Video: The Battle of the Oyster

Last weekend I went camping with friends to Geoje Island.  I will do a full write-up at some point, but until then, check out this video of a Korean woman shucking oysters at the harbor market.  Two of my friends ordered them as a snack.  Who knew it was this hard?

(I am switching to Vimeo from Youtube for video hosting… let me know what you think in a comment!)

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A Korean Apartment

I taught a lesson on rooms and furniture with my 12-13 year olds today.  At the end of class, I had them draw and label their apartments.  It was educational for me as well; I didn’t realize that many of my students have their own room, but don’t sleep in it.  Instead, they sleep on mats on the floor of other rooms.  Their room is just for their things and where they study.  A few of my students even share a bed with their parents! Of course, some have their own bedroom (with a bed) like an American child.

One of my students drew a particularly detailed floor plan.  Her apartment is fairly typical, but it’s a little smaller than most of my other students’.  Click to enlarge.

A Korean student’s apartment

Here’s another good one.  This apartment houses 6 people.  The three children sleep on mats on the floor.  I teach two of them. 

Can you believe six people live here?

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Kimbap (김밥) is Korean comfort food.  It’s tasty and inexpensive, and can be purchased almost anywhere.  I’m assuming it’s not that hard to make, either, although I have never tried.  Kim (sometimes spelled gim) is Korean for laver seaweed, which is the dried seawood on the outside (similar to Japanese sushi rolls).  Bap refers to the steamed rice.  Inside can be all sorts of fillings – egg, vegetables, meat or tuna, and the list goes on.  Unlike sushi, all ingredients are cooked. But like sushi, kimbap is delicious! Kimbap varies in price from 1200-2500 won (~ 1-2 USD) for a roll of several pieces.

Platter of sliced kimbap

I recently found this great video showing the production of rice and kim for kimbap.  The seaweed scenes are filmed in Busan, and the rest of it is filmed in Daegu.  I hope you enjoy!

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Video: Day Trip at Apsan

Daegu, like most Korean cities, is completely surrounded by mountains.  One of the most frequented is Apsan (앞산), or Front Mountain.  Apsan is on the southern edge of the city and offers some great views on clear days.  Unfortunately for me it wasn’t super clear, but the views were impressive anyway.

Many people choose to hike to the top, but I opted for the cable car ride.  Round-trip was ~7,000 won.  At the top, there was a cafe/restaurant with some great views as well.  Around the base of the mountain is a park and Korean War memorial/museum.  The entire park was busy with people and even a random festival.  Korea loves its random festivals…

View from Observation Area

I also put together a short video that embodies the feel of the entire day.  Unfortunately, I forgot to charge Andy’s camera, so I had to use my digital camera for the latter part of the video.  There’s a clear drop in quality 🙁 But this was mostly to help me learn iMovie and become better at video… nothing major.  It’s about 9 minutes long, feel free to watch.

Edit: I’m having some issues with the audio/video being out of snyc… working on that.  I think it’s tolerable for now but not ideal.  Sorry about that.

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Book Review: Nothing to Envy

I recently read Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea by Barbara Demick.  This came recommended to me by a fellow expat in Daegu.  For anyone interested in North Korean culture, this is a must-read.  Demick follows the lives of six real North Korean defectors in a compelling, human way.  The book is not about politics as much as about people, living similar lives as those of friends and family.

Even though my own life in Korea is nothing like the lives of people in this book, I wanted to read it to understand more about South Korean culture.  South Korea truly believes in and desires reunification of the two Koreas.  I also wanted to learn more about the elusive North, and the personal stories speak volumes where the statistics fall flat.  I recommend this book to anyone interested in different cultures.  Just be warned, it’s not exactly a happy book – North Korea is a police state that denies its citizens basic rights and sometimes even food.  Yet North Koreans are resourceful – unbelievably so.

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Gyeongju: The Museum Without Walls

 This post contains a lot of photos, because many of my readers are not on Facebook yet! It also contains a few links, so feel free to click those to find out more information about the topics you are reading about.  And as always, you can click on the photos to enlarge them and bring up a slideshow of sorts.  Happy reading!

On Saturday, Andy and I traveled to Gyeongju, about an hour away.  Gyeongju (경주) is the former capital of the ancient Silla Kingdom, which reigned from 57 BC – 935 AD.  Korea was ruled by three kingdoms throughout history, and at one point, Silla held 2/3 of the peninsula (including modern day North Korea).  Being the capital city, Gyeongju contains all sorts of architectural and historical treasures.  For this reason, Gyeongju is also known as “the museum without walls” – you don’t have to walk far to find something amazing.

Gyeongju is on the right, in North Gyeongsong province

May 5 also happens to be Children’s Day in South Korea.  Usually there is no school, but this year it happened to fall on a Saturday.  Parents frequently buy their children gifts, and take them out to fairs, zoos, or other kid-friendly locales.  Gyeongju was very crowded with families and little ones.

From Dongdaegu Station, we took the Mugunghwa (slow train) to Bulguksa Station.  Then we took the 10 or 11 bus (I forget which, but they’re the same route) to the temple grounds.  From there you must walk up a vendor-lined lane through a park.  The park was full of picnickers, street food, and souvenirs.

Chestnuts, beondegi, and other snacks for sale

Bulguksa (불국사) is a beautiful Buddhist temple located on the slopes of Tohamsan (Toham Mountain).  Not only is it a UNESCO World Heritage Site, it contains 7 national treasures of Korea and enjoys tourists from every corner of the globe.  Originally built in the 7th and 8th centuries, many buildings were burned by the Japanese in the 1500s and later reconstructed, although the stone structures are original.  It costs 4000 won to enter.  If you’re looking for a peaceful and calm environment, I highly suggest skipping Bulguksa on a holiday… Bulguksa on Children’s Day was such a tremendous contrast to sleepy Donghwasa.  But it was enjoyable nonetheless.

Foreground: Three-storied Pagoda, Background: Dabotap Pagoda (on the 10w coin)
A bronze-gilt seated Buddha statue
Andy and his rock pile – each one represents a wish!
Sarira Pagoda, stolen by the Japanese and later reclaimed
Bridge over a koi pond

From the base of Bulguksa, you can take the #12 bus to Seokguram Grotto, our next stop.  Admission is also 4000 won.  Seokguram Grotto (석굴암) is another UNESCO World Heritage Site, and definitely worth a visit.  It is also possible to hike, but the 80 degree heat and steep slopes dissuaded us.

Seokguram Grotto is about 2,500 feet (750m) above sea level, and on a clear day it is possible to see all the way to the Sea of Japan.  It was too hazy for us, but you are still rewarded with a great view of inland Korea and Gyeongju.  Construction of the grotto began in 742 (or 751), and the structure is original.  No mortar was used to build the grotto, including the domed roof – instead it is made of a series of interlocking bricks.  The actual (seated) Buddha inside is about 12 feet tall.  Since it is so ancient, the grotto is blocked by a panel of glass to protect it from visitors.  Once a year, on Buddha’s birthday, the glass is removed.  Photos are prohibited, but I will include one from the internet so you can see what it looks like inside.  In my opinion, you should visit this grotto on a less-crowded day to really appreciate the detail and tranquil nature.  I felt like I was at the gorilla exhibit at the zoo.

Andy ringing a giant bell!
Inland Korea… past the mountains is the sea
The grotto is inside that building, the mound is the domed roof
Seated Buddha at point of Enlightenment, 1300 years old
You can buy a tile and write a message, to be used later for building repairs

We then caught the 12 bus back to Bulguksa and the 10 or 11 to Gyeongju Station.  Walked through the Seongdong Market for a spell, ate in a traditional restaurant (I tried daseulgi tang, or black snail soup – it was actually pretty good!), bought some Gyeongju bread (filled with red bean), and headed home.  There were other things I had hoped to see in Gyeongju, but there simply weren’t enough hours in the day.  Luckily it’s not too far away!

A pig’s face brings new business owners good luck – at Seongdong Market
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Market Day

On Wednesday, my school had a Market Day.  Many schools have their own version, and I think my hagwon did a great job! Instead of classes, all of the students (grades 1-6) were given fake money (depending on how many points they’ve earned all semester) and were able to buy stationery and food.  Stationery is serious business here in Korea… they go nuts for it! So it was definitely appropriate.

What you see when you exit the elevator – Market Day!
Welcome to the KYJ Party!

I manned the stationery/cookie table, while Andy handled drinks and cotton candy.  Yes, my school rented a cotton candy machine just for this occasion.  Yu Jin and Min Young cooked mandu (Korean dumplings) and ddeokbokki (rice cakes in spicy sauce with cabbage, garlic, and fish cakes).  They also sold corn dogs, which Koreans call hot dogs.  It was definitely a Korean kids’ feast!

Working in the stationery shop
Making cotton candy
One of my students, Min Hoon, absolutely destroying his cotton candy
Our ddeokbokki – delicious!

After the party ended, we stayed late to help clean and set everything up for tomorrow.  We ordered mul nyeangmyeon (물 냉면) for dinner, which is one of my favorite dishes.  A great summer food, nyeangmyeon is a cold dish of buckwheat noodles.  Mul nyeangmyeon is served in the icy broth (mul means water in Korean).  A refreshing end to a long day.

Mul nyeangmyeon

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Daily Life in Korea

Check out some random photos of life in Korea:

A man prepares creme-filled dinosaurs for sale in Seomun Market, Daegu
Filling a bag with guk hwa bbang, a red bean-filled snack, at Seomun Market, Daegu
Spreading oil on a griddle at Jagalchi fish market, in Busan
A Turkish man performing tricks to boost ice cream sales and delight (or disappoint) children
A very un-PC Korean merchant dressed as a Native American

And a lighter note…

A dyed poodle in the latest canine fashions on Haeundae Beach, Busan

Dogs like this are pretty common sights all over Korea.  In Daegu, I recently saw a little white dog with four yellow rainboots.  It was not pleased and was walking in a ridiculous manner, although the owner certainly didn’t seem to notice.

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