December 2007

I knew that things would be different in Korea. I didn’t expect kitchen sinks to be so different. All my kitchen sinks in Los Angeles had garbage disposals. Flip a switch and food bits that gathered in the catch area get ground up and slip down the drain. No muss, no fuss. Here, you have to be on food trash duty at all times. In every sink you will find a small strainer to hold bigger pieces of food trash. Then, below the black rubber is steel strainer that holds the small bits. If you forget about cleaning under there, every few days a smell will rise up to remind you.


Trash collection and recycling here is extensive. There are lots of rules. First, sort everything. Metal, glass, plastic, paper and food are all recycled. They go in their corresponding bins outside of your apartment building. Food trash gets reclaimed at outlying farms. Your non-recyclables go into a specially purchased trash bag, indicating where you bought it and where it can be picked up. Trash in non-complying bags will not be picked up, as you are paying for pick up service by paying for the bag. Failure to comply with the sorting rules will result in the wrath of your neighbors. Housewives (아주마) will scowl at your error and school you on the right way to do things. And oh, Korean husbands aren’t supposed to take out the trash because it’s “womens’ work.” Gyopo wife learned this the hard way after sending her husband out with the trash.

it’s almost christmas and the start of a new year. happy holidays to you and yours.

my wish is for good english in seoul~signs indicate otherwise:


oh how i miss hot laundry straight out of the dryer. no such thing here, where dryers are about as common as mexican restaurants. drip dry laundry is common for most of the world because it’s economical and environmentally friendly. but crunchy towels are not so friendly on the skin.


here are some laundry tips for expats in korea:

*do your ironing while things are damp to minimize wrinkles.

*bring a big bath-size towel in your luggage. velour/velvety towels seem to drip dry the best. lofty loops turn into tiny daggers when drip dried. the typical korean towel is the size of cafeteria tray and just about as soft.

*don’t like crunchy laundry? steam ironing will make things softer. i have even ironed undies and socks, but they don’t call me gyopo wife for no reason.

*after a long search for laundry stain remover, i’ve settled on using citrus kitchen spray cleaner, available at any mart (마트) or market (시장). you can find powdered oxyclean, but that doesn’t go directly on a stain. you can buy american laundry stain removers at triple the price after a lot of searching. or you can try using tips from korean housewives (아주마): rub bar soap on a stain, use dishwashing liquid, put the stained article on the verandah to get sun.

*wash your darks first and then the whites. this will reduce the lint that used to get fluffed away in a dryer. find your washing machine’s lint trap and clean it out afterwards.

the campaigning has ended. the posters are coming down and the rallies are over. today was presidential election day.  south korea elects a new president every five years, s/he may serve only one term.


voting is quite civilized and easy. there was just one decision for voters to make at a nearby voting location. my husband only had to walk 20 meters from our place. the wait on line was less than 5 minutes even during the lunchtime crush. volunteers of all ages staffed each location: from teenagers who directed you how to enter and leave to middle aged men and women who checked your ID and collected ballots. another bonus, it’s an unofficial “red day”~ calendar holidays. small to mid-sized stores were closed in observance of the election and employers cannot force attendance today. voter turn-out was over 63% of the population…much higher than american elections.

interestingly in this land of high technology, they use prehistoric paper ballots and dojang (도장). here you can pay for things with coins, bills, cashier check (수표), credit card, your hand phone or direct bank deposit (입금). yet, when it comes to something this important, old and new are combined ~ paper ballots are counted by machines beginning at 6pm with 70% tallied by 9pm…it’s the fastest paper tally in the world.

and the winner is myung-bak lee (이명박), who could easily pass for the korean marilyn manson…


kbs is presenting the exhibition nam june paik: rhapsody in video until the end of this month. there are large scale pieces, paintings and video screening rooms to sit and watch his work and life. the father of video art was a citizen of the world, born in korea and living in hong kong, japan, germany, new york and miami. worth a visit and taking pictures is permitted. we were there for nearly 2 hours. here’s our best shot:



not that i really want to drive in seoul, where traffic rules are as bendy as the route to get to your destination, but i am now licensed to drive. the driver’s license agency has made it pretty painless for foreigners to drive in korea. since there are few foreigners willing to take the risk of driving when public transportation is so effective, i had virtually no wait once i arrived at their offices.


fill out a form, hand them your valid U.S. driver license, foreign resident I.D., U.S. passport, and 3 small mugshots. they look things over, scribble things and send you to get a physical examination and pay fees (11,000W = $12). everything except for your original license is returned, this will be held hostage, only to be released when you return with an overseas airline ticket. drunk drivers are the reason your original license is held ~ seems gyopos would get one license revoked (Korean/U.S.) and then drive using a second (Korean/U.S.) and maybe even a third (international – no longer honored).

the physical examination has three parts: (1) eyesight – cover one eye and say what they point at; (2) physical – do a deep knee bend on command; (3) color – describe what is on the colored page. it was fun!


note to expats: carry one (driver license) and store the other (foreign resident I.D.) safely.

cut and paste the link below to get to DLA website:

wintertime means time to make kimchi (김치). traditionally, this was done because napa cabbage (배추) was only available at the end of the year. nowadays napa cabbage (배추) is available year-round, but the tradition remains because people say that winter cabbage tastes better and turning it into kimchi (김치) means you can savor that winter flavor.

also, it’s a time for ladies to gather in the kitchen and talk for days while cooking. winter is a time when people reaffirm their relationships, kimjang/김장 is a way to prepare and pack away some family togetherness for the coming year. traditionally a large production, literally producing enough kimchi (김치) for multiple families for the next year.


big on tradition, MIL (mother in-law) called me, her sister and her niece over to make winter kimchi (김장). thankfully, we blended new conveniences with kimchi making (김장). first of all, MIL ordered the napa cabbage (배추) from the market (시장) already prepped and delivered to her door:




the prepared napa cabbage (배추) saved a day of work: going to the market (시장), buying a shopping cart full of napa cabbage (배추), taking it home, washing it, sprinkling it with salt, leaving it to soften overnight under pressure (balancing the big vats one on top of the other).

ingredients we used for the base include: crushed garlic (마늘), fresh ginger (생강), green onions (파), red pepper flakes (고추가루), shrimp paste (새우젓), anchovy stock (멸치류), salt (소금), sugar (설탕), carrots (당근), sesame seeds (깨), apples (사과), asian pears (배), sweet rice (찹쌀), daikon radish (무) and many other greens (미나리) for which i don’t know the english translation.









these things are blended together in a large wide bowl (the size of a car tire). there is no recipe, there are no measurements, there is only knowing (손맛). every household makes kimchi (김치) differently, it’s not because i’m a gyopo/교포 that i can’t convey a recipe for kimchi (김치).

the sweet rice (찹쌀) is allowed to cool to room temperature, then the red pepper flakes (고추가루) are added. after that, most everything else was blended together except for the napa cabbage (배추).






after everything is nicely blended together, as above, the napa cabbage (배추) is then dressed with this base. you take one-fourth of the napa cabbage (배추) and then stuff each leaf with some of this base. then you fold the leaves toward the center while reserving the outermost leaf to use as a belt to wrap it all together. finally, you place it into the kimchi refrigerator (김치냉장고) container for storage. once the container is full, line the top with plastic to further limit contact with air and close the lid. wait until the next day to place the container into the kimchi refrigerator (김치냉장고).




ta da!

why go to all this trouble? again, there is the family bonding. then there is the fact that you can control what goes in your food. as with all purchased food, you can never be certain whether high quality ingredients were used in the making. here, people are concerned with the use of chinese ingredients (read toxic insecticides) and MSG (미연).

buy something at a store and sometimes you get a free gift with purchase. usually it’s a little something that will go with the item you just bought. for example, a free lip gloss with your cosmetics purchase.

walking around seoul yesterday i saw the oddest gift with purchase. the poster explains, spend 150,000W (approx $165) on women’s clothing and receive 12 rolls of toilet paper for free. i laughed when i saw the stacks of toilet paper next to the winter coats. what’s the connection?



fast food hamburgers have been given a korean flare whether you go to mcdonald’s, burger king or lotteria. you can find the basics: hamburger, cheeseburger, chicken sandwiches, fries and cola. then there are the special korean creations: bulgogi burger, squid burger, shrimp burger, rice burger. i have tried the shrimp burger, which tastes like a fish burger since it’s also ground, battered and fried. the rice burger uses rice in place of bread (see lower right). i just tasted the bulgogi burger, which has marinade sauce liberally applied. depending on your mood, the choice is yours.

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