Daily View of Korea

Typical Food Court in department store
Typical Food Court in department store

Food Courts are a little different here. When ordering Korean Food you order from a central desk (on the left) and watch the light board (centre top right) for your number to come up. There are a bunch of places where your food can appear. We still haven’t figured that part out. For the most part we just walk till we see food that looks like the stuff we ordered. :)

Daily Image of Korea

Everyone wants to feel special. Everyone wants that special treatment that shows that they are heard and that they exist. Being in Korea, I get that. Sure I am a rather obvious person that is easy to remember but that just helps in the process of fulfilling that emotional desire to feel special. Heck, who am I to say no. Korea has been good to me so when I go to a restaurant and they my order by heart, if feels good :)

Daily Image of Korea

Boiled Silk Worm
Boiled Silk Worm

Here you have a very popular treat sold by many street vendors in any of the touristy areas. What you are seeing is boiled silkworm. That’s right, I said silkworm. It smells horrible, not quite gagging for me but close enough. One of the foreigners we saw braved them and tasted it, the look on her face said everything.

I’m an ALIEN!

“Time flies like an arrow.” – Ancient Proverb

“Fruit flies like bananas.” – BBS Tagline Addendum to Proverb.

It’s amazing how fast time can go by when you get busy. I have been working on a….let’s call it a project, so my free time has been cut in half. Out of that time I sleep and been pushing my self-directed education on ‘all things tech’. As such, my blog posts have been obviously more quiet. Now I am slowly settling into a rhythm and forcing some time for more update. I’ve got lots to show you at least as I have not been slack in taking pictures Winking smile

Yes, it’s true. I am an alien. I even have an officially issued ID card to prove it!

So, for all those who suspected me of being one, now you have your proof. More shall be revealed in due course about our plans for your puny world….err, I mean this beautifully human-food-laden…..err…scenic place.

Let me start my catchup with everyone’s favourite subject…..food.

I will say this, the strawberries here are the largest and sweetest I have EVER tasted! Although I can’t really give proper description of the taste, suffice to say that the reason most people use whip cream to dip their strawberries in is to off set the tartness. Such a practice would totally kill the natural sweetness of these berries!

Yeah, that’s my hand. Damn thing is near 3” long!
Yeah, that’s my hand. Damn thing is near 3” long!
Who knew that only 5 strawberries would cover my entire keyboard!
Who knew that only 5 strawberries would cover my entire keyboard!

(Click here for a few more pics of these monstrosities)

Now, on the flip side of this trip we’ll be displaying a rather bizarre collection of pets. Spiders! (Yes….I said collection….)

I think this is the poisonous one.
I think this is the poisonous one.

And what collection of pet spiders is incomplete without a Tarantula!

You can click here to see a few more pics of his collection.

Now that you are thoroughly freaked out (well, most of you, some are probably already clicking on the link for more), let’s go onto a few other mildly strange things here.

I’m going to teach you some Korean. You’ll be totally amazed at how well you will pick this up!

The interesting thing about older languages is that the rules for modern words vary wildly. Older languages have no rules for incorporating modern terms. So each culture will do what they feel is best. With Korean there is a term called Konglish (Korean/English). There are some words that just do not have any way of being created with the Hangul characters. This is because the Hangul language was originally based on Chinese characters. Chinese writing has dated back around the 14th century. So, using a language based on that kind of age you are bound to run into a problem with new words. For example, Computer or Network. Both very modern words and do not have any direct translation whatsoever. Although I never did quite understand why they didn’t form the same words the same way the word was formed for English.

Yes I know computer comes from the two latin words (with[cum] and think[putare]). Still, as a modern implementation of a device, such words do not always translate well. In Korean computer is ‘kom-pyew-tuh’. Just about every Korean also ends with a vowel. So Koreans will take English words and add a ‘uh’ on words that have a consonant at the end.

For example….end will become end-uh. “is” becomes is-uh. It’s very tough to get them out of that habit but the ones who pay attention will stand out in their English pronunciation.

Now, armed with that knowledge let me give you a few Hangul characters and see if you can figure out the following words.



This is an like an ‘eww’ type of sound but very short. Close to an short i type of sound.

bThis is a b (or p sometimes) sound. It’s not ‘bee’ but more ‘buh’ sound.

sThis is an s. Sometimes a ‘sh’ sound.

eoThis is ‘aw’ sound. It gets shortened typically after a consonant to ‘uh’.

So, test your new found knowledge and figure out this word.

Korean Word

First person to email me what this means will get a special Korean gift from here! (You Koreans on my list, and people I KNOW who are learning Korean are not eligible).

I can tell you that after learning the Hangul characters I get a huge laugh when I read Konglish words like ‘mechanic’ and even ‘chicken doctor'(a restaurant).

Ok, that all for this post. Up next…..the DMZ.

Snowfalls, Haircuts and Shopping

I got my first haircut in Korea. I reallllly need to work on my Korean as well as not assuming that hair-clipper setting #3 in Canada is NOT the same as clipper setting #3 in Korea.

I’m no “Ox Baker” but I’m sure he would approve. I think I now have more hair on my face than on my head. Ah well, in 4 months, I’ll be able to get another trim….just not this short.

Like all of the US, and some parts of Canada, they sell Alcohol in all their stores.

This is our local grocery story (GS Supermarket). By far, Soju (Rice-based alcohol) is the cheapest. Typically around $1 a bottle and has an alcohol content of about 20%. I tried a little shot of it awhile ago, not terribly pleasant and it easily explains how easy it is to get drunk over here.

And here we see the first real snowfall of the year.

The snowflakes are huge. No the picture is not zoomed it, this is my ‘view’ out our window. I can almost touch the next building.

While we don’t have Tim Hortons, we do have Dunkin Donuts and Starbucks.

Starkbucks in Korean(n)
Starkbucks in Korea(n)

This, I believe, is the first Starbucks in Korea to use the Korean script (Hangul) in its title. This one is in Insadong.

Western food chain stores continually expand over here. This is Korea’s first Taco Bell in Itaewon.

And right by it you have Quizno’s along with Cold Stone Creamery.

Quiznos & Cold Stone Creamery
Quiznos & Cold Stone Creamery

I have had one and almost a second bad experience in Quizno’s (One in Canada and the second here). I’ll just avoid them in the future.

Itaewon is a major tourist/shopping area. They have a TON of street vendors all with these large carts. Here you see them taking them from their parking location to their street spot. They all have little electric motors to help move them.

Let us not forget the ubiquitous Hard Rock Cafe.

A side note on this. The Hard Rock cafes have a saying on each building that says “Love All. Serve All.”, this one does not.

I continually try to meet new people. One of the guys I have met is in the US Military (there are a whole bunch of US bases here). If you are married and have a child, you can get a bigger and much nicer place. He lives in an apartment building but his place is two stories. It’s rather large (I would dare say bigger than our house from Hamilton) but just no backyard. It’s very nice, lots of wood used in decorating, and not the cheap wood either. That being said, the view off his porch gives a bit of an idea of what housing/apartments are like around the Itaewon area.

Had to get the sun rays poking through the clouds

Can you spot the white bunnies on the rooftop? Not gonna speculate on what they being used for, but who knows. I know of some foreigners who keep bunnies as pets here.

Translating Korean and Culture Shock

Culture shock can happen in many different ways. From the way people talk, the way people look or simply the weather you experience. Can you imagine yourself in such a foreign environment where you are a serious minority? For me, culture shock being in Korea has been the lack of diversity. Canada is such a melting pot of every other nation around the world, it is a real eye opener to see such homogeneous numbers of people. Add in constantly hearing another language and seeing different characters on every sign, it could be quite overwhelming to the vast majority of people who do such things as travel/move to another country.

Things we take for granted are completely reversed here. Let’s take people and walking. In Canada, the pedestrian has the right of way no matter what the scenario. Even should a person cross against a light, it would still be tough fight for any motorist trying to escape blame for not being vigilant enough to see the person they just hit. In Korea it is just the opposite. You cross the street in front of traffic at your own peril. Drivers will honk at you for your apparent lack of judgment. In many ways they have a good point. Cars weight 1800lbs+ while you might only be less than a 1/10th of that. You wouldn’t walk out in front of a charging elephant so why would you do so in front of a vehicles that weigh upwards of 1 TON or more? Simply a different way of thinking, neither right nor wrong, just different. Although, I think that having the onus on the driver is a much more mature way of responsibility.

Food. I have slightly touched on this subject previously but some more details are necessary. It’s quite easy for anyone to walk to the local grocery stores (that are popping up like Tim Hortons in Hamilton) and pick up some bananas. You can buy them by any size of bunch. You can even break up the bunch and buy only 3 or 4 if you will. You can also just grab some of the loose ones that others have broken off. Here this is not the case. They are sold in set sizes of bunches despite the selling methods (i.e. so much per weight). Here is the bunch we bought recently:

This cost $2.50
This cost $2.50

On top of being a rather large bunch for just two people, they are also ripe. I have yet to see green/unripened bananas in any store. One can also only eat so many bananas over any given time period.

The other day we bought a blender. I wanted to make sure it was glass as I’m working my best to use less plastic and more things where the material breaks down significantly less. The local “LotteMart” (kinda like a WalMart) had a range and the one we got was discounted because it was the last one and there was no box for it. We didn’t mind getting a 40,000KRW for 28,000KRW Smile

This blender was simple. It only had 3 buttons. I figured that it was one speed, one momentary and a stop. That is exactly what it was. More on that in a bit. The purpose for the blender was so I could resume my morning fruit smoothies that have been a great health benefit for me. The blender does an adequate job. It would be nicer to have a higher speed to finely chew up the apple skins, still nothing to give up on.

In order to function better I’ve also been thinking and searching for a method to translate Korean into English. Many would think, at first thought, that it would be easy but not so. There are all kinds of online translators but there is a severe limitation. Those online translators are excellent for translating English into 50+ other languages but no so much for the other way around. It takes a lot more work as how many of you have Korean characters on your keyboard? How would figure out to input a Korean(Hangul) character in order to get some sort of English equivalent?

So after some hard thinking I realized that Windows has the ability to switch languages fairly easily. Happens all the time in Canada with French characters seemingly popping up (notably on laptops) because some user hit a key-combination and now the / key makes an e with an accent. Ok, so adding in the Hangul keyboard is easily done thought the Languages settings on the control panel but now what? How do I know which character is which? I don’t but making a chart is easy Smile. I opened up a spreadsheet and in one column I put all the English characters and switched languages and the second column I used the same keys but saw the corresponding Hangul character that is assigned to that key.

It is worth noting that the Hangul character assigned to any key does NOT relate to the English equivalent at all. Meaning if I press the letter “a” and then switch to the Hangul character set and press the same key I get a Korean character. This Korean character is NOT the ‘a’ in their language. It is simply the character assigned to that key. The English-speaking world maybe used to the QWERTY keyboard but not a single other language uses any/all of those characters, thus no keyboard equivalent.

Ok, so now I have my conversion chart. I can now begin my translations Smile

The first thing I tackled was the heating control for our apartment. Although we were told which button does what, it would be infinitely more useful to know what the labels actually say. That and it’s good practice Smile

Doing my best to match up characters, I got the labels and they matched up quite well. Although I got English words for the Korean characters, sometimes translations are not literal and more of an idea. For example, you will see ‘out’ in the picture below. I didn’t quite understand that until Bharati said it was for when you leave the place to set the temperature. Normally we just turn it on and off as the place stays warm for quite some time and we still don’t know how to play with the temperature setting.

Temperature Control for our apartment
Temperature Control for our apartment

And I think I’ve gotten the understanding how to allow the heat to self-regulate. Still, the apartment is well insulated and it will take many hours before a noticeable change in temp is felt. I have this egg-shaped clock/alarm/thermometer that works well in letting us know the ambient temperature.

I have this cell phone with a dictionary built into it. It’s useful enough to get my point across. When I first met Minhye (a friend of Bharati’s friend) she spoke some English ok enough but there was tons of concepts that didn’t translate. The little cell helped get my ideas across and it was cool to be able to ‘converse’ enough to understand each other.

I’m still looking for someone to exchange language learning with. I really want to be fluent enough to carry on a decent conversation by this time next year.

We are looking forward to a trip to Bharati’s old town when she was here last, to see the Buddhist temple out there. We donated some money last time and got our names put on small brass Buddha statues that went on a shelf. Hoping to find them again Smile

Kraft Dinner in Korea

There are some many things people take for granted.  Shelter, transportation and food.  With food, if you need something to prepare a meal you simply go to the store and buy it.  So what happens when you are in a completely foreign country and have yet to learn anything more than ‘hello/goodbye’?

After my hot dog experience with Kraft Dinner, I decided that using the extra hot dogs in spaghetti would be a bad idea I immediately thought of ground beef.  Great, so I’ve decided what to get…..now how do I get it?

A lot of English words are made more difficult by the Koreans adding a vowel at the end of a word that ends with a consonant.  For example ‘finish’ becomes ‘finishee’.  It is slightly less odd when a word like ‘village’ gets turned into ‘villagee’, which at least makes more sense by trying to pronounce a letter that is there but subdued when vocalized in English.  So I toyed with the idea of trying to make ground beef sound foreign by walking over to the store and asked for ‘grounduh beefuh’ but I just couldn’t bring myself to sound that dumb.

Being the geek that I am, I went to the tools I knew best….the Internet.  Specifically I used Babelfish.  Some of you might wonder why I didn’t use Google Translate, being a bit of a Google Fan.  Well, Babelfish has a bit of a geek history so there is a fondness for using something related to HHGTTG.

So I simply typed in ‘ground beef’ and choose to translate it to Korean and I’ll simply write it out to bring with me.  In case you haven’t seen the Korean written language (called Hangul), it’s related to Chinese/Japanese.  A lot of lines and slashes and circles arranged in some sort of order.  I was kinda hoping it wasn’t an overly complicated bunch of lines that I would be able to easily copy and bring with me.  Turns out I was right.


So, armed with this, I headed over to the store.  First I decided to just look for it.  Ground beef is pretty easy to find.  I found nothing.  Ok, time to whip out the note.  I held it up to one lady and said ‘ground beef?’, opting for standard English.  She said ‘yeh’ (which is yes….oddly, so is ‘neh’…I think it’s kinda like yes and yeah….) and then she proceeded to look for it.  She couldn’t find it and directed me to another lady behind the meat counter.  She said she had it (well, in Korean but I got the meaning) and finished with her current customer.

Well, what she did was get some beef out from the big freezer behind her and cut off some pieces.  She was going to grind it right there.  I asked her to do a bit bigger/more beef.  She ground it up and handed me the bag.

I brought it to the cashier, paid the 8130KRW (about $8) for 328grams (I think??  Not sure if I’m reading the package right).  Probably the most expensive beef I ever bought but at least I can say I did it all on my own and now can make some food with better meat for dinner for us tonight.

First day on my own in Korea

Here we are, my first full day on my own in South Korea.

Bharati went to work and suggested I stay in the apartment in case I got lost.  Ya, like that was going to happen, either staying indoors or getting lost.

I had already made breakfast at about 4:30am.  The bed she has is just too hard to sleep comfortably on so I gave up and got up.  Made breakfast and did some stuff on the computer.  Bharati couldn’t sleep either so we were up for a bit then tried to get a little more sleep.  When her alarm went off we both got up. She got ready and left for work and I prepped for my day.

I made sure I at least had her address (and that of the middle school nearby).  Why would I bother with the middle school address?  Well, it seems that addressing in South Korea is handled somewhat differently.  See, her building is less than a year old and as such, no one ‘knows’ about it.  I’m still trying to grasp the whole concept but it’s more like ‘building name’ in ‘area of town’ is what people use to get around.  Street addresses are purely secondary.  It’s kinda like saying ‘Union Station’ in ‘downtown’ in ‘Toronto’.  Everyone reading this post, with the few exceptions, knows exactly where Union Station is.  If I told you to go to 65 Front St West, Toronto, ON, you’d be wondering what the heck is there.  That’s about as close as I can describe how the general mindset is about places and directions.

The taxi driver who brought us from the Uijeongbu Station bus stop brought us to the Middle School(building) that he knew was in Milak-dong(area of town).  The actual address confused him as did the name ‘Ji Yong Village’ (name of building).  He also took his sweet time getting here but that is to be expected when you are a non-native in almost any non-caucasian country.

I had planned to go to an electronics store that might carry the power cord I needed for my Netbook to plug into the local outlet.  Bharati got one 3 years ago from her co-teacher.  On laptop power supplies, there are two cords.  One goes from the wall to the ‘power brick’ and the one that includes one brick that goes to the laptop.  Bharati said she thought it might be better if I waited till next week.  Ha, fat chance.  My battery life is damn good (8hrs used lightly) but not _that_ good.  Fortunately the cord is standard and will plug into my power brick, just means she can’t use her laptop for more than 5 mins as the battery is rather shot.

Ok, I head out based on the directions she gave me, which were close to the same area we went for a walk in last night.  Straight forward enough and I found the ‘digital plaza’, which was just one store I think.  It was a kind of small Future Shop.  Think: some household appliances, TVs, computers and such in store the size of a typical fast food restaurant.  Nice enough sales people, he followed me everywhere just waiting for me to ask a question.  I asked about the cord, they didn’t have it but he gave me the phone number of a place that would.  I checked out some of the local computers and routers.  I am lucky I bought my Netbook back home.  Now, you might be thinking that it should be cheaper and you just may be right.  The MSRP for this Netbook was around $450.  I bought the last one in Ontario, clearing them out for the next wave of Netbook hitting the market.  I paid $320 for mine and I saw the same unit selling for about KRW650.  Current exchange is $1 CDN = 1181KRW (or 1000KRW = 0.894 CDN).  That puts the Netbook I bought in the $550 CDN range.  $220 MORE than what I paid.  Then again, it’s still selling here and not back in Canada.  An interesting observation I thought.

After I was done at the store, I really wanted to find a coffee place.  This proved somewhat problematic as there wasn’t any blatant English advertising for breakfast/coffee shops and I, of course, couldn’t read Korea (yet).  I did see a sign for LotteMart.  A kind of WalMart type of store.  (Sidenote: there was a Walmart in Korea but it was closed down.  Presumably on poor business practices and inability to compete).

I got to the store around 9:58ish.  The store wasn’t quite open yet and I was politely directed to wait in the lobby area.  That was fine by me.  I did get to observe a strange morning staff ritual.  There were all kinds of female staff standing about 5ft apart along one of the long aisles.  The store speaker system was saying something in Korea and they repeated it.  There were also some actions to go with it, mostly involving a thumbs up and a kind of movement to ‘pointing to the back with thumbs seemingly symbolizing something in history or in the past’.  I don’t know about you but that kind of thing works fine in the Military (and works in cults but usually not in the best interest of the individual) but to be use in retail?  Seems to go rather far to garner loyalty and higher sales for any corporation.  Then again, at this point in my life, I want to be inspired because I am really contributing to the world and not simply making a daily living so that some CEO gets his pool cleaned every week or the business expense listed as ‘theraputic massage’ while in another country.

Once the odd little ritual was done, we were allowed into the store.  I wandered the first floor, mostly clothes.  Prices seemed fine for most things with a couple of expensive items (think Sears where you have your average reasonable prices and then the odd $500 items on display).  I found a Lotteria on the second floor serving breakfast.  Think of Lotteria as a complete and utter rip-off of Burger King.  I’m talking the colours, the layout, the menu even.  3 years ago when I was in I absolutely swore it was a BK until we went back the following day.  In any case, I got a coffee (Americano they call it) but only sugar, no cream or milk.  Well, it was not the most pleasant to drink but it was at least coffee.

I went and checked out the electronics.  A reasonable selection, pricing in line with the ‘digital plaza’ store I was at.  Nothing overly special to write about but they had more accessories.  Oh, they did have more routers and some fairly cheap ones (around the low $20 range).  I was tempted to get one but thought to hold off as we are going to Itaewon tomorrow.  I’ll fill you in then on that.

After I was done with LotteMart, I simply continued on my way, kind of making a large square in my walking pattern.  There’s a new subway line being built above ground.  And when I say above ground, I mean 40ft in the air.  So having a reference point wasn’t that hard.

Saw a couple of neat stores, and I should mention the French influence here.  It’s rather bizarre, even when you find out that the French occupied Korea at some point in the past.  I’m not talking minor stuff, although there are a growing number of French type of bakeries (Paris Baguette and Tou Les Jours) are quite plentiful.  I mean one of Hyundai’s flagship cars is called the Grandeur.  That’s right, a Korean company has a French-named car.  In North America it’s called the Azera.

I made it back to my area and decided to hit the local Paris Baguette for a snack.  I settled for the same odd one I grabbed yesterday.  This bread-pastry that had slices of sausage, ketchup, mayo and corn.  Very odd but it tasted good and was only KRW1200(just over a buck).

I came back to the apartment, tried to get some comp work done until I got hungry for lunch.  I decided to hit my new favourite restaurant that is a whopping 60ft from my front door :)  I don’t know it’s name yet but they have breaded pork cutlets (Yental Dongas, pronounced ‘yen-al don-gus’).  It’s really good and a whopping $4.  Comes with rice, some little salad and veggies.  They’ll even deliver it at no extra cost.

Now, I got the oddest of stories for this place and it happened last night.  Bharati took me to this restaurant last night and I really liked it.  While we were there the place got a call and the owner(?) called Bharati over.  It sounded like someone (another foreigner) was asking something and the owner was hoping Bharati could help her understand.

Now, let me back up a little.  Bharati had met this South African girl and became good friends a few months ago.  This girl told Bharati about some great Dongas place.  Bharati asked her if she could get her friend to grab a copy of the menu so she could keep it on had.  Ok, back to the story.

Bharati goes over to the phone, hears that the person is asking about a menu.  Well, as you should have guessed, it was her friend!  Her friend was calling at the time we were there to get a menu for the person who was helping the owner understand what was being asked!  Freaking bizarre.  Suffice to say, a menu was no longer necessary.

So, back to my day.  I finished the Dongas and the rice, brought the rest back for Bharati and wrote up this post :)

Bharati should be here in about 30mins, we’re heading out to a noreabong (Karaoke) tonight with a bunch of friends.  Should be a fun night!