Tuesday, February 15, 2011


Congratulations, all you YAVs around the world, we've made it to the halfway point. I wouldn't say that the time has flown by, nor has it dragged on. When I think of September, it seems like yesterday and a lifetime ago at the same time. So much has been packed into the last five and a half months, that I can't even predict what will be come to pass over the next five and a half.

I feel that at this point, I should probably do some deep reflection and have something valuable to say about how I have spent the last half year. However, we all know this isn't my style. And really, I love to instead focus on the moment and the joys and adventures that are happening everyday. Besides, my last post was semi-serious. So, instead of trying to drop some pearls of wisdom or carefully sculpted reflections, I'm just going to show you a few fun things that have been happening in the past few weeks.

This is a mountain in Daejeon. I went here during Sollal, the Lunar New Year Celebration. It was nice hiking around the icy heights, taking in the pretty views, and chatting up the old men.

Expo Park is one of the most popular sites in Daejeon, as it houses tons of museums and an amusement park. During the Lunar New Year celebration, it hosted a festival for "global friends," that was complete with silly contests, prize drawings, playing of traditional Korean games, and eating tteokgu, the rice cake soup that must be eaten often during Sollal.
I loved this ride that was kiwi-themed.
Playing the world's largest dragon drum. BOOM!

Are you feet feeling a little callous-y? Have a little dead skin that you wouldn't mind parting with? Then Dr. Fish is the place for you! Stick your feet into the warm water. Feel a little tickle. Look down, yes, those are swarms of fish eating the dead skin off of your feet. Visited this gem with Katie, Kristen and the Khim kids. Munch munch.

ROCK ON!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Over the weekend we transformed our house into a full-blown rock concert, replete with guitar hero, wii dancing games, several craft stations, a photo shoot, American food, and cupcakes filled with Reese cups. Not to mention a dozen 9 year-old rock stars with names like Dude, P, Roxy, and Sparkle. This was Kai-Li Khim's birthday party. Although who had more fun, me or her, is a matter of debate.
You might think this is Avril Lavigne, but it's really me.
My fellow rockers, Luka and Kai-Li Khim.

Other recent highlights:
--a huge duck lunch with the Japan group. Multiple courses of duck. Delicious. Thanks Rev. Choi!
--Taekwondo on Mondays. Hiya!
--meeting Katie's parents and joining them at Outback Steakhouse for our halfway point celebration!
--hanging out with my awesome kids from Seomna Center and teaching them the Miss Mary Mack hand clap game (which was a huge mistake, as I have now done it close to a million times)

Monday, February 7, 2011

Being cared for by strangers

In the past few weeks I have been more amazed than usual at the incredible generosity and hospitality of strangers around me. Others, including Simon and Becky, have talked about the hospitality that we received in Japan, so I won't dwell on that here. But, yes, in Japan we were remarkably well cared for by strangers who welcomed us with open arms.

Instead, two recent incidents stand out to me.

This past week was Lunar New Year, the most important holiday in Korea, so I did not have work for the week. Instead, I did some exploring around my city of Daejeon. One day I was up hiking at Bomunsan Mountain, where I was repeatedly stopped by people asking if I needed directions or just looking for a chat--a chance to practice their English and to greet an American. On my way to the trail head, when I wasn't quite sure where I was going, a man led me until he got to his turnoff point, then passed me off to two older women who walked with me until they got tired and passed me off to a man who was heading my way. Even though I could have eventually found my way on my own, these wonderful people instead walked with me and guided me. Strangers took my picture when I asked them to; one man even gave me a lift back to the train station after my hike.

Each week I visit foreign migrant men at their places of residence. Their accommodations are usually much more humble than mine, and these men are, undoubtedly hard workers. Instead of resenting me my privileged, undeserved, position, these men (and sometimes women) are glad to see me and so welcoming. I am always given drinks or snacks. Last week I sat down to a very full meal of grilled seafood lettuce wraps with a big group of men from Vietnam. This Sunday I shared delicious food with four men from Indonesia. I shouldn't be eating their food, but they seem genuinely happy to share and eat together.

I am continually humbled by the friendliness, graciousness, and generosity of strangers around me. These people teach me much. I hope that someday I can be as welcoming and open hearted.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

A Sojourn in Japan: Part 3

Just a few random things that I thought were interesting:

1. There were bikes everywhere in Japan! Much more than in Korea or the US, bikes were a major and common form of transportation. However, as we found out, the fad of biking is less about the environment or exercise, and more about the inaccessible price of cars.

2. Photo booths seem to be quite popular! On two separate occasions we were taken to photo booths to do crazy poses, decorate them, and print them off. If you go to malls or arcades, there are scores of these photo booths.

3. In Japan, girls can be in the boy scouts.

4. In both Korea and Japan, Valentine's Day is when girls give gifts to boys. White Day (in March) is when boys give gifts to girls. Black Day (in April) is a day for singles, who wear black and eat black food. I plan on celebrating all three.

5. Animation is very popular in Japan!

6. Universities all seem to have middle and high schools associated with them.

7. In some cities, the cable car is still a regular form of transportation.

8. American football is played at Japanese universities! Who knew? Kwansei Gakuin's team is apparently very good.

9. When we were riding with our host family in Hiroshima, the girls started singing "Country Roads." I was amazed that John Denver would have made it across the generation and geographical distance, but we all sang a rousing rendition of the song as we traveled the hills in rural Japan. However, the girls then played this song for us, which gave me a very different understanding of how they came to know the words to the J.D. classic. Turns out they hadn't heard of John Denver, but a Japanese artist had used the same words in this totally tech-no (but funny!) "Country Roads" song. Sigh.

(Turn your volume way up for this, the sound is a little low. And don't worry about viewing the video, there's nothing to see. Focus on the music.)

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

A Sojourn in Japan: Part 2

Japan has a very proud cuisine tradition. I was more than happy to let them show it off to me! Here are some of the things that I sampled during our brief stay.

This is donkatsu. It is breaded, fried pork that the Koreans have also adopted. It is very prevalent in Japan, though there are several varieties. This version is served over an omelet sort of thing with sauce.

Donkatsu: this version has unique ingredients, including asparagus! First time I have had asparagus since leaving the States. Sad, I know. Though different from the pork variety, this is still breaded and fried, served with many side dishes including shredded cabbage salad and a sauce that you made by crushing pepper with your own mortar and pestle.

This is takoyaki--octopus balls! A piece of octopus is battered and cooked, so it ends up being sort of like a pancake with a morsel of octopus inside. Actually, the insides are a little gooey. This version is served with stir-fried noodles and ginger. It is most famous in Osaka, and is a common street food. Really, it's a must-try.
Sara udon is a dish that is native to Nagasaki. It is thin, crispy fried noodles topped with seafood, cabbage, and other vegetables. At first it felt like eating uncooked Ramen noodles, but they were actually very flavorful and the dish was quite delicious, albeit unusual texturally.
We were treated to a very elegant meal at Kwansei Gakuin Univeristy. This salad course was my favorite, as it consisted of smoked salmon, roe, scallops, and balsamic vinegar. They served us many other delicious courses, but I would have been content with 3 more plates of this.
Ramen noodles are very popular in both Korea and Japan. The Korean version is mainly broth and noodles, and it is very spicy! This Japanese version has many vegetables, like peapods, onions, and mushrooms, and is in a savory, not spicy broth. It was wonderful! I got this and the sara udon at college dining halls. If only American dining halls had such dishes!

This pile of goop is called okonomiyaki, and it is famous around the Hiroshima area. I ate this on the island of Miyajima off the Hiroshima coast. This one is noodles, seafood, cabbage, etc sandwiched between some pancake type things and topped with sauce. It is tastier than you might think! MMMmmm...
One night, Simon treated us to a very fancy, six-course Japanese restaurant. The star of the meal was the crab, which was served in multiple ways. Above and below are two of the most delicious dishes. The first is a seafood hot pot with veggies and mushrooms. It boiled right in front of us over an open flame. The second is glutinous rice on a giant leaf topped with crab, fish and a smattering of other things. You think eating crab with a fork is tricky? Try metal chopsticks.

Katie and I ate this at a place in Osaka. It is rice topped with beef, tofu and a few noodles, served with green tea. It was extremely fast and extremely inexpensive, and was served in a diner-like setting. Basically, this seems like Japanese fast-food. Sign me up!
Did you know Japan is big on curry? I didn't. But after experience Japanese curry (multiple times), I understand why! Talk about satisfying. This big bowl is udon noodles and a bit of beef and onions, in curry sauce topped with tempura shrimp. I am hooked.

And what trip to Japan could be complete without sushi? I had a few different kinds of sushi when I was there, including a few different bento boxes. This one was served to us at Yodogawa Christian Hospital. The variety of fish was pretty cool, and the two-tiered box allowed for a whole serving of rice too, all in a neat little package. Pretty nifty.

Finally, no, this man is not food, but he does eat a lot of food. A lot. Katie and I were in dotonbori in Osaka when we saw a crowd around this guy, all getting their photos with him. So, I jumped into the fray to get a quick snap. When I was standing next to him, I asked him why everyone was posing with him, and he seemed quite taken aback that I didn't know who he was. Yet, he assured me that he was famous, "number one." Well! After a little research and some help from Japanese friends, I discovered that he is a TV host who goes around eating GIANT portions of food! He is the Adam Richman (Man vs. Food) of Japan. He has won second place in Nathan's Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest. Even his nickname is awesome: Nobuyuki "The Giant" Shirota. Sir, I salute you.