A relaxing vacation...

February 1, 2013

Jordan and I eating ribs with Seo Yun and Jeyong in Andong

School is soon to resume, which I'm looking forward to.  My vacation was relaxing and fairly uneventful, which as many of you know, is not a good way for me to function.  And, in fact, makes me feel like I'm about to crawl out of my skin.  So, the gym and a couple forays into uncharted cooking territories along with the purchase of some much needed new workout clothes and shoes helped ease my temporary feelings of discontent.  This weekend Jordan, Jeyong, and I are headed west for a little road trip.  We're going to visit the bicycle museum and a handful of other great places.  So, look forward to more great pics and, of course, FOOD!  LOL...

Jordan looking questioningly at his rib bone... i gae muot?

Sundubu Guk dinner (sundubu is a soft tofu soup with beef and fresh seafood)

Close-up of Sundubu with a side of Gochujang

Sigeumchi Namul side dish I prepared (spinach)

Jordan, Seo Yun, Jeyong, and I playing Apples to Apples.  Great minds think alike! LOL

Another brilliant round!

Sogogi, kongnamul muchim, and kongnamul guk (marinated beef with vegetables, bean sprout side dish and bean sprout soup)

There are four twenty foot long tables in this room and every one of them looked like this.  Banchan means side dish and they are gratis with meals.  A good Korean restaurant will serve many banchan.  However, it is not just quantity, but quality that makes a restaurant good.  This Bibimbap restaurant serves EXCELLENT banchan and their variety is simply astounding ^^

Tonight (Friday night), Jeyong, Jordan, and I went to Yonggung to eat SunDae (Korean blood sausage).  I've had Korean Sundae before, but this restaurant's is absolutely delicious and melts in your mouth.  It puts the South American blood sausage I've eaten to shame.

Bakdal Sundae Guk Bap (blood sausage, sow's ears, random pig meat soup with a side of rice).  WINNER!  I know, it doesn't sound like a culinary masterpiece, but don't knock it 'til you've tried it folks.  It's a hearty soup, but with a delicate broth.

Every day during vacation I spend hours studying Korean at Yogerpresso Coffee Shop, which is run by Seo Yun and her sister Yeong Ah.  So, Thursday I took a break from studying to sketch Seo Yun.


Winter Vacation...

January 18, 2013

I decided to switch my vacation days from February to January, since I'm no longer planning on going to Vietnam or the US.  Thankfully the principal isn't here this week, so I only had to ask the Vice Principal, who is a total sweetheart.  To butter up the faculty I decided to make some 떡국 (ddeokguk), which is a traditional Korean soup made with beef brisket and Korean dumplings.  I actually brought the ingredients into school this morning (yes, I took the bus) and cooked it in my classroom.  

I invited all the teachers and faculty, but I believe they either questioned my cooking skills or were concerned there wouldn't be enough.  So, in the end it was an intimate gathering of 6.  As a result I had a lot left over, so I walked over to Jeyong's parents' store with the remainder.  I don't know if Jeyong's mom called in the troops, but when I stepped into their store front I was greeted by roughly 10 Yongmoon men I'd never met.  They were giggling at the rather surprised American girl who'd arrived, arms laden with a huge pot of soup, rice, fried egg, and roasted seaweed.  

I hope, for my sake, that the soup tasted good... otherwise I may never live it down!!!!!  

My first birthday in Korea...

January 18, 2013

A few years ago a good friend of mine told me that odd numbers are sexy, especially when it comes to your age.  

Sooooo, here's to turning 35!


So my super awesome friends Seo Yun and Jeyong surprised me with a beautiful cake from Paris Baguette and a waffle loaded with strawberries (Yay FRUIT!!!!).  This is actually very apropos and reminded me of when I was a little girl and I'd beg my grandma to make me a strawberry shortcake.  I'd sit in front of a 3-tiered masterpiece coated with a thick layer of fluffy white whipped cream frosting and loaded down with the freshest strawberries from Mr. Singletary's farm just down the road, with eyes wide open and mouth watering.  All I could think was... "It's mine - mine - all MINE!!!!", but half way through the first slice my stomach would be begging for someone to grab the fork out of my hand and stop the torture.  :)  Afterwards, we finished off the evening with a couple bottles of (not so scrumptious) wine and UNO.  I've decided I should teach my friends how to play SPOONS.  Aunt Raison, you may need to teach me again ^^.


The weekend was relaxing, and was actually an extended one, as I took Friday (my birthday) off from work.  Since I'm merely acting as a desk warmer, it's not as though anyone missed me.  Sunday, Jeyong loaded Jordan and me into his car and we headed to Andong to go to his friend's wedding.  I know I've posted pics of a Korean wedding before, but I'll give you a little insight into the experience, for those of you not familiar with the ritual.  Before I do this (since the explanation is quite lengthy) I'll show you pics of the Andong dam, which is where we went after the ceremony.  

This section is where they film historical dramas 
From the pagoda at the center of the bridge which connects both shorelines 
The dam can be seen far off in the distance 


Korean weddings are held at event halls, where other weddings and anniversaries or birthdays can be taking place simultaneously.  In this case, the wedding we were attending was taking place on the 3rd floor and another wedding was occurring on the 1st floor.  Both were starting at the same time.  After paying 50,000 - 100,000 korean won at the door (gifts are not expected, but money is - $50 to $100), we milled around until the wedding ceremony began.  

The bride's preparation is often on display for the wedding attendees to enjoy.  So, you can watch the bride's makeup being applied and her veil being placed on her head along with any final touch-ups and adjustments.  The bride is then taken into a room specifically designed for photographing her.  It usually features a bench or chair for her to sit in and friends, family, and the wedding party can gather around her for pictures.  When the photos have been completed, it is usually time for the wedding to begin.  The first wedding ("western style") is set up much like a traditional western ceremony.  But, upon closer examination you can see a variety of differences.  A long elevated or catwalk style aisle stretches all the way from the front to the back of the room.  It ends at a stage, where there is another riser and a table behind which the officiator stands.  The parents of each sit on opposite sides of the room away from the attendees and closest to their children.  To the left there is always an A/V section where someone manages the slideshow, music, sound, and lighting.  

Now, American weddings traditionally take an hour to all day, but Korean style is 빨리빨리빨리 (bali bali bali)... or fast fast fast.  In other words: hurry up, I wanna eat and get out of here!  So, once the bride and groom appear it's expected that the ceremony will be over in no more than 30 minutes.  Talking during the ceremony is normal.  In fact, it's normal in any performance!  Initially it distracted me to no end, but I've acclimated and even begun to join in without feeling guilty.  

The ceremony involves the groom walking down the aisle first (no groomsmen or bridesmaids) and the bride following on her father's arm.  The officiator introduces them to the attendees and they make their bows to us and each other, which is followed by bows to their parents.  Afterwards, the officiator has them make their pledges.  Next, there's usually someone (a close friend or sister/brother) that sings a song for them.  Once this is done the newlyweds step to the side and their cake is rolled in.  They quickly cut a piece of the cake and eat it, after which they make their trip back up the aisle while streamers and poppers filled with confetti explode around them.  That's it!!!!!!!!!!!!

At this time the attendees can adjourn to the dining hall for their much anticipated lunch.  Or, they can choose to move to the traditional ceremony room to witness the second wedding.  If they choose the latter then they have to wait for the bride and groom to change into their Korean wedding hanbok (a type of clothing).  The previous wedding ceremony I attended we stayed to watch the traditional ceremony, but this time we headed upstairs for food.  The traditional ceremony takes even less time than the western style one, finishing in less than 15 minutes.  The newlyweds then proceed upstairs to the dining hall to greet and thank their guests.

The dining hall houses all those who are attending events at that time, so you can see brides and grooms circling around the huge cafeteria style room trying to locate their friends and family.  The food is buffet style and usually includes a bancheon (side dish) section, a seafood/raw bar section, a soup/salad/fruit/dessert section, and a main course section (which often has an array of meat and pasta dishes).  Koreans usually skip the bancheon, soup, and rice (as these dishes are consumed on an everyday basis) and head straight for the main courses, raw bar, fruits, etc.  For your beverage you can choose from soju, beer, and Chilsung (a soda that is closest in taste to Sprite).  

After eating and meeting the newlyweds for a final congratulations and farewell, it's time to go!  

This concludes a Korean wedding experience ^^.

Much love from the East Side!!!!!

(clockwise from left: Seo Yun, Jeyong, me, Nina, and Jordan)



Christmas and after...

December 31, 2012
Ava, Jonah, and Michelle playing Uno and Ishmael, Jordan, and Nina playing the "I've Never..." drinking game
 Christmas was lovely, regardless of the lack of family.  I ended up extending an invitation to all my Yecheon friends and inviting them over for roast beef, mashed potatoes, gravy, and various desserts... as well as a Dirty Santa gift exchange party.  

165,360 Korean Won worth of beef.  It comes out to almost $159 US dollars
 The beef was Korean and was outstanding (you should have seen me trying to order a large cut of prime Korean meat at the market.  I was so proud of myself when I walked out of Emart with the perfect cut of beef.  You have to keep in mind that to order a big slab of beef is not a Korean thing at all.  They associate large chunks of meat and steaks with Waygooks and immediately thought I would be making steaks out of the meat.  They have no concept of a roast.  

Roast with a garlic, dijon mustard, rosemary, cracked pepper, and olive oil crust.  After it was ready I sliced it and served it with a Boursin style cheese drizzle
Jeyong, who came later to the party, was amazed at the meat and couldn't believe I was serving it so rare.  But, he LOVED it and ate a couple servings.  Ishmael and Linky both made some South African dishes for everyone to enjoy and they were wonderfully delicious!

After we ate dinner I served up the Prune Cake (aka Yummy Cake) and Banana Cake along with the peppermint mallow stuffed cookies Michelle brought.  This was followed by hours of drinking and playing games!  For the Dirty Santa game I scored an awesome Airsoft pistol with 'silencer', which was test fired in the apartment by myself and Jonah.  Man, Korea doesn't have guns, but I can bet I'd round up a rabbit or two with the airsoft!

After Christmas I took the rest of the week off to relax and enjoy some downtime.  I spent it with my friends and also went glasses shopping.  I bought an awesome pair of Tag Heuer glasses, which are incredibly light!  Tonight is New Years Eve and I've no idea what we're doing.  But, since Jordan is laid up at my house with an ankle that is beyond messed up (he twisted it snowboarding with his school Saturday), it is doubtful we'll be doing much.  You know me... I like to play mom LOL.  So, maybe drinks, games, and food at my place?  We shall see!

New glasses 

More snow!!!  Two days of almost non stop snow in Yecheon  

Made some kimchi jjigae, bulgogi and bought some yummy bancheon for dinner Saturday and Sunday night

Korea Elects its First Female President

December 24, 2012

 Park Geun-Hye has become Korea's first female president.  Madam Park has my admiration, but I cannot be a true sympathizer as she is a candidate of the red party (which is the highly conservative party... the one I don't see eye to eye with when it comes to issues that should not be political ones, IMO).  Korea's politics are no different than America's in that area.  Also, President Park's father was the former president of Korea and was a bit on the tyrannical side.  He was the catalyst for the deaths of thousands of civilians in Gwangju, who were killed and suffered years in prison, all for political reasons.  Still, President Park Geun-Hye has had her share of personal torment, having seen the murder of both parents.  We shall see how her presidency plays out in the ensuing years.  Regardless, good luck President Park and good luck KOREA!

English Camp x2, Winter Break, and Christmas Dinner with Friends

December 24, 2012

So, English Camp was rescheduled for the following week, which turned out to be great!  We had a lot of fun baking cookies and decorating them, and the students got to watch the Nightmare Before Christmas, which is a classic (as far as I'm concerned).  

 The school board of Yecheon-Eup issued a ton of money to the elementary schools and demanded they use it for another English Camp, so this saw me scrambling last minute to come up with another lesson plan.  Unfortunately, this time no one took anything seriously, so I found myself becoming frustrated to the point of almost screaming at people.  You know how teachers always complain about the school system in America being concerned too much about saving face, the wallets of the administration and the teachers and students end up being the ones that suffer?  Well, it's not any different here in Korea.  

This week I walked into my room to find boxes and boxes of books we DON'T need, while I would give almost anything I own in Korea to get some text books for my 1-3rd graders.  Was either my Koteacher or I consulted?  No, the administration just took it upon themselves to order a bunch of books that will never be read... or we ALREADY OWN.  Thank you awesome people.  ㅠㅠ

Since the last couple weeks have been a stress fest I decided to host a small pre Christmas party at my house, which was attended by Lee, Jeyong, and Jordan.  We cooked up a storm and had a Christmas seafood feast complete with fresh shelled crab and oyster stew, oyster dressing, banana bread, a shrimp appetizer and an assortment of cheese and sausage with bread and wine for dessert.  We thoroughly enjoyed it and it was a welcome relaxing evening for all.

Since that was such a rousing success and having been privy to the homesick mutterings of my friends (and, of course... MY OWN) I have decided last minute to have a Yecheon-Gun wide Christmas party at my house tomorrow evening.  I am going to cook a roast of some kind along with mashed potatoes, some sort of dessert and have left the rest up to the other ambitious culinary inclined attendees.  So, we shall see what they bring in!  

As for what is going on with school, I'm officially on break, but don't let that fool you.  Since we have such an amazing principal, I still have to go to school every day in order to collect my pay.  So, needless to say I am writing this from my classroom computer on Christmas Eve.  Where would I rather be?  HOME WITH MY FAMILY, DAMMIT! 

 Happy Holidays, Merry Christmas, and may it be an awesome one, folks!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Here are some additional picture of things that went on over the last two weeks...

Banana's Foster covered Camembert with Guinness

I'm whipping up the Bananas Foster

The Han River is freezing over

Caramel Apple Cobbler I made for the faculty at Yongmoon

Served with ice cream

Buckeyes I made for my English Camp students

3 pounds of garlic I peeled... Jordan helped towards the end ^^

Florida Oranges at EMart in Andong

Sushi dinner we ate this past week

Live octopus in sesame seed oil and seaweed (notice the blur marks on some of the pieces of octopus^^~ yes, it's wiggling and suckers are working just fine LOL)

Spoon Worms (they move, too), Sea Slugs, and Oysters

After shave... reminds me of home (Pasco County)

First there was English Camp and then it was canceled ㅠㅠ

December 7, 2012

 This week I've spent a large portion of my time preparing for the English Camp I am supposed to teach tomorrow morning (well, WAS supposed to teach).  I bought an oven and mixer and all kinds of goodies so I could bake and make yummy American style cuisine for my students.  But, since the snow has come in so hard, they are postponing it until next weekend... or whenever the next suitable weekend is.  Sad me!  

Yongmoon at lunch time.  The snow rolled in again!

The main entrance to my school.

 Making sugar cookies at 3 AM last night!

Making spiced apple cider for my students.

눈 있어요 ^^ ~ There is snow!

December 7, 2012
This week has brought on the serious weather with temperatures remaining below freezing 24 hours a day, heavy snow falls and the sun getting just warm enough to make ice glaze over the snowy ground.  Walking isn't too much of a chore, but stepping off the bus can pose a hazard, as I found out the hard way.  Everything is fine, but my knee isn't terribly happy with me right now LOL.  Here are pics I took this week.  Enjoy!

Sangri Elementary (highest elevation point of all the schools I teach at)

Sangri again... loved the tracks the cars made in the morning ^^

Yongmoon - Lowest elevation point.  The snow fell later towards the end of the school day.

The sharp corner sign across the street from Jeyong's parent's business in Yongmoon.  I call it "Catching Snowflakes"

Eunpung / Hari from the bus window

Eunpung / Hari from the bus window - farmlands

Rita and Lisa hanging out with me after school.  I heart these girls!

Ssam Jeniffer is taking a picture of the drawing I did for Rita and Lisa.  Their instructions:  draw a rabbit, dog, and person ^^.

Final portrait painting for Oppa

December 1, 2012
So, as a thank you for all the awesome things oppa has done for me I decided to paint his portrait in ink on watercolor paper.  He loved the pencil sketch I did, but it was too small and too rapidly drawn to warrant framing and hanging on his wall.  Today I spent half the day rendering this for him... hopefully he likes it! 


Who needs worms in tequila when you have fire ants and bees in soju?

December 1, 2012

Oppa Choi shakes the bee soju

This week was one awesome experience after another and oppa wouldn't have it any other way.  The other night he took us out to dinner for sogogi, again.  Afterwards he invited us to his office, which is located in downtown Yecheon.  When we walked through the door there were shelves lining one wall completely filled with an assortment of glass vessels.  Each jar held some sort of root, plant, or insect that was fermenting in liquid.  They looked like a botanist's version of a science lab you'd see in a 1950's movie (picture animals in embalming fluid) LOL.

다방주 (Horse Bee Soju)

As soon as we arrived his employees cleared the table and a 다방 (dabang) girl showed up and served us coffee.  After she left he pulled out one of the large vessels, proceeded to shake it lightly, and then placed it on the table.  Inside hundreds of bees were swirling around in a vortex of soju.   The bees, called (horse bees), were collected by oppa personally and then added to the soju so their venom could meld with the alcohol.  The taste... reminds me of whiskey.  It burns low and has a dry earthy taste.

Next up was the fire ant soju (불개미주).  Once again oppa explained that he caught the ants himself up in the mountains.  Apparently making these exotic alcohols is one of his hobbies (the other primary hobby being hunting with his Argentino Greyhounds in the mountains at night).  He gently shook the container and then placed it on the table before us.  Inside, what seemed like thousands of fingernail sized ants spun round and around in the clear soju.  Oppa waited patiently until the last ant had fallen slowly to rest at the bottom before opening it up and serving us a glass.  Unlike the horse bee soju, the fire ant soju had a pleasant floral taste and instead of hitting you low in the gut you could feel the warmth and power of the alcohol in your face and around your sinuses. 

In addition to these drinks, oppa gave us glasses of Mistletoe infused soju (겨우살이주) (Lee's Video),  some sort of mushroom infused whiskey (Lee's Video), Wilfordi Root soju (호주오주) (Lee's Video), Flower Blossom soju - a mushroom often seen in Chinese cuisine (꽃송이주) (Lee's Video), and another medicinal root soju called Jandae (잔대주) (Lee's Video).

Jandae Root Soju

Mistletoe Soju

While we were enjoying the various liquors oppa served us some sweet snacks made with puffed brown rice, corn, and peanuts (he also made).  To be honest, I'm glad he did, because a little of ANY of that goes a LONG way! ;P  He also called the coffee service and had the little coffee girl serve us another round, which definitely helped!  So, here's to another experience in South Korea.... 건배!

Ava Larkin

Ava Larkin Artist, Sculptor, Singer, Language Freak, Motorcycle Enthusiast, and about everything in between... currently teaching English in South Korea. http://motojezebelle.tumblr.com/