Friday, January 30, 2009

Has spring sprung?!

Probably not, but the balmy temps and sunny skies over Seoul today have me daydreaming about shedding the winter coat and pulling on the short pants. At 12 degrees Celcius (about 54F), it's hard to believe the city was covered in snow just a few days ago (I'll post some snow pics this weekend). I joined some colleagues from the English news department for a lunchtime jaunt around Yeouido and noticed many people out enjoying the break in wintry weather. I've been told it's typical for Korea to experience a string of three cold days followed by four warm days throughout the winter. It's called sam han sa on (삼한 사온), literally, "three cold, four hot".

Monday, January 26, 2009

Happy Lunar New Year!

When I return to work on Wednesday after a four-day vacation in the name of the Lunar New Year, my Korean colleagues will all be a year older. Never having adhered to customs associated with the moon, I'll still be 26 (not 28--Koreans are considered one year old at birth and add on one year with each birthday, as well as on the Lunar New Year). So I'm spared a year, but since I don't really celebrate Seollal I did miss out on something many across the country received as a token of love or appreciation on Korea's most widely celebrated holiday: a gift set. From the practical to the extravagant, the edible to the spreadable, almost anything can be found packaged neatly in a gift set around the Lunar New Year. A local newspaper reported that ginseng is this year's gift of choice, but multi-packs of Spam, soap, assorted nuts, cooking oil, toothbrushes, whisky, tuna cans, apples, instant coffee, and moisturizers are also in bountiful supply in supermarkets, big box stores, and even convenience stores. These economic arrangements are typical around Christmas in the U.S., but the variety pales in comparison to what Korea has to offer. I'm not sure what giving (or receiving) a two-year supply of toothpaste says, but I've certainly seen worse gifts.

Mushrooms and the like ranging from about $40 up to $100

E-Mart employees were decked out in traditional hanbok a day before Seollal and eagerly peddling gift sets.

Those oughtta be some tasty apples! 12 for ~$45

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

To bidet, or not to bidet

*** Originally posted to personal blog on Nov. 30, 2007

This is a question I've asked myself quite a few times since arriving in Seoul, particularly since I actually have a bidet in my apartment. I'm not sure I ever had the opportunity to use a bidet before visiting Japan and Korea--they seemed like something only "rich" people had and I always felt a little awkward even talking about them. Nonetheless, I had seen bidets in the U.S., usually an entity completely separate from the toilet, no lid, faucet-type thing mounted on the back.

All the bidets I've seen in Korea are actually built into the toilet and most modern models are electronically controlled. The one in my apartment, seen here, is a modern type with multiple functions, including a separate setting for women (I call it the "chick" button), a dryer, and even a seat-warmer. It seems most functions have varying degrees of intensity, but my Korean isn't good enough yet to understand what any of it means. If there isn't a picture of a butt with water hitting it, I'm out of luck.

The day I moved into my apartment, I recall standing in the doorway of my bathroom just kind of looking at my toilet, skeptically sizing up this apparatus with colorful buttons and flashing lights. It was almost like having another person in the apartment! I wasn't sure what to think about it and I was certainly apprehensive about pushing the buttons. Usually, I feel the need to touch just about everything around me, but this was different. I was intimidated by a household appliance! I mean, where exactly is that water coming from? That was my first question.

Sometime during my first week in Korea, Sophia told me a maintenance man would be coming to my apartment to fix my bidet. "Fix it?!" I said. I had no idea anything was wrong with it . . . and I was sure as hell happy I hadn't tried it out yet. So, that evening I experienced a priceless exchange of hand gestures with an middle-aged Korean man who was determined to restore my bidet to full function. Not only that, but he was was also adamant I understand what would be accomplished by pressing each button. Now, just imagine . . . this man spoke no English. My Korean repertoire at the time was limited to greetings and thank-yous. This means we engaged in a surly comical charades-like "conversation" about a rather personal hygienic device. Basically, this meant him pointing repeatedly to my nether regions, both back and front, accompanied by ambiguous hand motions and a few sound effects thrown in here and there.

All this only increased my apprehension about my bidet, so I unplugged the thing and until recently have been using the spare electrical outlet for my curling iron (a much less intimidating device). This weekend, however, I vowed to conquer my fear. What's the worst that could happen, right? Sparing you unsavory detail, I'll say everything went off without incident. And with the fall days in Seoul growing cooler and cooler, that seat warmer is really growing on me!

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Back to Seoul, time to diet!

Two weeks and undoubtedly two-to-three kilos later, I'm back in Seoul after a trip home to the U.S. for the holidays. Another whirlwind trip that included stops in Chicago, central Illinois, North Carolina, and airport drop-ins in Detroit and Atlanta, was in fact a relaxing break from the hustle and bustle of Seoul life. Reuniting with friends and family was a pleasure, but my most salient memories all seem to include food! Here's a picture of my plate during the Rhodes Family Christmas celebration. Mmm! Of course, after two weeks of burgers, pizza, casseroles, and pie, I was pretty anxious to get my hands on some kipbap.

On my way back to Seoul, I was reminded of just how small the world can be as I checked into a small, regional airport in Peoria, Illinois. The gentleman at the airline ticket counter noticed my destination was Incheon and asked why I was headed to Korea. Turns out, he is one of our listeners! He later posted a comment here on my blog, which came as a pleasant surprise when I booted up my e-mail back in Seoul. It's always great to hear from our listeners, but running into one back in small town America was a particularly nice way to be reminded that KBS really does reach all corners of the earth.