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I Want to Punch Seomyeon in the Face

Seomyeon sort of looks like what would happen if you gave a 3 year old a pack of crayons and asked them to design a city centre. The streets are windy, disordered, end unexpectedly, littered with trash, and frequently adorned with pissing old men. At 9am. Because if you can't take a piss on the street at 9am, when can you?I'm back. I've only been back for a week, but from the moment the passed

Six Months In Country

Christmas Day marks six months since I set foot in Korea on June 25th. I can't believe it. Time has certainly flown. Before I came I read, and I believe wrote about since, the stages of culture shock. I am glad I did although it didn't help much. There were times when I thought: "Ok, I have moved on to the next stage." Looking back over the time now I realize that I was always behind a little. The honeymoon lasted longer, the low period was longer and deeper, and the comfortable, homey phase is still kicking in. Going through that, somewhat thoughtfully, has been one of the best things about this. It is amazing to come fresh to a new place and make a home there. Not a literal home but a heart home.

My poor blog has been whimpering in the shadows of neglect for a couple of months. I write when I want and I haven't felt like writing down the day-to-day of the life into which I have now, officially, settled. The holiday calendar in Korea is lumpy: there are no official holidays on the calendar for over three months and so we are in the last weeks of a long slog toward Christmas vacation. This has meant little travel outside of regular trips to Daegu, and I have written about that. So subject matter has been lacking a bit.This should change as a week's vacation and a lot of three day weekends are around the corner.

When I first got here someone told me to treasure my first weeks here. The wonderful terror of that first transition is fast fleeting. I am very happy that I wrote as much as I did during that time. I didn't have to go farther than my own street for material at that point. Every trip to the corner for water seemed like an incredible adventure. Although every day still seems magical and I am constantly aware of being an alien here, my main preoccupations now have returned to what they were before I came here: friends, work, and my Sig other.

Each of these things are of course completely different from before for a variety of noteworthy reasons. Friendships here are intense and brief. You meet people and, because of the surroundings and the relative anonymity of an expat community in a city this size, feel both more willing to open up to them and at the same time free of certain social responsibilities (like a keeping in touch afterwards). And people are always coming and going. There is a sizable group of foreigners here who aren't going anywhere any time soon, but the majority of the people (especially the youngest set) are only here for a year, so close friendships bloom and fade. I have been blessed with some very wonderful friends while I have been here. I have no reason to believe this will not continue. My gregarious nature has been a great asset to me here, perhaps the greatest. People are always shocked that I will literally talk to anyone. It's a hobby.

Work here is also an utterly foreign experience. Prior to coming to Korea I was a dabbler, holding down two or three part-time jobs and playing a lot in between. There was a period when I was very unhappy with my job here and I think this was partly due to the adjustment to full-time employment. There were also times when I felt that they expected too much for what they were paying me and that they took for granted all of the extras I felt I was already putting in. All of this led me to feel dissatisfied with my position and unhappy in general. But I have now come to believe that life is a matter of perception.

The Buddhist texts that I have been reading say "You are what you think." I was obsessed with the thought that I was being exploited, ridiculed, and overworked. In addition, I reached the point of paranoia that I felt my employers were looking for a reason to get rid of me. Maybe they were, because I wouldn't have blamed them. My attitude was horrible. Then, one day, after reading about Right Livelihood, I realized that this job wasn't about me. At all. I had become a captive of my own negativity. By realizing that my own perceptions of my position were the only thing that mattered I made a choice to make this about what I could offer to others, not what they could offer to me. What they owed me and whether or not I was getting it ceased to matter at that point and my job became a source of joy to me, not an anchor. I work for the kids. And they need me. And, more importantly, I need them.

And then there is 손유진 (Yujin), the real bedrock source of joy in my life now. Being around her is like hooking myself up to a battery charger. Her laughter is a like a song that gets stuck in your head. Her smile is like the clouds parting. We have a lot of challenges to face, but I believe that in the end it will all work out. I look forward to sharing many wonderful experiences with her in the future.

There is one sad thing to report. It was with great regret that I bid farewell to my friend Tom this last week. His shipping company had invited him to work in an exchange program and his six months here were up. We met in September and enjoyed many great adventures together, including one memorable trip to Japan. I, and others here, feel his absence. He is a fine individual.

Six months! Merry Solstice everyone!

The Christmas Show

A great time was had by all at the Christmas Program hosted by KidsClub on Thursday evening. I have posted pictures and they are available in the Photo section. Some of them are from rehearsals on days leading up to the performance. I will relate more of the story behind them soon. Merry Solstice!

Grave Mistake

My friend and I purchased an assortment of flowers and made our way to the largest graveyard in town with the intention of visiting the plot of our friend who passed away in the last year. It was supposed to be his birthday. The flowers were the friend's idea; those are the sort of things that really don't occur to me. The lady behind the desk at in the cometary office scanned the information on

If.

I get most of my news from the New York Times and it was nice to see today on the front page of the online edition that South Korea's central bank has announced yet another massive cut in its prime rate. I am not an economist and I know very little about monetary policy and I am not going to sit here and bitch about how this downturn is affecting poor little me, but from reading the article it has become apparent to me that things are worse than even I thought.

The whole premise of the American bailout is that they can get money from Asia and Europe to plug up the holes. But according to the Times, the double-digit growth period enjoyed by the Chinese economy is a thing of the past. The growth rate in China is expected to drop to as little as 8% next year. This credit crunch will eventually affect the dollar as foreign funds become more and more pricey. That is one side of the Won/Dollar coin. The other is this: for two thousand years South Korea has been the ground meat of a cultural and economic sandwich between Japan and China and that has never been more true than today. Korea also needs capital as an emerging economy and far worse. To compound things, the Korean export economy is far more dependent on Asian demand that of the US.

My complaints about income erosion led my boss to tell me what has become a mantra in South Korea: now is the time to save money. It will bounce back. Wait it out. But what if you have no choice? What if you have to turn your hard won Won into dollars? You want to see grown men cry? Go sit in the waiting room at a Korean exchange bank. As of today the exchange rate is $1/1393. It was sitting at $1/950 when I signed in June. That is a drop of something like a rather large number in front of one of these: %.

So ok. I lied. I am complaining a little. Sorry. But I have a readership (and I really appreciate both of you) and I ultimately have to say how I really feel. People email and ask if coming to Korea is a good idea and I am responding with a resounding "IF." If you don't have to send it home right now. If you are good at saving money and can live frugally. If you enjoy working really, really hard and like teaching for teaching's sake, then by all means get your butt over here. If not, go work at Walmart. You can save a lot of money with your employee discount.

The real problem, of course, isn't the world's economy, but my own personal lack of fiscal discipline. I put off sending anything home as long as I could but I can wait no longer. And IF I would have save more this wouldn't have been as painful but... The economy, the paraphrase the poet who wrote it, is a big shit pie and everyone gets a bite.

So if it is time for dinner, lets look at the entire meal and not just desserts. I have said before and I will say it again: I love this place. The food, the city life, the people. And if you have to live on the cheap somewhere, this is a pretty good place. I could be getting paid in pesos or godforbid American dollars. The inflation rate in Korea is so low that it is actually too low. This is a two-edged sword as well: while the local buying power of your income is steady there is little justification for employers to increase salaries. I am wondering how this currency situation is going to effect salary offerings for foreign teachers. We could, after all, go teach elsewhere. But I predict that as the unemployment rate continues to climb in the US many young people might see this as a great option regardless of the economics and thus serve to hold down demand over here. Or maybe blogs like this one will influence people to take a good hard look at the realities of thier finances before making the jump. This, of course, would have done me little good in June. And I did look at the exchange rate and show it to my friends and go: "Look, it's a goldmine." A goldmine with some serious structural issues maybe, but how was I to know?

The other way to look at it is that there is probably no where to go but up. And the action by the ROK central bank yesterday bears out that they are going to do everything they can to stop the skid. Short of a worldwide economic collapse there has to be a light at the end of the tunnel so coming over here now really wouldn't be all that bad of an idea. If....

Dog Day Afternoon

On Saturday Sarah and I took advantage of a spectacular clear and crisp (and cold) afternoon to go explore a side of Korea we’d heard much about but had yet to see for ourselves. The practice of eating dog meat is one which has earned Korea a considerable amount of infamy in the West and with Busan’s largest dog market only four stops from our apartment, it was something we couldn’t resist seeing for ourselves.

Gupo market lies a short walk from Deokcheon subway station, the other side of the hill from our neighbourhood in an area we’ve up until recently left largely unexplored. This side of the mountain things seem to get a little less polished than the downtown and beachside areas, with the city gradually giving way to rice paddies and other agricultural land the further north you go. The market itself is a sprawling maze of alleyways and backstreets where everything from live frogs to house slippers fill the buckets, tanks and tables of the work-beaten market ajummas.

While our original plan had been to find something to eat before hitting the dog market, after only a few minutes walking the cawing of chickens heralded the onset of the livestock section and with it a heavy dose of culture shock. Rabbits, chickens, ducks, geese and black goats were all on offer but while the array of live animals was astounding, as we’d expected it was the dogs themselves that proved the most striking.

They were large, reasonably young looking animals, confined seven or eight to a cage and resembling a cross between a wolf and a labrador. They looked surprisingly domestic, and for the entire time we were there remained eerily silent. Behind the cages, dog carcasses lay either splayed and ready to be butchered or (more unrecognisably) hanging from hooks and laid out on meat counters.

Sarah and I were unsure about whether we’d actually eat dog soup, but after seeing the dogs we decided to pass. I don’t have any qualms per se about the practice, providing everything is done humanely (though by the looks of it this may not be the case,) but the truth is I like them too much to eat them myself. There is something dopey, faithful and reassuring about dogs and to turn on them like that would just seem like a betrayal

Tang Su Yuk (Sweet & Sour Chicken) 탕수육


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Tang Su Yuk (Sweet & Sour Chicken) 탕수육

WHAT'S IN IT?

(For 4 people)

Fried Chicken

Chicken (boneless thigh) 1 lb or 500 g
** if you prefer chicken breast, feel free to use it.
** you can also use pork or beef if you prefer.

Eggs 6

Potato Starch 2 cups
** you can get potato starch at Korean markets

Salt & Pepper

Oil 1L to 1.5L (depending on the size of your deep fryer or pot)

Sweet & Sour Sauce

Vinegar 1 cup
Sugar 1 cup
Water 2 cups
Potato starch 1 Tablespoon (mixed with 1/4 to 1/2 cup of water)
Soy Sauce 1 Tablespoon (optional)
Salt & Pepper
Vegetable Oil 1-2 Tablespoons
Chopped Garlic 1/2 Tablespoon
Onions 1/4
Zukini 1/4
Carrots 1/4
Red Pepper 1/2
Green Pepper 1/2
Apple 1
Sesame seeds (optional)
** These vegetables can be easily substituted with others available.
** You can use other fruit such as pineapples, mangos and lemons.


HOW DO I MAKE IT?

1. Slice all the vegetables and fruit.
2. Cut chicken into small pieces and sprinkle salt and pepper over both sides of chicken
3. Pre-heat vegetable oil for deep frying (350 F or 180 C)

(Sauce making)

4. Add a little bit of oil in a pan (med to high heat)
5. Add chopped garlic
6. Add all vegetables and stir fry for 5 minutes
7. Add 2 cups of water, 1 cup of vinegar and i cup of sugar and mix well.
8. Bring it to boil and reduce the heat to low.
9. Add a tablespoon of soy sauce for color and season with salt (about a table spoon) and pepper.
** it should be just a bit saltier than normal food since it goes over chicken to season it. If you are not sure, add gradually.
10. MIx a tablespoon of potato starch with 1/4 of COLD water in a small bowl (add a little more water if potato starch is not completely dissolved.)
11. Add starch mix to the sauce slowly on low heat.
12. Mix well and let me simmer on lowest heat to keep it warm.

(Chicken)

12. Spread potato starch on a plate and drench chicken pieces lightly.
13. Beat 6 eggs and season with salt and pepper. (1 teaspoon each)
14. Dip drenched chicken pieces in the egg.
15. Deep fry the chicken about 10 minutes
** try a small piece. If it floats on the surface, it means the temperature is hot enough.
16. For chicken (and pork), make sure it's cooked all the way. No pinkness! It can make you sick.
17. Take the pieces out of the oil when they are golden brown and drain all fat.
18. Serve on a plate and pour the sauce on top.
19. You can sprinkle sesame seeds on top for accents.

YUMMY!

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