Archives for posts with tag: Chungbuk

Its been a long time since I was in elementary school, but I don’t I recall anyone ever saying they were looking forward to their school’s lunch.  I hear they’ve improved since I was kid, but I’m guessing you still can’t really call them balanced, nutritious, or delicious.  In Korea, since all students, staff and teachers eat together, school lunch is something I actually look forward to as I find them really tasty and quite healthy.  While there’s variety in what ingredients are used each day, there’s always a soup of some sort, a vegetable, a protein, kimchi, rice, and either a piece of fruit, fruit juice, or yogurt.  In other words, a pretty balanced meal.

Perhaps part of the reason public school lunches are better than American lunches is they aren’t free (with the exception of Seoul, where after much controversy in 2011, free lunches are now provided to all elementary and middle school students).  As a teacher in a rural school, 3,000 won (just under $2) is deducted from my paycheck per meal and students pay roughly 40,000 won per month.  Eating the school’s lunch is not mandatory, but I really don’t see how I could pack a lunch that would be just as good for any cheaper.  I also think it helps that the smaller of my two schools has a large vegetable garden, providing the freshest ingredients.

Rice cakes, spicy red pepper paste for the bimbimbap, kimchi, yogurt drink, bibimbap, and tofu, egg and green onion soup.

Sweet and spicy rice cakes, spicy red pepper paste for the bibimbap, kimchi, yogurt drink, bibimbap, and a tofu, egg and green onion soup.

Sauteed tofu, kimchi, a slice of Korean melon, green beans with dried shrimp, rice and kimchi and pork soup.

Sauteed tofu, kimchi, a Korean melon, green beans with dried shrimp, rice, and a kimchi and pork stew.

Kimchi, fried fish fellets (they don't ever debone fish here), pickels and radish, grapes, bibimbap and tofu, egg and green onion soup.

Kimchi, fried fish fillets (they don’t ever de-bone fish here, by the way), pickles and radishes, grapes, rice and a beef and vegetable soup.

At both of my schools, students are served by "lunch ladies" and each homeroom class sits together with their teacher in the lunch hall. Some schools have a buffet style and eat in their homeroom classrooms.

At both of my schools, students and teachers are served by “lunch ladies” and each homeroom class sits together with their teacher in the lunch hall. I have heard some schools serve lunch buffet style and eat in their homeroom classrooms.

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I stumbled upon this amazing gallery made out of shipping containers in Seoul. On display was an artist named Lee Gil Rae who makes tree-like sculptures out of metal.

I stumbled upon this amazing gallery made out of shipping containers in Seoul. On display was an artist named Lee Gil Rae who makes tree-like sculptures out of metal.

View of Seoul from N Seoul Tower.

View of Seoul from N Seoul Tower.

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Sunset in Seoul.

My small school plants its own vegetables. We will soon be eating a lot of squash.

My small school grows its own vegetables. We will soon be eating a lot of squash.

Yesterday's school lunch consisted of spicy kimchi soup with pork, rice, green beans with dried shrimp, kimchi, tofu dressed in a vegetable tomato sauce and a slice of a Korean melon.

Yesterday’s school lunch consisted of spicy kimchi soup with pork, rice, green beans with dried shrimp, kimchi, tofu dressed in a vegetable tomato sauce and a slice of a Korean melon.

Rice fields in Eumseong.

Rice fields in Eumseong.

Hanok village rooftops in Jeonju.

Hanok village rooftops in Jeonju.

Hanok, a traditional Korean style house in Jeonju.

Hanok, a traditional Korean style house in Jeonju.

You see a lot of t-shirts and hats with English writing in Korea. Sometimes they make sense, sometimes the words are spelled correctly, other times not so much. I found this one in my local grocery store.

You see a lot of t-shirts and hats with English writing in Korea. Sometimes they make sense, sometimes the words are spelled correctly, other times not so much. I found this one in my local grocery store.

Kimbap, also known as gimbap, is the ultimate picnic food of Korea.  It’s cheap, easy to make (or purchase) ahead of time and easily eaten on-the-go.  The two main ingredients are dried seaweed (kim or gim) and white rice (bap).  Various veggies and meats accompany the rice which is wrapped in sheets of dried seaweed.  It looks very similar to sushi, however raw fish is not used in kimbap, and the rice is seasoned with sesame oil and sesame seeds rather than rice vinegar.  The most common ingredients in basic kimbap are cucumber, carrot, fried egg, radish, imitation crab and spam (yes, spam is everywhere in Korea).  You’ll also see canned tuna (chamchi kimbap), cheese (chijeu kimbap), beef (soegogi kimbap) and of course kimchi as ingredients as well.

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Basic kimbap with carrots, cucumber, fried egg, spam, imitation crab, radish, and rice seasoned with sesame oil and sesame seeds. Unlike sushi, it’s served by itself without any sort of soy sauce, wasabi or ginger.

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Kimbap to go, all for just $5!

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You’ll often see Koreans enjoying kimbap on picnics in the park or while resting on a hike in the mountains. You can even buy it in any convenient store at all hours of the day, either in rolls or triangles which are called samgak kimbap.

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A fancier version of kimbap (excuse the blurriness) with my co-teacher and another English teacher in Cheongju. Big fat rolls with bulgolgi (marinated beef) were accompanied by pickled radish, kimchi and bean sprout soup.

 

Poppies are everywhere in Eumseong!

Poppies are everywhere in Eumseong!

The trail that runs through Eumseong.

The trail that runs through Eumseong.

A beautiful wall at a restaurant in Jeonju, a city known for bibimbap and paper crafts.

A beautiful wall at a restaurant in Jeonju, a city known for bibimbap and paper crafts.

Making paper in Jeonju.

Making paper in Jeonju.

Sungnyemun Gate in Seoul

Sungnyemun Gate in Seoul

View of Gyeongbok Palace from a coffee shop in Bukchon Hanok Village which is located in Seoul.

View of Gyeongbok Palace from a coffee shop in Bukchon Hanok Village which is located in Seoul.

Ceiling at Gyeongbok Palace in Seoul.

Ceiling at Gyeongbok Palace in Seoul.

View from Munjangdae in Songnisan National Park.

View from Munjangdae in Songnisan National Park in April.

Lanterns at Beopjusa, a temple in Songnisan National Park.

Lanterns at Beopjusa, a temple in Songnisan National Park.

Chungju Lake

Chungju Lake

Chungju Lake

Chungju Lake

This giant Buddha is in the middle of nowhere about 15 minutes from where I live.

This giant Buddha is in the middle of nowhere about 15 minutes from where I live.

View from my apartment in Eumseong.

View from my apartment in Eumseong.

Cherry blossoms in Eumseong.

April Cherry blossoms in Eumseong.

This healthy Korean dish is another one of my favorites so far, and I haven’t even tried it in its originating city yet.  Dak galbi, which translates to chicken ribs despite the fact that chicken thigh or breast is usually used, is a specialty of Chuncheon in Gangwon Province.  It consists of marinated diced chicken cooked in gochujang (hot pepper paste)  along with green onions, sweet potato, cabbage, and tteok (rice cake).  It’s quit spicy (surprise!) but oh-so-flavorful.  Like many Korean dishes, it’s cooked at your table and is meant to be shared.  Oftentimes dak galbi is served with leaves of lettuce as well as ice cold bowls of pickled radish for when the heat really gets to you.

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Dak galbi at a restaurant in Eumseong, served with kimchi, seasoned mung bean sprouts, onions, garlic and pickled radish.

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I love that you you get to enjoy the smell and site of it cooking AND get to skip out on all the prep work and clean up.

The day started out like any other Monday in Korea. I taught three classes before lunch, then prepared for three more in the afternoon. On the way back to my classroom from the cafeteria, my co-teacher and I are stopped by another teacher and they have a five minute conversation in Korean. I hear my name a few times so I smile and nod, pretending I vaguely know what they are talking about even though I have no idea. It’s then relayed to me, very simply, that I have to take a “business trip” to Cheongju.  Today.  I look at my watch, it’s 12:55.  Cheongju is an hour away by bus which runs infrequently in the afternoons.

Ok, so I assume my afternoon classes will be cancelled?

Yes.

What is the business trip for?

A cultural class.

Oh, ok. When does it start?

At 3 maybe.

At 3, maybe?

Yes maybe.

Uh, ok.

We then go speak to the vice principal, who doesn’t seem very happy about this business trip. The two teachers and the vice principal carry on a 20 minute conversation that feels quite fierce. There seems to be some confusion with paperwork.  Again, I stand there smiling and nodding, trying not to look like I am so confused about what is going on right now (all I could think was how intense this seemed for a last minute cultural class and why am I just now hearing about this).  My co-teacher decides to go with me to Cheongju to show me where the business meeting is since I have no idea how to get there. Turns out neither does she. After taking a bus to Cheongju, asking a few people for directions at the bus terminal, hopping on a local bus for a few kilometers, getting off the bus, getting in a taxi, getting out of the taxi only to discover a few minutes later we are at the wrong place on the opposite side of the city, getting in another taxi, then wandering around two huge buildings, we finally arrive at 3:45 (I hate being late!) when the meeting started at 3, maybe. My co-teacher leaves me to attend the business meeting or what I understand to be a Korean cultural class.  More like Korean surprise! This is not in fact a class to learn about Korean culture. This is a meeting to discuss the guidelines of the class I am teaching about American culture to middle school students in various schools throughout the county. Oh, I see, I volunteered to teach cultural classes. Maybe? Yes maybe.


Aside from the language barrier, I think the most challenging part of living in Korea has been learning how to deal with varying degrees of Korean surprises.  Things tend to change or happen last minute and there are quite a few aspects of Korea that don’t seem to make sense logistically.  There have been times when I’ve quickly become faced with awkward, frustrating situations that have pulled me completely out of my comfort zone.  I can certainly be flexible, but I will say I’ve always been a pretty organized planner.  So when I was suddenly told I had a business trip in another city, immediately, and that’s all the information I got (I still have no idea what went on between the teachers that day, or why I had no knowledge about volunteering to teach extra cultural classes) my initial reaction was to freak out and demand to know why I was just receiving this information.  But I’ve encountered quite a few circumstances similar to this in the past three months that have required me to pause, take a deep breath and trust that everything will be just fine in order to avoid a meltdown, as that won’t get me anywhere in Korea.

Sometimes it’s frustrating tidbits of everyday life, like the bank requiring you to have a local phone number to set up and account and the phone company requiring you to have a local bank account to activate a phone. Huh?  Or walking into the teacher’s lounge first thing in the morning and finding out it’s hiking day as you look down at the dress and tights you’re wearing. Or being told on Tuesday you don’t have to teach classes on Wednesday so you don’t prepare anything, only to hear on Wednesday morning you will actually be teaching and class started five minutes ago.  I have definitely had my moments of hair-pulling, cursing and crying (mostly in private), but I am getting better at recognizing the things I can’t control and just taking a breath, putting a smile on my face, and giving thanks for having the opportunity to live and work abroad so I can enjoy my pocketful of delicious kimchi.  If that doesn’t work, I attempt to laugh without smiling.  It works every time (thanks, David).

 

What do you do when your fermented cabbage becomes a little too fermented?  Make a soup!  At least that’s what Koreans do and it’s delicious.  Kimchi jjigae is one of my favorite Korean dishes so far.  Right now I’d say I could eat it everyday and not get tired of it (ask me again when summer comes).

Kimchi jjigae, accompanied by more kimchi, pickled radish, and white rice.

Kimchi jjigae, accompanied by more kimchi, pickled radish, and white rice.

Jjigae, meaning soup or stew, is a regularly consumed dish in Korea and there are many different varieties, although kimchi jjigae is the only type I’ve tried so far.  The more fermented the kimchi the better, as it creates a fuller flavor.  Tofu, green onions, and pork are often included and it’s seasoned with garlic and dongjang (bean paste) or gochujang (red pepper paste).  As you can imagine, it’s quite spicy.  You also might think it would taste quite sour (you are eating aged kimchi), however I don’t find it to be at all.  In fact, I forget that I’m even eating kimchi by the spoonful.  The combination of the pork, veggies, gochujang and kimchi boiling in one pot creates an awesome flavor.

Kimchi jjigae is served bubbling hot in a stone dish and usually comes with rice (helps with the heat).

Kimchi jjigae is served bubbling hot in a stone dish and usually comes with rice (helps with the heat).

Sometimes I eat more than a pocketful of kimchi in one day.

Sometimes I eat more than a pocketful of kimchi in one day.