Sunday, November 26, 2006

"Not Quite Right"

I picked the title of this post from the quote some of us westerners sometimes use about South Korea that it is "the land of not quite right".

What do I mean by that? Well, mainly that things aren't done here like they are back home. For example, often you will order a ham and cheese sandwich in a restaurant and get served a ham, cheese and jam sandwich. One time at the restaurant chain "Bear Mountain" I ordered chicken quesadillas and they were served with sweetened whipped cream [like you might use as a dessert topping] of course I didn't expect this or realize it until I had spread it over my meal and thus ruined the entire thing. I have learned that even when things look right and are presented in the way you are used they still might not be correct.

I have been thinking about this in regards to food lately. Maybe because I have a terrible cold and have had for weeks now - nothing smells or tastes good to me. This got me thinking about the fact that in Korea nothing smells good. You can walk by a fried chicken shop or a bakery and smell nothing. I'm not sure if it is the pollution or what. But, it sure is different from back home. When I lived in Moncton, New Brunswick and attended Moncton High School there was a bakery about 6 blocks away and the smell used to waft in - especially in the fall and spring when the windows were open. The odour used to practically drive us to distraction. I can't speak for anyone else, but I was rendered like one of Pablov's dogs with my salvating. It was the most fragrant and delicious smell imaginable.

This got me thinking about the fact that Korean people say they don't like sweets. What I am wondering is if that is true. Is it that Korean people don't like sweets or that they don't like that they make here and call "sweets" cause quite frankly I don't like them either. They look like real cakes and are decorated beautifully but they are mostly puffed air and sometimes some sweetened cream. I have never had a cake here [not even for someone's birthday] that actually tasted like a cake. They don't use icing sugar or frostening on cakes or cinnamin buns. The cake is always a light sponge-like cake. I've never had a confetti cake or a cherry loaf or even a real chocolate cake. I'm not sure if it is because it is difficult to find the necessary ingredients [real cocoa powder is very hard to find] and from the taste of the "chocolate cakes" I've tried from bakeries they used cocoa mix [cocoa that has been cut with sugar and milk powder and is ready to make a cup of hot cocoa] or if they just don't know the difference.

A picture of a normal Korean bakery and the delicious "looking cakes". If only they tasted even 25% as good as they look....

Apparently, I am not the only one to dislike Korean bakeries. Last weekend I went to visit my friend "Ray" in Ulsan. And, I picked up a copy of the November issue of the "Ulsan Pear" an English magazine about living in Ulsan. In it there was an article about "Stohrer Bakery". The article by Jim Saunders starts like this, "Bakeries in Korea seem to be a rather hit-and-miss affair. A casual glance around your local Paris Baguette or equivalent reveals a lacklustre number of tasty looking goods on offer that also seem to contain a strange mix of fillings (sweet potato anyone?). And when an unsuspecting pastery that looks really good spills bean paste into your mouth it can rather darken the day."

The article goes on to take about a bakery in Ulsan called the "Stohrer Bakery" owned and operated by Mr. Son Su Dae who gained experience in Japan and France. It continues to say that although expensive the quality is great and it does seem to attract a upper class clientele. This piqued my interest. And, adds to my hypothesis that Koreans would actually like "Western food" if it were actually prepared and served correctly here.

I convinced "Ray" to join me on my quest to find this bakery. Truthfully, it didn't take much persuading. "Ray" and a few of his friends had tried to find the bakery a few weeks before without success and I think "Ray" was just curious to see how I would go about trying to find it since I have only been to Ulsan a handful of times and had always managed to get lost while there. But, knowing my persistence he knew it would be interesting to watch. The fact that the bakery was difficult to find just made me more determined than ever to find it. That's just the kind of girl I am. I guess you could say I like a challenge. Whenever, life gets hard and frustrating here in Korea I just pretend I am on "The Amazing Race" and that this is a "roadblock" [a task that only one player can perform before the team can move on].

A picture of the tarts in the Stohrer Bakery. They were delicious. I bought a plum one.

Needless, to say we found the bakery and as promised it was quite expensive and the quality was great! I couldn't be more pleased. I should confess that I used the phone number of the bakery and recruited a Korean University Student to call and get me directions. And, later I talked to a Korean guy and showed him the directions and got him to point me in the right direction.

It was an interesting quest and the bakery treats were a delicious reward.

The most delicious treat at the bakery were the chocolates. They were very expensive at 1,300 won [over $1.30 Canadian] a piece but they were exceptional! Yummm... My mouth waters just thinking about them.

**One note of interest: When the University Student called the bakery to get directions she told the person at the bakery that "Two foreigners were trying to find the bakery" and that she was calling for us to get directions. I've noticed that whenever I ask a Korean to help me they always say "wae-guk-in"["foreigner"] and somehow that is a pertinent part of the equation. I'm not sure why this is and why it matters.

A funny picture I took the other night of a lady taking her dog into the bakery with her. It's even funnier if you think about the fact that Korea is a country where men still eat dog meat especially in the summer to help improve their "stamina".

Sunday, November 12, 2006

State of Affairs in South Korea

I have been thinking a lot about the situation in South Korea lately. Being away from South Korea for my vacation in Taiwan let me read international newspapers and see the situation with North Korea and its testing of nuclear weapons in a different light. Living in South Korea with it's insolar state of affairs means that one often lives in a state of denial that North Korea is and can pose a threat to our safety here. I got away from that for a brief while and the blinders were removed from my eyes and there is no turning back.

Since North Korea tested a nuclear weapon the pollution in the air in Busan has been unbearable. For the last two weeks we haven't seen the sun and a neon yellow-green hazy hangs in the air. I don't like to think that I am being irraiated and yet and am starting to think that must be the case. Finally, in the last week the air has started to clear a little. Still I wonder and worry about the effects or maybe I should say fallout of the test. Am I over-reacting?

Maybe. Certainly, I shouldn't be downloading a watching CBS's new hit TV show "Jericho" about a small Kansas town that is left to survive after a nuclear bomb goes off in nearby Denver. Bad idea for me to be watching it at a time like this but it is a good TV show.

Moreover, I downloaded and read the Canadian Embassy's "Emergency Evacuation Plan" and I have to say it is not very reassuring. The fact that the Canadian Government has not updated their plan since I first arrived in Korea in January 2003 and subsequently registered with the Canadian Embassy in Seoul and they first e-mailed me the Evacuation Plan is not a good sign. In fact, even in light of the current heightened tension on the Korean Peninsula the plan says "The chance that an evacuation might be necessary is rather remote."

Moreover, they advise me that "In case of emergency, Canadians have to carefully listen to the public broadcasting such as TV and radio, but AFKN [American Forces Korea Network] should be their first source". They give the following frequencies for me to monitor "Pusan Radio FM 88.1 and AM 1260" both of which I tried just this minute [to double check] and surprise, surprise they don't work. In fact, I can get NO ENGLISH broadcasts on my CD Player/Radio. I didn't think the frequency would work now that Camp Hialeah is closed and therefore I assume not broadcasting or relaying transmittions in the Busan area.

I am left feeling so nervous and wanting to get out of here and thus the "preceived danger area" that I don't know what to do. I went to my doctor and got sleeping pills cause I can no longer sleep here anymore. I truth I would go home to Canada in a minute it I had the money to. But I am an economic slave so to speak. If I were to leave now I would have to pay back 1,000,000 won to repay the recruiter who brought me here. That's over a thousand dollars Canadian. I would have to repay my airfare to come to Korea [if I give notice or leave prior to teaching six months here]. Moreover, I might have to pay some penality money to my employeer and give one month's notice and I might even be expected to help find a replacement for myself. All, in all I am stuck. I will just have to try and keep my head down and keep my mouth shut and keep marking off days on the calandar until I can get out of here. I will continue to try and make the best of it but truthfully my nerves are shot.

I think that I probably never felt in danger before because in all my time in Korea I have always lived close to an operational and functional American Military Base and now that Camp Hialeah in Busan is closed I am not feeling so safe and secure. I used to spend the majority of my free time including all weekends and holidays on the base with my friends here in Busan and before that when I lived in Gumi at Cp Carroll in Waegwan or Cp Walker in Daegu. I felt like I always knew what was going in and that if anything happened that I'd be taken care of. Maybe I was wrong in assuming that [since I am a Canadian not an American citizen] nonetheless that's how I felt.

In reading the Emergeny Evacuation Plan more closely I note that it does say that "The Embassy must stress that although a 'global agreement' does exist between the Canadian and U.S. governments to assist one another in times of crisis, there is no specific agreement pertaining to Korea. The understanding is that USFK [United States Forces Korea] and the U.S. Embassy personnel will take care of U.S. nationals first, and nationals of other countries with which they have "global agreements", second, should their resources permit this. Should Canadian nationals proceed to an American military facility for assistance at the time of a crisis, they must exercise patience, and be prepared to wait until American citizens have been dealth with. It is this fact that should encourage all Canadians in Korea to react early to deteriorating political, military or other situations on the peninsula, and arrange for their own and their dependents early departure via commercial transport."

All this got me thinking about Camp Hialeah and my days there. I didn't take a lot of pictures there or at least not that many that feel free to use. I try always to protect people's privacy and don't post their pictures unless they give me permission. That said I found the following website that has lots of pictures of what CP Hialeah in Busan used to look like. Here's the link.

  • Pictures of what CP Hialeah used to look like

  • I took the following pictures during my Hialeah Days.

    The main gate at Hialeah.

    Picture taken outside Hialeah's front gate. This picture was taken on the duty bus back from CP Walker in Daegu.

    Hialeah's Army Community Services Center.

    A street on the base.

    J. a friend of mine, and me taken on the base in front of the playground.

    Business card showing the location of the Dallas club just outside gate 4 the main gate at Hialeah.

    The enterance to the Dallas Club. The place everyone went dancing at 6 am on Saturday morning [the time curfew ended and everyone was allowed out again].

    Dancing at the Dallas Club.

    The Dallas Club.

    Painting on the wall at the Dallas Club.

    "Mama-san". A small shop owner just outside the back walk-in gate. She sold long distance telephone cards and cigerettes. I wonder if she went out of business now that the base and thus all her customers are gone?
    To all my army buddy friends from Hialeah and elsewhere. I miss you. Take care.

    Sunday, November 05, 2006

    Taiwan Vacation - Part 3 - Taipei

    On Friday, October 6th "Ray" and I flew from Taitung back to Taipei. We stayed at the Grand Hotel in Taipei. It was fablous! I highly recommend it.

    There was even musicians playing in the lobby of the hotel. This hotel was build in 1952 and is located just across the Keelung river from the center of the city of Taipei. Madame Chiang Kai-Shek used to be in charge of the hotel and there are pictures of her hanging on the walls.

    A picture of the Grand Hotel lit up at night.

    Our room in the Grand Hotel. In Taiwan the hotels all have plain white blankets but then they have beautiful silk throws that go over the bed about 3/4 of the way from the top. I like this style a lot.

    A look the the Grand Hotel in the daylight.

    The hotel has a huge swimming pool that is Olympic size. It was warm enough to swim in even the first week of October.

    Friday night we went to the night market just outside Longshan Temple. This night market is famous for having snake handlers and selling snake soup. We tried it. It was pretty good. The broth tasted like a cross between chicken and vegetable stock. The meat was boney and a little difficult to eat but not much different from chicken.

    Most of the shops in the Night Market have signs telling you [in English, too] that you are not allowed to take pictures. However, the lady at the restaurant we ate our snake soup up let up snap all the pics we wanted.

    The children seemed to be more facinated than scared of the snakes, whereas, the adults attitude seemed to be one more of fear and horror. Guess I'm still a kid cause I was intrigued and not at all scared.

    They even sold turtle meat in the night market. "Ray" sneakly took this picture - I wasn't able to take a picture cause they saw my camera and told me "No pictures".

    Saturday we took a city bus tour of Taipei. The tour picked us up at the Grand Hotel and took us around a handful of the major sites in Taipei. We stopped at a couple of Temples. They were very beautiful.

    The altar inside one of the temples.

    Incense burning on the altar of a temple.

    A woman burning fake paper money for her ancestors.

    The tour stopped at the National Palace Museum. This houses one of the most impressive collections of Chinese Art I have ever seen. However, it was a mob scene. In fact, this was the only thing or place in Taiwan that reminded me of South Korea and that was only because it was so crowded.

    Outside the National Palace Museum.

    This is an exhibit inside the National Palace Museum. "Ray" took this picture on the sly. Photo taking is strictly prohibited in the Museum. This tray took 11 years to carve for the Chinese Emperor and the ivory was carved by hand. At least a couple of the craftsmen are said to have gone blind carving it. Looking at the detail I can believe it.

    The Taiwanese Flag blows in the wind.

    The ceiling at a temple. I loved the bright vibrant colors.

    A close up look at the details of the ceiling and the paint work.

    A door handle at the temple with it's dragon's head.

    We went to Chaing Kai-Shek Memorial Hall on the Taipei City Bus Tour.

    A statute of Chaing Kai-Shek.

    As usual with every tour I have taken in Asia it ended at a souvenir shop where hopefully we bought something so that our tour guide would get some extra [kick-back] money. I know I sound cynicial but it's the truth. When you go into these shops you are given paper tickets with a number on them [the number corresponds to the tour group] and after the tour when everyone gets back on the bus the tour guide mysteriously disappears inside the shop again for several minutes.

    This picture is of Oolong tea. Taiwan is famous for it's Oolong tea which I happen to love.

    I happened to check out a computer room while I was in Taiwan. They were much more difficult to find than in Korea where there is one on every corner but when we did find one it was nice and actually even had a non-smoking section in a different room which I appreciated.

    I took a picture of the Yahoo homepage in Chinese.

    Saturday night "Ray" and I found a cafe called Grandma Nitti's. It was fablous! It had a section of used books [in English] we could buy quite cheaply. And, the food was amazing. The menu offered a huge selection and even included comfort food like meatloaf with mashed potatoes and gravy. Yummy!

    They even had pumpkin pie and whipped cream. Being that it was Thanksgiving back home in Canada in decided to indulge in some pumpkin pie. It was good. Not as good as my mom makes but good nonetheless.

    Getting a foot massage is very common in Taipei and after wandering around the night market looking for Oolong Tea and gifts for my friends and family I decided it was time to take care of my feet. The man who worked on my feet had awesome English and he was able to tell me when a certain spot was tender when in the body it corresponded to. I learned that my neck and back are especially sensitive or a least the reflexology spots that pertain to them on my feet are.

    Sunday morning found us off to the Taipei 101 building. It is the tallest office building in the world. I have to admit that after the CN Tower it didn't seem that tall to me but it is a famous landmark in Taipei and not to be missed.

    Looking up the side of the Taipei 101 building.

    The view from the top outside deck of the Taipei 101 building. I was suprised at the visability. This day you could see far into the distance without much smog. This is certainly different that South Korea especially of late.

    On the same building as Taipei 101 we found lots of shops including a real honest to goodness pharmacy. I have never seen one in Asia and certainly not in South Korea where there are small drug stores on every corner but no big ones that carry everything from drugs, to food, to magazines, to hair color, etc. This one was called Watsons and it had everything. Including travel [motion sickness pills] which we loaded up on for the plane ride back to Incheon airport in Seoul, South Korea.