Cafe 5CIJUNG

My friend K and I met for lunch and then grabbed coffee at Cafe 5CIJUNG, located in the Seoul Financial Center building.  This place was so femme and girly that I think we both started ovulating as soon as we entered its space.

Just in case you didn’t know you were sitting in happiness, there’s a note that came with your thoughtfully presented drink to remind you.  Actually, attached to the other side of the postcard was the bill.  Maybe the cutesy postcard with the positive message was to mitigate the pain your wallet felt for paying close to ₩16,000 for 2 drinks.

At least whatever you order comes with complimentary scones so it’s worth it.

 

Either way, we both did leave feeling more relaxed like we had a ‘Calgon, take me away’ moment.  Therefore, 2 thumbs up!

It’s definitely cute overload which is Korea’s specialty!

 

Pickles

Yo, for some reason Koreans are obsessed with serving pickles with everything!  Without fail, they pop up next to pizza, pasta dishes, delivered pizza, fried chicken, etc.  Even Indian food!

And it’s not what you think it’d taste like – salty & tart.  Nah man.  They are SWEET!  Like candy!  My friend K (it’s not a Gossip Girl thing…she just wants to remain a mystery) says when you start craving/looking/asking for these pickles is when you KNOW you’ve gotten used to Korea.  I still remain perplexed by the pickles.

It may be the Korean tendency to always have some pickled concoction as a palate cleanser to ‘cut the greasy taste’ (kimchee anyone?), much like a side of pickled ginger in Japanese cuisine.  But for now, it just confuses my brain when I’m eating something savory and then pop something sweet into the mix.

Or maybe it’s just me cause everyone else seems to enjoy them fine.

10 Day Vipassana Meditation Retreat in Gyeongju (경주)

Apologies for the long absence.  Aside from pure laziness, I got super busy in June, working like a Jamaican with 7 jobs (hey mon!)!!!: 3 teaching jobs, volunteering at the UN WFP, TBSeFM radio, freelance researching for SBS on their coverage of the 2012 London Olympics, AND another volunteer gig with GVFC, helping to teach English at an orphanage.  I say helping because I just sit and pretend I don’t know a lick of Korean (ain’t no thang but a chicken wang) and look pretty 🙂  But I can see it confuses the hell out of the kids, especially when I look like the textbook version of ‘a Korean‘…so much so that one little booger has resorted to calling me Chinese.  I just shoot him a blank look.

Then by mid-July I pulled a Linda Evangelista and quit all my teaching gigs (was not worth getting up at 6AM everyday for an hour’s worth of pay…definitely not anything close to $10,000/day, okaaay).  Plus the freelance SBS gig ended as well.  It was the perfect time to check out this 10 day Vipassana meditation course located in Gyeongju (경주) my sister had been harassing me to attend.

I applied and got in at the last minute (literally the day before) cause I was hesitant y’all.  I read on their site that you were not allowed to speak to anyone the entire 10 days with no access to outside communication (they promptly confiscated all electronic devices, plus pen & paper…no journaling and definitely no Stuart Smalley Daily Affirmations).

The only things I had for entertainment was to look at this:

Or this:

And listen to this:

That was my spot to do squats every morning cause sitting on the floor for 17 hours is killer on your knees and flat butt.

Luckily, I made it through the entire course just fine without turning insane.  It was definitely worth it cause I actually did learn how to meditate and it was nice to get out of Seoul.  The place also reminded me of my grandma’s long-time residence in the woods (hard-core stylze with an outhouse, son!).  Hopefully I’ll go visit soon and do a compare and contrast post.

This is definitely NOT part of a Buddhist Templestay program that the Korean Tourism board promotes.  You know me, I roll OG and extreme…all or nothing!  Plus, there’s no religious affiliation with Vipassana so you’re there just to learn pure meditation.  They have centers located all over the world and suggest taking the 10 day course once a year.  Maybe I’ll make my next visit in India where this meditation started 2,500 years ago (and no, this ain’t no Eat, Pray, Love – I won’t even add a link cause the writing is THAT terrible).

UN World Food Programme at the 2012 Seoul Jazz Festival

Besides only working 7 hours a week teaching and being a radio guest on TBSeFM for 30 minutes a week, I’m also keeping myself busy as an unpaid volunteer at the United Nations World Food Programme here at their Seoul office.  As their website states, it is “the world’s largest humanitarian agency fighting hunger.”  They are usually the first to respond to emergencies, refugee situations, and disaster events with food assistance, providing logistics for food delivery and transporting humanitarian aid workers with their air service.

I’m all about global food security, y’all.  Here’s the sitch in a nutshell.

Like my girl Hillz says:

“The question is not whether we can end hunger, it’s whether we will.”

— Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton

And grandma here would love to add the WFP banner somewhere here on this site but being technologically challenged, I can’t figure out how (yo, I’m still not on a smartphone…).  Trust.  I just spent 2 hours on the wordpress help page and I’m left just shaking my fist at God…or Rain.

Colbert vs Rain (and you ask why I want to clone him?…and can someone please tell me how to embed videos from sites other than YouTube?!?!)

Anyhoo, one of the perks was that I had the opportunity to help out at the 2012 Seoul Jazz Festival that took place May 19-20.  While canvassing the English speaking attendees at the event, I got to see Eric Benet do his thang.

But the best part was getting to watch EARTH WIND AND FREAKING FIRE!!!!!

You KNOW I love me some Earth, Wind & Fire!  Those are my JAMZ!  Plus, I’ve never seen them in concert.  I’ve always been holding out for that fateful day when my besties Lisa & Sarah would manage to visit me in LA at the same time EWF were playing at the Greek Theatre.  And part because no one else wants to go see EWF with me.  My musical tastes range “mature” and let’s just leave it at that.  But everyone who attended the festival were young and even younger than me!

Good times, good times.

And while working at the UN WFP office, I was introduced to the The Earth Group, which is a private company that sells coffee, tea, apparel, and steel water bottles, and gives 100% of their profits to the UN World Food Programme (they’re Canadian, Shells ;).  Isn’t that awesome!!!???  If I ever decide to start a business, it’ll have to be like one of these jammers where the focus is on social responsibility and funneling profits into healing the world like Michael Jackson.

Oh Michael, R.I.P.

“So Debs, what type of business” you ask?  No clue.  But you best believe that I’ma channel Melanie…

Working Girl is GENIUS!

PS – Sigourney Weaver‘s character, Katharine Parker, went to my alma mater Wellesley y’all!!!

Oh H to the N!

It happened AGAIN!  This time at the freaking mogyoktang (a public bathhouse/sauna) my auntie frequents!  Once in a while I’ll go with my aunt to rip off 3 layers of dead skin on my body.  It’s the only way to get clean people.  Just read my dear friend Shelli’s thoughts on the process.  The owner ajuma had seen me a few times before but not enough to warrant recognition, so she asked my aunt who I was.  And when it was revealed that I was the same niece that she was introduced to earlier in the month (I was butt naked, man), she dropped “she’s gained weight since I last saw her…her face got fat.”

Yo, I’m just going to pretend it’s cause I had a big t-shirt on this time around.  Otherwise, I may have to cut my stay here short in order to preserve the last shred of self-esteem I have left.

Yet, these encounters made me realize I used to have similar things come out of my face unwarranted to unsuspecting victims (friends), and just chalked my unbridled honesty up to being Korean.  Well, it’s not cool.  And while it can be a very Korean quirk, it’s still a bad excuse.  So to all you poor souls who I advised as round-faced and slightly chubby, you have been avenged 10-fold.  See, I learn things about myself when I travel.

Now, if you’ll excuse me while I take a long, fitness walk along the Han River to exercise my face with an ice cream.

San Deul Lae Restaurant (산들래) in Paju, S. Korea

Paju’s got it goin’ on!  I was there twice in one week.  A few days before I visited Heyri Art Village in Paju, I had lunch with my family at San Deul Lae Restaurant (산들래).  My aunt tells me there’s another one in Bundang where they have 2 separate dining areas and one is reserved as a no-kids zone.  Date spot!

This restaurant’s location and natural setting create a relaxing atmosphere and a really nice treat away from chaotic Seoul.  This is the kind of stuff I want to experience while I’m chillin’ in the ROK cause quite frankly, I’m kinda sick of cities.  The rural areas, countryside, and basically outside of Seoul’s where the charm and personality’s at.  Check it.

As you can see from the decor, I think the theme is “cozy cottage with random figurines, decorative plates, and tchotchkes.”

It’s cool, but this cottage had some mighty good Korean food.  It was all fancy stylze!  We had some kind of set course so plates of food just kept coming.

Jellyfish Salad + Pumpkin Puree Soup

Mung Bean Jelly + Kimchee

Pan Fried Beef + Julienned Perilla Leaves + Shaved Scallions

Dduk Galbi (basically ground galbi made into a patty) + Rice Cakes

Shrimp + Calamari Salad w/ garlic chives, carrots, cucumbers & sprouts

Sliced Pork Belly + White Radish Kimchee

“Jun” (mini-pancakes) of green chives and seafood

Spicy Octopus + Noodles

If all that wasn’t enough, we had another set of rice and banchan to finish off the meal!  It was like we had 8 plates of appetizers before we got started…or we just had a second meal right after the first one!!!  I grew a set of saddlebags on my thighs that day.  Sadly, I kid not :*(

Whole new set of banchan

And the requisite rice “Nurungji” (누룽지)

And I can’t believe Wikipedia even has an entry for nurungji (누룽지).  The internet really knows ALL!

Heyri Art Village in Paju, S. Korea

I know.  I’ve been lazy about posting.  Not that I’m working full time or anything.  At this point I only teach like 5 hours a week.  That’s right, I said a WEEK, people.  But I don’t think I’ve ever researched and studied so much in my life just to make these adult English conversation classes fun.  I feel like I’m preparing to go on stage with a routine or something.  Good thing I took that 2 hour intro improv class way back when at Second City in Los Angeles, the most UNCOMFORTABLE 2 hours of my life that confirmed why I never liked that show Whose Line Is It Anyway?.  Seriously.  I think the only reason why I even chose Second City over Groundlings or Upright Citizens Brigade was the fact that Stephen Colbert went to Second City, and you know my soft spot for nerdy (yet actually funny) comics.  Sigh…when are they going to clone that man?

So I’m going to backtrack the things I did/places I visited.  My latest outing was to the Heyri Art Village, less than an hour outside Seoul.  Info about the place is in that linked article so I won’t create redundancy (cause I’m efficient [lazy] like that).  I’ll just post more pics.  In short, it’s an art village near the DMZ with a collection of interesting architecture, galleries, and lots of cafés.

Just as the cnngo.com article mentions, we went looking for the info booth at Gate 4 but found they moved it to Gate 1 instead so take note.  The price of the village map is still ₩500.

I stopped by the Total Art Space Book House which houses a gallery, bookstore, and of course, a café all within a gorgeously designed building.

I tried going into several galleries but they were either closed for renovation or there was a charge to enter the gallery.  Huh?  I never heard of galleries charging for viewing the art you may potentially buy or did I miss something?  Um, if your art is that good, it’s usually in those things called museums – some of which charge an admission fee (and some don’t).  I skipped that REAL quick as I’d rather spend my money on desserts and coffee at The Chocolate Design Gallery.  The chocolates were OK but the brownie fondant cake was dry.  Boo.  FYI, the upstairs gallery with what I imagine showcased edible chocolate designs only opens in the winter since the art will melt in the hotter, warmer months.

More cafés.  There are tons here folks.  Lots of options.

And this is another re-creation of an old village with some sort of museum inside that you had to pay an admission fee to enter.

I passed.  Sorry, I am the laziest tourist EVER.  Can’t help it.  Instead, I spent the ₩6,000 eating gimbop and ramen.  Eh, that was on top of the pasta lunch, chocolates, brownie cake, and coffee I had earlier.  I’m starting to think like my grannie and consider all of the above “snacks” since there was no bowl of rice involved.  Transformation commence…

WIFI Squatter No More!

Praise Jesus, Hail Mary, and a big, fat high-five to Joseph (cause step-dads need love too)!  I finally got set up with wireless internet at home, thanks to my cousin.  No more sitting outside the front stoop stealing someone’s good signal or hunkering at a cafe for 3 hours holding my pee in (hey, it’s hard to leave a purse and laptop unattended for a bathroom break when you’re by yo’self).

Maybe I’ll be better about posting to this thing more often…

Right.  We will all see.  But before I go, I just wanna say that high school chemistry and a healthy dose of distrust in people dressed in professional looking uniforms saved my life.  Cause as some of you know, I have scared a few dermatologists with my very technical questions.  Wanna talk acne and lasers?  Come see me.

So I wanted a bottle of hydrogen peroxide to rinse my mouth out with (for coffee stains and foul language) and went to the nearby pharmacy.  Obviously I didn’t know the Korean word for hydrogen peroxide but since science is a universal language, I looked up the molecular formula H2O2.  I asked the older gentleman in a white lab coat behind the counter for hydrogen peroxide, adding a Korean accent to the word cause sometimes they use the English word directly (it never works) – but you never know.  Instead, I got a blank stare and was then handed a piece of paper and pen.  So I wrote hydrogen peroxide down, as well as H2O2.  Then he went “Ah, yes.  Seems like someone studied.”

Thanks!  She sure did  😀

He dug among the shelves and handed me a bottle of…HYDROCHLORIC ACID!  Now, I thought maybe it’s called something different here altogether, or that mixing hydrochloric acid with water caused a chemical reaction to create hydrogen peroxide?  Maybe?  I even asked him if I can clean wounds and rinse my mouth with it to confirm and he said, sure!

Well, I brought it back home but didn’t crack it open and went straight online to look it up.  Good thing or else I would’ve melted my teeth if I used a hydrochloric acid rinse.  It all came back to me.  It’s the acid in your stomach that breaks down the buffalo meat you just scarfed down, or to pickle steel!  STEEL people!  I also think it’s the stuff they pour onto dead bodies in bathtubs that need to be disposed of and unidentified!!!

I went back to return the bottle of acid, armed with another piece of paper written with the molecular formulas H2O2 AND HCl.  I showed him what he gave me and what I wanted instead and he jumped at the crazy mistake he made, like he had a moment of insanity and exchanged the acid for hydrogen peroxide straightaway, which was written in plain English on the bottle.  Hallelujah.  Then he went and hid somewhere in the back room.  One thing about Koreans, or Asians in general is this saving face thing.  I knew he was embarrassed at the mistake but really, no one’s teeth fell out and I really just chuck it up to miscommunication.  I’ve had lots of things lost in translation since I got here.  Ain’t no thang but a chicken wang.

But don’t get it twisted…Bronx High School of Science graduate up in here.  Don’t mess with!

Pantyhose

Very popular with the ladies here, young and old.  They be worn with shorts, skirts…open toe sandals.  Yah mon.  But you gotta draw the line at nude opaque hose cause at that point, you’re getting into Hooters Girl territory.

Don’t let the shoes and the bunching at the ankles fool you.  This was actually worn by a young lass, not someone in her 80’s.