Monday, January 31, 2011

Din Tai Fung Day

Often people assume that since I live in Korea, and thus close to China, I must have easy access to awesome Chinese food. That may very well be the case, but given that I grew up in the Western world, I'm accustomed to Westernized Asian dishes. So what the locals consider delectable Chinese cuisine, I generally do not -and vice versa. After discussing this dilemma with some ex-pat colleagues, I learned that, in fact, there was a remarkably good Westernized Chinese restaurant in Myeongdong, my old stomping grounds. Since today was the first of a week-long holiday, I decided to check it out.

Din Tai Fung has roots in Taiwan with several locations worldwide (including LA!). It has earned a reputation for its quality dumplings, and as I discovered today, they are indeed tasty. Plus, a bonus for foreigners, at least for this one, is the well-designed interior space. Not a bad place to spend a meal or two (as I did -lunch then back for dinner), and I surely will return the very next time I crave shrimp + pork dumplings.    

You can read more about Din Tai Fung here:

Plastic Shield

Last night I was eating dinner at a galbi  restaurant with some friends from church. We had piled up our jackets on a seat at our table. A few minutes later, one of the servers came around with a large plastic sack which she then stuffed our jackets into. We weren't sure what would happen next, but it turns out that the bag was intended to protect our clothes from the heavy smoke characteristic at these places. Hadn't ever seen that done before, but it does make sense. Wish there was a similar invention for shielding our hair, skin, and the clothes on our backs.

plastic sack of jackets

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Fired Up

As a group of us prepared for our church service today, we were interrupted by the sound of ringing alarms. As is customary in our respective countries, we initially ignored them. Eventually, the noise grew louder and smoke filled the hallway -at which point we realized this was the real deal. Upon evacuating the building, we found a string of fire engines lined up in front -I counted at least seven. All of us were impressed by the responsiveness and coverage. After 45 minutes or so, we moseyed back into the building and began the service -quite a memorable way to get fired up for the Lord!


Saturday, January 29, 2011

Agent for Change

Thanks to a tip from a friend, I got to hear David Batstone speak tonight (merci, JL!). David is this generation's William Wilberforce and one of my all-time heroes. 

I first heard David speak in 2007 shortly after his book Not For Sale came out. The stories he shared were startling. I had been utterly ignorant to the breadth and depth of modern day human trafficking, and upon reading his book, I resolved to raise awareness to those in my sphere of influence. Like many well-intentioned people, however, I grew lazy and complacent. Tonight was a timely wake-up call. 

Not For Sale (the organization) has made significant inroads in bringing justice and hope to seemingly impossible situations. I encourage you to check out their website ( to learn more. Oh, and you won't regret reading the book either. It provides a compact look at slavery on six continents as well as inspiration through the accounts of people working to bring justice in those areas.

There are many ways we can be modern abolitionists, starting as soon as today. By participating in a buy-cott, we can use our purchasing power to send potent messages to corporate entities -the ones that sell us shoes, clothing, food, tires, and so forth. David's team has put together a matrix for grading companies on their human rights practices and transparency. After reading their reports, I will definitely think twice before buying anything from See's, MARS, McCormick and Co., Hanes, etc. For more information, check out (  

DB discussing the grading system for companies

Thursday, January 27, 2011

The Icy Walk Home

I'm convinced that few things are more terrifying to the average human foot than black ice. Every morning on my way to work and every evening on the walk home I feel like my bones are in potential peril. Granted, with all the snow in sight, it's a pretty stroll, albeit a dangerous one. 

Here's a snap of the campus lake covered in powder, taken this evening:

In other news, a student in my homeroom class tried to give the bird (in jest) to a female classmate today. Except he raised his ring finger instead... funny and cute, considering that he's rumored to have quite a crush on the girl.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Cold Weather Diet

In temps such as these, sometimes a hot, traditional meal can go far to help one warm up. Tonight I opted for a Korean dish that I'd been craving:  bulgogi bibimbap. It's tasty and colorful, and may even be healthy, too. The spicy red chili sauce (gochujang) did wonders to boost my internal thermostat. Someday, I'd love to familiarize the folks back home with my favorite Korean dishes... stay tuned.

In other news, the freezing weather -and incessant lesson planning and grading- has re-invigorated my taste for red wine. A colleague encouraged me to step out and try anything from South Africa. Lately I've been on a Pinotage kick^, though tonight it's a Shiraz. Bottoms up!

^South Africa's signature varietal; read more about it here:

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

What Happened?

I received a most memorable compliment today. The exchange went something like this:

Colleague 1 (speaking to me):  You look so nice today!
Me:  Thank you!
Colleague 2:  You do look good. Much better than yesterday.
Colleague 1:  Yes, what happened?
Me:  [speechless -how does one respond in this situation anyway?]

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

On Efficiency

Being a waitress in college (and at times, post-college, too), was an incredible opportunity. Among the many skills I acquired was the art of efficiency. I remember my uncle, a former waiter, advising me on "combining steps" -or:  the importance of always going back to the kitchen with at least two tasks to accomplish. Over the years I've reflected on that lesson again and again. It has served me well in both personal and professional realms. Never would I have imagined that striving towards efficiency would one day drive me up the wall.

Without going into detail, suffice it to say that recently I was part of a mind-numbing experience where efficiency was certainly not the objective. It was borderline soul-crushing to first tentatively participate in and then finally acquiesce to utterly maddening inefficient protocol and standard operating procedures. For those who have experienced something similar, I offer this by way of encouragement:

Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

-2 Corinthians 4:16-18

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Falling Up

Time already for another installment of:  You Know You're Wiped When...

... you fall down while walking up a staircase. True story. Happened to me tonight on my way to a class.

Maybe it's the 7+ contact hours with students each day or waking up to temps of 1 F (-17 C) or a combination of both, but whatever it is I'm exhausted, though ever grateful for:
  • employment, doing work I enjoy 
  • central heating
  • a comfy bed

[NB:  Falling Up is the name of a book of poems by Shel Silverstein. While I haven't read it, I'm fond of the title. Maybe it's time to revisit some of Uncle Shleby's works and unwind a bit; Where the Sidewalk Ends was always a favorite of mine in elementary school.]

Monday, January 17, 2011

Pizza = Burger (?)

According to students in my conversational English class, pizzas and burgers are interchangeable.

The topic surfaced in our discussion about food. I asked them why pickles always come when you order pizza here. They were completely shocked by the question and remained so as I explained that this does not happen in the States. Their response:  But it's the same as a hamburger! which, in turn, completely shocked me.

They said that when talking with friends about what Western food to eat, they'll ask:  Pizza or burgers? And then they'll all agree that it doesn't really matter since they're practically the same:  bread, tomato sauce, cheese, meat, and pickles.

So, after tonight's class, I'm starting to understand the thinking behind pickles with pizza, and I'm closer to answering other questions such as why are pizzas frequently topped with mayo and corn?

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Gift with Purchase, Pt. 2

The shopping fun never stops over here! I've mentioned it a few times before (e.g. see posting from 01.17.2010), but really, someone could devote an entire blog to the joy -and sport- of shopping, Korea style.

Only in Korea, can you buy this item:

 (Neutrogena face wash)

...and get this gift with purchase:

 (bunny pencil case -highly coveted among students of all ages) 

But the more significant highlight of today was being back in fellowship with my church friends. It is a real blessing to be connected with this dynamic group of people as we navigate our way through Seoul. I'm especially blessed by the friendship of a vivacious and seasoned couple and grateful to call upon them for advice on a myriad of matters (thanks again, B + B!).

Saturday, January 15, 2011

My 1st (Korean) Wedding

At last, I've attended a Korean wedding! Some similarities, lots of differences.

  • the bride wears white
  • the couple exchanges vows
  • no bridesmaids, groomsmen, flower girls, etc.
  • while there is a cake, it's wheeled out right after the couple is pronounced husband and wife; they cut it there at the front, then it's gone (!)
  • lots of bowing -to the bride's parents, groom's parents, and then to all the guests
  • as the couple exits, guests release party poppers -like the kind from New Year's Eve
  • no gifts; instead, you bring money and check in (pay) at the front, whereupon you receive a meal ticket
  • the wedding takes place in a wedding hall which is run like clockwork -the hall hosts loads of weddings every weekend, so it's hurry in, hurry out
  • the post-ceremony meal is held in a large reception area where you'll encounter attendees from weddings held previously that day
  • no speeches, no dancing -just eat and go
All in all, a fascinating experience!

Incidentally, I am happy to report that this particular couple is very much in love and committed to serving the Lord. It was an honor to participate in their special day.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Take-Out Ramyeon

You know you're wiped when you get take-out ramyeon for dinner... 

It's a little after 7:30pm on Friday night, and I've just walked in the door after a long work day. In fact, my dinner is waiting for me in the other room. But seeing how it's been a few days since my last post, I thought it best to say a quick hello.

It's been a good -albeit hectic- week back at school. I'm working with a nice team of guys and teaching a great group of students. Can't ask for much more than that. Well, except for a Tylenol PM to ensure a sweet slumber. I desperately need some solid rest.

Nighty night. And thanks for reading.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Hokey Pokey

You put your right hand in, you put your right hand out.
You put your right hand in, and you shake it all about.
You do the Hokey Pokey, and you turn yourself around.
That's what it's all about.

Found out this afternoon that sometimes, it really is all about the Hokey Pokey. And here I've been underestimating it all these years.

Today kicked off the winter session of Konkuk's English immersion camp. The first day of any new term is always the most daunting -meeting loads of new students, juggling all sorts of subjects and lesson plans, and keeping track of where I'm supposed to be and when. In addition to Listening + Speaking, Reading, Writing, and a homeroom section, I'm also teaching Play English -a class designed to increase students' comfort and confidence in a more relaxed environment. 

After a round of conventional ice-breaker questions, it was evident I needed something more drastic to penetrate the silence. Cue The Hokey Pokey. A colleague had mentioned the idea last week, and admittedly I scoffed. How on earth could I subject myself and students to this ridiculous song and dance? Never!

Desperate times, desperate measures... and it worked liked a charm. We went through five verses and then launched into a few minutes of Simon Says (another hit). By the end, the students were considerably loosened up. So much so that our concluding activity -an improv game- was a smashing success with everyone laughing and offering creative ideas.

Now I'm at home, about to crash in hopes of renewing my energy level for tomorrow's action-packed day. Simon says:  Good Night.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Miss Me?

For what it's worth, I sure missed you. 

I spent an action-packed two weeks in California and relished the time with family and friends. Laguna Beach, Disneyland, San Francisco, In-N-Out... hard to top all of that, and boarding my return flight to Incheon was no small feat. 

Now that I'm back, the culture shock is even greater than it was when I stepped away for a week in August 2010, and I'm agonizing over what to write about. Since moving to Korea in September 2009, I've tried to faithfully record my daily experiences and provide an insider's view of what it's like to live in Seoul. However, I think in an effort to focus on the positive, I've painted an unbalanced picture. As is the case anywhere in the world, there are good and less-than-good aspects to living here.

Some positives (referenced in earlier posts):
  • Roti buns
  • Naengmyun, mandoo, and hotteok
  • Excellent public transportation
  • Super cute stationery and office supplies
  • Abundant samples at grocery stores and no penalty for double or triple dipping
  • Awesome, low-priced cosmetics that come with lots of free gifts
Some less-thans (a.k.a. things I didn't notice while in the States):
  • Pushing:  e.g., yesterday an older woman in a full-length fur coat pushed me not once but twice while in line at E-Mart. The first time I smiled politely; the second time I cried:  What are you doing??! No response.
  • Lack of cautionary signage in construction areas:  e.g., on a walk this evening I nearly got hit in the head by a block of falling concrete; fortunately it only tagged my foot.
  • Lack of door etiquette:  e.g., yesterday the security guard of my building let the door he'd just walked through shut in my face as I tried to exit. Holding doors open is just not part of the culture, and I'm still coming to terms with it.  
  • Game of chicken:  e.g., pretty much any time I step foot outside I'm involuntarily involved in a game of chicken except instead of in cars, it happens on foot. Usually I wait until the last second to step aside (thus rendering me the chicken), but every now and then I keep walking straight, only to wind up getting shoulder-checked.
I'll leave it at that for now. 

Incidentally, Happy New Year! Here's to 2011... let the adventures begin.