January 2008


English programming on Korean Cable TV has its pros and cons. The good: lots of movies, a smattering of reality TV shows, Hollywood entertainment news, runway fashion shows, talk shows, crime dramas, cooking programs, and world news. The bad: the same movie is played 20 times in one month with the best movies airing after 2 a.m., reality TV shows are aired out of order (Project Runway’s final three plays before the second elimination), Hollywood updates are days old, and no live sports.

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The best thing: fewer commercial breaks. Oprah is done in 20 minutes because there is only one commercial break. It’s like watching with a DVR.

Shopping carts in Korea aren’t free…to wander the parking lot and bump into cars. Instead, shoppers deposit 100W into the cart for its release. Return the cart and the coin is yours again. This low-tech solution makes for a neat and orderly borrowing and returning of shopping carts. The high-tech wheel design locks into the ramp-like escalator of multi-level stores, this prevents sliding.

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American shopping cart technology can limit use within a defined perimeter, but those parking lots are still strewn with wayward carts.

Food delivery in Korea has no minimum, no fee, no tipping, and no time limit (open 24/7). If you crave a bowl of hot noodles, which only costs 3,000W at 3 a.m., just make the call. It will come to your door in a “steel bag”/철가방.

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It’s served using the same restaurant tableware, side dishes (반찬) and utensils (수저). After you’ve finished eating, just leave everything outside your door. The same delivery guy will return later to pick up the dishes.

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Korean food delivery is great if you can’t cook, don’t want to cook, or the weather sucks.

When starting a new life in a new place, bringing along tupperware is not a priority. You bring the essentials, figuring you’ll find new cups, dishes, trash cans, laundry hamper, spatula, ladle, etc. Buying these household goods allows you to explore your new city. I did just that and can give expats in Korea a tip: Daiso is the place for discount housewares. Think Ikea’s Marketplace crossed with the 99 Cent Store from the states. The products cost a fraction of what other stores charge and there is an eye toward design. Look for Daiso (다이소) as a stand-alone store or as a special section inside a mart (마트) or market. There are frying pans, mirrors, aprons, cotton squares, tea pots, scissors, cutting boards, baby wipes, cough drops, utensils, cleaning products, notebooks, house slippers and more–all with the price labeled so you don’t have to wonder or ask the shopkeeper in broken Korean. Prices start at 500W and go up to 5,000W.

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2-story Daiso near Kyobo Bookstore and Nonhyeon Station (exit 3).

Eggs are different in Korea.  I have yet to see a white egg shell.  These brown eggs are big in flavor, even if they are not American-jumbo in size.  The yolks are intensely yellow, practically orange in color.  Perhaps they taste better because there is occasionally a feather or a bit of poop inside the egg carton.  They are not packaged in multiples of 6 (6,12,36).  Rather, they come in multiples of 5 (10,15,30).  Tip: rinse egg before use.

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Look up in Seoul and you won’t see a superhero, birds or nature. You’ll see super tall apartment buildings or even taller ones being built to replace them. This increases already terrible traffic and the high cost of real estate. Unless it’s an ancient relic, Koreans prefer to build something shiny and new–at breakneck speed. It’s impossible to go outside and not have construction cross your path. Careful not to blink, you’ll miss the demolition or you’ll fall into a construction site.

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I’ve gotten into the habit of collecting kimchi gugmul/김치국물 (the liquid that surrounds the vegetables) ever since I made kimchi, knowing how much work it takes. Just fill an empty jar after you’ve eaten up the kimchi and all you’re left with is the kimchi gugmul/김치국물. Not knowing what I would ever do with it, I’ve come up with this fast and easy recipe:

Easy Kimchi Bokumbap Recipe (김치복음밥)

Day old rice from your fridge or rice cooker

Kimchi gugmul/김치국물 from your collection jar

Onion chopped

Chop the onion up and stir fry it in vegetable oil. Add rice and enough kimchi gugmul/김치국물 to give it a nice orange color. Should you over-pour, excess liquid evaporates with more cooking time. Stir until blended and hot.

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Technically, you’re supposed to use actual kimchi. Really though, the kimchi provides flavor and since the kimchi gugmul/김치국물 is the source of savoriness, it makes sense to reclaim it this way. The onion provides the crunch and you could easily add beef, pork or even a can of tuna to the mix. Serving option: top it with a fried egg. Enjoy!

It seems there is a Korean way to peel and a non-Korean (American, gyopo, expat) way to peel a mandarin orange (귤).  Observe the picture below, on the left and right the Korean method is demonstrated–a sunburst pattern.  In the center is the ordinary way the peel is removed–a cluster of small bits.   Strange but true.  Look for it the next time you eat mandarin oranges (귤) with a group of native Koreans. 

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It’s a good thing that gyopo wife isn’t a coffee addict because coffee in Korea needs improving. First of all, your typical cup of coffee is made from a packet combining instant coffee, non-dairy creamer and sugar. It’s tasty enough, like coffee ice cream, with about as much caffeine. This kind of coffee will be offered to you when you’re at someone’s house or after dinner in restaurants.

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If you’re seeking a cup of brewed coffee, get in line. This means going to one of the many foreign cafes: Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf, Starbucks, Lavazza, Pascucci. For certified organic coffee go to Cafe de Verts. Expect to pay at least 3,500W ($4 USD) for a basic brew.

Should you want to brew your own coffee at home, roll up your sleeves. You’ll need to find a coffee machine, filters and ground coffee. All of which will cost a mint and take you to a big box mart, an import specialty store and back in line at the cafe for coffee beans. I guess we pay a premium at the cafe because it saves us a lot of effort.

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