Friday, September 28, 2007

Korean Style Watch: My Korean Haircut

Intrepid co-worker Colleen and I went to get our hair cut at Song Hair Salon on the first floor of my building (salon slogan, in English: Your Beauty and Dream).

Korean shampooing is where beauty salon products meet professional wrestler hands. And believe it or not, I mean this in a good way. We sit down to get shampooed, and these innocuous looking middle aged women proceed to tenderize our scalps like our heads are made out of modeling clay. These women have fingers like you wouldn't believe. Keyboards and push-button phones tremble at their approach, and pianos lie shattered in their wake.

Then, feeling pretty darn mellow, we sit down to get it cut, giving directions as best we can entirely by pantomiming snip-scissor fingers (although I did bring down the dictionary so Colleen could point to the word "trim"). This was hampered by the fact that whenever I brought my arms out from under that little cape you put on, some well-meaning salon employee would come extract the cape from behind my elbows and tuck me back under again.

Colleen has naturally curly hair, and by naturally curly, I mean corkscrew kind of curly, which proceeded to overwhelm her Korean stylist by bushing out like a puffer fish upon the application of a blow dryer. He then made matters worse by trying to brush out the poof, and finally, on the verge of serious emotional distress, settled for massive application of styling products. Let's face it, this is not the sort of hair they teach you about in Korean beauty school. I have, however, seen her since, when she hasn't blow-dried or brushed it, and it looks fantastic. So all due credit to the cutter.

And how did my haircut turn out? Well, you tell me!

Front view:

Back view:

Side view:

I'm pretty pleased, actually, although I would have been fine with it even shorter in the back. And it only cost about ten dollars, which for a shampoo, scalp massage, and haircut is a ridiculous bargain. I'm getting my hair cut every week!

Justin Drinks Weird Stuff For Your Entertainment, Part 4

In today's episode: "Pine Bud Drink!"

Wow. That was definitely one of the weirder things I've had in a while . . . and I live in Korea! It was like drinking a delicate solution of Vick's Vaporub and Pine Sol. Not an experience I plan to repeat.

Also: I won't go into much detail, because it's gross, but if you were thinking of drinking bunch of Aloe juice because I said it was really tasty . . . don't!

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Hiking, Take 2

As you may have heard (from us, probably), this week is Chusok in Korea--it's a combination harvest-festival Confucian-ancestor-worship shindig, a time when everyone heads back to their hometown and daughters-in-law freak out preparing meals for their families. Of course, since precisely no one is from Seoul, this means the city pretty much empties out for the week. Perfect time to go hiking! Especially if your last attempt at a hike was crushed under the feet of the North-Face-clad multitudes (get the full story here).

Anyway. This attempt started at about 10:00 AM with Nana's decision to stay home to rest, nurse a stomach ache, and prepare to host some friends for an afternoon of football, fried chicken, and beer. (Our giant new $420 flatscreen monitor helped make this totally sweet, by the way.) Then, a few minutes later, my hiking party showed up--minus one more, a colleague who mysteriously disappeared in the course of several Skype calls yesterday morning. However, undeterred by this appallingly high rate of attrition, we two remaining hikers set off through the streets of Nowon, navigating by sight to the foot of a small mountain nearby.

Now, you need to understand that we chose this hike because it was supposed to be relatively easy--the guidebook talks about a wide, sandy trail meandering its way up from street level, with some nice views and some rocks at the top. Well, apparently we took a wrong turn somewhere, because the trail we took was steep, narrow, deserted, and barely-marked at all! But after about an hour of hard climbing, we were finally rewarded with a nice view across Nowon, a short rest--and, of course, a glimpse of the aforementioned wide, sandy trail. A tiny helipad--yes, helipad--signaled that we were at the summit. We continued on, deciding to press forward to the Danggogae Metro stop rather than retrace our steps to the foot of the hill.

But at the summit we were not! After about 15 minutes on the sandy, windy footpath, we reached a rocky clearing and found ourselves looking straight up. (We also found the well-marked trail down to Danggogae, but seriously, how could you pass views like these up?) The last 20 minutes to the real summit were pretty wild--much more climbing than hiking, with long lines of ropes to help you up the rock face and some harrowing drops at the side of the trail.

But, hey! The views were well worth it. I could see my house from here!

And just to add a little more thigh-burning goodness to the day, the descent up at the top here was even tricker than the climb: we eventually figured out it was best to go down backwards, belay-style, but on more than one occasion we had to rely on the tried-and-true buttslide, plus a little help from our Korean guardian angel (some guy who adopted us for the day and made it his business to make sure we got to the bottom of the hill in one piece).

We did, of course, make it to the bottom in one piece, downed a few bottles of Pocari Sweat, and then geared up for an afternoon of sloth and gluttony--fried chicken and two NFL games. Sweet!

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Pakistani, Pancakes, and Persimmon

Yesterday, Nana and I spent the first day of our Chusok break bumming around downtown--by which I mean blowing a whole afternoon at the War Memorial Museum, about which Nana will have much more to say. But bookending our gluttonous dorkiness was gluttony of an altogether different sort, and it's of that kind of gluttony I'd now like to tell.

Now, let me preface these remarks with the fact that Nana and I have been craving Indian food for weeks, after hearing tell of a decent, if pricey, lunch buffet at a place called Mughal in Itaewon. As it turns out, we would be disappointed by neither the decency nor the price. The restaurant is set back on the little hill behind the Hamilton Hotel, and the narrow alley you've got to climb seems to deter crowds, though that may just be a function of the Chusok holiday, which pretty nearly vacates Seoul. A pretty place, with a terrace we opted against (kind of cool yesterday, and drizzly), cloth napkins (rare here, as far as I can tell), and, most importantly, non-spicy food options that weren't as bland as bland can be, which was a big deal for Nana. Of course, there was plenty of spicy food, too--great lamb korma--to supplement the samosas and tandoori chicken, and piles of naan and basmati rice. (Bleached short-grain white rice gets pretty bland when it's the only starch in your diet for weeks!) At 18,000 won (about 19-20$), it wasn't cheap, but I think it was worth it. And coupled with the quirky basement Italian restaurant we found near Yonsei University earlier this week, Mughal means we're 2 for 2 on finding good, non-bank-busting foreign food in Seoul.

Yesterday's second food adventure, then, was a pancake dinner (hey, it would have been a pancake breakfast EST!) with some work friends here in Nowon. (Yet another attempt to gorge ourselves on something we've desperately craved.) Despite the outrageously expensive maple syrup--seriously, we're talking whiskey prices--and the stray whole kernels of corn lurking in the batter, the meal was a rousing success. And, of course, totally unnecessary, given how much we ate at lunch a scant 6 hours before.

But the highlight of the evening--with the exception of Nana playing "azimuths" on a triple-word-score (yes, even in Seoul, we're still incurable dorks)--was definitely the persimmon, which, despite all appearances, is not in fact an orange-ish tomato. (Nana's description: "Like a peach, but grapier.") My new goal: find persimmons in a small enough quantity that I can eat them before they go bad. Curse you bulk fruit stands! [shaking fist]

(Edit by Nana: It was a double-word score. But it was still a sweet word.)