Category Archives: culture

Pohang Soju cocktail restaurant Damichon

A while back my school had dinner at a pretty famous-in-Korea restarurant/ bar called Damichon (다미촌).

The lady who owns the establishment is kind of like Tom Cruise in Cocktail, just taller. She started as a server but made so much money with her skillz, red lipstick and toit tops that she managed to buy her own place after a while.

The food was pretty decent but you can’t really go wrong with Korean BBQ. Two things set Damichon apart from your standard Korean dining experience: our Soju bottles were branded with the school name and logo and the after-dinner cocktail show was unbeatable!

There are loads of videos on YouTube– check it out.  My principal went nuts for this dame… I’ve never seen him bow to anyone before.

It’s a good idea to pre-book Ham Sun Bok (함순복) in advance so that she can entertain your table with her tricks!

 

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Busan Film Festival

I’m a pretty big fan of indie cinema and foreign film. In terms of English movies, only the big Hollywood blockbusters make it out this way. One of the great ironies of living in Korea is that I can’t even watch local films because they don’t come with English subtitles. It’s easier for me to watch Korean film in London than it is in the very country the films are made. Crazy. You CAN watch these movies with subs in DVD bangs a few weeks after they’ve been released, but it’s not really the same, is it?

I was so glad to get tickets to this year’s Busan Film Festival– finally time to get my foreign film fix on! Ticket sales open 3-4 weeks before the festival. It’s worth having a couple of mates on computers at the same time as servers tend to crash and English web versions mysteriously turn into Korean ones! Have a native speaker on hand to help you out should the process become tricky, as the tickets sell out in no time. Please remember to add your email address and/or mobile phone number to each booking screen so that you can receive your booking confirmation! (I know this sounds obvious, but my mate rushed past this step and it took the lovely patient folk at Megabox 20 minutes to find his booking…not cool.)

We rushed to Busan after school on Friday to see The President by Mohsen Makhmalbaf, an intense and complex look inside a coup, dealing with themes of revenge, forgiveness, war crimes, innocence and innocence lost. I highly recommend this film. It’s worth noting that you will not be allowed to take food or drinks into the cinema so don’t bother buying popcorn.

Le Meraviglie (The Wonders) by Alice Rohrwacher is a coming of age film, and also deals with the decline of the rural way of life and the romantic idea of Etruscan civilization. This was my favourite- beautifully shot in 3 languages: German, French and Italian.

We saw The Homesman but I didn’t rate it at all. Out of the 4 films we saw this was my least favourite.

The final film we saw was My Man by Kumakiri Kazuyoshi, based on Sakuraba Kazuki’s controversial novel. It deals with loss and the fine line between relationships and incest. It is quite an intense, disturbing film but intriguing nonetheless.

It would have been great to have the whole week off and just geek out on films 24-7. Get yourself to Busan next year for an unmissable feast of international film.

Seoul Independent Film Festival will run from November 28th to December 6th. May I also add that Tenacious D will be in Seoul December 5th-6th which means it’s totally going to be a wicked weekend!

Adventures in Korean cuisine

When I dived Ishigaki (Japan) in January, the shop owner let us sample some 10 year old liqueur, stored in huge 5l plastic jars. The content looked pretty vile: rotten fruit and brown juice but boy oh boy, was it tasty!

During the hot summer months you can see large bags of green plums being sold everywhere in Korea. Curious, I asked my co-teacher about it and she explained that this plum variety, maesil, is used to make liqueur, maesil ju! Home made booze??! It was a challenge that simply had to be accepted.

I found a good recipe online for short-cut maesil ju- use equal amounts of plums and sugar and add 1 or 2 bottles of soju (I left out the honey). I filled 5 sterilized jars back in June, popped them in the back of my food cupboard and forgot about it until last week. You should let the concoction brew for at least 3 months.

Maesil has a few health benefits: it fights fatigue and aids digestion (good for a dickey tummy). It’s not just used to make booze though! You can also leave out the soju and just use sugar and plums, layered alternately and left for 1-3 months- maesil cheong.

On a recent cycling trip to Gyeongju I stopped off for lunch at a quaint Indian restaurant, Hawa Dhaba. The owner, ayoung Korean woman who spent some time in India, made me an amazing side salad, simple but punchy: shredded cabbage mixed with sunflower and pumpkin seeds, with a drizzle of citron syrup. It blew my mind. The next weekend, this citron syrup came my way again, this time in Busan. Our host made us citron tea in the morning and it was a sign that couldn’t be ignored any longer. I had to make citron syrup myself.

It’s the same idea: equal amounts of sugar and chopped lemon alternately layered in a jar and leave it for at least a month. You can also add honey to this mix. And hell, if you don’t like cooking and shit, just go to any supermarket in Korea and buy a jar, pre-made.

With winter soon approaching, this tea is a really tasty, hearty way of making sure you get a vitamin C boost your immune system.

I made my batch today so it will be ready just before winter really starts biting.

And since my inner ajumma took over today I also made ginger beer, because, why not?! 😉

I love these autumn days, getting everything ready for winter! I love the Korean traditions I’ve learnt about that I have been able to incorporate into my own life. Heck, I might even make good kimchi one day!

Manbulsa Temple (10,000 Buddhas)

I first read about Manbulsa Temple on another blog. It sounded so fascinating that I convinced my co teachers to arrange a trip so we could check it out.

It’s currently being renovated so there’s a lot of digging and building going on- not very tranquil. However, if you have a thing for Buddha statues, this is the place for you! Manbulsa mean 10,000 Buddhas (man= 10,000, bul= Buddha, sa= temple). It’s a bit of a theme park.

You know how some foreigners say “seen one temple, seen ’em all” ? Well, I learnt a few new things here.

– Dead babies. This was creepy: there are rows upon rows of baby Buddha statues with little caps, being guarded by  Chinese Horoscope sign characters. Some little statues have chocolates and others have money and trinkets hung around their necks. All of them have names though. These statues represent babies who died before being born- these are the parents efforts to ensure that the baby gets re-incarnated.

– Graves. I’ve grown used to seeing round mounds on mountainsides and assumed this was the standard way of burial for Korean Buddhists but there are a couple of different graveyards here.

– Wishes: A water fountain with little Buddha figures adorning it. Apparently if you make a wish and pour water over the statue’s head three times, your wish will come true. Let’s see about that!

– Sin: There is a small bell that you can gong 3 times to absolve all your sins. Wow, that was easy! I’ll be back for more no doubt!

I really liked the “sleeping pose” Buddha, a.k.a death pose Buddha because it reminded me so much of the one in Bangkok, only this one is A LOT smaller, as in 10m long and it’s bronze, not gold leaf. I liked his golden robe, meters of fabric sewn together and draped over him to keep him clean.

Manbulsa Temple has a novelty factor that you won’t find at many other Buddhist sites in Korea so I definitely recommend going- only wait a month or so to give them time to complete their renovations!

How to get there: Follow the directions on the official website.

Hiking Namsan, Gyeongju

I hiked Mount Namsan (nam= south, san= mountain) in Gyeongju with my co-teachers last weekend. The mountain is like a living outdoor museum, littered with Buddhist relics as well as royal tombs from the Silla Dynasty. It stretches 8km from south to north and is 4km wide from east to west, including over 40 mountain valleys. There are enough hiking routes here to keep you busy for ages- we started at Samneung (삼릉 탐방지원센터) and had a 4 hour hike in mind. Samneung means 3 royal tombs. One of my co teachers is a Gyeongju native and he is the ultimate guide. He loves Korean culture and has been kind enough to share his knowledge with us. He took us off trail a few times to show us some special spots!

Seabed once told me that in the old days, there were so many temples up on Namsan  that if you look up at it from the valley below and what is Gyeongju today, it would have been lit up like a small city!

We saw various carved Buddhas, mostly broken and fixed up, but it was the rock carvings that impressed me most. The time, skill and patience it would have required to complete these carvings astound me. Many of the carvings and statues date back to the 8th and early 9th centuries and they have really stood the test of time. We were very lucky that it was a damp morning, because it’s harder to see some of the carvings in glaring sunlight. The only carving we saw that was from the Guryo instead of the Silla period, was the Seated Yeorae. It was interesting to see that the style of the Buddha was different to the others: this one has bigger lips and a wider nose. All the Buddhas I saw had haloes, signifying nirvana. Apparently the shape of the hair/head with its little bun also means that enlightenment has been achieved.

There are 11 temples on this mountain according to the map but we only visited one- Sangseonam. It felt very ethereal climbing the steps to this small temple in the mist, with the monk’s chants getting louder with each step.

We had kkalguksu (칼국수)-  handmade, handcut noodles in a sesame (케) broth- a delicious Gyeongju food specialty.

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For the hike as a whole, I’ll let the photos do the talking.

How to get there:  The bus stations and train station in Gyeongju town all have Information booths with tourist maps available. Take a map and a taxi (which should be around 15,000 won) or take the 500 bus from Naenam sageori (내남사거리), which is located opposite the Cheonmacheong Tomb. Get off at Samneung (산릉) on the west side of Namsan.

More info can be found on these blogs:

http://blog.korea.net/?p=16106

http://gyeongjulove.blogspot.kr/2012/01/mt-namsan-place-called-outdoor-museum_19.html

http://www.hikekorea.com/trails/saunter-back-time-through-silla-namsan/

 

From the Seabed

Sometimes the most random encounters lead too the most interesting experiences. Not so long ago, I was cycling along and this Korean guy started talking to me. I complimented his English level and he thanked me. It was a slightly awkward moment when he told me that he was an English teacher at a local high school. Face palm. Turns out he’s an ex-colleague of a friend of mine and boy, is he an interesting character.

Why Seabed? He chose his name because he believes in living deeply, and that everything he says and does comes from the depth of his soul. Poetic. I like it.

Apart from being an English teacher, he is a keen cyclist and photographer. He also casually mentioned that he circumnavigated Korea on a bicycle. This was a while ago but he managed it in two weeks. He also owns a Moulton bicycle with a Brooks saddle. Now, shame on me but I didn’t even know that Moulton existed and it’s a British Brand! I thought the only fold-up bike made in Britain was the Brompton (whose headquarters are opposite SEGA in West London). Turns out Moulton’s quite popular in Korea, what with their own member’s group and Youtube videos. If you like Abba, you should watch this vid:

Seabed told me about Kustom your Bicycle, useful for pimping your ride as well all learning how to spell bike components in Hangeul.

He’s quite into photography so it was great riding with him.  We stopped at a few places along the way, he chatted up the old biddies so that we could get some character shots. It helps to speak Koran eh! Seabed showed me some of the photos he’s had published and told me about some noteworthy Korean photographers.

Jay Cheon Im (임 재 천) hails from Chuncheon and he collected a decade worth of photos of old-school Korea (small villages that capture the spirit old the Land of the Morning Calm). He published a book called “Korea Rediscovered” or “한국의재발”. Out of 1000 images he had to choose only 120. The book is available through Noonbit and retails at 40,000 won. I think that would make an awesome present for someone back home! He uses the Korean version of crowdfunder to help fund his projects and his contributors get limited edition prints in return for their help. Im is currently on Jeju island, where he is documenting the lives of the famous women freedivers, 해녀 . This project is also sponsored by his many followers. If you’re interested in Haenyeo, check out this documentary:

Two other photographers Seabed told me about are 이 갑철 (Gap Chul Lee) and 이 상일 (Sangil Yi). I reckon these webpages should keep you entertained for a while.

Finally, he also told me about a famous Korean poet who lives in Guryonpo, but that will have to wait until next time.

It took me a week to start catching up to the load of information Seabed dumped on me. It will take me at least 4 times as long to properly learn more about these subjects. I hope that you enjoy learning about them as much as I do.

 

BIPAF 2014 (Busan International Performing Arts Festival)

My friend entered his play “Treasured Love”  into  this year’s BIPAF’s 10 minute play competition. He recruited 4 volunteers from Pohang, including me, and we started preparing mid April. We lost one along the way so he became writer-director-actor. What a guy!

I didn’t realise how big the festival was. It ran from 2-11 May and the 10 minute play competition was the only one open to amateurs like us.  I’m pretty sure that we were the only foreigners out of 25 plays in the running.

It became clear on rehearsal day that our play was slightly different to the rest. The main Korean themes were suicide, bullying and handicapped issues. Real tear-jerkers- no language required! Our play was about vampires… A combo of “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf” and “Only Lovers Left Alive”.  Needless to say, we gave our best but it was never going to cut it. At least we got some laughs from the audience…

I  learned a lot about what to expect and prep for next time.

Firstly, the theme has to have substance. Koreans like heavy themes, they spell drama with a capital D. The ten minute play should feature both laughter and tears (real ones, preferably shed by a male). There’s got to be Love and a Broken Heart somewhere in the mix. Plus Redemption if you have time…

Secondly, you need a soundtrack. At least one song but more is better.

Thirdly, lighting. Don’t think that having the lights on all the time will win you any points. It won’t.

Fourthly, timing. If the competition is called “Ten minute Plays” then you’d better finish right at 09:59 or 10:00. Seven and a half minutes? Forget you!

Lastly, script. Keep the English to a minimum, keep it basic, speak slowly. If you can, don’t use any language, concentrate on miming and dancing instead. Everyone loves a bit of synchronised dancing, especially if it’s a group of boys popping on the stage.

If I lived in Busan I would definitely have gone to the other shows. I admire  Korea’s approach to making arts and culture accessible to everyone by making tickets affordable.

I hope that next year will see more foreign plays in the running, since there is talent in Pohang, Daegu and Busan. Maybe one day a foreign play can even win. Now wouldn’t that be something!