Monsoons, TOPIK, & Mud!

Rainy/monsoon season is no joke. Imagine my shock/surprise/horror when I left the house at 7 AM on a Sunday and it was just absolutely *dumping* rain. There was just no avoiding getting soaked. I was so annoyed!

But the test went well… I hope. I don’t have the results yet. I ended up shopping a bit after the test, and exercising in the evening. I have to work out in my apartment because I only belong to a taekwondo gym right now. I’d like to eventually join a real gym so I have access to equipment. My room must suffice though.

I also enjoy running outside, but the random rain makes it difficult. Turns out that heavy rain from that morning just flooded the stream and river in Jochiwon. I only got about 1 km into my run before I was forced to stop because the path was flooded. Squishy mud made it annoying and maybe a little dangerous to run in because it was slick.

I think the rain is tapering off these days, but we’re still stuck with ridiculous humidity. Must persevere so I can make it to vacation! For now, gotta make it through summer English camp for the coming 2 weeks. 화이팅!

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Jo Kwon Mini Fan Meeting

I was lucky enough to be picked to attend Jo Kwon’s (singer of 2AM, musical actor) fan meeting at his cereal cafe – Midnight in Seoul – a couple weeks ago. The meeting was to celebrate the 9th anniversary of his debut.

I applied on the 2AM Daum cafe. I was a bit apprehensive because I’m not 100% confident about my Korean skills, but also meeting someone I admire was intimidating too. Nonetheless I applied and I went.

It was a pretty chill affair, although the weather itself was far from chilly. It’s summer which means heat, humidity, and the rainy season. Luckily the rain wasn’t a problem… until I had to go home anyway.

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It was held just outside Midnight In Seoul which is the cereal cafe Jo Kwon runs (co-runs? co-owns? The place was originally run by other people, I believe). About 30-35 fans total sat outside in the outdoor seating area while we waited. Actually, Jo Kwon came in rather nonchalantly. His parents and aunts were waiting inside, so he sat with them for a bit.

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The whole event took about 30-40 minutes. He greeted us and answered questions we wrote on memo notes. My question was what’s his favorite musical, but he answered all the ones he has been in and one or two others lol. So actually I don’t know if it was interpreted as “What’s your favorite” or “What’s your favorite that you’ve done”. By the way, he said he’s working on a new solo album. No word yet on when it’ll be released since he’s currently acting in the musical “Evil Dead” in Seoul.

He then showed us how to make one of the cereal specials that’s on the menu in the cafe. We also each got a chance to go up and say hi/get a signature. I was pretty nervous, but it turned out okay.

That was pretty much the end of the event. A few people got selfies with him, but he looked kinda busy so not many did it. I thought he’d pack up and leave, but he actually stuck around and worked at the cafe! Granted, there were other staff members, but he helped here and there. I ended up buying one the menu items which ended up being pure sugar.

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See? Tasty, but holy cow that’s just all sugar right there.

Now quite a bit after the event, maybe 30 minutes or so, I ended up getting a selfie with Jo Kwon. I had stayed to snack and also because the rain got kinda heavy. I didn’t really feel like walking in the rain (I ended up having to anyway). I felt bad about asking for a photo because he looked pretty tired, and I think he was packing up to leave. He was very kind, though, and obliged to take a photo.

Quick note: The cafe itself is nice. It’s actually split into 2 sections which are on either side of the building entrance, but share the outdoor seating area. I didn’t partake in any other food, so I’m curious about the privately labeled cereal. You can actually order it on their website, so I may give that a go one of these days.

You can check out Midnight in Seoul on Instagram and their website. If you’re in Seoul it may be fun to head on over. You may see Jo Kwon or other celebs!

Seoul Lotus Lantern Festival

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Long time no blog!

So… I’m back in Korea now. (“Say whaaaaat?”)

Yep a lot has happened since my last post *cough* last year. Long story short I re-applied to the EPIK program and was accepted. I’m now living in Sejong which is right next to Daejeon. How lucky!

I’m going to try to get caught up and do a back log of some of my adventures over the past couple months, but today I wanted to show some of what I saw at the Lotus Lantern Festival in Seoul.

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A lantern parade float

I randomly decided on Saturday morning that I should go to Seoul and check out this festival that I had read about online. A lot of my friends in the EPIK program decided to go to Jindo for the Sea Parting Festival which I a) still haven’t seen but b) forgot to chime in that I maybe wanted to go haha. So a solo Seoul (Seoul-o?) trip it is!

I was able to book a hostel in Hongdae pretty easily which was lucky since my first choice place was booked up. Well, that’s what I get for waiting until the last minute. I killed time in Hongdae until I headed over to Jogyesa Temple where the festival was being held. Jogyesa is the chief temple of the Jogyesa Order for Korean Buddhism. The festival is held in honor of Buddha’s birthday, which fell on May 3rd this year in Korea. It changes every year because of the lunisolar calendar, but it’s typically in May.

It was such a sight to see! There were groups playing traditional instruments, people dressed in beautiful hanbok and other traditional clothes, and so many people carrying lanterns. And the parade floats! I’d seen pictures of past parades, but it’s a whole different thing to see them in person. I can’t imagine how long those take to craft. Plus, there were people from different places like Thailand and Myanmar marching together with their own floats in honor of Buddha. The people carrying lanterns were even just handing them to people as they passed. I got 2! One I got was shaped like a lotus, and a little girl was staring longingly at it. So I gave it to her, and she traded me the one she had. I ended up having to leave 1 behind at the guesthouse, though, because I couldn’t carry it all with me (boo!).

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The floats were parked and lined up on the street, so I got to take a good look at all of them. I also explored Jogyesa a bit. There were soooo many lanterns hanging, and it just looked beautiful at night.

I also went inside the temple to pay my respects. I just quietly stood in the back because people were praying and I didn’t want to disturb anyone. I did, though, take part in the Bathing Buddha ritual. The ritual is supposed to help improve happiness and peace of mind. A person takes what is essentially a long ladle and pours water over a small Buddha statue 3 times. Each time you should say each of these things:

  1. May I eliminate all evil thoughts.
  2. May I cultivate good deeds.
  3. May I help save all living beings.

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Before I went back to Hongdae I walked down the street once more and came upon another celebration. There was a big stage set up with performers on stage (my guess is they were pansori singers, but I’m not sure). There was a large crowd watching, and also groups of people, both Korean and non-Korean, holding hands in a circle and dancing — or walking? They were walking in circles to the music anyway haha.

I honestly hadn’t expected the whole thing to be so lively. My initial thought was that since Buddha is such a revered figure that maybe it’d be a “tame” event, but it really was more like a party! I’m so glad I was able to experience it. If you’re in Korea around Buddha’s birthday you really should give it a go.

Best Dakkalbi Ever!

I’d been dreaming of one particular place in Daejeon since returning home, and I couldn’t wait to go there when I was on vacation in fall. That place is 맛존 (mat-jon or Mat [flavor/taste] Zone). I have never tasted better dakkalbi than there.

The first time I went there was a few years back when my friend was working there part-time in college. It became a favorite place among our group. I always get “mild” spice because even that makes my nose run. I had “hot” once with co-workers and I could barely handle it. So good though! It’s secret too. The owner makes the sauce off-site and brings it in to the restaurant. Wow!

You can get add-ons like cheese or have them make it into bokkeumbap (fried rice) with your leftovers. Plus, they have yummy pineapple makkeolli!

Mat-jon isn’t too hard to find. It’s in Gungdong (궁동) which is the area right by Chungnam University. Start from Sobija Mart, where all the taxis drop off/pick up. Walk straight for a minute or so. Turn right at the first large street by Paris Baguette. Then make a left at the next street. Mat-jon will be on the right side. Enjoy!

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Address: 대전광역시 유성구 궁동 408-14
(You’ll probably get more accurate results plugging that into Naver Maps as opposed to Google Maps)

Rest Stops in Korea

At the end of last month I went on vacation back to Korea. It was super fun and waaaay too short.

I filmed this video on a whim my 2nd day back. I had planned to rent a WiFi egg (portable router), but what I didn’t know is that you can only rent them at the airports. I, for some reason, had it in my head I could go to a cell phone shop or something. Nope. So the day after I flew in I actually went back to Incheon airport to rent the egg. Korea has more places with Wifi compared to, say, Japan, but it’s not everywhere so having an egg is super helpful.

So anyway I took the bus back which is cheaper than the train, but takes a little longer. And most of the time the buses will stop at these rest stops. The only exceptions are when a) the ride isn’t very long or b) when it’s a very late bus. Usually when I would take the bus back from Incheon to Daejeon after flying in late at night the bus doesn’t make pit stops.

The rest stops in Korea are pretty much the same everywhere. There are a couple exceptions for ones that are particularly big or have some shops or a bigger food court. But all the basic ones are the same – some bathrooms, a small food court, a convenience store, and other small food shops like Dunkin’ Donuts and shops that sell things like 호두과자 (hodu-kwaja) – a sweet bread/cookie with walnuts and, sometimes, red bean paste. Also there’s almost always a little stand selling weird odds-and-ends and trot music lol.

Not a bad place to stretch your legs!

Korean Drinking Games (part 1)

Before I went to Korea I never bothered to learn any American drinking games. So when I went to Korea I found out that there are many different kinds of games and almost everyone seems to know them. I quickly learned a few and they became a staple of nights out.

So I enlisted the help of my friends and taught them a couple games. It’s pretty silly and they take some practice, but once you learn they’re pretty fun. 🙂

You don’t have to drink either if you want to play them. You can do other penalties instead. You may have seen people on K-variety shows doing things like the forehead flick and other things like that when they play games. Anyway, here are the ones we played!

The Name Game

(a.k.a. 아이엠 그라운드/I am ground)

This is an icebreaker, but it’s a toughie! There 4 motions you need to know:

– Slap you legs

– Clap you hands

– Point with your right thumb

– Point with your left thumb

Keep repeating the motions throughout.

So the 1st person says another person’s name and a number 1 to 4. So for example (using my name):

*slap* *clap* Janelle, 2

This is where it gets tricky. The numbers are how many times your say your name. So —

1 = *slap* *clap* *point* Janelle

2 = *slap* *clap* Janelle, Janelle

3 = *slap* Janelle, Janelle, Janelle

4 = Janelle, Janelle, Janelle, Janelle

Then you call out the next person and try to keep it going. You have to listen carefully or you’ll mess up!

3-6-9

(삼-육-구/sam-yuk-gu)

A lot of Korean drinking games seem to involve numbers. In this one, everyone takes turns saying a number, counting upwards. However, you can’t say the numbers 3, 6, or 9. This includes numbers with 3-6-9 in them like 13, 16, etc. Instead of saying it, you clap. If you get to the 30’s, it’s all clapping! You clap twice for numbers like 33, 36, and 39. If you mess up, you drink.

That’s it for this time. I hope to do part 2 soon so I can teach you a few more!

먹자! Let’s Eat – Ddeokguk (떡국)

Happy New Year ~ 새해 복 많이 받으세요!

Last week was the Lunar New Year or 설날 (Seollal) in Korea. It’s another big holiday like Chuseok where people travel to be with their families and celebrate. Of course there’s different kinds of foods to eat during that time as well. One of the must-eats during Seollal is 떡국 (ddeokguk).

The soup is made with a protein broth (I used beef, but you can use seafood, chicken, etc.) and rice cakes. Other ingredients like green onions, egg, and seaweed are also added. Once again I found a great recipe at Maangchi. I only did some very slight variations to save prep time and it turned out great.

[*Gonna reiterate that this recipe is all Maangchi’s and she gets all the credit. I’m just posting how I used it. 🙂 ]

Ingredients:

– 1 pound of sliced rice cakes (ddeokguk/떡국)

– 7 cups of water

– 1/2 pound of beef, chopped

– 3-4 minced garlic cloves

– 3 green onions, sliced

– 2 eggs

– 1 tbsp fish sauce

– 1 tsp sesame oil

– 1/2 tsp black pepper

– 1 sheet of kim (seaweed)

– salt

Directions:

– soak the rice cakes in cold water for about 30 minutes

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– Boil the water in a large pot on high heat for 12-15 minutes

– Chop up your beef (I bought stew meat from Trader Joe’s). Add the beef and garlic to the pot, lower the heat to medium. Cover and boil for 20-25 minutes.

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* I used frozen garlic cubes (again from Trader Joe’s) instead of fresh. It’s a quicker alternative to chopping fresh garlic, and will keep in your freezer for some time.

– I also bought Trader Joe’s Roasted Seaweed Snack, rather than buying a bunch of seaweed that I probably wouldn’t use. Maangchi suggests roasting the seaweed in her recipe, but this is much quicker. Plus it’s a nice snack and only 99 cents.

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– Separate the egg yolks and whites, putting them in separate bowls. Add a pinch of salt to each and mix.IMG_0537

– Add oil (canola or vegetable) to a small heated pan. Turn off the heat and put the egg yolks in the pan. Let it cook for about 1 minute. Flip the egg and cook for another minute. Take it out and slice into thin strips.

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– Add rice cakes to the boiling soup with fish sauce, salt, and onion. Stir and cover for 7-8 minutes. Add egg whites and cook for 1 minute.

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– Add sesame oil and black pepper. Stir and remove from heat.

– Serve into bowls. Garnish with egg strips, crushed seaweed, and any other garnish you want.

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Enjoy!