Monday, July 31, 2017

I'm back in New York after two months in Seoul...

I think I just need a really long nap.

Friday, July 28, 2017

"One thing I know for sure is that,
something just ain't right."

From the song One Thing by Luscious Jackson.
"Is it raining outside?"

The question I get asked daily right now during Korea's rainy season when I go to meet people. I'll usually answer with a polite no before explaining my shirt is drenched in sweat, not rain.
Summer sweat.
Steamy Seoul.
Scorching sun.
Strolling solo.
So sopping.
Smooth skin.
Same story.
Savoring stolen sub-zero shivers.
Sleepy since sunrise.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

"Oh, the truth is a beautiful thing."

From the song Truth Is A Beautiful Thing by London Grammar.
Kalguksu is the ultimate Korean comfort food. Available at most general restaurants, it’s enjoyed all over the country as a cherished dish cooked with a mother’s love and care.

As a noodle soup made with a broth from beef bones, kalguksu has a wonderfully milky taste and rich quality. The noodles are handmade from wheat flour with the magic touch coming from pushing down on the inner wrist when kneading. It’s then cut into thick strands that are known for its dense body and chewy texture. Korean cuisine generally favors long strands of noodles, which are a sign of living a long life. So if your bowl has particularly longer noodles, it’s not only good for your stomach but an auspicious sign of what’s to come. What makes kalguksu especially standout from other soups made with a similar broth is the starch from the noodles that give it an extra heaviness, which is a divine combination. The first sip of the broth will immediately give that full-bodied flavor from the beef and carbs, hitting the palate like the most comforting hug from childhood.

There are many variations of kalguksu that are not made from a beef broth. The beef version is more commonly found in Seoul since cow products are more expensive to use as an ingredient. But another popular type would be dak kalguksu, which is made from chicken broth with hand-pulled shreds of meat. It’s often referred to as Korean chicken noodle soup, holding the same nostalgia as similar versions from other cultures. Haemul kalguksu is made with a plethora of seafood, and popular in the southern and coastal regions within the country. This kalguksu is often cooked in larger quantities in a single pot to be enjoyed family style. But the most common form of kalguksu has a broth made of out anchovies since it’s a more affordable base to use. Unless a restaurant specifies the type of kalguksu they’re serving, the anchovy is what’s most likely being sold.

What’s just as important about the kalguksu eating experience is the kimchi it’s served with. Unlike other Korean dishes, kalguksu is specifically eaten with fresh kimchi, also known at geotjuri. This is a type of kimchi that’s not fermented and meant to be consumed within a week of being made. Kalguksu aficionados will often rate their favorite restaurant of the dish by the quality of their geotjuri, since it’s often harder to mess up on a kalguksu recipe rather than one for fresh kimchi. Geotjuri tends to have more spices and seasoning than regular kimchi, giving it slightly more of a bite and clean spiciness.

Some Korean people also eat kalguksu on days they feel like having geotjuri, making the noodle soup the side dish to fresh kimchi. But the most popular time for kalguksu is definitely summertime. Korean people love to eat hot soups and stews in the scorching summer weather because they like how it warms their body up to sweat even more. There’s a Korean phrase often used to express their delight for moments such as this. It’s called “shi-won-ha-da,” which translates to feeling refreshed and invigorated. And it’s the expression often heard in kalguksu restaurants when the temperature outside is feeling tropical.
Big chain conventient stores in Seoul are best for when you’re drunk, broke, or in a rush. Or perhaps at any given moment, you’re living life to the fullest and achieving two out of three of these factors.

Found on just about any block here, convenient stores here are brightly lit, colorful, and attainable beacons of happiness that invite you in with their wide selection of products and services in strong air conditioning. Pantyhose, chocolate, T-Money cards, whiskey, or small items to make a last minute meal—you’ll find whatever you’re looking for. They’re open 24 hours and can be more comforting than any best friend ever could. Depressed and in need of some ice cream? A convenient store would say, “I got you, fam.” Depressed and in need of some soju? A convenient store would respond with, “Say no more.” Or depressed and in need of some delicious processed food? A convenient store would yell back, “Come on over!”

While the eating options there can be endless, there are two standout items that are mostly associated as Korean convenient store food: samgak kimbap and cup ramen.

Samgak kimbaps are triangular shaped kimbaps wrapped in plastic. Their specially designed wrapper is meant to keep the seaweed crisp until ready to be consumed. The plastic has special instructions and a tab you pull at that unwraps it in a way that’s super easy to eat. Under the seaweed is densely packed rice with a filling in the center that comes in a wide spectrum of flavors. They range in traditional fare such as spicy chicken or bulgogi, to more adventurous like spam with eggs or eel. With the average price for samgak kimbaps hovering around $1, they’re an all-time favorite for many and great for snacking on anywhere in thanks to leaving a minimal smell. In fact, they’re so popular and constantly being restocked that a specific time in the day is noted in their expiration date.

The second place champion of convenience store foods would be cup ramen. Cup ramen is the quicker and easier version of ramen, which is like using a microwave with no buttons. For cup ramen, instead of having to get a pot to cook your ramen in, you can simply pour boiling water into the makeshift bowl the cup ramen comes in. Whatever type of noodles you prefer or flavor you’re looking for, there’s a cup ramen out there for you. They’re also available in different sizes, providing options on the level of bloat you want to subsequently feel. Hot water and wooden chopsticks are a given at convenience stores, and a large majority will also have indoor and outdooring seating. That makes eating your cup ramen in peace while leaving no evidence behind as easy as slurping noodles.

With ramen practically being a national pastime in Korea, walking by a convenience store to get a quick glance of someone enjoying cup ramen here in Seoul is as common as seeing the shop’s lights on. The slight difference with samgak kimbap is that it’s more often eaten on the go. It’s no surprise though that these two products are the king and queen of convenience store grub because they’re the lightning versions of things that are already loved within Korean food. But whether you’re dining on the store premises or not, samgak kimbap and cup ramen at convenient stores are extremely satisfying bites that can be made into a full meal or hold you over until you eat again. And you can easily grab some banana milk, sausage, or countless other items to make it the full course banquet of your dreams.

Friday, July 21, 2017

iPhones sold in Korea always make a shutter sound whenever taking photos with them.

For locals here, there's no such thing as secretly sneaking a picture.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Adam's apple.
"And a lust for life,
keeps us alive."

From the song Lust For Life by Lana Del Rey.
"Most people live their entire lives, and never understand you can't always believe everything you think."

Said by Andy Andrews in Robin Roberts' Podcast: Everybody's Got Something. Season 2, Episode 5.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

"For $9.99,
I'm perfectly disguised."

From the song Pink Sunglasses by Miranda Lambert.

Monday, July 17, 2017

It was Seoul Gay Pride this past weekend, and I was so happy to go check out the festivities.

When I got off the subway at the City Hall stop, I wasn't sure what to expect. I was elated to see people within the station with pride flags painted on their faces and other visible signs of support for the cause. But I have to be honest in saying that I was also surprised by the number of protesters I saw as soon as I surfaced above ground.

There was a large counter demonstration across the street from where the festival was being held. They also had a huge screen set up to broadcast whoever was speaking on the stage, and that made it both pretty visible and audible from the side where I was standing. At that moment I arrived, there was such anger and vitriol in that specific speaker's voice. I was truly taken aback by it. He was an older gentleman, angrily screaming at the top of his lungs as it echoed everywhere. I could hear the graininess that seemed to come from losing his voice as a result of yelling so loudly. Then on the side of the street where the festival was being held, all I saw was a wall of police officers standing on the sidewalk to keep other protestors from getting too close to passersby as they made their way towards the entrance. I could feel my blood boiling as I had to walk by them and listen to their furious shrieks and protests. They waved their big signs in the air and howled with passion while preaching about how LGBTQ people are less than. They showed so much rage, but everyone who had to endure their hatred did not. Most people simply ignored them or walked by with smiles and excitement for what the day meant.

When I finally made my way into the festival, the vibe was completely different from what was going on outside. There was nothing but love, happiness, and celebration. There were so many people, with a large presence of foreigners as well. Being within the space instantly made me forgot about all the mess that was happening outside, and I happily walked around alone to soak it all in.

The actual parade took place outside of the festival area on a main street of Seoul. And I was fortunate to have perfect timing to witness the entire thing. I can't tell you how moved I was in seeing the thousands of people marching. Young. Old. Straight. LGBT. Korean. Non-Koreans. The diversity in everyone amazed me. All I thought was, where are all these people living and going out to? I didn't realize there was such diversity here, especially among the LGBTQ community. There were way more people actually marching in the parade than watching it as a spectator, which only made me think that people didn't just want to watch it, but they instead wanted to be a part of the movement. Seeing it all almost moved me to tears. It was very emotional and heart-warming. It was parade float after parade float that was filled with swarms of joyful people in between.

Towards the end of the day, the feelings I had from seeing all of the protestors were overcome by the warmth and love I felt from all of the supporters. I have to say that the Seoul Police Department did an excellent job in maintaining order and keeping angry protestors from getting too close to festival goers. I was extremely grateful for that. Overall, it was a memorable Pride. Korean society still has a ways to go in regards to accepting LGBTQ people, but they're definitely on their way there. And the amount of love, support, and LGBTQ allies from the weekend truly did show that.
"At first, it feels good, savoring each bite, the world falling away. I forget about my stresses, my sadness. All I care about are the flavors in my mouth, the extraordinary pleasure of the act of eating. I start to feel full but ignore that fulness and that sense of fullness goes away and all I feel is sick, but still, I eat. When there is nothing left, I no longer feel comfort. What I feel is guilt and uncontrollable loathing, and oftentimes, I find something else to eat, to soothe those feelings, and strangely, punish myself."

From the book Hunger by Roxanne Gay. Page 170, e-book edition.
"Food was not only comfort: food also became my friend because it was constant and I didn't need to be anything but myself when I ate."

From the book Hunger by Roxanne Gay. Page 58, e-book edition.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

In Korea, there's always some drunk motherfucker in the background.

Sometimes, it might even be someone you know. Or maybe it's even you.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

RuPaul and Michelle Visage laughing together on their podcast is everything.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

"We could run."

From the song We Could Run by Beth Ditto.
Food truly does create the most amazing connections on a global scale.

I was hanging out at a restaurant last week in Hannamdong called Parc. Sitting there alone for hours with my laptop, I soaked up the energy and took notes on my computer while observing the spot throughout the evening. At one point during dinner service, I saw a set of two customers walk in together. I've always had a knack for faces, and instantly recognized one of them from back home in New York. She had been a regular at a restaurant I used to work at in Williamsburg years ago, and I couldn't believe that she was coming in to eat at Parc on the same day I was there to survey the place. I didn't approach or bother her until she and her friend were at the counter to pay after they had finished eating. I was in no way expecting her to remember me, but asked if she used to live in New York. She told me she still did and that she was just in town for a short while. I then proceeded to tell her that she used to come to my old work place in Brooklyn often and that I remembered her as soon as I saw her walk in to the restaurant earlier in the night. She then confirmed, yes, it was indeed her. 

Wow. Small happenings like these only help me realize that with clear eyes, there is so much to see and learn in life.
Some photos from my time in Korea so far.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Note to self: Do not panic when things don't go according to the plans you created in your head, which were more safe ideas nice to think about.

Saturday, July 08, 2017

From my days of living in Thailand, I still enjoy checking out free tv episodes that are offered every week on iTunes. I recently watched the first episode of Season 2 for Huang's World from VICE. And all I got to say is, mad respect to Eddie for the entire episode. I really liked it. Go check it out if you haven't already.

Friday, July 07, 2017

"Don't be afraid to catch feels."

From the song Feels by Calvin Harris.
TGIF everyone!

It's Friday evening here in Seoul, and I'm cooling off with my laptop at a cafe after walking around for hours. I was literally dripping in sweat when I walked in, so this air conditioning is giving me life.

I had lunch alone today at the Noryangjin Fish Market. This is a huge wholesale market that pretty much sells any type of seafood you could ever want. Because South Korea is a peninsular nation, seafood is a big part of the country's cuisine. And a place like Noryangjin is a great spot to access the most freshest kinds from the region that's available in Seoul. Fish, crabs, lobster, stingrays, live octopus, or whatever---this place has it all. After choosing whatever you like, instead of taking it home to cook, you can go to one of the many restaurants within the market that will prepare the seafood for you. You can get your fish sliced and served raw sashimi-style. Or maybe you want it made into a nice stew. Or perhaps you're craving steamed Dungeness crab along with some abalone. Or maybe some fried jumbo shrimp. Regardless of what you get, eating it within the market is definitely a fun and delicious experience.

I was craving some sea urchin, so I picked out 3 for ₩10,000 from a very nice vendor. She then directed me towards a small restaurant around that area of the market through a nearby alley. They took the spiny creatures from me to open up the shells and serve along with some standard side dishes traditionally eaten with seafood in Korea. I also ordered a pajun and large beer to complete my meal. My bill at the restaurant was only ₩22,000. So that makes the total price of my lunch under $30 for both the cost picking out fresh uni and enjoying it in the comforts of a restaurant with some booze. It doesn't get any better than that.

Thursday, July 06, 2017

I've pretty much lost count on the number of rubber bands for my braces that I've accidentally ingested while eating.

Wednesday, July 05, 2017

Tuesday, July 04, 2017

Loose leaf.
Happy 4th of July, America!

I spent the holiday alone getting some work done here and there. But I wanted to eat some good ole' American BBQ for lunch, so I headed to Linus' Bama Style BBQ in Itaewon. I had the pulled pork platter, which was pretty good and totally hit the spot. It felt nice being in the restaurant today because it was filled with other American customers who also seemed to have come with the same craving as me. It was a mixture of both young people and families among them who seemed like locals, in the military from the nearby American army base, or tourists. Being around fellow Americans was especially comforting on a major holiday like today, and reminded me of being back home in the U.S.

In general, I take the subway everyday here in Seoul. It's my major form of transportation. The trains are modern with full cellular and data capabilities, but the only bummer is that they stop running from midnight to 5:30am. One other major difference about the Seoul subway system in comparison to New York's is that each station here has floor-to-ceiling glass partitions at the edge of all platforms. The glass walls block any access to the tracks and only open where the subway doors open. That means angrily leaning over the edge of the platform like I do in New York to look down the tracks for the next train is impossible here. But stations in Seoul are equipped with tv screens that tell you how far away the next train is anyway, so that solves that. Another good thing about the glass partitions is that they also prevent people from falling into the tracks, or god forbid jumping in front of a train to kill themselves.

The other day, I was walking down the steps to a platform of a station when I saw a mass of people starting to walk up towards me. I knew the subway had just gotten there, and didn't want to have to wait for the next one so I darted towards the open doorway. I saw that the doors were sliding shut but didn't care and still went for it. The doors closed on me and I got stuck with half of my body inside the subway and other other half sticking out. Now, this happens all the time in the New York subways. And when it does, the conductor will quickly re-open the doors to allow whoever is stuck to get their whole body onto the train. Or if the conductor doesn't do that, other straphangers might help out by pulling the doors apart to force them open again (which usually always works). But when I was stuck between the doors the other day here in Seoul, it so did not go down like that.

From the shoulder down, it was the left side of my body that was sticking out of the doors. My tote was also in my left hand swinging in the air, so as I was trying to squeeze the rest of my body and bag into the train, I struggled to push through with the doors not budging. At. All. I looked around the subway cart in panic as I was fighting to get inside, and straight up made eye contact with all of the other straphangers who just sat there stoically watching me. It was a good ten seconds of my body in limbo as everyone just stared, but it felt like an eternity. Someone was even standing inside right at the door in front of me, but she did nothing but watch me scramble as well. And since the subway doors couldn't close with me jammed inside them, the doors of the glass partition weren't able to close either.

The conductor finally re-opened the doors and I managed to stumble inside feeling a bit frazzled. I looked around and felt this sense that people were looking at me like I had gotten myself into this mess, and I suddenly realized that they were right. In that moment, I became aware that commuters in Seoul don't stick their limbs or bodies between closing doors of the subway because that's just not how it works here. And I couldn't remember a single time when I had seen anyone else do that in the trains here. Well, phew. Duly noted, and lesson learned. Thankfully with my body still intact.
"We know the pain is real.
But you can't heal,
what you never reveal."

From the song Kill Jay-Z by Jay-Z.

Monday, July 03, 2017

"Here's to the ones who dream,
foolish as they may seem."

Sang by Mia in the movie La La Land.

Saturday, July 01, 2017