Birthday

1 Jul

I suppose this post is a little late, but I celebrated my 27th birthday last Wednesday. Last weekend, my college roommate and dear friend, Mil-Al, came down to Daegu from Incheon. Her birthday is June 28, so we celebrated together. It was a weekend full of good eats. On Saturday, we started our night out at this barbeque restaurant near Samdeok Fire Station. On Sunday, my lovely friend Jin-Ah cooked us a birthday feast, which was followed up by a chocolate-chocolate-chocolate cake.

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It was so delicious! Jin-Ah is an amazing cook!

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Mil-Al and I

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Jin-Ah and I

Before dropping Mil-Al off at the train station that evening, we swung by downtown because she wanted to try the famous Jungang Ddeokbokki. We had to wait in line for about 20 minutes, but it was worth it!

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The crazy line at Jungang Ddeokbokki

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The rice cakes were actually sold out, so we had to settle for dumplings in ddeokbokki sauce. I’m not usually a fan, but that sauce was THE SHIT!

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I can’t wait to go back!

I actually had a blast at work on my birthday. It’s an office tradition to pitch in for a birthday cake… and a nice little envelope of beer money cash. One of my classes hid little birthday notes and presents around the room for me to find.

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One of my coworkers said to me, “You know, I think they learned this sort of thing from you.” I’ve taught them well!

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They’re the coolest.

Another class made me a card and a makeshift birthday cake out of some moon pies. So sweet!

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My little artists

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So cute!

After work, I went out with a couple friends for mandatory birthday libations. I finally checked off “stay out all night and have ‘hangover soup’ for breakfast” from my Korea bucket list. If you’re wondering… It’s a sham! Okay, to be fair, washing it down with shots of soju probably decreases its effectiveness.

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This looks gross, but it was delicious… from what I can remember.

The Naked Fork: How to make bossam

19 Jun Korean salad dressing ingredients

This hump day I bring you the first in what I plan to be a series on food.

Last year, my friend Jin Ah taught me how to make doenjang jjigae (soybean paste soup) and japchae (stir-fried sweet potato noodles). And this year, Chris and I taught ourselves how to make jjimdak (chicken, vegetables and noodles marinated in a mouth-watering soy sauce-based sauce) with this video.

Gina taught me how to cook a couple Korean dishes

Jin Ah in the kitchen

I learned how to make doenjang jjigae and japchae. Everything was so fresh and delicious!

Everything was farm fresh and delicious

I recently added two more Korean dishes to my repertoire. Last weekend, I had the pleasure of participating in a traditional Korean cooking class at the Daegu YMCA where  I learned how to make bossam (pork belly boiled in spices and thinly sliced) and geotjeori (a Korean salad that is commonly served at barbeque restaurants). The recipes are simple and delicious. Here’s how you can make them at home…

Recipe: Bossam with Geotjeori

Source: Daegu YMCA

You’ll need:

(Bossam)

1 large hunk (1.5 pounds) of pork belly (you could probably use another cut, like pork shoulder)

1 tbsp. soju

1 small leek, chopped

2-3 cloves of garlic, chopped

1 tbsp. fresh ginger, minced

1 tbsp. sugar

1/2 cup Chinese cabbage, chopped

(Geotjeori)

4 cups salad greens (romaine, green leaf or red leaf lettuces are all suitable), roughly chopped

1/2 cucumber, sliced into two-inch strips

1/2 cup green onion, sliced into two-inch strips

1/2 bell pepper, sliced into two-inch strips

2 tsp. pepper flakes

1 tsp. salted seafood sauce

1 tsp. garlic powder

1 tsp. ginger sauce

2 tsp. sugar (or plum juice)

3 tsp. sesame oil

Korean salad dressing ingredients

Korean salad dressing ingredients

Salad fixings

Salad fixings

Step 1: Add the meat and the other bossam ingredients to a large pot and fill the rest of the pot with water.

Step 2: Bring the pot to a strong boil. After 30 minutes, turn the heat down to a medium boil. Continue boiling for another 30 minutes. In the meantime, you can prepare the salad.

Pork and seasonings boiling away

Pork and seasonings boiling away

Step 3: After rinsing and drying your vegetables, chop them up and toss them in a large bowl.

Step 4: Whisk the pepper flakes, salted seafood sauce, garlic powder, ginger sauce, sugar (or plum juice) and sesame oil together. Pour the mixture over your salad and toss it so the vegetables are evenly covered.

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My classmates

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Adding dressing to the salad

Salad’s done, back to the meat…

Step 5: Remove the pork from the liquid and let it cool for about 20 minutes.

The lovely women who lead our cooking class

The lovely women who lead our cooking class

Step 6: Slice the meat into thin slices and arrange them on a plate. Then it’s time to eat!

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Slicing up some pork belly

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We paired the bossam with pickled apricots and tiny salty shrimp. Delish!

If you are interested in taking a cooking class at the Daegu YMCA, there is another class coming up on Monday, June 23 from 5:30 to 7 p.m., where you can learn how to make jjimdak! The class is free for YMCA students and only 5,000 won for non students. To sign up, email ymcatg@naver.com.

Jeolla province and my first time traveling alone

15 Jun Damyang

If you have spent more than a year in Korea, you know that it can be easy to feel like you’ve seen it all. I hear other English teachers say it all the time: “After awhile, it all starts to look the same.” As a photographer, I’m always looking for new perspectives on the same old thing, but even I can get sucked into this mindset. So I decided to use last weekend as an opportunity to go somewhere I’d never been before (Jeolla province) and do something I’d never done before (travel alone).

Day 1: How many people are in your party?

I know what you’re probably thinking: Of course you have traveled alone before; you moved to Korea by yourself! But it’s different; I see Daegu as my second hometown. I was apprehensive from the time I started to plan my trip. When I was arranging overnight accommodations for my stay, I was asked, “How many people are in your party?” I hesitated before I replied, “Just me… Is that okay?” I’m happy to say that it turned out to be much more than “okay”!

I spent two nights at Pedro’s House, a hostel in Gwangju. I cannot praise this guesthouse and its owner, Pedro Kim, enough. The guest house was conveniently located, clean, cozy and incredibly comfortable. Pedro was an amazing host. It’s clear he cares that you enjoy your stay at his guesthouse and in Gwangju. When I checked in, he assured me, “Traveling alone is the best way.”

Pedro's House

Pedro’s House

Pedro's House

Pedro’s House

Pedro's House

Pedro’s House

That first night, I felt a little sheepish about asking him if he could recommend a good choice for dinner for a solo traveler. As Jeolla province is renowned for its food, he was more than happy to oblige and even walked me to the restaurant which was only a few blocks away. I enjoyed a delicious meal of hand-cut sesame noodles cooked in a broth with seafood and vegetables. Later I met some of the other guests and we enjoyed drinks on the rooftop of the guesthouse.

Day 2: Lush Damyang/Are you lost, little girl?

The next day, I set out for Damyang, a town that is famous for its bamboo forest. It was easy to get there from Gwangju as you can take a city bus for 1,200 won (about $1), and it only takes 30-40 minutes to get there. When I got off the bus, I was struck by how green the place was. The bamboo forest is across the street from a river where people can walk or ride bikes along beautiful tree-lined paths. The river was dotted with tents selling refreshments.

Damyang

Damyang

It was hot when I got there, so I bought a liter of water and grabbed a shady spot along the river’s bustling walkway. I decided I would hydrate and people watch before I started walking around. I wasn’t sitting there for long before I heard someone call to me, “Ma’am?” I looked up. The speaker was a Korean gentleman sitting to my right.

“Where are you from?” he asked. I told him that I was from America, but I was living in Daegu. It turned out that my new friend was from Daegu too. He told me he had been in a terrible car accident earlier this year and lost his job at a church. He and his wife were staying in Damyang where she had found work. Despite all this, he was very cheerful and told me all about his military service and how he had done training in Texas and Oklahoma. He showed me pictures of his family and his teachers and classmates in America. He said he was happy for the opportunity to practice his English. And then the questions started…

He asked all about my school and my students and my living situation. What made me want to teach English in Korea? Was it hard to find work in the United States? Was I single? Didn’t I miss my fiance? Do I go to church? How did I hear about Damyang? What was I going to do today? And finally, with a grave face: “Why are you here alone?”

This is quite possibly the worst thing about traveling (or doing anything for that matter) alone in Korea. This culture puts great emphasis on inclusion. If you’re not in a group, people tend to feel sorry for you. Concerned, even. It feels bad, but I try not to get defensive. I explained that I enjoy traveling alone. Rather than pick up on my hint, he suggested that we continue our conversation while taking a stroll along the river. “Uh… I just drank a liter of water, so I need to find a restroom,” I said. “Ah, there’s one!” he said, pointing across the river. “I have to… how do you say… urinate too.”

As I sat in the stall, I strategized my plan of escape. He was a nice man, but I didn’t want to walk around with him all day. Since there wasn’t a back door, I summoned the nerve to be direct: It’s been fun, but I think it’s time to go our own ways. But when I came out of the restroom, I didn’t see him. I thought I was off the hook until I heard, “Bridgett! Bridgett! Over here!” I turned to see him sitting under a vendor’s tent, an ice cream cone in each hand.

After an ice cream and a sweet filled pancake and more talk about church, I finally thanked him for his kindness and told him I didn’t want to be rude, but I was going to continue on my own. Thankfully, he didn’t seem offended in the slightest. He said people showed him so much hospitality when he was in America that he just wanted to return the favor.

I spent the rest of the day feeling free. I rented a bicycle and rode along the river. I walked along shady paths lined with ancient trees. I passed family picnics and couples napping in the shade. I visited the bamboo forest. It was nice, but there were so many people that it felt less like a forest and more like a crowded day at the zoo. I visited a cafe. I got another bamboo ice cream cone. Then I headed back to Gwangju.

Damyang

Damyang

Damyang

Damyang

Damyang

Damyang

Damyang

Damyang

Damyang

Damyang

Back in Gwangju, I explored the May 18 Memorial Park before heading back to the guest house. After walking around all day, I was ready for a shower and a hot meal. Which brings me to my second complaint about traveling alone in Korea. Besides street food, fast food and kimbap joints, options are limited for those dining solo. Many restaurants will actually turn you away because the menus are designed for groups. I hoped I would be able to join some of the other guests for dinner.

I was lucky to meet Amy, a high school teacher from Australia. She was also traveling alone for the first time. Pedro suggested a nearby restaurant and even called ahead to order for us. Less than an hour later, we were enjoying delicious barbecued short ribs and an awesome assortment of banchan, Korean side dishes.

After dinner, we had another little party on the rooftop where we were joined by two friends from Singapore who were traveling around Korea to celebrate graduating from college. Later, Pedro took the four of us to a camping-themed restaurant. It was one of those “only in Korea” experiences. We sat in camping chairs drinking soju and beer and grilling sausages, pork belly and shrimp. It was such a fun night!

Camping restaurant in Gwangju

Camping restaurant in Gwangju

Camping restaurant in Gwangju

Camping restaurant in Gwangju

Camping restaurant in Gwangju

Camping restaurant in Gwangju

Camping restaurant in Gwangju

Camping restaurant in Gwangju

Camping restaurant in Gwangju

Camping restaurant in Gwangju

Day 3: Boseong: Green tea paradise

The next day, Amy and I set out for Boseong, famous for its green tea plantation. My expectations were low. Boseong is a little harder to get to. You have to take an intercity bus there, then transfer to a city bus that takes you to the green tea plantation. Also, a Korean friend told me it “wasn’t that great.” But it turned out to be one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever visited.

Along the way, we met up with some other solo travelers (first timers as well!). Victoria is a college student from Chicago (Naperville, actually!) and Fikri is a college student from Malaysia. We also met an incredibly sweet Korean woman who helped us find our way to and from the green tea plantation.

Boseong

Boseong

Boseong

Boseong

Boseong

Boseong

Boseong

Boseong

Boseong

Boseong

Boseong

Boseong

Boseong

Boseong

Since it was Sunday afternoon, there weren’t too many people. I climbed to the top of the hill for a view of the rows of green tea covering the hillside. Then I climbed down the other side through the forest. It was really beautiful.  Afterward I had green tea ice cream and green tea jajangmyeon. Then it was back to Gwangju. It was a beautiful drive with the sun starting to set over the mountains, lakes and rice paddies. Amy and I grabbed dinner at the bus terminal. Then it was goodbye and back to Daegu.

 

Traveling alone for the first time was such a positive experience. It’s so liberating when you don’t have to follow a schedule or make compromises based on what someone else wants to see (especially when you are under time constraints). This little trip gave me a lot of confidence. On my last day, one of the women I shared a room with even said to me, “I want to get to your level, where I can feel comfortable traveling by myself.” She was surprised when I told her it was my first time. After my contract, I want to backpack around Southeast Asia or ride the Trans-Siberian Railway. I might have to go it alone, but that’s okay. There are just so many places that I want to see, and life is too short to wait around for the perfect travel companion. Have you ever traveled alone? I would love to hear about your first time!

 

 

 

Here comes the sun

13 Jun Jin-Ah on an island in Namhae

I’m going to keep this short and sweet. I’m sorry I haven’t kept up with this blog, and I’m even sorrier that I haven’t been in better touch with my friends and family back home. The past few months have been rough, folks. Coincidentally, I last posted on April 15, one day before the bad thing happened and a black cloud rolled over this tiny country. But I’m not going to get into that here. I wish I could pinpoint the source of my black cloud, but we all know that depression, anxiety, fear and self doubt don’t always need a reason to come calling.

Nobody wants to hear about a person who moves to the other side of the world to be unhappy or, worse, unfulfilled. We want revelations, enlightenment. We want Eat, Pray, Love, goddammit! But what can I say? That’s bullshit. Travel gives my life so many things, but it’s not a direct flight to peace and perspective. Life is so much more complicated than that.

I’m sorry if that makes you uncomfortable, but it’s the truest thing I’ve ever written about travel. I don’t mean for this post to be depressing, but let’s save the YOLO proclamations and #mylifeissoawesomehashtags for Facebook and Instagram. Don’t get me wrong; I enjoy and even rely on social media as much as the next person. But as my friends and I start to identify less and less with the people we were in college, we’re struggling to forge new identities. It’s hard enough without comparing your behind the scenes footage with other people’s highlight reel. Most people don’t post things like “marriage isn’t what I thought it was going to be” or “my elderly parent is dying and I’m terrified” or “I fell off the wagon.” Social media can be incredibly isolating.

My point? I’m more than a smiling profile picture. It has been a challenge to readjust to life in Korea, but that doesn’t mean I’ve been moping around my apartment for the past few months. I’m been busy learning new things, meeting new people, forming new habits (exercise is a wonderful antidepressant!) and having new experiences. I’d love to give you a more specific rundown, but as the saying goes: Ain’t nobody got time for that. With that said, thanks for stopping by and enjoy these photos from the last three months.

Floating lantern ceremony for Buddha's Birthday at Duryu Park

Floating lantern ceremony for Buddha’s Birthday at Duryu Park

Floating lantern ceremony for Buddha's Birthday at Duryu Park

Floating lantern ceremony for Buddha’s Birthday at Duryu Park

Floating lantern ceremony for Buddha's Birthday at Duryu Park

Floating lantern ceremony for Buddha’s Birthday at Duryu Park

Floating lantern ceremony for Buddha's Birthday at Duryu Park

Floating lantern ceremony for Buddha’s Birthday at Duryu Park

Donghwasa Buddhist Temple lit up for Buddha's Birthday

Donghwasa Buddhist Temple lit up for Buddha’s Birthday

Donghwasa Buddhist Temple lit up for Buddha's Birthday

Donghwasa Buddhist Temple lit up for Buddha’s Birthday

Donghwasa Buddhist Temple lit up for Buddha's Birthday

Donghwasa Buddhist Temple lit up for Buddha’s Birthday

Donghwasa Buddhist Temple lit up for Buddha's Birthday

Donghwasa Buddhist Temple lit up for Buddha’s Birthday

Donghwasa Buddhist Temple lit up for Buddha's Birthday

Donghwasa Buddhist Temple lit up for Buddha’s Birthday

Donghwasa Buddhist Temple lit up for Buddha's Birthday

Donghwasa Buddhist Temple lit up for Buddha’s Birthday

Donghwasa Buddhist Temple lit up for Buddha's Birthday

Donghwasa Buddhist Temple lit up for Buddha’s Birthday

Donghwasa Buddhist Temple lit up for Buddha's Birthday

Donghwasa Buddhist Temple lit up for Buddha’s Birthday

On a boat in Namhae

On a boat in Namhae

Jin-Ah on an island in Namhae

Jin-Ah on an island in Namhae

On an island in Namhae

On an island in Namhae

At a pork barbeque restaurant in Geoje

At a pork barbeque restaurant in Geoje

An island in Namhae

An island in Namhae

The most crowded place I've ever visited. This island is famous for its beautiful gardens which have been the backdrop of many Korean dramas.

The most crowded place I’ve ever visited. This island is famous for its beautiful gardens which have been the backdrop of many Korean dramas.

We spent the weekend traveling to islands around Geoje and Tongyeong

We spent the weekend traveling to islands around Geoje and Tongyeong

Geoje island

Geoje island

Jagalchi fish market in Busan

Jagalchi fish market in Busan

Jagalchi fish market in Busan

Jagalchi fish market in Busan

Jagalchi fish market in Busan

Jagalchi fish market in Busan

Jagalchi fish market in Busan

Jagalchi fish market in Busan

 

 

At Haeundae Beach in Busan

At Haeundae Beach in Busan

Spontaneous moment captured during a photo walk with the Daegu Photography Club

Spontaneous moment captured during a photo walk with the Daegu Photography Club

 

At Bullo-dong Ancient Tomb Park in Daegu

At Bullo-dong Ancient Tomb Park in Daegu

At Bullo-dong Ancient Tomb Park in Daegu

At Bullo-dong Ancient Tomb Park in Daegu

At Bullo-dong Ancient Tomb Park in Daegu

At Bullo-dong Ancient Tomb Park in Daegu

 

A gloomy day on the tiger’s tail

15 Apr

All last week I looked forward to a weekend trip to the beach. The weather had been beautiful, and I wanted to enjoy it somewhere I could smell the sea and hear the waves. Unfortunately the weather took a turn for the worst, and it was chilly and rainy by the time Jin-ah and I left Daegu on Saturday morning.

We set off for the seaside towns of Homigot and Guryongpo near Pohang. If the Korean peninsula is the shape of a tiger, Homigot is its tail.

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I guess Homigot is a famous place to watch the sunrise in Korea. If that is the case, I don’t understand why they ruined the view with a giant bronze hand coming out of the sea (see photo below). It was less than picturesque while we were there, but it was nice to walk along the water.

Afterward, we had lunch in Guryongpo. It’s crab season in Korea, and the town’s main drag is lined with countless crab restaurants and tanks filled with the crustaceans. We chose a restaurant right on the water where you could chose your crab out of a tank and they would steam and serve it to you.

I’m sure there are thousands if not millions of places like this to enjoy crab season in Korea, but if you’re in Guryongpo anytime soon, I highly recommend this restaurant. It’s only about an hour and fifteen minute drive from Daegu. It was super casual, the staff was so friendly and the food was SO GOOD. After the crab, they served crab fried rice with bits of seaweed in it.

After lunch, we spent a little time exploring Guryongpo’s modern culture street. Many Japanese people lived in the town during Japan’s occupation of Korea. There are still some Japanese style houses. We had tea in a Japanese style house.

We ended up having a great time despite the weather. I’m so glad we didn’t let it hinder our plans. After all, can you think of a better way to spend a gloomy Saturday than eating fresh crab, drinking cold beer and enjoying the company of a good friend? I didn’t think so. Here are some photos of our trip:

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Flowers in Homigot

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A vendor selling seaweed, dried squid and other foods in Homigot

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Homigot’s ugly statue!

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Guryongpo

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Our restaurant in Guryongpo

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Tanks filled with live crabs at our restaurant

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Steamed crab

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Delicious crab fried rice with bits of seaweed

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I made a cute little friend in Guryongpo:)

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