Monday, January 31, 2011

How's the Weather?

Effing cold, that's how the weather is in Seoul, Matey.  I realize one tends to say that every winter in a really cold climate, but the record book is backing me up here.  The Korea Times headline sums it up pretty well: Seoul records coldest January in 5 decades, and says in part:
In fact, the weather during January was the coldest in nearly five decades, according to the Korea Meteorological Administration (KMA), Monday.

The average temperature during January in Seoul recorded minus 7.1 degrees Celsius, the lowest since 1963, when it hit minus 9.1 degrees. The lowest daily temperatures averaged minus 13.6 degrees, while the average of the highest was minus 5.7 degrees. [...]
According to the agency, there were 18 days when the mercury was below minus 10 degrees, which also followed a record of 25 days in 1963. “The cold has continued because of the so-called ‘blocking effect.’ With a northwestern air current pushing cold winds to Korea and warmer currents from the lower latitudes surrounding the peninsula, the cold front has had all its exits blocked,” said Kim Ji-young from the weather forecast department at the KMA.
The forecast high today was 0 C but I don't think it ever got there, since it started snowing again at about 1 PM.  So far, so good.  Then the article makes this mysterious, paradoxical claim: "The continuous cold spell has made it hard for those who are looking into taking trips and enjoy their time during the Lunar New Year holiday."

As one who was out in the very snow I just mentioned trying to find a bank where I could buy Thai baht, the cold has made it much easier to look into a trip, much easier in fact to overspend on my plane tickets, even easier to pay the bank a 4 freaking percent premium to acquire said baht.  I checked the forecast today before I set out--Koh Samui will have highs around 82 and lows around 75 (that's Fahrenheit, of course) for the forseeable future,

So, Dear Reader, it is official: Tuttle will kick around a deserted Seoul through the Seollal weekend, catch the Superbowl early Monday morning in Itaewon, then it's off to Thailand's southwestern gulf islands to find a quiet beach and catch up on his reading. 

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Shopping for Seollal

Seollal, 설날, is the Korean lunar New Year Festival.  This is the time when Koreans return to their ancestral homes to see their relatives and tend the graves of their ancestors,  Since it's a lunar thing, the dates can vary considerably--this year it's Wed., Thur. and Fri. of next week.  Lots of Seoulites are taking two vacation days Mon. and Tues., so if you don't work Saturday it's a nine-day vacation--virtually unheard of here! 

Seollal really does tend to empty out the city, and the streets can be eerily quiet.  Not today or tomorrow, of course, at least not on the two main streets of my neighborhood: Yeomchang-no is a main connector to the Olympic Parkway and points west, and Gonghang-no is the direct route to Gimpo Airport; they are both bumper-to-bumper.

When Koreans travel home to visit their relatives, they take gifts.  Nice gifts.  Expensive gifts.  Like Spam.  And mushrooms.  Anf coffee.  But seriously, things like ... Spam, and mushrooms, and cofffee.  But for the purposes of gifting, these products are all wrapped up in nice cardboard gift boxes and exhorbitant pricetags attached.  And hawked by pretty ladies (도움이, doumi) in traditional hanbok.  To wit (from my local neighborhood E-Mart):

The whisky doumi
I'll have the Spam, Spam, Spam, Spam and Spam.  I like Spam.

If you don't want that much Spam, have the Spam--well, the Housewife brand of "luncheon meat" ,  mild (water-packed) tuna, and soybean oil

Or, the Spam with huge packs of laver, aka, dried seaweed

A gift box of soap, toothpaste and shampoo products sends your loved one a not-so-subtle message
Industrial size packages of instant coffee mixes, beloved by Koreans

Korean red ginseng extract, noted for its virility-enhancing propertes

Raw ginseng, noted for its money-extracting properties (those packs are roughly USD 200-400)
Assorted fungus and nut gift boxes

Some kind of mushroom
"King Crab Set", 3.6 kg of frozen King cab legs for about USD 95
Candy assortmets, presumably for the children
This blog post should not be considered an endorsement of E-Mart, Korean red ginseng or any of the other products pictured here, except King crab legs.  And maybe Spam.  Oh, and I do like whisky okay.  Further, this blog received no remuneration or other consideration from E-Mart, Shinsaegae corporation, its parent companies or subsidiaries, more's the pity.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Art and Tyranny

Today's NYT has a story of interest for those of us who "watch" unhinged despots like North Korea's Kim Jong-il and Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe, or in this case, both.  Some might be interested to learn that the two countries share more than just insane, murderous tyrants at the helm whose "socialist" policies have ruined their economies, enabled by greedy, corrupt political cadres. 

For instance, there's the Joshua Nkomo statue erected in Bulawayo.  Nkomo was Mugabe's chief political rival in the early days after the end of white rule in then-Rhodesia--but Mugabe's ZANU Party won the elections in 1980, and that was that.  The two rival leaders (in broad terms, ZANU represented the Shona peoples, and Nkomo's ZAPU faction were Matabele) started off all friendly, but Nkomo was variously imprisoned or exiled during the Gukurahundi Massacres of Ndebeles, finally folding his machinery into Mugabe's ZAPU in 1987, leaving Zim a one-party state. 

So, last year, Mugabe goes and erects a statue of Nkomo like they were best friends.  This naturally teed off a lot of Ndebeles and Nkomo supporters whose families were massacred by Mugabe's special forces, the so-called 5th Brigade, from about 1983 to 1987.  

What's this got to with DPRK, you may be asking.  Two things: first, Mugabe's 5th Brigade were actually trained in North Korea starting in 1980, while Kim Il-sung was still in charge; second, it turns out the statue was actually manufactured in North Korea, according to reports

And frankly, it doesn't have a lot to do with the NYT article, except by way of background.  The article does mention another interesting, or chilling, episode in the relations between these two rogue nations:
Before the World Cup in South Africa in June, a minister in Mr. Mugabe’s party, ZANU-PF, invited the North Korean soccer team, on behalf of Zimbabwe’s tourism authority, to base itself in Bulawayo before the games began, a gesture that roused a ferocious outcry. After all, it was North Korea that trained and equipped the infamous Fifth Brigade, which historians estimate killed at least 10,000 civilians in the Ndebele minority between 1983 and 1987.

“To us it opened very old wounds,” Thabitha Khumalo, a member of Parliament, said of the attempt to bring the North Korean team to the Ndebele heartland. “We’re being reminded of the most horrible pain. How dare they? Our loved ones are still buried in pit latrines, mine shafts and shallow graves.”
The North Korean team did not come to Zim, and was humiliated in its three games, scoring one goal while giving up 12.  But don't blame the coach, Dear Leader was there via invisible phone to give advice. 
Anyway, the article.  It concerns mainly an art exhibit at the National Gallery in Bulawayo (the nation's second city) that is now a crime scene, because it depicts the Gukurahundi on numerous large canvases, complete with "recurrent, menacing images of a man in oversize glasses — Mr. Mugabe."

By way of contrast between the lunatic sadistic tyrant that is Robert Mugabe and the lunatic sadistic Stalinist tyrant that is Kim Jong-il, the latest art controversy from the peninsular gulag is: which glorious leader Kim is being beatified in this painting?

From Foreign Policy
Is it Great Leader Kim Il-sung, or [Adjective] Leader-to-be Kim Jong-un, for whose ascendancy fifty South Korean citizens have been sacrificed so far.  (I'm counting 46 from the ROKS Cheonan and 4 from the Yeongpyeongdo shelling.)  For North Koreans unable to make the trek to the Rajin Art Gallery in the country's northeast, what with freezing and starving to death and all, the government is helpfully handing out his portrait:
According to sources, there are variations of Kim Jong-un’s portrait that are being handed out: a portrait of the son in a military suit is to be given to those in the military, while there are versions with Kim standing in an suit and another featuring the young successor examining documents. Representative members of North Korea’s Workers’ Party received their copies of Kim Jong-un’s portrait on Sept. 28 during the party’s rare convention. A source in Ryanggang Province said teams of regional officials had been formed to inspect the status of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong-il portraits in North Korean homes ahead of Kim Jong-un’s portrait distribution.
Look at this site of Kim Jong-il looking at things:

Friday, January 21, 2011

Seoul Food

A few (!?) more photos taken by Tanner during his stay, capturing some of the food we ate.  Thanks old chum!
뼈해장국, hangover soup, at 청진동, a popular restaurant chain

These three photos show seafood awaiting a gastronomic fate in Guro-gu

My French coffee at Gecko's Terrace, Itaewon

영고치, Chinese style lamb skewers in Bongcheon

The manager of preceding lamb restaurant

삼겹살, samgyupsal at 찌개마을 or Stew Village, in Insadong
Some 반찬, banchan, to go with our samgyupsal: seasoned bean sprouts

소금구이, sogeumgui, or salt pork, at 새마을식당, New Village Restaurant in Gangseo-gu cheong

More banchan, pickled onions: Tanner had three bowls

Cow's liver, stomach lining and kidney (?) , meant to be eaten raw

곱창,gopchang, cow offal, for which the preceding two banchan were provided. The restaurant is named 한우곱창전문, Hanu (or Korean Beef) Gopchang Specialists

볶음밥, fried rice, being prepared in the griddle used to cook our gopchang.  Crispy and delicious, though I personally can do without the added seaweed

Korean comfort food, 부대찌개, budae jjigae literally means army base stew . This is the Heungbu variety as served at the Nolboo chain
So, those are the culinary highlights of Tanner's Seoul experience.  We didn't have time to try everything, and he wanted a couple of dishes repeated (the haejangguk and yang gochi in particular).  No boshintang, nor beef galbi, and no hong-eo, haha.  I did try to tempt him with sundaeguk, but once I had to tell him what "headcheese" is, he shied away ...  Still, we covered most of the highlights, ate well, and left him wanting for more.  Come on back, TB, the city has refilled its soju stocks.

Oddly, I've come over all peckish.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Photos From Tanner

I fear I have been a poor host to visitors to my virtual patch of Seoul lately, all while (I hope) being a good one for the guest n my real patch. So, to make it up, I'll post some pretty pictures for you to enjoy, taken by Tanner during his stay, now alas concluded.
The neon lights of Guro-gu
Pocha outside Guro Digital station
Rice cakes in Insa-dong
Samcheong-dong hanok maeul

TB at frozen fountain in Deoksugung
Marksmanship game at Story of Yi Sun-shin at Gwanghwamun
The signs say it all: "Country makgeolli, one glass, 1000 won"

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Tanner Brown Goes Downtown

My chingu of chingus is in Seoul for a visit and we've been so busy seeing the sights that I haven't updated you, my imaginary uh, internet pals, on what's happening. Today, he's off exploring on his own, downtown. On Saturday, after arrival, we went to see the neon signs at Guro Digital--its nightlife scene not as crowded as usual, perhaps because of the temperature. Still, the rotisserie chicken we had at "third course" was great.

We dropped by Itaewon on Sunday for brunch and a quick tavern and back alley tour, then made for Bongcheon for dinner and what might best be described as a delicious "milky soup" called makgeolli.

Monday was more in the way of traditional sightseeing, as we visited Tapgol Park and the 10 story marble pagoda of Wongaksa ...

... the world's largest and smallest book ...

... Insadong galleries and shops ...

... toured the hanok maeul on the mountainside in Samcheong-dong ...

... and visited the Dongdaemun market area, before coming home for dinner at Gangseo-gu cheong.