Sunday, November 22, 2015

Seoul Lantern Festival 2015

The Seoul Lantern Festival (서울빛초롱축제) began on November 7th, and closes tonight. It is held on the Cheonggyecheon, a "stream" running through downtown Seoul. I made it there last night, as my previous attempts at the foray were delayed by poor weather. I also attended this event in 2009 and 2012--click on the appropriate tag in the cloud to your right.

Since it was the last weekend, I knew it would be crowded, and it was. I don't really remember much of a line to go down to the "stream" area itself, but on this day, the line snaked around for 25 minutes. Credit to the organizers is due, however, as it was very sensible and smooth.

First, a few shots from street-level:

The first series of lanterns as you proceed from the ramp are all large-scale models of historical Korean buildings. These are lanterns--paper-covered, traditionally-built, although as a nod to safety they are lit by electricity.

The most charming lanterns, in my opinion, are the ones that depict everyday peasant life, such as children playing paengi, a spinning top game, or people sitting at a restaurant counter.

Of course, with thousands and thousands of visitors, it's not all paper lanterns the size of parade floats, There's also real people sitting at real food counters. for example, grilled squid, ddeokbokki, "egg bread", and chicken on a stick:

The Cheonggye stream was a signature project of Seoul Mayor, later Korean President, Lee Myung-bak, and although it was very controversial at the time, it is today a very popular recreation spot for Seoulites. I think it is well-done, and among the elements is a massive "room" under one of the bridges, where any number of events can be staged. During this festival, you can write out your message and wishes for the coming year. You can see the lanterns arranged behind me:

Many of the lanterns are best viewed from one side, but here's one which took viewers on each side of the stream into account:

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

The Old Neighborhood, A New Restaurant

I got a call last week from the VP at Young-il High School, where I taught my first four years in Korea. He wasn't the Vice-Principal then, he was the German language teacher, and his classroom was next to the English Only Zone. We agreed to meet at the school and go out for dinner.

I arrived early in order to take a nice walk around to see what has changed in the area during the intervening four years. Surprisingly, not much. Peggy Pie has replaced Coffee Cafe, the dong office has taken down the bulletin boards in front, and the galbi-tang restaurant has been replaced by shiny new villas. However, the other restaurants I liked are still there, and happily, the street market is going strong.

I had never really documented this place, so I snapped a few shots to share with visitors to the Patch:

This kind of market is on the way out in Seoul, as large supermarkets proliferate and undercut their prices. But as you can see, this one (Mok-dong-5-dong Shi-jang) is still going strong. It has made some changes to compete with the chains, as I saw these pre-packaged, ready-to-cook family meals:

So, I met up with Mr Oh and we made our way to the Gang-seo-gu-cheong eating street, where we were joined by The Stumbler, who took the dinner pictures (except the first). After il-cha at Chicken Baengi (roughly, Chicken Guy), Mr Oh treated us to a great beef place called GramGram.

The name refers to fact that meat is sold by weight. This place was new to us, but it goes on the list, as it was tt was terrific.

We ate "one cow", han mari, basically a sampler from different parts of the cow.


Monday, August 31, 2015

Cambodia, Sihanoukville: Final Post

Sihanoukville is the main beach area of Cambodia, due east of Thailand's north Gulf, and described by some sources as what Thai beaches were like ten years ago. My stretch of beach was called Otres 2, and I have to say it was spectacular, and perfect for wading and swimming. While it rained in the mornings on a couple of my four days, the afternoons were nice and a bit of cloudiness enhances a sunset, I always think.

I mainly stayed at a place called Secret Garden Resort, where the bungalows are named, not numbered. I stayed in Fern.

I arrived at Sihanoukville a day early, due to travel arrangements (I have to say tourist transportation in Cambodia needs a lot of developing) and stayed at a newly-finished place called Seabreeze.

While I'm on hotel rooms, here is the room I had in Kampot at Rikitikitavi, including a private smoking patio. I stayed in six hotels during my stay, and smoking was not allowed in the rooms of any of them.

Here is a shot of my room in Phnom Penh at Longlin House, which ran only $15 per day including aircon and hot water.

I mentioned travel troubles in the country, and indeed my whole trip started in an inauspicious way when, immediately on take-off from Incheon, the airplane cabin filled with white smoke. This resulted in a brief period of considerable concern, and not just on my part, which was relieved when I realized it was condensation of the extremely humid air in Korea in late August.

Since the riverboat I had planned to take to cover much of the route from Siem Reap to Sihanoukville wasn't running, as the river was too low, I had to fly by way of a twin-engine prop plane, an Italian-built ATR-72.

Well, here ends my series of posts on my summer vacation in Cambodia. Seven posts, 150 pictures, ending with the one below just to round things off. Cambodia is an imperfect democracy, a very poor country, but a rich land nonetheless--in natural beauty, amazing history, and lovely people.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Cambodia: Food and Drink

As is typical when I travel, I made sure to take a cooking class, and as is typical with such cooking classes, we began at the local market. This one was in Siem Reap, and was a standard Asian market, with freshly butchered meat, fresh local produce, bulk dried goods and prepared foods.

Journal: "Cooking class at Le Tigre de Papier was fun, but frankly not the best. On the other hand, for $17.25 including a mango shake, you can't expect the moon. There were six of us, including a Chinese girl and three generations from Switzerland--two sweet, well-behaved children, their mother and grandmaman. Everyone made some different dishes, so it was nice seeing the variety; however, that meant a lot of down time as other people got the instructor's attention. I made a spicy shrimp salad that wasn't spicy, and beef lam lok, with thin slices of a fairly tough cut--flank, I think. Too much oyster sauce, too."

Later on, I had lam lok at Rikitikitavi in Kampot, this time served with a traditional fried egg, as well as Kampot pepper sauce. It was better, but not amazingly so:

Quite a bit of Khmer cooking is remarkably similar to Thai cuisine, as you might expect. Here is a curry i had at one of the restaurants in the Angkor temples area:

As you might further expect in Cambodia, seafood figures strongly in the diet. Some fabulous prawns in Kep, at a restaurant recommended by Cha (probably for a kickback, but that's to be expected), and fresh grilled red snapper at the resort in Sihanoukville:

Siem Reap is basically a tourist town in support of the temples, and it has its own, rather more low-key version of Bangkok's Khaosan Road, called Pub Street.

I later learned that "Khmer traditional food" may be a code for "contains cannabis", as pot has long been an ingredient used in food here. From various people, I heard that every home is allowed to have two plants for culinary use, though I don't know this for a fact. To the best of my knowledge, none of my food was specially "treated".

Cambodia has a population of 15 million people, and a large number of local beers for such a small population. The ones you'll see most are Anchor and Angkor (note the the pull tab):

Cambodia beer is also commonly seen, though my favorite was Kingdom, which has a blonde flavor to it:

Additionally, I found a dark stout called Black Panther, Ganzberg (German brewmaster, German quality, but produced in Phnom Penh), one called Klang, and finally, Crown.