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Pajeon and on.

I have wanted to write about pajeon, the Korean seafood pancake, ever since I started this blog. It was one of the first street foods I ever tried in Korea and since then I’ve eaten it in a countless number of bars, restaurants and tents throughout the city. It’s hands down my favorite Korean food and when someone doesn’t like it, I can’t help but take it a little personally, such is my relationship with the stuff.

Although the best pajeon (the ones walking the crispy tightrope and loaded with prawns and octopus) are usually found in places with four walls and a roof, I can’t help but retain an affection for the street variety. It’s quick, cheap and delicious, and in my mind the best place to get it is in Nampodong, an old port area home to several markets (including Jagalchi Fish Market) and what’s soon to be one of the tallest buildings in the world (if it’s ever completed that is.)

On a recent visit to Nampo I went to one of my regular pajeon haunts and ordered myself one of the usuals. Some places stack’em high and wait for the orders to roll in but these ones were being cooked to order, and a slightly worryingly short time my paejon was ready and good to go.

My doubts about the cooking time proved to be unfounded, as I found the paejon to have a very agreeable consistency; golden on the outside yet soft and doughy in the middle. It was also riddled with super-thin spring onions punctured by an occasional flash of carrot and red chili, giving it a good onion-y taste with a bit of occasionally spiciness. The most surprising thing about pajeon however was the lack of any octopus. Pajeon usually abounds in the chewy tender stuff but this one was completely without, though I have to say managed nevertheless to hold its own in its absence.

Complimenting the pajeon was a bowl of deep, dark, delish soy sauce spiked with chilis onions and sesame seeds. I literally couldn’t get enough of it and found myself drowning my pajeon in it. The friendly lady next to me also took the liberty of dribbling a little dukbokki sauce on my plate from a nearby vat, which though agreeable enough, reminded me too much of dukbokki to ever really be a contender.

2nd Annual Korean National Toastmasters Conference

The reason I'm pretty enthusiastic about Toastmasters in general is because they're a non-profit organisation aimed at improving your leadership, social networking, public speaking and communication skills.

And they are fond of alcohol.

Although the first Toastmasters club opened in Korea in 1992, it was only last year that they held the first conference and speech contest. I attended this year out of sheer curiousity.

The venue was the Prima hotel in Gangnam. Quite a nice place with large seminar rooms and outdoor bar space on the top floor. And those columns are Corinthian, I believe.

The day began at 3pm with a few seminars run by current Toastmasters. The first one was on personality, with the aim being to identify your particular character type.

We picked some random cards at each table and had to prioritise them from top to bottom, on how we would describe ourselves. It turns out that each different colour belongs to the same character type.

Then we were allowed to swap and trade our cards with others and try to settle down with cards that we were most happy with. It turns out that I'm pretty green, which means that I like to structure my life. Or something.
I often muse that personality tests are rather difficult things to carry out in a scientifically rigorous fashion. Or they may just be a way for people to feel good about themselves.

What's the difference between procedural and sequential?

Then it was time for one of the dudes from our club to show everyone what a seminar is. Ron Cahoon is a management teacher at Dong-Guk University and his presentations are among the best I've seen. He has a very fast and engaging style with plenty of humour.

He ran a seminar on leadership, the basic premise being that leadership is a choice. I think the best leaders are the ones who feel burdened by the responsibility, but still do a good job anyway.

Then we gathered in the dining hall for dinner and the speech competition. There were around 200 attendees from 15 clubs around Korea. They're aiming for a goal of 60 Korean clubs, which means that we'll collectively have 'district' status.

Here are some of the more notable guests of the evening. There was one guy who had been a Toastmaster for 30 years in a lot of different countries. He just passed his 350th club speech.

Up on stage here is Steven Kim, the founder of SYK Global. I'm not familiar with the company, but this guy is now a philanthropist, which means he probably has more money than he should have.
If I'm ever rich, I'll give away my money too. I heard that Jackie Chan is planning to give away all of his wealth before he dies.

Now that's going to look good on your epitaph.

This photo is a little dark but on the right is Ju-Ha Kim, a popular news anchor here in Korea. She was quite friendly and spoke English fairly well. During the night, she gave a speech in English about how she thought Toastmasters was a good idea.

The dinner was a buffet menu. I think I've said it before, but almost every hotel's buffet menu is very similar in Korea. It's not a bad thing, because the food is good. But it always gets me wondering about the central buffet school that all of these chefs attended at some point.

If I planned things more carefully, I would have arranged my plate in a more aesthetically pleasing fashion before taking a photo. Next time, I promise.

Here's me standing with Jin-Sook Lee, a journalist who attends the Pacific Sunset Toastmasters. Apparently she travels out to places like Afghanistan to report, but I don't have time for television these days so I haven't been able to see her work.

If I wasn't a scientist, I'd be a journalist. I like the whole idea of finding stuff out and then working it into a story for others.

Here are some of the attendees from our club, the South River Toastmasters. On the left is Richard, who was the host of the speech competition. Then it's me, who is 'do study good'. To the right of me is Annette, who works for a headhunting agency, then Jewel, who is a professional trainer with Dale Carnegie Training and on the far right is Ji-Hyeon, who recently joined a company that sells turbines for wind energy. These are the kinds of people you can meet if you join a Toastmasters club.

Here is Michael Jones, from Sincheon Toastmasters, practicing his speech in his head before going on stage. I had met him once during a club event and remember that he was a distinctively friendly person. Incidentally, he went on to beat the 15 other contestants and won the first prize.

His speech was on procrastination and going to the gym. Very well structured and quite funny.

And here's Michael collecting his prize at the end of the night. One of the rules was for no photography during the talks, because it can distract the speakers.

Here are all the speakers from the night. The speeches were of an impressive quality. All of the themes were inspiring.

If I had to summarise the wisdom gleaned from the night, then it would go something like:

1) Be persistent
2) Don't worry too much
3) Laugh more

All of these things we already know, but it's always nice to be reminded in an entertaining way.

And to wrap up this blog post is Frank Lev from Sincheon Toastmasters. Frank was giving a speech about fashion and personality. He had multiple layers of clothing on and was taking them off as he was describing different aspects of himself. In the end, he was down to his boxer shorts and a singlet. The foregone conclusion was that underneath all the layers of personality we have, is our true selves. But he was told to leave the stage by one of the judges who thought it was a little too much.
He left politely, and I have to say that I disagree with the decision. Taking clothes off while onstage may be a little distasteful, but all you need to do is tell the contestant to put some back on before continuing the speech.
But he wasn't disqualified from the competition and was allowed to finish his speech after the conference ended. The photo above is of him at the end. Good strength of character.

That's all from me this time. <- Go to a Toastmasters near you!

Signs of Progress

This is a pretty crummy picture but what it represents is a bit of a milestone for me. Since I had the surgery my condition has improved dramatically and Yujin and I went on a long walk with mild exertion on Saturday and a long hike with serious exertion on Sunday (up the cable car and over and down the other side and back up to Seokbulsa, the temple carved in stone) and neither time did I suffer even mild symptoms. It wasn't very hot though, which is the true test. It was great to be able to get out and do some hiking.

I have completely lost the tourist attitude and I forget sometimes to even bring my camera along. I actually took pictures at the South Gate while I was out yesterday but I was so blown away by the temple I forgot to get it out. I sat for a long time in the temple. It was so quiet and peaceful. I would like to go to that place again.

We had left my scooter at the gate of the park where the cable car goes up but after we hiked all the way down the other side of the mountain and then half way back up in another place to go to that temple we only had three hours to get all the way back up to take the cable car down again to the scooter. I know there was probably a short cut to the top from the temple but as you know nothing is marked and I couldn't risk a descent in the dark if we missed the last cable car down at 7pm and Yujin was wearing Brikenstock's which she always does but the descent to the temple was basically "bouldering" and she wore out her little toes and although my balls were fine my knees were not and I was already into the Advil.

So we walked down further from the temple (still on the wrong side of the mountain) and came to a little noodle shack at the end of the paved road up from the other side. There was a taxi parked there with nobody in it and I asked a guy sitting there where was the driver and he said he didn't know (Yujin was in the bathroom) and I sat there and here comes this guy drunk off his ass and he goes over to the taxi and tries to get in and it is locked of course and he starts kicking the door and cussing. He then tried the doors of all the other cars. I am just sitting there watching all of this.

When Yujin came out of the bathroom the guy and his wife I had been talking to said they would give us a ride but it was a delicate situation given the belligerent nature of the drunk so we hiked down the road a way and when they finished their noodles they picked us up. They dropped us off very near the scooter and it was a minimum cab ride to the pick-up. We thanked them profusely and I gave them my two hiking apples. Home and then to the Bali Sauna and Jimjilbang for a scrubbing, steam bath, and massage chair. I slept soundly.

Dakbal: Chicken Feet

“Put enough spicy sauce on anything and it will taste good” I repeat to myself as I prepare for my first Dakbal moment. Slowly, I pick up one of the spindly chicken feet in front of me and, checking for toenails, prepare to put yet another alien object into my mouth (no jokes please, I’m aware of how that sounds.)

To be honest, Dakbal was an easier jump to make than the above paragraph lets on. First off, the feet were suffocated with a red hot sticky spicy sauce (I had a bit of a Lady Macbeth moment in the bathroom afterwards) so I knew hot would be the dominant sensation. Secondly, they looked like they had more meat on them than some of the odds and ends you find in a box of mediocre fried chicken, and last but not least, the toenails had been removed, something I usually insist on in a pre-dinner snack.

As for the eating of the things, that was a different story. I first attempted using chopsticks, but despite my ever-improving skills was unable to angle it sufficiently enough to get a bite in edgeways. Next I downed tools and plunged in fingers first, making a pass at the chicken feet head on. This time however my teeth barely scraped the skin and I ended up with a face full of hot sauce that reminded me of when I dressed up as the Joker at Halloween. Thankfully my next attempt proved more successful, and I was soon dismembering, biting and slurping my way through the whole batch.

Once in, most of what was going on had to do with the hot sauce they were covered in. It was like that crimson, sticky, slightly sweet lava you sometimes get at fried chicken places, with a fair number of chilli seeds and slices thrown in for good measure -REALLY hot! The meat meanwhile clung together in little pockets of goodness and was by in large, tender and easy on the way down, with some slightly crispy skin giving it a bit of extra character to boot.

At 1000 won for ten, you really can’t ask for much more.

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