Sunday, April 24, 2005

Duck and Pilot

This weekend is my last one in Seoul. Yesterday SY took me to the local department store for some gift shopping. While there, I rememered that I needed some cheese and milk. I have been to this department store many times, and was shocked to learn that there is a fill size grocery store tucked away, and I have never seen it! So shopping completed, but dinner plans were changed because my friend CH was sick. So we decided to go eat at a "special place" instead of cooking in.

SY tried to explain this place, she kept pointing to a plastic bag and saying "poly". When I figured out what she meant, I thought she was indicating that the food was somehow cooked in plastic bags!!! (well, I am not completely crazy - I think in America you can still buy rice that cooks in a plastic bag). No, that was not it - she means that the restaurant itself is like a big poly bag. I was thinking one of the "tent" places like we visited at the seashore, but that was not right, either. She then starts to talk about farms, and growing plants when the weather is too cold.... Finally I understand - we are going to eat in a GREENHOUSE. One of SY's friends HR joined us, and we headed to the "country" for dinner.

My Korean friends have told me that many excellent restaurants in Korea will have great tasting foods and big crowds, but they don't pay attention to the decor. I have seen several examples of this phenomenon, but last night's greenhouse eatery has to be the ultimate example of this trend! It was located surprisingly nearby, considering it was essentially a hut out in the middle of a farm. The road to reach the place was dirt and had so many potholes it was like swiss cheese - I thought SY's new car was going to come apart. We parked and had about a 15 minute wait - this place was PACKED! The guests were not limited to any particular group - there were babies to old folks, women, men, friends, families, couples. This place seemed to attract everyone equally.

Inside the greenhouse, there was a dirt floor. Each "table" was simply a steel grill set into the ground, surrounded by some plastic foot stools. There were two small side tables to put your drink, bowl, kimchi, etc. The main course (and only course available as far as I could tell) was duck. The Korean name for this dish is Duck Bulgogi. Basically it was duck meat, some potatoes, onions, and leeks (maybe the vegetable also translates as Welsh Onions?) in a red pepper broth. It reminded me of Kamjatang taste, but much better. It was spicy, but not too much so for my new Korean taste. Just right. After the duck dish is finished, they bring a bowl of rice with some vegetables and make some fried rice in the pan using the remaining broth from the duck dish. That was some of the best tasting fried rice I have eaten.

Duck Place - View 1 Posted by Hello

Duck Place - Truly "In a Farm" Posted by Hello

Duck Place - Another View, Note the Luxurious Bathrooms (and The Stumbler's Shadow) Posted by Hello

Duck Place - The "Fireman" Prepares the Charcoal Posted by Hello

Duck Bulgogi - Before Cooking (No After Photo - Too Busy Eating) Posted by Hello

Duck Place - Inside View Posted by Hello

After eating duck, they dropped me off at Jazz bar, because SY had to do some serious studying. This week she has exams at school. Even though the night was cool, I was sweating from the spiciness of the food. I first went to the bathroom and took off my tee-shirt. As I was standing by the sink, with my pants unbuckled and tucking in my shirt, a man came into the bathroom and saw me. He started telling me "NO NO NO...", and I was surprised and confused. Finally we both realized the problem - he thought I was about to "use" the sink instead of the toilet! We both got a chuckle and went on our way - me much cooler now without the tee-shirt.

I had two beers at the bar, listened to the singer, and was about to leave when the waiter comes to me and has a special request from the man owner of the bar! There are three men guests who speak english and have seen me in the bar before, and want me to join them. Sounds fun, so I go sit with them. One is a Korean Airlines pilot, and the other two are CEO and VP of a Korean steel company. We have a good time talking about Korea, America, and airplanes (funny... no steel talk). The pilot gave me his namecard, and insisted that when I come back to Korea I call him, and he and his family will take me to dinner. This is a good example of the friendliness of the Korean people I have met.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Small Party, Marimba Duet

At my favorite Jazz bar, the owner lady (I have to call her "Nuna" or "Nunim", because she is my elder) has been trying to schedule a Korean dinner for me since I came back from vacation, as a belated birthday celebration. We finally agreed on Sunday night, and met at one of the local Samgyopsal places (see previous posts about rock cooking here and here). So Sunday night, I arrive first, and am shortly joined by one bartender (JH), one waiter (SI), and the manager (HJ). We ordered food, and waited for Nunim to arrive. She kept calling and saying she was delayed, and finally told us she could not come at all. Instead, her co-owner, a nice man (also my elder, whom I should call "Hyeongnim") arrived in her place. Whenever I saw the man owner at the bar, he seemed very quiet and serious. But over dinner, he turned out to be very nice and funny man. I learned he didn't drink or smoke, which I thought a bit strange for a Korean bar owner. But I guess he doesn't drink or smoke away the profits. Also his daughter is a television comedian!

Manager (Gripping a Bite of Pork) and Owner Posted by Hello

Waiter (Excellent English Skills) and The Stumbler Posted by Hello

Bartender (Photo Taken Under Duress - No Makeup) Posted by Hello

The only interesting happening so far this week was lunchtime today. I walked down to a nearby shopping mall / train station, and ate some fusion food - Bulgogi Lasagna. After lunch, I stumbled on this pair of musicians entertaining on their Marimbas. I stopped to listen for awhile. Had they been playing Latin American music, I probably would have stayed longer. But they were playing some slow songs, the hymn "Great Is Thy Faithfulness" and the old standby song "Moon River". They played very well, but it was putting me to sleep after that lasagna lunch, so I went on my way.

Marimba Duet Posted by Hello

Saturday, April 16, 2005

Dull Week - Only Working

This week pretty boring, no good reports. Today SY and I went shopping again, and I finally got a good photo of her new ATOZ car.

Hyundai ATOZ Car (outside it looks small, but inside is very roomy) Posted by Hello

ATOZ Rear View Posted by Hello

We had originally scheduled to go shopping at 1pm, but this morning at 8am I awoke groggily to the sound of my hand phone. I ignored the call, and then again at 9am another phone call. Finally I stumbled out of bed about 9:15, when I received another phone call. I answered this call, and it was SY telling me we should go shopping "early time". Last week it was pretty crowded, so I agreed. Oh, today I noticed that the entire 2nd floor of the parking garage was for "ladies only"! Anyway, the shopping today was pretty quick, since I had a good supply still from last week's trip. The morning shopping time was not crowded, but there is one drawback when compared to the afternoon shopping - the dancing girls (more about them later) were not on duty yet!

Here are a couple of unusual scenes from the store. I include photo of the Butane gas bottles because Brother Stumbler is doing some research for me to locate a supply in America. The fish I think is dried, and SY said it is delicious (but we didn't buy any).

Cans of Butane for Portable Stove - About 50 Cents per Can (Package of Four is $2) Posted by Hello

Fish Anyone? Posted by Hello

While cooking lunch, we heard the unmistakable sounds of a store grand opening. I should explain that there is some tradition in Korea when a store opens they have flowers, balloons, free cake for the customers, and of course, Dancing Girls! Actually, the Korean word for this job translates as "helpers", but dancing girls is more apt description. With a very powerful sound system, audible for blocks away, they blast away with peppy speeches. I only assume they are talking about the store, and welcoming customers to come visit. This is interspersed with bouts of attention-grabbing up-beat music and dancing. So, since I missed the "helpers" at the shopping trip (they sometimes are in the stores, too, promoting some products), and lunch was still cooking, I went downstairs to see what store was opening.

Jeju Store Grand Opening Posted by Hello

It turns out that this store is in my building, and I have already shopped there. It is a specialty store which sells only items from Jeju Island - this translates to "very expensive". It has been open for about 2 weeks - I guess today is just the "official" grand opening. So, since I photographed their helpers for my blog, I decided to purchase an orange ($4.00/each!!!) and received some free rice cake. I like rice cake in soups and spicy foods, but I don't like it sweet - so I gave the cake to SY.

The only other news to report is that I finally got the air conditioner (called aircon here in Korea) remote control. Yes, it sounds funny, but the aircon only has an on/off button. To make temperature adjustments, you need the remote. When we moved in back in November, the management refused to give out the remote controls, since the residents might loose them??? (that was the official line). Anyway, they finally passed them out, along with a fire extinguisher. Our remote control and extinguisher were given to our apartment owner, who is also living in this building one floor up. So today SY and I went up to their home and picked up the equipment - I had been afraid to go myself because we cannot communicate. I must say that this aircon is VERY strong. This week, before the remote control, it was getting a little warm one afternoon. I fired up the aircon, which was set at 22 deg C (71 deg F). In only about 10 minutes time, I was freezing cold.

Wall Mounted Air Conditioner Posted by Hello

Oh, and the fire extinguisher came with maintenance instructions - every month you have to pick it up and turn it over a few times, shaking it up. I've never heard of that before. Oh well, that's the highlight of my otherwise dull week. Next week wrapping up my work and I have one side trip to Japan. Then I will be packing up for home. I am very much looking forward to coming home, especially since we have a 2 week vacation scheduled to Florida and Disney World.

Sunday, April 10, 2005

Shopping Trip

Saturday I went on a much needed shopping trip with SY to the local store. SY came to take me in her new (well, 1998 model) car. The store is just under a mile away, but it was raining and the traffic was bad. Worse still, the main street we arrived on was just past the parking lot entrance, so we had to drive around the block to get to the parking lot. SY complained to me that she was already regretting selling the motor scooter and getting a car. The car is great for driving long distances on the hiway, but is not so great for short trips in Seoul, she said. I suspect she will soon have a scooter again.

Most of these large stores have a small glass enclosed "hut" at the entrance to the parking lot, where a lady dressed in very nice clothes, and wearing white gloves is stationed. She goes through some very complicated hand motions, almost dance-like, to usher you into the parking lot. The closest equivalent in America would be the WalMart greeter, I suppose. So, being properly ushered into the parking lot we finally found a space and parked.

I love shopping at these large stores, this one in particular. They have many samples available throughout the store. We violated the #1 rule of shopping, because we were both hungry, and probably bought more food than necessary. I can't begin to explain all the great sights, smells and tastes of the shopping trip, but let me present a photo of my favorite Korean mushroom. If anyone can tell me what the English name is for this, I would appreciate it. I would really like to find some of these back in America when I return.

My Favorite Mushroom Posted by Hello

Because of my girth, and some messages from Mrs. Stumbler, SY was trying to select some more healthy and low-fat foods for me this trip. We got some low fat milk (although SY told me it costs a little more than regular milk). When we bought the pork for grilling, she chose one that had visibly less fat than normal (again, it was a little more pricey). We also got some reportedly low-fat ham (which looks suspiciously like a variation of SPAM to me). Also oranges, broccoli, shrimps, tofu, and many other good foods.

After filling up the cart, we headed back for some serious cooking and eating. I bought a special item on this trip, one I have been meaning to get for several months now. It is a small table-top grill. Besides being useful here in Korea, I plan to take it back home with me for use at home. But after I got home and started to use it, I began to wonder if the same size butane gas cylinders are available in America. I have consulted with Brother Stumbler, who is an expert on portable gas cooking and lighting appliances - hopefully he can provide some insight. Here is the new grill cooking it's first food.

Table Top Cooking Posted by Hello

We ate the grilled pork, mushrooms, onions, broccoli, kimchi, and my favorite spicy tofu stew, and of course rice. We were both stuffed. (To compensate for the overeating, I ate salad and left over broccoli for breakfast this morning). I also have a big pan full of fried rice in the fridge for today's main meal, and left over stew.

I was thwarted from getting a good photo of SY car because of the rain. I tried to get one in the parking garage, but the light was too poor. I was shocked to learn that this small car costs almost $50 to fill up with gas! SY said that a somewhat larger 4-door sedan, about the size of the Mazda 626 I have at home, for example, would cost about $100 to fill up! And an SUV costs about $150 to fill up! Wow!!!! I'm glad we decided not to get a car here in Korea, although gas prices never entered my mind in the decision. Yikes.

Thursday, April 07, 2005

Jet Lag and Best Health Care

I have never had trouble when flying from USA to Korea as far as jet lag goes. However, this recent trip back seems to be an exception. Monday afternoon I was sleepy, and took a nap at 4pm, and didn't wake up until 9pm! I went to my favorite bar and ate a fruit tray for dinner (Mrs. Stumbler would be proud). Tuesday went okay until about 2pm, when I was so tired I needed another nap. This time I didn't wake up until midnight! And to make matters worse, I couldn't go back to sleep. I also had a flurry of messages and missed phone calls from SY, who was planning to cook dinner for me Tuesday night because she had the day off. It seems she was worried that something had happened to me. Anyway, yesterday, Wednesday, was a VERY long day, but I went to sleep at a normal time 9:30pm and woke up this morning normally at 6am. I think I am finally back on the Korean time zone, but only after two days of messed up sleeping and missing two dinners and two days of no treadmill.

Yesterday my colleague CH and I drove to Gunpo (군포) for all day project, and arrived back in Seoul around 8:30pm. We were both too tired to go out for a dinner, but we were hungry. So we chose a place on the ground floor of my officetel. I should go back a couple of months and tell the story of this place. As it was being built, my buddy John noticed it first, and told me one day about the new chicken store being built. A few days later, I finally remembered to look for this new place. I couldn't find the chicken store, but I did find a small doctors office being build called "Best Health Care". It was another week or so before we connected the dots, and realized there was no doctors office - "Best Health Care" was actually the name of the chicken place! Kind of funny, since the menu doesn't seem particularly healthy - most of the chicken dishes are fried. Last night we had something called "vegetable chicken". Picture pieces of boneless fried chicken, except instead of using regular batter, they used batter heavily laced with vegetables. Unusual, good, but probably not the "best health care" dinner possible.

But despite the sleep problems, lack of proper Korean dinners, and good exercise, I had a great day working yesterday. This project has been frustratingly slow, and suddenly yesterday many things "clicked". We made such good progress that we will probably wrap things up today after one final trip to Gunpo.

I should end this by wishing Momma Stumbler a happy birthday. She has been stuck at 39 years old for almost as long as I can remember, and several years ago I passed her age. Strange to be older than your mother! Have a Happy 39th Birthday (AGAIN) Mom.....

Monday, April 04, 2005

Seoul Surprises

I finished my vacation and had a great time at home last week. Just as Mrs. Stumbler predicted, my jet lag was almost finished when it was time to return to Korea! Flight back to Korea was good, I sat next to a pilot who had some interesting stories. Read books, slept, ate, and saw a Korean movie 파송송 계란탁, which roughly translates as "Cut up the Leeks and Break the Eggs". I arrived at Incheon to face one of the longest lines at immigration that I have ever seen. It seems to be completely random - I almost always arrive about the same time in the afternoon, about 4:30pm. But sometimes I can walk through with no line, and sometimes it is a large line like yesterday.

I had just gotten in the door here and unpacked when SY calls, and as usual asks "Where are you? What are you doing?" We arrange to have dinner with her, YT and HS. When I went down to meet them, I had my first surprise of the night. SY has sold her motor scooter and bought a small car! It was too dark for a photo, but I will post one as soon as I get one. We went to eat some Gaburisal (가브리살), which is a type of pork dish. As we sat down to eat, I had my second surprise of the night - they whipped out a birthday cake for me!

ANOTHER Birthday?!?! Posted by Hello

After dinner I put away my groceries. SY told me that the Orange Juice was a new brand, and was VERY DELICIOUS, and made by Coca Cola company. When I unpacked it, it was Minute Maid, something we have had in America for years. I guess they just introduced this to Korea? Also, without any communication from Mrs. Stumber, SY decided on her own that I needed low fat milk! So now I have some 1% milk, which is what I drink at home. Well today I get settled back into Korean life and get working. Wednesday I take another side trip for a day or two for work. Now the Stumbler shall eat breakfast...