Tag Archives: soju

A Seoul Spring on the Han

Something about being near water is simply relaxing. When the weather finally agrees to reward Seoul, Korea with a mild and sunny day after a brutally long winter people tend to flock to the Han River. Here are 10 ways to enjoy the river in the coming months.

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photo credit: my cool friend James

1) Banpo Bridge

The Banpo Bridge is home to the world’s largest bridge water fountain show. Arrive around dusk and enjoy the multicolored show of lights and water. It is amazing, this picture from last summer doesn’t do it justice!

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2) Walk, run, or roller-blade – just get out there and be active.

You will feel 100x better after an active river excursion on a day off from teaching English in Korea. Separate pedestrian paths line both sides of the river and you can cross the water at various bridges.

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 3) Yes, those are floating islands in the river.

The Seoul Floating Island (3 separate islands) is an artificial island in the river and was built in 2006 after a Seoul citizen, Kin Eun Sung, suggested the project. Kinda cool and random, huh? I love it.  Make your way over to the islands while enjoying the Han River in Seoul.

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 4) Bike, bike some more, stop at a  7-11, and then continue on your bike.

I have yet to rent a bike and enjoy a leisurely Sunday ride along the water. I must do this before I leave Korea. Bikers are always smiling and I want to be one of them. Maybe it’s the endorphins, or perhaps it’s the numerous soju and snack breaks. Either way, count me in. Read here for more information on bike rental spots along the Han river in Seoul.

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5) Chill out. 

You can easily lounge for hours in the grassy areas along the river. If you need to use a restroom there is usually always one nearby (Just remember to bring your own TP.). Also, if you find yourself and your English teacher friends craving a pizza (or really ANYTHING) you can simply call and order delivery (You may need help from a friendly Korean.) and minutes later a motorbike will arrive at your blanket with food. It’s simply amazing.

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6) I’m on a boat.

There are many ways to explore the Han river via boat. Check out this write-up about a Hangang river cruise through Seoul.

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7) Go fly a kite.

I know you’re a ‘grown-up’ now, but I promise it’s still fun.

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8) I really wonder where they find all the matching outfits.

I’m always down to people watch while I relax with a beer in hand and the sun on my face. I love spotting the adorably dressed matching couples strolling along the river hand-in-hand.

9) Stretch it out.

I’m a sucker for these friendly reminders to take time to stretch. After an activity-packed day on the river you deserve a little TLC.

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10) Relax, but keep one eye open at all times…

Here is something I promise you will not experience at the Han River. Oh, but you just never know in Korea. I’ve seen some pretty outlandish things.

 

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Going Gluten-Free in Korea (I’m trying.)

gluten-free

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I know some of you may not trust me as a gluten-free foodie resource in Korea. I mean, come on, I recently wrote a love letter (in the form of a blog post) to the best sandwicherie in Seoul. I’ve been known to indulge from time to time. Although, I swear I didn’t eat the suspicious PB&J sandwich pictured below. It was ‘gifted’ to me at Korea Burn this past summer and although my friend and I accepted the sustenance with gratitude, the fact that a kind soul pulled it out of his suitcase prompted us to ‘re-gift’ it to the carefree, rainbow-bearded man we met a few seconds later.

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I haven’t completely ditched gluten while teaching in Korea, but I have slowly made steps toward a healthier diet and eventually I hope to completely eliminate it. Although I do not have Celiac disease, I am sensitive to gluten and I feel much better when I avoid it (The protein gluten is primarily found in bread, pasta, cookies, pizza crust and many other foods containing wheat, barley or rye.). Before moving to Korea I was curious to learn how my diet would change and I hoped to adopt healthy habits while residing in Asia.

After a year in The Land of Kimchi, I can attest to the fact that it is possible to eat well in Korea and if you’re looking to keep away from gluten it can be done. The Gluten Free Traveler, who lived in Korea awhile back and was not gluten-free at the time, wrote “In thinking back, I could probably still eat now most of what I ate back in 2006 (in Korea).” I am not an expert and I am not as strict as I should be (Beer, I’m looking at you. We need to have a serious talk.), but here are 10 ways I have steered clear of gluten this past year. Please feel free to share your own ideas as well. Having a food allergy or sensitivity sucks, but I am here to tell you that you can live in Korea and still eat delicious and healthy food.

1) Where’s the bread?

Yes, you can find bread in Korea, but it doesn’t sneak onto every breakfast, lunch and dinner plate. Korea is rice territory, and my students won’t let me forget it. As a class warm-up activity each afternoon I ask my students what they ate for lunch at school. Almost every answer consists of rice, a vegetable (Kimchi!) and a protein. Plain rice is gluten-free – yay!

2) Bin dae dduk (빈대떡) is the bomb.

I blame my friend Barbara for my bin dae dduk obsession. During a maddening Christmas shopping rush in Namdaemun Market in December she made an executive decision to take a break from bartering for ginseng tea and Psy socks and led us into the maze of lively snack booths. We sat around one that was bustling with customers and women working to grind, mix, form and fry what I learned later was a mung bean concoction. Bin dae dduk means ‘mung bean pancake’ and is made from ground mung beans, green onions and kimchi. Here’s a recipe for those of you who are not lucky enough to be in Korea. And if you’re a kimchi lover (Who isn’t?!) try this gluten-free kimchi pancake recipe.

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3) Hire me, iHerb.com?

When I eventually leave Korea I should probably just apply for a job promoting iHerb because I’m already doing the work. I’m a bit crazy for this company and I am thankful I found them while living in Korea. I must sound like a broken record because I am constantly mentioning this website in blog posts, but iHerb’s gluten-free selection allows me to enjoy some favorites from home and it’s comforting to have a few key items in my cabinet that are clearly labeled ‘gluten-free’. When the hummus I ordered online arrived last week I excitedly opened a new package of rice crackers from iHerb.

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4) ImSil Cheese Pizza (임실치즈피자), let’s make a date.

ImSil Cheese Pizza is a chain with locations in Seoul. I have yet to try their 100% rice crust pizza but it is on my list of places to check out.

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5) Let’s do barbecue!

Korean barbecue is one of the things I will miss the most about this country. If you stick to non-marinated meats or samgyeopsal (삼겹살) you will be fine. Most of the barbecue sides are vegetable based and gluten-free, but avoid the thick sauces and soy sauce.

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6) Keep it whole. 

Although it is nice to find gluten-free baked goods and processed snacks, you also can’t go wrong with whole foods. Make sure you stick to the perimeter of the grocery store when you shop and stock up on fresh fruits and veggies.

7) Make mine a dolsot.

Bibimbap is a simple yet popular Korean dish. It consists of steamed rice, veggies, and sometimes meat. It is a great gluten-free choice and you can order it cold or hot (dolsot). I love the hot option because it comes topped with a fried egg and after mixing the ingredients together with chopsticks the hot rice that sticks to the bottom of the bowl hardens and is the most delicious (and crunchy) part of the whole experience.

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8) One shot?

Beer and I eventually will have THE TALK and break up. This needs to happen soon. It is comforting to know that Soju (Jinro Soju is a Korean vodka made entirely from sweet potatoes.) will be close by and willing to cuddle up and make me forget all about Blue Moon, my first love.

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9) Alien’s Day Out does gluten-free.

I stumbled upon Alien’s Day Out when I first arrived in Korea. Although this blog is vegan focused, its food photography makes me think that just maybe vegans know what’s up. The blogger’s creations are delicious and I do not recommend scrolling through the posts while you are hungry. I have purchased a few of her goodies at High Street Market and from time to time she also whips up gluten-free delicacies.

10) It’s fun when food is shaped like triangles.

If you’re in a rush and need a quick gluten-free snack just pop into any convenience store and grab a samgak kimbap (kimbap triangle). I’ve read that the tuna ones are safest to eat and they are a quick source of protein and energy. Here’s another recipe to check out.

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I hope you find this helpful and please comment with other gluten-free advice. I also found this card from Celiac Travel.com that can be printed and used as a tool when dining out.

Be smart. Be healthy. Don’t do too many “One shot!”s of soju. And eat your kimchi.

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Preparing for a Korean Goodbye: Don’t leave my friends out of this.

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Time is running out, so please stop saying, “Yeah, we will have to do that some weekend.” I have exactly 6 weekends left in Korea and each is pretty much full from 8pm on Friday until late Sunday afternoon. I am lucky in that many of my friends in Korea are also leaving close to my departure date. Most of us are in a rush to eat lots of kimchi, find Psy socks to bring home and most importantly soak up each others awesomeness before some depart for homes scattered all over the globe and others remain in Korea. And oh yeah, I still have to find the confidence to make a jjimjilbang date. Umm, a little help please?

So, here is my list. I believe if I write it, it will happen. Isn’t that how the saying goes? Please comment with other things I must do, see, taste, try or buy before I leave this fantastic country I have loved calling home.

I hope to…

1) tour the MOCA. I recently learned that Seoul’s National Museum of Contemporary Art offers free admission for select exhibits on the 4th weekend of each month. See you there?

2) have one more epic weekend adventure with my favorite SHG guide. If you are moving to Korea or are here already I strongly suggest you check them out. But only if you like to have fun. Otherwise, forget I mentioned it.

3) stock up on my favorite Korean cosmetics. Great timing Sheryll, I was getting worried I would leave before you shared this.

4) finally suck it up, strip down and visit a jjimjilbang. If this story doesn’t make you want to visit one, I’m sorry.

5) get lost at the Korean War Memorial and Museum for an entire day. I am proud to say I am related to the late Captain Joseph McConnell Jr. who was a leading jet ace of the Korean War. I hope to learn more about him and the war.

6) norebang with my favorite girlfriends in Uijeongbu one last time. The first night my friend voluntarily put on Call Me Maybe I knew I was going to be just fine in Korea.

7) pretend to know something about electronics and peruse the Yongsan Electronics Market.

8) Stuff my face with one (or two?) Casablanca Moroccan chicken sandwiches. I visited HBC a few weeks ago and almost cried (like real tears) when I found the storefront dark and closed for renovations. A Twitter friend swears they are reopening before I leave. She better not be throwing fake promises around the Internet. You know who you are, and I know your Twitter handle.

9) finally make it to a Hongdae Silent Disco. Check it out.

10) dress super classy and do it up Korea Style.

11) successfully order takeout to my apartment.

12) not go overboard, but add a few more key pieces to my arsenal of Korean fashion. I can’t help myself, I WANT EVERYTHING.

13) You tell me.

I have a lot to do, but I am grateful to spend these next weekends with friends who have kicked it with me in Korea for the past 11 months and have put up with me and my geeky love of planning. Last week we had an early Saturday morning outing scheduled and more sites to see in the afternoon. Friday night rolled around and we found ourselves at a favorite local bar enjoying cheap drinks, stories of teaching mishaps, college card games and a few sloppy rounds of darts. As you can guess, we didn’t make it to bed until the early morning and our plans were scratched in exchange for recovery rest. My Saturday was spent sleeping and Sunday was also quiet with a friendly coffee shop session and a long walk in the evening. Our lazy weekend meant I had to rearrange my planner notes, but I promise, no one is freaking out.

I am impressed with my long list of Korean adventures accomplished in the past year, but just like “감사합니다”  and “안녕하세요” will disappear from my daily routine come March, so will my friends who quickly became family in early 2012. So please, recommend your ‘Korea must-do-see-taste-try-buy’ item for my list, but if my friends aren’t down then I may give it a miss.

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Seoul Santacon: So be good for goodness sake!

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There are few times in life when I believe it is appropriate for a group of friends to wear bright and matching outfits, disregard the personal space and solitude of others in public and obnoxiously sing childish songs while moving from one drinking establishment to the next. One of these times would have to be Seoul Santacon.

A few short weeks ago I made my way into Seoul along with a couple hundred other holiday revelers to socialize, sing and sip soju for an evening. I thought I was festively prepared donning a red scarf and Rudolph ears, but I was surprised to find most people decked head to toe in Santa garb. After a few drinks at Beer O’Clock in Sinchon, Seoul’s center of young nightlife,  a sea of red and white slowly made its way to a nearby subway station where soju was shared and merriment had. Koreans armed with smartphones proudly captured the chaotic scene of Santas singing off-key and sometimes incomplete Christmas songs. I never thought Rudolph could be butchered so gruesomely. With a group so large, some songs were commenced and quickly forgotten when other lyrics drifted onto the scene. The caroling petered out when the subway reached Hongdae and we made our way to the appropriately named HO Bar (“Ho Ho Ho!”) where we danced, mingled and listened to Mariah repeatedly inform us of her Christmas list.

Although the night was one of this winter’s coldest (so far) and we spent most of it inside bars and clubs, I most enjoyed the short half hour of travel from Sinchon to Hongdae via the Seoul Metropolitan Subway. Being an expat in Korea can sometimes be a bit lonely, but a tipsy and merry song and dance to and through the subway with a  family of fellow foreigners leaves one feeling joyous and determined to spread the holiday spirit. Because we all know: The best way to spread Christmas cheer is singing loud for all to hear.

I would divulge more detail of the social movements through the bars and clubs of Hongdae, but Santa told me to be good for goodness sake…

How To Travel: Santa sans Sleigh

Step One: Make sure you pay your way…the other Santas know if you’ve been bad or good.

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Step Two: Wait around until a responsible looking Santa steps up and leads the way through the station.

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Step Three: Try to enjoy the ride, Rudolph is loving his night off. 

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It’s your party, but please learn to hike first.

With about 70% of the Korean peninsula covered with mountains, the hiking culture dominates the the Land of Kimchi. I went for a short hike up Mt. Dobongsan near my home a few weeks ago. I have a ways to go if I want to start calling myself a “hiker”, but here are my thoughts thus far…

Hiking in Korea is reminiscent of attending an epic college party.

It is imperative that you…

pre-game. (Who wants some morning makgeolli?)

dress to impress.

(Leave your sweats at home and make sure your gear is from this season.)

show up at the right time with drinks to share.

(Koreans hike early in the morning and are generous with their drinks.)

move at the right pace.

(You don’t want to rush ahead and fall and be ‘that guy’ that your friends have to take care of, but you also don’t want to fall behind and miss the fun.)

conserve enough energy so that you can make an appearance at the after party.

(Fact: Korean bbq tastes 100x better after a hike.)

at least attempt to conceal your grin on your way home on the subway while jealous onlookers admire your post-outing glow.

(“Yeah, I just hiked for 5 amazing hours and it’s only 12pm. What have you done today?”)

See you on the mountain…unless I was at a party the night before…and in that case I will be sleeping instead.

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My Date with PSY: soju chugging, shirtless dancing + some singing

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I almost missed my date with PSY, but I have a long subway ride and my love of Twitter to thank for getting me up front and personal with the man who brought Gangnam Style (722,762,395 views as of 11/15) to the world.

Five days on an island will leave you feeling disconnected. Although armed with a smart phone and tablet, I spent a long and blissfully detached getaway on Jeju this fall. I snapped a few pictures with my phone and did read a bit using my tablet, but for the most part I managed to stay away from the black hole that is the internet.

We arrived back in Seoul on a Wednesday evening with the Jeju travel group and from there I still had to venture further north to my city of Uijeongbu. I sat squished next to my vacation companions on the subway with little left to say to each other after five days of bonding. I took this time to catch up on my Twitter obsession and scrolled aimlessly through a few days worth of updates. All of a sudden I was bombarded with a blast of tweets about a free show Psy was promising his Seoul fans if he made it to #1 on the US Billboard Hot 100 chart. I had to piece together the news, but I gathered that there would be a free concert in Seoul that following night and that Psy might be shirtless at some point during the event. Less than 24 hours later I was on the same subway heading back into the city to finally meet the man who had recently, in the eyes of my family and friends, made my move to Korea an impressive one.

My friends and I decided to play it safe and we made our way into Seoul around 4pm for a 10pm concert start time. As we climbed the stairs to the Seoul City Hall subway exit we realized that the early arrival game-plan was not exclusively ours. The Seoul municipal government closed off streets around the exit and security and safety officials were already directing fans of all ages as they clamored to find the right sitting spot to wait out the early evening. We managed to find a small patch of grass to claim for the next few hours and the atmosphere continued to intensify as time ticked by.

At first I was impressed with the patient and orderly Koreans who sat quietly waiting for the right time to stand and enjoy the show, but then things got hectic. The section we were sitting in got closed off because too many people were trying to walk through the seated audience members. My friend who had gone in search of food was told she couldn’t rejoin us. Older Koreans who had been waiting for hours grew tired and had to be carried out of the crowd. I even witnessed one older gentleman faint in the middle of arguing with a security guard. One moment I was on the phone telling my detained friend to duck under the security tape and make a run for it and the next moment the Korean crowd simultaneously decided to stand up and rush the stage. Picnics were trampled as little children were scooped up. My other friend grabbed my arm as we were pushed forward and my constrained friend used the instant of confusion to dart into the moving crowd. A few minutes later we found ourselves smack dab in front of Psy’s stage. My lost friend found us and we all stood in silence admiring our close proximity to greatness.

It was only after the fact that I learned of the crowd’s staggering statistics. More than 80,000 people came out to see Psy perform for two hours. Psy was very humble on stage and there was more than one moment where he seemed to stop and just stare at the crowd in disbelief. He laughed and told us, “I did not get here because I was worthy of it. I’m here because of all of you. I’m just a fat man with two kids.” The Seoul concert was an elaborate thank you to Psy’s Korean fans, who supported him before the horse dance was a phenomenon.  I admit, I did not know many of Psy’s other songs, although all were dance-worthy, but I was most curious to watch Psy perform, and boy did he. The crowd loved him and he took many opportunities to thank them for their continued support. He ran back and forth along a long stage that extended into the audience, only stopped dancing at one point to chug an entire bottle of soju, graced us with two versions of Gangnam Style and went shirtless at the end of the show, as promised. I went from watching the video (with no volume) on my iPad back in July, to being a few inches from the front row security guards with my surprised waegook face plastered all over the big screens. Oh, did I forget to mention that? Yeah, that happened. I love life.

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Check out the girl with the yellow ears at :43-:45.

some of my own pictures
5pm arrival for a 10pm concert start
The security men were all business.
smokey stage after surprising stage fireworks
dance moves for hours
a tad ecstatic
looking right at me
Do you know the lyrics?
Psy must have missed drinking soju during his US media tour.
no shirt, as promised

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Korea Burn – Leave your wallet at home.

After spending a weekend at Korea Burn this September, I realized that although I have been in Korea for more than 7 months now, this country will continue to surprise me with each weekend excursion. On a Monday night my friend called an emergency meeting to persuade a group of us to ‘apply’ for last-minute Korea Burn tickets, Tuesday I enlisted the help of my co-teacher in purchasing a tent from a Korean website, Wednesday and Thursday night were spent texting my friends back and forth regarding our to-do lists of making matching costumes, finding glow-sticks and glitter and buying bug repellent and Friday night I found myself staring at an empty suitcase wondering what the heck one brings to a Burn.

Korea Burn was inspired by Burning Man, the annual festival in Black Rock City, Nevada. The festival in Nevada lasts for a week and includes art installations and performances inspired by the participants. The festival’s core values include participation, art, self-expression and experience. The festival in Korea lasted for only a weekend but everyone involved followed the main mission statement of Burning Man. The celebration centered around a constructed wooden man with arms open to the sky. The structure was set ablaze on Saturday night and this act brought all of the festival goers together to watch the fire show. The weekend participants were encouraged to follow these 10 principles:

1) Radical Inclusion

2) Gifting

3) Decommodification

4) Radical Self-reliance

5) Radical Self-expression

6) Communal Effort

7) Civic Responsibility

8) Leaving No Trace

9) Participation

10) Immediacy

(If you are interested, you can learn more at http://www.koreaburn.co.kr/)

I found the idea of ‘Gifting’ to be the most interesting. The organizers encouraged us to leave our wallets at home, or at least in our tents. How could a massive beach party of foreigners survive without the flow of cash? Even if we were willing to gift the snacks that we brought (soju soaked watermelon pieces cut into stars and hearts), could we really rely on strangers to bring the rest of the party supplies and also to be giving with them? I was amazed at how generous people were as soon as we arrived at Gijipo Beach on Saturday morning. As soon as we found a spot to pitch our tent (which is a story in itself – trust me), we changed into our Burn Costumes (Burn Costumes can be WHATEVER you want them to be, believe me, I saw it all.) and headed to the beach. One of my favorite gifting moments was when I traded an original poem for a crispy slice of bacon. It may have been the best piece of bacon ever. I think the rest of the weekend is best described with pictures. It was one of those weekends that will stay with me. And the fact that this took place in Korea is just icing on the cake. I traded a hand-knit scarf for this cake of course. Gifting is key.

 

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