Stray Day in S.K.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

winter hiking

This is for those of you who have been wondering what I've been doing since Thanksgiving. Much of my free time between November and February was spent either hiking with Mr. Son or making my own hiking equipment on the sewing machine I bought.

Generally, Koreans like to take along lots of great food for lunch during these hikes. In these particular pictures, we were having steak and scotch whiskey.

Also, you might be wondering about the picture of two Korean girls... the guys in the local hiking club usually like to hang out with a group of doctors and nurses from one of Gangneung's largest hospitals. For some reason, when the group of them gets drunk, they try to hook me up with the girl on the right. Even if I am not around, they will drunk-dial me to tell me that she misses me. Well, its nice to know that my friends are thinking of me!

Monday, February 22, 2010

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

American Thanksgiving in Korea

Thanksgiving is my favorite American holiday (with July 4th as runner up.) Of all of the holidays, I think Thanksgiving has the best food traditions and it still focuses, more or less, on food and family. I was very lucky to be invited to Thanksgiving at my good friend Maria's house.

We had two turkeys, two kinds of salad, real macaroni and cheese, broccoli, a pumpkin pie, an apple pie, and mashed potatoes. At first it was a little weird. I think it was hard to put on the same good graces that come so easily with family and friends. When the food finally came out, I think everyone was thinking about how much food they could get and whether there would be enough. I think strangers can sometimes take the liberty of being cranky with each other just because they are strangers. The room was silent when we ate. I thought this was really strange and it made me miss my own family! Anyway, after everyone was fed, all of that crankiness evaporated and the rest of the night was really nice. Everyone was very relaxed and friendly. I managed to keep my food intake at a normal level, and avoided getting a stomach ache... a winning strategy.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Heads on the floor

Two weekends ago, my friend David and I went exploring in Gangneung's street market. It is a huge place, and it is possible to find some very strange things there. This is one thing we discovered.

More cyclists in Korea

One of the ways that I have been fighting home sickness has been to get myself involved in the local biking scene. Whenever I see another rider, I try to say hello. Usually they are pretty curious about me too. Here are some of the people I have met.

This fellow was riding his fancy triathlon bike right through the heart of downtown Gangneung. I was really surprised to see this, since the vast majority of cyclists in my area seem only to be interested in Mountain bikes. Anyway, this rider was wearing an aerodynamic teardrop helmet along with his face mask and sun glasses. It is typical for cyclist to completely cover up, even when it is very hot.
I met this cyclist on a recent ride I went on. I was on the return trip, riding along the beach road when I spotted his bike and trailer. I had to stop and investigate...

It turns out he was on a bike tour of South Korea. I think we would've gotten along pretty well, but he was going the opposite direction and we parted after getting coffee together. Anyway I thought his bike touring setup was pretty awesome. It is a good example of what can be done with a bike.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Visitors from France

Wow, its been a while since my last post. Well, there is a lot to talk about.

About one month ago, during a hiking field trip with the students, I met two French cyclists, Florent and Aurelie. We ran into each other in a parking lot at the edge of Soraksan Park. When I saw these two westerners on big touring bikes, loaded down with dry bags and touring gear, I had to investigate. I think they were as curious about me as I was about them and they seemed happy to talk to a fellow traveler. They explained that they were on a world wide bike tour and that they had ridden from France to Korea. We stood in the parking lot speaking for about ten minutes. Then we parted ways, or so we thought! Since I had just finished the hike, the other teachers wanted to sit down and get pancakes and rice wine. They had spotted me talking to Florent and Aurelie and, in standard Korean fashion, invited them to join us for a snack. We spoke for another 20 minutes over rice wine, exchanged contact information, talked about France and Korea, and finally said goodbye. They were planning to hike into Soraksan, and then continue their journey south.

It was a great surprise when I got an email from Florent a few days later. He and Aurelie were planning to stop in my home city of Gangneung! They were hoping to find a place to stay in the city, since camping in urban areas was difficult. I offered my apartment and after a few emails we arranged a meeting spot and a time.

They arrived on a Thursday night. After we unpacked all of their gear, I took them out for chim dak, which is Korean chicken stew with noodles. We spent most of the evening eating, talking, and listening to music. It was really an excellent night. Talking to them reminded me of my own adventures, traveling across Europe and of all the people who helped me then. I was glad to have the chance to host Florent and Aurelie, and pay some of that hospitality forward.
Look at all the stuff they were carrying! It basically filled up my apartment!
Here they are discussing the classic KISS soda can alcohol stove.
Here are their bikes being loaded up the next morning.
Have a good trip you two! I hope we meet again!

Sunday, October 18, 2009

More old style Korean culture with Mr. Son

This weekend was relatively quiet. I spent Saturday morning trying to remove the fixed cup in my new bike's bottom bracket shell. On Sunday, I spent the day selecting records for a new DJ mix. Then in the evening, Mr Son called...

He had gone fishing that afternoon and brought back a bucket full of fish and another bucket of snails. He invited me to a friend's restaurant where they were working on turning the fish into dinner. When I arrived at the restaurant, I went out into the back courtyard. Two men were squatting by a drainage grate. On closer inspection, I saw that they were gutting the fish. They had just started so the majority of the fish were still alive, shifting about in a bucket of rock salt. The men were running their thumbs up the belly of each fish. The force would reverse the innards out of the fish's anus. I did not see them use knives at any point during the gutting process.

After gutting, the fish had to be descaled. The men did this by repeatedly rubbing the fish with rock salt and rinsing them down. When the fish were gutted and cleaned, the men moved on to cutting the vegetables and heating up water. An aluminum pot filled with small snails was already boiling and was ready for seasoning. Another burner and pot were set up for the fish. At this point, Mr. son explained how the fish would be cooked and eaten. Our meal would consist of two soups. The first would be snail soup. The second would be the fish soup. Traditionally, the kind of fish we had are boiled, mashed into paste, and then boiled again. Finally, greens and spices are added and allowed to cook a little more.

When everything had cooked down, we ate. The snail soup was excellent. The flavor of the snail soup was completely new to me. The fish paste soup was much hardier than I had expected. Rice was also served and everyone mixed some into their soup. Mr. Son produced some kind wild berry liquor that he made himself and, of course, Soju was also served. Eventually, the wives and children of some of the men showed up to join us. Having entire families at the table really transformed the meal into a kind of community event. It made me think about how different food culture and food preparation are in the United States. I think this is one of the few meals I have had where the main ingredients were gathered rather than raised. The simplicity of the meal has definitely raised my interest in more traditional food dishes and preparations. Until next time...