Mother Nature

28 05 2009

I feel more grounded and in touch with nature in Korea. For one thing, the country is covered in small mountains carpeted with trees. Because the country has been around for awhile, the trees are pretty old and have a majesty that is somehow missing in Canada. And with the advent of spring, flowers are blooming everywhere you turn. It seems as though all Koreans have a garden of some sort, and most people grow their own lettuce (for beef in a leaf). Markets, restaurants and laundromats alike have plants and flowers growing outside their stores.

When it comes to the weather, it feels as though there is no mediocrity in the seasons. When it’s cold, it’s back-breakingly cold. Fingers freeze in seconds, and the inside of your nose sticks to itself from breathing. When it rains, it thunders down and woe to you if you’ve been caught outside without an umbrella. This is the first place I’ve been where galoshes are a mandatory accessory! When it’s hot and sunny, the air sticks to you like smoke in your hair after a night of all-night clubbing.

Sometimes you walk down an alleyway and catch the distinctive whiff of fresh squid or octopus for sale, a smell that transports you immediately to the sea, though it is miles away. Or round a corner and come upon a truck selling fruit in tune with mother nature, because once a season is over, that fruit is gone. From the markets and from the trucks. So far, we’ve been through kumquat, strawberry and orange melon season, and are now in the thick of watermelon season. But act fast, or the fruit will disappear. Either because the season is over, or because the truck has driven away!

Fruit Truck


Animated Radish

24 05 2009

I have been watching some television here in Korea in an attempt to learn some of the language. I am endlessly entertained by these Rush & Cash commercials featuring an animated white radish. How very Korean!!

You can check him out at the following links. He’s so cute.

Wellbing in Seoul

22 05 2009

My rice cooker has a quote on it that says, “for your well-being life.” I’m not really sure how, but still…

There is a huge well-being trend happening in Seoul right now. Products, stores and services are all promoted for their well-being capacity. Yoga studios are popping up all over the place, and Koreans are starting to work out big time. (A big change from when I was here 10 years ago!)

My favorite place of well-b(e)ing though is the grocery store right by my house.


And for a closer look. Good marketing? Hmmmm….



19 05 2009

I made a visit to the Yongsan Used Furniture store today with Friend Jane. In the last month, ex-American GI Beau moved out of the apartment below us, giving Jane the opportunity to move in. With Friend Sam moving out here from Toronto in less than 2 weeks, and Friend Greg potentially shacking up for a few weeks this summer, it’s getting to be a regular Melrose Place around here, minus the drama.

And Heather Locklear.

GI Beau had taken fridge, stove and washing machine with him, leaving Jane to purchase new items. As always, our entrance into the used furniture store was greeted with free vitamin C drinks from one of the staff. Blueberry flavour this time around. This same staff member had recently sold us a chair for the grand total of 20,000 krw plus a box of crackers from our grocery bag.

We examined two different neng-jang-gos (fridges). Jane had come prepared with a tape measure, and as we measured, we discussed the pros and cons of each fridge. One was large, one was medium. One was clean, bright and white, the other was a little ivory coloured. One was a Samsung, the other, an unrecognizable brand. We paused our discussion, and in that moment, the used furniture salesman piped up, in Korean with all seriousness,”in this fridge you can fit a watermelon. In the other one, you can’t.”

I can only imagine that he thought this relevant because Koreans must consider this when shopping for refrigerators. Either that, or he really likes watermelon!!

The Meeting

14 05 2009

Papa Piggy has been visiting from Canada for the last week or so. This has led to all sorts of traumatic experiences, including a first time introduction to the Furry Bear after almost 2.5 years. All went well on that front with Papa Piggy surprisingly well-behaved. We met for coffee in the lobby of the Lotte Hotel, where Furry Bear was subjected to a series of typical Korean parent questions that included:

  1. What does your dad do for a living?
  2. What does your mom do for a living?
  3. Are they still together?
  4. How many siblings do you have?
  5. What are your plans for the future?
  6. What do you want to do with your life?
  7. What do you like about Korea?
  8. Do you like Korean food?

These questions were answered without too much trouble, since Furry Bear’s dad is a professor and mom is a teacher, both perfectly acceptable professions to a Korean parent, along with doctor, lawyer, engineer, or world renowned artist. You get the picture. Shockingly, Papa Piggy didn’t question us about marriage plans. I suppose all my pleas to refrain from publicly embarrassing Furry Bear must have worked. 

After coffee, we headed to the 11th floor of the Lotte Department store for a train-full of sushi. Perhaps it was the distraction of picking sushi plates off of the conveyor belt, or the presence of my Uncle Jang, but this event also passed without incident…meaning there was no public burping or farting (which is completely acceptable in Korean culture).

A few days later, I met up with Papa Piggy and a few relatives (which is a whole other post), and was told that he was “surprised by how smart Furry Bear was.” I’m not quite sure how to take this. Happy I suppose, since there is no drama, but a little dismayed that Papa Piggy thinks I would choose someone dumb as a partner. Oh well. Can’t complain.

Dragon Hill Jimjilbang: Body Blitz on Steroids

7 05 2009

The other night we made a trip over to Dragon Hill jimjilbang at Yongsan Station. It was my second time visiting, and Furry Bear’s first. He had brought along support in the form of friend Greg. Understandable. A first time visit to a Korean jimjilbang is not for the faint of heart…and particularly difficult for foreigners I imagine. In fact, one of Furry’s students, a businessman, had informed him that when he saw a whegook (foreigner) enter, he immediately left because it made him so uncomfortable.

A jimjilbang is a Korean sauna or bathhouse. Sauna culture is a pretty big thing in Korea, with a jimjilbang or not quite as fancy mogyoktang in almost every neighbourhood. Many people go daily or weekly, and after experiencing it for myself, it’s pretty easy to understand why. For a $5 – $10 entrance fee, you get access to multiple pools and saunas. On the women’s floors, there were at least 10 pools and 3 sauna, all of varying degrees and benefits. There were ginseng pools, Hinoki jacuzzis, a Himalyan salt sauna, aromatherapy steam rooms, saltwater pools, and baths ranging from 18 degrees celsius to 45 degrees celsius.

Mind you, all of this is enjoyed in the buff. Yes, completely nude. No bathing suits allowed.

When you enter the jimjilbang, you pay your entrance fee, then receive a key, fob, change of clothes and a few towels. You take off your shoes, and place them in a small locker at the entrance of the spa. From there, it’s up separate elevators to either the women’s or men’s floors. Upon reaching the change room, you strip down, place your clothes and personal belongings in your locker, and then head to the spa, which are of course, gender segregated. At Dragon Hill, the women’s sauna is one floor below the locker room, so you have the strange feeling of walking up and down the stairs naked in public. Once in the sauna, a good wash and cleaning is required before entering any of the pools.

I hit 3 or 4 warm/hot pools and the 88 degree Himalayan sauna before subjecting myself to the 18 degree cold plunge. Man, does that ever feel fabulous. Shocking, but fabulous. When you are done with the pools and saunas, you can treat yourself a little. The fob and key that you receive at the entrance are attached to a bracelet that you wear on your wrist. The fob is used to purchase extras at the jimjilbang. And boy, are there a lot of extras. The famous Korean bodyscrubbing, massages, cupping, manicures, pedicures, accupressure, meridian alignments, eyelash perming and extensions etc…etc…it’s a veritable buffet.

I treated myself to the bodyscrubber, which in Korean is deh-bekyo. The literal translation of this is remove dirt/grime…and that is essentially what happens. You cannot be shy to partake in this process because you basically flop around on a massage table in the nude, while an ajuma in her bra and panties scrubs you from head to toe with a rough Korean scrubbing cloth. The amount of dirt and grime that comes off your skin is nothing short of fascinating. It’s almost like those Biore strips that pull the blackheads out of your nose. Blech! If you’re brave enough to try it, it’s so worth it. I always feel about 2 pounds lighter, and have THE softest skin imaginable afterwards. (And yes, Furry Bear tried the scrub in the men’s sauna).

After you’re done with the sauna, you get into the shorts and t-shirt provided to you at the entrance, and head down to the main healing zone. This area is co-ed, and includes a pine-needle sauna (which felt like a sweatlodge), and traditional charcoal and infrared saunas. You can also watch a movie, eat in a restaurant or take a nap in one of the aromatherapy sleeping rooms, since Dragon Hill is open 24 hours.

After 3 hours of soaking and baking, we were in danger of turning into prunes/pizzas, so we reluctantly left. 

Next adventure – I think the coffee shop with pools of fish that eat the dead skin off your feet!!




1 05 2009

“How much are these shoes?” I asked the salesman. We were in an outlet store on Itaewon Street, and a pair of white Pumas had caught my eye.

He mumbled some incomprehensible sounding words, which must have been Korean numbers. My brain went into paralysis and a look of utter confusion must’ve crossed my face, because he immediately followed it with the english translation. 35,000 krw. Score! 

I proceeded to try on the shoes, which of course, fit perfectly. Now this is Korea, so you must always ask for a discount. It’s part of the culture.

“Discount?” I asked tentatively, mentally calculating my counteroffer.

He paused, “ok, 20,000 krw.” Sweet! Sold!

Tough negotiation.