Saturday, August 28, 2010

Making Kimbab

Last weekend, our host family made kimbab together for lunch.  I think I'm on my way to becoming a great Korean housewife...NOT. Nonetheless, I had fun learning something new.  Even though my kimbab rolls were either too triangular or rectangular in shape, they tasted delicious.
Kimbab (김밥)

1.) Place sheet of seaweed flat on bamboo mat.
2.) Spread rice onto bottom half of seaweed sheet.  
    note: sticky rice does not spread well.
3.) Stack sliced ingredients 
    (egg, pickled radish, cucumber, imitation crab meat, etc).
Che-yoon a.k.a. "Mary" (my host sister)


Min-hyeok a.k.a. "Harry" (my host brother)
4.) Roll up all ingredients with bamboo mat to assemble 
    kimbab. Apply even pressure to ensure that kimbab stays 
    intact, does not look triangular or square in shape. 
5.) Dab oil on seaweed edge of kimbab roll and knife blade 
    before carefully slicing kimbab roll into individual 
Kimbab should not be this triangular :(
6.)Enjoy with kimchi and pickled radishes!
There you have it!

Meet the Family

Living with a host family is one of the best ways of immersing myself in Korean culture while I’m here, and I’m really excited about my own host family.  I’ve been living with the Lim family for a little over a week now, and I couldn’t have been placed with a more ideal family!
Spending a rainy Sunday afternoon with my host family at Daechong Dam

I think my host mom is the coolest Korean woman I’ve met.  My host mom is a fourth grade homeroom teacher at my elementary school, so she’s been really helpful giving me the scoop on school dynamics and introducing me to her group of friends who also teach.  She and I both swear that we must have met during some other lifetime because we are very similar in personality and interests.  We both like to eat, drink, and live fully.  She’s very outgoing and sociable, so I’ve felt welcome in her home this entire time.  We both sleep when we’re stressed and are much quieter at home than in public.  She’s very athletic and goes swimming at 5:30 am three times a week.  In fact, the entire family does this together, and I managed to roll out of bed once this week to tag along.  During college, she told me that she hiked up to the peaks of all of Korea’s mountains.  Art is another one of her passions, and her watercolor paintings are hanging in the apartment.  Half of the bowls we eat out of were made by my mom, and she’s going to help me register for ceramics courses.  To top it off, her name is 은정 (Eun-jeong), while my Korean name is 정은 (Jeong-eun). 

There are three more members in my host family, starting with my host dad.  My host dad has a masters in chemical engineering, but in recent years, he’s been operating his own real estate business.  He is so devoted to his children and wife, and he also helps out a lot at home.  He cooks breakfasts, washes the dishes, and cleans around the house! I didn’t grow up with a father who did these things, so I’m still getting used to it.  We practice English together during meal times, but one would hear more Konglish than anything else.

My host siblings have chosen English names for themselves, though I generally call them by their given Korean names.  Harry or Min-hyeok (민혁) is a 7th grader who is quite studious and loves to play soccer and swim, which is pretty typical of many Korean boys.  He’s extremely sweet and slightly protective of me.  When I went on a walk one evening, my host mom told me that he was pacing around the apartment worried that I’d get lost. My host sister’s name is Che-yoon (채윤) or Marry, and this cutie is in the 4th grade.  I keep telling her that she should change her name to Mary, but she wants to emulate her older brother, so I think that second “r” is here to stay.  She’s pretty shy and her English is not as good as her brother’s, so she generally will pop by my room several times a day to see what I’m up to.  She’ll smile a lot without saying much.  She’s been opening up a lot more, and we even watched Kung Fu Panda together recently.

While it’s nice to come home to a family, it’s strange to be living under somebody’s roof again and abiding by my host parents’ wishes.  For the past four years in college, I’ve come and gone as I pleased without any attention to curfews or family meal times.   I’m still figuring out the appropriate time to be coming home at night and just how much time I’m expected to spend with the family.  In this respect, I feel like I’m back in high school. 

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Busted Knee 2.0

Here's to being straightforward about my time in Korea, beginning with my health.  I've been struggling with a torn ACL since late June, but I haven't notified all of my friends and family back home in the States.  Tending to my knee injury has consumed much of my energy during the short time I've already spent in Korea, and it will probably continue to do so until I can receive complete treatment. I'm working diligently to receive permission from my elementary school and my program to return to Los Angeles for a full two months during winter break for ACL reconstruction surgery and initial physical therapy.  The first two weeks I would spend bedridden with an ice machine and range-of-machine machine.  Within 3 months, I'll be able to run.  Overall, I'd need 6-8 months of PT following surgery for 95% recovery.  

This is ACL tear #2, so I already have a surgeon and physical therapist lined up. My surgeon is Dr. Tibone from USC, and he treats the Trojan football team.  I'm wearing the same athletic knee brace that the linebackers wear on the field.  Kinda cool, no? 

If this news is new to you, I'll start from the top.  I fell off of my skateboard riding downhill late at night three weeks ago before coming to Korea.  I was trying to blow off some steam about lost pictures on my external hard drive. I was with my younger brother, Kevin, and we were just coastin' down Descanso Drive with my headlamp and longboard.  Come hill #2 and I felt uneasy as I gained speed and a parked car came into view.  In anticipation of running into the car, I stuck out my left leg to halt myself and my ACL tore in response to the impact.  I continued to fall off of my board and soar until I landed with a thud on the ground. I've got a mad scar on my hip to prove it.

Surprisingly, I've had more difficulty emotionally dealing with all of this.  Physically, I can operate at 75% of my health, which is enough to get by for a year. But I can't run or play sports. There's a volleyball league in Cheong-ju and my principal was so excited to hear that I played, but I won't be able to take part in any of that.  At least until I get a new ACL, and that could be months.  It's hard to fully accept my physical capacities, especially since my desire to stay active hasn't subsided one bit.  I have to be patient with myself all the time and stop myself from taking on more than I can handle, and it's difficult to feel so uncomfortable in my own skin. Probably more so because I take, or rather took, so much pride in my health and strength.  Luckily, I have the support of my family back home, my host family, and the other ETAs in Korea who are my emotional backbone lately.

More to come, I promise.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Prey or Predator?

Check out this sick mural I saw in Hongdae:

Hongdae (홍대) is the neighborhood surrounding Hongik University (홍익대학교) in Seoul.  Hongik University has one of the best art departments in Korea, and Hongdae is known for its art and music scene as well as its bumpin' nightlife.  Granted that an exact duplicate is impossible considering its urban and cultural context, I'd say that the closest equivalent of Hongdae in Los Angeles is a fusion of Echo Park and Silver Lake.

This makes me think of Scoops! in LA and how happy the ice cream makes me. It's going to be a longggg year...


My mother named me 정은 (Jeong-on) when I was born, but nobody ever calls me by this name, not even when I’m in trouble.  Lately, though, I’ve been hearing about 정 (Jeong), a concept permeating Korean interpersonal relationships, and am curious if my mother had this in mind in giving me a name to grow into.  

Jeong (정) has no direct English translation and is an ambiguous term to begin with, but I’ll do my best to explain it.  

Jeong refers to a strong personal bond that isn’t necessarily grounded in shared interests or experiences as friendships are in Western culture.  Jeong can exist between two or more individuals as can it develop between a person and an object, for example a hometown or house.  Jeong can be a collective emotion that encompasses loyalty, commitment, and reciprocity that transcends logic or reason.  Jeong can exist in both platonic and romantic relationships, though it isn’t an essential component to them.  I don’t think one chooses to enter into a Jeong relationship, but rather it finds us.  It may develop over time, but it could also be an instantaneous connection.  In strengthening jeong, there is the tendency of preserving interdependency and the collective, perhaps at the sake of the individual. 

Even though this concept of Jeong is new to me, I think I already have it in my life.  It explains the unbelievable, almost unsettling affinity I feel with my closest friends, some of whom I’ve known for a relatively short amount of time.  Somehow they seem to understand what I am feeling and trying to express in so much fewer words than others.       I am beginning to experience Jeong here in Goesan, South Korea and I hope for it to develop even more during the next year. 

Friday, August 6, 2010


전서 (Zuan style)
The bottom right arc represents the dragon's tail.

I took an introductory calligraphy course during orientation, and here is a glimpse of the art I been created on my last day. I learned how to write dragon (룡) in five different styles of Chinese. The written styles progress from literal expressions of characters to abstract forms and reflect different periods in Chinese history.

My calligraphy instructor chose the dragon because of its traditional figure as a mystical creature that welcomed good spirits into one’s home. Let’s hope that the dragon blesses me in my homestay situation. The dragon was also hailed as a bringer of rain, which there is plenty of in Korea right now due to monsoon season.

P.S. The three small characters below the dragon are my Korean name (서정은 or Suh Jeong-eun) written in Chinese.

예서 (Li style)
above: 해서 (Kai style)
below: 행서 (Hsin style)
초서 (Tsao style)
The upper right dot represents a water droplet from the dragon's tail flick.

Entry #1

I finally did it. Here is the blog that I’ve been promising to create since I graduated three months ago. I just found out where I will be living and teaching English for the next year, and I think it’s fitting that I write my first entry today.

Currently I'm in Goesan, a rural town in central South Korea famous for its chili peppers. Beginning in August 19, I will be teaching Korean elementary schoolchildren in the city of Cheong-ju until July 2011. Cheong-ju, a city of over 600,000 residents, is the 9th largest city in Korea and the provincial city of Cheung-chung Buk-do Province in central Korea.

For the past month, I’ve been taking intensive Korean language courses while attending countless (and often seemingly never-ending) cultural and teaching workshops. It’s training for my first real job, though I often forget that’s the purpose for me being here since I’m in a bubble of 72 other Americans who are quickly becoming my new family and friends. 

My Korean is improving daily, and I sometimes answer English questions in Korean without thinking. I still write like a second grader, but there’s been a 300% increase on my quiz scores since Day 1. Hopefully I make enough progress to pass my Korean final next week. By the end of this year, I hope to be able to write an academic paper in Korean without having my language teachers mark up every line in red ink.

This being my first blog, I expect it to be a hodgepodge of posts on my daily experiences living in Korea as an English teacher, Korean-American (or 교포 which is pronounced gyopo in Korean), and cultural ambassador (which we’re reminded of daily). Not to worry, though, I don’t want to bore anybody with my personal life. Expect some posts on Korean culture, architecture, public transportation, and urban development (plus anything that suits my fancy). I may no longer be a college student, but the learning never ends.