Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Catie: The uhh... UnMove. Yes, you heard me.

Are we bitter?

Well, perhaps.


Not as angry as we were...

I think the question we just keep asking ourselves is, WHY DID WE LISTEN TO EWHA???

In early October, we told Ewha we would need to move.  Our place had mold, was filthy and filled with cockroaches, gross long hairs, and grime from centuries of uncleanliness.

"Oh, yes," Ewha said.  "We will move you.  We will find somewhere and we will move you."

Later, in November, we said to them, "When are you going to move us, Ewha?" and they said, "We will move you."

Later, in early December, we said to them, "WHEN are you going to move us?" and then they said, "Alex teacher will be leaving after Christmas and we think that you can move into his apartment when he gone.  It is very new and nice."

We said, "Great.  Will this apartment be clean?"

"Oh, certainly," said Ewha.  "We will have a lady go to clean it after Alex leaves."

"Good," we said.  "Will we have time to move there before someone comes into our apartment?  We want at least one full day to move."

"Oh, certainly," said Ewha.

"Good," we said.

Christmas Eve was Alex teacher's last day at Ewha, part of the reason we went out to the spring roll restaurant.  Everyone from the school was there.

Here is a quick chain of command:

Mr. Min owns Ewha and is the Big Boss.

Bruce is the under-Mr. Min boss.

Nicole is the head teacher.

Then there are seven other Korean teachers: Paul is the detention teacher (what a cushy job, right?), Ken and Jane are "desk teachers", which means they sit at the front desk and you can scare kids by saying you'll send them to, "desk teacher".  Landon (the best English speaker at Ewha), Alisha, Amanda and Jessi are all classroom teachers.  They teach Grammar and other things it would be difficult to explain without a fluency in Korean.

And, after that, the foreign teachers:  Bryan and Aaron are brothers from Colorado, Alex is from.. actually no one is sure where he is from... no one ever asked, nor would he probably have told anyone had they asked as he tended toward paranoia, then there is Spencer who came to replace Alex because Alex left yesterday, on Monday.  Spencer is from England and pretty much everyone is in love with his accent.  He's maybe the most normal person at Ewha.  Very, very nice and, you know.. just normal.

Anyway, while eating dinner, Bruce told us that Alex would be moving out Monday morning.

"So, when would you like to move to Alex's apartment?" he asked us.

"How about we start on Tuesday?" we said.

"That is good," said Bruce.  "Also, perhaps Alex will leave you many things in his apartment."

"Okay..."  Great.  Just great.

That's when Alex piped up in his affected deep voice, "I'll leave you all my good books," he said.

"Uh, thanks," we said.  Too bad you have a cold sore on either side of your mouth, a seriously bloody looking case of conjunctivitis and you wear the same clothes for a week before you switch them out.  Not to the mention the graphic stories you've told of your, paid "conquests" in Itaewon, Seoul.  Fill in the blanks there.

"He has gotten many things while he has been in Korea," Bruce said.  "So, perhaps he will leave them for you.  Then, if you will leave many things for Spencer.  That would be good, I think."

"Actually," Alex said, leaning into the conversation now.  "I haven't really accumulated much."  Then he sort of stroked his creepy facial hair.  "Except a ton of memories," he said wistfully and leaned back again, half mumbling,  "Man, I always have a headache until I start drinking soju, then it just goes away..."

Yeah, isn't that called alcoholism?

"He has many dishes, though, I think," Bruce said, looking at Alex, probably hoping he would take back the, 'I've accumulated nothing but memories,' comment.  Bruce basically wanted us to leave everything for Spencer.

"Um..." we said.  "All right..."

"So," Bruce said, "You should leave these things for Spencer."

"Our dishes?"

"Anything you have gotten in Korea," Bruce said.

Right.  How about... no.

But you quickly come to find here, that it is best to play along, plus Bruce had done a good many shots of soju by this time.

"Yeah, okay," we said.  "We'll see."

"Also, Alex has said he will clean the apartment."


Alex sort of nods through his soju haze.  "Yeah, I'll totally clean it for you guys."

Yeah.  I seriously doubt that an alcoholics take on clean is going to jive with my take on clean...

"Okay..." we said.  "Is someone else coming to clean, too?"

"I think we will see after Alex leaves," Bruce said.

Oh. My. Gosh.

But we dropped it there, thinking that we'd have time to deal with this.  No one had said anything about Spencer moving in soon, so we had time to deal with this.  Christmas Eve was Thursday, we could talk to them on Monday, once Alex was gone.

So, Monday rolls around, and Alex has left us keys to his, "apertment" (yes, that's A-P-E-R-T-M-E-N-T) along with a note about security codes.

Yes, he taught English for a year.  Korea picks only the best for their children.

The funny thing is, that Ewha is actually considered one of the best hagwons.  It's very expensive, and considered somewhat prestigious.

Still, there's an Alex there.

"But his voice is so beautiful," the Koreans say.

Yeah.. his voice isn't actually his voice.  He makes it deeper on purpose.  And.. it's obvious.

Anyway, it's Monday and Ben goes to work, I pack up the entire house, cleaning everything, Aaron brings Spencer over to see the apartment.  Everything seems to be going according to plan.  Spencer is very nice and Aaron says nice things to him about how clean our house usually is.  I tell Spencer it will be clean when he gets here, not to worry.  I know he only believes me inasmuch as anyone believes the tenant moving out who says they'll clean for you, but I really am cleaning for him.  I was doing it before they arrived.  They leave, seemingly happy with our place.

"It's WAY nicer than before," Aaron said to Spencer on the way out.  "So much cleaner."

Then Ben comes home.

And he is not as happy as Aaron and Spencer.

He went to look at Alex's place on his lunch break and also had a revealing talk with Bruce, who let him know that Spencer would be moving into our place that night: Monday night.

So... not only are we not ready to move, since we're thinking we don't have to be out until Tuesday night, now we're basically supposed to have been out by Monday morning because Spencer brought all his belongings with him to Ewha.

In fact, he was told that he could sleep in our house -- in our bed -- Monday night.

Right.  Thanks for telling us THIS IMPORTANT PIECE OF INFORMATION!!

For a while, we're thinking, okay, maybe this is just the Korean way.  We already know they don't think about things until last-minute.  By American standards, they're disorganized.  That's culture more than anything else.

But then we realize that even when things happen last-minute, they always let people know in advance.  Often, "in advance" is only one day.  Occasionally even several hours, but always in advance.

This is no advance.

So, suddenly, we're realizing that, no, this is not the Korean way, nor is it the American way and we're beginning to become irritated.

But, Ben goes on and tells me he has talked with Bruce and Spencer, we will move Monday night -- immediately -- and Spencer will stay in a hotel for the night and move in Tuesday morning.

THEN.. Ben starts telling me about Alex's apartment.  Filthy, he says.  That is the adjective that is used over and over.  Filthy, filthy, filthy.  Alex left pretty much everything he owns, which.. had Alex been a normal person, that would have been nice -- we'll get to that.  Ben tells me he didn't have that much time to look around, all he knows is that it's dirty.

Still, I'm thinking: but the floors in Alex's apartment are real laminate floors, not paper-thin linoleum that's not been glued down.  And: Alex's apartment has a lot of room....  And: the kitchen is so much bigger.........

So, we pack the car up, drive to the Alex "apertment" and start unloading.

It is 10:00pm when we enter the apartment.

And I am having a nightmare.  This has to be a nightmare because this is not the home of a normal person.

Well, that's just duh... Alex was never normal.  He told us he wouldn't treat his conjunctivitis because "antibiotics don't really work".  Three kids that Ben and I know of then caught the pink eye.  It's the only time in my life that I've religiously washed my hands every hour or two.

So, we shouldn't have expected miracles.

But this is... this is miraculous in a bad way.

It's miraculous that filth like exists.

And I am angry.  I am not sad, I do not feel anything except the severe urge to bash someone or throw something at someone or scream at someone.  The main someone is Bruce, but I'd settle for Alex if he were in country.

How to even describe Alex's apartment...

He has left in the entryway: two pairs of disintegrated shoes, a dirty umbrella and the filthy, stained leather jacket we most hate that he wore every single day.  As well as a bowl of change (okay, that's not terrible) and a bunch of weird books in the shoe cabinet next to the door.  Dirty cleaning items occupy the utility cabinet.  A broom, a mop, a scrub brush, all covered in black grime and hair.

The floors -- the floors I want, the nice, laminate floors -- are covered in dirt.  How anyone could track that much dirt into a house is beyond my ability to comprehend.

And the kitchen.  The two burner, gas stove is near identical to ours, but instead of looking shiny and well-loved, it has a thick, impenetrable glaze of grease over its entire horizontal surface.  As well as over the entire cabinet above the stove and the one below it and everything surrounding the stove within ten inches.  It is yellow -- I mean, everything in the vicinity is yellow -- with grease.

Every cabinet door has black fingerprint smudges on and around the handle as though whoever had touched them had never washed their hands.  As though, perhaps, they were unaware of hand-washing as a common, human practice.  As though, perhaps, this person were a cave person.  Or a Tarzan.  Or an abandoned child raised by wolves (that could actually be true of Alex...).  The fridge and freezer were the same, black and brown fingerprints over it's entire surface.  And slimy inside with red, green and yellow goo.  There were dishes.  He did leave us dishes.  They were plastic and had Peter Rabbit on them.

And they were in the sink.

Covered in dried food and another layer of yellow grease.

Alex left us blocks of freeze-dried seaweed, Korean off-brand ketchup (don't try it), and a bunch of bowl noodles, as well as a zillion empty water bottles and wine bottles, stacked two and three deep in a windowsill above our heads.

The bathroom has a broken toilet seat on the ground, surrounded by probably every empty toilet paper roll he'd ever used.  The toilet was black inside, the washing machine in the bathroom that should have been navy blue was grey with hard water.  The walls near the floor that should have been off-white, were a rusty brown with.. heaven only knows.  And the floor drain was just ugly.

Then there was the hair.  So much hair.

He left us a bunch of books on sex and a bunch of books on Korea.

Yeah.. apparently those are his good books, the ones he told us he'd leave.

They makes sense in context, though, as those two topics basically surmise his one and only hobby.  Which is probably the main reason no one ever befriended him.  He didn't/wouldn't/couldn't talk about anything else.

It could also be why he left a strategically placed pair of earrings right on top of the books.  As if to say, "See?  All those things I told you really happened."

I was really okay hoping all those things he told us were lies.  I was really okay in that world.

He left a sweater, a flannel shirt and one black sock in the wardrobe.  A pile of dead light bulbs.  An exercise ball.

Oh!  But he did make his bed.  His cozy bed with greyed blankets and yellowed pillows.  His nice bed.

His teeny, tiny bed.

That was when I lost it.

It took me ages to clean the house we're in right now.  Ages.  It is finally beginning to feel like someone normal actually lives here.  We've fixed things that were broken, kept up with maintenance.  I am finally used to OUR bed.  It is also small, and hard.  Real hard.  But I am used to it now.  And at least it's not THIS small.

Then we walk into Alex's place and it's like somebody really mean is playing a trick.

Stunned, we carried everything from the car, up the stairs.  Flights upon flights, up to the sixth floor, making probably six to seven trips.  All I could think the whole time was, A.) Who lives like this?! and B.) I can't move here.  I cannot clean another house full of other people's dirty grossness.

Usually, in a situation like this, one of us -- Ben or I -- rises to the occasion.  One of us thinks about it and comes up with a nice, bright side of things and says, "We can do it like this," and the other person grudgingly goes along and then we do it like that we feel better.  This time was not like that.  There was no silver lining and no way to do it that would make us feel better.  This was like the wall of Jericho only we had no horns.

I the inability to even find one nice thing to say made it much worse.

We drove back to our clean, bright and happy home.  Moldy in places, maybe, but loved, yes.  This also made it worse.  Thinking that tonight was our last night in paradise...

Who knew this place would ever feel like paradise.

And we started packing the car again.

Two or three trips in, I came inside and collapsed on our warm, queen-sized bed.

I did not want to move to Alex's.

Suddenly, our sad little apartment in the old part of town with a filthy outside walk-up, whose front gutter often smells of raw sewage, seemed like the only place in the world I actually wanted to be.

When Ben came in to get another load, I asked if we could Skype Bryan.


"Because he might call have Nicole's number."

"We can't call her this late."

"Oh, we can. Korean's don't sleep."

"Why do you want to call her?  She can't do anything this late at night."

"I want to tell her we're not moving.  I'm not going there.  It is disgusting and they told us it would clean and they told us we'd have time to move and it is midnight on Monday and we just walked up and down six flights of stairs a thousand times.  I like it here and I like this bed and I am staying here."

"I have her number somewhere..."

So, we called her and she couldn't understand us and then we called her back and she still couldn't understand us (language barrier+Skype+bad wifi="phone is no work"), so we said we'd email her, which we did, letting her know in no uncertain terms that everything was very bad and we could not move there, very sorry, but we would stay in the apartment we were in until our contract was up and that was fine, thank you.

Then we emailed Spencer, told him there were complications with the apartment and that he wouldn't be able to move in Tuesday morning, really sorry, we'll get back to you, etc...

And we unloaded the car.

And we went back to Alex's place and reloaded the car.  Up and down six flights of stairs.

And came back home and unloaded the car.

By 1:00am, we were finally done undoing everything.  It was exhausting, but we got to sleep in our own bed.

And Nicole came by this morning to tell us we could stay here, that was fine, she was sorry things were so bad at Alex's and we said it was okay, as long as we could stay here, it was all fine.  We just weren't walking into another terrible disaster and thank you so much for understanding.

So, now we are moving back into our own house.  Everything is packed and has to be put away again.

But I got to deep clean most everything as I packed it, so we're putting things away into a clean house.  That's nice.

And we get to stay here.

I think we both realized that we should have just said we'd stay here a long time ago.  I don't think I really wanted to move, even though I thought I did, because once we decided to stay, I was relieved on more than one level.

I like it here.  Grimy, creepy-linoleum-ed, cement brick house that it is.

It does get tons of good, natural light all day long as there are windows on all sides.

Plus, it's clean.

.....I feel pretty bad for Spencer.  But I told him I would help him clean Alex's apartment and I will as long as I don't have to live there. :/  And I told him I would make him a pot roast (which is apparently food of legend and now that I've made it once no one will stop talking about it specifically and then: how amazing, you can make REAL food in Korea!).

I guess he went and saw it and said that Ewha was going to have pay someone to clean it before he'd touch the place and he also didn't know what sort of person lived like that.

I would have told him that lots of people do, apparently, since we cleaned a house like that in Boise last winter and then the one we're in now also.

So, ambiguous end for Spencer, who will hopefully still want to carry on amiable relations with us.

But HAPPY ending for us!

Plus, now Bruce can't try to persuade me to, "leave everything we have gotten in Korea" behind for Spencer.

And I am making chicken with potatoes and carrots and onion soup mix in the crockpot.

So glad I brought the onion soup mix with us.  That and the dry ranch have really paid off.  Bryan and Aaron were super impressed at Christmas that we had real ranch.  They wanted to know where we got it and I told them I made it.  It's the only flavor dressing you can't find anywhere here.

Well, that's the update on us.  Hope all is well with everyone else! :)

- catie

Monday, December 28, 2009

Catie: Finally, a new post.

So much has happened!

I will give you a brief overview and then focus on what is really important: our move.

Since we last posted:

- We discovered Old Downtown on a trip to Costco.  Usually, we take a bus and then the subway, but we didn't want to have to walk to the subway (actually, I didn't want to.. :D), so that day we took two buses instead.  The first bus, number 2, dropped us right in the middle of Old Downtown.

Old Downtown is crazy.  We had been there once before, to get to the International Center, but we'd never gone exploring.  There is a huge, underground shopping center.  Yes, underground.  It's cool, basically a long subway tunnel with shops on either side.  It stops at the river and then starts up again on the other side.  It spans maybe... half a mile?  That's an uneducated guess.  There's also a huge, traditional market.

On the day we really went to explore, it was snowing tons.  Tons and tons of tons.  So, it was freezing-freezing, but it was really fun to walk through the outdoor market in the snow.  Most areas are either covered, or vendors shelters overlap one another enough that you're basically covered.  Some Koreans carry umbrellas in the snow.  The traditional market sells (of course) mandarins and navel oranges, persimmons, lots of beans and grains, vegetables, fresh eggs, a lot of various street food, dead fish, live fish as well as lots of other live sea food like king crabs, oysters, clams, lots of squid, sting ray is popular, also dried fish, prawns and shrimp in various forms.  Basically, they sell everything in the world, mostly food.  Like our traditional market, only huger.

For dinner, there's this sort of square type place -- by square I mean something like a "village square" -- that was crazy-decorated.  We're not sure if it was just for Christmas, but it was nuts.  There are these huge, white metal arches all along the length of it -- it's more of a rectangular.. square -- with scrolling all in them and lights all over them.  First, in the spirit of starving, we got our first Korean waffle.  You see these waffles everywhere.  Koreans consider waffles to be desert, so they're often served with ice cream and other sweet toppings.  They're all Belgian waffles, thick and airy.  They're also delicious.  Most street vendors sell a single waffle for W1,000, and spread some sort of honey/jam on one side, and a sweet kind of cross between butter and whipping cream on the other side.  I've never had any sort of cream like it and I assume it's at least partially non-dairy, but it is yummy.  We've had several waffles since and I like Korean waffles.  Next, we found a place selling wraps.  They're a little gyros and places that have these spits, like gyro places in America have.  You know, with the legs of lamb, turning around and around and they carve off pieces as it turns.  Only... here, they're piles chicken and chicken upon chicken, layered with pieces of chicken fat, onto the spit in the shape of a leg of lamb.  Then, as though it were a leg of lamb, they carve it as it spins and the pieces fall into tiny bits instead of slices.  But I am not complaining.  This was the best wrap of it's sort that I have ever had.  I know I've said it before, but I will say it again.  They take a really thin tortilla (I think it's the same kind we buy at Costco -- there's so many small businesses, I think a lot of them actually shop at Costco), put a plain, white, "yogurt sauce" on it (which may actually be straight up yogurt), then a mixture of shredded vegetables, mostly green cabbage, with some red cabbage, carrots and sometimes lettuce, then sliced yellow onions, and tomatoes.  They put the "lamb" chicken on top of that and then what I think is honey mustard (Koreans only really eat honey mustard, it seems like) and the most delicious spicy, red sauce I have ever tasted.  I could eat it with a spoon.  Have I said how I'm becoming accustomed to the spice in things?  Because I am and I love it.

We ate the wrap.

And then we found the coolest thing we've found yet in the history of street food.  It was a whole potato (they're tiny here), spiral cut pretty thin, stretched out long on a wooden skewer and fried.  It was like really thick potato chips.  When you buy it (for W1,000, like all street food - cheap), they roll it in a lightly sweet, seasoned salt.  It is yum.  You would like it.

So, Old Downtown in fun.  It is very, very loud.  There are tons of shops.  There's a North Face and other familiar brands like Unionbay have stores.  There's a Baskin Robbins, an Outback Steakhouse, a Pizza Hut, seventy-three million 7 Elevens, and a Starbucks, too.  Plus other places I can't remember.

Also, a yarn store!  But, I think it pretty much turns out that all yarn stores in Korea are about the same.  So, while it was fun to find another one, I don't think, in the end, I really need one.  That makes three that I've found, though!  Plus, one tiny fabric kiosk I found in our dong.

Moving forward.

- We got a membership at the International Lending Library.  To do so, we had to donate four paperback books (or three hardbacks -- who buys hardbacks?) and bring in our alien registration card (like a green card).  Ben had run out of things to read -- completely run out, he ran through his newest batch of New Yorkers and other magazines like a wood chipper with shavings coming off the sides! -- so I took the bus down there one afternoon and got a membership.  The problem, then, was picking out books he'd actually like, but thankfully, you can only get two books at a time per membership.  We only get to keep them two weeks, too, but there are only 2,000 books in the whole library, so it makes sense.  So, Ben is now rereading the full Lord of the Rings trilogy as well as some political book called Terror and Consent.  Sounds so light and fun!  It's nice to have the membership, and we've figured out that it's much faster to get there by taking the bus to the subway and the subway to the Int'l Center than by just taking the number 2 bus.  Number 2 takes well over an hour.  It's good for him to have books.

- Christmas Eve was spent with Ben's co-workers at a Korean spring roll restaurant.  It was so good.  I can't even tell you how good.  There is some Korean food that I may not even be able to live without when we come home.

Okay, so here's how it worked.

Korean meals, like Chinese meals, are very communal.  There are a bazillion side dishes and, depending on the size of your group, there may be multiple bowls, but usually no more than one per three people.  So, in the middles of the tables, there were grills (most restaurants have some form of either grill or pot in the middle of the table), with pots sunk in the middle and then in the front and in the back, there were these little metal tins of warm, red water.  Then, each person had a little set of dipping sauces and everyone shared piles of round, rice paper and several giant platters of shredded vegetables, including: red and green cabbage, two kinds of bean sprouts, seaweed, turnip, zucchini, carrots, a leafy green that tastes a bit like.. mint?  It's everywhere.  And other ones I can't remember.  Then, the waitresses bring you platters of meat, some of which they arrange on the grills, and some of which they plop into the pot of hot salt water brine/broth that makes up the base of any and all Korean soup pots.  They cut the boiling meat so thin that it cooks in a matter of seconds and the grilling meat cooks pretty fast too, with yummy dark grill marks.

So, what you do is you take a piece of crispy-hard rice paper with your chopsticks and drop it in the red water then immediately take it back out and lay it on your plate.  It won't be soft then, but it will get soft on your plate while you pile vegetables onto it.  Plus, the red water makes it pink, so it's so cute.  You do want to make sure you get it out while it's still hard, though, or you'll be trying to peel apart this slimy piece of pink rubber.  Like peeling apart plastic wrap, only worse.  Then, you grab vegetables and meat (we had bulgogi [beef], duck sausage, and a very ham-like pork, but uncured, of course) with your chopsticks and make a pile in the middle and you roll it up into a spring roll!  YUM.  You can dip it in the sauces you have.  One was so, so good and sweet, but RED hot, another was red and sweet, but not hot, one was ginger wasabi (ick) and then there was a garlic, red pepper, sesame and onion infused oil and also another sauce, but I don't remember what kind.  The red hot sauce and the not hot red sauce were the best.  Ben liked the sauce I can't remember what it was.

It was the best meal ever.

Then we had kimchi.

And, a lot of the time, at the hot-pot type restaurants (one with a pot in the table), they will come at the end of your meal and mix some rice and vegetables in with your remaining broth.  So, they did that, and mixed it until it was almost a rice porridge.  It was pretty good, very oniony, though, like most things.

The most delicious meal I've had since we got here.

- Christmas Day, we had Brian and Aaron over.  I made a pot roast with carrots and vegetables in our crock pot, gravy from the beef stock that came from the crock pot, a hashbrown casserole, a green bean casserole, and a lemon meringue pie and a chocolate cream pie.  It was a big hit and the pot roast had been in the crock pot all day long, so it was SO yummy and tender.  They don't have roasts here, but they do have chuck, the shoulder meat that chuck roast comes from, so I drew a picture of a cow, divided into cuts of meat like they have at butcher shops, and wrote out the Korean for chuck roast in the shoulder piece of the cow.  The butcher got it right away and apparently, "chuck roast" in Korean is, "chuckaroasta", so....... I probably could just have said it.  Although, "Costco" in Korean is "Costaco", and unless you add the extra syllable, they have no idea what you're talking about, so actually, I probably couldn't have just said it.  Regardless, the chuckaroasta came in six.. basically steaks, instead of one piece.  So, I tied them together with some string, and it worked like a charm.  By the end, I didn't even really have to untie it, the meat was falling apart so much.  It was SO good.  I will do it again.  That was Christmas.

- And yesterday, we moved.  But this post is really long.  So, I'll talk about the move in another post.

I need to take more pictures, too, I don't have anything to show for any of this!

We hope everyone's holidays are going well!

- catie

Monday, December 7, 2009

Catie: Korean Apples and the fall.

Have I said how much I like Korean apples?

In America, I get so confused with all the apples types.  I just try to remember that I like Honeycrisps and Jonagolds the best, although on NPR I just heard that Honeycrisps are considered an eyesore by, "Apple Experts".  I still like them.

In Korea, there is just the apple.  It looks like a Fuji or Gala, but it tastes SO good.  They're new apples (duh, it's apple season), so they are crisp and happy and ripe and I just keep EATING them.

I do not have a picture of The Korean Apple because, well, I have now eaten them all.  But really, apple pictures are boring anyhow.

The Korean Apple is not good for applesauce, pies, or any kind of baking.  It is only good to eat raw.  We've been putting them in with our tuna salad sandwiches a lot and, when we are rich enough again (WEDNESDAY!) to afford chicken, we will put them in with our chicken salad sandwiches - the rich man's tuna.

A lot of Korean produce is seasonal, so I am very afraid these apples will go away, which is why I keep eating and eating them.

Speaking of seasonal, all the leaves have now fallen.  They were so cute coming down, too, because so many trees here are Ginkgo and Japanese Maple.  The Ginkgos turn bright yellow and the Japanese Maples have sweet, tiny red maple leaves.

Before they all fell, I took some pictures.

[caption id="attachment_386" align="alignleft" width="225" caption="Some (male) gingkos -- no sticky fruit droppings here, but a lot in our dong from female trees."][/caption]

They may be blurry, we were walking and it was cold and windy, so there was some shivering happening.

[caption id="attachment_387" align="alignright" width="225" caption="One of the giant highrise apartment buildings that the entire middle class is housed in."][/caption]

The giant highrises are interesting.  Not only are they very.. you know, high, but they are considered high status, too.  These ones are probably upper middle class.  They're in the downtown area, very close to our HomePlus.  If you want to be considered middle class or above, you have to somehow manage to live in one of these... things.  And they're not cheap.  We hear they're gigantic, though.

Down there is a mandarin orange man's truck.  He's not our mandarin man.  Our mandarin man doesn't have a truck, he just sells mandarins and persimmons right next to our bank.  Everything you buy on the street here is bought in large quantities, so to buy mandarins off the street, you have to get a big bag of them.  But these are only W3,000.

[caption id="attachment_388" align="alignleft" width="225" caption="A mandarin man."][/caption]

Let me just tell you, the mandarins here are like the apples, to. die. for.  I can sit down and eat five to six in a matter of minutes.  The problem is we always buy so many at once and the window of delicious-ness is so small, that the last bits of them often gets way too ripe to be good anymore.

At their peak, though, you have never tasted a better mandarin orange.  Throughout the fall, everyone's been eating them.  Everywhere we go, there are mandarin skins on the ground.

[caption id="attachment_389" align="alignright" width="300" caption="A lot of street vendors have blue trucks like these."][/caption]

[caption id="attachment_392" align="alignleft" width="225" caption="So pensive."][/caption]

[caption id="attachment_393" align="alignright" width="300" caption="The lovely male ginkgo."][/caption]

[caption id="attachment_394" align="alignleft" width="224" caption="A typical big street in Daejeon: trees and a red, astro-turf walking/biking path."][/caption]

[caption id="attachment_395" align="alignright" width="300" caption="The Quakers have come to Daejeon!"][/caption]

[caption id="attachment_396" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="Plastic Island. Is that happens when we litter at the beach?"][/caption]

That's all from our walk.  Actually, there's more than that, but I'm not sure where the memory card is.  Have I posted our photo of Tomato Savings Bank yet?

And now I have to go and buy some, "pizza cheese", known in all other parts of the world as, "mozzarella".  Even we don't say, "mozzarella" anymore though, only pizza cheese.

Brian and Aaron like to call it, "fake cheese", which I don't understand since it really is cheese...  but they seem to think it's fake.

Anyway, off to find pizza cheese, dry the dishes and make dinner.

Tomorrow, I teach at Ewha.  SCARY.

- catie

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Ben: Winter Reading

I've always liked cold weather because it makes me feel like reading (even more so than during other seasons).  I've gone on a little reading bender over the past two weeks

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Ben: Ugh! Have Energy!

Working in an English Academy, I am constantly struck by the fact that what the kids really seem to be learning is advanced Kongrish. Which is understand, since English is a hard language for anyone to learn. Understanding aside however,  here are some of my favorite abuses of the English language:

Very very very very/Many much

When my kids want to emphasize that there is much more than one of something, they tend to tack on a few extra "verys." For example, "Teacher very very very very very much homeworks," is something I hear over and over. No matter how many times I cross out the extra verys they just keep coming back. Another phrase they use in in the same way is "many much." As in, "We have many much homeworks," or "This class is many much long."


The word "funny"

Catie: I don't know, maybe everything, I guess.

[caption id="attachment_375" align="alignleft" width="300" caption="Do you like my illustration? ..............i think i might stick to knitting as a pastime."][/caption]

Taco soup = pretty delicious.

I combined a couple recipes to make it.  One for a tortilla soup and one for a chicken taco soup, and it turned out nice, containing:

One can each:

Diced tomatoes

Tomato paste



1 c. black beans/pinto beans mixed (approx.)

3 cloves garlic, minced (no granulated garlic yet - I actually bought some, "garlic powder" that was, well, garlic powder.  Literally powder.  I'm afraid to use it in much of anything and since garlic practically comes out everyone's ears -- or out their pores, at least -- I just use the fresh stuff mostly)

One quarter of a yellow onion I had in the fridge

1/2 a chicken cooked for stock and picked clean

1 teaspoon each:




a bunch of chili powder (yay, mom!), maybe 2-3 tablespoons

a bunch of cumin (I'd never realized that cumin is what makes tacos smell like tacos and it's what makes them TASTE like tacos, too, it's delicious!)

and probably other stuff I forgot.

We topped it with cheese, sour cream and crunched up tortilla chips, a delicacy that is neither difficult to find, nor very delicate.  The things are as tough as beef jerky and I don't know who that Indian is on the bag, but what's a Native American doing on my tortilla chips?


I think the main problem is that you'll find tortilla chips at every grocery store (for nearly 6,000W), but I could swear not a single Korean has a clue what to do with them.  Must be just for us.

But if they are just for us... why doesn't anybody ask us which kind we like?

Democratic country.... psh.  I don't think so!

In other news.

MY PIE GREW!  It was like the miracle of the previous miraculous pie dough was visited upon my chicken pot pie dough!

Only, when your pie crust grows -- and I mean literally, GROWS -- it's less exciting and more frustrating!  Although, maybe that's only true of me, the ever visual cook, who likes everything to look pretty as well as taste good.

I even cut hearts out in it!  Trust me, this pie was freakin' cute before the miracle of the dud dough was visited upon its tender flesh.

[caption id="attachment_368" align="alignleft" width="300" caption="Some miracle. Hmph."][/caption]

As you can see, it is swollen, lumpy, and shapeless.

However..... did it taste delicious!!

It was SO yummy and SO flaky and delicious!  Sort of like eating a pot pie made of filo dough or.. or like a croissant filled with pot pie.


Aaron got real sick this week and came home with Ben one night to borrow some of our Nyquil (correction: Fake-quil from Wal-Mart) and I sent him home with a piece of chicken pot pie.

The next day, I went into Ewha to shadow his classes and the first thing he said was, "That pot pie was DELICIOUS."

The next thing that was said was from Brian, who shouted.  And then was very angry the rest of the day that he had not also received pie.

[caption id="attachment_370" align="alignright" width="300" caption="Looks like mush, but it was nice."][/caption]

I told him he'd have to get sick first.

He said he had been sick just the week before.

I said he hadn't come to my door looking sad and pathetic.

He said he had to go back to America and then he left.

And now he's in Portland and we're ALL jealous and it's like he did it JUST because I didn't give him any pot pie!

And I guess he didn't.

But it's like he did.

That is the middle and I didn't realize that all a chicken pot pie is made up of is crust, chicken, vegetables and chicken gravy.  They're SO easy to make!

And with all the chicken stock I cooked up, I will have many more opportunities.

On allrecipes.com (which is a nice website but has been infiltrated with a lot of, "easy" and "modern" cooking that's sometimes irritating), all the pot pie recipes called for 'cream of' soups (cream of chicken, cream of mushroom).  I knew people made pot pies before cream ofs came in cans, so I kept looking for the real thing, and finally found it.

Chicken gravy is ridiculously fast and easy, too.  Practically as fast and easy as opening a can.  So, it was worth it.

[caption id="attachment_371" align="alignleft" width="300" caption="Brand new sockies!"][/caption]

Beyond chicken pot pie -- hard, I know, who wants to move beyond a MIRACULOUS (some would even saying HEALING) chicken pot pie? -- we have knitting.

Almost as exciting.

These are Ben's new socks.

They were knit with GOLF Print, another Italian brand from.. Filatura di Grignasco.  It's 70% virgin wool (I don't understand what the "virgin" is for except maybe that it comes from sheep who've been shorn for the first time?), 30% acrylic (not virgin).

It was fine to work with, I guess.  Although, last week, at our new favorite Starbucks, I got really excited about turning the heel of the second sock and -- somewhat hyped up on half a grande caramel macchiato (a drink I never drank until I quit Sbux) -- my hands got real sweaty and the yarn got a little squeaky with acrylic which was gross.  I hate, hate, hate squeaky yarn.  I'm hope that they won't be too sweaty, but it's the only sock-ish yarn I've come across here at all, so I compromised all my values.  An action I may later be struck down for by the mighty hand of.. natural consequence?

Also knitting the following:

Scarf/wrap and dishcloth.A wrap inspired by THIS one.  There's a better picture of it at Ravelry, which is the one I chose my cables based upon, but you can't get into Ravelry without an account, which is cumbersome and on and on.  Basically, I saw the scarf and then I found some similar cables and just, you know, cast on, knitted five inches, ripped the whole thing out, started over and now I'm to.. maybe six inches again?  Maybe 7.  I'm happy with it this time.  I like the actual pattern's small cable better than the one I was able to scrounge up off the internet, but mine is okay, too and it's the actual scarf I like, so in the end it's all the same.

The dishcloth is my poor man's project.

Is that string, you ask?

Why, yes, it is.

At Good Morning Mart, right next to the counter, there are these hanks of white string.  Since the very first time I saw them I have been thinking to myself that I wanted to knit something out that string.

I am not sure what it's meant for.  My first guess was just for trussing poultry, but they don't have ovens here, really, and don't eat much meat either, especially chicken which is very expensive.  So, I think it might be for threading (the thing where they pluck your eyebrows with twisted thread -- so confusing).  It's right next to a bunch of other hygiene-type products.


Today we are poor enough that I bought the string (1,700W for a ton of it!), and, back at our new favorite Starbucks (where they served us simply terrible drinks! maybe next time...), I pulled it all apart, discovered it was two hanks looped into one, and wound one hank into a ball.  A task that took ages.

The string is TINY.  And when I say TINY in caps, what I really mean is tiny in tiny letters, but we don't have tiny letters.

I'm holding it double for better weight and knitting it on size 1 needles, which are pretty small, but it's turning out really nice.  I like the more delicate texture and weight of the dishcloth as opposed to one knit out of the regular dishcloth, worsted weight cotton.  It just feels so, you know, delicate.

And that's it.  We need to watch Northern Exposure (our new faaave show -- well, mine anyway!) and probably go to sleep or something equally as LAME and unexciting.


- catie

Monday, November 30, 2009

Catie: Pumpkin pie and chicken stock.

[caption id="attachment_358" align="alignleft" width="300" caption="pumpkin pie in the crousty."][/caption]

Here's our pie!

Between baking and then rapidly consuming the pie, I forgot to take any pictures of it out of the oven and actually baked, but there it is IN the oven.

It turned out surprisingly delicious.

I've made a lot of pies before, but never pumpkin (I avoid it when... well, when I'm not out of the country and desperate for ANY pie at all), so that was new in itself.  It was easy, though.

I tried a, "Baking Powder Miracle Pie Dough" against my better judgement.  It had the word, "miracle" in it!  I had to see if it was really miraculous.

Turns out... not so much.

The pie crust I would make at home has half lard, half butter and is delicious and tender and nice.

The "miracle" crust was.. hard.

Not to mention gross and weird.

And so, in future, I will stick with MY recipe.  Not miraculous ones.

I also found out the Crousty doesn't cook evenly at all.  This is fine.  I mean, already I'm asking too much of our poor Crousty toaster oven.  I think I can manage to turn things halfway through.  It's just good to know.  And the pie was still good, just a little brown on one side.

Yay!  Thank you, my mom, for the spices!

Tomorrow (Tuesday) and Wednesday, I'm shadowing Aaron at school to figure out how to do things when he leaves for the US (I don't envy that plane ride -- ugh).  I was supposed to go today, but the school has just developed a "CNN" debate class that starts this term.

And, yes, apparently it is patterned after The CNN.  Although, I guess they got weirded out when Aaron tried introducing debate to the debate class.

"Why do you not teach them from the book?" or something along those lines was said.

But why would you have a debate class and no debate?

Welcome to Korea!

Anyway, Aaron doesn't teach the CNN class on Mondays, so I'm waiting to go until Wednesday, when I'll get to see how the CNN class runs.

Since we'll both be gone and out of the house for two days, I am cooking lots of food today.  Which is really relative, because, in Korea, you can't cook lots of food at once.  There are only small pots, small pans, and small ovens.

In light of this, I'm making two dinners.  A chicken pot pie (if all goes well) and chicken taco soup.  Together, I think these will hold us over for lunches and dinners for two days.

The chicken taco soup calls for (of course) chicken broth.  And I've seen Swanson chicken broth at the gourmet market in Dunsan-dong, but that is far away and I didn't feel like hopping a bus and braving the TimeWorld Galleria crowds today.  We did it Saturday and again on Sunday (all three of our Starbucks are located within a block of TimeWorld Galleria), so I'm not feeling up to it again.  I even tried to bribe myself with this delicious wrap they have there -- it's this tortilla filled with chicken, a red cabbage/green cabbage coleslaw type mix, onions, tomato, yogurt sauce, sweet, spicy red sauce and mustard and it is A-MAZING, if spicy -- but to no avail as that would only have made the trip more expensive and, therefore, less appealing.

So, I'm making my own chicken stock.


I've never made chicken stock.  Plus, I thought I'd found celery at the store, but it turns out I didn't, it was just MORE of the giant green onions.  They look so much alike.


Apparently, a lot.

So, it's celery-less.  Hopefully that's fine.  It'll have to be fine.

Turns out chicken stock is easy, so I doubt anything will go wrong.

In better food-finding news, I did find vinegar!

Actually, to give credit where credit is due, Ben found vinegar.

It was located, at Good Morning Mart, right below the corn syrup.  Just where you'd hope to find vinegar.  Along side something sickeningly sweet.  Actually, maybe that's where it would be in America, I think it was just the language barrier that really got me.  All English is in teeny, tiny letters at the bottoms of labels, so you don't immediately see it.  Plus, I tend to get self conscious quickly as Korean grocery stores are full of over zealous, over helpful staff and when I stand too long in one spot, staring, I'm always afraid I'll be accosted in Korean by a nice lady in a yellow shirt and orange apron who doesn't know what, "I'm just looking," means, nor, "Where the heck is your vinegar?"

I need to learn Korean.

What's the Korean word for, "vinegar"?

I got it though.  I'm not sure what kind of vinegar it is.  I wanted distilled white.  This is a little yellow, but it seemed like the most generic kind they had and it's perfectly fine as far as I can tell.  Maybe it's.. distilled yellow vinegar.

The more I cook, the more I long for American grocery store shelves, with their predictable order, their aisle numbers, their helpful signs and familiar ingredients.

Still, the hunt is challenging, and that in itself is fun.  Plus, I get to learn to make my own ingredients.

Like French's french fried onions, evaporated milk.  And chicken stock.

Let you know how all this goes!

- catie

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Ben: Pictures of School Part II

[caption id="attachment_344" align="alignleft" width="294" caption="Sally Student"][/caption]

Here a couple more pictures of my students. I will get pictures of the other teachers soon (I just haven't had a chance yet).  These pictures are of my two  favorite classes.  They are both 100 level writing classes (so the kids are between 10-13 years old). Here is Sally student, Rebecca's arm, and part of Anna's  head. They are all in the Tuesday/Thursday 100D writing class. For most of the term Sally was the only student in the class. She is probably the funniest  student at Ewha. She knows enough English to be goofy and silly and love to ham it up. For two weeks she insisted that there was another student in the  classroom besides here and would only answer questions if I pointed to her after she raised her hand. She also wrote a paragraph about how I shouldn't  give her homework and another about her best friend, whose name is "Imaginary Electronic Computer Dictionary Friend." She is also really bright, and  even with two more students in the class, she is still the one who answers almost all the questions.

[caption id="attachment_345" align="alignright" width="294" caption="More Hangman"][/caption]

More hangman. The other thing about Korean hangman is that they don't always know how to spell the words they are having the other kids guess. So spaces will be erased or added halfway through the game and sometime the word will be entirely rewritten after 15 minutes have guessing has gone on. Also letters will sometimes be guessed, not written down, and than suddenly appear in the word. Despite all these problems, they still love it.

[caption id="attachment_346" align="alignleft" width="294" caption="Sally Stumping Rebecca and Anna"][/caption]

Here is my other awesome 100 Writing class. There are seven kids it in, and they are younger than most of the other 100 writing classes. They are also still super excited to at school learning, even though it is the third or fourth hagwon they have in addition to regular school. This is Harry, who is super smart and earnest, he got the "Best Student in Class" award that Ewha gives out, and he deserved it. The girl behind him is Lily, who is also egger to learn. Whenever I correct her homework she always demands to know what she did wrong and right (most students just want the teacher to sign off on it and not give them detention).

Lily and Harry wanted to me to take serious pictures of them. I took funnier pictures too, but they didn't turn out because I'm not very good at taking non-blurry pictures.

I know that my last post was a bit cynical, so hopefully you won't think that I can't stand any of my students. I really do have fun students and classes that are a blast. Even those classes in which I despair of the students ever learning anything are usually still fun to goof around with.

-Ben Teacher

Catie: Korean Pizza

Korean pizza is really not that bad.  Often a bit strange, but never so bad it's inedible.  Just so long as you stay away from the type with the sweet potatoes and prawns.  It's just not the same.

And really, nothing's the same as homemade pizza.

[caption id="attachment_335" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="PIZZA."][/caption]

And so, I have just put this little treasure into the oven.  It has grilled onions (I don't like crunchy onions on pizza -- but I like grilled onions on everything!), orange bell pepper, mozzarella, cheddar, parmesan, a delicious slightly sweet Korean sausage I took a chance on, and the tomatoes on top.  They're not as ripe as I'd like, but I didn't think cherry tomatoes would work as well in this instance. I was actually surprised by how soft and.. pink? the smaller tomatoes were today.  I got three that were workable.

Hopefully it tastes good.

The jury's still out on that...

- catie

Catie: Speculoos?

[caption id="attachment_327" align="alignleft" width="300" caption="Speculaas."][/caption]

When we were kids, we used to eat these windmill cookies.  Sometimes they were shaped like other things, but mostly windmills.  So, that was what we called them, windmill cookies.  They were fun because they are dry and crunchy, so you can nibble and eat them really slowly.  Also they're windmills and they have holes in them.  Cookies with holes are fun.

Now that I am very old and eat them less because of their shape and more for their taste (a little like gingerbread), I have learned to call them, "Speculaas", the Dutch name.  It's a fun word to say.

But funner to EAT.

Today, I took the bus to LotteMart (it's like a 15 minute walk, but I get SO cold!  And there isn't a bus stop on the other side of the street to take me home again, so I do have to walk back...) to get some whipping cream for the pumpkin pie I'll make tomorrow and a couple other things and I was walking down the cookie aisle to get to the registers (btw, this is NEVER a good idea) when I spotted THESE.

[caption id="attachment_329" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="Speculoos!"][/caption]

Advertised as Speculoos (apparently, the Flemish name for such cookies), they came in a long sleeve, all individually wrapped (sadly, not shaped like windmills, but I didn't even notice at the time) and I had to buy them.

I heart Speculaas at Christmastime because they're spicy and they're just really good holiday cookies.  I was so surprised to see them!

Also, they are very good with coffee and tea (if only they HAD very good coffee and tea here...) and I have -- maybe -- already eaten six of them.

Ben will be lucky if there are any left when he gets home! :D

- catie

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Catie: Ben's mitt/ens

[caption id="attachment_314" align="alignleft" width="300" caption="the mitt/ens"][/caption]

We don't have a car -- though we'd be too scared to drive it if we did (the bus we were in got side swiped by a tiny, red geo-metro-esque car yesterday, which apparently was no big deal since the driver of the geo-metro-esque got out of his car, laughing) -- so, we do a lot of walking.

To the bus stop.  To the store.  To Ewha.  To eat out.  Back home from the bus stop.

You get the idea.

And it's FREEZING outside.

While we did each pack a coat, a hat, gloves and a scarf, we picked mostly utilitarian ones.  Most of them are fine, but some of them are downright ugly (very warm, just very ugly).  The worst of which is probably both our pairs of gloves.  They just aren't cute.

And so, Ben got these.  I know they look sort of blue, but they're really a smokey gray, not very blue at all.  They're knit out of a 100% superwash wool called PRIME, made in Italy.  They won't be as super warm as his giant, black eyesores (they're not really that bad), but when we're just walking around town, we usually have our hands in our pockets anyway.  And they button back from mittens into fingerless mitts when he needs his fingers.

I have to force myself to knit fairly mindless things this time of year or I'll bog myself down with a bunch of complicated, unfinished projects.  I already started doing it earlier in the month.  I'm easily frustrated by the feeling of never finishing projects.  Which is why I like socks and mittens.

I have a pair of socks in the works again, too.  I'd forgotten to bring any "MAN" colored sock yarns with me from home, and it's pretty hard to find here, but we found a wool/acrylic blend at E-mart a few days ago (the same place I got the wool for the mitt/ens), in a variegated gray.  It's all a little drab, but I'm getting used to it.  There's just not a lot to choose from, especially as far as "MAN" colors go.

And soon, I want to knit me some form of fingerless gloves/mittens (hopefully cuter than my huge, black eyesores).  We'll see how it goes.

Maybe there will be more to post on the knitting front.

- catie

Monday, November 23, 2009

Catie: Pretty persimmons

[caption id="attachment_305" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="My three persimmons."][/caption]

Yesterday, I bought three persimmons for making something persimmon-y.  The most popular things made from persimmons in the western world seem to be persimmon cookies and pudding.  In Korea, it's really hard to say.  I think they do a lot more raw-eating of persimmons than most people in America would dream of doing.  Perhaps mostly because a lot of Americans have no idea what a persimmon really is.

I think they're a nice looking fruit.  At our grocery store, DreamMart (which should really be called Good Morning Mart, but the Korean word for, "Good Morning" sounds like, "Dream") we occasionally get them confused with tomatoes because they're displayed upside down, so just their roundy little bottoms show and (sadly, for us), their orange sort of color is the same color as the rock-hard, never-ripe tomatoes they sell here.  Although, as it gets colder, the tomatoes get greener, so it's becoming increasingly easier to tell the difference.

We just hope they're better than the tomatoes.

It's only getting colder here and while we keep our windows open to counteract our over-compensating water/floor heater, the Koreans turn their heat to 80 C and leave it there.  We've done more sweating since it got cold than before, when it was hot outside!

We were pretty afraid they might not heat their buses, but now I have to put on a long sleeved shirt, my fleece jacket, a scarf, my double layer wool hat and gloves to stand at the bus stop, and then take them off inside the bus, just to put them right back on once we get out.  Koreans leave all theirs on, though.  And, literally, it's about 80 degrees on that bus.

Yeah, you think I'm exaggerating, but I am not.

On Friday, I made 60 Minute Rolls, also known as DeeDee's One Hour Buns, which, really, is totally a better name.  Anytime you have the choice to say a phrase with, "DeeDee" in it, you really should.  These opportunities don't arise very often.

I've only seen one kind of yeast here, a turkish yeast, "Pakmaya".

Very aptly named.

It's an instant yeast, which is kind of nice.  Some people seem to swear by instant yeast.  But, apparently, there is no way to test whether or not it's alive.  Sure, they'll tell you about 1,500 different ways to test it, but it will fail every single of them and, in the end, still make DeeDee's buns rise.

I tried to foam tepid sugar water.

I tried to foam warm sugar water.

I tried to foam sugar water that was probably too warm.

I even tried mixing flour, sugar and water and waiting an hour to see if it would rise -- although the problem with that was mostly just that I got too impatient and decided to go ahead, regardless.

Finally, I mixed up a batch of dough and started kneading it, kneading it, kneading it.  I was probably 5 -6 minutes into the 10 minute process when I realized that our grimy table was griming my DeeDees!

I wash that thing every day, too, so don't think it's anything I've done to it.  It just has this weird black top with a gray splatter paint sort of pattern and I think the gray comes off, because it turns all my dishcloths gray and has since we moved in, I just didn't even think about it!

So, I made another batch -- argh -- and kneaded it on a big white tray we have that came with our cozy little... bingo parlor.

Kneading takes f-o-r-e-v-e-r, fyi.  I worked at a bakery, and I think I took the bread mixers for granted, because, seriously, I thought my arms would give out before I got a, "silky, elastic texture".

Once I had them all ball-rolled and plopped into the pie pan, I was still pretty terrified that they wouldn't rise (and after all that, I wasn't taking any chances), so I boiled some water in the electric teapot, poured it into a coffee mug and set it on top of the Trusty Crousty (which I turned on low, the top gets real hot) with a chopstick inside it.  Then I put the DeeDees right next to it and draped a towel over the whole set up.

They rose FAST.

Let me just reiterate -- F-A-S-T.

I thought to myself, "I will go to DreamMart and get some things for dinner."  DreamMart is only two and a half blocks away, nothing could happen.

Is it ironic that I over-proofed them?

[caption id="attachment_310" align="alignleft" width="225" caption="As you can see, I did at least TRY to eat them.."][/caption]

I have trouble figuring out what irony is.

Regardless, in the end, they went the way of the first batch of dough.  Sadly.  But, to the DeeDees credit, they did taste good.  They were just too weird and dry.  They were the best right out of the oven.  After that... you know, kinda downhill.

They looked cute.

I will try again, bread is something I can fiddle with over a long period of time, I think, and so I probably will.  It's interesting and tad bit finicky, which seems like fun.

There are my DeeDees.

The main problem with bread recipes over the internet, though, is that no one -- lie detector says: maybe 3 people -- bake bread the old fashioned way anymore.  Everybody uses their bread machines.  Which is all well and good, until you move to Korea and all the bread machines are in KOREAN.

Then you're stuck the Trusty Crousty, but no Beard on Bread or whatever in sight.

I guess converting from machine to oven isn't too difficult, though, and I will be trying it.

For tonight, however, I am making fresh applesauce.  And I wanted to make sweet and sour chicken, but was completely floored by the fact that DreamMart doesn't seem to carry vinegar.  It's bizarre.  I have seen vinegar.  I have seen vinegar everywhere.  And all I need is white vinegar.

Come to think of it, though, I don't know that I've ever seen plain, white vinegar.  Which.. I mean, really?  No white vinegar?  Really?  How hard could it possibly be?  They eat squid, that's hard. That make kimchi, constantly, all the time and that's no easy trick.  And they.. you know.. read the space age scrawl that is the Korean language.

They make all their medications in-country!

You'd expect a little white vinegar, now, wouldn't you?

So, now we are having stir-fry.  Neither as good nor as fun as sweet and sour chicken, but I am at a vinegar loss.  I thought about possibly using lemon juice, but, after my DeeDee failure, I need something to turn out properly, so I'm sticking to what I know.

Maybe next time.

Also, Thanksgiving is out.  But we will have pie.  So, I'll let you know how that goes.

- catie

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Ben: Pictures of School

[caption id="attachment_285" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="Peace Teacher!"][/caption]

Korean kids are pretty stinking cute, but don't be fooled by this kid's smiling facade. I can't even count the number of times I've caught him trying to cheat on his spelling test or writing his homework for the next class during my class. No Korean kids are really cute (except for middle school students, who are punks, but than what middle schooler isn't). Catie has been telling me for sometime that I need to put pictures of my school and students up on our blog. The last couple of days have been the final days of this term, so since little work is actually getting done I thought I would take advantage of the chaos and get some pictures. I will also be posting pictures of the other teachers so that everyone can put faces to the names of the people I'm working with.

[caption id="attachment_286" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="Andrew giving Scott some love"][/caption]

This is part of my 99D Writing class. Again, don't be fool by the apparent innocence, this class is trouble! There are 7 boys and the two girls you can just barely see  behind Andrew and Scott. At the start of the term this class was just the 7 unruly boys who with the except of a kid named Fire (more on him latter) cannot sit still or stay quiet to save their lives. Bryan, Aaron, and I all teach this classes and we have yelled, threatened, and bribed ourselves to exhaustion trying to keep their attention for at least part of the 40 minute class. No luck yet. Two weeks ago, the first girl (named Anna) showed up in the class (that happens allot, since it is private after school academy kids appear and disappear from class very randomly). Since she was the only girl in a glass of 7 boys, we didn't figure she'd last very long. (Equally mixed gender classes seem to work best for classroom management. When you have all of either gender it is just madness. The worst though is having all boys/all girls and just one girl/one boy, because then they sit all by themselves and are alienated from the rest of the class).  She stuck it out however, and a week latter Yumi showed up and since than they have slid right into the spirit of the class, shirking their homework, cheating on spelling tests, and talking with the best of the boys.

[caption id="attachment_288" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="Fire and Sam"][/caption]

Two of the best students from 99D. This is Fire and Sam, far and away the sharpest sticks in this box of mostly broken pencils. Fire is one of my favorite students. He is super earnest and determined to study like crazy. I don't know how his parents have done it, but they've successfully indoctrinated him that he must study, study, study. Most of the parents tell their kids that, but the kids are all overloaded with regular school, 4-6 hagwons a week, and than extra studying for tests on Saturdays. By the time they get to Ewha many of them are burned out and couldn't care less. Fire is still going full steam though. Just to give you an idea of his attitude, he wrote an essay about his least favorite food, which is persimmons. He wrote that he hated the color, the taste, the texture, and how when when he tried it he felt sick. The part that is heart wrenching is the end where he says, "But my mom says that they are really good for my health, so I will still eat them even though I don't like them at all." Most of his essays conclude with something along this line, that even though he doesn't like it, if his parents say that he needs to do it, he will do his best.

The other kid in the picture is Sam, who is bright, if not quiet as dedicated as Fire. He was part of the Andrew and Scott clique at the start of the class, but sometime after midterms he must have decided it was time to shape up. How does one shape up? Well to start they move next to the smart kids and somehow their spelling test scores dramatically improve.

A common exchange:

Me: "Sam! Eyes on your own test!"

Sam: "Oh! Teacher! I not look!"

Despite this persistent cheating, Sam has improved dramatically in other, non-Fire related ways.

[caption id="attachment_293" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="Hangman!"][/caption]

I don't know if you can tell, but the girls up front are playing Hangman, the all time favorite game of the students at my school. They tend to go crazy playing it, shouting and pushing their way to the front of the class, so the game is officially banned at Ewha, except for very special days. Their hangman strategy is to skip guessing letters and go straight to trying to guess the word. They also don't finish the game until the word is guessed, no matter how many tries that takes. This results in some very detailed pictures. I've tried to tell them that they should at least guess the vowels, but they aren't having any of it.

[caption id="attachment_294" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="Louise 1"][/caption]

This kid is in the same class as the girls in the previous picture. His name is Louise 1. At the start of the term his name was just Louise (pronounced like Lewis), but than a new boy came to class and decided that he too would like to be called Louise (also pronounced like Lewis).  I couldn't believe it when I saw his name on the attendance sheet, written as "Louise 2," but it was true. So now 97D has Louise 1 and Louise 2, equally unmotivated and easily distracted (right before this picture Louise 1 threw Louise 2's pencil out the window.

More pictures to come!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Catie: Chocolate Chip Pumpkin Bread!

[caption id="attachment_277" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="Don't look too closely -- it's so blurry!"][/caption]

Natalie, don't look.  The following pictures are going to be very blurry.  I AM SO ASHAMED.

The pumpkin bread turned out surprisingly delicious.  As you may notice, it didn't fluff up very much -- or.. even at all.  Which is due to several factors.  In hindsight, I knew it would be dense, so I don't know why I didn't fill the pans up more.  Neurological disconnect, I suppose.  But it tastes really good.  It just doesn't look as cute in it's little cardboard pans as it probably would have if it had risen properly in the oven.

I made a couple of changes.  We haven't been able to get any whole wheat flour yet (though we may have found some very light whole wheat flour -- I can't remember how dark it's supposed to be...), but I did find some, "buckwheat powder" at Emart, which I naturally assumed was also known as "buckwheat flour".  So, I added about half buckwheat flour.  It also called for only white sugar and white sugar creeps me out a little, so I threw in about half brown sugar.  I'm sure both of these were contributing factors in keeping the bread at the bottom of the pan.

It definitely did taste pumpkiny, though more mildy pumpkiny, I think.  Which could have been because I didn't measure the spices, so maybe there weren't enough.

[caption id="attachment_278" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="Little Japanese pans"][/caption]

A little less blurry and a better look at the little pan.  They worked really well, though I wasn't sure whether or not to grease them, so I did just a tiny bit to be on the safe side and it kind of bled through.  Maybe next time I won't, though I have a feeling some grease would bleed through anyway.

Overall, a success because it tasted delicious.

I have high hopes for my Thanksgiving menu as well:

Roast Chicken with stuffing

60 minute rolls

Mashed potatoes and gravy

Pumpkin pie

Green bean casserole

And possibly a wild rice sausage dressing and a cranberry sauce from dried cranberries. I have heard it can be done, it just doesn't taste as good.  But when you're overseas and it's hard to get your hands on things, it doesn't matter if everything tastes, "as good", just so long as it tastes similar enough.  I also might make a strawberry pie.  They're the only berries I can find - even frozen.  I'd like cherries, but alas.

Who knows how well this will work out.  We will see.

Also, our internet has been on the fritz for the past two days or so.  I meant to post this yesterday, but couldn't.  So, if you don't hear from us again for a while, that could be why.

However, we will still be available via Skype.

- catie

Monday, November 16, 2009

Catie: Japanese Sweet Pumpkin

[caption id="attachment_263" align="aligncenter" width="420" caption="My little "Japanese Sweet Pumpkin"."]pumpkin[/caption]

I got this little "pumpkin" at HomePlus about a week or two ago and have been waiting to get the right ingredients and tools to turn it into something.  Isn't it cute?

First, I thought maybe a pie, but Thanksgiving is coming up and it would ruin the fun (or the horror, depending on how the actual pie turns out........) to have a pie so close to the holiday.  So, I'm going to try Chocolate Chip Pumpkin Bread instead.  I thought about muffins, but, since no one bakes here, all baking pans run in the range of $8.00-$10.00 and, at Lotte, they have baking pans made of paper that are made in Japan (they're real cute, I'll post pictures once it's baked).  So, I opted for some Japanese paper loaf pans and we'll see how that goes.

[caption id="attachment_261" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="Seeds, strings and slime."]IMG_0562[/caption]

 I may try my hand at roasting seeds, but first we'll see how the loaf goes.  The inside color of the squash is lovely, very butternut squash-esque.

I used the How to Roast a Pumpkin in 10 Steps tutorial over at Elana's Pantry to bake it and now I have a bowl full of lovely squash waiting to be properly mashed.

[caption id="attachment_266" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="Squash mash."]IMG_0566[/caption]

I only had the one, small pie pan, so I had to bake each half seperately, but it worked out well.  The first half's skin got a little mushy, so I was able to let it sit and cool until the second half got done and they both scraped out easily.  I've never tasted raw pumpkin straight out of the.. you know, pumpkin, so I don't know if it tastes similar or not, but it tastes like squash.  So, I figure it'll be similar.

I'll let you know how it goes.

Also on the list to bake: Mrs. Reagan's Persimmon Pudding

Persimmons are all over the place here and they're so pretty, orange and red.  I've been wondering for a while what people do with them.  I know they eat them raw, but I remember trying one once when I used to work at a small, produce market and the texture's pretty weird.  You're supposed to wait until they're super ripe to eat them, so they get slimy and pulpy.  I don't remember how they taste though.

They could be really gross, but I want to try it since they're everywhere and all the ajummas (middle-aged-old ladies) swear they're really good for you.

Let you know how it goes.

- catie

Sunday, November 15, 2009


noseyIf you ever get your nose pierced, make note:

Do not wash your face.  It is hazardous.  At some point during the cleansing process, you may lose your nose ring in the sink.  This will not easily be felt by you, or your nose as you are scrubbing vigorously, and so you may not notice for 45 minutes, even an hour.  And then, as you frantically attempt to return the ring to it's proper place in your nostril, you will undoubtedly be forced to punch it through a layer of skin which has already closed, even though it has been only an hour, making a gross popping sound.  This will not only hurt you, but REALLY gross you out when it starts bleeding profusely.  Ultimately, it could easily lead to infection and ANGER with yourself, or, possibly, even the sink.

This TERRIBLE chain of events may or may not have happened to me and my nose ring.

Regardless, take heed!!! I know since I found out that this dire set of circumstances could be close at hand, I will NEVER wash my face again!

- catie

Catie: What we're eating.

The Trusty Crousty
While we may be alternately poor and only somewhat poor, we've been eating really well.

So far, within our repertoire, we have the following:

Chili with biscuits
Vegetable Beef Soup
Pork Stir-fry
Sloppy Joes (of questionable merit)
Fried chicken with mashed potatoes and cream gravy (very unhealthy, but I needed cream gravy...)
Chicken pesto with fresh vegetables
Oven fries (Which go with everything)

And we eat a lot of grilled cheese sandwiches, sometimes with ham or an egg.  Also, some "Eggs in a Basket", the toast with an egg fried in a hole cut in it's center, more gruesomely known as "Birdie in a Basket" by Ben, a name that freaks me out. I prefer to think of my eggs as... you know, NOT unborn chickens.

I think one of our best accomplishments thus far, however, is the baked chicken with pasta we made the other night.

I thawed two chicken breasts by heating water in our electric kettle and pouring it over them (still no microwave).
Then I rubbed them with a little olive oil and a mixture of oregano, rosemary and basil, and laid them in the weird, sort of roasting pan that came with The Trusty Crousty.  I cut a red pepper into strips, and laid them on top and around the chicken and drizzled a bit olive oil over the whole thing.  It baked at 350 F (about 175 C) for... 45 minutes or so. 

While it was baking, I poured maybe a cup and a half of Prego (Costco) into a skillet and started it simmering, then chopped:

six cherry tomatoes in quarters
two garlic cloves really finely (no garlic press)
one quarter onion (small, diced)

and threw all that into the prego to simmer.

In a second skillet, I fried two slices of bacon, really crisply, chopped them up and threw them into the sauce as well.

At HomePlus, we got some multi-colored Fusilli (spiral shaped pasta, "The name comes from fusile, archaic/dialect form of fucile, meaning rifle. As the inside barrel of a gun is "rifled" using a similar screw-shaped device" -- Wiki) and I boiled some of that.

We poured the souped up Prego over the Fusilli and put the chicken and roasted red peppers on top.  Ben made some delicious garlic bread, too.  It was quite a success and, what with our current glut of chicken breasts, we may be making something similar later on this week. We got some Tortelloni (Legend has it when gods walked the earth, an innkeeper was so enchanted with the beauty of Venus, he modeled the little Tortellini after her navel! The nickname for this pasta in Bologna is "sacred navels"!  "Tortelloni" is a larger version of Tortellini.) at Costco and I want to make something delicious with it.

Italian food is ALL the rage here, which is kind of nice, because we have an idea of what to do with the ingredients and what goes with what.
Us, all bundled up to go outside!
What I want to do is come up with things we've been able to cook in Korea, and sooking/baking substitutions that work and put all the recipes where other foreigners can access them.  There are not a lot of places to find recipes that Westerners can cook here.  And not a lot of places to tell you where to find ingredients.

But I want to do a lot of things.... psh.

Anyhow, that's what's been on our plates.  I often find myself feeling like I have nothing to post a lot of the time, but, I think since it's been FREEZING cold the past few days, and I've been doing more baking and cooking, I should be able to post about that.  We've also had a little more money and have been able to do some shopping for fun ingredients.  So, I'll try to remember to post my cooking/baking misadventures.

There's a picture of us -- today, in fact -- all bundled up to walk Ben to school.  It's chilly, but it makes it feel like the holidays are here!

- catie

Ben: Finals!

We've almost reached the end of my first term teaching here (the year is divided up into four 13 week terms). This week has been taken over with the madness of finals. The kids don't know it, but their grade is entirely dependent on their mid-term and final test grades (Korea is craazzzy about standardized testing). Since nothing else actually counts (homework, behavior, work in class) finals are a big deal.

That being said, you wouldn't guess that from the way that we were instructed to make and implement them. We were given notice as to which tests we were in charge of writing one week before they were due. We weren't actually given anytime to write the tests, so we wrote them between classes and during breaks. We than turned the tests into Nicole for editing. She didn't return them back to us until the Friday before the week that the finals were suppose to take place. We were also specifically instructed to "make sure to teach the students what they need to know to pass the test, and to communicate with the other teachers so that you know what you need to teach them."

Test week itself is crazy, we have 40 minutes to give each test. Most of my classes are writing classes, so it is pretty easy for me. I just hand out the tests, read my book, and grumpily answer questions when the kids have questions. I say grumpily not because I resent being interrupted, I am there to be "Ben Teacher" afterall, but because most of the questions are inane. Apparently my students have the worst taking strategies ever. Their idea is to skip past any instructions and straight proclaiming "I don't understand, how do you do this?" Most of the time I just read them the question (that they didn't read) to them and then they set to work. Why they don' t start by reading the questions themselves I don't know. Perhaps they just like the sonorous sound of my voice. The only tests that are hard to conduct are those for the Listening/Speaking classes.  In the L/S classes the Teacher has to play a recording 2-3 times (for the Listening Part) and then talk to each kid individually (for the Speaking Part). This gets tricky when you are trying to run through 12 kids in the less than 25 minutes that are left of class. Speaking in a second language (especially for a test) is nerve-racking enough without your teaching pressing you to hurry up, so I try not to rush them too much.

After the fun of giving the tests, we than have three days to grade all the tests. Grading is a whole adventure in itself. Since Ewha is a private, after school English Academy, one eye always has to be on the bottom line ($$$). Which means that you can flunk a kid, because than they might leave and that is money that is walking out the door. Instead Ewha works on a curve where no one gets less than 60 percent or more than a 90. This means that some creative grading is necessary to elevate a kid who turned in a mostly blank test to a 60 percent. We could just curve the whole thing, but that is far too much work to do for 30 different classes (that is how many I teach) and besides which Bryan tried it once and was unable to explain the idea of curving.

Tests are all over now, so now it is the turn of the Korean teachers to call all the parents up and explain to them why their little treasures did the way that they did on their tests. I'm glad that the testing is over, and can't wait to get started on the next adventure, writing syllabi for the next term!
[caption id="attachment_227" align="alignleft" width="420" caption="One of many mandarin men, lining the streets of Korea"]mandarinman[/caption]

Good morning!

Or.. afternoon.  As the case may be.  It is 2:00pm here, I guess.

We both have our excuses for not posting in the past, you know, forever.  Mine is also Fringe, in part.  I do like it a lot (though it is SCARY -- a lot of people explode!).   But... mostly, I'm just not as enthralled with Korea anymore.  I still like it here (how many times have I said that?  brainwash myself much..?), but it's not as new and novel.

Also, we are alternately very poor and somewhat poor, so we don't always have a whole lot to talk about.

We took some fall-ish pictures last Saturday, though.  It's been a beautiful fall here.  There are a lot of bright red Japanese Maples and yellow Ginkgos along the sidewalks.

And also mandarin orange, persimmon, and nut vendors.  We're not sure what there is to do with persimmons.  I used to work at a tiny produce market and we'd get them in every winter and put them in a slightly refrigerated case, where they would turn from orange to red and then get slimy.  Really, really slimy.  The mandarin oranges are amazing some of the time and bland the rest - it's really hit or miss.  We get them a lot.  And we haven't tried the nut vendors yet.  They always smell delicious when we walk by though.

[caption id="attachment_229" align="alignleft" width="420" caption="The road that goes by HomePlus."]homeplusroad[/caption]

This is the road that goes past our HomePlus store downtown.  It's a good example of what most roads look like in Daejeon, though.  The sidewalks are cobbled and there is usually a running/walking/biking path of red astroturf along side it.  It will be really nice once we get bikes.  We're continually surprised by how many bikers we see about.

Daejeon has even created a bike sharing program with these really cute, green cruisers.  They have rows of them all over town, with little computer/monitor things next to them and you give them your alien registration number and cellphone number (when we get a cellphone we'll be able to use them) and.. I think the first two hours are 1,000W and after that it's 500W/half hour.  I can't remember, but it's not that expensive.  Plus, the bikes are cute.  And there are so many pick up/return points all over the city that you'd only have to ride one way and then you can lock them back up and go about your business.

We've been having a lot of fun the past week or so.  Since we got paid, we've been able to organize our house a bit better and get some more to cook with.  We got a couple big skillets that, instead of being coated with chippy, flaky teflon, have been coated with some sort of "diamond ceramic".  It's amazing.  Nothing sticks to it.  This backfires sometimes when, say, I am trying to flip an over easy egg the stupid thing just slips all over the pan instead of sliding onto my spatula.  But, overall, they're amazing.

We were also able to go into town yesterday and have some fun.  We stopped at one of our favorite destinations, TimeWorld Galleria, this G-I-A-N-T mall creation that houses.. well, we still haven't gotten a good glimpse.  Last night, we checked out the gourmet grocery store in the 2nd basement, complete with a Burger King (you don't get much more gourmet than BK!), and a simply scrumptious gelato place.  They had flavors like cream cheese, green tea, latte, dark chocolate (barely even sweet, just soo chocolatey and sooo good), tiramisu, banana, caramel, milk (isn't that a given?), menthe, withe chocolate (and no, that's not a typo, it was withe) and tons more we can't remember.  We got the tiny size, and thus, three flavor choices: dark chocolate, tiramisu and I wanted caramel, but we got banana - some things just get lost in translation.  We ended up sharing it because there was also confusion as to how many cups we wanted.  It was really good, though there was some argument over who had to eat the banana.  Poor, neglected flavor.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Ben: Watching Fringe

So Catie and I have been slacking a little bit on the blog (sorry everybody). Part of the reason (and only part!) is that we started watching a show called Fringe (thank you Natalie). Fringe is sort of the X-Files meets Lost with more of an R rating instead of the X-Files P-13 content. It is pretty addictive. Some of the stuff is a little graphic (it makes the X-Files look pretty tame) and the main female lead's character is incredibly one-dimensional, but the crazy scientist and his son are hilarious. The scientist, Walter Bishop, is the best reason to watch the show. He is constantly craving random foods, wanting to conduct dubious tests on unwitting human subjects, and just generally being a stereotypical, but awesome mad scientist. The plot is typical conspiracy fare. Something called "the Pattern" is causing crazy things to happen and "Fringe Division" is the FBI task for charged with figuring out what is happening. There is also a massive international science corporation called, creatively enough, Massive Dynamic. Massive Dynamic may or may not be good/very evil, it is a mystery. The show is another J.J. Abrams project, and like Lost, you get the feeling that he either has an awesome  plan for how every ties together, or he is just as lost as his viewers. Since Fringe is only in its second season, this has not yet become a liability like it has in Lost. I think most people have lost patience with the prospect of ever getting straight answers in Lost. Fringe is just starting so it feels okay to be confused and not like someone is jerking your chain. Anyways, flaws aside, it is fun to watch. It often feels like the X-Files at its best (think 3rd-5 season) and makes me feel nostalgic for old X-Files episodes. There is strong, if not amazing acting, but the characters that are good are really good. Since we can download just about anything nearly instantly we've watched through the entire first season and are now keeping up with the second season as it airs. This as resulted in some time being taken away from blogging, but we promise we will try to get on here more now that we have caught up with the show. Just be glad we caught it in the middle of the second season! If it had been in, say the fifth, you might not have heard from us until after Christmas (or more realistically, after Thanksgiving).