Archive | October, 2012
October 23, 2012

Found In Translation

One of my very early encounters in Korea was when I was approached on the elevator by a very friendly Korean businessman who said he needed my help. It turned out that he was the owner of an impressive marketing and design firm called InCommunications, with offices located on the third floor of my building.

Since then, Yun Sang Juck, or “Jerry”, has become a dear and trusted friend to me in Daejeon. Jerry needed my urgent assistance proofreading a Korean to English translation for a project with a quickly approaching deadline that day and I eagerly accepted the assignment.

Turns out my grading skills and hand red pen were a perfect match for the task at hand-sorting out a clumsy translation of some rather complicated technical information. My very first freelance gig in Korea was very an interesting challenge, a welcome diversion, and easy money as far as I was concerned.

Having worked with Jerry and his team in a freelance capacity to proofread and edit the translations on several annual reports, publications, and brochures since then, I was delighted to get a Kakaotalk message last week inviting me to lunch in their offices. This time, rather than another new assignment, I was surprised to learn that the work we (they) had completed on the Daebo Communication & Systems Corporation Annual Report had won a major industry award.

Jerry and InCommunication were nominated for (and won) the 2012 International Business “Stevie” Award Gold Medal for the project! Turns out this was not their first Stevie, but I was thrilled and amazed to find out I had contributed (albeit minimally) to an international award winner!?

The team and I celebrated with a hearty lunch in conference room of their  offices before it was right back to work for Jerry’s always busy team. I could not be more surprised by my inclusion in the festivities and cannot say enough kind words about my wonderful new friend, Jerry, and his staff.

Congratulations to Jerry and the whole InComm team on your 2012 “Stevie”!

October 23, 2012

Last of the Mohicans

The Last of the MohicansThe Last of the Mohicans by James Fenimore Cooper

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

At what point in reading a book can you give up and just admit that it is not your cup of tea? Is it a percentage of the book? Is it an amount of time? I can no longer feel guilty for very long when I just don’t get it – I just move on to another title. There is too much good literature out there to spend my time not enjoying a book. Who cares what the critics (and your High School English teacher) say? If you like something and it gets you interested in reading more…enjoy whatever you like.

I have been wanting to read Mohicans since I first saw the episode of “M*A*S*H” that mentions it. Hawkeye says he was given the nickname because his father was “crazy” about this book. It seems like a book as highly regarded as this would be easy to get into, but nothing could be further from the truth for me. I have attempted to get into it on 3 different occasions, this time making it past 80 pages.

Given the subject material, I thought I would come to really love it. Page after page delivered nothing but disappointment.  Perhaps Cooper’s classic is more a product of its time and his style, while flowery and highly descriptive, really overshadows a story that didn’t peak my interest. I have decided to cut my losses and move on to more interesting reading.

View all my reviews

October 16, 2012

Chuseok – Gangnam Style

After another amazing volunteer trip to the Asan Pet Shelter to start off the Chuseok Holiday weekend, I realized that since there were no tickets heading back to Daejeon, it might make sense to head up to the capital city for an overnight stay. I took the KTX up the rest of the way to Seoul and booked a last-minute bed at Inside Backpackers, just a five minute walk from Exit 4 at the Hyehwa Station on Seoul’s Line 4 subway.

Having stayed there once before, I found it to be conveniently located in a young and active part of the city. Inside Backpackers caters exclusively to foreign travelers and is a great place to stay cheaply and with a high probability of meeting someone interesting from anywhere else in the world. This time I met Kevin, a big, enthusiastic, red-headed traveler and football (read soccer) fan from Liverpool -visiting Korea for the first time on holiday.

The staff there is always friendly and knowledgable and for only 12,000 KRW I got a clean lower bunk in a room for 4 that ultimately only included me and the world’s loudest snoring traveler later that night. I left the next morning before he woke up, but the noise (of course) only ceased after my bags were packed to leave and he finally rolled over onto his side in quiet slumber. As I can see it, this and the open curfew are the only major downside to the sharing of rooms as each had an individual locker to stow your valuables and the fact that each guest must present his/her passport upon check-in. It would therefor not make much sense to steal from fellow guests and, judging by most of the travelers I have met here so far, it is not a big concern. That is not to say it is completely out of the question, so I am still very careful. I did have my iPod stolen from the locker room at my gym and a good rule of thumb when traveling abroad seems to be taking all the precautions you can with your money, travel documents, and electronics; still essentially trusting no one.  I also made a mental note to pack along earplugs and an sleeping mask for next time to ensure a sound nights sleep regardless of my bunkmates.

Chuseok (추석) is the great fall festival in which Koreans celebrate the Fall Equinox with a major 3-day weekend holiday. As such, most families visit the hometown of their ancestors and dine on traditional meals such as Songpyeon, glutinous rice cakes, and rice wine. That being the case, and seeing as I was all on my own, it only seemed fitting for some reason that I search for Mexican food instead of eating anything remotely traditional. After checking in well past dinner time, I still decided to venture out to Itaewon to search for just that at Vatos Urban Tacos. After a few laps through the Dong, I realized that it might be harder to find than I first imagined. I popped into a Hollys Coffee for some free WiFi and found the exact location online or another great blog, Seoul Eats. Vatos, just off the main drag is very new and has been packing in large crowds since opening.

Turns out I was just a block away and that sadly, Vatos was closed for the holiday weekend. Looks like a great place, though, so I will have to stop back again next time I am in town. No matter how long I am here, I will not give up my search for even average Mexican food – stopping short of the fairly new Taco Bell in the heart of Itaewon. Instead for dinner, I settled on a spicy Chicken and Lamb Kebab from a turkish joint on the strip that always has a healthy line of drunken revelers. The process and atmosphere was ultimately more appetizing than the end result, but washed down with a mini Korean Coke, it was a fitting and satisfying end to a long day of hard work and travel.

The following morning I set off early as restful sleep was going to be impossible, and I made it for the Dunkin’ Donuts on the corner. They are everywhere in Korea and are always a good meeting place or rally point before heading out to explore the amazing endless sprawl that is Seoul. The donuts are not as good as the “Hot Now” glazed batches from Krispy Kreme, but the coffee is consistent and the breakfast sandwiches, on bagel or english muffin, are hot, cheap, and fast. I used the time to pull out my subway map and plan out the rest of the day.

The insane popularity of the Psy song “Gangnam Style” throughout Korea (and now the world) dictated that I attempt to make it to this area and find out what all the fuss was about. Gangnam is a wealthy neighborhood and shopping district on the south side of the Han river and about a 30 minute subway ride with 3 transfers. Gangnam boast a very nice station and what appeared to be brand new trains. While I was prepared for a Rodeo Drive-type experience, the area reminded me much more of the Upper West side of Manhattan. It was very clean and so modern that it could double as a New York backdrop pretty easily. After a nice focaccia sandwich and mango juice at the redundantly named “Cafe Nescafe” and double junior ice cream cone for desert, I returned to the downtown markets to finish shopping for the various odds and ends on my list. One pair of fake Ray Ban’s later and no luck in my search for a used Canon G10 camera, I decided to finish my trip with a short traditional palace visit.

I read about Deoksugung Palace in a local English-language paper and found it quite easily. It was built in the late 1400′s and was open for free over the holiday weekend. To get there get off at City Hall Subway Station and at either Exit #2 (Subway Line 1) or Exit #12 (Subway Line 2) walk for about 5 minutes to the main entrance at nearly the the heart of the city. The seat of politics during the Great Korean Empire, Deoksugung Palace is the perfect place to see old Korea with a totally modern backdrop. It is a favorite spot for tourists and Korean families alike to escape the noise and speed of the city in a highly relaxing environment. It was the perfect place to end the day and people watch, as many people in attendance, especially children, were dressed in their traditional attire. From there it was just one subway stop back to Seoul Station and my 1-hour return trip to Daejeon on the KTX. As ususal, I was exhausted from 24 hours of urban hiking throughout the city, but I left with a new confidence in my ability to  negotiate the city and the sites while blending new and old in equal measures. Seoul is a marvel of balance and tradition that to me, is still best enjoyed in small doses. If I never hear that Psy song again though, it will be too soon.

October 1, 2012

Busan Book Run

Last Saturday, Josh and I decided to hop on a train and head south, despite yet another typhoon warning, and visit the coastal gem that is Busan. As Josh still has never been and will be heading back home soon, we took the roughly 90 minute KTX ride to the southeast corner of the country for the perfect day trip.

Our mission was simple. explore a few key areas of Busan, South Korea’s second largest city in South Gyeongsang Province, or Gyeongsangnam-do, sample some of the regionally-inspired cuisine, and most importantly, score some prized non-curriculum English-language books to bring back home to Daejeon.

We started strong with a subway trip to gukbap alley in Haeundae for some Dwaeji gukbap (돼지국밥) literally ‘pork/pig soup rice’. Having tasted this signature soup on my previous visit in April, (“Weekend in Busan“) my mouth was watering as I described it to Josh, who was ready to try it immediately upon arrival. To find the alley, take Busan Subway Line 1 to Seomyeon Station, Exit 1. It’s a five-minute walk behind the Lotte Hotel and Department Store. Look for the hilarious signs of the women purveyors, all stone-faced and stoic for some reason? I guess soup is very serious business here.

From there we toured the Haeundae Sunrise Market and picked up a little dessert in the form of some hot Belgian-style blueberry waffles from Waffle Bant, located right near the market entrance. Although not amazing, they were the perfect compliment for our light lunch. Making our way to the beach we came across a gaming and software convention near the Busan Aquarium, as well as some gentlemen playing Janggi, or Korean chess, along the boardwalk. After a short but scenic hike around Haeundae’s Dongbaek Island, we toured the APEC House (site of the 2005 Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation conference) with its fantastic view of Guangan Bridge.

(Please click on the photos below to view full size)

From Haeundae-gu we took a taxi ride to a great little used bookstore/cafe called “Fully Booked.” Owned by an expat from Chicago named Tim, this cozy little second floor haven is the perfect blend of many of my favorite things back home; a great used bookstore, coffee shop, board game hub, and general gathering place  - all under one roof, with a killer soundtrack floating lightly through the cafe.  I was able to sell back some used books for store credit and we each found a small stack of as yet unread titles to buy and take back to Daejeon on the cheap. This place is perfect for a rainy afternoon or simply any time you miss your own personal version of the place like this you left back home.

To top off the great day in the South, we each had a big fresh burrito from a great place called O’Taco, just a few streets over. O’Taco was closed on my last visit, so I was determined to eat there this time as serviceable Mexican food is still hard to find in Korea. While the order took a little while to arrive, we both agreed that our chicken burritos were well worth the wait and a good value. Hot, fresh, and clearly made with a great deal of care, the south-of-the-border taste via long distance was what we had been missing from back home.  With all the food vendors and street food available, I am still pining for Junior’s Tacos back home or a chimi from El Vaquero. Some things will never change… Chipotle would make a fortune here.

You can find more information on Fully Booked on Facebook or at Koreabridge. If you are heading there directly, here are directions:

Get off at Kyungsung/Pukyung subway stop and take Exit 1. Hang your first right and then your first left. Walk for 3 blocks. We are kiddy-corner to the Top-Mart, above the yellow Budong-san on the 2nd floor. Look for the green doors and head up the stairs.

O’Taco also has their own website here, with directions and is located within 2 blocks of Fully Booked.