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Archive for the ‘korea’ Category


world tour:korean leftover loki fun

it’s over! to the displeasure of my sweet t, our trip to korea ended and we were headed home(with a big box of seaweed)…..and this is my last post about the fatherland! it’ll center around loki events as in Loki, the Norse god of mischief: weird and surreal cultural things we encountered in korea.

no better place to start than home sweet home….theresa’s aunt’s home where we stayed. i always tease visitors about the “security” cameras that we installed in the rest rooms for their safety(they don’t really exist. really). but how about a security window so that we can check in on you and your progress. i’m not kidding. take a look yourself:

here’s a view from outside the bathroom window and a view of the window as seen inside by the user. what diabolical man with a devious haircut is spying on my sweet t? but seriously, who puts a window in a bathroom….a viewing window???

here are some pics from the folk village showing ancient life including…..some weird rocklifting, manly demonstration of strength that’s got all the boys excited…and uh-oh, someone’s coloring outside the lines!

a friendly nutritional guide to what to eat and not to eat during pregnancy: fish, chicken and rice: good! but beware of duck, horse and dog lest your child inherit their characteristics! eeek!

we are posing with the standard zodiac characters that match up with our birth years….but we noticed the korean attempt to address a typical dilemma in translating the animals into american english. the words selected maybe technically correct but come across offensive. for example, who wants to know be known as a serpent? (though snake is not great either)……but the “rooster” has always generated junior high level snickers.

but all that is fixed with snippets of paper and glue sticks! you can see someone wanted to see what rooster was hiding….and tried to peel the paper with no success. but…….

if you look real close….you can read the secret word underneath……..

from the ultra clean, ultra cool seoul subway system:….nothing seemingly funny or strange at first glance…..just gas masks for the thousands of people riding the subways in case of chemical attack….except….

wah, wah……there’s only 18 of them……the other people get a fire extinguisher.

some bathroom fun…though they say men and women……they both look pretty feminine to me! if i had to pee real bad and there were no words, i would have to pause before running into one of the bathrooms and hope i got it right.

more bathroom humor and my only mockery of korean english…..another confusing mixed message as you look for relief.

even more potty humor……..its poop on a stick. i mean mr. poop on a stick. nothing says i was thinking of you in korea more than this souvenir!

we started this with the can…let’s end with it……a sophisticated one! look at the space age options on this thing! my favorites are the booty washer and dryer. i did not try it. nor did i try the wash my dress option.

but good times in korea overwhelmingly exceeded strange moments. it was a great, great trip(see the multiple earlier entries). i hope to return one day. and even though my sweet t is mad at me at the time of writing, she is still my favorite thing from korea.

Posted under korea, world tour

world tour update: south, south korea

when theresa informed me that we would take a trip to the south of south korea….to the farmland where her dad lived…and where her uncle continues to grow crops, raise animals….a place where the family grew up bathing in a lake ten minutes away….i balked. i envisioned squatter toilets or worse…an outhouse; sleeping in a barn…and critters! lots of critters running around my room as i try to sleep. i was not looking forward to this. especially with no information….and only with what i could imagine.

but even though the farm was old schoolish….with them making kimchi the old fashioned way in large jars outdoors, with them growing their own veggies, fruits, soy beans…theresa’s aunt and uncle lived in a modern two storied home with terraces, heated hard wood floors, critter free bedrooms and yeah! a toilet in a modern bathroom….sorta. if you notice….the bathroom is also the shower. it was a little strange showering….like…where do i put my clothes? it also felt weird because i was getting the whole room wet….but you’re supposed to.

but the real story for me is the generosity of theresa’s family. despite $100 per tank gas prices and treacherous weather conditions, they cheerfully took us all over gyungju to see the sights including the fields and fields of cherry blossoms that this region is known for…all because i mentioned in passing that i heard about the cherry blossom festival. gyungju is a few hours drive from their home!

the next day, they took us to an incredible sight in their back yard. not that far from their farm was a buddhist temple built by a family friend. i was respectful since i usually am not that thrilled with visiting temples especially with the burning incense that makes my senses revolt. but it was stunning….the family friend made all these buddhas…..

they took us to see some other natural sights including a few amusing moments. they made us rub the buddha mostly for baby luck hoping that it would help us in our fertility. we also stumbled across a stone tribute to an old school korean game that i saw in college and on fat albert called buck buck. i kid you not….you stick your heads in each other’s crotches while others jump on top of you to try to break the chain.

i tried to join in and paid for it.

i was overwhelmed by their generosity. they stuffed us with snacks, both korean and american because they didn’t know what we would eat so they got a variety; they paid for every meal including soondiboo, pork bbq and a traditional korean meal with tons of little dishes…they even stopped to get the signature read bean cakes of the region for us. they gave us money. they bought us tickets for the fast train back to korea so we could have more time back in seoul.

then they asked us to forgive them…..if they did anything wrong.


they did nothing wrong. they opened their home to me. they lavished generosity on me. they made every effort to show love. their humility humbled me. their desire to welcome me into the family left me silent.

Posted under korea, world tour

world tour update: north korea/DMZ

we woke up early to join the uso tour to the dmz and to get a look at north korea. the dmz is the no man’s land that separates south and north. north korea of course is a real land of mystery since travel and touring to the country is near non-existence so we only have rumors of a maniacal dynasty, starving people eating tree bark and an impending invading military digging tunnels to unsuspecting south korea. what really goes on over there?

the tour has a dress code and is careful to let you know to present yourself in a way that is acceptable or else you will not be allowed to go! they give you guidelines but its completely at their discretion. you are also not allowed to communicate, signal or gesture with north koreans. they specifically tell you not to sneak in the finger! you have armed military folks around you so you don’t mess with that.

so i made myself up north korean style! theresa said i looked nerdy and could not look at me if i kept this hair. i even kept stoic as i walked around. behind me is propaganda village with their gigantic flag pole in north korea. but i’m getting ahead.

after an orientation about the border, the zone and the competing flagpoles on both sides, we signed the waiver and we were on our way.

danger is real. gun shots, nukes, tanks, invasion….all possible. thus the waiver. but on the other hand, nothing has happened in a real long time.

this is the bridge of no return that is one of the connection points between north and south. it was used at the end of the war when prisoners of war had to decide which side they wanted to live in….but the understanding was that once they made their decision, there would be no return. korean nationals are not allowed to go on these tours because there is a fear that they would run across and defect.

this is the lame photo line that you had to stand behind to take pictures. it is clearly at least 10 feet away from the edge of the viewing platform making it really difficult to get good shots. its feels like a joke….but real. there are soldiers happy to take away your camera if you get up to the wall and snap a shot. of course, they are so busy looking that i turned them into the subject of this farce. i zoomed my camera to its max, held it up above where i projected the wall to be and took these:

not great but not bad either. our tour guide joked…..you want to know where north korea is? its where there are no trees! also i got a few shots again of propaganda city which is a shell of a modern town that north korea has built. no one lives there but people are bused in…children too….to give the illusion that people live there. sometimes they also boom propaganda broadcasts inviting south koreans to come over and live! as well as messages bad mouthing the south’s government. the famous flagpole has a flag so big that it cannot fly unless a really strong wind comes. when it snows or rains, it must be brought down or it will tear under its own weight. its all part of (i suspect male)ego in an extension of the junior high game of who’s is bigger?

we continued our war themed day by going to the korean war museum that summarizes the conflicts koreans have endured. this (emotionally)moving gargantuan statue is out front. it is called two brothers…presumably after the war…any war…reunited.

the museum has a feel that koreans are done with war. come look at this antiquated device our barbaric past used to advance society. it feels like a museum displaying the first cars…..look what at how we used to live.

there is a sense of optimism that they are done. they’ve made it. they celebrate their triumps, mourn their losses, retell their histories…..

but also give ominous warnings of life during war….and the results of war. it contrasts current life in korea which for the most part is shiny and happy.

so look hard at what you have and what you could have. the threat is always there. in reality, if the 2 koreas go to war, both would nuke each other out of existence. hopefully, cooler heads will prevail.

Posted under korea, world tour

world tour update: a quick tour of seoul landmarks or days trois, quartro, mm, liu

touring south(ern)south korea, the long, long flight home, jet lag and getting back to work has backed me up from blogging. to avoid writing about korea until august, i’ll lump half a week together. i still want to talk about our detour to the farmland where theresa’s dad grew up, our adventures at the dmz and loose loki ends…but first a quick tour of the sights from the majestic palaces to the absurd indoor theme park: lotteworld!

i started our touring by getting in trouble taking a picture of hyundai world headquarters and their proud display of their high marks in consumer report. if i ever make it back to the suburbs, i might consider getting one. or maybe i’ll stick with my volvo plans.

in korean corporate culture, there’s a lot of spying and stealing of ideas so a guard came and asked me what i was taking pictures of. theresa’s aunt explained i was a(dumb)american taking touristy shots. he was reluctant to let me go.

changdeok-gung is the best preserved of the korean palaces. the compound was used to house the royal family and do government business. this was also the home for the last crown prince of korea and for the last royal family member until her death in 1989.

this was a nice relaxing tour and stroll…especially through the gardens where we got to see some cherry blossoms. we learned a little about korean culture and promptly forgot most of it. that’s the way these things go.

we took a cable car up to seoul tower that gives panaromic views of the city. it looks out in all directions and gives approximate distances to actual cities around the world including home(s) and our possible next year’s big international destination. hola rob and julie. i think i masked that well.

it was cloudy and hazy so the views were only mediocre.

we toured around in the city bus to get a layout of seoul before deciding on spending the afternoon at the national museum. museums are super cheap and super huge. with very little space in homes in the city, this is a great place to spend the day. we got pda-s and walked around for hours until our heads were full of korean history.

but again, i’ve promptly forgotten most of it making room for battlestar facts and baseball trivia.

inside one of the ginormous malls in seoul has a full fledged aquarium…again, the concept of not that much private space..so people gather at the museums or at these one stop entertainment centers. f you would rather shop then learn, you head to the mall. and if you want to learn a little, you go to the aquarium at the mall.

theresa’s nieces were so cute running around the place. but after they did the touching exhibits, they stank of fish.

another mass gathering place is lotte world….an indoor amusement park. i tried to show the layout of the land from one of these mechanical ‘hot air’ balloon rides. pretty standard fare with a few thrill rides for adults and a lot of disney “borrowing” like the castle at the center of the park. there’s an outdoor area as well. a pretty good park for kids and people with spawn. i wouldn’t go there on my own or for myself. i would save my money for the theme park we did not make it to: everland….its supposed to be worldclass with crazy rides! maybe next time in a few years from now. i hear theresa has already made plans with vision pam without me or wayne’s opinions.

clearly, going to touristy spots is not the sum of a country or a city. these places were interesting sidebars…but many people get fed these as the main story. for me, the main stories, the good stuff, the life of the country/city are the places where real people go to live, eat, dream, worship and gather….not where the tourists are. i still like the everyday place, the mundane and the not so popular. but like my irish boy says, some of the (nonsense)is still pretty cool.

Posted under korea, world tour

world tour update: young korean girls love me

these are theresa’s famous nieces…as featured on korean national television for being triplets: kelly, kate and kris. they often dress alike and get double takes as triplets are rare anywhere. however, most outsiders also seemed to give disappointed looks because clearly kelly looks uniquely different than her other two sisters who look identical…so they think its twins with someone else dressed all alike.

at first, they were bashful, shy and unresponsive. they ignored me and theresa while clinging to their parents. their grandfather tried to get them to be more friendly. but nothing made them interact with us. pretty soon, theresa got them to talk to her with the language connection and some korean card games. but i had no point of entry with them. i was on the outside……

but then, out of nowhere, they warmed up really, really quickly and pretty soon, they couldn’t keep their hands off me!

at the mall, they were fighting for hands, fingers and laps to sit on! their mom had to help them figure out the math to divide up my limbs.

but this entry is not really about girl, girl, girl. its about the people that made korea worth visiting. i was afraid that korea would be empty with sights and places. i usually enjoy being with people on vacation; visiting friends…but i don’t know anyone in korea. and i don’t speak the language. but theresa’s family bridged all sorts of gaps to welcome me.

i love spending time with theresa’s family. they are so hospitable and generous. when you marry, you do get the family as part of the package so be wary of the relatives! they can make your life very very good….or very very painful. theresa’s cousins, aunt and uncle made touristy spots, local haunts and home sweet home all rich times. the little girls made the visit to the mall and theme park, magical.

and of course, it’s nice to know that i still have it. i’m joking of course. but then again, next time you see michael douglas and katherine zeta jones, think of these pictures!

Posted under korea, world tour

world tour update: what is joseph eating in korea?

somewhere kyuboem lee, grace choi and regina lee ahn are smiling. back in college, i would give the koreans on campus a hard time about their culture including their food. hard is understatement. i was scathing….terrible…merciless. i told theresa that if she heard me talk in college, she would never have married me. so when my korean classmates heard that i was marrying korean, they must have seen that as god’s galactic justice. going to korea for a few weeks? even better.

what will he eat? will he eat? will this be a 24/7/12(day)super-size me experiment? or super-shrink me?

i did not eat a single burger and only ate at one american place for the heck of eating some fast food korean style. for 99% of the time i ate korean food. most days we ate like this. at home. simple little dishes with rice…pickled this and that. small plates of meat. and i ate what was served to me. there was always something that i could eat and only a few things that i declined on.

we had jiajen mein once but only once…which most of my korean buddies would see as a cheat since its really a chinese dish even though i had the korean version. this was really good with hand made noodles.

at the korean folk village, i had this noodle in broth, kalgooksoo, with some korean bbq pork. it was a chilly morning so this was a good warm up. i slurped up these noodles as theresa nervously watched. all of theresa’s family was nervous as they had heard that i did not enjoy korean cuisine. theresa’s mom had called theresa’s aunt to brainstorm about foods i could eat and that she could cook. but i was doing fine.

we had a little bit of street food….as theresa has already noted, we were full almost all the time and didn’t have a lot of room for street food but here theresa’s aunt insisted on some sweet red bean cakes. she shared some with curious westerners unwilling to shell out the 1,000 won(1 dollar)on the bags. or maybe they were nervous about the whole buying food in the streets without authorized government health inspected blah blah blah.

i really enjoyed this: its a whole chicken stuffed with herbs, seaoning and rice in a light broth. it was also the first of many restaurants we went to where we sat on the floor. shoes were left outside, sandals and slippers were used for indoors and cushions for our booties were standard.

here’s my one american fast food indulgence. we had kfc in beijing so we designated this our official western food joint for asia. a little disappointing since the original recipe was not that herbs or spicey. the menu selections were rigid and i had to get cole slaw with this meal. and of course, it was overpriced. it was fun but don’t think i would do kfc in korea again. especially not with the other fried chicken options widely available.

bring on the bbq! after almost a week in korea, i wondered how many of these places i would get to see. theresa mentioned south koreans didn’t eat that much meat and going out for bbq were for special occasions. i’m guessing my arrival was special because we did go out for bbq….first, pork ribs!

…then the next night was beef…which is much more expensive and even more of a luxury! here’s some yummy marble-ly rib eye, my favorite cut. theresa’s family was really hospitable, generous and celebratory for our arrival.

with the help of theresa’s cousins, we found some bonchon chicken. this is the made to order stuff that is double fried for maximum crispness and minimum greasiness??? we were warned that it takes up to 25 minutes per order which is about an hour less than what it took in nyc our first experience with this magical chicken. but you know what else was less? the price! that’s what happens when you have original korean food in korea. the wings were amazing!

really, really good! we tried to find another one of these on our trip but it turns out this would be the only time. on the way to the airport for departure, i did see a kyochon chicken truck on the highway out for deliveries as if to taunt me.

at lotte world, an indoor amusement park, we had “typical” theme park food…korean versions. i had the pork cutlet with omelet wrapped rice. theresa’s nieces opted for the more american spaghetti. after the rides, we had some(i am not joking)booty jigae which is ramen, spam, sausage slices in broth. look how my sweet t loves the booty(jigae). i also love the booty(jigae). i cannot lie.

at the dmz…that’s right, the demilitarized zone between north and south korea, it was back to more familiar fare with bibimbop and bulgolgi suited for american tastes as the tour was run by the uso and the majority of attendees were westerners. i had a great time and unlike with kfc korea, i would go back to the dmz for more eats. maybe it was the thrill of possible nuclear annihilation or the potential threat of invasion that made the food taste so good.

we found another korean fried chicken place that we hear is really popular these days. it was different than the bonchon/kyochon stuff. again, the two kinds of familar flavors: garlic and the nebulous spicy. different but very, very good. strangely i found that the “spicy” in korea was much less spicy than the insane nuclear flavoring in the states. i prefer the spicy in korea….which might make me more authetic korean than my american korean counterparts.

another piece of korean food evidence…..the pangchon, korean pancake….is made with less seafood in korea(probbably due to expenses). i always choked on the tentacle saturated version i was served in the states and i always commented that the pancake would taste better without the overflowing seafood to which my korean american friends would scoff: who makes it like that? real koreans do! you ignorant korean wannabees! its your nightmare come true….I maybe more korean than you!

i won’t bore(or salivate)you that much longer. we made a detour to south south korea to visit theresa’s uncle on his farm and we had my first soondaboo of the trip, which is falsely rumored as the only thing i’ll eat. clearly i’ve been eating a lot of things and a lot of different things. though my favorite was clearly still bbq!

folks, i ate a lot. i think i gained weight.

somewhere kyuboem lee, grace choi and regina lee ahn are smiling.

Posted under korea, new york, u2, world tour

world tour update:korea day dos

a low key day at the korean folk village. first….some definitions. the korean folk village is the korean equivalent of colonial williamsburg where the roots, history and cultural beginnings of the people can be learned. this village is served as the filming site of several popular korean historical dramas(compare and contrast above). second, low key in the tsang family can mean two things. one is a low energy, less demanding, leisurely pace; or two, low key sounds like loki(the norse god of mischief)and that means trouble or smirky fun. it means both here. you’ll see in a bit.

first theresa is in front of the exhibit that showed you the different kinds of roofs people used to install based on economic status.

there are many to choose from including bark(poor people), baked tiles(rich people), straw(commoners)and then my favorite,(the big pic at the bottom)random slate tile pieces(rich but cheap). its a roof made of pricey slate stone but the owner skimped on having someone skilled to install it and did it himself poorly so it looks like crap. these guys must have been the connection point between theresa’s ancestors and my cheap donkey people. dude! you paid for the good stuff….just front the extra cash to finish the job right!

theresa has already done a fine job detailing the cultural shows that took up most of the day so i won’t rehash the korean dance, acrobatics, traditional wedding and equestrian/horsie shows. go to her site to read and see that stuff. you’ll notice her day 3 is my day 2. she is using the the traditional lunar/korean calendar which includes the plane ride in the trip. i am counting days we are actually out of the womb.

we had a chance to cross over a narrow traditional bridge. we saw a ton of grade schoolers run across and immediately noted that this attraction would never fly in the states with the 8 foot drop into rocky waters, lack of guard rails and lawsuit culture…not to mention that brats in the states would push each other off to their deaths. there are not pictures of me on the bridge because a quarter of the way, i was in a place called vertigo. i had to turn back.

ready for that loki fun that i was referring to?

this was relatively tame during an exhibit on marriage and mating rituals…….but then came this…..

there was a description of the wedding night followed by a picture of “excited” neighbors poking holes in the paper walls to have peep. this was not the end……..

there was a recreation of said wall with holes poked where peeping toms had made their mark…..and clearly, through the holes you can see something is going on. why don’t we take a look? (relatively worksafe)…..when you look in (or stick your camera in the holes)….you get flashes of this!

i don’t remember williamsburg being like this! mercifully, the groom blows out the candle lighting the room before us neighbors can see more but not before he gives the camera a norse god of mischief smirk. i really appreciate the openness of the korea exhibits! instead of the usual politically correct, overly modest nonsense, the folk village told it like it is! or was.

that’s enough excitement for today! there were lots more loki parts to the exhibit but i’ll save them for another post.

Posted under korea, world tour

world tour update:korea day one

our vacations are not as thrilling as others may imagine. its not all covert ops to the dmz and missle negotiations with the north. we tend to do a lot of everyday stuff. we don’t get to spend a lot of time together so we enjoy doing mudane stuff.

this trip already has the feel of a trip to los angeles. which means of course, getting haircuts and coloring……those koreans are so stylish and clever with hair products. its been over a year since theresa got her hair cut and done….after a certain point, she wanted to wait until we got to korea.

then it was off to the procuring of nourishment for the week……..

the korean supermarkets are very westernized! they have some familiar products like frosted flakes and fruit loops with the familiar characters…..and a few of their own characters selling i dunno what. like the einstein brain juice? and like the cute/scary(killer bunny from monty python)selling beef broth bullions?

my favorite thing to do in international markets is finding the western brands selling unusual flavors tailored to asian sensibilities like everybody’s favorite……feta cheese pringles?

then there are the aisles that remind you that you are no longer in the west! or maybe you’re in koreatown in la or fort lee, nj?

the rest of the day was spent with family….mostly theresa’s aunt who is super hip, fit and young. she is the lead sister of 8 girls and boy(7 girls and 1 boy). she is over 65 but lives like she’s 50(or younger)….she drove us around and showed us the bus routes and places to eat.

she reminds me of my mom’s mom who used to joke around and play nintendo while smoking a cigarette. no tobacco here but she’s already been pretty open and off color with us…..encouraging us to make a baby while in korea. another time, one of her granddaughters was whiny and huddled against her dad’s chest; she chastised the kid for looking like she wanted get breastfed by her father.

so i got pretty comfortable with her right away. at the noodle shop, she asked me if i wanted some yaki mandoo. i giggled and mumbled something to theresa. the aunt wanted in on the joke. t explained that in english, it sounds like she was offering me yucky man doo(doo). she laughed….composed herself…and then called me a bad man.

Posted under korea, world tour

world tour update:korea plane ride

and away we go!

part of the fun of international traveling are the distractions provided to mask the full day flights including……

……..the food! theresa has already done a fine job of detailing some of the goodies we got. i like the fact that we had a choice of entrees(a-pork vs b-fish) as shown in the menu above. i also appreciate the disclaimer at the very bottom…which if you squint through the fuzziness tells you that the photos and the actual food served may differ. those asian(airline)cultures are so truthful!

…..and of course the(free)drinks. what i learned on this trip is don’t get drunk on the plane. just kidding. i’ve only been drunk once. and that was a long time ago, when i was 9 years old. don’t worry, i was drinking with my dad.

let me explain.

near midnite on december 31, 1989, my dad allowed me to make any drink i wanted to for the new year. i made the biggest, strongest(and likely nastiest)brew a 9 year old could. in a matter of minutes, i was knocked out cold and missed the arrival of 1990. this is called aversion therapy.                                                           (oops…i meant 1979/1980….but some people do think i’m 28)

though my parents can drink heavily, i’ve only had a mild interest and drink only periodically. my dad was so clever. so on the plane, we just had a taste of this and that but mostly had good old h2o.

but no amount of distractions could make up for a 5 hour delay for our connection flight in japan…..boo! we did find some juice for our electronics and tried to keep occupied with nintendo and battlestar on my laptop. we finally boarded and arrived into seoul close to midnite. we left on a monday and because of the time difference, arrived close to wednesday. our actual adventures in korea would have to wait until tomorrow.

Posted under korea, world tour

world tour update:south korea preview


North Korea: South Korea driving relationship to ‘catastrophe’SEOUL, South Korea (CNN)

North Korea cut off dialogue with South Korea on Thursday, claiming the peninsula was on the brink of another war.

North Korea also accused South Korea of driving their relationship to “confrontation and catastrophe.” The country said it was stopping dialogue after South Korea failed to apologize for remarks one of its generals made this week.

The general said South Korea would attack suspected nuclear weapons sites in North Korea if the North tried to attack the South with atomic bombs.

On March 27, North Korea expelled 11 South Korean officials from a joint industrial park in Kaesong, North Korea. That move came after South Korea’s unification minister said it would be hard to expand the park without North Korean progress on de-nuclearization. The next day, North Korea fired a barrage of short-range missiles of its western coast.

Then state-run television in North Korea warned that it would turn parts of South Korean into “ashes” in the event of a pre-emptive South Korean strike on its nuclear sites.


Who would go to south korea at a time like this????


i’ll start blogging about our trip soon. theresa already has a head start.

Posted under korea, world tour