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Friday, July 31, 2009

Free speech, please



To their left, flames and burning books were cheered like heroes.
-"The Book Thief"

One of my hot-button issues came into the news recently when a group of Wisconsinites called for the removal of 82 books from their public library and the public burning of one.

The four plaintiffs -- who describe themselves as "elderly" in their complaint --- claim their "mental and emotional well-being was damaged by [the] book at the library."

Book banning is one issue I've never understood. Most of the time the argument is that children need to be protected from sensitive issues but my problem with that reasoning is this: isn't a parent's job to protect their children? If you don't want your kid to read Harry Potter, don't let him. It's as simple as that. And what's wrong with exposing your child to new and different ideas? He might actually -- gasp -- learn something.

In 2008, the American Library Association (ALA) received more than 500 reports on efforts to remove literature from library shelves and school curriculum.

Burning books just takes it a frightening step forward. What could be so potentially dangerous in a book that its removal isn't enough, that it must be physically destroyed by lighter fluid and a match?


One memory I have of going to the library as a child -- and this might still be true, although I haven't noticed it in recent years -- is of a list of the most banned or challenged books prominently displayed near the check-out desk.

The flier wasn't there to deter you from checking out those books. Instead, it encouraged you to read those titles and take a stand against censorship. In that same vein, the ALA sponsors an annual Banned Books Week during the last week of September, celebrating the "freedom to choose or the freedom to express one’s opinion even if that opinion might be considered unorthodox or unpopular," stressing "the importance of ensuring the availability of those unorthodox or unpopular viewpoints to all who wish to read them."

I recently finished Marcus Zusak's compelling novel "The Book Thief," a World War Two story about a young girl learning to read and embrace language. One of the main points Zusak makes is that words have an incredible power. Hitler manipulated people first by using words, then force, and how in the end, words have the ability to save lives.

One of the most compelling things about this book is how words and crude, black-and-white drawings are interspersed, truly giving credence to the expression "A picture tells a thousand words."

As an American, I feel lucky to live in a country where (for the most part) free speech is valued and encouraged. I was surprised when, after watching this Sarah Silverman video mocking McCain and Bush, one Korean friend said that if a comedian did a similar routine in Korea, she would be put into jail.

Then again, this is a country that imprisoned a blogger who wrote critical remarks about the government, only releasing him after overwhelming public support led to his acquittal.

The Korean government has also officially banned 23 books from being distributed to members of the armed forces, deeming them "seditious publications."

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Made in Korea

Lee Hyori on the blog two days in a row? What's going on?!

This exchange between two 13-year-old boys in Talk Show class was classic:

Student 1 (Host): Where are you from?
Student 2 (Guest): Made in Korea!

Robin Hood (yes, that is his English name) knew he was making a joke and I was suitably impressed, considering that he hadn't demonstrated very strong English skills during class up to that point. It was such a good line -- in his eyes as much as anyone else's -- that he repeated this statement about five more times before the 45-minute period ended.

(In the vein of Stuff White People Like, there's a great blog called Stuff Korean Moms Like and #22, interestingly, is "Made in Korea": "Don't ever show your Korean Mom something you bought for a lot of dough that was not made in Korea. She will take it as a personal slap in the face.")

In the United States, almost everything we buy is made elsewhere. Just looking around the immediate area, my dress was made in Sri Lanka, my camera in Japan, my clock in China and my bathing suit in Indonesia.

Korea is a huge manufacturing center for many multinational corporations -- besides Korean brands such Samsung, Kia, Hyundai, Fila and LG, other companies including Nike outsource work here to take advantage of a cheap, diligent workforce.

Consider that the average family income in Korea is a little more than 39,000,000 won (about $31,330 USD). Compare that to the 2007 median U.S. household income of $50,740. The cost of living in Korea is much less than in the United States, accounting for much of the discrepancy, but you can see why outsourcing to Korea would be an attractive option to a company. Costs go down, profits go up.

A 2005 study by the Korea Trade-Investment Promotion Agency reported that "Korea was rated as the most attractive outsourcing partner by the biggest U.S. automakers for its high quality and price competitiveness."

The interesting thing about all of this is as American companies send more work to Korea, Korean companies are sending their work elsewhere (and importing cheap goods from many of their Asian neighbors, particularly China). South Korea has even entertained the idea of outsourcing labor to its not-so-friendly northern neighbor. And many Korean car companies have factories in the United States, so oddly, maybe it all balances out in the end.


One of the big news stories here is a strike at a Seoul car plant -- nearly 1,000 fired workers and sympathizers took control of the Pyeongtaek factory May 31 and say they won't leave until every person is guaranteed his job back.

Though South Korea has a history of labor unrest, the trouble at Ssangyong stands out in a time when the government has persuaded many companies and unions to avoid confrontation during the economic downturn. The government pressed companies to use pay freezes, job-sharing and other methods rather than layoffs to curb costs, and pushed unions to accept such measures.

After several raids and forcible attempts by police to breach the building -- no food has been sent in for two weeks and water and gas have been shut off for more than a week -- talks are set to begin today between union representatives and plant management.

Which all goes to show that if you want your business to run smoothly, keep your employees happy. Don't fire them for no better reason than profit margins or you could end up with a similar situation on your hands.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Commercials don't lie, do they?!

If you drink soju, you will look like Lee Hyori. Who clearly had a bad run-in with Photoshop during this print campaign...

If you think sitting through 10 minutes of previews before a movie in America is bad, you've obviously never been to a Korean movie theatre, where a few movie previews are interspersed between 20-30 minutes of inane commercials.

What keeps this from being intolerable is the complete charm of so many of these ads, especially when you have no idea what's being said and instead make up a narrative in your mind.

My favorite commercials are for soju, Korea's signature alcohol. Soju ads -- both print and broadcast -- are everywhere in Seoul. Most reveal all of the fun you're guaranteed after a shot (or 10) of this potent drink.



But the latest gimmick had me alternating between hysterical laughter and honest concern that people believe ridiculous claims. Why? Because the latest advertising campaign from Jinro, the world's leading soju distributor, hopes to target women by claiming that drinking soju can help you lose weight.



The fantastic commentary, as translated by The Grand Narrative:

1kg 빠져도, 다른데?

If you lose 1kg, are you different?

1인치만 줄어도, 좋은데

[Even] if you shorten your skirt by only one inch, it looks better.

1cm만 낮아도, 편한데

[Even] if you reduce the length of your high heels by only 1 cm, they’re more comfortable.

그리고 1도만 더 부드러워져도

처음보다 1도 더 부드럽다

And also if you soften [soju] by only one degree, it’s one degree softer from the first sip.

18.5도 진로제이

진로제이처럼 더 부드러워지세요

Naturally, the ad features a 102-pound woman while touting the benefits of losing one kilo (2.2 pounds) and shortening your skirt.

Honestly, it's more fun not knowing what's really being said and just enjoying the overall silliness. Although this one makes me laugh simply because of the way she says 'coffee':

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Plus-sized portions and programming

A couple of days ago, I wrote:

Full confession: I'm not a breakfast person. [...] Waffles, pancakes, cereal -- they don't do anything for me. I'm a person who goes to breakfast places and orders a sandwich.

Almost immediately after that blog went up, I remembered one of the best meals I've ever had and yes, it was breakfast. Last summer while vacationing in Alaska and Canada, I enjoyed this feast at Anchorage's popular Snow City Cafe.


A truly amazing meal. Thick, fresh whole-grain bread smothered with berry preserves, an enormous customized veggie omelet (peppers, spinach, onions), a heap of potatoes -- I could only finish about half before calling it quits. I'd go back to Anchorage just to eat this again, any time of the day!

Several friends have been or are going to Anchorage this summer and the number one recommendation I've made, more than any sightseeing attraction, is the Snow City Cafe. (Be prepared for a long wait but grab a mug and help yourself to coffee and the newspaper to pass the time -- believe me, it's worth it!)

Alternately, I chatted up the fantastic weekend farmers market, where the freshly-grilled halibut tacos and salmon quesadillas absolutely blew me away.

Yum, yum, yum.

(If YOU are a breakfast person, or just enjoy Greek yogurt any time of the day, head over to Megan's blog. She's giving away a sample package of Chobani and it can all be yours with one click. Go, go, go!)

-----

Speaking of food, THIS is how well my mom knows me. During our weekly Skype session, she mentioned that TLC has a new reality show chronicling a morbidly obese family and she was sure I'd want to watch it in the autumn.

I know it's wrong, but these programs fascinate me. Call a show "I Eat 30,000 Calories a Day" or "The 2-Ton Man" and you're guaranteed an audience of at least one -- me.

Shows like this are only gaining (no pun intended) popularity. A "Bachelor"-type reality show, "More to Love," debuts this week on FOX and features all plus-sized contestants. A friend recommended Lifetime's "Drop Dead Diva" and after seeing two episodes, I must admit it's not half-bad. Plus it features Margaret Cho, which instantly elevates anything out of mediocrity.

In a country where 2/3 of the population is either overweight (10% or more over your ideal body weight, with a BMI over 25) or obese (30 pounds or more overweight; 33% of Americans fall into this category), is an influx of plus-sized programming an effort to see ourselves when we watch TV instead of size-zero starlets?

Why can't there be a happy medium rather than defining everyone as either too thin or too fat? What about putting a happy, healthy woman on TV, regardless of size, and accepting her just her as she is?

(Which reminds me, if you haven't checked out Operation Beautiful lately, what are you waiting for?)

Food for thought: According to the Los Angeles Times, the average American woman weighs 162.9 pounds and wears a size 14.

Monday, July 27, 2009

On being a digital nomad

On this Monday "weekend," with grey clouds hanging listlessly overhead and a light rain drizzling on and off, I've foregone the fun stuff to do some necessary chores. Wet laundry now covers every square inch of my 15 x 10 apartment, the floors got a thorough scrubdown and I even began the arduous process of boxing up winter clothes and other items to ship back to the States rather than pack.

But when the prospect of tackling the bathroom arose, I knew I needed a distraction. This isn't your ordinary bathroom, remember. This tiny room is a toilet and shower in one -- a place of perpetual dampness where the floors are never quite dry. Cleaning it is a painful chore, one I put off as long as possible.

And what better way to postpone chores than to get caught up on a weekend's worth of blogs and update my own? But the prospect of sitting in my apartment amidst laundry, boxes and the lingering smell of cleaning supplies (mmm... lemon fresh!) wasn't nearly as appealing as this window table at Starbucks, where the chai lattes are hot and the air smells like freshly-ground coffee beans.


All of which remind me of yesterday's Washington Post story about "digital nomads." Thanks to wireless Internet, laptop computers and all of the other fun gadgets that make life easy, millions of Americans are no longer chained to desks. Why sit in a windowless cubicle when you can do the exact same work at a lively coffee shop (mega love for Adams Morgan's Tryst in the article) or pool-side?

Tech company bigwigs think this trend will only grow in future years.

The younger workforce will demand it. That's how they live.

To me, this is the perfect work environment. One of the worst things about working is having to go to an office every day, sit at a desk, chained to a computer and breathing in the recycled air without a hint of sunshine. I had a great office job while at university and made some fantastic friends, but it was in a basement office, from which I'd emerge after a shift to find a downpour of rain or sprinkling of snow that I'd had no idea was occurring. Depressing.

At the same time, I'd hate to work from home day after day. I can barely blog from home, where distractions abound and if there's not a distraction, I'll create one myself to keep from being productive. My ideal work environment is a crowded coffeeshop.

Maybe finding a career that allows me to be a digital nomad will be a turning point for my decision to return permanently to the States. Until then, I'll just continue being a nomad in every sense of the word.

(On an unrelated but funny note, a 60-something-year-old man just knocked on the window, stuck his tongue out at me, mouthed "You're beautiful," and then stood there and stared. I smiled back before trying to ignore him but it was an awkward 30 seconds...)

Sunday, July 26, 2009

my kind of place



Full confession: I'm not a breakfast person. Eating is the best part of waking up (now that Folgers commerical is stuck in my head!), but it doesn't need to be breakfast-type foods. Waffles, pancakes, cereal -- they don't do anything for me. I'm a person goes to breakfast places and orders a sandwich.

But Tira (a Korean co-worker who loves food as much as I do) has been talking about Butterfinger Pancakes for ages now and hyped it to the point of making a meal there a must-do. In the tradition of I-HOP and Waffle House, Butterfinger serves breakfast all day long, in addition to salads and sandwiches, so a big group of SEV teachers headed there after work yesterday for dinner.

There are several locations of this restaurant throughout Seoul, including Gangnam and Bundang, and the closest to us is Apgujeong near Rodeo Street.

Posing at the subway station -- Tira is one of my favorite people here!



There is always a long wait at Butterfinger so show up with a book and prepared to wait up to an hour or more, especially for brunch. Luckily they let you pre-order your meal, so by the time you sit down at a table, it's only a short time until food appears.


I quizzed everyone who had been there before about what was good before deciding on pecan gingerbread pancakes with a side of scrambled eggs. Hannah had me talked into a strawberry milkshake -- I tried some of hers and it was amaaazing -- until I saw "all natural" smoothies on the menu and switched to that.

A Korean with an afro? Apparently.

We were HUNGRY by the time we sat down -- it was almost 9:00 by the time our food came!


All of the food was absolutely excellent! Waffles and pancakes come with a selection of butters, syrups and fruit compotes -- I skipped everything besides some stewed apples, which was the perfect complement to the cinnamony pancakes.

You can also order a "set" -- the Korean term for a combo plate -- that includes a main dish (pancakes, waffles, omelet) with bacon, potatoes and eggs. I was happy with my order, though. The pancakes were small but just the right amount and a heaping side order of scrambled eggs filled me up perfectly.

(Actually, it filled me up a little too much. I was completely stuffed all day today to the point of feeling almost sick -- I guess I'm not used to eating so much rich food so late at night. Today has been a fruit-and-veggies kinda day.)


I also got a strawberry smoothie -- and was too busy downing it the second it came to take a picture -- and must say that it was the only disappointment of the meal. Sure, it was delicious. But also very, VERY sweet. By "all natural" ingredients, they must have meant heaping amounts of sugar, too. Koreans love sweet things. At fruit smoothie street stands, I'm always leaping to stop the vendor before he dumps several spoonfuls of sugar in the mixture and then gives me an incredulous look as to why I don't want a super-sweetened drink. Why can't anyone believe that fruit is sweet enough without adding anything extra? Ice + fruit = perfection.

It was a great evening filled with good friends and food. Definitely somewhere I'll go back to and bring more people. The prices are definitely steep, as is most Western food in Seoul, but as an occasional treat, Butterfinger Pancakes is ideal.

Godzilla is taking over Seoul! (outside the NANTA theatre)

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Worst science teacher ever? Probably.

I realized today, for the umpteenth time, that I'm vastly underqualified to be a teacher. In most classes, I can squeak by -- it's not that difficult to put on a mock talk show (hello, that's absolutely using my degree!) or bake cookies. The grammar/reading/writing classes that we sometimes have -- and that consume my entire schedule next week -- are also a breeze.

But today, I had science. Four hours of science.

And truthfully, I was just as clueless as the kids.

The first two hours were dedicated to the solar system but it's been aaaages since I had to know any of that. I only remembered that Earth was the third planet from the sun because of the show "Third Rock from the Sun" and barely recalled that there are eight planets now that Pluto has been demoted.

The class project, to design a model of the solar system with each planet appropriately sized and labeled, became more "creative" with me in charge. Luckily I was equipped with photos of the solar system and using that, plus a quick Google search, no one caught on to my utter ignorance.

My previous knowledge of solar system models was limited to that episode of "Full House" where Stephanie has to make one out of fruit and the family eats her planets. Anyone?

(Pop culture -- now THAT is my forte.)

The next two hour block was dedicated to buoyancy and gravity, a subject that confounded me even more than the solar system. The worksheet for the students to fill out... honestly, I didn't know half of it. Tons of complicated formulas, if f= blah blah blah... In the interest of not showing my stupidity, plus wanting to avoid waste by having countless papers filled out only to be tossed in the garbage, the worksheets remained safely in their folder.

The class project for this segment was to construct a tinfoil boat and see how many coins it could withstand before sinking to the bottom of the sink. Fun? Meh. The kids seemed to enjoy it but honestly, who cares how many coins a tinfoil boat can hold? Not I!

Science + Erin = bad combo. I hated it as a student, took the least amount possible in university (two courses, plant science and... some other class?) and still dislike it as a teacher.

I consider myself an intelligent, well-informed person. I read a couple different newspapers every day, watch the news, read for fun and generally enjoy learning about a variety of subjects. But science? You've found my weakness.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Kimchi, blogging survey and the future

Breaking news from the Land of the Morning Calm:

South Korean creates kimchi that won't smell

Yet in a nation that has set a goal of establishing its cuisine as among the world's five most popular by 2017, kimchi's odor has always been a stumbling block. According to a survey by the Seoul-based Corea Image Communication Institute, the unique smell of Korean food is the biggest barrier to globalizing the cuisine.

Freeze-dried kimchi. Interesting idea but I wonder if it will catch on in a culture that values "fresh" kimchi -- the term is relative since kimchi is, by nature, not fresh -- above all else.

If it gains popularity, this could be life-changing. Not so much for my life, since I'll be back in the United States and safely away from kimchi odor in about two months, but for all future English teachers in Korea. And anyone traveling on Korean Air, a nice airline that becomes not-so-nice when the person sitting next to you opens his complimentary container of fermented cabbage, garlic, fish sauce and red pepper.


And now back to your regularly scheduled post
-----

Recently I was invited to take part in a survey of ex-pat bloggers in Korea in an effort to see the long-range influence of blogs. Specifically, what role do blogs play in the ex-pat community and what happens to these online journals once the traveler returns home?

The survey led me to think about what will happen once I move back to Washington. Obviously, my travels will continue but more sporadically -- I'll be back in the United States for at least four months before setting out into the wider world again.

I'd like to keep blogging if people are still interested in what I have to say. There's certainly no shortage of interesting sights and attractions in the DC-area, and some tentative travel plans around the USA are also on the docket (Nashville, Chicago, the Pacific Northwest, Boston, NYC).

I read a bunch of blogs every day -- around 15, covering travel, food and miscellaneous friends' ramblings -- and that creates a wealth of ideas of directions to take Postcards From the World and expand the current focus.

So I'm not entirely sure what shape this blog will take in a few months but hopefully I'll still be here, writing away for my little audience. One thought is to incorporate more food posts (Tad, you'll like that!) since I enjoy reading other people's food blogs so much and have acquired so many new ideas about nutrition over the past few months -- maybe I'll teach myself to cook beyond pasta, eggs, and stir-fry.

(Do salads count as cooking? I'm an expert salad maker!)

We'll see. There's still a little over two months left here to sort out my mind and, most importantly, savor every day in Korea before time runs out and I'm on that jumbo jet heading home.

What do YOU want to see on this blog?

Politicians Gone Wild



The National Assembly passed three bills to modernize South Korea's media industry, including allowing companies to own both broadcast and print properties. The voting, which took place Wednesday amid fistfights and shouting matches among lawmakers, capped months of acrimony over the measures.

The bills, which would privatize much of the media here, are understandably controversial. Most news outlets, both print and broadcast, are openly partisan and take a hard line on issues like trade and North Korea. Although private ownership of media is common elsewhere in the world, it's a new way of thinking here in Korea and many people are resistant to the change.


Me, I'm totally for it. While there are definitely imperfections with private ownership -- monopolies can create a huge problem of not knowing where your news is coming from and who is really behind the reporting -- it's a better system than state-run media, the current situation here.

The videos from the "debate" are especially hilarious. Punching, screaming, kicking, men vs. men, women vs. women, men vs. women. For a country that puts such a value on respect and Confucian ideals, this is incredible. It even puts the Brits to shame, and Americans are always amazed by how rowdy their sessions get.

Congress: take note. Even just the first few seconds of this video are amazing -- women clawing each other's necks and screaming. Politics at its finest.



(images from the Wall Street Journal and AP)

----

In other Korean political news, North Korea released a statement today calling U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton "by no means intelligent" and "a funny lady."

Hillary, your rebuttal?

(Team Hillary for Life, BTW)

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Oh, Sarah Palin...


Sarah Palin: the comedic gift that just keeps on giving. Even her resignation speech turned out to be unintentionally -- one assumes -- hilarious. And chock-full of grammatical and factual errors.

Vanity Fair set its editors on her speech and tore it up by correcting poor grammar, an abundance of copy errors and, most horrifyingly, numerous factual errors, including some that a simple Internet search would reveal. 

I just Googled "president Alaska purchase" and the first hit, 0.27 seconds later, reveals that it was President Andrew Johnson who authorized the acquisition. You don't even need to click the link!

Whether you're a passionate logophile whose Bible is Eats, Shoots & Leaves, or just a stickler for accuracy, this is worth checking out.  (credit to Lauren, who blogged about it first)

And if you need any more Palin-bashing to make your hump day more enjoyable, I finally got around to reading Todd Purdum's damning VF profile of the former governor. All I can say: Wow. And to think she was only 8 million votes and a heart attack away from being President of the United States.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Best. Schedule. Ever.


It might not be a conventional 9-5, Monday-Friday gig but there are some weeks where I really like this job. I mean, check out my schedule. A lot of cooking, some talk show, a morning of swimming and, best of all, proofreading! (I told Monica, our scheduler, that proofreading is my favorite thing and that I'd rather do that than teach -- obviously she took it to heart!)

A nice, easy week, especially considering that summer camp just started. There are tons of kids here but also an additional 25-30 teachers to spread out the work, so if anything the workload is less for year-round teachers. 

When I first moved to Korea, the plan was to teach for a year and then return to Washington and find a "real" job. 

Now that scenario is the furthest thing from my mind. It's not even an option unless... well, I honestly can't think of a universe in which that's an option.

Then the plan was to move to the UK and find work there. That's still the ultimate plan as far as my next JOB goes. But after coming back from Australia, I immediately knew I wanted to travel there for a longer period of time, maybe two or three months. 

Fortuitously, Sandy came back to SEV for summer camp and mentioned that she's planning on spending a couple of months traveling around Oceania starting in February. My reaction?"Wow, that's cool, I want to do that one day."

And then it clicked. I do want to do it one day. So why not now?! I'll have the money, no other commitments and my only "plan" was to move somewhere else in the world and find a job. Why not push back the job-finding until late spring and take the trip with Sandy?

So I've now leeched myself to her -- with her blessing and the shared belief that it's always more fun to travel with a friend than solo --  and from February to mid-April, we'll be journeying around Australia and New Zealand (with a possible jaunt to New Caledonia thrown in for good measure).

After I told my mom these plans the other night, she casually broached the possibility of going to Spain or Portugal in May and "would you be interested?" 

Um, yes! She said that hadn't committed to anything because, again, she wasn't sure where I'd be in May but part of the fun of having NO plans is the ability to do ANYTHING.

2010 is shaping up to be an incredible year. It's always fun to have something exciting to look forward to, and my cup runneth over in that regard.

But at the moment, more than anything, I'm looking forward merely to home. 10 weeks, ladies and gentlemen. :)

Monday, July 20, 2009

Monday in Myeongdong



It's a strange thing to get used to, having weekdays off instead of Saturday or Sunday. I actually prefer this schedule. It's a nice break in the week to have Monday off and then only work two more days before your next day off.

The downside is when the the schedule eventually returns to Mon-Fri and suddenly you're working 11 or 12 days in a row without a break. It happens. 

A day off is a day off and even though there was nothing exciting on the agenda, I knew I wanted to get up and out early. Seoul hasn't had much sun lately -- the weather alternates between hazy and rainy -- but it's incredibly humid all day so I wanted to get going before the worst of the heat hit. 


Myeongdong is just a short subway ride from Suyu and a great one-stop shopping neighborhood. You can find anything in Myeongdong, from international stores (GAP, Zara, Forever 21, American Apparel) to cute Korean boutiques to a million-and-one tiny stalls selling the identical cheap dresses, jewelry and assorted tchotchkes. 

SO quiet! I love these three-story coffee shops -- great for people-watching.

It's one of those neighborhoods that can be relied on if you need to find a specific article of clothing and don't want to spend hours at a big market like E-dae or Dongdaemun, or if you're looking for a quick bite to eat, as all of the major chain restaurants are represented here along with the smaller Korean places. 


This is also a great neighborhood for people-watching, although it was interesting to see the streets so empty. Quite a change from the usual frenetic weekend scene. Most of the stores didn't open until 11 or noon which seemed late but, as I've learned from often arriving at stores and restaurants before opening time in Korea, it's actual considered a normal opening time. 

I didn't realize Dunkin' Donuts was suddenly Japanese... I assume this ad shows how cheap DD is in Korean compared to super-pricey Japan.

After finishing my necessary errand -- my iPod has been acting up for a while now, but more on that later this week -- I treated myself to an iced tea from Dunkin' Donuts since it was on the way to the subway and I was H-O-T. Wayyyyy too sweet. Ugh. But a much-needed sugar boost nonetheless. 

Working the next two days and then another "weekend" day! Caroline and I want to take a day trip out of Seoul -- suggestions are welcome. 

Sunday, July 19, 2009

A good day



Today was a good day.

People-watching in Hongdae.


Finding new coffee shops.


Discovering lots of cute cafes and galleries for further exploration, even if they were inexplicably all closed at noon on a Sunday.



Interesting street art. 



Peering over fences into secret gardens.


Shopping with Hannah at E-dae -- and enjoying a delicious afternoon treat.


Sunshine and not a drop of rain in sight. 



Today was a good day. 

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Harry Potter!


I love Harry Potter and am not ashamed to admit it. I've read all the books and seen all the movies -- although I've never gone quite as far as camping out a Barnes & Noble to be the first reader of the newest book. 

As soon as a July release date was announced for the sixth movie adaptation (pushed back seven months from the original November release date), I began looking forward to this latest installment.

Wizard hats for sale!

It didn't disappoint. Although many scenes from the book were cut out or heavily edited, that's to be expected when turning a 600+ page book into a 2-and-a-half hour movie. The movies improve every time, mostly because the main kids evolved into actors with some real talent.

What was great about this film was that it was fast-moving -- besides having a slighty sore bum from so much sitting, I hardly noticed how long the movie was -- and allowed some of the talented supporting actors (Michael Gambon, Jim Broadbent, Maggie Smith, Helena Bonham Carter, Alan Rickman) more screen time and lines. It was less the Harry-Hermione-Ron show and a more ensemble piece, which definitely improved things in my mind.

Cool promotion for UP, another movie on my to-see list.

Random observations:

- The crucial end scene from the book was gone! Definitely a loss, although someone told me it will instead be the opening scene of the first part of the seventh movie.

- Although many of the supporting characters saw an increase of screen time, others either disappeared (what's a good Brit film without Emma Thompson?!) or only had two lines and a couple of reaction shots (poor Julie Walters).

- Did anyone else notice that Draco was in a lot of scenes but only had about three lines? It was strange, eh? He was also dressed throughout as some sort of child mafioso. And I remember hearing a lot about Helen McCrory being cast as Mrs. Malfoy (she was originally meant to be Bellatrix) but she also only had a handful of lines and a couple of scenes. 

- Oh yea, and did Neville have any lines? He was in the back of a lot of shots... Ah well, I'm sure Matthew Lewis (had to look that one up!) still got his pay day. 

- Hermione's clothes were fantastic in absolutely every scene. Seriously, I sometimes stopped paying attention to the plot and was just thinking about where I could find a sweater like hers. 

- There's a reason books are usually better than their films -- with a book, things like tone and inflection are all in your head. So a crucial line like Dumbledore's final "please" to Snape can be interpreted a number of different ways. But on film, it's confined to one interpretation which (I thought) gave a lot away to an observant viewer. 

Of course, nothing beats a good parody and this 2003 Comic Relief sketch, with an all-star cast to rival the actual film, is the best. 


We had lunch at COEX before the movie (at Tomatillo, naturally) and I loved this stand advertising "fresh, healthy food" and serving a variety of fried pork and meat-on-a-stick products. 

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

(Green) Monster Madness



What do you get when you combine spinach, a banana, a plum and milk in a blender? 




Yes, I've jumped on the Green Monster bandwagon after having bought and enjoyed green juice over the years. I'd never attempted to make it on my own -- can you believe that my family doesn't have a blender?! -- but friends have made them and the homemade kind are definitely superior to store-bought. Although I did get an amazing (wish I could remember the name of the brand now) bottle of organic, green juice at Sydney Airport that caused my Korean seatmate a little consternation. He gave me a half-concerned, half-repulsed look every time I raised the pea-colored concoction to my lips. 

Ah, well. 

After reading a ton of blogs talking how good (and foolproof) GM's are, I decided to give it a try with my newly-acquired blender.

The result? 

Delicious! I'll use a little less spinach next time (or add more fruit) as mine was a tad too spinach-y but otherwise, it was super-tasty and the perfect mid-afternoon snack. Really filled me up and gave me energy to teach two last-minute classes -- I was muy triste to be switched from proofreading all afternoon to teaching Geography. Give me proofreading over teaching any day!

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As long as we're talking about greens, read this health column from Monday's Washington Post, which talks about the newest groundbreaking findings from the American Dietetic Association. 

The main idea is this: a vegetarian (or heavily vegetarian) diet is the healthiest option for people of all ages, adults and children, going contrary to previous beliefs that children need an omnivorous diet. 

The research paper accompanying the ADA's statement, written mostly for dietitians and health professionals, makes a good case for moving to such plant-based diets as the ovo-lacto vegetarian, incorporating eggs and dairy foods, and the pesco-vegetarian plan, which includes fish. The paper cites scientific evidence that these diets can help fight major diseases, such as Type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and several kinds of cancer

Or, in the words of the amazing Michael Pollan, "Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants." 

Going vegetarian was a LOT easier than expected and I can honestly say, hand on heart, that I've never felt better. Tons of energy (seriously, I bound out of bed in the morning), better skin and a generally elevated mood (note that I say "generally," not "always," as the past couple of weeks might be evidence to the contrary...).

By the way, I'm not a true vegetarian and don't foresee becoming one -- at the moment, I'll eat fish and plan to eat organic, free-range meat occasionally once I'm back in the US. 

Manly Beach, Sydney: One of the best pieces of fish ever. The beachside setting didn't hurt, either. And a side of fries. My head said no but my stomach said yes. Always listen to your stomach -- it was delish!

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Fantastic sign at Caribou Coffee, Sinchon: 


Calling it a paradise almost makes smoking sound appealing. But not. 

Wow, two "green" posts in as many days. Sorry, guys, I know this isn't exactly related to travel. But hey, it's my blog and I'll post what I want. Plus I am living in Korea, not just traveling, and the nitty-gritty of daily life are part of the experience. The more educated I become about food -- I feel like I learn something new every day -- the more I want to share with everyone else. Guess that's why I read so many food blogs

Two consecutive days off this weekend and even if it rains (highly likely) fun plans are already on the agenda for both days. Counting down...

11 weeks from TODAY I'm finished in Korea. My how a year flies!

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

So gorgeous, so good!


How yummy does this look?

Living on my own in a tiny apartment with just one hot plate and a blender (thanks to Kirsten, who gifted me with this today) means that meals need to be quick and easy. It's simplest to eat basically the same thing for dinner every night, especially because I don't have a freezer and so can't buy too much of any one ingredient. 

My staple dinner is pasta with vegetables, changing the veggies depending on what looks good at the market. But I think I've found a winner this week. Tri-color vegetable pasta. Cherry tomatoes. Spinach. Broccoli. 

The entire thing takes about 20 minutes -- boil water, throw in pasta for 10 minutes, take out pasta and toss the veggies into the pan for a few minutes, put on a plate with some parmesan cheese on top. 

Delicious. 


Wow, seeing a picture of it makes it look like a massive plate of food. But there are way more veggies than pasta, I promise -- about 1 cup each of broccoli and spinach, 3/4 cup dry pasta, a large handful of tomatoes. (Speaking of tomatoes, check out the gorgeous tomato Lauren took a photo of for our other blog -- yay homegrown produce!)

Natalie leaves Korea next month and from her, I'll inherit a toaster oven so I'm looking forward to banana bread (thanks to the delish Trader Joe's mix Dad sent), roast veggies and baked potatoes.

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I've been dying to see Food, Inc. ever since hearing about it several months ago but so far, can't find it online and there's no way it would be released in Korea. During my search, I stumbled onto another fantastic documentary, The Future of Food, which explores the same issues (major corporations controlling the majority of food manufacturing and processing in America, and the health and environmental risks of that). 

You can watch The Future of Food for FREE online. It's only an hour long and presents a compelling argument in favor of eating (as much as possible) an all-organic diet.

What I loved about it -- and I've heard this is the case with Food, Inc., as well -- is that there isn't an argument for vegetarianism and a call to give up meat. Instead, you'll become more educated about the antibiotics, pesticides and other harmful chemicals you may be ingesting when you're eating non-organic produce, meat and dairy. The information about dairy has been especially enlightening for me and made me want to take the extra step to either purchase organic milk and eggs or leave them out of my diet entirely, as is the case at present.

A related website suggests 10 easy steps we can each take to change food culture and push for better food practices in America. Check it out. :)