Sunday, April 12, 2015

Yeouido Cherry Blossom Festival 2015

This marked my appearance at the seventh consecutive 영등포 여의도 봄꽃축제. Hundreds of mature cherry trees line Yunjungno, a "gift" from the government of Japan, around the same time they gifted the US with the ones that populate the Tidal Basin in Washington, DC. I put gift in quotes there because Japan had invaded and occupied Korea at that time. Anyway, they are a lovely sight:

In addition to the flowers, there are a number of other sights, from Buddhist monks to waygookin musicians:

I go along mainly for the photo ops with the teeming mascots:

There were loads of Lego characters, such as the Lego lizard above, but I think I took advantage of them, because this guy finally had enough:

Anyway, the star of the show is the cherry blossoms, so here are some more nice shots (remember, you can click to see much larger versions):

We have seen that the street of interest is lined with cherry trees, but the streets leading here are lined as well--with vendors. They mostly sell street food and cold beverages, which I'm frankly less than interested in, considering my follow-up visit to VIPs Steakhouse. But this caught my eye, the delicious 전주 초코파이, or Jeonju-style choco pie:

I picked up a whole box, but don't bother to ask, they're mainly for my co-teachers, office lady, VP and my ping-pong comrades, including the principal. Re-contracting time is coming up soon...

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Cheese Back Ribs, 치즈등갈비

According to The Stumbler's friend Jong-il (Kim Jong-il, but not that one), this is the best 치즈등갈비 joint in Seoul, located in Hongdae (Hongik University Sta., Line 2, exit 8. A recent fusion fad, Chris went over the moon for it, and i was more than impressed myself.

What is it? You take some grilled and well-spiced baby back ribs, heat them with cheese and condiments over the grill, cut them up...

... and wrap some of the cheese onto them before eating. With your hands It is quite messy, and plastic gloves are provided. The ribs are the most popular way to the enjoy the new cheese-meat combo, but this restaurant also offered chicken, chicken feet, pig offal (곱창), and more.

We stuck with the ribs, and even went in for seconds. We'll be adding this to our dinner rounds, at least occasionally. It would be nice, though, to find a place with higher quality cheese.

Off-topic, but inside the restaurant, was this, which perhaps evinces a failure in understanding anatomy:

While we were in Hongdae, I spied a couple of nice photo ops. The first was outside a place called "Welcome to Seoul 1960", a retro restaurant:

And then there was a guy on top of a truck playing a cello:

Monday, April 6, 2015

In Which Tuttle Goes Shopping--for a Table Tennis Bat?

Not too much happening around the Seoul Patch, except the mundane. I'm in the midst of reading a book called Queuing for Beginners by a Brit social scientist named Joe Morgan, which reminds us that the whole history and relevance of our culture is tied up in the very acts we consider mundane. So I thought I'd try posting now and then about what they are calling social history.

If you're bored, blame Joe Morgan--but keep reading.

The need to go to the shops has been building, as I have needed a new wallet for a while--please, no jokes about how much money I have and how it's making my wallet burst at the seams...because that's what's really happening. Or, I've had this wallet for nearly seven years, which I think is a good long lifespan for one, and it's falling apart.

I remember I bought it in E-Mart within a few weeks of coming to Korea, because my American one had a little difficulty accepting the slightly larger Korean notes (and this was before the introduction of the 50,000 W note). Anyway, I chose well, because a few of its features became absolute requirements as I searched for a replacement. And I searched in every conceivable market during my last few trips abroad--Japan, Vietnam and Thailand.

The features? 1-an exterior pocket for holding the T-Money (Metro) card; 2-a double-sided ID flap that could hold both my Korean and US ID card; and 3-a fiddly interior compartment to hold "emergency" notes, not to thwart thieves, who could dismantle the thing at will, but to thwart me and keep my appetites in check if I was running low on my "official" funds. It also had a little tab, a quarter inch square of leather on the "top" edge, so you know how to orient it in your pocket. It was a really well-designed thing.

So, in E-Mart, they don't have this model any more (it was a brand called Urban8) or anything with even two of the features together. This weekend, I searched the two floors of Sindorim TechnoMart that have leather goods, and finally found a replacement. The clerk was sleeping, so I took my time, went away, and then came back, looking vaguely uninterested. there were three or four iterations, all of them with leatherwork, so I had to pick the one with something like a world map on it. When I woke the dude up, he wanted, first, 29,000 W, then 19,000 W. With cash discount, I paid 15.

If you found that tedious, blame Joe Morgan. I know this is usually a travel and food blog with occasional school or classroom stuff and sports thrown in, but from now on, get used to "social history"!

Moving on. The imperative reason I went to Technomart was because my mustache was getting all long and straggly. I generally use an electric shaver, which has a little flip-up mustache trimmer thing. Well, that feature ceased to function a couple weeks ago, despite my ability to fix it in the past. Finally, this weekend, I had to get a replacement.

Technomart has hundreds of stalls, quite a lot of them carrying computer and computer related items, cameras, DVD players, gaming systems, and the like. However, there are also appliance stores--fridges, rice cookers, telephones, blow dryers, wet trash receptacles, washing machines ...

There is a corner of the second floor where a couple of guys have shavers. Face, nose hair, and mustache. You have to play them against each other, but I still ended up paying more than I really wanted to, 35,000 W for this item--even if it works amazingly well:

I was pleased to find when I got home that my price was ten to twenty percent less than what I saw with a quick online search, except in Latvia.

The final item I wanted to buy was a table tennis bat--what most folks call a ping-pong paddle. They have those in E-Mart, with prices from 35,000 down to about 9,000. I know what you're wondering: why would Tuttle want a bat, or a paddle?

Here's what happened. Last week, I came back from lunch to find the school principal camped out in my classroom. He wanted to talk to me. I've never worried about this before, because no one at my school speaks English, except perhaps the English teachers, and they are always too busy to play translator.

As a result, this guy has pretty much ignored me for the year and a half he's been at the school, which suited me just fine. And I thought we were on the same page. Well, he changed. And cleverer than he looks, he found a solution to the translator thing, and got this one fourth grade girl, whose English is as good as yours, to come with him and ambush me before I can even brush my teeth.

He is quite insistent that I become a member of the new ping-pong club he's arranging, which will meet on Tuesdays at 2:30. Play for an hour. AND, he wants to spend some time with me, just chatting, with our translator girl and a few of her friends, during this post-eating lunch time once a week.

I'm flabbergasted by this turn of events. But I really don't have a lot of wiggle room, as I am absolutely "free" after lunch on Tuesdays. Now, I have no idea if or what the principal knows about me and ping-pong, but back in the day, I was pretty awesome. We had a PE teacher for a while at my old school who thought she was something, and I crushed her. We also had a student who was top 10 in the country for his age group (about 14-15) who I kept up with pretty well, and even beat a couple times on his bad days.

But that was umpteen years ago.

So, last Tuesday comes along. Mr Principal and our young translators show up and we chat for a while. He gives me a baked sweet potato and I make a show of enjoying it. At 2:30, some other students come along to tell me it's time for ping-pong. The first ten minutes, I'm awful. Not a single ball hits the table. We're playing doubles, which I've never done before, so I get in the way of my partner, or, knee-jerk reaction, hit their ball. I wise up. My serve starts to fall in. By the third game, I have two different serves. (Back in the day, I had about five regular--hand-shake--serves, and three pen-hold serves.) We played five games in an hour, and me and my partner lost four, and won the last one.

At the school, they have six bats, two of them "hand-shake" style, the others pen-hold. All things considered, if I'm going to do this, I want to do it right, so I decide to pick up a quality bat that suits me--terry grip, etc. So I went to E-Mart. They have one "hand-shake" grip, and it's the 9,000 W model. Won't do.

So, I will need to go shopping again for a better quality bat, pips-in, of course, and a terry grip (or probably some other higher-tech material, as, like I said, it's been about twenty years). Meanwhile, I have to take my warm-ups and sneakers since freedom of movement is key. Before you point out that I'm being ridiculous, Mr Principal is wearing his warm-ups! why shouldn't I?

Come to think of it, perhaps I should go shopping for some new, more stylish ones...

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Opening Day 2015

The 2015 KBO baseball season got underway yesterday, and I was there. In fact, I have attended Opening Day every year since I have been in Korea, so this was my seventh. I went to Mok-dong Stadium to support my team, the Nexen Heroes. The Heroes mascot is the best in the league, in my opinion, Mr. Stone Jaw, 턱돌이:

There are 10 teams in the league this year, which has sparked some changes in the rules, as well as an increase in the schedule to 144 games. You can read a pretty decent pre-season round-up at the JoongAng Daily.

One "new thing" I noticed was a concern about "safety" in the stadium, which seemed mainly to be expressed by these stickers put up all over everywhere:

However, at Mok-dong, at least, they still have the Smoking Area:

Baseball is, of course, an American invention, and food favorites at the ballpark include such traditional American fare as hot dogs and fried chicken. This is the case in Korea, too. But other favorites include dried squid, mandu (Korean filled dumplings), kimbap, and new to the stadium this year, "Ciao Chips". "From Italy!"

No visit to the ballpark is complete, at least for the adults, without a beer or two. And Koreans do enjoy themselves some beer. Within a few steps of my gate to the seats were three places to get beer:

There are two new rules this year regarding alcohol, at least theoretically. First, no bottles or cans allowed in the stadium, so the lines are substantially longer as the clerks have to pour the beer into plastic cups (a FIFA rule for ages):

Second is a rule prohibiting its sale after the seventh inning. This was certainly not the case at Mok-dong on Opening i bought a beer in the tenth inning.

Okay, fans, we have our food, we have our beer. Just one more stop before we go to our seats: we need to fill up our noisemaker things with air. There are several air pumps on the mezzanine with free air:

Time to find our seats. Well, actually, I had general admission tickets, 13,000 W (an Opening Day discount of 4,000 W) so I staked my claim with plastic bags slid over the back of the seats before I went out and took the photos above. Andy van Hekken throws the first pitch at 2:01, a swing and a miss, for the first strike of the season:

The game itself was very exciting. The Heroes, second place last year in both the regular season and in the post-seasonm fell behind the Eagles (perennial bottom-dwellers) 2 - 1 by the bottom of the third, and gave up two more runs by the sixth. But through it all, the fans kept up their high level of cheering, led by cheerleaders and cheer-dudes.

In addition to general team cheers, each batter has his own cheer or song, which the fans know off by heart. Some of them are chants, but others are tunes from pop culture sources, including this year, ABBA--"Waterloo" for, if I remember, 이택근, Ee Taek-geun. But Waterloo has three syllables, so you could use it for virtually any Korean.

Anyway, the Heroes fought their way back into the game with two in the bottom of No. 7, and the leveler in the eighth. They have always had strong offense, but quality defense was a long time coming. They still slip back into those patterns, as, for example, what would have been a nice sliding catch by the left fielder popped out of his glove. A couple innings later, SS and 3B performed a textbook Alphonse and Gaston, wherein they collided over a pop fly, the short stop knocking the ball from the third baseman's glove. Both were costly errors, though typically, neither was counted as such by the official scorer.

The game went to extra innings, and the supporters kept up their constant singing/chanting/cheering.

This was the first extra-inning game of the season, ad it went the distance, as twelve innings is the max in KBO rules. Finally, with one out in the bottom, Seo Geon-chang 서건창 soloed a walk-off homer. He is Nexen's lead-off hitter and was last year's KBO MVP, the first player to break the 200-hit barrier, with 201.

Here is my hero, 턱돌이, cheating on me with some other fans in celebrating the 5 - 4 win!

And finally, a shot of the scoreboard:

Friday, March 27, 2015

Harbingers of Spring

How do we know it's Spring?

1) First, of course, is the weather. Although if I'm honest, you couldn't tell it's here from the temperatures we've been experiencing. The equinox was a week ago, but the morning temperature has been below freezing every day since then.

2) The first blossoms. The first shot is of a sansuyu 산수유 outside the door of my school.The next two are the kenari or Japanese cornel dogwoods that line a sidewalk on my morning walk to work. They're also called "golden bell".

3) Baseball's Opening Day is this Saturday. And I have tickets. Nexen Heroes vs Hanhwa Eagles at Mok-dong Stadium at 2 PM.

4) The most definitive sign that Spring is really here is when restaurants drag tables and chairs out onto the sidewalk so patrons can enjoy the al fresco dining experience. I actually did this wednesday--at least for a while. The temperature kept dropping though and we had to move inside.
Just for the fun of it, you can see my first ever post on the spring flowers in Korea here. Frankly, a much better post than this one.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Krabi, Thailand: Too Brief Visit

At six days, my visit to Krabi, on the Andaman coast, was too brief: time I could have spent was used up on train journeys, bus rides and other "transfers", as they are called. I made the arrangements with a travel agent in Bangkok's Khaosan Road for a secluded spot with a pristine swimming beach, and I wasn't disappointed.

The resort is called J2B's, and while it got mixed reviews on TripAdvisor, most of them were from people unhappy with the previous management, turned off by the availability of of mainly Thai food in the one restaurant or dissatisfied with the fact that there was only electricity from 6 PM to 6 AM--even though this was clearly communicated in all the literature I saw about the place. I found it to be charming in every way, including the staff and the food.

The resort is situated on a tremendous stretch of private white sand, reached by boat or by a bumpy ride through the mangrove jungle. It is called Napparatthara Beach. The bungalows are set in a coconut palm grove arranged around the pavilion that houses reception and the restaurant.

Other guests came in and out all week, mostly staying for a few days before going off to explore the islands. I was content to lay on the beach, in my own lounger and read, occasionally dipping in for a refreshing swim. Krabi is one of three places in the world where the "karst towers" extend from land into the sea (the others being Halong Bay and the Dalmatian coast of Croatia). I think it was the most beautiful place I've place I've been to.

I did have to spend the night in Krabi Town, as all the bungalows were previously booked (my fault for being tentative in my initial booking). Where J2B was 900 Bt per night, the Apo Hotel located right by Chao Fa Pier was rather more (1400 Bt), but did have A/C, hot water and etc. Not really a lot to see and do, though it is quite a pretty area.

The place to have dinner in Krabi Town is the night market at the pier, where as I usually do, I had some red snapper, beautifully grilled.

Sadly, too soon it was time to head back north to Bangkok, to Suvarnabhumi Airport, and thence to the icy climes of Seoul, where now, over two weeks later, in mid-March, it's still too cold!