Thursday, February 12, 2015

More End-of-Year

We've adopted new textbooks for the fifth and sixth grades, planned obsolescence of Korean textbooks being just as aggressive as the American version, and I've been making pretty good progress creating and/adapting teaching materials during the last couple weeks.

Today, I was all alone in my office niche of the English classroom all day long. The phone did ring once, though, and I answered it despite the likelihood that the caller would hang up immediately upon realizing they would be expected to speak English. But, no, it was the office lady who is willing to speak English, who said to me, "Come get your ddeok."

A bit later, I got my ddeok, which is a kind of rice flour "cake" of which Koreans are inordinately fond. As for me, I like a lot of it, but some of it, like the one top right in the photo below, consisting mainly of partially cooked beans, is, well, like eating partially cooked beans.

The better kind come in really nice packaging. You can't quite see it well, but the closure on this box is a butterfly that fits through a slot in the top. These were the faculty's end-of-year gift from the parents association. Last year it was a towel.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

End-of-School-Year Post

While it's more or less true that the Korean school year ends around the same time as the calendar year, and the new school year begins on March 2nd, the two months in between do not consist entirely of unrelieved joy. Yes, there is vacation time, but there is also the matter of Winter Camp ... and the thing we've just been experiencing. There might be a proper name for it, but I just think of it as a "mini-mester". Three weeks worth. You've generally finished your textbooks/curricula, so you review or watch movies or do fun activities, or some combination of the three.

One of the features of this period is the end-of-year hwesik, or work dinner. And it is work. I'll grant that when I taught in high school, I looked forward to these events, as they invariably involved many members of the English department, mounds of grilled food, and a fair amount of drinking.

The elementary school hwesik is a different kettle of fish. At my school, there are only two people in the English department, one of whom was entirely missing at last night's function, and one of whom was missing most of it. This was Kyung-mi, who is leaving due to rotation after ten years at Yangmyung Elementary. This was sad for her, and also for me, as she was quite competent. Here she is giving her farewell remarks in the restaurant:

Happily, the food was quite good, with a variety of sushi-type things, some soups, salad and bo-sam, or steamed pork. Lovely.

I got in a few shots of soju with the principal, but since it was floor seating, I made an exit as early as decent, around two hours. No ee-cha or sam-cha to wait around for with these folks.

Today, the end-of-year stuff continued, as I had my last class--sixth-graders watching a horror movie that my CoT chose for them. I got the first copy of my timetable for next year, and it's fairly brutal: teaching periods one through four every day, plus fifth period Wed. and Fri. I'll also be teaching Afterschool again--until 2:30 on Monday and 3:30 on Wednesday.

Friday will be sixth grade graduation ending around noon, followed by a 7:45 AM flight Saturday morning to Bangkok. Surely the highlight of all the end-of-year activities!

Friday, January 23, 2015

Winter Camp: A Son's Heart

I have finished my contractually-obligated three weeks of winter English, two weeks mentioned previously, and one week of "Movie-Makers". This time, I had three smart, reasonably confident boys from the fifth grade. They wrote the story (well, mainly Jimmy, with some polishing and a couple of plot points improved by me), learned their parts and acted it all. I was producer and cinematographer.

I also found a decent free editing program that handles .MOV format, and taught them how to edit. Get some popcorn, settle in and enjoy!

Double click for full-screen mode--helpful if your resolution doesn't show the whole thing in my blog format.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Smokin' and Drinkin' in Seoul

Last year, Seoul began a pogrom, or at least a crackdown, on smoking in public places such as bars, restaurants and coffee shops. Of course, lots of such establishments already banned smoking, but this was a public ordinance. Many places also had separate smoking areas or rooms. Reading the fine print, it only applied, however, to places larger than 150 sq.m. Using fire marshal code, that means any place that seats more than 40 people.

As of January 1, 2015, the size carve-out was stricken, and smoking rooms were abolished if they did not have direct access (i.e., doors or windows) to the outside. Not to be too blunt, but smoking in a bar was always one thing in Korea's favor, in my book. Also on January 1, the price of a pack of (my brand of) cigarettes escalated from 2,700 W to 4,500W--all of it in tax. This is part of the government's "two-prong approach" to curbing cigarette use.

I don't deny cigarettes are bad for my health, and I don't object to paying a premium for insurance purposes to offset the burden on the health care system. Fine. But, and I suspect quite a lot of business owners agree with me, it's not really the place of the government to tell a business how to run itself. Those of you worried about second-hand smoke, you would do much better to outlaw using single-stroke lawnmowers. And motorcycles.

But in a very low blow, a new regulation has been passed to outlaw drinking alcohol in most public places, including parks, beaches and college campuses. Literally millions of Koreans every weekend hike up a mountain (many of them public parks) and pause at the top to guzzle a few bottles of soju before making their way down. I frankly don't see this tradition being changed.

I don't hike up mountains, so I don't give a rat's ass about that. However, I frequently sit outside of restaurants--dining al fresco--while guzzling a few bottles of soju. Some of these restaurants own that space, but others just sort of spill out onto the sidewalk. I just wonder where the line will be drawn in the enforcement.

But again, this is a Nanny State move. According to the article here, the move comes from the Ministry of Health and Welfare, who estimates that 1.6 million Koreans are "alcoholics". Yeah, riiiight!

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Vietnam, Hanoi: A Cupful of Cobra

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Just to be clear, this post is about eating a cobra in Vietnam. If you find this idea distasteful, don't continue reading.

I tried to find a partner or two for this meal throughout my stay in Hanoi (remember, I took two cooking classes!), but when I got to the part about drinking fresh cobra blood and bile, people would slowly start to drift away. However, as you can see from the menu above, the people of Le Mat village, about a $10 taxi ride from the Old Quarter, take their cobra meat seriously. Eleven courses from one snake. Cost: 1.2 million dong, or sixty dollars.

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First, the snake is selected and killed in front of you.

It is then bled, and the blood, and also bile, mixed with Vietnamese hooch.

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Diners are then led upstairs to the dining area, and shortly, the first course, snake soup, arrives. It was savory and quite tasty!

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The next three courses, clockwise from left, spring rolls, fried snake, and the "lot" leaves, came in a hurry. These were all good, but the simple fried snake balls was the best.

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Soft fried snake skin, with bok choi:

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Rare of chitterling and liver is the organ meat--not joking, tasted a lot like chicken organ meat:

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The stewed snake was terrible, but I put that down to the "medicanal leaves":

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I guess this was the snake "pied", but it was some snake skin mixed in with sticky rice.

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And finally, snake gruel. I had eaten so much by this point (by the way, one cobra served this way could easily serve four), I didn't taste any snake in this at all.

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And that's one off the bucket list. Also, the last post about my vacation in Vietnam.

Blog note: I have now used over 98% of my free photo sharing storage at Photobucket. Any suggestions for another free hosting site? Let me know.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Vietnam, Hanoi: Cooking Class, Street Food

Hanoi Cooking Centre
I took two morning-long courses here, starting on Saturday with "Food of Hanoi and the North". The dishes were Banana flower salad with pork and prawns, Fresh spring rolls with omelet and shrimp, with an awesome dipping sauce, and Ginger chicken clay pot. Dessert was Corn and coconut pudding with pandan.

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Those little yellow things would eventually become bananas, so cutting banana flowers is a fairly costly exercise. Our salad involved two petals, one to serve as the bowl, and one to chiffonade. Soak the chiffonade for fifteen minutes in water with lime juice to soften without discoloring, then add in the other ingredients (chopped pork, shallot, bean sprouts, crushed peanuts). The dressing is similar to the dipping sauce I'll describe below. That's me with my cooking partner Stacey, a Brit by way of Greece.

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The spring rolls are pretty standard, except perhaps for the addition of some pho, but the dipping sauce is delectable. Ingredients (you'll want to make this!): 2 tbsp lime juice, 1/2 tsp rice vinegar. Combine with tbsp sugar and dissolve. Then add in tbsp fish sauce, finely minced large garlic clove and 1/2 seeded red chili pepper (or to taste).

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To make the ginger chicken, you cut up chicken, marinate in tsp fish sauce, 1/2 clove garlic, chopped, about tsp julienned ginger, a pinch of sugar salt, and black pepper. Fry up the chicken most of the way ...

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... add 1/2 tsp annatto oil, finish browning. Put in clay pot with tsp more of fish sauce, more ginger, and oven bake for 6-9 minutes. Top with some julienned kaffir lime leaves. Fab!

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Street Food Tour
We started our morning with a hearty pho bo, beef noodle soup, a traditional breakfast choice in Vietnam.

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On our way to a walk through the local wet market (pics here--or scroll down to previous post), we encountered a couple of opportunities to sample vendors' offerings, such as milk apples (Chrysophyllum cainito)

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Other foods we sampled (or I sampled separately) included water chestnuts, sticky rice, Vietnamese apples, and roasted sweet corn.

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Next stop, a banh cuon restaurant, which served these super thin wet rice batter crepes, filled with mushrooms, chicken or pork, then rolled. The dipping sauce was sweet and sour, to which our guided added a dash of waterbug oil--waterbug? Yeah.

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We stopped by a little shop with all sorts of candied fruits (I liked the ginger plums best) before making our way to a little alley with a popular bun cha stand.

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What is bun cha?

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It's a fatty pork and noodle soup, in our case served with fried spring rolls and piles of noodles. The guide also got us some fresh Vietnamese "donuts", with mung bean inside. They were delicious--unlike what you'll likely be offered at bia hoi, which are stale and greasy.

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Aside from a trip to a famous and much-lauded, but generally ho-hum coffee shop, our last stop was further up the little alley, for dessert. Che refers to any of these sweet fruity or gelatinous beverage, pudding, soup sort of things. Also yummy.

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Some other street foods I ate included these strips of grilled, mechanically separated ham (edible with the sauce, but not so much otherwise), pigeon (fattier than you might think by looking at them) and stir-fried frog with bamboo shoots--this was quite good!

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KOTO Restaurant
This place is located directly across the street from the Temple of Literature. It is famous for its fusion cuisine and also for employing and training underprivileged youth for the food business. I had five spice grilled duck breast on a potato and mushroom patty, and it was terrific.

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City-View Cafe

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Yeah, there is a great city view, but that's about all there is to be said for this restaurant. I thought I'd go upscale for one night in Hanoi, and I ordered the steak--a measly gristly bit of beef and some spring rolls far inferior to what we made in cooking class. give this place a miss.

Still, the mixed drinks and the atmosphere make for a good opportunity to toast the city of Hanoi!