Friday, April 30, 2010

Upcoming Fun

I'm quite excited about this upcoming Monday and Tuesday. I'm finally filming for the travel show and I've been told the plan. I'm still doing the food episode, but they've changed me from street food, to natural, organic food.

First of all, I'm heading to Jirisan to visit a couple that gathers 산나물 (sannamul) from the mountain and uses it in soup and bibimbap. Sannamul is a type of vegetable or vegatation. In English it translate to herb, but I'm told its more than just an herb and there is no real English name for it. I get to help/watch the wife make the food and then eat it.

The next stop is the 섬진강 or Sumjin River, which is suppose to be the cleanest river in Korea. I get up really early on Tuesday and go with a bunch of old men and women to dig for 재첩 or jechup in the river, which are little, tiny cockles. Of course, I then get to help/watch cook and eat them. I was told by the writer that she was told that we will be leaving quite early, before anyone can eat breakfast. In response, she asked if we needed to pack breakfast for everyone. The person in charge told her not to worry, just bring some bottles of soju and some anju. So... I might be a bit toasted by the end of filming on Tuesday...

Because after that, we're going to a different part of the river and going on a boat with a fisherman who dives for these ridiculously large oysters. I'm told this will take about three or four hours, so I'm hoping it's not too cold, windy or rainy that day. But I told her if they just hand me a fishing pole, I'll help catch dinner.

After the boat, we are going to the fisherman's house where he will cook the oysters for us and some of his friends. Normally we would go to a restaurant in town, but it's the very end of the oyster season, so none of the restaurants are serving it.

Anyway, I'm looking forward to it and it should be a lot of fun. The following weekend I do one more day of shooting, and I'll be on an edible flower farm. I haven't tried that before, so it should be interesting. I'll be sure to post a report and tons of pictures after I film.

Hooray for my debut on TV!

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Cheonan Sinking

So, the main thing going on in Korea right now is the Cheonan sinking. It sank almost a month ago, but the government is still investigating the cause. However, the more news that is released, the more people are beginning to believe it was North Korea. In fact, the leader of an activist group just did an interview with AP saying that he's been speaking with a NK military official who told him it was a direct order from Kim Jong-il to sink the ship. (I find this report dubious, especially since the South's military didn't/won't confirm it and said they have found no proof... whoever is telling the truth... who knows...)

So far, South Korea has been hesitant to officially blame the North, and I can understand why. Things are shaky between the North and the South anyway, and an all out accusation by the government could lead the North to something crazy and complicate an already fragile relationship And it would put the South's government in an awkward situation. I can tell that they don't really want to take military action, but many (mostly post-Korean war born) people are calling for reciprocation. Taking military action could lead to re-opening the war, which would deal a terrible blow to the South's economy. They've spent the last 60 years working hard to turn the country around after the devastation of the war, and renewed military action here would lead to foreign investors pulling out and the country having to start from scratch all over again.

So, it's a sticky situation right now. The latest reports say that investigators believe the boat split apart after some sort of external explosion from underneath, however, there is no evidence that it had a direct hit. They say it was either a mine or torpedo, though so far, no debris of either has turned up. In short, there is little evidence available and definitely not enough for a definitive cause. All they've been able to officially rule out so far is some sort of internal malfunction or explosion and fatigue failure.

If it is North Korea... I'm not sure why they would sink one of Seoul's ships when they've been trying to get food aid and start up tourist ventures again. They need money and food, and blowing up a ship won't really help that. Though a co-worker said that she thinks it was payback for the naval skirmishes back in 2002. North Korea lost, so they bid their time until they could get the South back.

Some even think that it's the US' fault. I've heard talk that it could have been a US mine forgotten in the West Sea from the Korean War that accidentally detonated.
The general consensus of my co-workers is that the government won't do anything military-wise, and an article that I just read said that it plans to leave all diplomatic options open if it should turn out to be North Korea. So, I suppose that helps. It calms my fears about war breaking out again. Though, regardless, the foreigners here are definitely keeping a close eye on things. I'm just a little worried about how things will turn out...

Tuesday, April 6, 2010


So... I've been home from Beijing for about a week and I figured it was time to finally write something about it.

First Thoughts on China
My initial thought was that it didn't look that different from Seoul. Same kind of buildings. People kind of looked similar. Same busyness. Of course, my boyfriend (who is Korean) promptly chastised me for saying that Chinese and Korean looked similar (in his mind, Koreans are WAY more good-looking... yes, he's biased). But towards the end of the first day, I started noticing that Beijing and Seoul were very much not the same. The traditional architecture may be similar, but Beijing's modern buildings were very different. I often think that Seoul is a bit boring since all the buildings seem to look the same, but in Beijing it seemed as though each of the buildings looked different from each other. It was refreshing.

And as the days passed, I did notice that there were definite differences in the way Chinese looked versus Koreans. Yes, I knew they looked different (I'm not that ignorant) but I noticed the little differences that I think most Westerners probably wouldn't notice. And I do think Korean guys are a little bit better looking, but I'm biased. ; )

Oh my goodness. I loved Chinese food in the States, but I knew that it had to be different from real Chinese food. And I had always heard stories about the crazy things that people ate in China, but I have to admit that Chinese food rocks! We had a couple of different traditional Chinese dishes, including Peking duck (which is a Beijing specialty). It was soo yummy! A little spicy, and really oily, but still really good. The first night there, we had a beef dish that was basically marinated beef in a vat of spicy oil, but still really good. And it was really cheap. Paul and I ate for about $16 total every meal and it was more than enough food for the both of us.

We did go to a traditional street food area and saw all the crazy stuff that people eat. Starfish, scorpions, squid, octopus, bugs of every size, color and type. We were going to rock, paper, scissors to see who had to try one, but we both chickened out. And it was really cold that night and we just wanted to get in somewhere warm.

The Great Wall
First of all, it's not as wide as I thought, and way harder to climb. I guess I thought it would be more like a leisurely stroll along the wall, but it was more like mountain climbing. Going down was not that bad. We were with a small tour group and made some friends along the way. We were all having fun as we made it to an outpost about half a mile from where we got on. But the way back was torture. Paul literally dragged me up the Wall and I thought I was going to die. I don't know how he did it with 6 kilo weights on each leg.

But outside that, it was amazing to be on the Great Wall of China. It was awesome to be standing on something that had been there for hundreds of years. And something that is so iconic. Most people only dream of seeing the Great Wall and I got to climb it. And the view was amazing! You could see the wall go off in both directions for what seemed like miles. Just winding up and down over the mountains. Crazy. I don't know how they got up and down that thing and guarded it in all their armor. The steps are very uneven and some parts are nothing but ramps. The rocks on the ramp were very slippery from years of wear and the only way to get down was to hold on to a handrail and slide down.

The Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square
Again, two other places that I never thought I would get to see. It was pretty awesome getting to see both. We got lost in the Forbidden City. The front part was easy to navigate with the large courtyards, but once you get back into the gardens and where the Imperial family lived, it gets really confusing. All the buildings end up looking the same and every time we entered a new courtyard, I swore we had been there before.

We finally made it out though, and ran across the street to check out the Square. It was a lot bigger than I thought it would be. It was cool for about 10 minutes, but after that, there wasn't really much to see. The day we went was kind of gray and cold. And Chairman Mao's Mausoleum was closed so we couldn't go in and see that. Paul didn't really want to see a guy that's been dead for about 30-odd years, but it was one of those things that I wanted to do just to say I did it.

I have to admit, this is probably one of the cooler parts of Beijing, and I didn't even know about them until we got there. Hutongs are basically little streets in the city. They use to be where all the normal people lived in the old days, and most of them still are residential areas, but a lot of them have been converted into little shopping areas where you can get souvenirs and haggle. They also have little tea shops and restaurants. Very cool. Paul and I spent an entire evening in one our last night there and walked away with a ton of swag for about 2/3 the price we would have normally paid. Paul is an expert haggler and got about 70% off everything we bought.

You can also take little rickshaws around the areas, which was a lot of fun. Definitely a touristy thing that you should do at least once in Beijing. One of the cool things that a lot of the shops sold were this little traditional drink. It's basically sweet milk, and they serve it in little ceramic jars. It tasted a lot like yogurt, but was really good.

We went to the two major drinking areas in Beijing, Ho Hai Bar District and Sanlitun. Ho Hai was the cleaner and nicer of the two but more expensive. It was a small group of bars that sit around a small lake. It was definitely cool, but more of a warm weather place. All of the bars had seating outside by the lake. And it seemed to get a huge draft from the water.

Sanlitun had a few more options and was livelier. We ended up staying there longer than we did in Ho Hai. It was an actual street in the city, but there were more bars. All of the places we went had live music. Some were better acts than others, but it was still a lot of fun. The last place we went had a kareoke system, so in between acts, patrons could get up and sing. The staff was a lot nicer too. Our waitress actually sat down and talked to me for a bit while Paul was up crooning and making all the girls swoon.

The People
From what I experienced, Chinese were very friendly and kind. Anytime we stopped to ask for directions, people were more than happy to help us out, even if they didn't speak English (which was most of them). It was frustrating that we couldn't communicate very well, but our hotel had staff that could speak English well, and they helped us out a lot. And all the restaurants we went to had at least one waitress that could speak English who would help us out. Also, just as luckily, the subway was in English, so that helped out a ton with getting around. Though, we did managed to work out the taxi.

While we were out drinking one night, a group of girls came up to us and starting talking to us. They exclaimed that they LOVED the US and Korea and wanted to hang out. Sadly, it was on my last night there, but we exchanged email addresses and they asked that we stay in contact and hang out should we ever come back to Beijing. They worked at the Marriott and promised to get us a good deal on a room when we come back.

General Ideas on Beijing
Definitely a great place to visit. It's cheap, clean and relatively safe even though I had heard that it wasn't too safe. It was a little strange having to put my purse through an x-ray machine anytime I went on the subway or entered a public museum space (Forbidden City, Tiananmen Square). The most frustrating part besides language was the internet. I knew I wouldn't get Facebook, but I couldn't get Google News either or any of the major newspapers that I read online. Blogging was out too. I kind of forgot that China was a communist country for a bit, but I was definitely reminded when I checked the internet and saw military on every corner. I heard that a lot of the safety precautions were put in place during the Games in 2008 and left there to keep up the image. Which is also why lodging is so cheap. A ton of new hotels were built to accommodate the large number of tourists, but now there are not enough annual tourists to fill them all.

All in all, a fun trip. We had a good time and enjoyed ourselves on a budget. The end of our trip was sad, since it was going to be the last time we saw each other for a couple months. He's moving down the coast of China and planning to travel Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos and Thailand by train and bus. He wanted me to join him, but unfortunately I have to work and I don't have that kind of money saved up.

So, we said good-bye in Beijing, but luckily he'll be back for a couple of weeks in June. Then he's heading back to LA. It'll be hard, but I have a feeling things will work out. ^_^