Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Subway Stink

The other night, I headed out to dinner on the subway. As I boarded and took my usual place standing, I noticed a bad smell. I thought to myself, "great, I'm near someone who needs a shower". As we rode along a few stops, I noticed two young girls across the aisle from me... they kept giggling and looking at something behind me. Finally, I was too curious, and I turned around to see what they were looking at.

That's right - RABBITS on the subway. That explained the bad smell. These two kids were happily feeding their baby rabbits some green vegetables (maybe bean sprouts). Shortly after I took this photo, an old man sitting across from them began talking to them. I could not quite tell if he was talking to them angrily, or if his voice was just naturally strong and irritating. I was glad when my stop arrived, so I could breathe relatively fresh air again.

Speaking of air on the subway, I have noticed recently that when I ride on the subway I get very hot and start sweating. At first, I thought this was because there were so many people crammed into the train car. But this recent trip with the rabbits, it was not very crowded. Maybe they heat the cars extra hot during the winter. It is always a contrast to leave the subway hot and sweaty, to suddenly be freezing from the outside air and wind.

Now for the obligatory food photos (not Korean food this time). I was almost out of food, and was too lazy to go out to eat the other night, so I made egg salad sandwich. By the way, those Pringle chips I ended up throwing away. Suddenly the taste of Pringles here at my store has changed drastically. I think they might have changed to a new species of trees and that changed the flavor.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Kimchi Cheese Fried Rice

Another food post. Well, last time I made rice, I must have prepared too much. The rule, I think I have mentioned before, is 48 hours in the rice cooker. You must eat it all before then or throw it away. (Well, in the past I have frozen some as a third option). At lunchtime today, my rice cooker sat at 44 hours, and I had no soup or anything to eat with it. So, I decided to make fried rice. This is also in keeping with our new apartment management's policy on reducing food trash. I don't know why, but apparently our residents are making too much food trash (by whose standards, I don't know). So, intead of throwing it out, I decided to fry it up. I made some Kimchi Cheese fried rice. Don't ask for a recipe - because I didn't have many of the indgredients in my recipe, I just made it up as I cooked. It turned out pretty good. While my recipe commented that frozen peas worked really well in this dish, it tasted just fine to me having used canned peas. Seems to me once you stir fry them in all that butter, garlic, soy sauce, onions, etc., it would be hard to tell the difference anyway.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Stumbling Lunch

I invented my own Korean food for lunch today. Here is a photo of the whole meal (no, I didn't eat all that - there are left overs for another meal or snack).

And here is my masterpiece zoomed-in with details:

Mama Stumbler complained that I don't have receipes for these delicious Korean foods. Well, guilty as charged. In my defense, I did give Mama Stumbler a Korean cookbook recently (it was even written in English). Since that was not enough, here is a website I have used to print a few recipes. I will say here what I told Mrs. Stumbler recently - in my Korean cooking, I don't have to worry about whether the recipe calls for a tablespoon (tbsp) or teaspoon (tsp) of something, because in my kitchen I only have one size spoon! And don't laugh - but I have observed a Korean cook using the back of a pair of chopsticks as a kind of scoop to measureme spices! From that website, the dishes I have cooked are (using their romanization) Dwenjang Chigae (fremented soybean paste soup) and Saewoo Bokumbop (shrimp fried rice).

Your mileage may vary...

Friday, March 16, 2007

Misc Mid March

Just a mixture of photos this post. I found this photo on my cell phone today, I guess my friend SC was playing with my phone camera when he recently visited for a short time. I'm posting this because I think YS#4 has forgotten SC's face, and unfortunately SC will be away in Thailand for the next 3 months.

I need to take a better photo of this next time, but I felt conspicuous standing on the street taking her photo. This is the parking lot greeter at the local "Homever" store (think of a Korean WalMart). She greets each car with wild and coordinated hand movements ushering them into the parking lot. Each greeter has a unique and different style, also. Fascinating.

I had a craving for some western food again last night, so I went to a pasta restaurant I know. Had something called "Bulgogi Lasagna". Bulgogi is a Korean syle of marinated beef, so I guess this wouldn't be a true western meal - instead they would call is "fusion food" here. Anway, it was delicious and just what I needed. After dinner, I had some leftover cheesecake which CH's wife sent to me yesterday for a dessert.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Lonely Steak

The Stumbler had a craving for steak last night. It is very difficult, if not impossible, to eat Korean steak at a Korean restaurant alone, so I decided to go to the Outback. I have learned that I can be seated very quickly at the bar if I am alone, even if there are huge crowds. You can see me enjoying my salad and bread, before I was overstuffed by eating the New York Strip Steak. Does $35 seem a bit pricey to any of you who have been to the Outback recently? Maybe it is just the price of beef in Korea (the menu boasted that this was Australian beef). Also, I am convinced that a Korean meal has more volume that this steak meal, but I always feel too full after eating at Outback, compared to a Korean restaurant (I'm certain that the 630cc mug of beer has nothing to do with it). I don't know the reason, but I think this is the perfect excuse to have more meals out in the name of scientific research.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Pocket Towels

Any of my friends who have seen me spill something in the past few years (something I do frequently) will no doubt remember my habit of carrying a special "towel" style handkerchief, something I picked when visiting Japan. In Japan, I learned quickly that they don't have towels in the bathroom - they expect everyone to carry their own towels around with them! I have even heard some Japanese people carry their own ashtray around with them.

Well my supply of these handkerchiefs has dwindled recently and I only had one left. This is strange, because I don't remember ever throwing any of them away - I have no idea where they have gone missing. Maybe I could find some still in my back pants pocket where they went through the washing machine and I forgot about it. Well recently one of my friends helped me locate a supply of these towel handkerchiefs here in Korea (online shopping of course), so now I have a fresh supply to last me many more years of happy spill cleanup, hand drying, and eyeglass cleaning (I don't actually think I have ever blown my nose into one of these).

Baby Time

I finally went to CH home the other night to visit HS and their new baby girl ES. I am proud to report that I can still hold a baby, although I must have been a little rusty. CH had to give me some suggestions.

Here is HS holding ES. I don't know what ES was looking at, but all the photos she was checking out something in the other room I think.

Now for the food photos. This is a combination food photo and geometry question. How do you take square pieces of ham and cheese, and cut them into triangles with the minimum amount of waste? I have a guess, but I really don't know the answer. How about cutting a cucumber in an oval that is bigger than the cucumber itself?

This was my ramen breakfast one day this week (in Korea it is spelled "ramyon", and is reportedly a much different food product and with a better taste than the japanese "ramen" version of the same food). I don't think I put enough water into it this time, because it was quite thick. Similar to the ramen we have in America, it is very easy to prepare, just boil with water and use the enclosed spice packages. However, it is customary here to cut up some green onions into the soup and also crack an egg into it as it is finishing up cooking. But this morning, instead of one egg I put two eggs. Delicious. However, in contrast to the frequent boasting about healthy Korean food, my friends here are all warning me "Please don't eat ramyon very often, it is really not a healthy food".

Light Bulbs

I've been meaning to comment on this for some time. Korean incandescent light bulbs appear almost identical to those in the USA, except of course they work at 220V instead of 110V. However, there is one further difference. In America, our three-way lamps use a special light bulb with two filiments and a special screw-in base. However, in Korea, there is no such thing as a three-way light bulb. The three-way function is performed entirely in the lamp, using the same bulb as an ordinary lamp. I wonder what this history is on this, why each country ended up with such different techniques?

I can't find them right now to photograph, but a few months ago I had some unusual light bulbs burn out that were above the kitchen table. They were very small, low voltage DC bulbs. We couldn't find anywhere in Korea that sold them, and I ended up doing an extensive search on the internet, where I learned more than I ever wanted to know about low-voltage light bulbs. Apparently these are quite popular these days, all over the world from what I could see. We ended up finding some from an internet store, and I ended up with a lifetime supply for under $10. At the time I intended to sell them to the fellow residents in the building (I assume all the apartments have similar fixtures). But I have lost them I think - in my apartment there are about 50 small light bulbs hiding somewhere.

This is one of the popular styles of flourescent light bulbs in use here in Korea. At least it seems to be. It is in almost all our ceiling and wall light fixtures, and also in the desk lamps. Also like in America, I notice from the selections at the stores that Korea is trying to get people to use flourescent light bulbs to save power I suppose. These little guys have been lasting on average about 2 years each, but I have no idea if that is normal or not. In the USA, my home doesn't have any flourecent tube light fixtures that I can think of, so I don't have a history of using them. Mrs. Stumbler has replaced many of the incandescent light bulbs with weird looking swirly flourescent versions, which I think do last significantly longer than a regular bulb.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Mark on Seoul

It's not often that a single person can leave a lasting mark on a city of 10 million (20 million if you count the entire metropolitan area). Alas, The Stumbler has left his permanent mark on Seoul:

What you see above is the repaired service panel that I fell through back in November. They have welded it to the larger plate now. This is my legacy. Anyone visiting the Ohmokkyo Subway station (오목교역) on line 5, be sure to check it out at exit #1. Perhaps I should have a talk with the station master, and see if we can have a small but tasteful brass plaque installed on the wall, commerating my tragic accident. Well, in contrast to my mark on Seoul, I guess one could also say that Seoul has also left it's mark on me, since I am the proud owner of the previously mentioned scar on my right leg.

I took this photo with my cell phone camera, which only has 3.2 mega pixels. That sounds like a lot, but the optical lens isn't that great, and the flash is not super effective. I played around with this photo on my computer, and decided I liked it better as black & white (there wasn't much color in the original, anyway). In a future post The "High-Tech-Gadget-Happy" Stumbler will rant about how many gadgets I have to carry around with me. Complete integration of the popular ones is still years away, I'm afraid.

Sorry for no more exciting photos. The past few days the weather changed from almost spring time to a winter time again, we even had some light snow flurries all day on Monday. Yesterday the high temp was -3 deg C (that's 26 deg F for my metric-challenged friends) This has tended to keep me inside for a few days, thus limiting my photo opportunities.

Question for the day - are degress "C" called CENTIGRADE or CELCIUS? Or are BOTH acceptable? I vaguely remember learning both terms during my education many years ago. Has one of these terms edged out the other?

Friday, March 02, 2007

Bars and SPAM

I have two eating habits in Korea of which Mrs Stumbler doesn't approve - beer and SPAM. I have observed Korean women have a strange fascination with cameras. I always have my camera in my bag, and if one of the bartenders sees it, watch out. They start taking pictures of everything around, especially themselves. I need to ask YS#1 if this is popular with her University friends in America, but I wonder this may be an Asian thing. Here are some recent gems taken of The Stumbler (I can't seem to keep my tongue inside my mouth it seems):

I often encounter a guest at the bar who wants to strike up a conversation with me. One such fellow recently turned out to be cartoonist, and took it upon himself to draw a caricature of me! I have no idea why he made the caption, but I guess I was asking too many questions (something that I have been told over and over again since childhood by people).

Much to Mrs Stumbler's chagrin, besides beer, SPAM has recently crept into my diet. According to the sometimes-reliable Wikipedia, the largest consumer of SPAM outside of the United States is the UK and South Korea. And within the USA, Hawaii consumes the most SPAM per capita than any other state. With all the time I spend in Korea and Hawaii, it's no wonder that I've picked up the SPAM habit. I only have one photo of a SPAM meal recently, a simple dinner I made with fried rice, SPAM, mushrooms and kimchi (and of course some iced green tea to drink).

Oh, in case anyone was wondering, SPAM should be spelled in all capital letters, and should be used as an adjective, not a noun as I've done in this sentence.

Finally, wrapping up this post are some food photos and an embarassing taste test. We went to dinner recently, at a traditional Korean restaurant. That hamburger looking steak was really delicous, I hesitate to even call it a burger.

During the dinner, there was a man and woman dressed in some funny clothes going around from table to table. They stopped at our table, and my friends all suddenly pointed to me and said "He will do it". Turns out this was a soju (traditional korean liquor) taste test for a new brand of soju, one I don't particularly like. Let's say that I like brand A, and they were promoting brand B. They gave me this blindfold, and I had to do a taste test and tell them my favorite one. What is surprising is this - I knew they were promoting brand B, so I tried to identify brand B by taste and tell them that was my favorite one. However, when I was done, turns out I had made a mistake and told them that brand A was my favorite. So much for being polite.

January Cold

We had some cold weather in January, and actually experienced a good snow one time. But since then, the winter has ended prematurely early. Here's a shot of the snow blizzard out my apartment window. This came on suddenly, because only 10 minutes earlier I had been returning from a short trip to our factory, and there were only some very light flurries. By the time I went upstairs to the apartment and opened my curtains, it was a raging blizzard.

Speaking of cold, I came down with a cough that didn't want to go away. After finishing all my over-the-couter cough syrup that I brought from America, I broke down and went with my friend to the hospital (that's just the doctor's office for my American friends). There I was treated with all the various medicines you see in this photo for a grand total cost of about $12 for the doctor's visit and $15 for the phramacy bill! Just a day earlier, my friend CH had gone to a doctor for the same ailment, and since he has insurance, his bill was $4 for the doctor and $2 for the medicine! Simply Amazing.

No, the small packets of parmesean cheese and hot sauce were NOT part of my treatment, they were left over from pizza lunch we had that day and I forgot to clear from the table before taking the photo. You can also notice the Korean method of packaging medicines, sealed in small wax-paper bags. In America we get our medicine packaged in separate bottles for each kind of medicine. Here, the pills are packaged by the time of day and contain all the pills you are supposed to take at that time. For example, I was instructed to take my pills at breakfast, lunch and dinner time, so my small bags were so labeled. Of course, the cough syrup couldn't be put in a wax paper bag, so it was dispensed similarly to the States.

One final comment about Korean medicine labeling. In America the pill bottles are very clearly labeled, telling the doctor, the patient, various details about the medicine and the dosage instructions. In fact, I am almost certain that this labeling is required by law. Recently I had some blood pressure medicine prescribed here in Korea (my supply from the States was finished). The first month supply was given to me in the manufacturer's original bottle, although without any special label. I have had this happen in America, too, so it wasn't anything unusual. But this month the phramacist gave me the pills in a plain white bottle with no labels at all. She was confirming that I knew how to take the pills (once per day), and almost as an afterthought she got a sharpie pen and wrote the korean equivalent of "once per day" on the bottle. The only thing going through my mind at the time was what would happen if I got inspected coming into America with one of these pill bottles in my bags? It hardly looks like a regular prescription, and this labeling would probably not pass muster with the American authorities.

Now for some obligatory food photos. What better way to warm yourself up on a cold January day than a bowl of piping hot fermented soy bean paste stew. This is one of the few Korean foods I have learned to cook. Printed a recipe from the internet and tried it out. It has been approved by a few of my Korean friends as passable. Also, as I was telling Mrs. Stumbler a few weeks ago, if 2 years ago someone had told me I would enjoy a meal without any meat, I would not have believed them. And now I am eating meat-less meals frequently. Lest anyone worry about The Stumbler's dietary health, I should point out that many of these meat-free dishes are high in protein, especially ones with tofu (such as this one).

If fermented soy beans aren't your thing (I'm told many westerners cannot stand the smell of that soup), how about some grilled duck followed by some fried rice:

(Sorry, I couldn't restrain myself - you can see I took a bite from the fried rice before snapping this photo)

If you insist on western food, how about a hot dog pastry or a quesedilla? (Again, I see that I've eaten a bite from the quesedilla before taking the photo - I gotta learn to slow down)

Oh, The Pressure

My rice cooker broke down recently, and I was forced to replace it. According to my Korean friends, rice is to a Korean what bread is to an American. The new one is reportedly a durable brand and will last longer than 2 years. It also cooks the rice under pressure, kind of a computerized pressure cooker! I couldn't believe when people told me that this kind of rice cooking resulted in better tasting rice, but having experienced it, I must agree. If I could understand Korean, I could also use this as a general purpose pressure cooker. For example, in the cooking manual that came with it, there are plenty of example photos of food like potatoes or fish being cooked in this cooker. As it is, I can barely read the main buttons I need to simply cook rice. This has a vast array of options and buttons, an LCD display, and it even talks to you at various stages of the cooking process (of course, in Korean).

I was so intimidated by the complexity of this machine it sat on the counter for almost a week before I had the courage to try it out. Adding to my fear was a discussion I had with my friend CH about an older brand of pressure rice cookers that had a defect which caused them to explode (not my brand). This was further driven home by a news story just 2 days after I bought my new cooker featuring a housewife who was severely injured by one of these exploding cookers. They showed her laid up in the hospital bed, with bandages all over her head, arms, and a broken leg!

I threw caution to the wind and started using my cooker, after getting the clear instructions from my friends. I have not yet experienced any explosions, although I remember one incident the first few times I was using it. As the rice was cooking, I was sitting at the kitchen table reading the newspaper. When the machine started to hiss and spit steam, and the regulator was rattling, I decided to walk around the table and read my paper at the sofa, a safe distance away.

One final comment. We all know about the consumers who can't even set the time on the VCR. Well, this rice machine has a clock on it. When I unpacked it from the carton, I noticed that the clock was running and it had the correct time displayed! Mind you, this thing was not even plugged it yet! I was impressed.