanggeom. On this day in 2333 BC Dangun went on to become the founder of Gojoseon, and the rest, as they say, is history!

Have a good one Korea, you don’t look a day over 4343!

Chuseok 2012 추석

Chuseok (추석) is the Korean thanksgiving holiday to celebrate the harvest, and it is the biggest celebration in the Korean calendar. Chuseok falls on the 15th day of the 8th lunar month, which this year was September 30th, and the day before and the day after are also given as holiday to allow city dwellers to visit their hometowns. Chuseok can also be known as Hangawi (한가위), which literally translates as the ‘ides of August’.

The origins of Chuseok are a little unclear, but many Koreans trace the holiday back to ancient worship of the moon. The full moon was considered a special and meaningful event, and so the harvest celebrations were always held on the day of a full moon. Even today it is traditional to make a wish to the ‘Moon Rabbit‘ on Chuseok.

Dancing beneath the harvest full moon

As with Seollal (Lunar New Year in February), Chuseok sees a mass exodus out of Seoul and Korea’s other main cities, as everyone heads to their hometowns in the countryside to visit their relatives and pay their respects to the spirits of their ancestors. For married women, that means visiting their husband’s family and relatives. In the days running up to Chuseok many Koreans tend the tombs of their ancestors, and on the morning of Chuseok a ceremony (차례) is held, offering traditional food and drink to the deceased. A good harvest is often attributed to the blessing of one’s ancestors.

Chuseok 차례 ceremonial table

Food is an important part of Chuseok, and can be very stressful for the women of the family as they have to prepare so much food. Japchae (잡채 is a dish made from clear noodles stir fried in sesame oil with various vegetables and sometimes meat), songpyeon (송편 small, crescent-shaped rice cakes filled with honey, red bean paste or chestnut paste steamed on a bed of pine needles), seasonal fruits, baekju (a kind of rice wine), and freshly harvested rice are among the most popular Chuseok foods.

In addition to the 차례 ceremony, typical Chuseok activities include wearing hanbok (traditional Korean dress), playing folk games, singing, and dancing beneath the full moon.

Happy Chuseok everyone!

염통 – Barbecued chicken hearts

Continuing my Korean culinary adventure, last night’s delicacy was grilled chicken hearts (염통). They were cooked in a sweet, sticky BBQ marinade and served on skewers. For a bargain price of 5,000 KRW (£2.75) we got five skewers, each with four hearts. We also had mushrooms wrapped in samgyeopsal (thick cut bacon), boneless chicken feet, deok (Korean rice cake) and dalkgalbi with melted cheese (stir fried chicken in a mouth-scorchingly spicy sauce).

Nom nom nom

Once I managed to get the image of Chicken Licken out of my head they were surprisingly quite good, a bit like really dark chicken meat. However, as with most of these things they did need quite a lot of chewing, washed down with a mouthful of Cass.

As my friend told me, eating the heart of your enemy makes you grow stronger. In that case, bring it on chickens…

Not looking too convinced at this point…