Sunday, August 29, 2010

Best race SWAG!

Mike and I are signed up for a 10K near the DMZ in October (thank you Seoul Flyers for your guidance through the registration process) and I received my first package in was the race registration confirmation, number and the SWAG!

Guess what you get at races here in Korea...none other than RICE! Not just a little 3 ounce sample, but 3KG! For you non-metric types, that is 6 pounds of RICE! In addition, I am told you will get this at just about every race.

Just some simple calculations (and a good little word problem for those of you with little ones)...
If Mike and I do one race/ month, we will get 12 pounds of rice/ month which gives us 192 ounces/ month. That is about 3 ounces/ day each. Yes, I think I can achieve that, but I don't think I am going to be buying rice anytime soon.

If this is what we get before the race, I cannot wait to see the food we get after the race...I hear Kimchi and Cold Soup! Yum!

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Sights, Sounds & Smells of Myeongdong

Myeongdong is an area of Seoul that has the largest shopping district I have ever seen. If I haven't said it already in a previous post...Koreans LOVE TO SHOP! Myeongdong is a few miles of intersecting streets of shops and vendors and on the weekends, they have lots of street food and performers. Along with all of those vendors come lots of people, so that it is not easy to walk, there are so many people.

Another note on shopping in least 60% of everything you will find here is bags/ purses/ wallets and shoes. So many shoes and bags! I am not much of a shoe person, but those bag vendors are going to be my downfall one day!

So, we spent a few hours yesterday window shopping and enjoying some of the street food...notice Mike's new "cool" aviator glasses. I think he totally could pass for Tom Cruise in Top Gun now!

Here are a few pictures of the sights of Myeongdong...

And here is some of the food. Dried squid on the left side a a favorite of Koreans here. We have not tried it yet. The right side are things like chicken on a stick, some compressed rice stuff in a red sauce. My descriptions do not sound appetizing, but most of it is pretty tasty!

First 10K in Korea!

Yesterday I did my first 10K in Korea. I have run 6 miles before, but I have to try to describe the conditions for you.
  • At least 90F outside with no areas of shade
  • Humidity that makes you drip sweat standing on the starting line
  • Hills the likes of Pittsburgh or San Fran

Now, that I have you fairly sympathetic to my conditions here, I'll let you know that that is everyday here and I knew what I was getting into. It was a great race. It was actually FREE because it was on the US Military Base here in Yongsan, Seoul. I joined this great group of runners, Seoul Flyers, and they have inducted me into the world of running in Seoul. It is awesome! Running is a really great way to explore the city and see all of the great parks and areas of Seoul. It get's you some good stares as well.

The greatest part of joining the group is that they do all of the race registrations for you. This doesn't sound like a big deal in the world of internet registrations/ paypal/, etc No, no, no...not here. 2 hours of trying to register on-line for a 10K, a few phone calls and a few nasty words later...I still had not successfully registered for a 10K next month. Needless to say, some things are a little different here! So, with Seoul Flyers, I give them my money and info and they do the work. WaLa! Plus, I have met some really great people that have great info on Seoul and like to run to boot!

Here are a few pictures of the race, the group after the race and us out to a well-deserved "totally US-style" breakfast on base.

Friday, August 20, 2010

I think Ma-Dee likes it here

For those of you who know Maddy, she loves basking in the sun. This is her at our Michigan home...just laying in the sun, protecting our vegetable plants.

She seems to be adjusting to Seoul life pretty well. She loves her walks, as always, and most people seem to like her as well. She is the only pug I have seen here, but certainly not the only dog. She even met a dog friend, DJ. I think she even gained the friendship of the older Korean maintenance men around the neighborhood, who don't say much, although I walk by them at least 4-5X/ day...and since her name "Ma - Dee" translates pretty well to Korean, most people can call her by name.

It looks like she found a spot in the sun here as well, outside on our deck. She is so darn cute!

N Seoul Tower above Namsan Park

Namsan Park is a very large beautiful part in the middle of Seoul, just north of the Yongsan area, where the US military base resides. If you have ever heard anything of Seoul, it is HILLY, and Namsan is no exception. Unlike how you Michiganders are thinking of Stoney Park where there is some great 6 mile "flat" path around water...this is not that. It is a few miles of STRAIGHT UP HILL...seems to be a trend here in Seoul.

There is a beautiful path that goes to the top of Namsam Park, which ends about 240m above sea level (only about 1-2 miles or so).  At the top of Namsam Park, there is N Seoul Tower (also known as Namsan Tower), which has an oberservatory another 240m with a 360 view of Seoul.

So, since Mike's Thursday workday ends about 9PM, I decided to venture out to Namsan just around dinner time and see the Seoul Tower at sundown. It is quite the romantic spot, as I found out by the numerous teenage couples, but I spent it with my Korean chocolate cookies and Pocari Sweat (korean gatorade).

Just a hop off the subway, and you can start the treck through Namsan and up to the top. There are runners and walkers all along the way. It is still quite hot here, so I was prepared to sweat and happy to see that everyone is sweating, so the smell just blends in. All along the path, they have thes off-road dirt trails, where you can find these awesome wooden lounge case you wanted to take a nap in the woods.

The greatest thing about Korean parks is that they have installed these awesome rubberized surfaces (can't see it too well in this picture) for walking all around the city as well as all through the parks. I think it is supposed to help your knees for all of this hill walking. Let's put it this way...I appreciate the effort by the city, but hills are hills!

Here is a little video of the view from one of the lookout points on the way up...

So, one hour of uphill walking later, you get to the top of the park. Also, one hour later, you get to the last bus stop. Yes! there are public buses that will take you up to the top (for 600 won or ~ 60cents). You live and learn here in Seoul! I took the bus and learn is not just a saying ;-) So, I get to the top and am joined by dozens of people coming off the buses (not sweating) and we pay our money and go up the top of the tower.

Here are some of the views from the top. The second is as the sun was starting to go down.

Finally,  here is a view looking up at the was beautiful at night. This might be the romantic part.

For Thursday night, my adventure did not stop there. Consistent with all of my experiments here, I tried a new way home...and 1 1/2 hours later, arrived home (only took 20 minutes to get there). Got a little lost and no cell phone at 9PM in a city whose language you don't speak does make things interesting. Good thing about my "long way home"...I bought some milk that we needed and finally found a pet store that has the mats I have been looking for and I arrived home safely with no problems :-) Turns out I was actually only lost about 1 mile from our house.

Namsam and Seoul Tower are a must see here in Seoul! I will go back many more times! One dayvery soon, I will run up that darn hill!

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

What...I can't hear you over the Cicada Bug!

During our first two weeks here, we have had the experience of walking down this beautiful green path to the subway and not being able to hear eachother talk. Why? CICADAS!

Cicadas are large bugs, about 1 -2 inches long, that feed on tree sap. They "sing" (as bug people like to say) at some freekishly high decibel, to the point that you cannot hear anything around you. Remember the days of those horns at the World Cup that sounded like bees were overtaking the earth (to everyone but the South Africans), well, I can imagine how they felt.

I have been told, and will confirm later, that they only last a few weeks in the summer and they all die and fall to the ground.

The good news...yes, there is some...they don't bother humans at all! In fact, I am sure they don't know we exist. So, while their "singing" can sometimes tune out my headphones, I am thankful they prefer tree sap over my sweet human blood.

Here is a video of me walking yesterday to give you a feel for their "singing." No, that is not rushing water. You can actually hear the sounding lowering over time and can maybe pick up the faint sound of a bird in the background.

Can you tell I am not a big fan of bugs?!

Maddy Is Here!

Maddy arrived on Monday night...crazy as always!!

She has settled in pretty well, finding her favorite place to pee  & poop (outside and even though there is no grass anywhere), meeting all of the guards (older men sit outside the villas in little guard shacks and watch TV all day) and even claimed her part of the chaise on our couch.

She seems to like Seoul, she was even checking out the view from our balcony with Mike...

Sunday, August 8, 2010

So Many People...

Over the weekend, Mike & I attempted the Dobangsan hike in Bukhasan National Park, just north of Seoul. One of the great parts of Seoul that we are discovering is that you truly do not need a car. Yes, major city attractions are available by subway/ bus, but the mountains and national parks are as well.

Korea has many National Parks, some several hours away, but just the handful around Seoul will keep up occupied for many months.

Additionally, summer is extremely humid..."sweat continuously running down your face like never before humid." We will have to go back and visit in the fall, which is a beautiful time in Korea.

So, we took line 4 (I think) up to Dobongsan, and quickly found that we were not the only ones headed there. Many of the books warned us that "the wekends brings hordes of well-equipped hikers to many of the mountains around Seoul." Well, they didn't lie...many hikers. Luckily, I don't think many Koreans wake up too early (as compared to Mike & I's 5AM wake up call we are used to), so it was much more crowded when we left the park after 2PM.

All along the walkway from the subway to the park are vendors with fresh food and many mountain/ outdoors vendors and stores. "Red Face" is a famous brand here and suspiciuosly has a logo similar to North Face. On one street, a Red Face store sat right next to a North Face store...some healthy competition here. You can easily pick something up for lunch here and even get some alcohol. Unknowlingly, Mike and I picked up some mid-Sunday alcohol for ourselves. It was Makgeoli and was just 1500 kwon for a whole bottle (~$1.20). Makgeoli is a un-filtered, carbonated rice wine...and it grows on you after the third glass.

Bukhansan National Park is very mountainous. As we have found with several other parks we have gone too, these are not leisurely hikes with gradual ascents, but 2000ft in less than 2 miles, with boulders, rocks and not much dirt. Needless to say, it was challenging but very beautiful, with views of Seoul from the top. Here are some of the photos.

There are also many temples on the mountain. They are quite the hike. This type of worshipping takes significantly more dedication on a worshippers part than many of us Americans have experienced. The temples are amaking and well-preserved and taken-care-of.

Friday, August 6, 2010

When a Horse meets a Snake...

Today we visited Gyeongbokgug Palace which is the oldest Joseon Dynasty Palace.

They had the life-size Chinese Zodiac calendar. From my research, this calendar dates back over 2,000 years and consists of 12 animals (rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, ram, monkey, rooster, dog and pig). Legend says that these are the animals and the order to which they appeared the Buddha, the Jade Emperor. There is much more to the story and more details regarding elements and yin and yang in your Zodiac Sign, but I will leave it at that for this blog.

I was born in the Year of the Horse (Korean: mal) and in the month of the Element Earth and Mike was born in the Year of the Snake (Korean: bem) and in the month of the Element Water. Earth represents practicality, seriousness, responsibility. Water represents emotional depth, complexity, and passion.

Regarding compatibility between a Snake and a Horse, one website listed it as, "Outlook is doubtful…there is to much to fight about." I say..."let's prove 'em wrong!"

Here is another view of the Horse and Snake...

We went to the Gyeongbokgung Palace with some new friends, Todd, Jen & Sam. They moved to Seoul with GM on the same plane as us.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

The Little Things in Life that Make you laugh...

Primarily due to our lack of knowledge of the Korean language and lack of ability to find a trust-worthy online translation source, we have had several experience within the four walls of our own house that have made us shake our heads and laugh, "Stupid Americans."

First off, coffee, of course. It is the only way to start the day. We live in an area near a French International School, so it happens that many French expats live here and, as the French enjoy their coffee shops, there is one coffee shop every three storefronts on the main street...Surprising, even by US standards. So, we survived with purchasing "Americano co-pee" (no "f" in the Korean language) for the first few days.

If you cannot read the Korean on this coffee bag, by experience, I am letting you know this is instant coffee and you can brew instant coffee in your coffee maker and it isn't half bad. In addition, it dissolves all of the grinds, so you don't have to do the dirty job of emptying the coffee grinds.

This discovery was not on purpose. Most of the coffee here is instant, nevertheless, pretty good. So, unlike those instant coffee "tea-like bags" that my Mom has used forever and brew water-like coffee, I could live with this instant.

Our second laugh was hot water. Just as those endless commercials for the tank-less water heater in the US, the Koreans have this worked out already (I think.) Instant hot water...if you can read the control pad (always a trick!). We have two of these control pads in our house and they control two things, (1) hot water to the showers and other things and (2) heating in the floors (another great idea since heat rises!).

We have figured out how to get hot water, pretty much instantly, but sometimes end up heating our floors as a side effect. Whoops! Since all of our floors are marble or wood (very common in Korea), the warm floor does feel good on your feet in any temperature!

Finally, our ADT guy. Since we can neither read the ADT panel or understand the automated woman's voice, we simply swipe our ADT card and hope for the best.

Well, the best has not happened and after several visits and several alarms going off, the ADT guy was back for the fourth time yesterday. We communicate in hand signals to eachother, and our driver has translated some things for us, but no elongated conversations are happening here, regardless of his many visits to our house.

One thing for ADT here, their response time is AWESOME!

After four visits this week, I think we have things worked out...we'll see.

It is the little things in life that make each day so enjoyable. We hope to have some big adventures to some exotic places, but I think these little ones are worth mentioning as well.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

The face of someone who is lost...

We were at a small grocery store yesterday and I was just trying to pick out some juice, and got lots of help. The woman who worked at the store was very nice and made several suggestions about the juice I should try, so I bought some Aloe Juice, Red Ginseng and one that smells and tastes like corn (that is what the woman said anyway.) I will let you know how it goes. I think, most of all, she really wanted to practice her english, which was very good...better than my Korean!

Kay made his own suggestion of some Soju (rice wine), which is very popular and inexpensive in Korea. For you Americans, it tastes like a very smooth vodka and you drink it out of little shot glasses. Not my favorite, but "when in Korea, do as the Koreans."

It seems that everything we try to buy ends up in a 5-minute conversation between Kay and a woman who works in the store in some fast-talking Korean. I try to pick up some words, like "yogi" (here), but that is about all I can get. I am just not sure of what they could be discussing in terms of laundry detergent or bug spray, but they do...

A filmmaker is born...

Mike took some videos of our apartment the other day. Here they are...

This is a longer video of our entire apartment

This is a shorter video of our rooftop

Meet Kay

I want you all to meet Kay, our driver. Kay, in his own words said, "I am your hands and feet for two months." He picked us up from the airport on Sunday in our Daewoo Winstorm and will be driving us around for the next 2 months. Mostly, he will be driving Mike back and forth to work, but maybe sometimes helping me get some food shopping done and a trip to Costco here and there.

Kay has been more than just a driver. His wife made us some delicios kimchi the other day and, as soon as I mentioned that I liked japchae, he had his wife make us a batch as well. She is a very good cook. He works for GM Daewoo here and has two children.

He wants us to call him anytime 24 hours/ day, but I don't think we will do that. Yesterday, Kay did some great negotiating for us on some new furniture in the Korean furniture district...thank you Kay!

Last night Kay introduced us to Seolleongtang, which is a soup made with beef bones and thin slices of beef. It is typically simmered overnight and salt, red pepper paste and seasonings are added when you are ready to eat.

The rice you see is called dolsot bap (bap is rice). It is rice in a hot stone bowl so that the rice at the bottom get hard and crunchy. There is some black rice, beans and chestnuts mixed in there as well. Kay scooped all of the rice into his soup and then added hot water to the rice bowl. He says that  it is like desert for him. Mike and I were too full from the soup to try it. Koreans eat very fast and they eat alot! Well, at least Kay does. The food is hot (temperature) and spicy, but they are able to eat it quickly...while I am still trying to manage my first bite.

If you see a reddish vegetable on the right middle of the picture, that is kimchi. This is served with every meal. There are hundreds of different types of kimchi (which I believe just means fermented), like cucumber, cabbage, radish, etc. Kimchi is so popular and has a distinct odor, that many houses have a seperate kimchi refrigerator. We have one.

Bangbae Ville House #12-57

I thought I would add in a picture of our home. We are living in the Bangbae Ville House in Bangbae-dong in Southern Seoul. The Han River runs East-West and splits Seoul in about half, with older Seoul in the North and the South is the "newer" area. Newer is relative.

We live South of the river, but just a short 5 minute walk from the Han River. There is a nice riverside park that runs the length of the river (I think someone told me it runs about 20 miles or so). There is a bike and running path (complete with green astro-turf...good for the knees), and along the way they have exercise machines spaced out along the path.

You can see one of the bridges in my picture that connects Northern and Southern Seoul. I think Kay (our driver) told us there were 22 or 27 bridges along the river. We live near the Dongjak Bridge.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Dining Out in Korea

Well, we ventured out on Tuesday to have some Korean food, but in order to achieve that, we needed to order in Korea. After some contemplation and being sure that the restaurant we chose had pictures (so that pointing could be used as a last resort), we walked in a small place in dowtown Bangbae-dong for lunch.

You are rarely given menus in these authentic Korean restaurants, but expected to order from the pictures on the walls. Each restaurant usually only offers a handful of different dishes, and you choose from those. We froze and didn't know what to order...the waitress says "Bi Bim Bap?"...and relieved that we didn't have to order in Korean, we say (with vigorous head-nodding), "Yes...and hold two fingers up for two."

With some experience under our belt, we decided to venture out again for dinner, this time to Itaewon. Itaewon is where the US Military Base is located, so lots of international people.

Here are some photos of our walk to the subway, Dongjak Station...about 15 minutes, but along a nice green walking path with lights and lots of people.

For dinner we had Bulgogi (beef in a brown sauce), Pachan (green onion pancake) and I had some cold glass noodles in a broth that had some pears and cucumbers...I have no idea what it was called, but it was delicious.

Pictures from Moving Day

Just some photos to remember our first home. Maddy was definetly against leaving, but in the end, we prevailed and she was on her way.

We cannot wait to see her again next weekend. Saying good-bye to our home was harder than we thought. How do you get so attached to a building? Saying goodbye to Maddy on Friday morning was even harder.

Maddy is even saying..."What's Going on?"

Her trip begins Friday, July 31st.
 - She gets picked up from Kenny from the Britt's Bow Wow
 - She has her final screening at the vet and then a week at the kennel near the Detroit Airport
 - After lots of crap from the WorldCare Pet Transport (worst company ever!), she is booked on a flight on Saturday, August 7th from Chicago to Amsterdam, short stop over there and then onto Seoul.
 - We hope to see her at her new home here in Seoul on Monday, August 9th...jet-lagged and all!

If anyone out there reading this ever has to transport your pet overseas, I have lots of tips that I wish we would have known ahead of time.

Sarah at Britt's Bow Wow, where Maddy is staying for the week is awesome and has sent along some pictures.