Thursday, January 29, 2009

EMart: A Shopping Trip

EMart is the largest retailer in South Korea. It is almost the equivalent of the American Wal Mart or Target but not nearly as obnoxious or filled with, its actually nothing like Wal Mart. EMart carries everything from home goods, electronics and apparel to live king crabs and mechanical pencil refills. They have an expansive food and grocery section in the basement floor that Caitlin and I take advantage of for our weekly restock.

Here is one grocery trip's worth of the typical items we pick up on a weekly can see that a lot of the same things are available here as in an American grocery store. I also put this picture up to prove to my mom that, yes, they do have eggs in Korea. Gwangju is the fifth largest city in South Korea and is largely developed. However, according to Google Maps, EMart has yet to be built and the now-highly-recreational park across the street is still just tampered soil.

We typically get our fruit and vegetables from the outdoor market, but during this time of year the pickings are a bit slim [nor does the market have a fine wine selection]...

Of course, any trip home from the market would not be complete without utilizing the highly efficient Korean bag-sharing method...

Just one last tidbit of information...while looking up grocery stores on Wikipedia, I found that although many American grocery stores donate their leftover food "the USDA estimates that 27% of food is lost annually." Shameful, yes, but we can all help change the way our food systems the words of Michael Pollan, "Eat real food, not too much, mostly plants."

... you could also sign this petition for Food Deomocracy Now.

Caitlin's Eats

Here is a glimpse at Caitlin's awesome granola-making skills. I like to think of her as being in perpetual gatherer mode because her dietary intake consists mainly of leaves, nuts and berries. Whenever we go hiking, I often have to stop and wait for her to finish gnawing on the local flora and fauna before moving onto higher ground.

The general uncertainty of Korean ingredients and overall lack of oats and grains in the food system has brought Caitlin to a whole new level of nutritional self-sufficiency...

Oats, toasted pecans, cashews, sunflower seeds, dried cranberries, raisins, coconut, honey...

I didn't ask her to pose like that.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Seoul: Lunar New Year

The Lunar New Year is an important time of the year for Koreans to migrate to their hometowns and spend time with their families. The Korean New Year is celebrated on January 26th and we were given both Monday and Tuesday off in recognition of the holiday. While everyone else is with their families and departing the large cities, the foreigners (us) took the four day weekend to trek it up to Seoul to enjoy some good food, diversity, and relaxation.

Caitlin's school had an extra day off on Friday so she took the bus up early to hang out in Incheon where there is a ceramics village and hot springs. I came up with the Avalon crew the following day on Korea's high-speed rail, the KTX. This high-speed train hits a maximum of 350 kph [217mph] but is not allowed to go more than 300 kph [186 mph] with passengers. They display the speed on a video screen inside the cabin and I only saw it hit about 284 kph [176 mph] at the max.

Although its not the fastest train in the world, like the French [574.8 kph] or Japanese Maglev [500 kph], it only took 2.5 hours to go from Gwangju to Seoul. This trip usually takes 3-4 hours, depending on weather and how much soju the driver has had. The train was quiet, comfortable and quick. They also do it right with their service here; you can get a beverage or snack on board for the same price [1W] as you would in a bodega. A bottle of water doesn't cost 6 bucks like it would on a train or airline in the states. The cost of this train rides is 38,000W [$ 27 USD].

The train ride up was snowy and felt like the Polar Express as we whizzed through a snowy Korean countryside. I was waiting for Tom Hanks to come through, punch my ticket and whisper something magical in my ear. Instead, I watched music videos with Lisa [including one of my all-time favorite animated shorts, Pixar's Boundin' ], read Matt's copy of the Economist, then fell asleep. Arriving in Seoul, the weather was about 10 degrees colder than Gwangju and a bit windier, similar to the 4-hour climate difference between Philly and Syracuse.

Pixar's Boundin'

The priority for the weekend quickly became food. We started with lunch, dinner, and the following breakfast with Mexican. For those of your visiting Seoul, we went to Dos Tacos in Hongdae [Hongik University metro stop] and On the Border, just one stop to the east. Later that night we went to Black Sheep, an "organic" Italian fusion restaurant. The food was good, but a bit costly and the service was poor. They also didn't have the first two things that I ordered, pasta and chianti, so half of the menu choices were eliminated. Buuut, they did give us a deck of Guinness playing cards on our way out.

The next day we sought out [Caitlin sought out] a place to get brunch in Itaewon. Because of her clairvoyant navigational senses, we were able to find the Flying Pan. Run by two Korean sisters, this cafe/restaurant makes its own bread and serves up some of the best eggs, french toast, pancakes, salads, herb-infused sausages, and decadent cake I have ever tasted. This was not only the best restaurant I went to in Seoul but perhaps one of the best restaurants I have ever been to. It was so delicious that Caitlin and I went back that night for dinner before heading back to Gwangju.

If you want to find the Flying Pan restaurant, take the metro to the Itaewon stop. Stay on the left-hand side of the main drag and make another left just after the Hamilton Hotel. The restaurant is below ground on the right, just keep an eye out for their sign...

The Flying Pan
Open 9 am to 8 pm Monday to Saturday
10:30 am to 5 pm Sundays
736-5 Hannam 2 Dong
[Reviews here, here, and here]

Seoul Subway Map

We explored a bunch of new places we had never been to in Seoul and managed to find some worthwhile nooks [Gwangju wouldn't even know what to do with a nook if it knew what one was]. We went to a cool Japanese Sake restaurant, a tea house that has birds flying around inside, and a bar small enough for ten people called Vinyl that serves their drinks in plastic bags. They have cheap mixed drinks, excellent wheat beers, and good music.

The lax public drinking laws in Korea are exemplified by Vinyl's drinks-to-go takeout window.


From the Hangik University metro stop, head up towards the main gate of the university and make a right. From there, walk down 5 minutes or so and you will see Vinyl on your right [it has a big robot].

At the bird tea house, you can get your own little cubby and sit amongst chirping little finches while sipping on warm jujube tea. A cup of tea runs about 6,000W but is definitely worth the flavor and environment. The bird cafe is located in Insa-dong, [get off at Anguk metro stop on the orange line] it is called The Old Cafe and is located down a little alleyway. You just have to keep an eye out for a sign with a bird on it.

We also managed to see a techno fashion show, dance our faces off in an 70s urban-chique owl club, try seven different kinds of canadian-brewed beers, and watch a Manchester United match on our hotel room [I don't have a TV in my apartment, this is huge].

All-in-all we found some of our new favorite hangouts in Seoul. Although the city is massive [metropolitan population of over 10 million], it is easy to navigate as long as you are savvy with the subway map.

The rest of the photos from our Seoul extravaganza can be viewed here.

...Aaaand, if I haven't bored your face off already and you are suffering from bad air quality in your office cubicle, here is some more web content to petrify your skull.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

I Love Pretzels

I crave pretzels, soft and crunchy-sourdough, more than anything else here. Sometimes I daydream of covering a warm, braided soft pretzel with mustard and sharing it with no one. Selfish, yes, but they are the perfect snack and the best lunch substitute known to my mouth.

Fortunately, my brother Ryan and his delicate-lotus-flower-of-a-wife, Jen, sent me a package containing, among other things, a 1.5 pound pack of Amish Pantry Dutch Soft Pretzel Mix. This is enough to make anywhere from 6-10 soft pretzels, depending on your rolling technique and size preference. Caitlin and I made the dough and rationed half of it into the freezer for later. We managed four delicious pretzels: one salted, one garlic, another Italian-seasoned, and the last was brushed with a mix of warm butter and salt.

They were delicious.

We could tell that this was the real thing because, after saving one for the following day, the pretzel got doughier and crinkly (just like those from downtown) after sitting through the night. The salvation to my Philly-cravings:

This is our little toaster oven. It can manage small baking jobs, bagels, toast, roasting nuts, granola, vegetable melts, and the occasional nacho plate.

The little gangly one that looks like its out of a Tim Burton flick is mine, the nicely-proportioned and well-seasoned guy if of Caitlin's doing.

Bam! Finished product

A week after making these I went back to the foreign grocery store and picked up The Six Pound Bag of mini pretzels. The last bag we got lasted about two months...we will see how long this one sticks around.

I love pretzels and so should you.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Urban Reconnaissance

One of my favorite things to do in any new city that I live in is to snap photos of the local urban hardware. With a background in Industrial Design and a love for geometric compositions, it has almost become an anthropological mission of mine to capture visual data of the physical makeup of cities. What Gwangju lacks in architectural beauty, it makes up for with an almost scathed and honest culturally-raw urban skin. All cities share in these personal-but-public, functional aesthetic cues that let us deeper into the city's vein. Here is a morning's worth of some of my findings...

Papas Got A Brand New Bike

I gave up hunting down the scoundrel that yanked my bike and decided to move on to better things. I picked up this stealth, new Lespo at the same place that I bought my first bike. After some quick detailing and technical adjustments, she is now ready to tear up the mean streets of Gwangju. Although I am sad that my first bike is long gone...this newbie has gifted me with an overall better ride. The gears transition more smoothly, the broad seat offers more cushioning so that I can tackle those rough n' bumpy parts of town, and the matte-black finish grants me stealth whenever I am engaged in hot pursuit during our bi-weekly "cops n' robbers" tournaments (Tuesday and Thursday nights, 11pm -2am, Bongseon-Dong, losers make breakfast).

It will be nice once the spring comes so that we can enjoy lazy bike adventures up and down the stream path once again. So far everyone in our neighborhood has a bike, excluding Milkis, who knows when that kid will get in the loop?


Same haircut.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

New Photos

Sorry I haven't updated in a while...I put up some new photos for you to gander through. Pictures from Christmas Day are here and New Years can be found riiiiiiight here.

I will be throwing up some new posts in the next couple of days so keep your eyes peeled.