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Ever Evolving Primate: Travel, photography, food, cooking, and just about anything else.

Ever Evolving Primate: Travel, photography, food, cooking, and just about anything else.

Monday, July 9, 2012

The Ever Evolving Primate has moved!

Oh noes! Where's today's post? The Ever Evolving Primate has moved to a new URL to better provide you with a quality reading experience. Update your bookmarks and head over to to keep reading. You can also follow Ever Evolving Primate on Facebook at to get updates on new content and smaller fun things that don't always make it to the blog.

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Friday, July 6, 2012

Flyaway Friday: Santorini

TGIFF again! This week blew by in a blur of "never really caught up from last weekend" fueled by copious amounts of coffee. It's Flyaway Friday again and I haven't even had time to think about where I'd fly off to today if money, time, distance, and those pesky laws of physics weren't in the way. Of course, it's not really like I have to think about it all that much to tell you that I'd much rather be on the island of Santorini, in Greece right now.

Oia, Santorini - photo by BlueEyedA73 on Flickr
My reasons for wanting to go to Santorini right now are pretty simple. White buildings, blue ocean, blue skies, colorful doors, and food! I love Greek food, and I imagine that it tastes better when you're actually in Greece. In a fantasy world (you know, like the one that Flyaway Friday exists in) I'd be overlooking the ocean, perhaps next to a nice pool, with a Greek salad on my left side, a platter of souvlaki on my right, and a glass of wine. Because that's not enough, I'd also like to have Carolyn dressed up as Aphrodite feeding me Carolyn and I olives and fanning me us with palm fronds while I read The Iliad and throw a munch on all that grub and Carolyn enjoys a stack of magazines printed in English (nearly impossible to find in Korea, don't judge us.)

Even though I'm sitting in a desk in a country with its own ancient history, Greece has an ancient history to which I can relate. It's not that I don't think Korean history is interesting, it's that I already know many of the stories of Greek history. I think that anyone who has grown up in western civilization has at least some knowledge of Greek mythology. I'd really like to see some of the places where people worshiped those gods and goddesses I've read so much about.

So there you go, Flyaway Friday. My pick is Santorini. Where on earth would you like to fly away to today?

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Thursday, July 5, 2012

Thoughtful Thursday: Using babies as battering rams, isn't good. Okay?

Today I thought I would write a half-post, half-open letter to a large segment of society about something that I think is important, overlooked, and probably forgotten as soon as a parent experiences the joy of their first child. I guess I must in the spirit of disclosure tell you that I have no children as of yet, and yes, I am pretentious enough to believe that I won't be one of the people to whom this post/letter is written about/to. I also realize that I just ended a sentence with not one, but two prepositions. Humor me, this issue is not one for proper grammar, but rather for blind, poorly spoken rage.

The issue is simple. If you place your baby in a stroller, you are not given a freaking open pass to walk all over the place, cut people short and leave them stumbling, or let any part of that stroller touch any part of my (or anyone else's for that matter) ankle. This is a problem of epidemic proportions, and I think that (for the sake of using as much hyperbolic speech as I can muster in a single post) the only thing dumber than using your god-sent beautiful newborn baby in golden fleece diapers as a battering ram is letting your slightly-larger-than-toddler child push a shopping cart into my ankle.

Interestingly, this problem is not only relegated to Americans. Koreans also use their babies as battering rams, and it's not cool in any language. Let's look at a few good reasons that you shouldn't use your baby as a battering ram.

1. It can't be good for the baby. Battering rams are meant to break things. Babies still have soft spots on their heads. Just because you've wrapped said baby with aluminum rods and cordura doesn't mean that it's safe to ram your child into my Achilles' tendon. Also, your child might be asleep. How would you like to be asleep in the back of a car when it suddenly crashes into a wall? Did you ever think about that? I mean, did you even see Inception? You don't mess with someone's sleep, man! Think about your child first. They have a soft spot on their head, and they might be asleep. Don't scare them to death by crashing them into my sculpted, Olympian-like legs.

2. It's not good for me. I hate having a scab on my ankle because someone's stroller hit me. If you're behind me, I can't see you, and I don't have to check my damned blind spots when I walk. You probably don't check yours when you're driving, and walking is less likely to produce injuries from collisions, right?

3. It's not good for the economy! Am I going to continue enjoying my shopping experience at the Coex Mall if you send your baby into my leg like a sweet helpless little Kamikaze? No, I'm not. Do you want me to dump less of my hard earned money back into your economy? Didn't think so. That doesn't just go for Koreans. Hey lady with the triple wide stroller filled with kids aged 4, 6, and 12 at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, do you want me to buy dessert with my lunch, because I won't if I'm in a bad mood. How is the American economy ever going to recover if I don't buy dessert. Did you think about that? Didn't think so.

4. I might make a scene, and you're a part of it. I usually don't make scenes, but I might. I'm not the only one that ever gets rammed by a baby, and not everyone is as mild-mannered or afraid of making a scene as I am. What if I start blaring words from my mouth in a scary tone and volume at you? What if those words are bad? Do you want your developing battering ram baby to learn those words right now? Do you want to deal with the embarrassment of being part of a scene? You realize I'm not talking about the kind of scene covered on Gossip Girl, right? Anyway, this is the risk you take when you use your baby as a weapon.

5. You were unarmed once a person who loathed stroller people, too. Don't forget your roots. There are, as a matter of fact, a couple of nice stroller people who have somehow managed to maintain their consideration for others after having a child. Their child sleeps peacefully in the stroller as they are carted around their environments, and angels play harps in the child's ears as they rest peacefully. Would you rather have that or an angry man with a hurt ankle trying to convince you that he's going to file assault charges because you were too lazy to look in the direction that you were walking? No question, right?

Okay, so none of this is really so extreme, but seriously, why do people forget to watch where they're going once they've got a loaded weapon stroller? Stroller people are a big annoyance for the solo or childless traveler sometimes. Why don't we make a deal?

I propose that those of us who like to go places and experience culture who are not stroller people promise to watch our language in public, because your little cherub's ears probably work pretty well and we don't want them using the "f" word while tossing down flowers at your best friend's wedding or anything. In return, you promise us that you will do the following few things to make life easier for everyone.
  1. Use common sense. If there's 1,000 people standing around the triceratops skeleton at the Natural History Museum let them move on, or pick your kid up so they can see. Don't just barrel through with your stroller.
  2. Use common sense. If your stroller is 20 inches wide and there are only nineteen inches of space between me and the wall, it probably won't fit.
  3. Use common sense. Don't text and push your stroller.
  4. Use common sense. Don't push your stroller while making your child a bottle and handing it to them.
  5. Use common sense. Don't push your stroller into other people for any reason not listed above.
If we can fulfill the aforementioned promises to each other, we can live in harmony. Did you hear that? My phone just rang because I'm probably going to win a Nobel prize for this Grand Bargain.

Anyone have any good stroller-people stories? Any outraged stroller-people want to chime in? Feel free to discuss in the comments section below...and don't forget to "Like" this blog on Facebook.

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Wednesday, July 4, 2012

5 reasons you don't need to leave Seoul on your trip to Korea.

In a previous post, I gave you 5 reasons you should get out of Seoul when you visit Korea. What I didn't tell you in that post is that it would be quite easy to get a good taste of Korea and spend your entire visit to the country well within the Seoul metro area. Seoul is a frenetic, fast paced, ultra-modern city sprinkled with ancient cultural sights as well as all of the modern advances that contributed to Korea's rise as one of the four Asian tigers.

Seoul really lights up at night

1. Seoul is a massive city. According to the most infallible source of information ever, Wikipedia, Seoul is the third most populous city in the world. If you visit Seoul, you'll believe it, and maybe even question why it's not number two. To be fair, I've never been to Tokyo-proper, but I imagine it's pretty obvious that it's the most populous city on Earth to those who visit. If you like big, modern cities, Seoul is a great place for you. The city glows with flashes of light that can be blinding, and the traffic, parties, and bright lights stay on all night. If you'd rather have a trip filled with frenetic, blood pumping energy than a pastoral holiday in the middle of a rice paddy, you can't go wrong by picking Seoul.

Currently my favorite building in the world

2. The architecture! Seoul has a ton of really cool building designs, both massive and small. For that matter the architecture of some of the restored historical sites contrasts in a stark and dramatic way against the backdrop of slick, ultramodern buildings. If you love to take pictures of buildings, or studied architecture, or just want to feel like you've somehow warped into a future place where people should ride hoverboards and have space cars you'll love Seoul's skyline. 

Cheongyecheon River in Seoul

3. Urban oases are cool, right? Seoul has a massive urban oasis right next to it's grandest plaza. The Cheongyecheon River is literally an oasis in a jungle of concrete, glass, and steel. On a hot day, the temperature along this little ribbon of water is a little bit more palatable, and the public displays of art (and at night, public displays of affection) are actually pretty cool. Set about 3 meters (10 feet) below the noise and commotion of foot traffic, taxis, busses, and diplomatic vehicles this is a fast and easy escape from Seoul's urban intensity. If you're lucky enough to be here during the Buddha's Birthday Lantern Festival it's extra cool, as it's lit up with all manner of lanterns after dusk.

Gyeongbokgung Palace Gate - Changing of the Guard
4. The palaces, man. The palaces! Seoul has two very old palaces from the old dynastic days. Of course  these palaces have been damaged, destroyed, burnt to the ground, or otherwise by the Japanese during World War II, the North Koreans during the Korean war (probably the Americans too on the drive to retake the country), the Chinese, and I imagine the Mongolians were here once too, but I don't know that for a fact off the top of my head. Facts aren't important. The thing that's important here is that you can visit two really cool palaces in Seoul. Gyeongbokgung is the bigger of the two palaces, and if you spend a day roaming around here you'll find yourself lost in all sorts of imperial coolness. Cheongyeonggung is a bit smaller, but it's got a great garden. Interestingly, during the Japanese occupation Cheongyeonggung was used as a zoo, and it kinda still looks like one. Might I make the odd suggestion of visiting these palaces on a rainy day? You can usually stay under an eve, and you'll get great photos with far less people in them. You could easily spend half a day at either of these palaces, more if you like to take your time framing your pictures.

Insadong - Seoul's Culture Street
5. Insadong is a great place for traditional goods and experiences. So you like the urban vibe, but you want your friends and family to think that you didn't just hang out in the city the whole time you were visiting. Want to know where to buy kimchi pots, traditional placemats, handmade wooden flutes, and papercraft hanbok bookmarks? Go to Insadong. It's about 3 stops on the bus from Cheongyecheon or Gyeongbokgung, but feels like it's a world away. Actually, it feels a little bit more like a whole bunch of international visitors trying to buy traditional Korean products to take home to their families. It's also a good place to try Korea's more foreigner-friendly street foods for people with more squeamish stomachs. Try to go on a Saturday or Sunday because the street is cut off to vehicle traffic on those days. Be ready for crowds. Take a deep breath and enjoy yourself though, you never know just what kind of cool things you'll find on a visit to Insadong.

There you have it. The anti-travel guide to Korea, why leave Seoul at all? Here's five great reasons to not leave Seoul on your visit to Korea. Perhaps these are five great reasons to take a long layover at the Incheon International or Gimpo International airports, too. What cities do you think are big enough to deserve an entire trip? New York? Tokyo? Phnom Phen?

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Tuesday, July 3, 2012

The primate's completely non-comprehensive guide to street food in Korea

Street food is such a glorious thing on television. The images I usually think of are quickly made sandwiches, meats on sticks, or enticing dumplings and spicy things slopped into bowls or paper and eaten as you wander a street filled with food stalls. I always imagined the smell of a thousand different delicacies wafting through the air, harsh lighting, and spicy, steamy food on a cold night. It's really not all that glorious here in the good old Republic of Korea. It's not bad though. Here's a few of my favorite eats to pick up on the street.

1. Mandu - My students and coworkers would be very quick to point out that mandu (dumplings) aren't Korean at all, but Chinese. So far as I've learned in Korea, the Chinese only eat three things: Mandu, Jjajang (black bean sauce, on rice - jjajangbap or noodles - jjajangmyeon), and tang soo yook (sweet and sour pork). I don't care. My favorite street food in Korea is dumplings. Whether it's a hot afternoon or a cold night, the mysterious clouds of steam coming out of the side of a building works like a siren call on me. There's a few different kinds. Kogi mandu are my favorite. They're the ones stuffed with meat, glass noodles, and green onions. Kimchi mandu are not my favorite, but they're okay. They're stuffed with kimchi. Imagine that. Goon mandu are pretty good too, as they're deep fried.

photo by Sung Sook on Flickr
2. Tteok bokki - Tteok bokki is probably the quintessential Korean street food. it's long, tubular bits of rice cake stewed in a spicy hell broth based in ketchup and Korean red pepper. It's a spicy, hot snack that will burn your lips and your intestines as it dry rubs you with Korean spices while moving through you. This isn't my favorite Korean food at all, and I haven't eaten it in over a year.  Also, if they tell you it's spicy, it's a rare case where it probably is spicier than you imagine.

Hoddeok - Korean Doughnut!
3. Hoddeok - This one is actually hard to pass by. It smells at once familiar and exotic. It tastes great. It's cheap. Isn't that what you want in street food? This is basically a doughnut, fried in hot oil, then cut open with a pair of scissors and stuffed with walnuts, sunflower seeds, brown sugar, and honey. It's delicious. It also gives you the added benefit of hearing yourself get fatter as you chew. I'd highly recommend this one to anyone who visits Korea. Find the vendor with the long line, and they're probably selling these.

4. Sausages and mystery meats on a stick - You don't even need a picture for these. Hot dogs, corn dogs, and different kinds of sausages and mystery meats on a stick are widely available on the streets of Korea. Often they're covered in a spicy barbecue-like sauce. Other times just with ketchup and honey mustard. Corn dogs are treated slightly differently here though, as after they're pulled from the fryer they are rolled in granulated sugar and covered with ketchup.

5. Sponge-like fish cakes on a stick - Odeng cakes are folded and skewered, and left to soak in a fishy broth at some food carts. I haven't managed to make myself try these as I fear hepatitis, and you only have to watch for so long to see that the bowl of soy sauce and scallions that these delicacies are dipped in is never changed, only refilled. Double dipping is common place in Korean culture, and this is one food I avoid. I'll take my fish cakes in soup at restaurants, please.

There it is, a completely non-comprehensive guide to Korean street food as told through my perspective. Do you have a favorite street food? Can you not resist the sight of danger dogs on the street? Leave a note in the comments about your favorite sketchy snacks.

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Monday, July 2, 2012

Retail therapy for the Seoul

Living in Korea has taught me a few important lessons. One lesson that I have learned to no small degree is that sometimes you just need to have a weekend away from your normal routine.

Daegu is a nice city and all, but if you ask any Korean they'll tell you that it's probably the most staunchly conservative and foreigner-unfriendly of the big cities in Korea. Both Carolyn and I have recently had it with the blatant disrespect shown to us by our students when they see us on the street, the stares of drunken senior citizens, and the constant gasps of surprise from other people who live in the neighborhood that somehow are still surprised to see a foreigner in the area even after two years of several foreigners living on the block.  These things aren't usually enough to really bother us, but they do build up over time and require some relief in order to regain your patience and a generally care-free disposition.

When you take these little frustrations into consideration and add in the fact that we've both lost quite a bit of weight in the last few months and need some new clothes, there's really only one reasonable outcome, and that's a trip away from home.

We originally planned an engagement photo shoot for Saturday in Busan, but the photographer was concerned about the predicted onset of the monsoon, so we're going to try and reschedule for sometime in August. Carolyn had been especially looking forward to having a weekend getaway as she had to take care of me during my week of incapacitation after the kidney stone hell of a couple of weeks ago. So what did we do? We didn't go to Busan, we’ve been there quite a few times already this year. We didn't stay in Daegu to shop the knock-offs of brand names that Korea’s textile capital has to offer either. Instead, we headed up to Seoul for a weekend of shopping and relaxing in a nicely international and progressive city.

Saturday morning Carolyn woke up at about 6:00 and went for a run. It seemed the monsoon had truly arrived with light rains and the humidity we've so happily not felt this summer. We took showers, cleaned the apartment a little and headed to the train station to catch our KTX to Seoul.

I love travel days and always get myself a little treat for the rails. Dongdaegu Station has a Dunkin’ Donuts we always stop at, and this time I ignored the weird vegetable flavored donuts and instead ordered an item I’ve discovered on the menu here in Korea that I hope is also available in the US, the sausage burrito. This thing is probably a poor choice for someone who recently had a kidney stone, as it’s chock full of animal proteins and certainly sodium as well. Imagine a chili-cheese dog with rice wrapped in a warm tortilla and grilled. Yummo. That's what I call train food. After our little treat we boarded our super fast train for Seoul. An hour and a half of rice paddies and tunnels later we arrived at Seoul Station.

Seoul Station is one of my favorite places in Korea because it’a almost always a hub for some adventure we’re embarking on. It's always abuzz with movement, life, and noise. A few subway stops later and we were checking into our hotel in Sinchon, a neighborhood placed near lots of good shopping and dining options.

If you are a couple traveling on a budget and you want to spend a night or a week in Seoul, I’s suggest staying at the WS Hotel in Sinchon. It costs roughly the same as a private room in any of Seoul’s hostels, the desk clerk speaks English very well, and the service is pretty extraordinary for a small hotel in Korea. We screwed up and reserved a single room, and they upgraded us to a double at no additional charge. On top of that they gave us a cool gift upon check in! The location is nice too, with lots of good eats within a block and one of Seoul’s biggest bar and club districts only one subway stop away. We grabbed lunch at a Taco Bell (none of those on Daegu) while they cleaned our room (we were early), dropped our bags off, and headed to the Coex Mall for a few hours of American style mall bliss.

Coex Mall - Seoul's largest underground shopping center.
Coex was a little bit of a disappointment. Carolyn found some cool accessories, but neither of us wanted to spend much at boutique stores when we knew the big guns of fashion shopping in Seoul were waiting for us in Myeong-dong. We had a sad lunch of "Indian" curry and got back on the subway to head for some retail-therapy in Myeong-dong.

Crowded streets in Myeong-dong
I'm not really sure what happened next. If you've ever been shopping in Myeong-dong you know why. It’s like a tidal wave of humanity making its way through an urban landscape with a million different things happening at once and all five of your senses going into overload. I know for a fact we visited the smaller of the two H&M stores and the Forever 21 before telling a street vendor to do-something-not-so-nice to himself for trying to rip us off on a handbag. My memories become clear again as we walked out of Myeong-dong to catch the subway back to Sinchon. Carolyn had a walnut candy she bought from a food cart, and I had a collection of five sausages on a stick. We made it back to Sinchon, shared a berry pingsu, and settled into our hotel room where we drifted off to sleep as some Australian guy got kicked off of Masterchef Korea.

Street art in Hongdae

Quiet morning in Hongdae

I slept like a rock for the first time since the kidney stone two weeks ago. The hotel room was dark and quiet. We woke up slowly, got ready, checked out, and headed over to Hongdae to find something for breakfast. Hongdae is one of the liveliest night spots in Seoul and the sidewalks show it in the morning. The streets were being cleaned up from another Saturday night as we followed our noses to brunch. We were the first customers to arrive at Neal’s Yard and ordered a brunch plate of waffle, bacon, sausage, and eggs as well as a quiche. Everything was pretty good. Stuffed, we headed to find any clothes we might have missed in our first trip to Myeong-dong the night before.

The larger H&M store had a lot more for us to look at. I passed on shorts as I seem to be between sizes right now, but found some pants and a shirt I couldn't live without. Carolyn found a dress, some shorts, and a top she liked. Success!

Myeong-dong Cathedral

Myeong-dong Cathedral

We also walked around the exterior of Myeong-dong Cathedral. The cathedral has stood for over 100 years and seemed to be according to the pictures on-site one of the few buildings in the area to survive the Korean war.

We sat down to relax a bit at a Starbucks before heading into the fray at the Forever 21 one more time. I picked up a shirt I couldn't live without and Carolyn got some basics. We stopped at the new flagship UniQlo store for a pair if pants for Carolyn before heading back to Seoul Station.

We tried to make our normal stop a the Dos Tacos in Seoul Square before making wrong in the train, but damnit, the whole basement level of the building was closed. We had sandwiches at a Quizno’s and meandered over to the station.

The train ride home was pretty good minus some parents who think its a good idea to let their kids run around a train car like wild animals, but you run into that just about anywhere, I imagine. This is the sort of thing that would have really been irritating on Friday night, when we had our fill of being treated as some sort of exotic and dangerous wildlife as we walk through the streets, but at this point it was no big deal. The steam had been blown off. This sort of "monkey effect" is just part of being an expat when you live somewhere that you stick out. We've found that it's generally harmless, doesn't impact our life much, and we can deal with it. Sometimes though, it just becomes too much, and you need to find a way to let the rage out. For us, that means shopping. This weekend our retail-therapy was 100% effective.

Altogether our weekend escape to Seoul was a lot of fun. I think we got our fill if shopping, and boy will we look fancy on our way to work tomorrow! We might even be happy to be back in quiet, boring Daegu.

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Friday, June 29, 2012

Flyaway Friday: Where I want to go right now.

Happy Friday, everyone. I'd like to start asking a single question every Friday. Where would you like to fly away to today? I hope you've got an answer and will share it with me in the comments. Now, I know that lots of us have travel plans ready to go, so let's ignore the destinations that we're already planning on visiting. Basically, if you've already bought a plane ticket, you're going, so use Flyaway Friday to dream about living a little larger than you already do.

Photo by Denis. G on Flickr

Well, I'm off to Seoul this weekend, but if I had it my way, I'd be catching the first flight for Prague. I can't even pinpoint the reason why, but Prague and the Czech Republic have captivated my imagination for the better part of the past year. The architecture is beautiful and very old-world style, the food is very basic and filled with things that I love, and there's something familiar about the place even though there's no reason for the familiarity. Now, what would I do in Prague?

Eat. I love sausage, and growing up in South Texas there was no shortage of Czech sausages to be found. The fried cheese sandwiches look amazing, and the beer is supposed to be the best in the world. I imagine that I would fill out my slightly-too-baggy pants in no time on a visit to Prague.

Wander. Given Prague's distinctly old-world architecture and streets, I think I could wander with my camera for hours, just catching the light. It would be lovely.

Visit a castle. I have yet to visit a real castle, unless you count the old palaces in Seoul. Whatever, I want to visit a European castle that looks like it should have all sorts of Disney characters walking around in it. Prague Castle should do the trick.

See those creepy puppets. I recently confessed to my fiancee that those old European marionette puppets creep me out. I'd love to get creeped out on their home turf.

Did I mention fried cheese sandwiches? I've been thinking about a fried cheese sandwich for months. I really, really want one, and it's just not happening for me here in Korea. I could eat a lot of them in Prague, though!

So there we go. For Flyaway Friday today I'd like to hop the fastest flight to Prague. Is fried cheese on bread really such a shallow reason to go somewhere?

Where would you like to jet off to today? Tell me where and why in the comments!

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