Friday, December 31, 2010

Sending off 2010

I recently got a new haircut. Instead of going to my regular stylist, I lugged my lazy derriere to the neighborhood salon (which is 7 minutes away) and surrendered my hair to the no-nonsense-efficient-as-heck ajumma whose scissors snipped snipped snipped in a blur of metallic color. I wound up with a very proper middle school student bowl cut. The haircut isn't bad at all, it's just that seeing my old(er) face underneath that style of youth is somewhat disconcerting. It'll grow out. It's only hair.

Another year is gone. I worked hard and played hard but could've done more serious thinking, read more books, been more compassionate, exercise a bit more. Things left to do for the following year.

I've been very fortunate in many aspects of my life. I'm especiallly fortunate in the people who surround me. Family and friends who tolerate my neurotic extrovert type A personality - they are the ones who help me live my life to the fullest, however sappy that may sound.

Several of my wino friends met up for a 2010 goodbye gathering. We congregated at Doma's. Gina cooked the meal, MJ arranged and set up the whole thing, SH brought wine and gifts, I provided dessert.

And the champagne is chilling.

Gina's made-from-scratch olive pomponette was excellent.
Store bought tuna cubes (from Dongwon) were interesting, perfect canape size.
Oysters on the shell. In Korean, to differentiate them from shucked oysters, they're called 'seokhwa' (석화), literally meaning 'stone flowers'.

"Hamburg steak" under sunnyside eggs and garlic chips.

A "mess" of potatoes and cabbage - Gina's homey dish.

We had several bottles of wine that night.

Dry apple pie, peppermint and chocolate pie, vanilla ice cream,
mini peppermint and lemon meringues.

It's the year of the rabbit next year.
I had brought along a tiny bunny to photograph.
(Originally a cell phone accessory. Cut off the strap, made a cap to hide the fastener.)
Doma gave us plush bunnies that double as speakers when connected to a MP3 player.


May the new year bring you all the happiness and joy and growth to make life meaningful.
See you next year.

Friday, December 24, 2010

And so it's Christmas

Christmas tree lights at Shinsegae Department Store (Gangnam)

Aaargh! So when did this happen? It's already Christmas?
I'm in panic mode. It's because by the time the holidays roll around, I finally realize that the year is nearly over and I have to look back at my doings (and undoings) for the past year and start serious evaluation, which is something for which I'm truly not in the mood. Year's end is party time! I don't want to be all pensive and sober, so I'm procrastinating the contemplation bit for a teeny bit longer to take advantage of the festive atmosphere.

Merry Christmas & Happy Holidays, wherever in the world you may be.

Genius kid guitarist Jung Sung Ha plays for you:

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Curry, anyone? - Asia Asia in Ilsan

Spicy veggie curry with nan

Rule of thumb about curry in Korea: if it's pronounced 'kah-reh', it's the Japanese style curry we're talking about; if it's pronounced 'kuh-rhee', it's the Indian style. I went for some 'kuh-rhee' at Asia Asia, an "authentic" Indian curry place at the Western Dom in Ilsan.

Gum-achingly sweet plain lassi. There are fruit varieties as well, but I prefer the plain.

Tandoori chicken with spicy sauce and side salad. The chicken, despite being well seasoned, was a bit overcooked and dry. Boo.

The curry. Ample portion for two. I wanted to pour it over pasta, rice, noodles, everything. Made up for the weak chicken.

I really liked the interior. Although not truly Indian, the layout was a well thought out mix of everything South Asian, or with the ambiance of South Asia. Lighting was soft, the music not too loud, no annoying scents that clash with the food (some restaurants have scented candles or burn incense, which I think is nuts), and thankfully the noise from the clients didn't resonate above a certain volume within the space.

Oddly, there was a huge widescreen on one of the walls - when I went Toy Story 3 was playing silently and kept the kids on the other side rather quiet. Not sure what the exact purpose of it is, but if it'll keep kids still in their seats, I'm all for it.

Asia Asia is on the second floor of the Belle Zone of Western Dom, store number I-206 .
We went without reservations and found places in the hall, but for a large party (6 or more) reserve the rooms.

Western Dom is a short walk from Madu Station or Jeongbalsan Station (both line 3) - head towards the MBC Dream Center, or take a bus (check out the list at the bottom of the page for the MBC Dream Center) and get off at Ilsan-donggucheong (일산동구청).

Saturday, December 18, 2010

20 years of emotion - ballad king Shin Seung Hun

Photo from Mnet

Year's end, the holidays, 'tis the season to be jolly and attend the slew of Christmas and New Year's concerts that pepper December. Although I'd like to join the enthusiastic crowd, the thought of going to and coming from the concert is very dissuading; total traffic chaos descends upon Seoul d and unless you're prepared to curse like mad while driving or curse like mad while trying to catch a cab or curse like mad while waiting to enter the jam-packed metro station or just simply spend the whole night out till morning - home is the best place to be.

Lucky for me, my favorite crooner of the '90s, Shin Seung Hun, started off his 20th anniversary tour in November and I was able to snag tickets. His Christmas show is at the COEX but the first show was held at Ilsan's Aramnuri Concert Hall, which is a more intimate setting. Perfect for Shin's style.

Shin is probably most famous abroad for having sung the theme song for the 2001 film "My Sassy Girl", but he was already known as the "ballad king" since the '90s. As I've mentioned in a previous post, K-pop wasn't always saturated with autotuned-to-the-max idol groups as it is now, there was a lot more serious singing and being a talented singer songwriter, Shin was the cream of the crop.

It's been 20 years since his debut and a commemorative album was released. Although they may be less sophisticated to the ear, I prefer his original versions:

"Your reflection in a smile", my favorite ballad

"Like the first time", a faster number

"Romeo & Juliet", the one that makes you want to happy dance

His concerts are always entertaining and his energy addictive. The zealous enthusiasm of his longtime loyal fans add to the ambiance (I realized how NOT a hardcore fan I was) and time just flies. The concert lasted for three and a half hours. (And Shin is in his mid 40s!)

Taking photos are prohibited during the concert but okay for curtain call; he took his time thanking the fans.

There is always a photozone outside the concert hall. I took a photo of the people taking photos.

Besides the Christmas shows, Shin plans to tour nationwide all next year so there's plenty of time to catch his concert. I went to the very first show where there were a couple of technical glitches so I'll probably take in another one in the spring.

Check him out :

Sunday, December 5, 2010

On a cold winter's night - Cheongjinok

It's cold, you need something hot, and if it's nourishing to boot? You go for soup.

Cheongjinok is a 70+ year old eatery, famous for its haejangguk. The old place was demolished due to city renovation in 2008 and the new place is in a modern building. Although the old charm is somewhat lost, the taste is the same.

It's not one of those fancy-schmancy restaurants, it's one of those I-came-here-to-eat-a-hearty-and-tasty-meal shikdangs. I love those places, feels like you are at your aunt's place; plop down in a seat, eat and enjoy.

What's on the menu: the aforementioned haejangguk (hangover soup), anjuguk (soup to be eaten with alcoholic beverages), suyuk (boiled beef slices), bindaetteok (mung bean pancake), various jeon, donggeurang-ttaeng (small beef and veggie patty, pan-fried) and the regular Korean alcohol selection of soju, beer, rice wine, baekseju, and bokbunjaju (black raspberry wine). They also provide take-out packages.

Water, cups, napkins and eating utensils are set and ready on the table. Seasonings of pepper, sea salt, red pepper paste and a soy based tasting sauce are also there.

The sole reason I go to Cheongjinok is for their haejang-guk. It arrives steaming hot.

The hot soup contains a variety of innards, congealed ox blood, bean sprouts, and Napa cabbage leaves in a deep flavored, doenjang based beef broth. Although the official name is haejangguk, i.e. hangover soup, I rarely eat it when I actually have a hangover. I just like the taste. Plus, the ingredients of the soup are full of iron, which is good for anemics like me.
The soup is served with rice and kimchi and is available in two sizes - regular and special (=big). I might be skinny as heck but I can down a special with no problem.

Cheongjinok (청진옥)
Situated at Le Meilleur Jongrotown (르메이에르 종로타운) building, on the far left side (facing it)
Subway : Line 1, Jonggak station exit #1, walk straight towards Gwanghwamun direction or Line 5, Gwanghwamun station exit #4, walk towards Jongro direction
Tel: 02-735-1690 (No reservations needed)

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Family war

Yeonpyeong Island in flames - photo from Yonhap News

I've written and rewritten this post about a dozen times.

On November 23rd, the North lost its mind and a small island inhabited by fishermen and their families soon found itself in total chaos, with both military and civilian casualties. The whole country was in complete shock and bewilderment. Even my loquacious self was at a loss for words; exclamations full of foul expletives was all that I could manage.

Technically, the Korean War never ended. There has always been tension on the Korean peninsula, military skirmishes now and then. We in the South learned to live with it, tolerate, persevere, deal with the problems as they came. Why? Because we're not talking about a neighboring country. This is a country divided, a family torn apart, with some wounds so deep they'll never heal - but that doesn't change the fact that we're family. You don't give up on family.

But this time it's a bit different. Crazy brother has gone over the frickin' line. You give and you give and the selfish bastard just throws a temper tantrum of epic proportion, not caring who gets hurt in the process. So what do you do?

As a mere citizen, there's nothing substantial that you can do, unfortunately. You wait for the decisions made by the "big people", who might not necessarily be whom you voted for, whose decisions might not be to your liking. There's a Korean word for this: 'dahp dahp' (답답), i.e. 'stifling', where you feel helpless and frustrated and trapped at the same time. I am lost in a field of dahp dahp right now,

For those who lost their lives, R.I.P.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010


The whole country (or to be more specific, Seoul) has been in an uproar for the G20 summit for the past few weeks. Security levels were hiked up (although nothing compared to the '80s), various campaigns were launched for public awareness (some were ridiculously patronizing), and all that you heard on the news was G20, G20, G20.

Unfortunately, I haven't been able to take in the various G20 related sights and events - including seeing Gyeongbok Palace which is open at night for the first time in its 615 year history - because I am absolutely swamped with work.

However, in an effort to maintain my sanity, I am taking a mini-break from work to very belatedly participate in the "25 facts about me" meme. In the spirit of the G20, I have changed it to the Me20.

Here goes:

1. Got a new tablet (Wacom Bamboo) and am trying to get used to it. Nothing is going to replace graphite on paper but I have to adapt to the digital world, don't I?

2. I suffer from chronic low blood pressure, bloodshot eyes and dark circles, bouts of insomnia, hard to manage hair, and unreasonably high expectation of others.

3. The last time I've been to the States was over 20 years ago. I've been to Canada in the mid-90s but that's the last time I've visited the American continent. Whether work or leisure, it has always been either Europe or Asia on my itinerary. I want to visit the Napa Valley and the Harry Potter theme park in Orlando, although I'm hoping that the latter will show up in an Asian city someday.

4. My favorite color is true red but I don't look very good in it. I wear a lot of boring colors (grey, black, brown, beige, khaki) with a variety of blue jeans and black trousers.

5. I personally like having short short hair but EVERYONE prefers my having longer hair. Seems that it makes me look less "scary" (which I'm quite sure is an euphemism for "bitchy"). It's in the messy middle stage now.

6. Was a yuppie in the fashion industry for over 10 years before I quit to be this freelance writer/editor/translator/designer/planner/consultant. Never regretted it. I still adore fashion; it's the business part that was dreary. I get satisfaction everytime a headhunter calls me up - if they're still asking for me after all these years, it means I did an adequate job.

7. I will not discuss politics nor religion online.

8. People always expect me to smoke but I don't. I get horrendous headaches from second-hand smoke so I can stand up to a couple of hours with smokers but that's it.

9. Socks are my best friend. My feet are always cold. I even wear socks to bed; big, fluffy, warm, sleeping socks.

10. I keep mentioning things about Seoul and Korea on Twitter and other online platforms because I constantly had to explain to people where Korea was when traveling and it's become a habit. It was a shock to discover how little was known about this country of mine. I honestly think Korea is one of the countries that benefited most from the internet and the internet generation. At least, I don't get "So you guys speak Chinese?" as often anymore.

11. Besides taxes and bills, most of my money goes to eating out, wine, coffee, and books. My doll spending has curbed down considerably, which is good for my wallet!

12. I'm the bestest babysitter. Kids adore me. I adore kids. However, I have no intention of having any. The world has too many children already and it doesn't need another with a totally neurotic mother.

13. My Amortentia would smell like vanilla, freshly baked baguettes, Korean pine trees in the rain, bergamot, and dark black coffee.

14. Music used to be a huge part of my life, when I wasn't certain of who I was and what I wanted to be. I needed reassurance and comfort; music did it for me. Now, I don't "listen to" as much as I "hear" music. Weakening of my eardrums as I got older and my being unable to listen to music in transit (following advice from the doctor) may have affected this change.

15. If I could be a fictional character, I would choose Edna Mode from the Invincibles. "Dahling, it's just so fabulous to be me, dahling!"

16. Famous people I'd like to meet, greet, wine and dine: J.K. Rowling, Umberto Eco, Salman Rushdie, Chung Myung-Whun, Murakami Haruki, Tim Gunn, Joaquin Phoenix, Anthony Bourdain, and Tablo. I'm too lazy to state reasons.

17. I like "teddy bear" guys because I'm so damn skinny. You gotta have some cushion when you hug someone.

18. My group of friends runs the gamut from debutantes to indie artists so consequently none of them mingle together. My best friend Rumi, who has heard of everyone in my circle, once speculated that if all my friends were put in one room together there would be numerous groups of people speckled here and there all staring at one another in awkward silence. Pretty accurate, if you ask me.

19. I'm thankful for my parents and siblings, despite our hangups and all. It means we're normal. Sorta.

20. "Swamped" is currently the most overused word in my vocabulary. For obvious reasons.

Back to work.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Rainy day bus ride

from Banpo to Nonhyeon's "furniture street"

I use public transportation a lot. I usually read on the metro; something I can't do on the bus because I get carsick. I either doze off, stare aimlessly out the window, or make unedited "as is" video clips.

Monday, November 1, 2010

November melancholy

There's a November Legend in the Korean entertainment industry - it's an extremely unlucky month. Many scandals, accidents and deaths occurred during November for the past several decades.

Talented singers Yoo Jae Ha and Kim Hyeon Sik both died on the first day of November; Yoo in 1987 from a car accident, Kim in 1990 from health problems. Before the Korean music scene became peppered with well-trained autotuned-to-the-max prancing and dancing K-pop idols, there was an abundance of "real" singers. Both Yoo and Kim were the cream of the crop, and their early deaths were quite the shock to fans. (Yoo was 25, Kim was 32.)

Their music is like poetry with melodies, tinged with sadness and melancholy.

Yoo Jae Ha - Because I Love

Kim Hyeon Sik - My love near me

And so November starts.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Keith Haring in Korea

The same September day I went to Olympic Park, I checked out the Keith Haring exhibit at the Soma Museum. Barking doggy sign marks the spot.

Upright Torso by German artist Wieland Förster greets you at the museum entrance.
This cute university student couple made me realize that I had never, ever been on an art date. I've been to plenty of concerts (rock and classical), movies, musicals, theatre, dance, heck even lakes and mountains, but never to a museum nor art gallery on a date. I'm an art person who has never dated a guy into art. What gives? (Unnecessary but interesting point to ponder.)

Photos of the exhibit was prohibited, except in the hallways. Great use of light and color in this one.
And great black and white contrast in this one: to the next exhibit room follow the arrows.

I call Haring's famous kneeling pose icon "power baby" because the first time I ever saw it was on a pregnant woman's oversized t-shirt.
Photos from Haring's New York subway art series. The setting is supposed to be like the subway platforms.
The museum is light and airy, with windows overlooking the open-air sculpture park.
Small gift shop near the exit. I found the souvenirs way overpriced (like most exhibit promotional items) so skipped buying anything.
Talking about promotions, there was a tie-in with GM Daewoo's Matiz. I admit, the cars were cute.

I would definitely go for the red dog. I think the organizers would've done great had they gotten permission to print and sell car stickers. I would've certainly bought some.
Obligatory 'I was there' shot with signature stick-out elbows pose. (I'm growing my hair out, btw.)

The Keith Haring exhibit is no longer showing in Seoul and has moved to Busan:
Lotte Gallery at Lotte Department Store Gwangbok
Official Twitter

The exhibit runs till November 14th, 2010.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Walk in Olympic Park

There are tons of places in Seoul that I've never been to. It's just that you rarely get to play tourist in your hometown; landmarks are sometimes too familiar that they blend into the background, and unless there's a special occasion or event that brings you there, you don't find particular reason to venture outside of your regular stomping grounds.

I think I went to Olympic Park during the '88 Olympics or in the early '90s, can't remember which. Anyhow, it had been well over a decade so I decided to take some photos this time. It was amazing how little I remembered about the place - the area had been developed far more than I had thought. Didn't have time to venture throughout the whole park, the following is just a teeny section.

The easiest way to get to the park is by metro. A big happy sky greets you when you walk out of Mongchontoseong station (Line 8).

Multicolor mosaic-decorated World Peace Gate greets you as you walk in.

The park's entry is lined with interesting streetlights.

Took a stroll around the central area:

The "hourglass" sculpture surrounded by flags. (Can't help thinking of it that way, despite my learning of its proper name.)

Closeup of the basin of the sculpture. Many countries participated in the effort.

Steps lead down to another area in the back from the flags, where an artificial pond awaits. It was rather large; "dancing water" fountain shows take place there.

Very few benches and places to sit in the central area that weren't being bathed in sunlight. Very little shade. However, a quick walk to the other side proved that there was plenty of shade to be had. Playground:
Information pamphlets available at a guard's booth. The brown paper bag is a doggy litter bag. It is illegal not to clean up after your dog; you get a hefty fine if you don't.

The 'be aware of safety' sign that I mentioned in the clip? It's because the central plaza is popular for rollerbladers and cyclists. There are arrow signs placed here and there showing the circling direction.
A hardcore rollerblading family was there. The daughter was exhausted, the mom had to keep on pushing her and matching her pace, but the dad and son were whizzing around like mad. Watching them stressed me out, because it looked more like training and not a simple pasttime. Koreans take their hobbies so darn seriously.
Olympic Park