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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.: June 2012

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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Thursday, June 28, 2012

Thoughtful Thursday: On Food

Welcome to Thoughtful Thursday. I'd like to make sure that at least once a week I write something that involves a little bit of thought and contemplation on my part before sending it out to the internet. I don't really intend to make my blog a heavy-hitting journal of deep thoughts, but there's some big things to be gained from food and travel, and sometimes pictures and snark just won't do the job. Let's get right to it.

If you've read this blog for long enough, you know that I love food. I love buying it at the grocery store (most of the time), I love cooking it, I love eating it, I love watching television shows about it. Food is probably my biggest non-Carolyn-related passion. What you may not know is that for the first 29 of my 30 years, I ate like a moron. Lots of fried foods, fast foods, processed foods, and meats made up the bulk of my diet, while there was very little representing the world of vegetables and fruits.

When I turned 30 I realized I probably won't live forever, and that I should do what I can to give my body more of what it needs so that it doesn't have to process a ton of chemical and artificial crap. I continued to eat like crap until we took a vacation back to the good old U.S. of A. and gorged on all of the stuff that we've missed since moving to Korea. I gained 12 pounds in a matter of 3.5 weeks. When we came back to Korea we both changed our diets. I cut my soda habit down from about five sodas a day to perhaps four or five per week. We eat meatless most days of the week, because it's cheaper, easier, and better for both our bodies and the environment. We also started exercising. Since coming back to Korea I've lost 20 pounds, and Carolyn is down over 30. Those changes weren't enough to prevent a kidney stone that I imagine was 29 years in the making, but hopefully it won't happen again.

Now that you have a little background information on my eating habits, I want to talk about food in a way that's a bit different than "wow, this shit is delicious" or "silkworm larvae taste like dirt." I want to talk about food as a resource and how we can avoid misusing it, and how we can learn about using our resources more wisely by getting out of our comfort zone and globetrotting a bit. In one sense, I believe this is a really simple subject, eating healthier and using all parts of an animal in the way that people from other countries do is far less wasteful than buying only the breast of a chicken or beef steaks. In another sense, I feel that using only the breast of the chicken or the choice cuts of beef is disrespectful to the animal that you're eating. These are the two main things I want to talk about today.

"Ew, that's gross!" is a bad thing. Who has watched an episode of Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern? For a long time I had a problem with that show, because I thought that what he did was basically invalidate the eating habits of other cultures by trying to turn their everyday foods into shock-TV. I think I might have gotten the wrong message though. In this interview, Andrew Zimmern explains that his show exists not to introduce culture or shock the American audience by the "gross" things that he eats, but rather to send a message that there's a lot of food that we Americans won't even try, and that we rely far too much on commodities.

This NPR article has some infographics that illustrate the environmental impact of meat, as well as how we eat more meat per capita than any other nation aside from Luxembourg. I find it interesting that they point out that scientists have devised ways to get more meat out of every cow, pig, and chicken. By injecting them full of steroids and hormones? Do we really want to eat that? Will these same steroids and hormones give me 'roid rage and man boobs? Also, what happens with the tripes and cheaper cuts of meats from these animals? I don't see many Americans eating kidneys, livers, and tongues for dinner.

Essentially, I get the feeling that we're essentially subjecting ourselves to scientific experimentation by eating these genetically and chemically altered animals that have been tampered with to grow bigger "desirable" parts in lieu of eating the parts that people have eaten for hundreds of years.

I've been out and about in the world just a little bit. I haven't been to a million different places, or eaten every ethnic delicacy from any one location, but I do know that in Korea and Indonesia I've seen lots of people eating things that wouldn't be served in any suburban household at home. I've been out with my coworkers for makchang, which is essentially raw beef or pork tripe that you grill at the table. You know, it wasn't bad at all. We also had raw beef kidney, liver, and stomach lining. It wasn't my thing, but it wasn't bad. Millions of people around the world eat these parts of the animals that they slaughter, and they don't get sick or die from them. I think that one lesson most Americans could stand to learn is that a lot of people live their lives with much less than we do, without impacting their happiness. I think the only effective way to hammer that point home is to go out and meet those people where they live.

So what's brought on this change of heart about meat? Well, I just think you have to respect an animal if you're going to slaughter it to eat it. It's easy to forget that something has literally died so that you can eat it when you buy the faceless, plastic wrapped tray of meat at the market. I'm not saying that we shouldn't eat meat. I think we're definitely apex predators and that there's a certain amount of animal protein that goes into a healthy diet. I think we can eat less meat and lessen the environmental footprint we put on the planet with every meal. I also think that we can and should open ourselves up to eating the dirty-bits of animals that we tend to ignore. If you want to respect the ingredient (imagine it's your family dog, do you want it to die just so you can eat it's drumsticks?) you should be ready to cook and eat everything nose to tail.

So there we have it, folks. My first Thoughtful Thursday. As soon as I'm in a place where I can read the labels and know what I'm buying, I'll be cooking some liver and onions and steak and kidney pies. Want to join me?

What are your thoughts on food, conservation, and what it means to respect the ingredients that you eat? Leave a comment here and we'll have ourselves a discussion. If you'd rather, join me to discuss the topic on Facebook.

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Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Korean-style recycling and waste management

Korea has a pretty intense recycling culture. So intense that even banana peels, egg shells, and uneaten portions of last night's dinner are recycled as compost and pig slop (I assume.) I actually like that nothing goes to waste from my kitchen, but boy is keeping it all until collection day one of my least favorite things about living here. Join me as I put the food waste out for collection.

Also, check out the Stars on the Ceiling Blog for a guest post from yours truly in the next day or two! Stars on the Ceiling is a really cool travel blog run by a couple of ladies in New York, and if you like to get around the world you'll enjoy their posts. They write from a unique and smart perspective, and I think you'll enjoy their efforts!

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Tuesday, June 26, 2012

We've picked an itinerary for our honeymoon!

It was probably about a year ago that we decided that we should have a less expensive wedding, save our nickels and dimes (or our baek and oh-baek coins) and take a huge trip for our honeymoon. A quick look at our finances and projected incomes for the new year made it seem like we could do it, so we decided to go forward with making it a goal. A year later it's still a goal, but it's morphed so many times that it's almost kind of scary to commit to an idea because we've dreamed of going to so many places. How do you decide where to go when a trip has been planned (at least in your head) as a round-the-world trip, an all-of-Europe trip, a Western-Europe-only trip, and a tour-of-German-speaking-countries trip? Well, it really helps when you have a healthy appetite and a desire to go somewhere a little less likely. Now it's time to reveal what we're tentatively planning. After our wedding, we want to head to one of the culinary capitals of the world, and explore a place that both of us have talked and dreamed about going to for years.

Our current honeymoon itinerary
Sorry, Paris, you're just not on the itinerary for this couple. We plan to start our trip with a flight to Madrid, where we will spend a couple of days seeing the works of a few of our favorite artists, grand cathedrals, beautiful squares, and oh yes, eating lots and lots of tapas. After Madrid our itinerary has us traveling to Barcelona for a few days along the Mediterranean with more art, tapas, and cathedrals. Spain is essentially unknown to both of us, aside from what we learned in our high school Spanish classes and from watching foodie shows on the boob-tube that propelled it into our itinerary. Have I mentioned that we're only completely excited about seeing the Moorish architecture?

When we've had our fill of España, we will head east to the Mediterranean shores of France. We plan to stay in Nice, and fill our bellies with ratatouille and aioli. A visit to nearby Monaco is currently in the cards. This will give us the chance to have plenty of French pastries, baguettes, and all of the other delights that we dreamed about during our initial planning of a honeymoon in Paris. After a few days our waistlines should be screaming for us to move on, but they'll get no relief as we move into Italy.

After a visit to Rome, which I imagine will be a whirlwind tour of places like the Pantheon, St. Peter's Square, the Vatican, and other must-see sights, we plan to travel to Napoli and the Amalfi coast. I can't tell you how exciting it will be to wake up with Mt. Vesuvius in the distance, and to finally visit Pompeii. Pompeii has been a minor obsession of mine since the 5th grade, when my "gifted and talented" class did a thematic year on Rome, learned a bit of Latin, and of course a 5th grade boy would be most interested in the greatest natural disaster of the era.  I won't even talk about the food I'm imagining during this portion of the trip, because it wouldn't be very nice to torture myself like that as I live in Korea and it's widely unavailable. We'll cross the peninsula and board a ferry to take us to the parts of the honeymoon that I find to be the most foreign, exciting, and intriguing.

Our ferry will put us back onto dry land in Croatia. We're quite excited about this part of the trip, because there are few places that look so ancient but are yet so recently rebuilt on our itinerary. I'm imagining crystalline blue waters, cliffs, and a rugged landscape. I'm interested to meet people who have survived one of the worst civil wars on the planet that I can remember in my lifetime, and I'm sure we're going to have plenty of opportunities to meet them as we travel through the Balkans, from Croatia, through Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Montenegro. Everything I have read or seen on television raves about this region's wines, foods, scenery, and beauty. I can't wait to see, smell, and taste it all for myself. After transit through Bosnia, Montenegro, and Albania, we will begin our tour of the ancient world of Greece.

Greek cuisine is one of my favorites in the world. It might be my favorite. I can only imagine it tastes much, much better in Greece. Our loose plan at this point includes stops in Athens, Mykonos, and Santorini. I somewhat want to book one of those package tours of ancient sites, but time will tell whether that's a good idea or not. When I imagine Greece, I basically imagine white buildings and blue seas. I imagine a place where the world seems much bigger than it really is, where the gods of old still play their terrible games with people, and where the people remain full of smiles and hospitality even though they've often been given a hard situation to live in. I hope I'm right about that part. After spending sufficient time in Greece, we will board yet another ferry and cross into Turkey.

Our time in Turkey will be spent  first by exploring the Aegean coastline. Once again I'm imagining a somewhat stark contrast between rocky shores and clear blue waters. I'm also imagining kebabs and baklava, but that's beside the point. There should be plenty of beautiful things to see on the slow trip from Ephesus to Istanbul. Once we arrive in Istanbul, the former-art-history-professor in my is going to go wild. I've always had a fascination with Byzantine art, and Istanbul was Byzantium, right? The Hagia Sophia, the Blue Mosque, and all sorts of sites are already beckoning me. I believe that old Constantinople will have plenty of tricks up its sleeve to amaze us with, as well as plenty of delicious foods that look like they will keep our bellies full, olfactory glands in overdrive, and have us smelling, tasting, and remembering the end of our honeymoon for the rest of our lives. 

So there it is, the official itinerary that we're going to try and make happen so that after we say "I do" we have about four or six weeks to ourselves, in a place that we've always dreamed of being, to get ready to start the next big phase of our life together. I think this is going to be the perfect way to get our heads cleared out and to hang the big carrot of travel over our minds as we get ready to start new careers in a new place, and hopefully not too long after that a family of our own.

Have you been to any of these places? Have any travel tips? Know any friends with big couches? If so leave a comment here or on our Facebook page!

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Monday, June 25, 2012

Milk and berry ping su

...this is the "after" picture...I lacked the foresight for a "before" picture...

It's summertime here in South Korea and the heat and humidity are starting to make the afternoons seem really, really long. What's a guy to do to keep cool? Well, as an alternative to freezing your underwear, laying under the air conditioner all day, or taking a cold shower you might seek out a cold and tasty treat. A specifically Korean treat is called pat ping su, or as we foreigners call it, ping su

Ping su is the bastard child of ice cream and shave ice, to put it bluntly. In most cases you have a bed of ice flakes, a layer of fruit, berries, nuts, or and corn flakes, topped with a nice scoop of ice cream and some red bean paste. I've never been a huge fan of ping su, the corn flakes and red bean paste were just a bit too much for me to handle, and I really wasn't a fan of the mix of ice flakes and milk.

It was pretty hot this weekend, though, and Carolyn really wanted to have a nice cold ping su. After a lunch of tang soo yook (think sweet and sour pork at your local mall's Chinese restaurant) we stopped at a cafe we've passed a thousand times but never entered, because we saw people on the patio with big bowls of ping su. The cafe itself was beautiful, with polished concrete floors, beautiful dark wooden furniture, and a surprisingly Western (as in American West) feel to it. The prices were a bit higher than most cafes we go to, but what the hell, right?

Carolyn ordered the milk and berry ping su for us. I was not excited. When they delivered the giant bowl of ice cream and ice flakes though, I was really happy with what I saw. The ice flakes were made of milk! This gave the entire dish a makeover. The red bean paste was confined to the inside of delicious rice cakes and played very well with the berries and nuts, and the vanilla ice cream on top permeated the milk flakes with a strong vanilla bean flavor. I am now a convert.

The milk flakes reminded me so strongly of the coffee can ice cream we made in elementary school. I love that old kick-the-can ice cream, and this was a pretty close replication. The berries were fresh, and the nuts were toasted and had a satisfying crunch. Maybe I misjudged the Korean idea of what you should eat on a hot day! I now think that a milk ping su might be the cure for the summer afternoon heat, and I know where to go to get one.

What kind of things are served specifically to combat the summer heat where you live?

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Friday, June 22, 2012

Minor Interruption.

I promise you that post with some thoughts on food is coming soon. After last weekend's kidney-stone drama I've spent the majority of this week hunkered down at my desk at work fighting off waves of pain and nausea. You see, here in Korea, you go to work and suffer rather than stay home and recover. It seems to me that it's perfectly acceptable to go to work sick and have zero (and I mean zero) productivity, and I have accomplished about zero since returning to work Tuesday morning. I finally started feeling better yesterday, and feel pretty much normal today. Hooray! What this means though, is that the time I normally use for blogging, my off-periods, has been repurposed for planning the reviews my kids will do next week for their final exams.

Here's an interesting cultural note for today though. We use IM a lot in the office to communicate. In previous work lives I've always avoided emoticons on communications. Both Carolyn and I have discovered that if you don't use this one ^^ at the end of every message, your coworkers assume you're in a bad mood, tired, hung over, or in some way incapacitated. When they found out I was sick I got lots of replies like this ^^* to show me that they were sad for me. I think it's a quirky and somewhat cute bit of office culture here.

Now, back to work...that second grade 'b' class is coming up in about 10 minutes. FML.

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Thursday, June 21, 2012

Where the Hell is Matt? 2012

Woo hoo! I saw it on the first day it was up. Now, all of you my readers, can watch it too. I'm still recovering from the kidney thing, and I think I just made myself sick by reading about the recovery from shock wave lithotropsy online, so I don't have a whole lot to write about today. Expect a post about food soon, though. I'm going to go back to reclining in my office chair and grinding my teeth, because that seems to make me feel a bit better.

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Wednesday, June 20, 2012

TV has thrown a wrench into the honeymoon Euro-trip plan

When we first started plotting, figuring, dreaming, and whatnot about how long our honeymoon in Europe could be, how much money we could save during our last year in Korea, and where we wanted to go, we thought "hey, we could make this a three month thing, live cheap, and visit lots of places." We could probably still do that but I think both of us have come to the point where after spending 2 years overseas we might want to get home, find jobs, and get settled a little bit sooner than that.

Our first draft of this plan was to get married in New York, fly to Paris, and start the honeymoon there. The first draft didn't get very far though, mainly just a list of cities and places we wanted to visit. Paris, London, Amsterdam, Berlin, München, Rome, Prague, and so on and so forth. We watched lots of TV shows about traveling in France and Germany and the Czech Republic, and got pretty excited about the whole prospect.

Of course, right now we have the great opportunity to live in Asia and have cheap flights to lots of places in Asia that we want to visit, so it's pretty important to mention that we don't want to save so aggressively that we have regrets about not visiting places here. Our trip to Japan got booked first, and we understand it's going to be somewhat expensive, but I think we'd really kick ourselves if we lived next door to one of the most iconic countries in Asia for two years and never made a proper visit. Our trip to Thailand for summer vacation will probably end up costing less than the shorter trip to Japan in the end, but after a winter in Korea we both want to be somewhere nice and hot with a beach, and Thailand is yet another of the most iconic countries in Asia. We're also kicking around ideas for our winter vacation, because there's a few other "must-see" places on our list and we have a bit more time to work with this winter.

Anyhow, the point of the previous tangent of a paragraph is that we are planning on a somewhat shorter honeymoon, perhaps 6 weeks or so. Where do we start our travel planning then? Well, for one, we like guidebooks. Although it's cool among travel circles to berate guidebooks and the people that use them, I think scoffing at the idea of carrying some information about places you might want to see or visit, things you might want to eat, and a few useful phrases is short-sighted. In fact, I've gotten to the point where I think that disliking things just because other people like them is kinda crazy.

Anyhow, our Lonely Planet or Rough Guide Europe guides, one of them, had an interesting looking itinerary that started in Rome and ended in Scotland. We both thought "hey, that sounds awesome." It even started to look like we might start the process of figuring out how to make it work. We usually do travel and wedding planning at a cafe near our little apartment, but this weekend we didn't make it due to disruption from my kidney.

Last night, as we laid down to go to sleep I put on an epsiode of No Reservations in which Anthony Bourdain (another person some people hate, some people love) traveled through Istanbul. All of the sudden Turkey just turned into a wrench that has lodged itself right in the middle of my mind's "where do I want to go" engine. I think it got stuck in Carolyn's too. I mean, it looked so foreign, yet clean and familiar, and the food looked amazing. How could we not want to go there, right?

That's just how it is I guess, there's always going to be more places that we want to go...but maybe, just maybe we can plan Turkey into our honeymoon.

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Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Hospitalized Abroad!

This weekend was one of the most memorable and painful weekends on record for my life. As you probably know, I've been living in South Korea with my fiance since February 2011, and we work in the public school system here. One of the things we were excited about was being on a national health insurance plan, and we've used it sparingly over the course of our year and a half here. This weekend we got to test it out on a bigger event.

Friday afternoon I had a quick turnaround between classes, and I started to feel a bit of pain in my back. I always attribute back pain to the chair in my office, or my concrete slab of a bed, but this was sharper and more localized. I went to my class and winced here and there as I made my way through the 45 minutes. It subsided, school ended, I grabbed a snack and went home. At home there wasn't really any more problems, just a dull ache. We watched a few episodes of Modern Family and No Reservations before we crashed.

At about 6:00 on Saturday morning, I woke up and made my way to the bathroom. I wasn't sure whether I was going to vomit or "other" and I kept changing positions while I was trying to figure out what was happening. I got very hot, started sweating, and eventually started vomiting without end. Carolyn woke up (I was apparently screaming) and went to get some juice, but the pain just got worse, so we grabbed my health insurance card and headed to the hospital.

Our first stop was Bogang Hospital, about a mile away. We caught a cab and took the quick ride over, as I continued wretching into the bucket Carolyn grabbed for me. We stumbled into the emergency room, and there were no English speaking staff members. I called my coteacher, and Carolyn called her Korean friend and they translated for us. Bogang Hospital had no facilities with which to run blood tests or anything, and they wanted to send us to a different hospital. They called a cab for us, gave him directions, and we piled in. We rode about 20 minutes or so to Daegu Catholic University Hospital, my head in the bucket, and the pain just got worse.

I stumbled into the E.R. saying "help me" and an English speaking doctor said he'd help. Carolyn got me admitted with the front desk, and I sat down on a gurney. The doctor came back a few minutes (that seemed like hours) later and took my vitals, I think, then came back another few minutes (again...they seemed like hours) later and started an examination. He asked where the pain was, before punching me in the back. My response was a loud scream, then he had me lay back on the gurney and felt my abdomen, once again inducing screams. A few minutes later they were inserting an IV, pain medication started flowing in, and I stopped panicking.

They wheeled me around the hospital on the gurney, but I was feeling better at this point. X-rays and a CT scan revealed that I had a kidney stone on my right side, and that it would require a shockwave treatment for me to be able to move it along. Okay, now we're getting somewhere, I thought. They gave us a referral card and address for a urology clinic on the complete opposite side of the city, we hailed a cab, and headed on. The fee was about 150,000 won for all of the service.

We were both struck by how nice Suseong-gu is compared to where we live. The doctor's office was pretty posh, with comfortable chairs in the waiting room, and clean, clean floors. The doctor here spoke impeccable English, and told me that the run of x-rays and treatment would cost about 300,000 won and take about 2 hours. It went by quick, and before I knew it I had gone through a whole lot of x-rays and been splayed naked over a shockwave machine that broke the stone up. I felt better right away.

Carolyn's Korean friend came along to make sure we were okay (and not over billed or otherwise taken advantage of as foreigners). Her boyfriend was nice enough to give us a ride home, not before I had to run to a bathroom to vomit again and start sweating and turn pale. The pharmacy at the ground floor of the building gave me 8 days of painkillers and antibiotics, and a 30 day run of anti-stone drugs. This cost about 30,000 won. We got home a bit later, I laid down, and managed to eat some to get my first run of drugs down.

The doctor warned that I would probably experience more pain as the stone fragments continued to pass, and sure enough at about 1:00am, I was up again, having the same vomiting reaction until more moved along. I felt better by about 4:00am and went to bed. I woke up Sunday morning feeling quite a bit better, but with no appetite. Carolyn went shopping, made lunch, I took my pills, and started to feel better. I made it through the rest of the day with little pain, until we laid down to go to sleep for the night.

A dull ache awakened me at about 3:00 on Monday morning, and kept me awake, mostly out of fear that the big pains would return, I think until 6:00 or so. I called in sick to work and spent the day at home resting, eating when I was hungry, and taking my pills right on time.

This leads me to a few points about living overseas that I think people could take a note from:

  1. Have a local friend who speaks the language. It makes it way easier to get your point across if you can't communicate very well and you need treatment.
  2. Have a foreign friend who can handle your affairs. I could not have filled out the paperwork at the hospitals myself, and having Carolyn with me provided an unreal amount of comfort and assurance that there was someone that at least knew there was something wrong with me.
  3. Have insurance. Almost 500,000 won isn't a huge amount of money, but it's not insignificant either. Have travel insurance or some other coverage wherever you go, otherwise a hospital stay could ruin your travels for a while.
  4. Know where a few hospitals are just in case you ever need to find one.
  5. Know the easiest place to catch a cab, because stumbling down the street clutching your kidneys, you don't want to struggle to find a ride.
  6. Make sure you have a phrasebook with a medical section. Our $12 Lonely Planet Korean phrasebook had nearly everything we needed for our hospital conversations, and was worth every penny.
So there's my experience of needing acute medical treatment while living abroad. It's nothing out of the ordinary or even dramatic, simply an experience. Make sure that you have the coverage and tools (phrasebook) you need on your travels to make potential hospitalization a little more do-able.

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Friday, June 15, 2012

Five countries I want to travel to. Right now.

The planning portion of our summer adventure to Thailand is pretty much over, as is the planning for our Chuseok trip to Japan. What's a boy to do? I really think that every hour you spend planning a trip counts as part of the trip, even the hours you spend just dreaming about where you want to go next. We have but one vacation period left during our time here in Korea, and the wheels in my head (and in my fiancee's head, as she gets just as much input as I do into these decisions) are already turning. Here's a list of five countries that I want to go to right now.

1. Vietnam is number one on my list. Is it because of my morbid curiosity about seeing an embalmed communist leader? Is it because I want to crawl through the tunnels that the Viet Cong used during the Vietnam conflict? Well, no, not really. I mean, I do want to see Ho Chi Minh's grave (and embalmed body). I do have some curiousity about the Vietnamese perspective on the war, and I'm ashamed to admit that I want to film myself attempting to surf in Vietnam so I can create a YouTube video called "Charlie don't surf." None of the reasons as outlined above are the thing that I think of when I hear Vietnam. What I think of is a sandwich. I want to eat banh mi sandwiches. Lots of them. What's a banh mi, you ask?

Photo by  jeffreyw on Flickr

Wikipedia says:
"Bánh mì or bánh mỳ (/ˈbʌn ˌmiː/; Vietnamese pronunciation: [ɓǎɲ mî]) is a Vietnamese term for all kinds of bread. Bread, or more specifically the baguette, was introduced by the French during its colonial period. The bread most commonly found in Vietnam is single serve and resembles a torpedo, therefore the term bánh mì is synonymous with this type of bread. The bánh mì is usually more airy than its western counterpart, so as a result, has a thinner crust."

Sounds like a tasty reason to visit to me!

Photo by jjcb on flickr

2. Singapore, from what I gather, is the cleanest big city in the world. I want to see that. The streets aren't clogged with cars, there's no graffiti, and there is Peranakan food. What is Peranakan food, you ask? Well, to my understanding it's the mixture of food that results from the cultural mixture of Malay, Chinese, and Indian people in places like Singapore. Also, there's a Chinatown and a Little India, so you can get whatever food your heart and stomach desire. Aside from that, Singapore simply has a sexy, sexy skyline. I'm a sucker for tall buildings, and I think Singapore would certainly give me my fill of them.

Photo by Arian Zwegers on flickr

3. Cambodia is a country I don't know much about, but it's got Angkor Wat, and I want some of that action. Angkor Wat is a Buddhist, Hindu, and Muslim temple situated in the Cambodian jungle, and looks like it's big enough to explore for days. Combine such an awesome sight to see with the way dollars tend to go really, really far in southeast Asia, and you have my entire reasoning for wanting to visit Cambodia.

4. Malaysia makes the list because although I've had my passport stamped there, I haven't had a chance to go to Penang yet. Penang is apparently the "pearl of the orient" and filled with delicious street food. Given the opportunity right now, I'd let someone jab me in the arm to refresh my Hepatitis A vaccine and hop the next flight to Penang. Air Asia flies straight to Penang, and as it's one of my favorite airlines this trip might be possible. Alas, they don't offer that flight from Seoul.

Photo by Arian Zwegers on flickr
5. India looks like it would be one heck of an intense travel experience. Intense in the sense that the poverty, hawking, staring, being followed, filth and grime would be unpleasant but also color your memories in a way that is more vivid than travel to a more developed place. I imagine the mysticism that I was bewildered by in Bali would be present to a huge degree, along with a good amount of new sights, smells, and sounds. All of my friends that have been to India loved the experience, and they have all remarked on how intense it was. Also, Indian food is one my favorite cuisines, and I think that's a good enough reason to go on its own merit.

So, these are the five countries I would go to right now. Leave a comment here or on the Ever Evolving Primate facebook page, and tell me which five countries you would drop everything and fly to this very moment.

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7 reasons it's more fun to travel with another person

1. You don't have to call anyone to share what you've seen. I think anyone who has taken a solo trip somewhere understands this. My last solo trip was diving in Hawaii, and I seem to remember reaching for my phone to call home and tell mom how awesome the dives were that day to find that my phone had broken in half when my bag fell out of the overhead on the dive boat. In those days I was quite the loudmouthed expert on why it's better to travel alone, I even had reasons! I think the reasons were something like "when you don't have someone with you, you get more caught up in the moment and appreciate where you are more." Well, that was a load of horse-shit. I didn't have a cell phone the first time I traveled alone, and borrowed my dad's. That was back in the days of domestic roaming, and, well, he never told me what the bill was that month but I'm sure it wasn't cheap! I think that what I didn't realize, at the wise old age of 22, was that cell phones were about to change everything.
Now we're always connected and never have to even wait until we get home to share what we've seen and stuff. The reason this technology took off probably has something to do with the fact that people just like to share things they think are cool, and share them right away. This is one of the biggest reasons it's better to have someone with you. You can "share" something cool without even reaching into your pocket!

Nasi goreng tastes better if you have someone to talk with!
2. You have someone to eat meals with. There was a time when I thought this wasn't a big deal too. I didn't have any good or even halfway thought-out reasons. Of course, before the age of 27 or so I didn't really enjoy the act of eating as much as I enjoy it now (and oddly enough I'm about 40lbs lighter now, go figure.) If I went somewhere to eat that wasn't drive thru or pick-up (because that's easy to take back to your hotel room and get on the internet, where you're never alone. I'd sit at a table for one, smugly think that the host or hostess had judged me when I said I wanted a table for one, and try not to stare too hard as I tried to listen to other people's conversations. Meals can be a really lonely time when you're on your own, especially if you're not good at engaging people you've never met before in conversation. A friend of mine just backpacked all over southeast Asia, India, China, Mongolia, and Russia on her way back to the U.K. I'm certain she had zero problems finding someone to talk to at meals if she wanted conversation, but she's got that inherent skill of talking to people that I was born without!

3. You have someone to say good night to. My younger, more knowledgeable (I knew everything then) self would have derided me for this as a reason to be weak and travel with another person. It's easier to go to sleep when you have someone to say goodnight to, whether they're right next to you, or in a bunk bed right above you. If for some reason you were to go missing in the night, sleepwalk to the edge of town, be mauled by lions in the middle of the night, someone would know about it. Those seven to nine hours of sleep you need after a day of sightseeing, scuba diving, sunbathing, or photo taking can conceptually be pretty scary. It's nice to know that there's someone you can check out with before you close your eyes who expects you to check back in when the sun comes up, am I right?

4. You don't feel like you're very far from home, even if you're on the other side of the world. This is particularly true if your travel partner is your significant other. When we left for South Korea, I was a complete ball of nerves. Sometimes I still feel like I couldn't be any farther away from my comfort zone than I am here, but it's okay because home is just a concept that to me means, where Carolyn is. I'm looking forward to moving "home" to Thailand for a couple weeks in the near future. I'm also looking forward to moving "home" to New York for a longer term stay. I think sometimes your significant other can keep a reserve of your sanity to hose you down with and keep you from totally losing it. If they don't have enough of your sanity in reserve to do that they can at the very least call home for you and get help (say, if your bank freezes your account while you're in another country).

See? Everyone is in groups!
5. Romantic things like sunsets aren't awkward if you're not single. Oh if I could only go back in time and tell the 21-26 year old primate that sunsets on the beach were in fact romantic and that he is only lying to himself. In a sea of couples, a single person is going to feel out of place. That's all there is to it. It's probably a good thing I didn't take the trip to Tahiti I was planning in the summer of 2005, it would have been a relentlessly romantic experience where I stumbled around alone and couples made conversation with me out of pity. The fact of the matter is that some places were meant for pairs. Now there's no reason that a few dudes can't hang out together on the beach for a great sunset. Yeah, it's a couples thing in a sense, but a bunch of guys and a bunch of beers somehow are an exception to the rule. So are multiple generations of a single family when seated together. Or just two friends who have something to talk about while they enjoy the scenery. Romantic things are awkward for none of those groups, but singles are definitely the misfits in these situations.

Can I try your zombie? You can try my Singapore Sling!

6. You get to try twice as many foods and drinks. This is completely and totally simple and straightforward. You're in a new country. You want to try as much of the local cuisine as possible. If you go out to dinner 14 times, you can order 14 different dishes without being a total glutton, right? Maybe a few sides or something in addition, but you can't take down a whole lot more than that. If you have a wife, fiancee, girlfriend, friend, or any other type of travel buddy (except for maybe a dog or a parrot), you can double the number of foods you get to eat. All you have to do is make sure to not order the same thing at dinner, and trade bites. Simple. Delicious.

7. Chances are they have a few different interests, so you get to see something you wouldn't have bothered with otherwise. My fiancee likes art, a lot. I've always been one to look at art, say "that's nice" and move along. When we spent a week in New York a couple of years ago, we went to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and it was fantastic. If I went to New York alone I would have probably only wandered the streets of Chinatown buying bootleg DVDs and knockoff purses for a week (not really). I certainly wouldn't have wandered into the Met or MoMA and spent the amount of time that I did looking at all of the paintings I remembered from art history class. I got really lucky in that sense! In a few weeks when we head to Thailand, we're going to take a cooking class. That's much more my interest than hers, but I'm sure she's going to have a great time learning to cook Thai foods as well. Sometimes your partner's interests are different, but usually they're complimentary.

Traveling with another person isn't always sexy, romantic, bro-mantic, or any other adjective you might use when you think of long walks on the beach or a day trying to figure out how a damn sea kayak works (I'm anticipating a little bit there with the kayak), but it's definitely a different experience than traveling alone, and your hand reaches for your phone a lot less than it would if you were looking at something awesome and had no one to tell about it. Basically, I think traveling with a partner (any partner) is going to deepen and round out your travel experience by putting a completely new frame of reference into the experience. Plus there's someone to call your family if you get eaten by rabid mongeese in the night.

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Thursday, June 14, 2012

What do you call it when nostalgia and excitement mix?

I don't know why, but certain physical stimuli bring on rushes of excitement and nostalgia at the same time that make me at once remember something from the past fondly while simultaneously getting excited about something on the horizon. Right now, with school getting ready to wrap up (we only have two weeks until final exams, and a couple of lame duck weeks after that), summer camp lesson plans starting to come due, and changes in the weather happening that create brief moments of recall of the same physical feeling from a previous time, my brain is bombarding me with nostalgia and excitement at the exact same time.

Today I was listening to one of my students blast through a speaking test (good job, kiddo) and a cool breeze blew down the hallway. The minute that breeze hit me and moved on my brain instantly recalled every feeling, sight, sound, and even smell that I remember as we came off of the first leg of our Air Asia flight to Bali. We had just landed in Kuala Lumpur, we were tired, I had proposed marriage just a few hours earlier (thank goodness she said yes, or else I'd be remembering a really awkward experience right now) and we were hungry, anxious, and surrounded by people who wanted to provide us with transportation to downtown Kuala Lumpur. We didn't need to leave the airport, but we were hungry, wanted to call our families, and in a pretty foreign place. Everyone spoke English, and it was really hard to concentrate on conversations because we understood too much of what was happening around us.

That was a really exciting morning. We tried to get cash overseas with our Korea Exchange Bank cards and had trouble (it turns out we have savings accounts, not checking accounts), had to exchange some won into Malay ringgit, and had a small breakfast at the Starbuck's just outside the airport. It was lovely. We purchased a deck of cards and a magazine and sat through our layover in the crisp cool terminal until finally boarding our flight to Bali.  This isn't the part of a vacation or traveling experience that you normally think about, right? Who cares about layovers in airports? It was a really pleasant layover, but I don't think about it all that often. For whatever reason that cool breeze on a warm day brought it right back. It also made me really hungry for a char siu bao, because we had one in the airport and it was delish.

Watching TV a few nights ago we stumbled upon what seemed to be a Korean version of Real Housewives and the housewives were traveling in Hawaii. Something about the color of the water on the screen or the sound of the ukuleles or something visual reminded me of a very specific feeling I would get when I lived in Hawaii. I worked at Jack's Diving Locker and on our boat trips someone would always have to jump in to tie  the boat to the mooring buoy. As a new guy, it was almost always me. Something I saw on TV reminded me of how it would feel as the cool blue water would rush past on my way down to the buoy, and the little rush of adrenaline I'd get no matter what when I would think of the tiger sharks that could be anywhere around me. For some reason they didn't concern me when I had my scuba gear, but when I would jump in to tie the boat up I'd always be a bobble head looking around.

I find it interesting that certain stimuli bring on such a response. In Korea we can only put out food waste a few nights a week. We keep it in our freezer until then, to avoid flies. Our freezer has...well...a smell. When I open it, I think of durian, and the fruit stand we stopped at on our way up Gunung Batur in Bali. We bought a couple of mangoes and gave them to our divemaster the next day. Those big, ugly, pungent durian though, they left an impression, and now the smell of rotting garbage gives me a warm fuzzy feeling, interesting, right? I wish I could say that celery in tuna salad makes me think of lunch sitting on the beach at Menjangan Island, but it's sadly not the case.

Passing thunderstorms remind me of summer in Florida, when you could literally see a entire thunderstorm make it's way by rumbling along like a combustion engine as it worked its way towards the ocean, or sometimes of the cool breeze that would blow by right before a big thunderstorm in Texas in the springtime. I can't say for certain on this yet, but I'm pretty sure that iced lattes are always going to remind me of the mornings that Carolyn and I have spent planning our travels at the coffee shop. We're switching to wedding planning now, so it might have a really good warm-fuzzy feeling to attach to it.

Anyhow, we've all got these kinds of rapid-recall inducing stimuli, I'm sure. I just don't know what to call it. What do you suggest? Perhaps you could leave the real word for whatever this is in the comment box, or whatever you like to call it as a suggestion. In the meantime, I'm going to have fun trying to think about what stimulus will bring forth the to-be-made memories of my upcoming trip to Thailand.

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Wednesday, June 13, 2012

5 Reasons to get out of Seoul when you visit Korea

Seoul is an amazing city, that's for sure. Since moving to Korea I've been to Seoul more than a few times, and every time I go I'm amazed by how cosmopolitan and massive the city is. Seoul-proper is surrounded by Gyeonggi province, but it's not very provincial. Seoul's metropolitan area covers most of Gyeonggi province and includes smaller cities like Cheonan and Suwon. With it's great collection of cultural and historical assets, it's no wonder many visitors to Korea never even leave the capital. If I visited this country on a quick stopover, or even a seven day vacation, I might be hard pressed to get out of the biggest city on the peninsula, but there's a lot of reasons to get to Seoul Station, hop a train, and get out of Seoul.

Busan has a great mix of nature and architecture

Busan has plenty of places to bask in the neon

If it's seafood you're after, Jagalchi Market is the place to be.

1. Busan is probably my favorite city in Korea. It's the second largest city on the peninsula, but feels distinctly different than any other place in the country. As a port city, Busan has a lot of great things to offer. Do you like beaches? Busan has Korea's most humanity covered stretch of sand at Haeundae Beach. Do you like mountains and temples? Busan has a fair selection of those too. Do you like seafood? Yes? Then you would probably enjoy a walk through Busan's Jagalchi Fish Market, where the fishing boats are constantly pulling in and out, and the days catch is so fresh that it's still swimming at the vendors' stalls. Yes. Swimming. Literally. If you're into nightlife, Busan has plenty of that to offer as well, with stretches of neon lined streets that light up the night just as brightly as any comparable street in Seoul.

Korea has a variety of easy, affordable rail options
2. Korea's mass transit system is amazing. If you want to zip around this country on high speed rail, it's easy. If you'd prefer to save a few dollars and move at a slower pace, you can do that too. The Korail system is not only easy to use, but pretty inexpensive as well. Trains come in 3 flavors, KTX, the 300kph high speed train that will get you from Seoul to Busan in around 4 hours; Saemaul a lower speed train that makes slightly fewer stops and is priced at a mid-range (meaning less crowded cars); and the incredibly inexpensive but slower and slightly more crowded Mugungwha. While the KTX is the sexiest beast on the rails here, the other trains are perfectly good ways to get around too, and make for a great way to see the countryside. Express intercity buses cover the routes that the trains don't, and within the cities the subway systems are cheap and easy to use, the bus systems are relatively easy to use (although it helps if you can read Hangeul or are comfortable asking for help), and taxis are cheap. There's no excuse to not get around and see the country from a transit point of view.

Ancient burial mounds are the final resting places of former kings

Gyeongju just looks ancient.
3. Gyeongju is Korea's cultural navel, where you will be most in touch with what Korea was like before Western contact. While it's still a relatively small city, it's easy to reach by any of the train options, and its sites are more than worth the fare to get here. Where else can you see the ancient graves of dynastic monarchs and visit a raunchy sex museum on the same day? The array of cultural sites available in Gyeongju is matched equally by its lovely backdrop of verdant green mountains. In the warm months you can rent bicycles and tour around the city and its fields, and in the springtime Gyeongju turns a beautiful pink color as the cherry blossom trees bloom everywhere.

Jeongdongjin waterfront

Limestone cliffs drop into beautiful blue-green water
Seaweed drying in the sun
4. Jeongdongjin and Gangneung are two small beach towns nearly as far to the northeast as you can go in South Korea. While many people's perception of Korea is of a cold, frozen, industrial wasteland, these two towns might fool you into thinking that you're in Hawaii, well, if it wasn't for the lack of palm trees. A 3 hour bus ride from Seoul into Gangwan-do province will land you in Jeongdongjin and Gangneung. Here the air is clean, and you will see old ladies picking seaweed in the surf and drying it on the beach for their soup. There's not much to do here other than sit in the sun and enjoy the scenery, and what scenery! Imagine if you will tall, green mountains, limestone cliffs that drop dramatically into the sea, white sand beaches, and beautiful blue-green water, and you've got a good description of the area. If you like seafood this is a great place to be as well, with plenty of hue (raw fish, Korean style) and seafood stews to keep your belly full. A trip to this part of Korea not only feels like a trip away from the city, but also like a trip back in time.

Gwanam Temple at Palgongsan

Lanterns lining the walkways at Dongwhasa Temple

Dongwhasa Temple

Dongwhasa's massive Buddha statue

5. Palgongsan Natural Area just outside of Daegu is an easy to reach mountain retreat, complete with colorful Buddhist temples and alpine trails for hiking. It's easy to reach, as you can take any of the trains into Dongdaegu Station, and take a Daegu City Tour bus from the station directly to the mountain. The Gatbawi hiking trail is a challenging hike to the top of Palgongsan that ends with a stone Buddha wearing a traditional Korean hat. On the way you'll find Gwanam temple, where you can stop for lunch, or just take pictures. Smelling the incense as you get closer to the temples and finally hearing the chants and bells of the temples as you break through the forest is an enchanting experience.
Another stop on the tour is Dongwhasa Temple, one of the biggest temples in the area where you will see a massive stone Buddha sculpture, plenty of monks on their daily meditative walks, and gorgeous structures that have been built and rebuilt over the years. If you really like the idea, you can even participate in a temple stay, living as a monk for a couple of days and enjoying the environment.

So, you're traveling and have a layover in Seoul, why not make that layover a few days and visit a country that's often nothing more than a place to stretch your legs in between flights? Korea isn't the dismal, frozen, industrial wasteland you imagine, but a country distinctly different from all of its neighbors, but similarly beautiful.

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Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Bali Dogs

Last year on our vacation in Bali we were pleased to find domestic dogs running around happy and free all over the island. When we returned to Korea from our trip to Bali one of my first ideas was to make note of all of the photos I had taken of dogs roaming the streets in Bali. It didn't even seem like they were just roaming around, scavenging for scraps, they were doing pretty well and seemed pretty satisfied with their station in life.

Who doesn't like a walk on the beach right?
You see, in Bali there are offerings left for gods and demons all over the place. It's not uncommon to accidentally step on a packet of rice, fruit, vegetables, or meat, in fact, these offerings are supposed to be destroyed over the course of the day as they are consumed by the gods or demons. Of course the details of Balinese Hinduism are pretty murky to me, and I have no idea if what any of what I am saying is actual fact, but one of the coolest things I remember about Bali was feeling like I was always on the cusp of witnessing something mystical and magical that I wouldn't understand anyhow, so I'm just going to go with it.

Just making the rounds. I love his outfit.

Now, Carolyn and I are dog lovers, so if anything makes a vacation cooler than it already should be, it's dogs. We were both pretty thrilled to see how these happy little pups had seemed to form a sort of underground society. It seemed like you would find dogs waiting on the corner for one another, chatting it up, and running their daily errands together. You'd even see the same behavioral patterns day after day, if you happened to walk the same route at roughly the same time each day.

Old friends hanging out together.

Humans aren't the only one interested in a sunset on Double Six Beach.
Let me be clear though. Dogs were running around doing their dog-thing all over the island, not just on the beaches. When we traveled to the north shore of the island we visited a small temple near Singaraja, and guess what we found?

Temple dog takes a break.
The arts and culture capital of Bali is Ubud, and guess what wasn't missing? Dogs! The Ubud pups seemed to be slightly better at speaking English and catering to tourists.

Ubud pup has a runway walk.

This diversity loving pup lives in Ubud's sacred monkey forest.

Everybody should soak in some rays on Bali.

Who says being a doorman isn't hard work?

Temple pup considers asking for alms.

This pup is holding the door for his family.

Crossing guard pup keeps you safe from traffic.

Warung pup hopes you drop your nasi goreng.

Spa treatment pup is trying to bring in some male customers.

He doesn't want to sell you a postcard for a dollar, he just wants a couple pats on the head.

Crossing guard pup has an easy day at work.

Waiting for the family to come home.

Old man dog watches the world go by.

So here you go, almost a year later I've finally gotten around to writing about the dogs of Bali. Now, the pictures I posted are mostly of dogs that I think had a home. There's plenty of pups on the island that could use a little help, and a google search will show you that they don't all look as good as the ones in this post. If you want to help, I think you can direct yourself over to this website for more information. I really enjoy projecting humanity onto animals, so I probably viewed all the dogs I saw in Bali through some seriously rose colored glasses, and of course I had a bit of fun putting this post together, but like I say, a lot of the little mutts could use some help.

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Monday, June 11, 2012

Things I've learned by living and traveling abroad

Over the past few day's I've read a few people's blog posts about things they learned while traveling, and it's made me want to reflect a little bit on things that I've learned over the past year and a half or so while living somewhere that's just about as foreign as can possibly be from my native land. I think that anyone who has embarked on long-term travel has probably learned each and every one of these things, so it should be nothing new for any of the travel-savvy types that might read this, but I'm going to throw it all out there anyway.

  1. We're all just good people trying to get by and make our own way in life. Well mostly. Obviously there are some people sharing our planet that are actually bad. For the most part though, you won't meet these people. Here's an example. Before I left the comforts of the U.S., I would get irritated doing my customer service job when the customer didn't speak English very well. Well, now I live in a country where English speakers aren't impossible to find, but aren't always available, and I don't speak the mothertongue here. My how the coin can flip. I can see the exact same look of irritation cross the face of the teller at the bank here that I must have displayed when a customer would ask if I could speak Spanish. I'm just a good person trying to make my own way in life. So are the people that would feel more comfortable speaking Spanish/Russian/Mandarin/etc that a customer service representative might run into at work and be a little bit less than pleasant towards. Lesson learned. 
  2. At home, straight white male is the easiest way to go through life. No question about it. I think this is a hard thing to understand as a straight white male when you live in the United States because you don't feel any sort of systemic or institutionalized restrictions on your way of life. You have no trouble getting what you need or at least asking for help, but you may become somewhat jealous of help offered to other groups of people, such as college scholarships, welfare support, or anything that you feel is given to someone who doesn't deserve it. Instead of feeling jealous that someone else is getting help, you should be thankful that you don't really need the help. Moving to a country where you're not of the majority can certainly change your views on things such as stop and frisk (I had a police officer stop me and ask me why I was in my neighborhood one Saturday morning while out buying orange juice), racial profiling (a lot of ESL teachers here are viewed as money grubbing womanizers who spread disease and corrupt young women), and policies designed specifically for foreigners (after my debit card was skimmed while on vacation last summer, my Korean bank froze my bank account and would not unlock it or reset the pin number until I could go to a branch of the bank in Korea in person. I was in Indonesia.) I'm quite happy to have had these experiences, and you can bet that I'll do my best to never treat another as less than equal when I return home.
  3. You realize that the world does not revolve around you, your country, or your way of life. Do I think that we should try to install our way of life around the world because it's better, well, not anymore. I think that unless you understand the way people in a society think you run the risk of thinking that they process things the same way you do. They probably don't, and for that reason they probably don't feel the same needs for the lifestyle, kind of government, or even see what's so great about your extensive freedoms and liberties. They want to live life their own way, and should be allowed to do so.
  4. The world is a big place, and it can be intimidating to go somewhere that's so far out of your normal orbit that your head literally spins as you get off the plane, but it's not really scary. You may be scared, yes, but the world itself is not a scary place. When you walk, one foot in front of the other, the ground will most likely still be there. Not every cab driver will try to swindle you, not every child will try to pick your pocket (but do be cautious), and you don't need to stay with a package tour group to make your way between sites and experiences all in the name of safety. Of course there are exceptions to these statements, but for the most part, you're okay.
  5. Setbacks happen. You will survive. You can always call home for help if you need to. If you feel overwhelmed, it's okay to take the day off, stay in a place you feel comfortable, and watch movies or something.
  6. Motion sickness is a bitch.

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Saturday, June 9, 2012

Making Kimbap for the First Time

Watch me make my first roll of kimbap in this exciting edition of "My Dangerous Kitchen." Could I be starting a food empire? Will a kimbap-fusion food truck be rolling down the streets of your neighborhood soon? Only time will tell. But if you watch my hopelessly pathetic instructional video and visit your local k-mart (Korean Market, see what I did there?) you can make your very own roll of food-that-looks-like-sushi-but-isn't-sushi-at-all.

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I'm on Facebook now!

If you're on Facebook and you'd like the Ever Evolving Primate blog to show up in your newsfeed, visit my new facebook page and "like" it!

Friday, June 8, 2012

A love affair with a roll of rice.

I just realized that the title I just wrote for this post is a bit ridiculous, as a love affair with a roll of rice could certainly only be a one-time thing and it would be messy with potential for serious injury. What's with all the Korea posts lately anyway? The only thing I can say is that our time in Korea is evaporating. It seems like yesterday that we were dreading flying back from the US on our month-long winter vacation to visit family and friends to do a second year here. Now, I'm kind of dreading flying back to the US and figuring out just what to do with myself for a career. In fact, the figuring out should probably start sooner than later at this point. I'd rather write about the time we're spending in Korea so that I have something to look at in a year or two and say "Man, that was a hell of an adventure." Meh, none of this is the intended topic of this post. Today I want to talk about kimbap (or gimbap, depending on how you prefer to write it...I prefer the 'k').

Kimbap means literally, to my most educated guess "seaweed rice," and is often compared to the wonderful, incredible delicacy from right across the Sea of Japan that is so popular at home sushi (vinegar rice). Anyhow, It took me more than a year to really enjoy kimbap. It's not even really an acquired taste, it's just that you have to remove the thought of "I think this should taste like sushi" from your fat American brain before you dig in.

In true expat blog fashion, I will show you the formation of the word "kimbap" in Hangeul, so that you can think I'm super fluent in Korean even though I can't speak Korean but can read Hangeul because it's actually quite intuitive and has a lot of English cognates.

김- the green papery seaweed used to wrap kimbap and sushi, in the US we call it nori
밥- rice

There's a few different kinds of kimbap.

The most common, perhaps, is the regular kimbap roll, filled with cham-chi (canned tuna), bulgogi (marinated/cooked beef/pork), spam, or some other sort of protein, and then most likely mu (pickled radish), some sort of root-y looking thing, and mayonnaise. it's similar to an inside-out roll that you would buy in the US in the sense that the kim is on the outside. The outside of the roll is painted with sesame oil, and the rice isn't vinegary. This gives you a sweeter roll than you would expect, and the textures, especially that of the radish, are a bit more woody than you normally feel with a bite of rice. It took me a long time to actually want to eat kimbap, but now it's my go-to savory snack.

My favorite kind of kimbap gives you a bit larger kim:bap ratio, along with the opportunity for more exciting fillings. This is a triangular blob of rice with a protein either in or on the slab, completely wrapped in kim. In Japan they call these onigiri. I often pick one up after school, usually SPAM or tonkatsu filled. I genuinely love the idea of a tonkatsu filled kimbap, because a deep fried pork cutlet really can't go wrong. SPAM kimbap reminds me of the good old days in Hawaii when I would have SPAM musubi for breakfast. As far as a snack goes, it's not super healthy, but really there's a lot worse you could do than eat a 200 calorie blob of rice and protein, right?

My next exciting kitchen project, in fact, is going to be making kimbap. I might even take a cooking class at some point here in Korea (not might. I should. I definitely should.) Since I'm not really in a position to sign up for a class this very second while I'm motivated, I think I'll use this video as a guide. You can make kimbap in your own home, too!

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