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“Where have you been?” everyone keeps asking. Last week, before I could fully wake up enough to call my mother for her birthday, a message came through from her that she was in the hospital again and would have to turn her phone off. Some more translation and other kinds of work has come through, and there is even more silhouetted on the horizon. I’m writing. I’m still trying to get my insane potter in hand — even if I sit perfectly still working for six hours, he still looks disappointed in me when I say I really — I mean it this time — have to go now. But he’s teaching me a lot, about onggi and the history of Korean pottery, traditional glazes, which I started this week, Lee Kang-hyo, who reminds me of Jackson Pollock. He’s always digging up documentaries with English subtitles for me to watch and scribbling down terms in Korean. He asked me last week if what he does is called “pottery” in English.
Last night, we got a phone call at an uncharacteristically late hour, which could change a lot of things. I put the macchinetta on before B’d even hung up, because I could tell we’d be up late talking. B’s going down to Busan to handle some stuff this weekend, and we will know more once he returns, probably with his brother in tow, possibly (but improbably) also with his mother. For now, I’ve got to prepare the house a little, find and buy a good yo (Korean floor mattress). B’s worried but somehow also excited about a little fantasy he’s dreamed up about his brother helping me with some work. He’s calling himself our “angel investor” for a business that doesn’t even exist. He’s weighing in either hand the pros and cons of two different very good new jobs he’s got to choose between. One of them, in combination with whatever happens this weekend, could mean life will be propelled forward a bit more quickly than we expected in the next few months.
Vague, I know, but it’s easier not to explain it all until I know exactly what I’m explaining.
In the meantime, I’m swallowing books whole. It’s some kind of residual summer reading instinct that still kicks in. I’ve made a Bible of Tartine Bread, by Chad Robertson, which has completely rid me, in a matter of months, of poor bread-making practices I’ve been struggling to work out for decades. Highly recommend it. In a more leisurely realm, Mary McCarthy’s The Company She Keeps is keeping me on my toes with turns of phrase and simply stated observations that contain entire worlds in half sentences.
Food-wise, Korea’s run out of domestic cream and butter, causing crises in franchise bakeries across the country. Cows don’t like hot, humid weather for milk production, and, with the combined influence of new cooking shows that promote Western-style dishes, which include more dairy, domestic production can’t keep up. I was lucky enough to get my hands on two whole pints of cream this week, and I’ve been scheming about how to best put them to use. I still have some recipes from weeks ago I haven’t posted yet, as well, so I’ll try to get some of that done this week.
I had expected to be making an announcement this week, but with the current family crisis and an inflow of more freelance work than I expected to have, that’s been delayed. Hopefully soon. Right now, we don’t know what to expect, and it may end up being best for me to pursue more higher paying work for a while. Also, I seem to have overcome a months’ long writer’s block, and I’ve got to take advantage of that while I can. I’ll be back on form soon. In the meantime, I wish you all cool summer nights, an umbrella always on hand for the summer rains and the good luck to find cream when you need it. Summer’s not the same without it.
Freelance writer and editor. American in Seoul. I write about Korean food. I blog about all food. Last year I wrote a monthly column about traveling to different places around the country to explore Korean ingredients and cuisine. This ignited my interest in local foods and cooking, which I blog about regularly now. I also blog restaurant and cafe recommendations, recipes and some background and history about Korean food.
With the recent launch of my Cinemagraph Pro Tutorial course, I pushed myself think of new ways to make cinemagraphs that stood out. I love taking landscapes and turing them into cinemagraphs. I think that is what sort of put me on the map with regards to this new form of expression. However, that may not appeal to everyone and thus, I had to really get to work and try and find new cinemagraphs to make in order to really get the word out.
The Ramyeon Cinemagraph
This one really took some time. I am not a food photographer but I do love and have to take food shots from time to time. This one I used a similar technique to that of the Death Wish Coffee project that I did a little while ago. However, I really wanted to focus on the steam and that proved to be a bit of a challenge. Not only did it not steam up enough, the noodles cooled too fast. I ended up using a kettle of hot water to heat things up. However, in the end I got the shot and the loop that I wanted.
Use Adobe Spark
I always loved the style and look of those instagram-like ads. The ones that combined a beautiful font and a creative photo. I could do the photo part, but I could never get the font or the design just right. Now that adobe spark has arrived, I can make cinemagraphs that have this look and feel. In a later tutorial, I will show you how to add this to your cinemagraphs.
The Cafe Cinemagraph
Finally, I had a blast creating this one. I had first seen this kind of cinemagraph used for some awesome travel stuff and I wanted to give a subtle hint about my courses. So I went to a local coffee shop here in Ulsan and got to work. Again, it was a challenge working in such an open environment. However, I just plugged away and made a few cool cinemagraphs. Here I am just using the subtle motion of the book to draw attention into the cinemagraph.
If you would like to learn how to make cinemagraphs like this then head on over to my tutorials page and sign up for the cinamagraph pro tutorial now.The Complete CInemagraph Pro Tutorial
July 19-21, 2015
Marcus and I were following the rain from Luang Prabang to Vang Vieng, Laos. We opted to take a van which was 120,000 Lao Kip (LAK) or $14.85 USD. With that cheap price comes with absolutely no details, though. I’ll tell you our timeline:
13:30 - Ready to be picked up.
13:40 - Picked up and dropped off in the middle of nowhere.
14:40 - Crammed into a van with 13 other people and all our gear slung up on the roof and wrapped in a tarp, and left Luang Prabang.
17:20 - Our first bathroom break.
17:55-18:20 - Scheduled break to eat and shop, a percentage going to the driver, I assume.
19:20 - Arrive in Vang Vieng.
I tend to be especially nervous about fast drivers in rainy weather, but adding to the fact that the road was full of potholes, mud pits, and hairpin turns, I was feeling especially weary about the ride. Marcus was smart to give me a sleeping pill and remind me that I was packed in like a sardine (just in case the worse happened). And, like the locals tell you, “This is Lao P.D.R. - Please Don’t Rush.”
Big happy sighs all around when we pulled into rainy Vang Vieng. Marcus led the way down the street to Champa Lao where we booked a room with a sweet view of misty mountains overlooking the Nam Song River. I remember saying that it looked like Jurassic Park.
Tubing the river here used to be a hedonistic rite of passage where by 2011, a staggering 20-odd tourists were dying each year from heart attacks, drowning and broken necks, plus there were frequent drug busts. In August 2012 most of the river bar owners were ordered by the government to shut down, thus ending a dark chapter in the town’s history. The drugs are no longer heavy and the party not quite as dark. Still, you’ll hear random tourists asking for a “magic shake” here and there.
So, on a very rainy day with the river water high and flowing fast, we rented inner-tubes to float down a river, bar-to-bar. A tube cost 115,000 LAK (55,000 rental and 60,000 deposit). If you returned your tube after 6:00 pm, you’d be charged an extra 20,000. And, if you lost it, well, you lost your deposit.
The rules were simple:
- Be careful of bad farang (tourists) stealing your tube.
- Drink responsibly.
- Don’t be crazy.
- Don’t be the bad guy. Be the good guy.
With cheap booze, laughing gas, and who knows what else, it’s easy to get sloppy. As you float the river, grab onto ropes and pull yourself into a different party at your convenience. You’re rewarded with free shots and a small braided bracelet just for arriving. Loud music, mud soccer, and crazy zip-lines. People we met lost things (e.g. money and cameras) and even hurt themselves (e.g. broken or sprained limbs).
I’m forever grateful that I was with a friend who I knew would help me no matter what state either of us got into. I’ll never forget him putting his hair in pigtails, eating a bug, and tubing the river stomach-first that day. I’m not sure I would have been strong enough to pull the tube and myself out of the river with out him. Like I said, the river was full and moving fast that day -and there is no one to help you get out. No one wants the party to end.
I probably sound like an old maid, but it can be really dangerous. Be mindful of where you are and what you’re consuming. Be careful about wandering and the company you keep. Have fun, but first, be safe.
Nothing is ever more fun than buying things that you can get only in that country when travelling. Thailand is no exception when it comes to buying high quality products at cheap prices. Besides the cheap summery shirts and fisherman pants, here is the ultimate list of things (goods & food) you must get in Bangkok.
1. Fruit Soap
You can find all kinds of fruit soaps at Chatuchak Market (a weekend market in Bangkok) with Mango soap being one of the most popular ones. They only cost around $1 each!
2. Inhaler (Ya Dom in Thai)
Thai people are known for their frequent use of nasal inhaler which is also best for those who have rhinitis. The two most famous brands are Poy Sian and Peppermint field.
3. Thai Silk
Thailand is renowned for beautiful silks and fabrics. Make sure you drop by the famous Jim Thompson house for their high quality silk products. High recommended as souvenirs such as table runners and pouches that come in bright colors and patterns for family and friends.
4. NaRaYa Bag
NaRaYa is a famous local brand that offers high quality fabric hand-made bags and pouches. They come in all kinds of colors and designs and their most flagship design is the silk bag with a big ribbon attached in the middle. You can find NaRaYa stores in Bangkok’s major shopping malls.
5. Spa & aroma products
You can’t leave all kinds of spa products & oranaments when you think of what to buy in Thailand. Karmakamet is famous for its high quality aroma and body products. It’s not cheap but the quality is guaranteed. Bath & Bloom is another shop where you can get aromatic bath & spa products. One of the highly recommended scent is the unique Thai Jasmine which will relieve your knots and stress.
6. Takabb Anti Cough Pill
It’s a nation-widely known remedy for coughing. It’s rumored to have the worst taste but the strongest effect that immediately makes you stop from coughing. The package design itself isn’t at its best with some kind of red earthworms all over the place but you might want to buy one to try out.
7. Coconut oil
In the “motherland” of oil, coconut oil is used everywhere from facial mositurizing, hair enrichment to hand & foot care. Not only that, some even drop coconut oil in their morning tea or coffee for better taste. There are several Thai brands that you can look out for such as Agrilife and Thaipure.
8. Snake Brand Prickly Heat Powder
Because of the tropical climate, Snake Brand Prickly Heat Powder is a must-item for the locals. Apply some on your body after shower and enjoy the cooling effect.
9. Mosquito Repellent
One might always be wary of the mosquitoes when you visit tropical countries, and Thailand is no exception when you think of insects and mosquito bites. And because of the naturally exposed environment, Thailand is known for offering various options in terms of mosquito repellent. It will come in handy when you visit other tropical regions. You can easily find various brands in local drugstores or supermarkets.
10. Tiger Balm
It’s the ultimate solution to all the pains on your body. It’s said to provide instant relief.
11. Fruit Snacks
You can’t leave out fruit snacks when you visit Bangkok. Kunna is one of the highly acclaimed brand for its different kinds of fruit snacks. Available in major stores and markets, try the original and yet exotic fruit snacks!
Add drip coffee to your shopping list in Bangkok. DoiTung and Doi Chang are two of the famous local brands that offer premium coffee at yes affordable price.
13. Chewy Milk Candy
Yes the chewy milk candy that comes in all kinds of flavors from corn, watermelon, strawberry, chocolate and apple. Pick a type according to your taste.
14. Mama Instant Noodle
If you’re an instant noodle lover, Tom Yum flavored noodles from Mama are a must buy. Packaged in small plastic bags, they are light enough to fit your suitcase.
15. Crispy Seaweed
Often called the snack king of Thailand, Tao Kae Noi‘s crispy seaweed is eaten like potato chips in Thailand. This snack also comes in various flavors from curry crab, coconut to grilled squid.
Aren’t you excited just by looking at all the food and things that you can buy in Bangkok?
July 17-19, 2015
If you’re lacking the funds, have the time, and/or want a story, there are ways other than flying to get from Chiang Mai, Thailand to Luang Prabang, Laos (i.e. bus or train). I opted to take the $155.60 USD 1-hour flight through Lao Airlines.
Attempt to get off the flight quickly so you can queue for a 30-day visa on arrival. U.S. citizens should have two passport-size photographs and and $35 USD ready. You’ll make your life infinitely easier if you do.
Luckily we avoided the taxi drivers from the airport and haggled a reasonable price into town from a truck that was dropping some people off at the airport. We walked around to different guesthouses to test for good wifi, which was mostly abysmal. We settled for Sengphet Guesthouse because it was clean, conveniently located, and the internet was slow but working.
You’re at the mercy of convenience stores to buy a SIM card and have it work. Unitel worked throughout Laos for me, but it took a lot of work to get it to work initially.
I loved my time in Luang Prabang. Great food, kind locals, beautiful French colonial buildings, and close-by waterfalls. A short list of things I enjoyed:
- I ate a few meals outside in the rain along the Mekong River. I really enjoyed everything I ate here. And, wow, I miss the iced coffee and iced tea!
- It’s a UNESCO world heritage site of 33 Buddhist temples, where around 6am each morning Buddhists give alms to monks. This has become a tourist attraction, so please remember to be polite.
- The night market is fun to walk through. We bought a bottle of lao-lao (sans snake) there that we carried throughout Laos.
- Like most foreigners, we had a meal and a few drinks at Utopia. Lots of fun people to talk or play volleyball with. One of the quirks of Luang Prabang is that the whole town closes up at 11pm except for a Chinese run bowling alley on the outskirts of the area. Be at Utopia to share a ride with new friends to the bowling alley.
- The view from Phu Si Hill (aka Mount Phousi) is worth the stairs up.
- I started my obsession with Joma Bakery Café here. I also made friends with a bunch of Koreans there so we could share a ride up to Kuang Si Falls, which was hands-down the best I’ve ever played in. Also, on our way in, we stopped by the moon bear preserve where several rescued bears, captured when babies to harvest their bile for “medicine,” were living out their lives in peace.
The following is an op-ed I published in last week’s Newsweek Japan, where I write once a month. My editor asked me to write about how the comfort women deal of last year is getting on, and I have to say that I am surprised just how little we even hear about it anymore. For an issue that the Korean media often treated as central to South Korean identity, it seems to have inexplicably dropped out of the newspapers (which, I strongly suspect, displays how much the Korean government ‘directs’ the media here.)
So the main argument I make advances the one I made a few months ago: that if the Korean left does not fight back against the deal, then the deal achieves a level of national consensus it did not have initially when it was clinched in secret by a conservative government. And now that the left has surprisingly taken the majority in the parliament, this is the first and most important acid test for the deal. If the left doesn’t use its newfound power to go after the deal, then they are tacitly approving it.
Of course, no one in Korea will proactively say that they support the deal, but not acting is a way acting too. If the left, which has done so much to create this issue, does not re-politicize it, then that basically mean a broad, however unspoken, left-right consensus has emerged to take the deal and let the issue slowly disappear. The activist groups and leftist intellectuals, many of whom seem to have built their careers around the comfort women, will never give up. But without political representation, they are just one more voice in South Korea’s cacophonous civil society.
I have to say that I am really surprised that events are running this way. Just about every Korean I know gets really indignant and emotional at the mention of this issue. Yet the political class has dropped like a hot potato. So all these years of sturm und drang are over, just like that? Really? Still not sure why this has happened – American pressure? it was all just an act? everyone is truly terrified of NK and wants Japanese solidarity?
The full essay follows the jump.
In December 2015, the administrations of Korean President Park Geun-Hye and Japanese Prime Minister Abe Shinzo surprised almost everyone by “finally and irreversibly” settling the comfort women issue that had long-plagued Japan-Korea relations. Tokyo is to pay ¥1 billion to several Korean women coerced or lured into sexual slavery during the Japanese colonial period (long maintained by Korea as coordinated and sanctioned by official channels), and in return the South Korean government is to drop the issue and not pursue future claims. Though many interpreted the deal as a new beginning, virtually no part of it has moved forward. Park has seemingly stalled, and Abe has not pressed. A new left-wing majority entered the Korean legislature this past spring, leaving many to questioning whether the deal will survive, given the left’s history of comfort women advocacy. So far, though, it remains.
North Korea – the Real Reason for the Deal
North Korea is a central reason. Its aggressive behavior this year drowned out any controversy over the deal and illustrates the geopolitical pressures behind the deal. The two Koreas are experiencing levels of hostility not seen since a North Korean submarine sank the South Korean corvette Cheonan in early 2010. In the months since the comfort women deal was signed, Pyongyang has conducted its fourth nuclear test, launched several missiles, shuttered the Kaesong Industrial Complex, and organized a much-hyped Workers’ Party Congress, the first in 36 years. Both Japan and Korea have shown newfound pragmatism regarding their shared security threat, and have seemingly put ancillary issues, such as the comfort women deal, on the backburner.
This apparent reprioritization can been seen in the behavior of the Park Administration, which has mothballed two committees explicitly designed to explore the comfort women issue in depth. Established in 2013 and 2015 respectively, each task force was to produce a white paper that was to guide policy discussion regarding the comfort women. Their reports, due last December, were unexpectedly shelved. Both committees remain in hiatus.
Still Not Popular Though
Nevertheless, key provisions of the deal have yet to materialize, perhaps in response to the deal’s unpopularity in Korea. No mechanism has yet been set up for the Japanese government to deposit the promised ¥1 billion to the surviving comfort women themselves. A statue of a comfort woman in front of the Japanese embassy in Seoul, possibly a harassment violation of the Vienna Convention on diplomacy, was also to be moved as part of the deal (and in fact, Tokyo may choose not to deposit any money if that statute remains).
The victory of the left in this spring’s parliamentary elections opens the possibility that the issue will be revisited. The left historically oscillates from skepticism to unabashed hostility towards Japan, with some going as far to argue that Tokyo, not Pyongyang, is South Korea’s greatest enemy. The comfort women issue has long been a rallying cry for both real and imagined hardships endured by Koreans during the Japanese colonization period of 1910 to 1945.
The main opposition Minjoo Party, along with the left-of-center Kookmin Party, could certainly push through legislation amending, obstructing, or even dismantling the deal itself. It remains, after all, unpopular among the Korean electorate. President Park’s approval ratings are low, and a looming presidential election next year suggests the time is ripe for political opportunism.
Silence Indicates Approval?
The National Assembly has yet to do much of anything since the April 13th elections. Members have been squabbling over speaker and committee positions, missing their June 7th deadline. This fails to explain however why members of the left have not utilized unofficial channels to voice their discontent.
Silence on the issue can be telling. No elected opposition members have spoken out since the election. The most influential person, other than President Park, to comment on the comfort women deal is the Minjoo Party’s interim chairman Kim Chong In. He has in fact come out in favor of it, expressing a desire to close the book on a decades-long issue that has handicapped relations between the two countries.
The comfort women deal remains in flux. Park no longer enjoys a majority in the legislature and will struggle to pass anything. That calls into question whether or not she can establish the necessary mechanisms for Tokyo to deposit the promised funds, move the statue, or even fend off possible amendments or impediments to the deal itself. However, the left’s silence on the issue signals a tacit acceptance that moving on is perhaps the best decision for both countries. If the left does not move on the issue by the end of the year, that will imply a national consensus, however grudging, to respect the deal.
Filed under: Comfort Women, Domestic Politics, Japan, Korea (South)
It’s been a busy and weird few weeks, but here’s a new comic! The concept for this one was given to me by the one and only Roboseyo. I honestly don’t know why I didn’t think of it earlier. Even after almost six years, those doors that don’t open still don’t make much sense to me.
Speaking of really cool blog people, I was recently featured in a podcast! The really nice guys over at Café Seoul invited me to talk on their entertaining show when I went up to Seoul for the event I was advertising last time at High Street Market (thank you to everyone that came, btw). If you want to give it a listen, click here.
See you next time!
Got any questions, comments, or maybe even some delicious cookies you want to send through the internet? Feel free to contact us at dearkoreacomic at gmail dot com.
You can also leave comments on the comic’s Facebook Page!
July 14-17, 2015
Some people say that Thailand is too touristy these days, but I enjoy how convenient it is to travel. Its hospitality makes it one of the most accessible exotic destinations on earth. Its diverse natural landscape is part of the allure. Go south for white sand beaches surrounded by deep blue seas, go north for greenery cascaded by mountains. Temples on every corner and good food throughout.
Last time I went for beach time at Had Yao beach, Koh Phangan. This time I aimed to go up north to Chiang Mai. It is 700 km (435 mi) north of Bangkok and is situated amongst the highest mountains in the country. The old city of Chiang Mai is a neat square surrounded by a moat and a defensive wall built 700 years ago to defend against Burmese invaders and the armies of the Mongol Empire.
Chiang Mai is a chill place to kick back and relax and the streets are very walkable. For culture vultures, Chiang Mai is a vibrant classroom to study Thai language, cooking, meditation, and massage.
I had some great experiences in Chiang Mai, including:
The main altar inside the Daeung-jeon Hall at Ilchulam Hermitage in Pohang, Gyeongsangbuk-do.
Hello Again Everyone!!
Just east of the airport and south of Mt. Unbongsan in Pohang, Gyeongsangbuk-do is the diminutive Ilchulam Hermitage (Sunrise Hermitage). Next to a flowing stream, you’ll need to head down a country road to find this little known hermitage.
Upon arriving at the hermitage grounds, you’ll need to climb a set of stairs with rails next to it. The rails are used to bring items up to the hermitage. After summiting the stairs, you’ll be greeted by the main hall straight ahead of you. While a bit boxy in design, the main hall is adorned with masterful Ox-Herding murals all around its exterior walls. Stepping inside the main hall, you’ll first notice a triad of statues resting on the main altar. In the centre sits Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha). To his right, he’s joined by a long-haired statue of Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion). Hanging on the right wall is an older looking guardian mural that’s joined by a beautiful Koi and hummingbird mural. And to the left of the main altar is the Chilseong (The Seven Stars) mural.
To the right of the main hall is the monks dorms. But it’s to the rear of the main hall, and up a set of stairs that’s joined by the sheer face of the neighbouring mountain, that you’ll come across the second shrine hall that visitors can explore at Ilchulam Hermitage: the Dokseong/Sanshin-gak. While the Dokseong (The Lonely Saint) mural is rather plain in composition, it’s the Sanshin mural that’s pretty unique. Sanshin (The Mountain Spirit) is holding the tiger’s tail, while the tiger smiles in its folk like design.
HOW TO GET THERE: From the Pohang Intercity Bus Terminal, you’ll need to take Bus #200. After 26 stops, or 50 minutes, get off at the “Sangjeong Geomunso Stop.” Walk about 700 metres, or 10 minutes, to get to Ilchulam Hermitage.
OVERALL RATING: 4/10. While rather underwhelming for the amount of buildings you can explore at Ilchulam Hermitage, it’s the murals like the Sanshin mural and the Ox-Herding murals that make the hermitage worth a visit. In addition, the main altar statues inside the main hall and the guardian mural add to the hermitage’s overall artistic beauty.
The grounds as you first approach Ilchulam Hermitage.
The main hall at the hermitage.
One of the beautiful Ox-Herding murals that adorns the main hall.
A look around the interior of the main hall.
The guardian mural to the right of the main altar.
A hummingbird and Koi mural to the left of the guardian mural.
The unique Chilseong mural to the left of the main altar.
It’s joined by this mural inside the main hall, as well.
The rock walls that surround the hermitage grounds on all sides.
A statue that a devotee left behind at Ilchulam Hermitage.
The Dokseong/Sanshin-gak at the hermitage.
A rather ordinary painting of Dokseong.
Who is joined by the tiger-tail holding Sanshin.