Sunday, 30 December 2012

Eat your Kimchi

Since arriving in Korea I've acquired quite a taste for the country's national dish, kimchi. This sidedish of fermented vegetables might seem somewhat rudimentary to be a national dish but it actually takes a lot of time and skill to prepare, comes in hundreds of different varieties and has a long history stretching back to the middle ages. It's also loved by local Koreans, who eat it with almost every meal. They can't get enough of the stuff. In fact, during the Vietnam War, Korean troops so desperately missed their precious kimchi that they had to seek help from American forces in finding local ingredients so they could make some on the field. Also, in Korea, when having one's photo taken, one doesn't say "cheese!" but in fact, "kimchi!"

It so happens that Seoul has a museum entirely dedicated to the dish. The Kimchi Field Museum is located just beneath the COEX (Asia's largest underground mall) and my friend Angela and I recently paid it a visit.

Angela just outside the entrance to the museum.
There were lots of models depicting the traditional production of kimchi.

Me with a jangseung or Korean totem pole. These used to be placed at the edges of villages to frighten away demons and ghosts.
You can sample some of the salts and seasonings used to flavour the kimchi.

This screen showed local kimchi from different parts of Korea. It even included North Korean varieties.
Here I am being fed some plastic kimchi by a mannequin.
Apparently kimchi cleans your intestines and creates tiny green-haired superheroes in your poop.
Angela using a giant mortar and pestle as she prepares some invisible kimchi.
And what kind of kimchi museum would it be if it didn't let you at least try some real kimchi?
The Kimchi Field Museum is pretty small (there's only so much you can say about fermented vegetables after all) but both Angela and I enjoyed our visit a lot. It's definitely worth visiting if you have an hour to spare and are remotely interested in the history of kimchi. Plus, free samples!

Tuesday, 25 December 2012

Season's Greetings from South Korea!

Merry Christmas, one and all. Time for an appropriately festive post about the happiest and the saddest time of the year. It's been interesting for me getting to experience Christmas in the Far East. It's not as big a tradition here as it is in the west, and in fact for most Koreans it's a day for dating rather than for family. But there are still lots of decorations, carols and other festivities that I've been able to enjoy, even if it doesn't feel quite as Christmas-y as back home. So here are some photos that document my Christmas experiences over the last month.

Earlier in December some friends and I went to a Christmas market near Dongdaemun, Seoul. It wasn't as quaint and festive as some of the christmas markets back home, but... did have this cool dancer who did christmas variations of Gangnam Style.

I've seen some cool lights and decorations in the city. These were near Myeongdong.
Me posing under some lights at the COEX.
At our school on Christmas Eve the kids got to meet Santa Claus (who was actually a teacher from another ECC branch) 

They also took part in a Christmas dancing competition.
The winners (by vote) were Princeton Class.

Stanford Class singing Edelweiss.
A few of us foreign teachers did some performing of our own.

Jason-teacher with James.
Me with Toronto Class.

This morning when I left my apartment I found that it had snowed during the night. We don't have many white christmases back in London so it was cool to have one here.
I did Secret Santa with my co-teachers at Lizzy's apartment. 

Jason seemed pretty happy with the piggy bank he received. 
We also played Who Am I?

That's all for now. Merry Christmas to everyone back home and around the world, and here's hoping 2013 will be a fun year to remember!

Monday, 24 December 2012

Contemporary Art in Seoul Grand Park

One recent Saturday afternoon I had a few spare hours to kill and decided I'd visit the National Museum of Contemporary Art in Gwacheon City, just south of Seoul. I always enjoy modern art galleries (I can't count the amount of times I've visited the Tate Modern in London), and I was curious to see how Korean contemporary art would compare to what I'd seen in the west.
The museum actually lies in a big, mountainous retreat called Seoul Grand Park, which also has a zoo, a theme park, a sledge slope, a cinema and numerous other attractions. It took me about an hour to circle the park, and another one or two hours to explore the museum, all while the sunset slowly turned the mountains orange.

I arrived at Seoul Grand Park metro station. It was less than thirty minutes from downtown Seoul and yet it felt like I was completely removed from the city, since I was entirely surrounded by mountains. It reminded me of one of the reasons I like Seoul so much: for all the pollution, noise and hustle-bustle, in this city you are never far from natural landscapes like these.
The park is quite popular for tourists, and there were lots of food stalls and restaurants around despite it being off-peak season.
The view over a partially frozen lake.

Tucked among some woodland was Seoul Land, a magical theme park I may visit in the warmer months.
The beige, fortress-like building perched on the mountainside was my destination: the National Museum of Contemporary Art.

The entrance to Seoul Land.
In order to reach the museum I had to climb the sculpture park surrounding it.

This robotic being was moving its mouth and chanting monk-like hymns that echoed around the mountains.
This being said nothing.
Entering the museum.

Puzzle 2-01 by Park June-Bum
Dadaikseon ("The More, the Better"), a pagoda made entirely of TV monitors, produced by Nam June-Paik in 1988 in celebration of the Seoul Summer Olympic Games.

This exhibition was called Dream-Walking in the Magical Reality.

The River of Tears by Kim In-Soon.
This was my favourite piece in the museum: The History of Modern Korea by Shin Hak-Chul.
From the top of the museum I could see a sledge slope... well as cable cars riding up into the mountains.
Another view of the TV-Pagoda.
The sun was setting over the mountains as I exited the museum.
The robot man was still chanting.

On the way out of the park I passed a zoo...
...with a monkey enclosure.
Cable cars drifting over the half-frozen lake.

A 3D cinema.
When I'd decided to visit the National Museum of Contemporary Art, I was excited because I always enjoy wandering around art galleries, especially modern ones. But I'd had no idea the museum's surroundings were also just as enchanting and colourful as the art inside. All in all, a great way to spend an afternoon, and I look forward to seeing Seoul Grand Park in the warmer months of the year.