Monday, January 31, 2011

Onion Salad

Seollal "Lunar New Year" is approaching, so Clark and I thought we'd hit COSTCO today to stock up. We left Logan at home with the nanny and headed off to Seoul a little before noon. It was a nice sunny day, no rain, no fog, no snow, yet along the 20km stretch of highway we passed no less than FOUR car accidents (a testament to the oh so talented and cautious driving skills of Koreans).

Anyone who's ever been to a COSTCO in Korea can tell you that it's pretty much a nightmare, but we're gluttons for punishment and go back time and time again. Actually, it wasn't so bad today ~ weekdays are much preferable to weekends. The parking lot queue was only 30min instead of the usual 50+min, and while trying to maneuver through the aisles, was only hit twice that I can recall (as opposed to the usual battering I suffer).

Yes, we like to shop here, but the thing we love best about COSTCO is the food court. Of course, any foreigner knows the ketchup, mustard, relish, and onions are provided as condiments for anyone buying a hot dog, alas, no one's ever bothered to tell this to a Korean. The parking/shopping/checkout fiasco is always worth it in the end just to see everyone eating their  ketchup-mustard-relish-onion salads.

This woman has decided on "condiment upside-down salad" and has thoughtfully arranged her ketchup, mustard, and relish onto her plate before grinding her onions.

This particular individual prefers her ketchup, mustard, and relish on the side.

And these people subscribe to the mantra "who needs mustard and relish when you've got a heaping pile of ground raw onions and ketchup!?"

Friday, January 28, 2011

Communication ~ Korean Style

The lack of clarity and confusion that too often results when speaking with Koreans never ceases to amaze me. I used to think maybe something was just lost in translation, but Clark assures me this is not so and that it's an unfortunate sociolinguistic phenomenon. Korean language is just far more non-specific than English and, in my experience, Koreans do not share in the western definition of "logic" or "time".

To illustrate, here are two telephone conversations I had this week with two different recruiters calling about p/t work they wanted me to do. Keep in mind that these are REAL conversations (transcribed to the best of my recollection) with REAL people:

Conversation A
R: Hi. This is XXX from XXX. I have a job. It's on every Saturday. Do you want it!?
Me: (chuckling) That's it, a job every Saturday? Is there anything else you can tell me about the position?
R: It's on Saturday. Every Saturday. It's ongoing. You tutoring woman 1:1. So, do you want it?
Me: (chuckling slightly harder) You still haven't told me very much. Where is it? What's the schedule? How much does it pay?
R: It's in Suwon, of course. (oh sure, of course, how silly of me not to have intuited this. my bad.)
Me: Uh-huh, and what time on Saturday is the class?
R: Time? Oh, flexible. (hmmm...does this mean I can pick numbers out of a hat?)
Me: Is it just one hour a day? Two? Three?
R: It's not decided yet.
Me: I see, well maybe you'd better call me back after it's decided.
R: Ok. Thank you. I'll call you back later. (when you get your head out of your butt?)

Conversation B
R: Ms. Harrison? Hello. I'm looking at your resume now and I'm impressed by your experience. You have a lot of corporate and university experience.
Me: Yes, I've been teaching for more than 10 years.
R: So, it says you live in Suwon. Do you still live in Suwon? (no, I moved to Busan, but thought it'd be cute to write Suwon on my resume)
Me: Yes, I'm in Suwon.
R: How long have you lived in Korea? (is he really looking at my resume because the answer is there in black and white)
Me: From my resume, you should see that I've been here 6 years. I'm married to a Korean.
R: Oh really!? You have F2 visa? (ok, there's no way this guy could actually be looking at my resume)
Me: Are you looking at my resume?
R: Yes.
Me: Well, my resume says I'm an F2.
R: Ok. Good. Very good. The client wants to meet you before the class starts. When do you have time this week? (he's calling on Friday afternoon)
Me: (laughing) This week? The week is over, I'm afraid. It's Friday afternoon, you know.
R: But the client wants to meet you before the class. They want to have a class starting Monday. (perhaps you should've thought to call earlier?)
Me: Well, I'm sorry. It's already the end of the week and I'm not available on the weekend. If the client has Skype, I'd be happy to talk to them that way, or you could give them my number and they could call me.
R: No, no. They want to meet you.
Me: Like I said, I'm not able to meet this weekend. I guess you'll have to try finding someone else. Sorry.
R: Ok, I will talk to the client and call you back. Can you meet Monday?
M: Yes, I'm free on Monday.
R: But the class should start Monday.
Me: Yes, I know. I'm available to start the class on Monday. (why am I always trying to circumnavigate conversations like this?)
R: But you should meet them. So, you're free to meet them on Monday or Tuesday?
Me: YES!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
R: Ok, I'll call you back. (please don't!)

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Little Prince Kids Cafe

Today we were invited to spend the afternoon with a fellow expat family (from England) at a local kid's cafe called 'Little Prince'.

I've never been to anything of the sort before and was rather impressed. There's a 6000won (about $5.50) entrance fee, but they didn't charge us because Logan is so young and unable to make use of much yet. They have a wide selection of toys, a trampoline room, ball pit, slide, jungle gym, carousel, and train. They also have a small library and a costume closet (there were quite a few princesses and supermans running around today).

They served pretty decent food, though it was a little pricey. We had pork cutlet and teriyaki chicken pilaf. Matthew (UK dad) told us that lately he's been going there with his daughter almost every day and is a huge fan of the coffee they serve. He had THREE triple shot coffees while we were there!

It was Logan's first time to socialize with other kids and definitely something I think we're going to start doing a lot more of.  One little girl, in particular, took a shine to him.

Clark took Logan for a train ride. It was hard to get a good picture because the train was moving surprisingly fast!

And here they are testing out the slide.

Then Bubby chilled out in this rocking chair and it wasn't long before he fell asleep. I guess all the excitement wore him out.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Korean Winter Wear

It's official, I'm old. Too old, at least, to understand the fashion choices of Korean youth. The average daytime high for January has been around -7C with lows as bitter as -17C, so why are young women prancing around in shorts? Shorts! Here's a 21 year-old student of mine arriving for class at 8am this morning sans hat, gloves, winter coat, and (of all things) pants. The only thing 'winter' about her outfit is the scarf. Of my 5 female students, 2 of them regularly wear shorts & mini skirts year-round. When I ask them if they're cold, they reply "that's ok". I haven't quite deciphered if "that's ok" translates to "I'm not cold" or "I'm cold, but it doesn't matter because I'm so fashion conscious that I'd rather freeze to death and chance sickness than dress warmly and look like an old fart (like you do teacher)". I think it's probably the latter.

And speaking of old farts, I have a lot of time every morning while waiting at the bus stop to people watch and am bewildered by the number of 'older' people (anyone over 25, really) who think it important to protect their faces but not their heads. My mornings are a sea of surgical masks and bare heads. Are winter hats just a Canadian thing?

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Program REACH

Today was my first day volunteering at a local orphanage in Suwon through a non-profit organization called Program REACH. The program was started over a year ago by a group of expats, but I only recently found out about it. I got the idea to do some volunteer work a few months ago, so I Googled and was pleasantly surprised to find this right in our neighbourhood.
I teach English to three kids for an hour on Sunday afternoons. There are about 10 volunteers; half teach Wednesday evenings and the other half on Sundays. We share the same kids - the three I teach on Sundays, someone else teaches on Wednesdays, thus we have to coordinate a bit.
They're middle school students and super low level. They mostly want to communicate in Korean; so I'm doing my best to teach them in a mix of basic English and mangled Korean.
Today we played Sight Word BINGO and another game I downloaded from (an awesome English teaching materials exchange site I’m a member of).
So far, so good.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011


Took the camera with us to Homeplus the other day. 

It's a Korean/British chain of retail stores jointly owned by Samsung & Tesco. It’s the second largest retailer in South Korea (Emart is #1) and is basically like Wal-Mart. (Actually, in the late 1990s Wal-Mart tried and failed to penetrate the Korean market and was turned into Emart - but that’s another story).

Suwon has two of each (Homeplus & Emart); we shop at Homeplus because it’s practically next door. We spend an exceedingly large amount of our time there (we go at least twice a week), and I was recently embarrassed to find myself telling my students that it's my favourite place to shop, which doesn't exactly make me look cool to a group of 18-24 year-olds.

Clark and I are regular patrons of the food court.

Koreans are very fond of gochi "skewered food". Here we have some o-daeng "fish sausage" kebabs, which repulsed me once upon a time but has since grown on me. 

Here's a variety of skewered fish and pork sausages. The giant ones in the front are, in fact, french fry coated hotdogs.

And my personal favourite - chicken skewers (but you have to be careful which one you choose; I steer clear of the hearts, feet, and rectums^^)

The Homeplus near us is 5 floors. Groceries are on the second floor and is where we spend the majority of our time. I was too lazy to go and take any pictures of the other floors, so food pictures is all you get.

This is my father's favourite section - the wall of tofu. Whenever he visits, he begs me to buy copious amounts of tofu that he can eat for weeks on end. Right Dad?

And here we have my mother's favourite - the seafood section. They have quite a vast selection. I sometimes amuse myself by prodding random creatures and watching them wiggle; the shellfish are usually the most amusing (honestly).

My mom particularly likes the wall of dried seafood.

Most Koreans are incredulous when I try and explain that Canadians would only feed this stuff to their cats. To them, dried seafood (squid and anchovies in particular) are perfectly delicious snacks. Dried, buttered squid is especially popular at the movies.

Seafood is so well-liked it's even a chip flavour. Sae-woo-gang "shrimp flavoured chips" is one of Clark's favourite snacks.

Seaweed is also a Korean staple.

One of the best things about Homeplus is all the free food samples. Here's Clark testing the bulgogi "marinated beef".

We always stop for ddeok-bokki and twi-gim "spicy rice cakes and tempura". A minor argument ensued immediately after this photo was taken because Clark neglected to include the sweet potato tempura (which we get every single time because it's my favourite, so I could not understand how/why he forgot).

I mustn't forget to include the ramen aisle (actually, there are two). If there's anything Koreans love more than dried squid, it's instant noodles! Clark and I once saw a tv program about a 50-something-year-old Korean man who has subsisted entirely on ramen since he was in his 20's.

The bakery. Not worth your time unless you're partial to sweet potatoes, walnuts, or red beans. Typical western-style goodies (chocolate or fruit flavoured) are hard to be found.

And lastly, one of the perks of shopping at Homeplus is being helped by people in amusing uniforms. The gloves I understand, even the scarf I get, but I have yet to deduce the utility of the white leg thingys. Are they shoe covers? Leg warmers? Shin guards?

Friday, January 7, 2011

Hot Dog

I'm teaching some morning classes during winter break at the school where Clark works and noticed this place across the street today.

It was immediately evident that they weren't serving western-style hotdogs from the hangul "Korean alphabet characters" 보신탕 (bo-shin-tang); bo-shin translates to 'body strengthening/protecting' and tang means 'soup'. Put it all together and you've got 'dog meat soup'.

Consumption of dog meat is a long-standing tradition in Korea that has fallen out of fashion with the younger generations and is, in fact, illegal now (though that doesn't seem to be deterring anyone). Those who do it eat, do so primarily for its supposed health benefits and aphrodisiac properties.

Clark has eaten it a handful of times in his younger years and describes the meat as "tender, but stinky and greasy". As for me, I'm more than happy to abstain.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Baby Frog Fish

"Baby frog fish" is the expression Clark once used upon spotting a tadpole and not knowing the English term.

I was reminded of this (cute Clarkism) today while parking the car after returning from Homeplus. As I was backing into the space, my rear wheels nudged the rubber parking curb a little more aggressively than intended, at which point the following conversation ensued:

Clark: Oh! You hit the bar.
Sarah: I don't think it's called a bar.
Clark: What's it called?
Sarah: I can't remember.
Clark: Parking pole? Rubber blockage? Rubber stopper?
Sarah:  (laughing) No. I don't know, I can't remember.
Clark: Wheel blocker? Back stop?
Sarah: Definitely not ~ that's not English. I don't know, I seriously can't remember.

And herein lies the problem; I'm losing my English vocabulary! Before writing this post, I had to Google "rubber in parking lot" which subsequently led me to the phrase "rubber parking curb" (used above). 34 years-old and I can't remember the word 'curb'.  Not good.

My inability to recall English words seems to be occurring with greater frequency and resulting in asinine conversations like the one above. I guess this is what inevitably happens when you live in a foreign country for an extended period of time without the company of friends who speak the same language (natively). If I stop to ponder for a moment, I have to admit that my English is riddled with Konglish expressions, flawed grammar, and gaping vocabulary holes. Perhaps I should invest in some native English-speaking friends?

Sunday, January 2, 2011

My 2011 Resolutions

It’s probably not a good idea to resolve to do too much. If I write down everything I hope to accomplish  this year, I’m likely to disappoint or embarrass myself, so I’m keeping my list modest.

Travel. It’s very depressing to look back on last year and realize we didn’t go anywhere (because I was pregnant?). Very regrettable. We’ve definitely got to go somewhere this year.

See my sister. It’s been so long I don’t even remember the last time; 6 years at least (think more). Clark's never even met her!

Be a good mother. This year is going to be chock-full of important milestones and I imagine that with proper parenting skills, I can help Logan reach all of them: sitting up, eating solids, crawling, walking, talking, etc.

Rejoin the workforce. I haven’t had a ‘regular’ job in six months and I miss it. I like working. I’ve done my fair share of temping in the last couple of months, but I want to contribute more to our household income and get back into full-time teaching. I’m looking forward to my new job starting in March.

Cook more. My mother cooked 2-3 meals a day for us when she was here last fall. I average about 1. I’m pretty good about making Clark’s lunchboxes (he loves pastas & stir-frys), but I haven’t been cooking as many ‘family’ meals as I probably should. I want to bake more, too (easier said than done in Korea, where baking supplies & ingredients aren’t what one would call 'abundant').

Study. 2011 is the year to start working toward my MA. It's been a LONG time coming.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Hello 2011

It’s probably better to say that I’ve matured rather than admit that I’m now just plain boring. When I returned to Korea in 2006, I did this:

Here I am (behind the camera) downtown at Boshingak “bell pavilion” with a few good friends in a manic crowd of several hundred thousand, no doubt drunk, and secretly praying I don’t catch on fire.

Now fast forward 4 years to this New Year’s Eve. After eating at a (very crowded) shabu-shabu restaurant, we put Logan to bed, gobbled up a freshly baked apple crisp, cracked open a bottle of champagne (my first taste of alcohol in over a year) and watched “When Harry Met Sally”. Things certainly do change ~ *sigh*.
We had visitors on New Year’s Day. Clark’s parents, grandmother & aunt (on his mother’s side) came over with a ton of mandu “dumplings”. For those who haven’t read my Favourite Winter Food post, eating mandu is a New Year’s (both Solar & Lunar) tradition in Korea. According to popular superstition, a person does not become a year older until they’ve eaten mandu in some form or another; usually served in beef broth soup. Regardless of actual birthday, everyone turns a year older on January 1.
Does this look like a 2 year-old?

Koreans (and a few other East Asian countries, I think) count a person’s age differently from the rest of the world whereby a newborn is considered 1 year-old at the time of birth and each passing of a new year adds another year. Thus, Logan (who is 4 months-old) is now magically 2 years-old!
Logan with his Grandmother, Aunt, & Great-Grandmother

Happy 2011!