Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Remember December?

At long last, I will elaborate on what I mentioned in the last entry.

As I mentioned in earlier entries, I really wanted to try dog meat once before coming back to America. I love controversy and culture and food, and here was one thing that encompassed all of those. My boyfriend's mother has, for years, enjoyed a good dog meat dinner once in a while, so when she heard that I wanted to try it she was kind of excited. Also, it's a well-known fact in Korea that foreigners don't eat dog. If you didn't catch this when I said it before, many Koreans also refuse to eat it on moral grounds. Anyway, we went to a dog meat restaurant, where my boyfriend's mother and I got spicy dog meat soup, and my boyfriend got a dog soup with a mild flavor. We also had a dish of dog skin, which made my skin crawl when I ate it because I don't even like chicken skin. In case you're wondering, dog meat has a lot of connective tissue, which makes it hard to chew, and the flavor is a little strange- definitely something I will not eat again by choice. Anyway, I'm glad I tried it because now I'm not wondering what it tastes like.

My boyfriend and I wanted to do a lot of traveling around Andong while we lived there, but it didn't really end up happening much. One day in December, we just got up and did it. We gathered his old watercolors and paper, bought some bread from a bakery and some convenience store snacks, and hopped on a bus to the countryside. Now I know it's taboo to cite Wikipedia, but whatever. What we saw was Korea's 15th national treasure, 봉정사 (Bongjeongsa). For more information about the architecture, look here. Anyway, it was really cold, but we had a lot of fun. We walked up a mountainside to get there, including a little rice farmer path my boyfriend's mom tipped us off about that got us around the entrance gate where you have to pay something like $3. We saw some women coming down from recreational mountain climbing while we were going up, so I guess it's an insider secret. After looking around, taking tons of pictures, and talking to some monks, we found a little pond my boyfriend remembered from a few years ago when he visited with his mom. We ate our bread and sat on a bench, freezing, and then painted the pond in watercolors while the sun set. Then we walked back down the mountainside in the dark and hopped on the bus back to civilization. It was a great, romantic, relaxing day. I recommend it for couples and families, but try to pick better weather. Autumn or spring would be best. I don't think that will be our last watercolor picnic in the countryside. :)

For my boyfriend's mother's birthday, we tried to do something simple that she would love. We went out a little before she got home to do some birthday shopping and trick her into thinking we forgot it was her birthday, and also because we woke up late. We bought a chocolate mousse cake and some persimmons, because she doesn't like sugary things like cake, but everyone loves blowing out the candles. She eats persimmons all the time- at least one per day. I, personally don't like them the way she does: she waits until they're soft and eats them with a spoon. But I did try something in Seoul I thought I mention. It was a hot milk and cinnamon tea with a slice of soft persimmon in the bottom. It's really delicious, really healthy especially if you don't use much sugar, and if you serve it at parties or with holiday dinners, it will be something your guests have never tasted before because persimmons aren't as common in America. Anyway, for the birthday party, we also bought some tortilla chips, which are an exotic foreign food in the international section of the grocery store. I introduced chips and salsa to my boyfriend and his family, and his mom likes to eat just the chips by themselves. Finally, we rented Mamma Mia, which she loves and listens to the soundtrack all the time. We all sat down to munchies and a movie for her birthday. All in all, a toned-down version of American birthday parties. Why toned down? Well, I'll tell you. Age in Korea is counted differently than in America. When a baby is born, it is one year old. Then, everyone turns one year older on the lunar ("Chinese") new year. That has two big effects (well, more than two but I won't talk about them): one, everyone is one or two years older in Korea; and, two, people don't turn older on their birthdays, making them less meaningful. Recently, the cake and candles and presents tradition is normal with some people, but it hasn't caught on in other circles.

Before coming back to America, I wanted to see all the people who were important to me, and my boyfriend did, too. We started with a day out with my friends from 울산 (Ulsan), 성동 (Sungdong) and Reza (from England, no Korean name to romanize). We went to 하회마을 (Hahoe Maeul, traditional village). It was, again, cold, so we didn't get to see it at its' prime, and we didn't see any dancing people with traditional costumes and masks. But we did see a guy who makes pottery, and he helped Reza make a coffee mug, which was cool. After that, we got pizza for dinner, and the boys went back home. It was nice to see them one last time in 2009.

The next day was a family party at our apartment. My boyfriend's aunts and uncle and cousins all came over. We made Christmas decorations from paper with the little girl cousin, who came early with her two friends to play games and eat snacks... basically so she could show off her chef cousin and his American girlfriend. I taught them how to make snickerdoodles, for which one of the aunts asked the recipe. We ate homemade spicy chicken, 삼겹살 (samgyeopsal, like bacon but thicker cut), pizza, fruit, and various alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages. I sat at the adult table and understood about half of the conversation! Yay~! It was exactly the same as my family gatherings in America, except in a different language and with different foods.

The day after that, we lugged three suitcases and some bags to Seoul via bus, where we transferred to the subway and made our way to my boyfriend's father's apartment. We were greeted with hellos and offers of food. My favorite. :) We crashed and woke up the next day to hang out with our friends in Seoul. We invited about ten people, and we ended up seeing my friend Julia, whom I met in Korean class at MSU last year and moved to Seoul over the summer. We went shopping, had dinner, and caught the subway home. Well, close to home. We bought some chicken, snacks, and sodas and went to my boyfriend's friend's apartment. He made even more food for us and we ate and talked into the night. After sleeping in the morning, we got up and went home to get ready to go to dinner with his father and little brother. We went to VIPs, a popular Western food buffet. The one we went to was a special all-you-can-eat ribs buffet, and we ate and ate and ate all we could eat. Let's just say we got our money's worth. Like the rest of my boyfriend's family, his father and brother like me. That's a good thing.

On December 24, we had a special couple day at Everland, the Korean equivalent of Disneyworld. We won a contest by telling our couple story, and won free entry, free cute mittens and a little red Christmas cape and reindeer antlers, a free special safari in a jeep (during which we fed lions and siberian tigers), free dinner, special reserved seats in the ferris wheel timed for us to see fireworks from the sky, and we were the key feature in a stage show just after sunset. It was amazing- a great last day in Korea before coming back to study.

Next time I'll tell you about our long plane ride, why I'll never fly United again, and our life in America up until now. I'm not stopping this blog just because I'm not in Korea anymore, because I think that both my reverse culture shock and my boyfriend's experiences are interesting and related to this blog. Anyway my fingers are tired. See ya~

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