Sunday, December 26, 2010

Chinese Enamelware Factory - Cloisonne (Great Wall of China)

This Enamelware Factory was part of our tour of the Great Wall of China. On the way to the wall, our tour guide dropped us off at this factory. There we were shown how enamelware is made from start to finish. After the tour of the factory, we were lead straight to the showroom, where it was clear that they wanted us to spend our money. (They seem to assume that just because you're a foreigner, you have lots of money to spend. Unfortunately for them we were traveling on a pretty tight budget.)

The Great Wall was obviously what we went to see, but this enamelware factory was also interesting. These types of supplementary stops seem to be quite common for Great Wall tours. Just be careful, and don't spend too much money for something that you don't really need...

Chinese Jade Factory (Great Wall of China Tour)

The Great Wall of China is a must if you travel to China. An interesting aspect of most tours, are the other places that they take you along the way. On the way to the wall, the tour guide will stop at some kind of factory, give you a tour, and then drop you off in the showroom in hope that you'll buy something. The Great Wall tour guides and factory owners seem have to reached some kind of mutually beneficial agreement.

While it's obvious that the supplemental stops are nothing more than a ploy to get you to spend money, they can be interesting and informative. In this case, our tour guide took us to a jade factory, where they make jewelry, and all kinds of other ornamental items from this beautiful green stone. They show you how the items are made, explain all the aspects of the process, and then lead you directly to the showroom where they tempt you with all things jade.

While the Great Wall is definitely the highlight, the places they take you along the way are an important part of the experience. Just be careful, and don't get sucked in to buying a heavy (expensive) piece of jade that you don't really need, or want. Just look around and have a good time.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Paris Baguette

Paris Baguette is everywhere in Korea! I really don't know how so many of them can possibly stay open because, for one thing, Korean people do not generally eat a lot of bread, sweets, and deserts, and for another thing, there are just so many.

Korean people do, however, purchase a lot of cakes from Paris Baguette on special occasions like birthdays, weddings, and things of that nature. I remember at one of my birthday parties, I ended up with something like 3 or 4 cakes from Paris Baguette, (and they're not what I would consider cheap either... it's a very nice gift, if you want to think about it in those terms).

It's interesting to note that most of the nicer apartments will have ovens in them, but good luck finding a cake mix at the store. They simply don't use their ovens, for anything other than a convenient place to store pots and pans. Most Korean food is boiled or fried, so there's really no need to have an oven anyway. So when the necessity for a cake arises, they all run to Paris Baguette. Luckily there's one on every corner, so you're never too far away.

I remember, the day after we arrived in Korea, Paris Baguette was the only semi-recognizable food outlet around. So we walked in that morning and bought some sweet bread, some peanut butter, and some jelly to sustain us until we could find somewhere to buy food. It wasn't much, but it kept us from starving to death. For that reason alone, there will always be a special place in my heart Paris Baguette.

Some Paris Baguettes actually have a cafe section, where you can sit down and order a sandwich or soup. Others stick to only the basics: cakes and bread. Either way, if it's your birthday in Korea, and you have any friends at all, you can expect to receive at least one cake from this somewhat-out-of-place Korean bakery.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Do I have to speak Korean in order to teach English in Korea

A very common question is, "Do I have to speak Korean in order to teach English in Korea." The answer is: That's not the right question to ask. The question you should ask is, "Do I have to speak English in order to live in Korea. Answering that question will help you determine how much Korean, if any, you should learn.

As far as the job goes, you do not need to know Korean in order to teach English. Of course, it doesn't hurt. In fact, it can be quite helpful at times, "like when your students have no idea what you're talking about and you just want to convey a simple message". But it is not necessary by any means.

The real question has to do with what you want to do outside the classroom. If you live in Korea, then there is a certain amount of interaction with non-English-speaking-Korean-folk that will be unavoidable. Take, for example, ordering food at McDonald's (or ordering food just about anywhere for that matter), or trying to find the toilet paper at E Mart, or trying to pay your bills at the bank. In Korea, despite the governments best efforts and intentions, people speak Korean. So unless you're really good with body language, a little bit of Korean will take you a long way, and make you life a lot easier, and more enjoyable.

For example, it's a lot easier (and more polite) to say, "이것 주세요," when you're order food than it is to just point hope that the waiter gets the message. In the taxi is another place where knowing a little of Korean will really save the day. Because good luck finding a taxi driver who knows how to say anything other than "hello," "left," "right," and "straight". And most of them probably couldn't even get that far. So it's not like you have to learn how to "speak Korean". Just a few key words and phrases can help a whole lot.

A great place to start is You can download free podcasts, as well as other useful info about not only Korean, but a wide variety of languages. Another great resource is He makes great videos about learning basic Korean.

Learning Korean is actually a lot of fun, and it can earn you a lot of respect at work if you let people know what you're doing. It can also make you life more enjoyable and easier outside of work. It's also a great way to make friends and meet new people. So give it a try!

Springtime in Korea - Royal Azelia Flowers

Springtime is the best time to visit Korea, for several reasons. First of all, the temperature is moderate, and the humidity doesn't get bad until July and August.

One of the best things about Korea in springtime, however, are the flowers. Especially the royal Azelias. They come out right at the end of cherry blossom season, and can be found everywhere. There is a Korean saying, that when you see the Royal Azelias appear, the cherry blossoms will soon disappear. That's the way it goes...

Biking the Han River - Seoul - part 1

Part 1 of my series on biking the Han River in Seoul, Korea.

Biking the Han River - Seoul

The Han River flows through the middle of Seoul, and is an excellent place to ride bicycles. It is fed by dozens of smaller streams, which are also great for bike riding. All along both sides of the river, the city has built a huge narrow park, with everything from swimming pools to inline skate tracks.

Not only is it a very enjoyable and scenic place to bike, because of it's central location and great access to the subway system it is also a very practical and easy way to get around the city.

Biking the Tancheon Stream - South Korea

The Tancheon is a stream that begins in Yongin-si, south of Seoul, and runs north through Bundang for nearly 36 km, until it empties into the Han River near Jamsil Station. It provides residents of Yongin and the surrounding neighborhoods with excellent bike access into Seoul, as well as a nice place to escape the city and enjoy nature for a bit. The Tancheon is easily accessible from nearly all of the subway stations along the Bundang subway line.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Sam-gyeop-sal, is a staple pork dish in Korea.

Sam (삼) means "three"

Gyeop (겹) means "layers"

Sal (살) means "flesh"

So, sam gyeop sal actually means, "three layers of flesh". In English, it is usually called "fresh side," which is basically just thickly sliced, uncured bacon. So it's not the most healthy food in the Korean diet, but it is one of the most delicious. It's generally cooked on a grill in the center of the table, and eaten with lettuce, red pepper paste, kimchi, garlic, and wide variety of other side dishes.

Kimbop is easy to make, it's cheap to buy, and it's delicious to eat. It's what Korean people eat for lunch, instead of a sandwich.