Monday, August 30, 2010

Attack of the Korean Coffices

Does a Starbucks or a Caffe Bene seem to spring up every time you leave your home? Get used to it: coffee chains will continue to multiply, according to industry sources.

According to the JoongAng Daily, at least. As if to fit the action to the word, a coffeehouse opened to replace the Pujimi restaurant that closed in my building called Damjang Coffee & Honey Bread.

I don't know about you, but the first thing I want in the middle of sweltering heat and hundred-plus percent humidity of Seoul in August is some honey bread (whatever that might be) to go with my coffee. Or vice versa. Still, it is the only coffeehouse in the building, so maybe they're onto something.

Indeed, according to the JoongAng Daily story, coffeehouses are spreading through Seoul like bubonic plague through 1300s London, and even beginning to infect the countryside. More:
Coffeehouses operated by 12 branded chains now exceed 2,000 locations recently [sic], with 500 added since the end of last year. Starbucks opened 27 new locations from January to August to reach a total of 318 locations. Angel-in-Us Coffee follows closely with 311 branches, of which 103 opened in 2009 and 80 more this year. Most chains have goals to add 30 to 50 more locations by the end of 2010, and ambitious newcomer Caffe Bene - which has opened 270 locations since its launch in April 2008 - plans to open 100 more by the end of the year.

Korea coins a word: According to the article, a new word is coming into being to describe the way some customers see their local/favorite coffee shop, "a place to be rather than just a cup of coffee":
Coffee + Office = Coffice

This is something you will never hear me say, except derisively. Not because I have anything against neologisms, Konglish or otherwise, but because I already have this:
Beer + Drinking place = Beer drinking place + More beer = Beer drunking place + More beer = Find new drunking place when they kick us out + More beer = Eating something strange in a pojangmacha + more beer = I don't remember what's next

Who needs a "coffice" when you have one of those?

Sunday, August 29, 2010

The Price of Tea in China

Well, make that The Price of Fresh Veg in Korea. I snapped this shot a few days ago at E-Mart, and things have only gotten worse:

That's right, 22,800 W (about USD 19) for a single, solitary mango. Albeit cellophane-wrapped and neatly labeled in English as well as hangeul. Peaches, which were already high at about a buck a pop three weeks ago, have practically tripled in price, and watermelons, some kind of giant green delicacy here, have done the same!

Yesterday's Dong-A Ilbo gives many more examples and then tries to explain the situation:
Park Yeong-gu, a researcher at Korea Rural Economic Institute, said, “Prices of agricultural products have soared due to a bad harvest stemming from abnormally low temperatures in spring and high temperatures and drought in summer.”
“If high temperatures continue next month, the prices of agricultural products will also likely continue to rise for the time being.”

The dude's right about the weather. Jangma (the East Asian monsoon) was practically non-existent this year, though it has rained frequently the last few weeks. It has been unbearably hot this summer, and we had practically no springtime, as winter overstayed its welcome--Koreans say ggot sem chui, meaning 'winter is jealous'. Disruptions to the seasonal cycle can certainly wreak havoc on other natural things. I'm just grateful there's no such thing as global warming.

Saturday, August 28, 2010


I didn't get my "summer vacation" during the all-too-brief summer break, so I'm going to take it right around Chuseok: spending a week in Shanghai and visiting Expo2010, as I mentioned a few posts ago. Even more costly than airfare (a reasonable 357,000 W return ticket) will be the hotel, since they are gouging tourists because of the Expo--about 130,000 W per night! That price can be beat, but not anyplace close in to the city; my hotel is in "The Bund", a short distance from the Expo site, and quite near, even in the middle of, many of Shanghai's other attractions.

The Bund is, according to my Lonely Planet city guide (29,690 W at Bandi & Luni's), "Mainland China's most iconic concession-era backdrop and a source of intense local pride ... Coming to Shanghai and missing the Bund is like visiting Beijing and by-passing the Forbidden City or the Great Wall." The Bund, and the French Concession to the west, are remnants of the colonial era when Europe's great powers apportioned themselves "concessions" of land in China starting in the early 1800s.

Anyway, while the accommodation is expensive, most other things are pretty reasonable: a three-day Expo pass is RMB 400, or about 70,000 W; the full 3 1/2 hour Huangpu River boat tour is RMB 150, or 26,000 W; museums are typically RMB 20 to 30, or 3,500 to 5,000 W. 3-day tickets for the Zaragoza Expo 2008 (a minor World's Fair), for comparison, were 70 Euros--about 50% more. The last "universal" Expo, Hannover 2000, charged 69 DEM, or 50,000 W per day.

There still is not a great deal of English information available online about the 2010 World's Fair, but I found a nice blog post titled How to Survive the Shanghai Expo--exactly what I need to know! I found a bloke from Nottingham who's blogging his Shanghai visit even as we speak (so to speak), here, as is a self-styled bon vivant named Jason, here. Of course, Xinhua News has a special section devoted to the Fair, which is quite thorough but rather one-sided.

Less than a month to go.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

August Book List

Some hits and misses in this month's crop of books harvested here in the Seoul Patch for your edification. No one pays me for my opinion of the books I read, so in a market economy, these reviews are worthless. Or is that invaluable?
  • The Facts Behind the Helsinki Roccamatios and Other Stories by Yann Martel - This is a collection of four stories (well, three stories and a novella) originally published in 1993, eight years before Life of Pi. The title story is the most interesting, and most powerful, but even it is a 98-lb weakling compared to the Charles Atlas of Pi. This book is mainly interesting as a case study in a writer's development of craft. I'd skip it.

  • Bee Season by Myla Goldberg - A truly amazing first novel (it would be no less amazing as a twentieth novel, really), the voice of this story is rich yet authentic, as it details the breakdown of a modern American family. It sounds depressing, I know, but it's really darkly comic, mostly hopeful, and stunningly written. Over and over, the author's turns of phrase, so original but so true, make compelling prose that's almost poetry. The plot concerns a fifth grade girl who surprises everyone by winning not just the school spelling bee, but the Greater Philly one as well, advancing to the National Bee in Washington, DC.

  • The Interpretation of Murder by Jed Rubenfeld - Visiting turn of the century New York City, the infancy of skyscrapers and subways, Dr Sigmund Freud and his associates are drawn into what appears to be a series of sadistic, psychosexual murders. Subtly plotted, the twists in this story kept me guessing--even though we know who the culprit is, the exact nature of the crimes and those involved is still a surprise. Good read!

  • Changes in Latitudes by Will Hobbs - Whether the students did or not is kind of a moot point, but I really liked doing the Book Club thing during camp, and I have been scouting suitable juvenilia for a repeat. Alas, this book isn't it, though it is slim (only 35,500 words) and accessible for my target audience, as the narrator is a 16-year-old boy, on vacation with his family (minus the father) in Mexico. In between trying to make time with vacationing beauties too old for him, disaffected Travis patronizes his nine-year-old brother Teddy's attempts to save endangered turtles from an unscrupulous businessman. That the tale ends with tragedy was expected, but the nature of the tragedy, so random, made me really dislike this book.

  • Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred D. Taylor - I'm pretty sure I read this as a young yoot, but I'm glad I read it again. It won't do for my Seoul high school boys, as the narrator is a ten-year-old Negro girl lving in the Jim Crow South, but it would open their eyes a bit to the unquestioning classism/racism around all of us each day. The characters in this story--mainly black sharecroppers and their 'white trash' overlords--are so carefully drawn that I think I know them: those I don't admire, I mourn for; those I don't side with, I pity; not all black folks are good, and not all whites are racist miscreants in this Newberry Award winner. Life is difficult and complicated, as Cassie Logan learns when her Mama is fired from being a schoolteacher in the 'nigra' school, her Pa laid up with a broken leg, and her older brother's best friend mixed up in a murder. How can this divided community be brought together?

    • Tuesday, August 24, 2010

      Tuttle News Wrap

      I wish to just note in passing that today marks the first day of my third year in Korea, having flown in to Incheon Airport, and bussed out to Yong-in for SMOE training (losing my camera along the way), on this date in 2008.

      In other news, I will be going to Shanghai in September, around Chuseok, for a week or so mainly to see Expo2010. The plane ticket was similar to what I paid going to Beijing last year, but the Chinese have decided to really gouge Americans on our tourist visas. In 2009, my visa cost 80,000 W, including a two-day rush. This time, it cost a whopping 190,000 W with no rush on it! The price for Koreans and other nations did not change.

      For most Saturdays from September through January, I will be doing a two-hour course in Public Speaking and Debate for high school students at Yeouido Girls High School, operated by SMOE. I don't like doing extra work (I'm dedicated and energetic, but enough is enough), but I decided to take this because the money was really good, and I really wanted the opportunity to work with a whole class full of kids as advanced as the best two or three I might have in a class at Young-il. And there will be only sixteen of them. I'm looking forward to it.

      Monday, August 23, 2010

      First Day of the Semester

      Today was the first day of the new semester. I met Hwang as per usual at 7:30, by which time the weather was already abysmal--it's rainy and hot, and the rain is hot. Even though I used an umbrella, I was drenched by the time we arrived at school. I thought Georgia was hot and humid in August, but there's really no comparison.

      I cooled my classroom as quickly as possible and tried to cool off and dry myself before first period. I had confirmed that today we would run the regular Monday schedule: I teach 1, 3, 6 and 7. By 9:00, my first period had failed to show, I had texted a couple of co-workers to find out what the deal was, and just concluded that they had homeroom meetings, what with the new semester beginning and all.

      A reasonable assumption, but wrong. The class began to trickle in just before 2nd period--an hour late! Well, not exactly, as my schedule had changed, but no one let me know. Now, from listening to friends and bloggers, this is a pretty common occurence in the Korean system (last minute changes and no communication--I've got a doozy on that that I'll post up later) but my school is generally pretty good on this front. Which makes it all the more annoying when they don't come through for me.

      But at least it gave me an extra hour to cool down and dry off before having to deal with students.

      Sunday, August 22, 2010

      Money Counts

      They count their bills differently here in Korea than we do back in the States. I mean, it's still 1, 2, 3, 4 ..., but the way they hold and move the bills is different. Here's a video:

      Props to Unsinkable Marge, who posted something like this ages ago on FB.

      Wednesday, August 18, 2010

      More Pork Tales

      I met my friend The Stumbler for dinner last evening in Gangseo-gu cheong, where, after deciding that pork would be good, we happened upon a restaurant named 마포 갈매기 Mapo Galmaegi.

      The place was busy, always a good sign; we were seated at an impeccably clean stainless steel table, with (of course) a grilling apparatus in the middle. The top item on the menu--at 7,000 W per serving--was 갈매기살 galmaegisal. Here are a few delicious pieces just beginning to grill up:

      The staff were a little unclear on which part of the pig the galmaegisal is from--one said shoulder, another pointed along his ribs. Zenkimchi calls it "diaphragm", meaning I suppose the area near the diaphragm, not actual diaphragm itself, which would be a tough, rubbery membrane. A couple other sources called it "pork skirt"; this fits with Zenkimchi's diagramdrawing, but in America we would call that something like spare rib. Call it what you like, but call me next time you eat some, because it is very good.

      Around the grill-ring, there is a trough, which I thought at first was for catching the grease--in fact, this was a fairly lean cut, though flavorful and not tough. But as you can see, it got filled in with an egg mixture containing spicy bean sprouts and green peppers. An added treat, and a definite selling point for this restaurant.

      The panchan (side dishes, seen above) were also distinctive. In addition to the pickled turnip (bottom right) and the veggies that were added to the egg (top right), they offered an amazing kimchi bokum (fried Napa kimchi, served cold, bottom left, obscured by the tongs) and thin-sliced white onion--양파 or yang-pa, Western spring onion. Usually, you get yang-pa for grilling and it's 1 cm thick rings; I prefer the flavor of thinly-sliced onion. They also provide cold soup and a bowl of greens, not pictured.

      갈매기살 - Another Korean pork dish I enjoy as much as or more than samgyupsal--thanks, Stumbler, for continuing to introduce me to Korean cuisine!

      Monday, August 16, 2010

      Today's Headlines

      The Korea Herald, JoongAng Daily and Dong-A Ilbo all lead today's online editions with a story on President Lee's proposal for a "Unification Tax" to prepare for the costs of the inevitable fall of the North Korean regime and the costs that will ensue.

      The No. 2 story across the paps is yesterday's Gwanghwamun reopening ceremonies, after the gate was burned down by a mentally ill man in 2008. The celebration coincided with Korean Liberation Day, marking 65 years of Korean independence from Japanese colonization.

      The Korea Times, of course, ignored all that historic stuff, and topped its frontpage with Woman claims Donald Duck groped her breasts. Stay classy, KT.
      April Magolon, from Upper Darby, Delaware, says the incident happened when she visited the Florida theme park with her fiancé and kids in May 2008. She said she was holding one of her children and trying to get the character’s autograph.
      A 38-page lawsuit has been filed in Orlando, claiming Magolon feels traumatized two years on, suffering from anxiety, headaches, nausea, cold sweats, insomnia, nightmares, flashbacks and digestive problems, according the media.

      This kind of story appears every few years but, alas, there's usually nothing much in it. I am not attempting to make light of actual abuse, but this is pretty much hooey. First of all, in this case, Donald Duck is almost always portrayed by a woman, since it is one of the smaller characters. Secondly, the "cast member" inside most any mascot suit has an extremely limited range of vision; Disney characters have handlers for that reason. Further, the "groper's" hands are contained in a rather thick costume--the sensation to be achieved is minimal to non-existent. More debunking of the fondling mascot can be found at Slate.

      By the way, here I am being goosed by Bugs Bunny, in Spring 2003--I had repressed the memory until just now. I'll be announcing the lawsuit shortly; stay tuned to these pages.

      me with Bugs Bunny, Six Flags, Spring 2003

      Saturday, August 14, 2010

      Random Photos

      What follows are some photos I've taken in the past few months that never found their way into a blog post. Some are funny; some are strange; some are just interesting.

      First, a few shirts:

      Some unusual signs, including the SOB Building (who lives there?), and a map with an interesting way of saying "You Are Here":

      Standing Point
      Men take their hair care more seriously here than other places, perhaps. I am impressed by the use of balding patterns to spell out "Welcome"! But a Men's Beauty Shop may be a step too far:

      CAUTION: Graphic Image Below!
      This is a street seller's booth I saw at Dongmyo a couple days ago. Dude, if you have a condition like those shown in the photographs here, stop looking around at street seller's booths and go directly to the nearest hospital!

      Friday, August 13, 2010

      Farewell, Roomie!

      Old pal and Yong-in roommate Max has returned stateside, and a few of us met up together in Sindaebang for a final dinner! We started at this little hof where we ate some 훈제 족발 hunje jokbal, smoked pig's feet, served with jeotgal (a fermented shrimp sauce which Koreans believe makes pig meat more digestible), kimchi and pickled peppers:

      After that, we planned to hit a soup restaurant that Max likes, but it was closed (probably for the owner's "special rest time" or summer vacation) so we went back up the street to a 곱창 gopchang place. Specializes in beef intestines. We got the so modum, or beef sampler:

      It was quite delicious. Here we are enjoying it, Max first (around the circle are MC, Max, Anthony, Andrew and Sun):

      That wasn't quite enough food, so we threw on a couple orders of 오겹살 ogyupsal which means that instead of three bands of fat, a la samgyupsal, it has five bands--and is skin on. Even better!

      After that, there was more drinking to be done, but I didn't get any pictures. Anyway, so long, Max! Get your Master's degree and hurry on back. We've got a place at the barbeque table and a cold bottle of soju waiting for you!

      Wednesday, August 11, 2010

      Street Signs X: More Signs

      Below is Part II of the Korean sign and symbols quiz that I unabashedly ripped off from blogger friend Jo-Anna of The View from Over Here. These are all symbols of businesses you'll find mainly in Korea. Where the company name is a small part of the signage, I have blocked it out and put a box where the name would be.

      As before, you can find the answers on the comments page. Enjoy!













      Monday, August 9, 2010

      Uncle Kim's Burger

      The time: 2:00 AM (or later)
      The day: Any day
      The location: Itaewon, a block off the main strip, down past the police station
      The subject: Uncle Kim's Burger, amazing

      While my friend Max looks like he's alone, there were six or eight customers ahead of us, and a similar number behind us, all after Uncle Kim's special burger--a late night treat unique to Itaewon!

      Frankly, it's not even an all-beef burger--I'm not sure what it is, and Uncle Kim isn't saying--but it is a tasty treat fer shure for Itaewon's late-night denizens. Check it out!

      That's a white bread bun, grilled; one egg, over hard; one slice yellow cheese; one slice zucchini; chopped cabbage; ketchup and mustard; seasonings; one patty Uncle Kim's special burger.

      Sunday, August 8, 2010

      로댕 at Seoul Museum of Art

      Taking photos in the Rodin Retrospective Exhibit at Seoul Museum of Art (now through August 22) is, of course, strictly forbidden. So my friend Karen took this one really quick and then we ran off.

      You enter the exhibit on the third floor, a room called Rodin in His Studio, which consists mainly of studies, partials and scale models the sculptor would make before creating the full-size pieces. Lots of torsos.

      The next room was all about Camille Claudel, Rodin's student, who became his inspiration, model, confidante and lover. Next are rooms devoted to his sculptures of Balzac and Hugo, the Burghers of Calais, and his dance figures.

      When you come out, there is the Rodin souvenir shop, where you can buy minireplicas of the key works, in addition to books, postcards and cell phone danglies:

      We thought at this point the tour was finished, and felt we were overcharged by the 12,000 W entry fee. However, the exhibit continues on the second floor, with rooms called The Hand of God, and the Gates of Hell, where Adam and Eve were found. And of course, his two most famous works--The Thinker and The Kiss, though both were only plaster replicas. Now the exhibit is finished.

      The ground floor galleries are presently devoted to Man Ray's Photography and His Heritage:

      For a Saturday during the last weeks of a major traveling exhibit, the museum was pleasantly uncrowded--by Seoul standards--though the rainy weather deserves some of the credit.

      Thursday, August 5, 2010

      Last Day of Camp

      Today was the last day of summer camp, the boys finished reading Beastly on Tuesday night, so we wrapped it up yesterday. All that remained today was have a party!

      I brought in a really delicious choco cake from Tous les Jours, and they brought in chips and drinks and stuff.

      I started celebrating a little early, by which I mean last night, when I got together with some of the guys for some lamb in Bongcheon. From there we traipsed over to Sillim and I got eaten by a giant pelican.

      Sillim is teeming with wildlife, so be careful if you ever get over that way.