Monthly Archives: January 2012

a bit about Korea

I’ve been in Korea for just over 2 weeks, and fly home on Thursday 1/19. I haven’t been blogging the trip, because Facebook status updates killed my blog, but here’s a longer post than FB will allow.

First, I’ve learned 2 random things about Korean culture while I’ve been here. On the trip last summer, we accidentally stayed in a sex motel, which I blogged about a few posts back. This time, I learned that ‘motel’ means ‘sex’ — that is, a hotel is by definition a place to stay while traveling and a motel is a place for sex. I was told this by a couple of different people, both US and Korean, as if all Koreans know it, which makes me wonder if last summers’ guide wasn’t embarrassed for booking us into a motel, but embarrassed we so quickly figured out the place’s purpose. I was also told that there are lots of motels (which there are, once you’re looking for them) not just for illicit sex, but for married couples — a logical adaptation in a culture where multi-generational families crowd into houses very small by western standards.

Last summer, fellow traveler Kathy and I were admiring pretty little porcelain tiles, both traditional and funky, hanging as pendants on black silk cord. The shop owner bustled out and told us his sister made them, and we each bought one. Last Sunday in Seoul and yesterday in Daejon, I saw displays of identical necklaces, and each shopkeeper made sure to inform me that his/her sister had made the pendants. Either that’s one big family and one overworked sister, or we fell for the tourist patter.

Today, our sophomore students threw a barbeque for us. They took a 4-hour long English test yesterday, the TOEFL, while we were gallivanting around Daejon with a freshman student and her father, a sweet man who worked mightily to shoehorn some culture into our shopping and fed us a meal or tea or coffee every 2 hours. I must say, I never thought the paper fan musuem could be so interesting. And there was a museum dedicated to a famous female writer, a musuem that showcased (Americans would never have the patience for this) her writing — including an original manuscript  that stood, pages stacked, about 4 feet tall (handwritten in Hangul script, so not so many sentences per page, but still).

But back to the bbq.  No parents or teachers around, just one female student, 5 or 6 boys, and me and my 2 college students. First we watched a movie and ate home baked cookies, which were amazing in their own right and because they weren’t Korean high school cafeteria food.  Then the bbq began. Koreans grill meat A LOT, in when eating out or celebrating, anyway, and many restaurants have gas or charcoal grills embedded in the tables. The gas ones are powered by canisters that look like old-fashioned aerosol cans (you know, before they got all sleek and skinny) and the charcoal ones hold big chunks of wood charcoal that are brought to the table already burning.  Meat may be raw or cooked and just grilled for flavor. 

The kids had an old half-barrel that they filled with cold wood charcoal and then they took one of the gas canisters, fitted on an elbowed nozzle obviously manufactured for such use, and had a bbq blow torch. Now, I’m not sure , but I’m thinking such things are not common in the U.S. And I’m not talking the cute little creme brûlée accessory; this bore the same relationship to a brûlée-cruster that a 9mm bears to a bb gun. The kids used the torch to fire up the charcoal, and since it was obviously natural charcoal with none of those sissy Kingsford accelerants, it took some time and some flame! It was obvious they knew what they were doing and had done it before and they couldn’t understand why the three Anglo women  were laughing so much and standing so far back. On our part, we were marveling that blow torch attachments are being sold in the equivalent of Target, in the cooking section, AND were amazed that these boys were being so businesslike about their use — I think we all know what would happen if the average 15 year-old American kid got his hands on such a thing.

After a few false starts with the charcoal, we stood around the bbq and feasted on grilled sausage, thick-cut bacon (amazing grilled), steak, and grilled sliced garlic. For veggies, you wrap everything up in a lettuce leaf and much away. The whole thing was made more interesting because in addition to the flames that sometimes jump up in response to grilling juices and dripping fat, we were using cheap, restaurant-style wooden chopsticks! After the meat, we had Korean ramen noodles; Koreans eat the starch at the end of the meal, unless the dish itself incorporates starch, it seems.  Then the girls and I dragged our overstuffed selves back to our room, showered away the smoke and meat smells, and crashed.